Five Insights on Death and Dying From Fr. Ronald Knox

One of the most famous of early twentieth century converts, Ronald Knox grew up at the top of the English establishment and was widely thought to be a future leader of the Church of England. Instead, he entered the Church. And become one of her cleverest and liveliest public spokesmen, as well as a profound and witty teacher and theologian. His book on ultra-supernaturalist movements, Enthusiasm, became a classic, his Belief of Catholics a Catholic Mere Christianity, and his translation of the Bible a neglected treasure.


You cannot but be impressed by the extraordinary preoccupation of her [St. Therese of Lisieux’s] mind with eternal values. From her infancy, when she prayed that her mother might die and so attain the joys of Heaven, down to her last illness, when she greeted every symptom of her disease with delight, as a step towards her own consummation, she treated death as if it were the mere lifting of a veil.

— The Belief of Catholics

Two lovers naturally think of the moment, and speak with pathos of the moment, when Death will part them. Nobody thinks of the moment when Death will part him from his dentist. It is a cruel, brutal thing when you see it shorn of all its paraphernalia of tragedy.

— Other Eyes Than Ours

Every act and every suffering of her [St. Therese of Lisieux’s] life is seen always in its relation to eternity; the slightest rebuff or mortification is so much “vinegar in the salad” — the whole values of life seem to be inverted, and yet there is nothing strained, nothing forced, nothing unnatural about the terms in which the autobiography describes her feelings. The supernatural has become a second nature to her.

Nor is it only by lifelong cultivation that this attitude of familiarity with the other world is produced; you will find it also in the accounts of martyrdom. It was one of the Elizabethan martyrs, I think, who looked forward on the scaffold to a bitter dinner, but a pleasant supper, and the similar attitude of St. Thomas More is notorious history. In all this there is the same instinct of familiarity, which takes the transition from one world to another as a matter of course.

— The Belief of Catholics

Every man born into this world lives in a condemned cell. The warrant for his death will be issued at a time not of his choosing.

— Occasional Sermons

It is not enough simply to know, as a theological proposition, that we are on our probation here; we have to apply that knowledge and live in the light of it. There are so many other things to be done in the world, so many echoes that deafen us, that we are apt to forget the first principle of our probation, which is this: that the most important moment of our lives, the moment around which all the rest of our life ought to be grouped as its center and climax, is the moment when we leave it.

— Pastoral Sermons


For Fr. Knox’s reflections on the saints and how to be one, see The Curtains Of Heaven Are Transparent: An All Saints Meditation.

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