Ronald A. Knox, The Belief of Catholics, 1927
or Catholic Information Network http://www.cin.org/liter/belief0.html
and via GoogleBooks .
Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 1888 - 24 August 1957) was the son of an Anglican bishop, ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1912, became a Catholic in 1917 and was ordained priest in 1919. He is esteemed for his religious writings, including a translation of the Vulgate into modern (1945-1950) English, and for his detective stories. The Belief of Catholics is both an apologetic work, and an exposition of the Catholic Faith beneficial for non-Catholics and for those Catholics whose religious education was restricted the format of a question and answer catechism. By virtue of his background, Knox had the benefit of knowing the Church from without, knowing the objections of outsiders to the Church, and knowing how he personally overcame those objections.
Today The Belief of Catholics is roughly eighty years old and was written in England, so the modern American reader may not be familiar with all of the names and happenings contemporary to Knox. In general this will cause no difficulty, but the religious controversies he mentions are worth looking up if they are not immediately familiar. Donald Attwater’s A catholic Dictionary would be a good resource for unfamiliar terms, as would be The Catholic Encyclopedia. The Dictionary is available as a TAN reprint, and the Encyclopedia is available at several sites on the Internet. Both are excellent resources for the study of the Catholic Faith in all of its aspects.
Companion textbooks for apologetics, in print, and available from TAN or Amazon.com include:
Glenn, Paul J, Apologetics: A Philosophic Defense and Explanation of the Catholic Religion. Saint Louis: B. Herder, 1931
Laux, John, Catholic Apologetics: God, Christianity, and the Church. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1934.
CHAPTER ONE: The Modern Distaste for Religion
In this introductory chapter, Knox discusses the state of Protestant Christianity in the England of the early twentieth century. He blames the decline in membership on a de-emphasis of doctrine by the sects and even by the mainstream denominations. The churches fail to speak with authority to matters of faith or morals. He points out that it is impossible for the clergymen of churches that claim no infallible authority them selves, can hardly claim to speak authoritatively because of their position in that church—nor do they have an intellectually valid means for investing the Bible with inerrancy (or even determining the books of which it is made up). Having been raised during the “Progressive” Era, Knox may be insensitive to the political pressures of this movement on the churches to adopt more secular and socially conscious teachings.
Knox obviously intends to point to the authority of the Catholic Church in later chapters. He will do so in a rational fashion, not demanding faith or submission to authority, demanding these only after they are proven to be reasonable to the unaided human intellect.
Question: Traditional Catholics will want to consider whether or not Knox could have made the distinction between Protestant and Catholic Christianities if he had been forced to write after, rather than before, Vatican II.
Vocabulary look-ups: Nonconformist; latitudinarian; Tractarian Movement. See Handout on Modernism in connection with Knox, pages 9 & 13.
CHAPTER TWO: The Shop Window
The Catholic Church is the exception to the decline in English Christianity. Not that mere numbers prove truth, but there must be some number of factors that have made Catholicism seem more attractive to Englishmen since the dark days of the Reformation. There may still be factors which keep a Protestant from conversion (often social in nature), but it is worth examining the factors which seem acceptable or even attractive to the contemporary non-Catholic:
v Perhaps not the glorious ceremonial, but perhaps the accidental sense of mystery it brings with it, without affectation of voice or gesture.
v The Catholic Church, alone among the Christianities of England, has a legitimate historical connection to the earliest Christian Church. This is more than admiration for some aspects of the early Church, but a genuine connection. In a rapidly changing world nothing has historical roots like the Catholic Church.
v The Catholic Church alone enjoys a truly world wide diffusion, and enjoys great success in its missionary activities (at least in Knox’ time).
v The Catholic Church has a moral teaching that has been consistent over the centuries and from place to place, and consistent with the natural moral law which reflective men know to be necessary for the functioning of a healthy society.
v Doctrinal teaching must be consistent and unchanging if a Church purports to speak with the revealed truth of God.
Vocabulary look-ups: Oxford conversions (Movement); the‘Forty-five; .
CHAPTER THREE: Telling The First Lie
The Protestant misconception of Catholics holds that the latter accept their religion in its entirety based on submission to the authority of the Church, and that to accept such a system by converting to Catholicism represents a sort of intellectual suicide. “One must “tell [at least] the first lie” before it is possible to seriously entertain conversion. To the contrary, Knox presents a list of doctrines which no reasoning catholic could accept on the authority of the Church if they were contrary to reason:
i. The existence of God.
ii. The fact that He made a revelation to the world in Jesus Christ.
iii. The Life (in its broad outlines, the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
iv. The fact that our Lord founded a Church.
v. The fact that He bequeathed to that Church His own teaching office, with the guarantee (naturally) that It could not err in teaching.
vi. The consequent intellectual duty of believing what the Church believes.
It is Protestant in nature to think of faith as an act of the will (often the emotions). Catholicism holds faith to be a virtue of the intellect. One cannot demand a “will to believe” of the prospective convert; the faith is intellectually demonstrable. It may surprise the Protestant to hear the need for “private judgment.” In Catholicism, such judgment is made to determine the fact that divine revelation to an authority has taken place, after which interpretation of that revelation must be made by the authority to which it has been entrusted—in Protestantism it is the other way around, accepting an á priori revelation through an act of the will, and then using the intellect to make sense of the revelation.
It is a bad metaphor to think of the intellect as a scaffolding used only while constructing an edifice of belief, and which can then be removed.
In apologetics mathematical certainty is not claimed. If one works a Euclidian geometry problem carefully employing the rules of that discipline, the certainty of what has been proven can be presumed. But the proofs of apologetics are in the domains of history and philosophy—domains wherein we may have strong “motives of credibility,” but not absolute certainty. Nonetheless, modern man believes a great deal of what he thinks to be true precisely on such “motives of credibility”—I have never seen China and was born after World War I, but still have good reason to believe that the former exists and the latter took place.
CHAPTER FOUR: The God Who Hides Himself
Is our knowledge of God direct, or do we know Him through other things?
Traditionalism suggests that we learned about God from someone, who learned about Him from someone else, who learned about Him from someone else, ultimately going back to Adam and Eve who had direct personal knowledge of God
Fideism suggests that God revealed Himself to each person directly, although a number of factors may obscure this revelation in particular people. Descartes claimed that each man is simply born with the idea of himself and God.
Idealism (e.g. the “ontological proof of Saint Anselm) holds that we know God to be perfect, but non-existence would be an imperfection—therefore God must exist.
Mysticism implies a direct experience of God in contemplative prayer. While such direct contemplation can and does take place, it is of virtually no value in convincing someone other than the mystic that God exists.
Knox (and, generally speaking, the Church) rejects these ideas of direct knowledge of God and insists that we can demonstrate His existence only by the evidence we see in His creation. He adopts the five proofs of God’s existence offered by scholastic philosophy:
i. All motion requires a mover, and ultimately a First Mover called God.
ii. Every event is determined by a cause, and ultimately a First Cause called God.
iii. Nothing in our experience exists of its own necessity, but depends on something else for existence. Ultimately, this dependence goes back to a necessary existent being that we call God.
iv. We experience different degrees of natural perfection. This good and better imply a Best, which we call God.
v. Everywhere in nature we see order and system. In our experience order and system do not occur through random chance, but require an Orderer or Systematizer, which we call God.
Questions: What is the difference between motion, cause, and order? What can we not know about God through natural reason?
Knox distinguishes the order in proof V from the design of specific creatures. While specific order of creatures may be defective and may even become extinct, the laws of nature seem to operate consistently in all times and places. [One might add that they do so if we have an adequate understanding of them—Einstein did not contradict Newton, but rather gave a more full explanation of Newton’s principles when dealing with large masses and velocities—likewise, the quantum physics in dealing with the very small.]
Knox feels that the arguments for the existence of God which come from conscience and the universal need of man for God are less than convincing for the apologist. These may be examined in Laux, Catholic Apologetics, pages 14-18 and Glenn, Apologetics, pages 41-51.
CHAPTER FIVE: The Catholic Notion of God
The various “proofs” of God’s existence connote a number of things about His attributes. Knox considers three of these attributes: transcendence, omnipotence, and personality. See Glenn, Apologetics, pages 56-76 for an expanded discussion.
Man is self-conscious and conscious of his surroundings. This consciousness cannot be explained in material term, but rather demonstrates the spiritual aspect of human beings. In that the spirit of a man is not a necessary being, it depends on a higher Spirit for its existence. The higher Spirit has none of the physical limitations which man shares with the lower creatures. Man’s soul, the seat of his memory, intellect, and will, is the only mirror in nature of “that pure Act, that tireless Energy which is God.”
In our experience, spirit denotes an individual, a person. Thus we think of God as a Personal God, although we cannot attribute any of the limitations of the human personality to God.
Pantheism errs in taking Life rather than Spirit as the principle which organizes matter. The pantheist postulates a “world soul” which animates all of the matter in the world (universe?), with living beings possessing a portion of the total but sharing in the same soul.
The reliance of Protestants on conscience and universal need for God do not speak to his attributes, and do not “weed out” erroneous systems like Buddhism.
Deism, popular around the seventeenth century, accepts the first two proofs, but suggests a God who “wound up the clockwork of the universe” and walked away with the key in his pocket.
Question: Can you articulate the reasons why Pantheism and Deism do not adequately explain God by means of what we know of Him through natural reason?
Question: In light of the orderly and consistent operation of the laws of nature, how can ther be miracles?
CHAPTER SIX: The Seed-Ground of Revelation
In this chapter Knox treats the Old Testament as an historical record. It cannot, he says, be though of as an inspired reading until we have demonstrated the authority of the Church—for only on the Church’s authority are the inspired books of the Bible determined.
“Modern” scholarship holds that the Pentateuch was not written until around the time of the Exile, which Knox refutes by noting that the Samaritans accept its Mosaic authorship. “Modern” scholarship does a lot of such things with the “who authored what and when?” questions about both the Old and New Testaments—often for reasons of questionable orthodoxy.
Poetic literature often leads to Pantheism, but the O.T. Jews views God as almighty, transcendent, and personal. It may be that the early Jews were monolatristic rather than monotheistic—that they worshipped only one God but believed in the existence of others
Questions: Can you give scriptural examples to support Knox’ theory of Jewish monlatry? How does this monolatry lead to the prohibition of making images to represent God?
Knox suggests something miraculous in the Jewish preservation of the worship of the one God. This purity may have been maintained through Jewish parochialism—a race, a nation, a clan that avoid outsiders, while continuing to worship the God of the whole world.
Question: What purpose does Knox say the diaspora might have served? How does this relate to the establishment of an earthly kingdom of the Jews? How does this affect the Jewish expectations of the Messias?
Question: What political events took place during the three hundred years prior to the coming of Christ that would make the world an easier place for the spread of Christianity? What second event took place about a hundred and fifty years before? What effect did these events have, even among the Gentiles?
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Christian Evidences.
In this chapter Knox looks backward to the time of Christ through the literature available from the period 90‑120 A.D. This is a period of widespread persecution of Christians by Rome.
The correspondence between Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, and the Emperor Trajan point to the growing concern of the Empire with the rapidly growing Jewish sect known as Christianity. It also suggests that many of the complaints against the Christians were false, and gives a brief summary of Christian worship. It puts the lie to the modern allegation that it was Constantine who made Christ into a divinity.
Question: Why was Christianity persecuted while other “mystery cults” (e.g. the Orphic mysteries, and the worship of Isis) were permitted far more freedom to operate?
Question: What sort of organizational model had Christianity adopted by 100 A.D. or so? What documents of the earlier Church are beginning to be in widespread circulation?
Knox presents a set of points, worth citing, describing the Church in this period as described in these documents:
i. That in spite of the confusion introduced by the competition of rival missionaries, it is constantly assumed that the Christians of the world form a single body. The local "church" is only the model of a potentially world-wide institution, the Church.
ii. That this Church consists of those who have made an act of faith in Christ, which is identified in significance with the outward ceremony of baptism.
iii. That the Christian Church, young as it is, has already traditions which are to be maintained, and a fixed deposit of belief.
iv. That faith in Christ implies assent to the doctrine that he rose from the dead, a fact attested by various witnesses, of whom, in virtue of a particular moment of mystical experience, Paul considers himself one.
v. That Christ is, in a few texts, explicitly identified as God; and that the general place assigned to him in the scheme of "Redemption" is inconsistent with the supposition that his dignity is other than Divine.
vi. That the covenant under which the Jewish Church claimed to be the chosen Assembly of God has now been superseded by a fresh covenant with an international Assembly, the Christian Church.
vii. That idolatry, or even co-operation in idolatry, is directly contrary to the Christian profession; Christians have a sacrificial meal or ceremony of their own, the supernatural character of which is elsewhere explicitly asserted.
Question: Apart from the writings of Paul, whose writings does Knox identify as describing the structure of the early Church?
Finally, in the Gospels, we have the oral tradition from the time of Jesus Himself, put into writing. Knox dates the Synoptics before 70 A.D., something which “modern” scholarship tries to dispute.
Question: What happened in AD 70 and why would rationalists like to date the Gospels after that event?
CHAPTER EIGHT: Our Lord’s Claim Stated
Our Lord was generally hesitant in claiming divinity, particularly in the early days of His public life. Even among the Apostles He is slow in revealing His divine nature. He was also careful to disallow any speculation that He might not also be man.
Questions: Give some examples from the Gospels in which Jesus seems to be keeping His divinity hidden. What practical reasons might have required this secrecy?
Yet our Lord never fully hides His divinity. (i.) He refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.” (ii.) He speaks of the Father as “My Father” (apart from the Lord’s prayer, in which He teaches others how to pray). (iii.) His miracles are always worked in His own name, and He never discourages people who worship Him.
Questions: What meaning can we ascribe to the title “Son of Man”? What great miracle did Jesus work in His own name that appeared most like blasphemy to the Jews? How specific was Jesus’ answer when called before the High Priest, and how specifically was the High Priest’s question put in order to determine Jesus’ divinity? Could the term “Son of God” have been interpreted by the Jews as something less than a claim to divinity?
Jesus’ claim to being God was necessary if His revelation and the establishment of His Church was going to be taken for authentic based on His word alone.
CHAPTER NINE: Our Lord’s Claim Justified
How does one prove that our Lord’s claim to divinity is justified? Knox suggests that it is necessary to determine the kinds of proof that are acceptable to the individual to whom you wish to prove it. Some will insist that a divine being must be capable of working miracles, and demand to see miracles—others will insist that even God cannot work miracles, and will be put of by stories of miracles. But the inquirer must be content to live with the rule he sets. “You must not say that no revelation would satisfy you unless the guarantee of miracle accompanied it, and then say in the same breath that you will refuse to accept any story of miracle precisely on the ground that it is miraculous.”
If we disallow miracles in our proof of Christ’s claim, and Christ’s claim was in error, then he had either to be a fraud or a madman. Knox points out that Jesus had no motive (riches, power, adulation, etc.) for fraud—and that while madmen do sometimes display religious brilliance, their madness usually shines through in some aspects of their behavior, speech, writing, etc. Being unable to prove Christ to be a fraud or madman does not fully prove that He is God, but if the inquirer will not accept miracles, what will he accept?
If one acknowledges the great power of God in creating and maintaining the world in existence, it is not unreasonable to expect the same great power in God incarnate. The fact that Christianity flourished so rabidly suggests that Jesus actually had something more than just sage teaching—that as God-all-powerful He actually was able to work the miracles described in the Gospels, and that people were sufficiently convinced as eyewitnesses or near-eye witnesses that they accepted His claims to divinity. There is also the fact that Jesus seemed to fulfill the Old Testament prophesies about a coming Deliverer. Where Christ an imposter it is unlikely that God would have allowed Him to pass Himself off with supposedly God-given powers. The miracles of Jesus took place after a long period (after the Exile) during which the Jews reported no miraculous events. It wasn’t as though they expected to find miracles everywhere and all the time.
Knox discusses the evidence for the greatest miracle, that Jesus rose from the dead, based mostly on the absence of a body in the tomb on Sunday morning, and the lack of motivation on the part of the Jews or Romans to steal the body, and the lack of motivation for Jesus to have faked His own death. He also cites the number of people who encountered Jesus alive during the next forty days, some of them physically touching a solid body, some of the seeing Him prepare food and/or eat it.
Question: Do we have proof here, or only motives for belief Considering the nature of historical events, is it reasonable to demand more rigorous or “official” proofs of Christ’s claim? ? Is it possible to eliminate the role of faith by the operation of natural reason? See Handout "On Credibility."
CHAPTER TEN: Where Protestantism Goes Wrong
So far we have parted from the intellectual company of all except other Christians. Knox now takes up the importance of showing how we must also part with Protestantism. They err, in brief, by failing to acknowledge the authority of the Church before going on to any theological issues:
They are not clear-headed enough to perceive that a proper notion of the Church is a necessary stage before we argue from the authority of Christ to any other theological doctrine whatever. The infallibility of the Church is, for us, the true induction from which all our theological conclusions are derived. The Protestant, stopping short of it, has to rest content with an induction of the false kind; and the vice of that false kind of induction is that all its conclusions are already contained in its premises. Perhaps formal logic is out of date; let me restate the point otherwise. We derive from our apprehension of the living Christ the apprehension of a living Church; it is from that living Church that we take our guidance. Protestantism claims to take its guidance immediately from the living Christ. But what is the guidance he gives us, and where are we to find it? That is the question over which. Protestantism has always failed to answer the Catholic challenge, over which it finds it increasingly difficult, nowadays, to answer the challenge of its own children.
The Church does not come between Christ and the soul—it is Christ who gives us His body and blood, absolves us of our sins, etc.
For a long time the difference between Catholics and Protestants was obscured by our common acceptance of the Bible as the inspired word of God. But in recent centuries some Protestant scholars have begun to challenge various passages of Scripture as being questionably biblical. In recent year this has expanded to include entire books, or to an interpretation that discounts any of the miraculous accounts of the Bible (including, even, the Resurrection) as being mere hagiography. Differing opinions on these matters has increased the danger of “private interpretation” for beyond that in the time of Luther.
Look-up: Westcott, Lightfoot, and Salmon
Knox gives two examples. One being the reconciliation of Mathew v: and Matthew xix: 9 concerning the possibility that the “innocent party” might remarry after divorce. Various Protestant scholars and denominations have answered with varying degrees of liberalism or conservatism—but do any of them judge with certainty? do any of them have the right to make a binding pronouncement? Knox’ second example is the theological question about the eternity of hell for impenitent sinners, and the same sort of questions are raised about making an authoritative pronouncement.
Look-up: The “Q” document. Also see "Biblical Criticism?"
Question: What have we seen in the Conciliar Church that resembles the Protestantism outlined so far in this chapter?
The Anglicans of Knox’ time claimed the “authority of the Church,” but meant the “history of the Church,” appealing to the writers of the early centuries. Knox lists a number of difficulties this presents to Anglicans: (i.) There is no historical basis whatsoever for the marriage of a man in major Orders. (ii.) Appeal to the history of the Church produces no certainty, as historians are rarely in complete agreement, and various doctrines took time to be understood and officially formulated [e.g. the hypostatic union, the divine motherhood of Mary, etc.]. There is, of course, room for argument about how many centuries constitute “early Church.” (iii.) The Protestant has to overlook a most important thing about the early Church, that it was one, and was not divided along denominational lines.
Knox proposes and interesting analogy based on Saint Paul’s comparison of the union of marriage with the unity of the Church (Ephesians v). Perhaps when one is allowed to go slack the other will follow.
It is curious that the Holy Ghost guided the Church for six, thirteen, or eighteen centuries, and then stopped. This is manifest among modern churchmen who have lost their zeal in condemning their fellow churchmen when they take a theological or moral “flyer.”
Knox makes passing reference to the Orthodox, suggesting that they will be corrupted by Protestantism as the political situation changes (he had the Czar in mind, but Communism must be considered too). A few words explaining how the Orthodox “broke away from the unity of the Church” might have been in order, but they are not given.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Foundation of the Church
After the Ascension, our Lord left behind a collection of moral precepts and the seeds of a theology, and He left them, precisely, in the keeping of the organization He identified as His Church. The Jews had been expecting a messianic kingdom of a remnant of the Jews—what our Lord founded was far less military and political than expected, and it included gentiles (not altogether unexpected by Old Testament prophets). The kingdom is expected to grow organically like the mustard seed or the measure of leaven; it will continue for some period of time, purposefully unspecified by our Lord.
The Church is a re-foundation of the visible Ecclesia of the Old Testament. At its core will be a small number of carefully trained disciples, who would guard His doctrine and spread it throughout the world. They are twelve in number, after the twelve tribes of Israel, and to them He commits the power of God: “All power is given to ME; going, therefore, teach ye all nations.”
The Apostles have already been given instructions about the things they are to do and the authority they have to deal with new developments. They will baptize, offer Mass, forgive sins, anoint the sick, and so forth. They understood that they had the authority to replace the apostate Judas with Matthias—and the authority to create an order of Deacons, through the laying on of hands, for the ministry to the widows and orphans—and the authority to decide the degree to which the Mosaic Law would bind new Christians (Council of Jerusalem). The writers of the Acts, the epistles, and the fourth Gospel all view the Church as both a unity and a continuity of our Lord’s ministry.
For our Lord to leave such an organization and expect it to function in unity and truth throughout the years, required that He provide it with supernatural guidance. Knox asks us to compare modern Lutheranism and Anglicanism with the teaching of their founders [how about the USA today with its founding fathers]. He did not make His followers automatons, however, and some would stray fro His truth, so He left a means of arbitration. (i.) For a brief period the authentic followers of Christ would work miracles “"These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name they shall cast out devils; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," and so on.” (ii.) Heretics would generally be in the minority when compared to the numbers of orthodox Christians. (iii.) Our Lord designated a personal representative, Peter and his successors, to speak in His name—for which Knox abundantly cites the scriptural evidence.
Question: Can you list some of these citations?
There is historical evidence that the successors of Peter taught with his authority in the early Church [even before the death of the last Apostle]. The See of Antioch, which had been founded by Peter, never contested the primacy of the See of Rome. The Popes were not just lucky in always being associated with the orthodox factions in Church history, rather the factions were orthodox because the were associated with the Popes.
The other “notes” of the Church flow from its unity. From true doctrine flows holiness. It is the essence of the unified Church to be universal. The one Church is known because of its union with the successor of the Apostles.
Question: So what happened in the mid-twentieth century?
CHAPTER TWELVE The Object and the Act of Faith
We have certainty the God revealed Himself in nature, that He reveled Himself in Christ, and finally that He reveals Himself in His Church. It is now possible to go beyond the limitations of natural human reason. Mysteries like the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union are beyond natural experience, and therefore cannot be known with unaided reason. We know of them only because they have been revealed by God. We are asked to believe in them by the Church who teaches them with Christ given authority.
There are two sources of revelation, Scripture and Tradition. But even before Scripture was committed to writing it existed as oral Tradition. Indeed some thing, considered too sacred to be committed to writing wherein they might be found by non-believers, were communicated only orally to the neophytes, according to the disciplina arcani. Some Traditions, although universally accepted, were not committed to writing until relative late (e.g. the Assumption)—those who would deny them are in the position of providing contrary evidence, for the holders of the Tradition cannot be asked to “prove the negative.”
The Scriptures were selected by the authority of the Church from a larger body of writings (apocrypha), some of which claimed to deal with the Subjects of the Scripture, but which were rejected by the Church as lacking divine inspiration. Oral tradition was, perhaps, more reliable in an era when writings were scarce and perishable.
Question: Why might the writings of the New Testament period have been scarce and perishable? See also "Early Bible Making"
Some doctrines took many years to be fully developed, for it was necessary to develop philosophical terms in which they might be defined (e.g. the difference between “person,” and “nature” or between “substance” and “accident.” But development cannot be understood in terms of new doctrines created out of whole cloth, or in theories that simply explain doctrines by explaining them away. The Church defends doctrines by refusing to allow them to be diminished:
No (she says to the Sabellian), your statement does not justify the conviction my children have always had; you are making the three Titles of the Godhead impersonal. No (she says to the Nestorian), you are dissociating the Person of Jesus Christ from the Person of the Eternal Word. No (she says to the Receptionist), a change such as you suggest would not affect the substance of the Elements.
Look-up: Sabellian, Nestorian, Receptionist.
One who becomes a Catholic will never be put in the position of being required to believe some new doctrine, invented by the Church after he joins—public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Nor will any doctrine be taken away.
Question: How well does this comport with Vatican II and the Conciliar Church?
Yet, there may be changes in objects of devotion—a new saint, or the modern veneration of an old one less esteemed in earlier times. Even devotion to the Blessed Sacrament his developed over the years.
Where you see men, in the old world or in the new, full of the conviction that there is one visible Church, and that separation from it is spiritual death; where you see men, in the old world or in the new, determined to preserve intact those traditions of truth which they have received from the forefathers, and suspicious of any theological statement which has even the appearance of whittling them away; where you see men distrustful of the age they live in, knowing that change has a Siren voice, and the latest song is ever the most readily sung; where you see men ready to hail God's Power in miracle, to bow before mysteries which they cannot explain, and to view this world as a very little thing in comparison with eternity; where you see men living by very high standards of Christian ambition, yet infinitely patient with the shortcomings of those who fall below it--there you have the Catholic type. It has not changed, and you will find it without difficulty to-day.
Acceptance of the Church is inductive (reasoned from our experiences—like physics), but the acceptance of Her teachings is then deductive (reasoned from what She presents to us—like geometry). Only then can human reason accept the Mysteries which cannot be experienced naturally.
While faith may be in the intellect, but it must be actuated by the will. One can know a great many things without acting on them, only the will can put them into action. When man makes the act of the will to believe, it is answered by God with the supernatural grace of faith. Faith does not fill in any gaps in the logical approach to belief. While such gaps remain there cannot be true faith.
Look-up: Prevenient grace, Empedocles.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Air Catholics Breathe
Though, in referring to the “supernatural life,” we are using a metaphor, the concept being described is no less real. It is simply necessary to use metaphorical terms to describe things which are not subject to tangible experience. Knox gives the example of the blind man describing a color in terms of notes from a musical instrument—both the color ant the notes are real, however differently they must be perceived.
For the Catholic, the supernatural life, the life of man with God, begins with Baptism (perhaps with the decision to get baptized in the case of an adult) and continues on as long as one remains in the state of grace. The poem Knox cites is “The Kingdom of God” by Francis Thompson, but Knox omits the first and last verses, perhaps because he wants to force the reader to think metaphorically:
Knox speaks of the supernatural life being one of conviction rather than consciousness—we do not see God behind the veil, but we know that He is always there—and we know that the veil is always near to us. The intense soul, like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, may even become impatient with the delay that life presents to an even closer union with God.
Question: Do you agree with Knox’ ideas on “reverence”? Is it possible that English Catholics hold (or once held) different ideas than traditional American Catholics.
The supernatural life permeates the natural. Persons, places, and things can take on a sort of sacramental holiness. This is not [should not be] a superstitious attachment, for (i.) we claim no intrinsic power in the person, place, or thing, and (ii.) the holiness imparted come through the favor of God or the saints, and not through ceremonial magic.
Look-up: Hocus Pocus.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Truths Catholics Hold
This chapter is an important summary of dogmatic theology.
We believe in one God, existing in a Trinity of Persons. Knox paraphrases Saint Augustine on the Father’s begetting of the “Word, the express Image of himself, a Word Timeless, Uncreated, Personal. And from these two Persons, Father and Son, proceeds a third Person, the Holy Spirit; the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father, is Personal too and thus the Trinity is completed.” The distinction between the Three is unreal if not personal; the unity of the three is unreal if not substantial.
What ever exists apart from the Trinity is a fully voluntary creation of God. We see the material part of creation readily, and through reflection we know that we have a spiritual component as well. It is reasonable to think that God created pure spirits as well, and we are assured by revelation that He did so. We are further informed that some spirits revolted against God, meriting eternal punishment.
Man, the composite being of matter and spirit, was created in a single pair with natural and supernatural graces which they could have passed on to their children, but lost in an act of prideful disobedience. [Original sin is a privation of these graces, a squandered fortune no longer available for the heirs to inherit.]
Man must now struggle for what was given freely to Adam and Eve. But God foresaw our need and planned to send His Son into the world—“God became Man in order that, dying, he might atone for our sins, and win us the graces normally necessary to the attainment of salvation.” The Incarnation was not merely an illuminating revelation to mankind, but was intended to set man right with God, fortifying him with “actual graces” and “justifying” him with “habitual graces.” The good things man did would now win favor for him with God. God could have effected this state of affairs with a simple act of His will, but chose instead to “make atonement for us himself, and to make it in full measure by the perfect offering of Death.”
Look-up: habitual grace, actual grace, created grace, uncreated grace, substantial grace, sanctifying grace, justification and be able to define them. (Some of them are redundant terms.)
The Second Person of the Trinity, possessing the divine nature from all eternity, united human nature to His divine nature. Both natures remained intact. In keeping with His eternal plan, God endowed the Virgin Mary with the same gifts possessed by Adam and Eve at the first instant of her Immaculate Conception [which conception occurred naturally through the union of her parents, Joachim and Anna]. Overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, the Virgin conceived the Child in which divine nature was united with a true human nature, body, and soul. The God—man Jesus Christ lived, died, rose, and ascended into heaven, where He remains today.
Look-up: Hypostatic union.
In addition to His natural body, our Lord is the Head of a body, the Church, made up of all His followers. Knox uses the metaphor of a country [a patria] made up of all its loyal sons and daughters. The Church is not something outside of this body—to use the metaphor, it is not like the State, the oppressive bureaucracy, which is feared by the same sons and daughters. “The Church is our Mother, in that her baptism gave us supernatural life; our Mistress, in that her teaching secures us from speculative error; but she is more than that: she is ourselves.”
The members of the Church receive grace through the Sacraments, the means promised by God to channel His graces, not through the request of the Church, nor through the works of the ministers, but through the work of Christ Himself who uses the minister and the Sacrament as His instrument.
In the Blessed Sacrament (Holy Eucharist) our Lord is truly present under the appearances of bread and wine, regardless of the faith of the recipient, and even if there is no recipient at all. Our Lord’s words were explicit on the matter [also see John vi:26-67). The change from bread and wine to body and blood is imperceptible to the senses, being in the substance but not in any of the accidents (such as size, shape, color, taste, etc.)—this change is called transubstantiation. We speak of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and hold that the offering of Mass is the renewal of the propitiatory Sacrifice of the Cross.
Look up: substance, accident, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, propitiatory, and be able to define them.
The four most difficult and controversial mysteries in Christianity are the “Trinity in Unity, the Union of Natures in the Incarnation, the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, and the relation between Grace and Free Will.”
Look up: universals, particulars.
The difficulty in understanding the relationship between grace and free will can be mitigated a bit by recognizing that Pelagius was wrong in saying that man could work his way into heaven without God’s grace—and that Calvin was equally wrong in saying that some men are damned to hell no matter what they did to be saved.
Man is judged immediately at death, condemned to the punishment of hell if it has resisted God’s friendship. Those who die in the state of grace are guaranteed to see God in heaven, but some may have to expiate punishment for their earthly wrong doing in purgatory. We pray for the dead that their expiation may be made lighter [“shorter” is probably a misnomer, grounded in the worldly conception of time]. An indulgence does not forgive sin, but may remove some or all of the debt of punishment. At the end of time, a final judgment will reveal the justice of this, and will usher in the resurrection of the dead.
Question: What is the difference between the ways in which an indulgence is applied to the living as opposed to the dead?
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Rules Catholics Acknowledge
The Church acts judicially in two ways. First by interpreting the Natural Moral Law and Divine Positive Law in the specific circumstances of modern times; second by making Her own regulations for the behavior of Catholics. Knox gives the example of declaring dueling to be immoral—were he writing today he would probably have used an example from the way in which modern medical technology can be used or abused. He also indicates that the Church does not create unnecessary scruples about things that might lead to bad results but which are manageable by good judgment.
For the lax, the Church’s moral legislation may mean little, but the soul seeking to do God’s will should derive consolation from the Church’s authoritative interpretation of God’s will. It is important to know that interpretations of the Natural and Divine Laws are universally binding, on Catholics and non-Catholics as well, for they are the law of God, not of the Church.
The disciplinary rules of the Church may vary with time and place. The Church does not have the power to waive Natural or Divine Law—Knox uses the example of dissolving a valid marriage, but She can impose disciplinary conditions touching on the Divine Law, such as marital impediments.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Strength Catholics Receive
The Sacramental principle is seen at least two times in the Gospels as our Lord heals someone with an outward sign—matter and form—that symbolizes His medicinal activity but which would be inadequate to actually bring about the healing.
Modernists try to discredit the Sacramental principle, attributing it to Saint Paul, but it is abundantly clear from the synoptics that its origin is in Christ. That the seven Sacraments were not carefully enumerated until the middle ages (by Peter Lombard) is not a matter of medieval innovation, but a matter of language. Previously, there had not been a rigorous distinction between what today we call Sacraments and sacramentals. The choice of the seven Sacraments as being of divine origine is reinforced by the choice of the same seven by the Eastern Orthodox.
Five of the seven Sacraments correspond loosely to the developments of a persons life—Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, and Extreme Unction. Confession and Holy Communion are received with regularity.
Infant Baptism is rejected by some of the sects. Together with Absolution and Unction of the unconscious, it is an example of “naked sacramentalism,” the reality that correctly administered the Sacraments are effective if there is, at least, no resistance to them. We have scriptural accounts of entire households being baptized, presumably including children. We have no record of infant baptism causing any complaint in the early Church, even though some erroneously (e.g. Constantine) put off Baptism until on their death beds.
Confirmation is no longer attended by miraculous signs, but miraculous signs seem to have generally ceased in the Church around 100 A.D. We have scriptural references to an imposition of hands to confer the Holy Ghost on those who had been only baptized (e.g. those baptized by the deacon Philip).
Extreme Unction may indeed have a healing component, but the Church sees it as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins, and we do see that sickness and death are among the consequences of sin.
Marriage is sacred in nature, even apart from the Church. But Christ and the Church hold it in even higher esteem. Ordination must be a Sacrament for so many of the Sacraments flow only from it.
Frequent Communion was characteristic of the early Church, but frequent Confession was not. Members of the highly persecuted Church tended to be people willing to go to great lengths to keep the faith and the moral law. Those that succumbed to persecution and wished to return to the Church later were generally kept from the Sacraments for very long periods, both so that they could appreciate the seriousness of their apostasy, and to give example to others who might consider apostasy as an easy way out of persecution. Postponement of Baptism offered a way to have even very serious sin forgiven with little difficulty. The Church, following Her Founder, generally tends toward leniency, particularly where contrition is evident. Church history demonstrated the moderation of the Church, following a path that avoided both laxity and rigorism.
Frequent Communion was common in the early Church, became less common, and was not revived until the Counter-reformation. [And not really until the urging of Pope Saint Pius X, and the mitigations of the Eucharistic fast.]
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Ambitions Catholics Honor
Look-up: Asceticism, mysticism, contemplative prayer, Gnosticism, Manicheanism, Albigensianism, “Omne ignotum pro magnifico est”.
Asceticism is praised by the Church but, apart from some regulations on fast and abstinence, not mandated for all Catholics. It tends not to be a part of Protestantism, except incidentally. It seems to have originated in replacing the suffering or martyrdom associated with persecution as a way of enduring the uncomfortable for God. Asceticism must not be associated with the false philosophy that spiritual things are good while material things are evil—the philosophy of the Gnostics, Manicheans, Albigenses, and some Protestant sects. Asceticism does not seek to build physical endurance, nor does it depend on pointless humiliation.
“The whole effort of Catholic asceticism is to lay down some principle, or set of principles, by which we can relate our use of God's creatures to an end.... There are three possible attitudes, which do not exclude one another”: (i.) Thankfulness for the use of God’s creatures. (ii.) An attitude of indifference and acceptance of whatever life may bring. (iii.) An attitude of self-denial, either to avoid being distracted by the pleasures of the world, or in reparation for one’s own sins or those of others. To some degree, all Catholics are commanded by the Church to exercise some self denial via the fasting and abstinence laws governing Lent, Vigils, Fridays, and Ember days. Any stricter voluntary self mortification should not be attempted without the supervision of an experienced spiritual director. “There are dangers, obviously, to health; dangers, also, of spiritual pride, and of unnecessary scruple.” Often people inclined to this form of asceticism join others of like mind in the monastic environment.
Generally, Protestantism dismisses the notion of reparation for sin via self-discipline or mortification. Knox says this attitude is significant in turning people from Protestantism, for it makes human suffering meaningless. Without the notion of reparation via suffering, suffering itself becomes meaningless or makes God seem cruel—either it is the product of random chance, or the punishment of a vindictive God. The Catholic can see his sufferings as making up for “that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians i:24).
Catholic mysticism tends to be simple rather than elaborately poetic or philosophical. This is not to say that there are no worthwhile Catholic treatises on the mystical life, but such treatises tend to be about the mystical life, rather than being written in practicing the mystical life. (Some of Saint John of the Cross’ writings might be an exception.) Authentic mysticism finds its home in the Catholic Church for the Church provides authoritative guidance as to whether or not individual mystical experiences are genuine.
Question: Where have we seen the Conciliar Church fail to guide its pseudo-mystics?
Generally speaking, Catholics tend to be respectful of ascetics and mystics, even if they have no such aspirations of their own. Catholics tend to view the saints, not as historical figures whose eminence fades over the centuries, but as people still living, capable of knowing our needs through prayer, and interceding for us. We have patron saints for many things, and a universal patroness in the Immaculate Virgin.
Question: In the magnificent passage below, what does Knox mean by a “God-bearing Man.” Why, says Knox do non-Catholics criticize Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin?