Ronald Knox on “The Modern Distaste for Religion”

I recently came across this article: Ronald Knox on “The Modern Distaste for Religion.” Its author, George Marlin, holds up the thought of Monsignor Ronald Knox as appropriate response to the theocultural problems of the day (I just coined a new word. Turns out a Google search shows that “theocultural” was already coined). If culture is used to mean the soul of a society, theology is necessary to see how culture tends toward or away from God. Anyhow, Marlin cites Knox in response the to unfortunate situation of a church which tries to reconcile itself to the culture.

Much of the article is pasted below, with my comments. I haven’t read Monsignor Knox’s writings in whole, yet. A book of his just arrived on my shelf; it is only about 600 page long. It will be on deck once I finish Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell. Marlin starts by showing Monsignor’s personal history and philosophical framework from which his thought builds:

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1885-1957) was the son and grandson of Anglican bishops, attended Eton and Oxford, became a fellow at Trinity College, and then an Anglican cleric in 1912. While serving as a chaplain at Oxford, he embraced Catholicism in 1917, and two years later was ordained a priest. A noted preacher, essayist, and literary stylist, he published numerous collections of sermons, retreat talks, and radio broadcasts.

Like his contemporaries, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Martin D’Arcy, Knox was a champion of what T.S. Eliot called the “permanent things.”  He believed that to effectively combat modernists one must merely “trust orthodox tradition to determine what he is to believe, and common sense to determine what is orthodox tradition.

Marlin’s analysis begins…

For instance, the early twentieth-century Church of England experienced declining clerical vocations, falling charitable donations, weakening “Churchmanship” in the public square, and declining numbers of laity in the pews. In reaction, High Anglican churches panicked and abandoned many doctrines inherited from Catholic antiquity. They not only tolerated “the expression of views which their fathers would have branded as unorthodox” but became “infected by the contagion of their surroundings, and los[t] the substance of theology while they embrace[d] its shadow.”

St. John tells us that “the world and its enticements are passing away” (1 John 2:17). If we let go of the teaching of the Church we are only left with sand which runs through our fingers. Popular culture doesn’t reflect Gospel truth, as a result it is only temporary. Only the Church’s teaching in its entirety reflects Gospel truth. By the way, I love the word, “churchmanship.” I can think of few better compliments than to be called a “churchman.”

To accommodate the latest secular trends, fundamental Christian dogmas were “subjected more and more to criticism and restatement.” Broadminded Anglican ministers preached that hell no longer existed and said very nearly the same about sin. Their churches became places one visited, not to hear a Gospel message, but to listen to good music and be served tea and cookies afterwards.

Any church that preaches accommodation to secular trends ultimately becomes a place that is not visited on either account, music or religion. Coffee and donuts after Sunday Mass are nice, but they can never build community communion. Sacrifice is the only thing which builds true communion. That is why people gather around the altar of the church for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our Lord said, “And When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). Communion was made was Christ was lifted up on the Cross for us and this is made present again every time a priest elevates the Holy Eucharist after the consecration.

Knox concluded that the decline in church membership goes hand in hand with the decline in dogma: “The average citizen expects any religion which makes claims upon him to be a revealed religion; and if the doctrine of Christianity is a revealed doctrine, why all the perennial need of discussion and restatement? Is the stock [he put the question in a commercial context] really a sound investment, when those who hold it are so anxious to unload it on any terms?”

The martyrs gave their lives for dogmas which are saving truths. Put another way, revealed truth is redemptive for those who receive it and live it.

This is precisely what has happened to U.S. mainline Protestant denominations. The reducing of their doctrines to fashionable platitudes has not attracted people back to the pews, but instead has driven people out of institutions that seem now to stand for nothing much at all.

I think the message is clear: we should live, preach, and teach what Our Lord lived, preached, and taught.

American Catholicism suffered similar losses after Vatican II for some of the same reasons. Vacillating bishops, rebellious priests and nuns, and revisionist theologians caused confusion in parishes, Church schools, and Catholic colleges. As a result, weekly Church attendance, 75 percent in 1960, dropped to 25 percent by 1980…

The question is: who do we want to be relevant to: secular culture or to God? Hint: the answer cannot be both. This is because secular culture refuses to reconcile itself to the Revealed Truth of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

But the effort to re-instill the doctrine that God, not man, is the measure of all things is far from complete. It will take years of patience and hard work to undo two generations of damage.

No doubt Pope Francis will carry on the work of his two predecessors and would agree with Monsignor Knox’s observation that as Catholics, “we shall have to face, more and more, the glare of the world’s hostility. For that reason, we must rally closer than ever round our bishops, our clergy, our churches, our schools; we must be active Catholics, instructed Catholics, if need be combative Catholics, to meet the demands of the new age.”

In a word, we must be authentic disciples of Our Lord. Disciples who grow ever closer to Him through the reception of the Sacraments, prayer, and study of the faith.

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