A Friendly ShoreBR. CHARLES SHONK
According to C.S. Lewis, Ronald Knox was "possibly the wittiest man in Europe."
Indeed, his leisurely, easygoing style, which more than a few in his day thought unsuitable in a clergyman, has induced some to regard him as ultimately superficial — a brilliant man whose charm got the better of him and who therefore never lived up to his full potential. In fact, however, the more one reads him the clearer it becomes that, underneath it all, Knox was both serious and deep. Perhaps this is what one of his contemporaries was driving at when he described him, somewhat unfairly, as "a sad little man with a wry smile."
These contrasting qualities are certainly evident in Knox's autobiographical work, A Spiritual Aeneid, in which he recounts his journey from Anglicanism (first evangelical then tractarian) to the Church. Knox, it seems, had a horror of taking himself seriously, and so he delights in sketching the course of his religious development by means of amusing little vignettes, such as this scene from his childhood:
Then there are the occasional, unexpected volleys of satire, such as this, on biblical criticism:
As the book proceeds, however, the attentive reader begins to realize how serious Knox was, as well as how much he gave up, humanly speaking, in order to enter the Church. We also realize what a prodigious work ethic he had — of course, one would expect as much from a man who single-handedly translated the entire Bible — and this is all the more notable for not having dulled his sense of humor. But most impressive of all, perhaps, is the humility with which he became Catholic, and the gratitude he showed toward both Anglicans and the Church once he had become Catholic.
It would have been easy for someone of Knox's social and intellectual standing to see himself as a gift to English Catholicism and, indeed, to the Church at large — to assume the grand role of Defender of the Faith in a Protestant country. But, while he certainly appreciated the chance to work for an unpopular cause, and even regarded the number and variety of the Church's enemies as evidence of her divine founding, he also believed that a militant or controversial attitude was entirely out of place in a person moving toward conversion. He writes,
Upon entering the Church, Knox was pleasantly surprised to find life within its walls more liberating and, as it were, more spacious than life had been outside. Something of this feeling is captured in the Latin phrase just quoted, taken from Book VII of the Aeneid. What Aeneas and his companions had sought on their journey, Knox found in the Church: "a friendly shore, with water and air free for all."
Br. Charles Shonk. "A Friendly Shore." Dominicana (June 6, 2013).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Br. Charles Shonk, O.P. and Dominicana.
Dominicana is a publication of the Dominican Students of the St. Joseph Province, who live and study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. The blog is updated every weekday, and the journal appears twice a year.
Br. Charles Shonk, a Dominican friar and candidate for the priesthood, is a student of theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Prior to entering the Order of Preachers, he studied Latin, Greek, and Philosophy at Denison University and worked as a schoolteacher in New York City. See Br. Shonk's previous blog posts here.
Copyright © 2013 Dominicana
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