1) Earlier this year, it was announced that you are stepping down as President of Catholic Answers. Looking back at all that your organization has done to renew apologetics in the United States, what would you say you are most proud of? What are you most hopeful with Catholic Answers going into the future?
Pride being one of the Seven Deadlies, let me answer you not in terms of what I’m most proud of but this way: I’m grateful for the wonderful people I’ve had the privilege of working with since going into apologetics work full time in 1988. Catholic Answers’ success has been due chiefly to them, very little to me. With them continuing their work, I have every confidence that Catholic Answers will become even more effective in the future.
2) This year we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Dei Verbum. How do you think this document has been received and embraced over the past 50 years?
With mixed results. Many Catholics have read—and even studied—it and the other documents of Vatican II, but the large majority has not. In some parishes and dioceses one can detect an authentic application of the principles given in Dei Verbum, but that can’t be said universally.
3) Catholic Answers, from the start, has encouraged a more biblically-literate Catholic laity. What are some of the best biblical resources that every Catholic should have in his or her library?
You mean, aside from my own books? (Insert winsome smile here.) First, each Catholic should have a version of the Bible that he actually will read. It does no good to have on the shelf the “best” translation if the wording doesn’t entice you to open the pages. Second, each Catholic should have a Bible commentary. I won’t recommend a particular one here because the ones I use are out of print, and I don’t find any of the easily-accessible commentaries to be ideal—for me. They may be just right for someone else.
4) How were you introduced to Msgr. Ronald Knox? What are some of your favorite works of his?
I don’t recall how I first came across Knox. Perhaps it was a reference in one of Frank Sheed’s works (but then I don’t recall how I first came across Sheed either). I have no trouble, though, identifying my favorite Knox books: Difficulties and Let Dons Delight.
Difficulties is Knox’s exchange of letters with Arnold Lunn, who, during their correspondence, was not yet a Catholic. (Lunn was received into the Church by Knox not long after the book was published.) Lunn challenged Knox on Catholic distinctives, and Knox answered with clarity and charity. For his part, Lunn already was showing the high level of argumentation that would make him, with Sheed, one of the two top Catholic apologists of the twentieth century. Difficulties is one of the few books I’ll read over and over, so rich is it in insights and so gentlemanly is the disputation.
Let Dons Delight is a work of fiction, and it could have been the book for which the term tour de force was coined. Knox’s premise has the narrator falling asleep in 1938 in the don’s common room at a fictitious Oxford college. The man wakes up to find himself in the same room but in 1588. He overhears the dons of that time talking about the impending invasion of the Spanish armada; more importantly, he listens to them discuss the status of Christianity in England. Knox, wonderfully adept at English, puts in the mouths of the dons precisely the style of language that was used in 1588.
The narrator falls asleep and then wakes up fifty years later, in 1638. The man who had been the youngest don in 1588 is now the eldest. The English used in the 1638 discussion has changed slightly, and Knox knows just how. England’s Christianity has changed too. The narrator falls asleep and awakens repeatedly, going through the same thing every fifty years, up to 1938.
5) Catholic Answers is publishing, in April, a collection called The Lost Works of Ronald Knox. It will contain six of his works that have been largely out of print for many decades. How did this book come to be? Could you discuss, briefly, the six works that are included in it?
These six works were of my choosing. They had been on my shelves for years, in various formats, and I realized that even few fans of Knox were familiar with most of them. I thought it would be a tribute to Knox to bring these works together and that, by ordering them chronologically, they would show his development, from his pre-Catholic years right up to the end of his life.
The Essentials of Spiritual Unity is almost Knox’s outline of his own conversion, stopping just before (because written just before) he “poped.” The Beginning and End of Man briefly explains why we’re here—something most moderns either have forgotten or never have known. The Rich Young Man is called by Knox “a fantasy”: what would the story be if the rich young man of the Gospels also happened to be the prodigal son’s older brother and the good thief on the cross? Nazi and Nazarene was written during World War II and shows what the divide was between the faith and Nazism. On English Translation was the Romanes Lecture, given by Knox shortly before he died; he already was deeply ill, and this was his valedictory. Proving God: A New Apologetic was published posthumously. Knox was trying to work up a new way to do apologetics, since he had become convinced that the old ways just weren’t working in the modern world.
6) You have mentioned in a few places that you enjoy reading from Msgr. Knox’s translation of the Vulgate. Why is that? What would you say to someone who might feel that only a literal translation is best?
I have nearly all of the books Knox wrote, dozens of them—an indication that I like his style: limpid, smooth, insightful. Those qualities come across also in his one-man translation of the Bible. It is true that his translation is not “literal” in the extreme sense of that word. Some of the older translations from the Vulgate artificially mimicked Latin sentence structure, for example, and ended up reading not as real English. (Knox provided many examples in Trials of a Translator, the book in which he responded to critics of his Bible translation.) I would not recommend the Knox translation for someone doing a close formal study of the Bible—the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition is better for that—but I do recommend the Knox translation to anyone who wishes to get lost in the text.