Ronald Knox

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Ronald Knox

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 188824 August 1957) was an English theologian, priest and crime writer.


  • When suave politeness, temp'ring bigot zeal
    Corrected I believe to One does feel.
    • "Absolute and Abitofhell", Oxford Magazine, October 1913
  • There once was a man who said: "God
    Must think it exceedingly odd
    If he finds that this tree
    Continues to be
    When there's no one about in the Quad."
    • Langford Reed, The Complete Limerick Book (1924)
    • The topic of this limerick and the following one is George Berkeley's philosophical principle, "To be is to be perceived".
  • Dear Sir,
    Your astonishment's odd;
    I am always about in the Quad;
    And that's why the tree
    Will continue to be,
    Since observed by
    Yours faithfully,
    • Langford Reed, The Complete Limerick Book (1924)
    • Although this reply is anonymous, it is usually also attributed to Knox. (See, for example, a Guardian editorial for 3 September 2010.) Given the supposedly divine provenance of the limerick, the lack of a human author would appear to be part of the joke.
  • Only man has dignity; only man, therefore, can be funny.
    • Essays in Satire, Introduction (1928)
  • It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it.
    • Let Dons Delight, Chapter 8 (1939)
  • The prevailing attitude of the speakers was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the reader had not said.
    • Let Dons Delight (1939)
  • Only those of us, I think, who were born under Queen Victoria know what it feels like to assume, without questioning, that England is permanently top nation, that foreigners do not matter, and that if the worst comes to the worst, Lord Salisbury will send a gunboat.
    • God and the Atom (1945). London: Sheed & Ward, pp. 53–54
  • I suppose there has been no subtler attack upon the Christian faith devised by its enemies in these last hundred years than the attack made in the name of "comparative religion". If you pick up a book on "Atonement", and plough your way through ideas of atonement among primitive tribes, pagan ideas of atonement, Jewish ideas of atonement, Christian ideas of atonement, you will find by the end of it that atonement, for the author's mind, has ceased to have any meaning. And he has been successful, in so far as he has managed to infect your mind with the wooliness which is the leading characteristic of his own. Comparative religion is an admirable recipe for making people comparatively religious.
    • The Hidden Stream (1952)
    • Often misquoted as "The study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious."
  • A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.
  • He who travels in the Barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room.
    • Reply when asked why he did not visit Rome, quoted in Penelope Fitzgerald, The Knox Brothers (1977)

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