Ronald Knox

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The Reverend Monsignor
Ronald Knox
Priest / Monsignor
Picture of Ronald Knox.jpg
Knox c. 1928
Ordination 1918
Personal details
Born (1888-02-17)17 February 1888
Kibworth, Leicestershire, England
Died 24 August 1957(1957-08-24) (aged 69)
Mells, Somerset, England
Buried Church of St Andrew, Mells
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Nationality British
Denomination Catholic Church
Parents Edmund Knox (father)
Previous post Anglican priest in the Church of England (1912–1917)

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 1888 – 24 August 1957) was an English Catholic priest, theologian, author, and radio broadcaster. Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, where he earned a high reputation as a classicist, Knox was a ordained as a priest of the Church of England (in which his father served as Bishop of Manchester) in 1912. He was a fellow and chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford until he resigned following his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1917. Knox became a Catholic priest in 1918, continuing in that capacity his scholarly and literary career.

Knox served as Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford from 1926 to 1939. He completed the "Knox Bible", a new English translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible that was one of the approved vernacular versions of the Bible for use in Catholic services in the 1960s and 70s. He published many other books, including essays on religious, philosophical, and literary subjects, as well as several popular works of detective fiction. He is remembered for his "Ten Commandments" for detective stories, which describe a form of crime fiction in which the reader may participate by attempting to find a solution to the mystery before the fictional detective reveals it.

Early life and education

Ronald Knox was born into an Anglican family in Kibworth, Leicestershire, England. His strongly evangelical father was Edmund Arbuthnott Knox, who later became the Bishop of Manchester, and was a descendant of John Arbuthnott, 8th Viscount of Arbuthnott.[1][2][3][4]

The young Knox was educated at Eaton House[5] and Summer Fields.[6] From there he went on to Eton College, where he took the first scholarship in 1900. Aged 17, he privately vowed to remain celibate.[7]

Knox proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, where he won the first classics scholarship in 1905. A brilliant classicist, he won the Craven, Hertford, and Ireland scholarships, as well as the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse Composition in 1908 and the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Verse Composition in 1910. That year he was elected fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

Interested in Anglo-Catholicism, Knox became a key member of Maurice Child's fashionable "set". He would not begin tutorials until 1911 and so accepted the job of classics tutor to the brother of an Eton friend, Harold Macmillan (who would be called "C" both in Knox's Spiritual Aeneid and in Evelyn Waugh's biography of Knox)[8] in the sabbatical, although he was later dismissed by Nellie Macmillan for being a high-church Anglican.

Church of England

Knox was ordained an Anglican priest in 1912 and was appointed chaplain of Trinity College. During World War I, he served in military intelligence.[9] In 1915, Cyril Alington, who had been master in college at Eton during Knox's time there, and was now the headmaster of Shrewsbury School, invited Knox to join the teaching staff at Shrewsbury to fill in for a former colleger at Eton, his friend Evelyn Southwell, who had joined the British Army. Knox was long remembered at Shrewsbury as the highly dedicated and entertaining form master of Vb.[10]

Ministry in the Catholic Church

Knox resigned as Anglican chaplain in 1917 when he became a Roman Catholic. In response to Knox's conversion to Roman Catholicism, his father cut him out of his will.[11] In 1918 Knox was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and in 1919 joined the staff of St Edmund's College, Ware, Hertfordshire, remaining there until 1926. He explained his spiritual journey in two privately printed books, Apologia (1917) and A Spiritual Aeneid (1918). Knox's conversion to the Catholic faith was influenced in part by the English writer G. K. Chesterton,[12] before Chesterton himself became Catholic. When Chesterton was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1922, he in turn was influenced by Knox.[13]

Knox wrote and broadcast on Christianity and other subjects. While Roman Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford (1926–1939) and after his elevation to a monsignor in 1936, he wrote classic detective stories. In 1929 he codified the rules for detective stories into a "decalogue" of ten commandments. He was one of the founding members of the Detection Club and wrote several works of detective fiction, including five novels and a short story featuring Miles Bredon,[14] who is employed as a private investigator by the Indescribable Insurance Company.

Directed by his religious superiors, he retranslated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, using Hebrew and Greek sources, beginning in 1936. His works on religious themes include: Some Loose Stones (1913), Reunion All Round (1914), A Spiritual Aeneid (1918), The Belief of Catholics (1927), Caliban in Grub Street (1930), Heaven and Charing Cross (1935), Let Dons Delight (1939) and Captive Flames (1940). When G. K. Chesterton died in 1936, Knox delivered a panegyric for his Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral.[15]

An essay in Knox's Essays in Satire (1928), "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes", was the first of the genre of mock-serious critical writings on Sherlock Holmes and mock-historical studies in which the existence of Holmes, Watson, et al. is assumed.[16] Another of these essays, "The Authorship of In Memoriam", purports to prove that Tennyson's poem was actually written by Queen Victoria. Another satirical essay, "Reunion All Round", mocked Anglican tolerance by appealing to the Anglican Church in Swiftean literary style to absorb Muslims, atheists, and even Catholics who had murdered Irish children.[17]

"Hard Knox." Ronald Knox attacking Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard (1932)

In 1953 Knox visited the Oxfords in Zanzibar and the Actons in Rhodesia.[18] It was on this trip that he began his translation of The Imitation of Christ and, upon his return to Mells, his translation of Thérèse of Lisieux's Autobiography of a Saint. He also began a work of apologetics intended to reach a wider audience than the student one of his The Belief of Catholics (1927). But all his activities were curtailed by his sudden and serious illness early in 1957. At the invitation of his old friend, Harold Macmillan, he stayed at 10 Downing Street while in London to consult a specialist. The doctor confirmed the diagnosis of incurable cancer.

He died on 24 August 1957, and his body was brought to Westminster Cathedral. Bishop Craven celebrated the Requiem Mass, at which Father Martin D'Arcy, a Jesuit, preached the panegyric. Knox was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's Church, Mells.

The first biography of Knox, entitled The Life of Ronald Knox, was the work of his friend and literary executor, Evelyn Waugh, and appeared two years after his death. Waugh, a devout Catholic and fervent admirer of Knox's works, had obtained his friend's permission for the task. In 1977 Knox's niece, Penelope Fitzgerald, published a composite biography, The Knox Brothers, which devoted equal weight to him and his three brothers (her father E. V. Knox, the editor of the humorous magazine Punch, Dillwyn Knox, classical scholar and cryptanalyst, and Wilfred Knox, an Anglican monk and New Testament scholar). The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox by David Rooney was published in 2009. This followed two recent studies, Ronald Knox as Apologist: Wit, Laughter and the Popish Creed (2007) and Second Friends: C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation (2008), both by Milton Walsh. A more recent biography setting Knox in the cultural context of his times is Terry Tastard, Ronald Knox and English Catholicism (2009).

Radio hoax

In January 1926, for one of his regular BBC Radio programmes, Knox broadcast a simulated live report of revolution sweeping across London, entitled Broadcasting the Barricades.[19] In addition to live reports of several people, including a government minister, being lynched, his broadcast mixed supposed band music from the Savoy Hotel with the hotel's purported destruction by trench mortars. The Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower were also said to have been flattened.

Because the broadcast occurred on a snowy weekend, much of the United Kingdom was unable to get the newspapers until days later. The lack of newspapers caused a minor panic, as it was believed that the events in London caused this. Four months later there was considerable public disorder during the General Strike, so the possibility of a revolution had been realistic at the time.[20]

A 2005 BBC report on the broadcast suggests that the innovative style of Knox's programme may have influenced Orson Welles's radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds" (1938), which it foreshadowed in its consequences.[21] In an interview for the book This is Orson Welles, Welles himself said that the broadcast gave him the idea for "The War of the Worlds".[22]

The script of the broadcast is reprinted in Essays in Satire (1928) as "A Forgotten Interlude".

Knox's Ten Rules for Detective Fiction

The majority of novels of Knox's era, coined The Golden Age of Detective Fiction, were "whodunits" with codified rules to allow the reader to attempt to solve the mystery before the detective. According to Knox, a detective story

must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.[23]

He expanded upon this definition by giving ten rules of writing detective fiction.

Knox's "Ten Commandments" (or "Decalogue") are as follows:

  1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (Note: This is a reference to common use of heavily stereotyped Asian characters in detective fiction of the time)[24]
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
  9. The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.


Selected works

  • Knox Bible, a translation of the Latin Vulgate
  • Some Loose Stones: Being a consideration of certain tendencies in modern theology illustrated by reference to the book called "Foundations" (1913)
  • Absolute and Abitofhell (1913). A satire in the manner of Dryden on the latitudinarianism of the authors of Foundations (including William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury).
  • The Church in Bondage (1914). Sermons
  • Reunion All Round (1914). A satire on the readiness of certain Anglicans to sink doctrinal differences with the Nonconformist sects in the interests of Christian good fellowship.[25]
  • Bread or Stone (1915). Four addresses on impetrative or petitionary prayer.
  • A Spiritual Aeneid: Being an Account of a Journey to the Catholic Faith (1918)
  • Patrick Shaw-Stewart (1920). Biography of Knox's friend and fellow Etonian, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, who died on active service in the First World War.
  • Memories of the Future: Being Memories of the Years 1915–1972, Written in the Year of Grace 1988 by Opal, Lady Porstock (1923). Combines a parody of the current autobiographies of women of fashion with a gentle satire on current whims — educational, medical, political and theological.[25]
  • Sanctions: A Frivolity (1924). An elegant and (despite its subtitle) not particularly frivolous fiction in the manner of W. H. Mallock's The New Republic, in which the guests at a country-house party find all their conversations turning towards the question: what are the ultimate sanctions, social, intellectual, supernatural, which determine man's behaviour and destiny?[25]
  • Other Eyes than Ours (1926). A satirical tale about a hoax played on a circle of spiritualists.[25]
  • An Open-Air Pulpit (1926). Essays.
  • The Belief of Catholics (1927). His survey of Catholic belief, considered a classic of apologetics and a Catholic equivalent to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.
  • Essays in Satire (1928). Contains the best of his Anglican humorous writings, with some subsequent literary essays."[25]
  • The Mystery of the Kingdom and Other Sermons (1928).
  • The Church on Earth (1929).
  • On Getting There (1929). Essays.
  • Caliban in Grub Street (1930). A satire on the religious opinions of some of the chief popular writers of the day (including Arnold Bennett and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).[25]
  • Broadcast Minds (1932). A criticism of the religious opinions of some of the leading scientific publicists of the time (including Julian Huxley and Bertrand Russell).[25]
  • Difficulties: Being a Correspondence About the Catholic Religion, with Arnold Lunn (1932). An exchange of letters with Lunn, then a curious but sceptical Protestant, about the Catholic Church. Lunn later converted.
  • Heaven and Charing Cross: Sermons on the Holy Eucharist (1935)
  • Barchester Pilgrimage (1935). A sequel to the Chronicles of Barsetshire written in the style of Trollope. It follows the fortunes of the children and grandchildren of Trollope's characters up to the time of writing, with some gentle satire on the social, political and religious changes of the 20th century.[25] It was reprinted in 1990 by the Trollope Society.
  • Let Dons Delight (1939). One of Knox's most famous works, though currently out of print. Taking as its subject the history of Oxford from the Reformation to shortly before World War II, it traces the disintegration of a common culture though the conversations of the dons of Simon Magus, a fictional college, first in 1588, and then by fifty-year intervals until 1938.
  • Captive Flames: a Collection of Panegyrics (1940). Twenty-one homilies on some of Knox's favourite saints, including St Cecilia, St Dominic, St Joan of Arc and St Ignatius of Loyola.
  • In Soft Garments (1942). Addresses to Oxford students on faith in the modern world.
  • God and the Atom (1945). An ethical and philosophical analysis of the shock of the atomic bomb, its use against Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the moral questions arising therefrom.
  • The Mass in Slow Motion (1948). A book of talks for schoolgirls which, with its two successors, became the most popular of all Knox's writings.[25]
  • The Creed in Slow Motion (1949). The second book of his talks for schoolgirls.
  • On Englishing the Bible (1949). Book of 8 essays about re-translating the Bible from the Latin Vulgate, with Hebrew/Greek sources.
  • The Gospel in Slow Motion (1950). The final book of his talks for schoolgirls.
  • St Paul's Gospel (1950). A series of Lenten sermons preached that year by Knox in Westminster Cathedral.
  • Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950). Knox's own favourite book,[26] it is a study of the various movements of Christian men and women who have tried to live a less worldly life than other Christians, claiming the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, and eventually splitting off into separate sects. Quietism and Jansenism seemed to be the primary foci.
  • Stimuli (1951). A selection of his monthly contributions to The Sunday Times.
  • The Hidden Stream: Mysteries of the Christian Faith (1952). Addresses to Oxford students in which Knox evaluates fundamental dogmas and stumbling blocks of Catholicism.
  • Off the Record (1953). A selection of fifty-one letters addressed to individual inquirers on religious topics of general interest.
  • In soft garments; a collection of Oxford conferences (1953).
  • The Window in the Wall and Other Sermons on the Holy Eucharist (1956)
  • Bridegroom and Bride (1957). Wedding addresses.
  • Lightning Meditations (1959).

Detective fiction


  • The Viaduct Murder (1925)
  • The Three Taps (1927) – features Miles Bredon.
  • The Footsteps at the Lock (1928) – features Miles Bredon.
  • The Body in the Silo (1933) – features Miles Bredon.
  • Still Dead (1934) – features Miles Bredon.
  • Double Cross Purposes (1937) – features Miles Bredon.

Short stories

  • "Solved by Inspection" (1931) – features Miles Bredon.
  • "The Motive" (1937)
  • "The Adventure of the First Class Carriage" (1947)

Collaborative works by the Detection Club

  • Behind the Screen (1930) (six contributors including Knox)
  • The Floating Admiral (1931) (fourteen contributors including Knox)
  • Six Against the Yard (1936) (six contributors including Knox)

See also


  1. Dod's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1904, p. 983
  2. The Spectator, vol. 20, 1847, p. 1171
  3. The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 177, 1845, p. 311
  4. "Table e part 2".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Mr T.S. Morton". The Times. 23 January 1962.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Waugh, Evelyn (2012). The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox. Penguin Books. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-0-14-139151-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Sheridan Gilley, Knox, Ronald Arbuthnott (1888–1957). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, version: 26 May 2016
  8. Evelyn Waugh (1959), Ronald Knox: A Biography, 1988 reprint, London: Cassell, Book I, "Laughter and the Love of Friends", Chapter 5, "Accomplishment 1910-1914", p. 106, ISBN 0-304-31475-7
  9. "Ronald A. Knox". Retrieved 18 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. The life of Ronald Knox by Evelyn Waugh, 1959 and The History of Shrewsbury School by J. B. Oldham.
  11. UK: Fitzgerald, Penelope (1977). The Knox Brothers (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-333-19426-3. OCLC 59050056.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> USA: Fitzgerald, Penelope (1977). The Knox Brothers (1st ed.). New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-698-10860-8. LCCN 00055492. OCLC 3090064.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Pearce, Joseph (2014). Catholic Literary Giants: A Field Guide to the Catholic Literary Landscape. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. pp. 47, 142. ISBN 9781586179441. Retrieved 18 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "The Ronald Knox Society of North America". Retrieved 18 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Grosset, Philip. "Miles Bredon", Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  15. "On this day: Requiem for a Heavyweight". National Catholic Reporter. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Gasogene Books - Ronald Knox and Sherlock Holmes: The Origins of Sherlockian Studies". Retrieved 28 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Shaw, Bruce (2014). Jolly Good Detecting: Humor in English Crime Fiction of the Golden Age. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 238. ISBN 9780786478866.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Waugh, Evelyn (1959). The Life of Ronald Knox. London: Fontana Books, 1962, p. 279.
  19. "Broadcasting the Barricades". BBC Genome. 16 January 1926.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Slade, Paul. "Holy terror: The first great radio hoax". Retrieved 14 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Snoddy, Raymond (13 June 2005). "Show that sparked a riot". BBC NewsWatch.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles. HarperAudio, 30 September 1992. ISBN 1559946806 Audiotape 4A 6:25–6:42. Welles states, "I got the idea from a BBC show that had gone on the year before [sic], when a Catholic priest told how some Communists had seized London and a lot of people in London believed it. And I thought that'd be fun to do on a big scale, let's have it from outer space — that's how I got the idea."
  23. From the Introduction to The Best Detective Stories of 1928-29. Reprinted in Haycraft, Howard, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story, Revised edition, New York: Biblio and Tannen, 1976.
  24. Rzepka, Charles J. (2007). "Race, Region, Rule: Genre and the Case of Charlie Chan". PMLA. 122 (5): 1463–1481. doi:10.1632/pmla.2007.122.5.1463. ISSN 0030-8129. JSTOR 25501797. S2CID 143950257.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 25.5 25.6 25.7 25.8 The brief description of this book is from Waugh, Evelyn (1959). The Life of Ronald Knox. London: Chapman & Hall. (Paperback: London: Fontana Books, 1962).
  26. Waugh, The Life of Ronald Knox, 1962, p. 274.


  • Corbishley, Thomas; Speaight, Robert. Ronald Knox, the priest the writer (1965) online free
  • Dayras, Solange. "The Knox Version, or the Trials of a Translator: Translation or Transgression?." Translating Religious Texts, edited by David Jasper, 44-59. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1993.
  • Duhn, Hugo R. A Thematization and Analysis of the Spirituality in the Writings of Ronald A. Knox, 1888-1957, STD dissertation, Studies in Sacred Theology, 2nd Series, No. 284, Catholic University of America, 1981.
  • Marshall, George. "Two Autobiographical Narratives of Conversion: Robert Hugh Benson and Ronald Knox." British Catholic History 24.2 (1998): 237-253.
  • Rooney, David M. The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2009).
  • Tastard, Terry. Ronald Knox and English Catholicism (Leominster: Gracewing, 2009).

External links