This August 24 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Ronald Knox, one of the most popular Catholic writers of the first half of the twentieth century. Among his unpublished papers is a 1928 speech that is remarkable for several reasons.
First, the subject is pertinent: it is an address on pacifism delivered to a peace rally in Glasgow. As a young man, Knox frequently debated political questions at the Oxford Union, but once he became a Catholic priest in 1919, he avoided such topics. Both as an Anglican and as a Catholic (he converted in 1917), he felt that the church had a mission to promote unity across ideological divides. Even during the Second World War, he reminded British Catholics that their communion with their German coreligionists remained unbroken.
His speech is also remarkable for its audience: the League of Nations Union. From its inception in 1919, the League of Nations had been viewed with mixed feelings by many Catholics: On the one hand, any enterprise that sought to create greater cooperation among nations was to be welcomed; on the other hand, many harbored doubts about the League: doubts about both its membership (a self-selected constituency made up of the victors in the First World War) and its ideological principles.
The timing of the speech was also important. Knox gave it in 1928, ten years after the end of the “Great War” and ten years before the outbreak of...