In 2013 a colloquium was held at Heythrop College, University of London, entitled ‘Ronald Knox Man for all Seasons’, featuring a number of papers about the influence and writings of the twentieth century Catholic apologist, Bible translator, writer of detective stories and chaplain to Catholic students at Oxford, Monsignor Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Knox. These papers have now been published,1 and one of them asks if we can think of Knox as a theologian. Ashley Beck is Assistant Priest of Beckenham, and Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Ministry at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
Harold Macmillan’s biographer wrote of Ronald Knox that, as a Catholic, he became ‘the most influential Catholic theologian of his generation.’2 Knox himself would have dismissed this claim: he never studied for a degree in theology or for a doctorate. In both the Anglican and Catholic Churches, he was told to prepare himself for ordination rather than become a seminarian. His biographer Evelyn Waugh remarks:
‘There are those who have said that Ronald subsequently suffered from the lack of a full, formal theological training. Certainly, to the end of his life, he tended to refer theological problems to others, but that was in accordance with his temperament’3
Knox was very self-effacing, and people had a much more rigid idea of what a theologian was than nowadays.