Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pope Francis on Benson's "The Lord of the World"

Pope Francis talked about more than rabbits on his flight back from the Philippines. He mentioned Robert Hugh Benson's The Lord of the World in the context of discussing "ideological colonization" when first world countries offer funds to third world countries with strings attached:

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 Benson, written in 1903. I advise you to read it. Reading it, you'll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization.

What Pope Francis is referring to is really the claims of secularization to create a perfect society imposed on the world. Pope Francis has referred to Benson's futuristic novel before, as Frances Philips of The Catholic Herald noted in 2014. She then cites Monsignor Robert Barron's analysis on Benson's novel:

Barron writes that it is the story “of the cataclysmic struggle between a radically secularist society and the one credible alternative to it, namely the Catholic Church.” Some people bridle at this claim, yet it is significant that innumerable converts cite it as the single most important reason for their conversion to the Church.

Barron points out that it is impressive that Benson “saw as clearly as he did the dangerous potential of the secularist ideology. By this I mean the view that this world, perfected and rendered convenient by technology, would ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.” Benson’s bleak vision shows the “anti-Christ” – a charismatic personage called Julian Felsenburgh – winning all his battles against the Church with deadly efficiency, except for the final confrontation which takes place, not surprisingly, at Megiddo, “sometimes called Armageddon.”

Then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger also urged his listeners at a speech in 1992 to read The Lord of the World in response to then President George H.W. Bush's talk of a "New World Order", saying that Benson's book depicted "a similar unified civilization and its power to destroy the spirit. The anti-Christ is represented as the great carrier of peace in a similar new world order.".

Father John McCloskey offers an introduction to the book and its author here. Although there are many reprints available, you can also read it online here.


  1. Just pointing out a longstanding error in the text of Lord of the World that I hope will be corrected someday. In Book 3, Chapter Five, Section III, second paragraph, we find this:

    "In short, it seemed that he could do no good by remaining in England, and the temptation to be present at the final act of justice in the East by which land, and, in fact, it was more than likely that if she were to be wiped out…”

    The text should read:

    “In short, it seemed that he could do no good by remaining in England, and the temptation to be present at the final act of justice in the East by which those who had indirectly been the cause of his tragedy were to be wiped out…”

    This was the text that appeared in the first edition. I have seen the edition in which the printer's error originated with a line of type getting reused by mistake, an error that has been recopied into all subsequent editions.

    Let us hope a corrected edition is published someday.

  2. Many thanks for that, Legisperitus. I've just added that correction to my copy.

  3. Wonder if this new edition got it right--from Ex Fontibus Books:

    1. I wonder too, but quite probably not. From what I can tell, the printer's error goes all the way back to the first US edition (1908).

  4. Photos of the error and the correct text are here:

  5. The Baronius Press edition should be right, since it has been sourced from the London first edition.

  6. As flawed as it may appear in places, it is nonetheless a great read written by a long- forgotten writer of exceptionable imagination.

  7. Robert Hugh Benson, a convert to Catholicism, captures the Catholic imagination about the end of the age in this beautiful and poetic work of fiction. Benson's ability to weave a biblical story line into an imaginative vision of the future is absolutely stunning. His writing brings to life what may be when the Lord of the World engages in the final battle against the Bride of Christ, the Church. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves well written literature.

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