The Knox Version, or the Trials of a Translator: Translation or Transgression?

  • Solange Dayras


In the work of Ronald Knox, translation is the link between the man of wit and the spiritual writer. It is often a literary exercise associated with parody and pastiche,1 but in his translation of the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Lisieux,2 and in the translation of the Bible3 which he undertook at the request of the Hierarchy, it becomes religious meditation. The Catholic Rheims-Douay Version of the Bible4 and the Authorised Version, among others, were the result of teamwork. But, like Challoner’s revision, Knox’s translation was a one-man performance. One cannot but recognise the boldness, indeed the rashness, of such an undertaking as one thinks of all the great translations of the past that had been the combined work of whole teams of exegetes. But Knox, who had always needed encouragement in the writing of his other books, laboured at this monumental task with obstinate determination for more than fifteen years. Father Martindale SJ, although he never had any doubts about his friend Ronald’s competence and literary talent, was the first to show surprise that Knox should have undertaken such an exploit.


Religious Text Scientific Exactitude Literal Translation Latin Text Catholic Tradition 
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  1. 1.
    In Three Tongues, ed. L. E. Eyres (London, 1959).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Teresa of Lisieux, Autobiography of a Saint, trans. R. Knox (London, 1958).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See J. H. Newman, ‘History of the Text of the Rheims and Douay Version’, Rambler, vol. 1 (July 1859) p. 146.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Hugh Pope, English Versions of the Bible (London, 1952) p. 256.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. S. L. Greenslade (Oxford, 1963) particularly pp. 161–3.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    N. P. Wiseman, ‘Catholic Versions of the Scriptures’, Dublin Review (April 1837), p. 476.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Newman, op. cit., p. 152.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    R. A. Knox, The Tablet, 18 June 1938, p. 795.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Julien Green, Journal for 1947, La Pleiade (1947), p. 691.Google Scholar
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    Ronald Knox, On Englishing the Bible (London, 1949) p. 42.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Ronald Knox, in Westminster Chronicle (1946), issue devoted to Richard Challoner, pp. 33–42.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Thomas Corbishley SJ, in Catholic Herald, 18 Nov. 1955, p. 3.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Concerning parallel syntactic patterns and semantic parallelism in biblical verse, see Stephen Prickett, Words and the Word (Cambridge, 1986) p. 42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Robert Alter, ‘The Characteristics of Ancient Hebrew Poetry’, in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (eds), The Literary Guide to the Bible (London, 1987) pp. 611–24Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Knox published A Book of Acrostics (London, 1924).Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    See A. C. Partridge, English Biblical Translations (London, 1973) p. 182.Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    See Anthony Kenny, A Path from Rome: An Autobiography (London, 1986) p. 116: ‘One of the finest English writers of English in the twentieth century, who toiled in solitary misery, for some twenty years to produce a version of the Bible which literate Catholics could be proud of. He was a master of the language, adept at rendering into English the ambiguities of the original.’Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    See E. H. Robertson, The New Translations of the Bible (London, 1959) p. 161: ‘Ronald Knox enjoyed this strange book and has given to it a gentleness it does not possess in Hebrew.’Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Ernest Cadman Caldwell, What is the Best New Testament? (Chicago, 1952) ch. IX: ‘How Accurate is your New Testament?’, see Table, pp. 85–6 and 97–8.Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    See Anthony Kenny, op. cit., p. 116: ‘Officially, indeed, Catholic Bible translations had to be made from the approved Latin text of the Vulgate. Knox, who knew Greek perfectly, had to pretend to be translating the N.T. from the Latin.’Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    Sebastian Bullough OP, ‘Monsignor Knox’s Old Testament’, The Month, July 1949, p. 44.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • Solange Dayras

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