The young Knox was educated at Eaton House,Summer Fields, and Eton College, where he took the first scholarship in 1900 and Balliol College, Oxford, where again he won the first classics scholarship in 1905. Knox, a brilliant classicist, won the Craven, the Hertford and the Ireland scholarships in classics, as well as the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse Composition in 1908 and the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Verse Composition in 1910. Aged 17, he privately vowed to remain celibate.
In 1910, he became a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. Interested in Anglo-Catholicism, he 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 a friend at Eton—to Harold Macmillan (who would be called "C" both in Knox's Spiritual Aeneid and in Evelyn Waugh's biography of Knox)—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. 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.
Roman 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. 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, before Chesterton himself became Catholic. When Chesterton was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1922, he in turn was influenced by Knox.
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, 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.
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. 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 the fabled Anglican tolerance in the form of an appeal to the Anglican Church to absorb everyone from Muslims to atheists, and even Catholics after murdering Irish children and banning Irish marriage and reproduction.
In 1953 Knox visited the Oxfords in Zanzibar and the Actons in Rhodesia. 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 (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).
In January 1926, for one of his regular BBC Radio programmes, Knox broadcast a simulated live report of revolution sweeping across London, entitled Broadcasting from the Barricades. 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.
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. 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".
The script of the broadcast is reprinted in Essays in Satire (1928) as "A Forgotten Interlude".
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.
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.
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?
Other Eyes than Ours (1926). A satirical tale about a hoax played on a circle of spiritualists.
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).
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. 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.
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.
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, 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.
^Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles. HarperAudio, 30 September 1992. ISBN1559946806 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."
^ abcdefghiThe brief description of this book is from Waugh, Evelyn (1959). The Life of Ronald Knox. London: Chapman & Hall. (Paperback: London: Fontana Books, 1962).
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).