Ronald Knox was an Anglican whose conversion was partly due to his relationship with G.K. Chesterton, a famous public Catholic intellectual at the time. Having gone through the English upper-class education system and been ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912, he was brought into the Catholic Church in 1917 and quickly ordained a priest in the Catholic Church.
Recognized for his scholarship and his writing, the English bishops tasked him with translating the Vulgate into English. The English translation everyone used was called the Douay-Rheims Bible and was translated about the same time as the King James version in the early 1600s.
Msgr. Knox was sent to a rural convent so he could work undistracted, but soon after the War started, many urban girls were sent there for safety, and he became the chaplain to this impromptu school for girls. After three years together, he decided to use his sermon time in a different way. He chose to lead them through the Apostle’s Creed – the one we say at the beginning of the Rosary, not the one we say at Mass. At that time, the Mass was prayed in Latin, and all the girls would know the Latin prayers, which is why his commentaries are full of bits of Latin.
Msgr. Knox starts with the first word of the Creed: Credo. (This is why we call it the Creed, for it is a profession of faith and the first word is the Latin word for the phrase “I believe” in English.
As we go through the Creed, I will try to provide you with the Latin, the English words translated faithfully, and then the English written out as we would write English.
He asks the question, “Why ‘I believe’ instead of ‘we believe’ in the middle of Mass, which is our great communal celebration. Think about the opening rites of our Mass, in which we confess our sins and then sing the Gloria. Sometimes we pray the prayer in the group setting but emphasize the singular – as in the Credo and the Confiteor – while other times we pray in the group but emphasize the collective – as in the Gloria: we praise thee (laudamus te), we bless thee (benedicimus te), we adore thee (adoramus te), we glorify thee (glorificamus te).
So, what is going on here? What is significant about the use of the first person singular or the first person plural?
When we sing the Gloria, we are like the glorious company of the Apostles in Heaven losing ourselves in our song of praise to God. We join in the chorus of praise and adoration of the Almighty.
When we recite the Creed – alone or in a group – we are declaring our personal belief in the doctrines of the Church. The “I” is critical, for we are personally responsible for our declaration of faith. The Creed is what the Church believes in a very distilled form. I am declaring myself in union with the Church when I recite the Creed. I may not understand the fullness of each doctrine, but I am declaring my faith in each one.
And the same personal responsibility applies when it comes to confessing our sins. We just completed a long examination of moral questions so that we could prepare well for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we walk into the confessional, the priest expects us to confess our sins, not the sins of others. (Wouldn’t that be so much more fun!)
If I find there are parts of the Creed I do not believe, then I should consider studying and seeking some help from a qualified person to help my grow in my understanding to the point that I do believe. Or, perhaps, I should be honest about my lack of belief, my lack of faith, and stop reciting it.
Once a year at Easter, we substitute a Profession of Faith for the Nicene Creed, so that the doctrines are posed as questions and the people answer “I do.” If you have been to a baptism, you have heard the same format. Each time we pray the Creed, we are renewing our commitment to the faith, and this personal statement is critical if we are to have a personal relationship with our Lord.
Msgr. Knox points out that the belief embedded in the Creed is not the same thing as the belief that credulous or gullible people believe. He says:
The difference between being a credulous person and being a sensible person isn’t a question of HOW MANY things you believe; it’s a question of whether you believe the RIGHT things; that is whether you demand the right kind of evidence before you believe a thing or not. (p.4)
He cites newspaper reports of the Loch Ness Monster, but we could talk about people who believe what they see on Tiktok or Twitter. We should not believe it just because we read about it on social media. But, on the other hand, if you get persistent and similar reports from multiple sources you regard as sensible and truthful, then it is foolish not to believe it – even if you also saw it on social media.
Many of the historical items in the gospels are confirmed by non-religious sources. That Pilate was there is confirmed by Jewish sources. That crucifixion was a means of execution at the time was confirmed by many other examples of Romans using it.
Knox then points out that to believe a thing is not the same as not denying it. It means focusing your mind on it until you care about it enough to want to really know whether it is true or not. If you really believe a thing, it becomes part of the make-up of your mind. In the case of the Creed, our faith becomes the framework for how we interact with the world and the lens through which we see the world.
One of the bases for belief in the Creed is the reliability of the Catholic Church. The Church will be mentioned directly later in the Creed, but as we have already seen in earlier sessions, the Church has the job of protecting the deposit of the faith, and it is protected from error in matters of faith and morals by the Holy Spirit, which is something we get directly from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels.
Msgr. Knox then points out that some things don’t have to be believed entirely on the authority of the Church, and he pivots to some of the ways that St. Thomas Aquinas proved the existence of God on the basis of reason alone.
A prerequisite of reason and logical thinking is the principle of non-contradiction. It means that two statements that are opposite cannot both be true. One cannot truthfully say, “I am a man” and also declare “I am a woman.” One cannot be both; one must be either male or female. This fundamental truth is under assault today, and many self-declared smart people endorse what is called “gender fluidity,” but all of this is illogical thinking because it violates the principle of non-contradiction. In our study of the moral life, we learned what a sin is. Well, if murder is a sin, then murder cannot not be a sin. When somebody confesses to murder but does not see it as an immoral act, then he has departed from rationality. He is declaring as true something that cannot be true.
A second important concept is the idea that logic cannot end in a dead end. We cannot end up in self-contradiction, nor can we end up in falsehood. And more commonly, we cannot end up in an endless repetition of the same premise over and over. This one is very common for anyone who has talked with inquisitive young boys, for they love to ask “why” to the answer of every question. There always seems to be something that came before the last thing we listed. If every event has a cause, then we will be stuck in an endless circle of causes. And that is reduction to the absurd. In order to not end up there, we must consider that there is a First Cause, something that does not have a prior cause. That first cause is God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and Msgr. Knox.
Knox then walks the girls through the proof based on intelligent design. Seeing the order of the universe, logically one can conclude there was a designer, for otherwise we would see randomness and chaos but we do not. That designer is God.