Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lord of the World, I: The Papal Reading List


A short time ago Pope Francis commented that people might want to read a science fiction novel written in the early twentieth century by a priest who was a convert to Catholicism, Lord of the World, by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914).  Pope Benedict XVI before his election also had positive things to say about the novel.  As Pope Francis was quoted,

Popes and Cardinals read it.
There is a book, excuse me, but I’ll make a commercial, there is a book that maybe is a bit heavy at the beginning because it was written in 1903 in London. It is a book that at that time, the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization and wrote in that book. It is called The Lord of the Earth, or The Lord of the World. One of those. The author is [Monsignor Robert Hugh] Benson, written in 1903. I advise you to read it. Reading it, you’ll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization.”

Evelyn Waugh
A couple of minor corrections: the book was published in 1907, and there’s no “the”; it’s just Lord of the World, the author’s most heavy-handed satire — and Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), one of the best modern satirists, took lessons from Benson, and admired him greatly.  There's also the "problem" that people tend to look on a book by a Catholic priest and recommended by the pope as being a little too, well, "Catholic."  Fear not.  The novel is, admittedly, "drenched" in "Catholic language" and concepts, but the theme is universal — keep in mind that you write best when you write what you know, and Msgr. Benson knew Catholicism.  And don't worry, we won't use too many more "quote marks."

Anyway, almost immediately, people began asking us if we’d ever heard of the novel, and (if so) had we ever read it?

Well . . . yes.  We’ve not only heard of it and read it, we put out our own edition, published by a small for-profit company in which we have a minority interest, Universal Values Media.  We even wrote a critical foreword, because so many people 1) don’t realize that the book is satire, and 2) don’t know what satire is.  There was also the task of making a "Catholic" novel palatable to non-Catholics who might not see past the window dressing to be able to get to the underlying point.

Satirizing the New Age
That takes nothing away from the book, of course, although some people might be disappointed that Benson’s foresight was the result of reason and not direct revelation from God (i.e., not based on faith, but on reason) — or, more likely these days, as Benson himself satirized in The Necromancers, a Ouija Board or crystal ball.  The fact is, however, that Pope Francis is right, although he put it in a way that might confuse people expecting some kind of mystical revelation or advocating a Catholic Caliphate or something.

Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson
No, what you’ll see in Lord of the World is the logical consequence of certain trends that, sadly, have come to almost full fruition as people, stripped of economic power through lack of capital ownership, have lost the ability to resist the intrusion of the State into every aspect of life.  Is it a bit over the top?  Absolutely — and deliberately so.  Benson was trying to wake people up to some very serious dangers threatening society, but using a Catholic setting and language, since that was what he knew best.

Not surprisingly, most people have ignored the graphic warning, and completely misunderstood the novel, some taking it as a prophetic revelation of what's going to happen if the world doesn't become Catholic immediately (or, at least, right after lunch).  Perhaps Pope Francis’s “endorsement” will help people reconsider it in a new light, especially since, despite what both liberal and conservative Catholics are now saying, Francis is still the Coolest Pope Ever, and the last to try and ram Catholicism down anybody's throats, even Catholics.

So, who was this guy Benson, and why should anybody but fanatical Catholics care about him?  Tune in tomorrow.  You’ll be surprised.


Sources for Benson’s novels and related material:







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