Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I can't help but post John Nolan's comment from my post: 


I haven't read the book but I certainly want to do so. Perhaps John can comment more on "That this book should resonate with Pope Francis [as] both revealing and significant."

John Nolan's comment:

The most telling moment in this interview is when Pope Francis recommends Robert Hugh Benson's work of dystopian fiction 'The Lord of the World'. It was published in 1907 (not 1903) and few of his interlocutors would have even heard of it, let alone read it.

Benson's father was Archbishop of Canterbury and ordained him as an Anglican priest in 1895. In 1903 (after his father's death) he was received into the Catholic Church and was ordained the following year; he was made a monsignor by Pius X.

Benson (who died in 1914 aged 42)is something of a hero to traditionalist Catholics and this dark novel is startlingly prescient, although his nightmare scenario of the future does not assume any change in the liturgy and ritual of the Catholic Church, even on the eve of Armageddon.

That this book should resonate with Pope Francis is both revealing and significant. 

 Here is a synopsis of the book:

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, at the time of Lord of the World's 1907 publication.

The novel's protagonist is a British Roman Catholic priest, Father Percy Franklin, who looks identical to the mysterious U.S. Senator Julian Felsenburgh of Vermont. The senator appears as a lone and dramatic figure promising world peace in return for blind obedience. No one quite knows who he is or where he comes from, but his voice mesmerizes. Under his leadership, war is abolished. Felsenburgh becomes the President of Europe, then of the world, by popular acclaim. Everyone is fascinated with him, yet still no one knows much about him. People are both riveted and frightened by the way he demands attention. Most follow without question.

Having been a close observer of President Felsenburgh's rise, Father Franklin is called to Rome, a Hong Kong-style enclave ruled by Pope John XXVI and raised to the College of Cardinals. Meanwhile, defections among bishops and priests increase. At Cardinal Franklin's instigation, the pope abolishes the Eastern Catholic Churches and forms a new religious order, the Order of Christ Crucified. All its members, including the Pope, vow to die in the name of the faith.

Belief in God is replaced by the religion of Humanity modeled on that of Auguste Comte. All those who oppose this doctrine are subjected to torture and summary execution.

The British Prime Minister and his wife form a sub-plot: The wife desperately wants to believe in this new world movement, but she is horrified when she sees the killings that are justified in the name of world peace. Meanwhile, the prime minister's mother is brought back to the faith by Father Franklin, much to the horror of her son and daughter in law. When the Prime Minister is away meeting Felsenburgh, his wife ignores her terminally ill mother in law's pleas for a priest and has her euthanised.

With the apocalypse clearly at hand, the pope summons all the cardinals to Rome. Meantime, some English Catholics, against orders, plot to blow up the Abbey where the politicians meet. Percy Franklin, now a cardinal, along with another German cardinal, are sent to England to try to prevent this plot, which they are warned about. But word gets out. In retaliation, President Felsenburgh orders the destruction of Rome, which is carried out, killing Pope John and all the cardinals but the three who are elsewhere. These three quickly elect the Cardinal Franklin as Pope Sylvester III. Soon after, the old cardinal in Jerusalem dies and the German cardinal is hanged.

The last pope goes to the Holy Land to the location of the apocalyptic final battle foretold by the New Testament. In a final act, Felsenburgh and all the world leaders fly in formation to destroy the remaining signs of faith on earth. In response, Pope Sylvester and the remaining Catholics are attending Mass followed by Eucharistic Adoration. As they sing the Tantum Ergo, the attack strikes.

The last words of the novel are: "Then this world passed, and the glory of it."


James Ignatius McAuley said...

"Lord of the World" is a great book, but the ending is similar to the account of the apocalypse in Myles Connoly's masterpiece, Mr. Blue from 1928.

JusadBellum said...

I read the novel years ago and just re-read it again about 3 months ago. It's on my shelf.

One thing that it and Revelation's account teases me or tickles my fancy is the question: against whom do the massed and impressive armies of Gog and MaGog marshal and deploy? Seriously, it's as though we learn of the German Army but are not told of the American during the Battle of the Bulge. It's just one side's awesome firepower and the other? Are to assume the final confrontation between evil and good is a massacre of unarmed civilians?

But then why even need armies? If we are to be carpet bombed or nuked where we stand, why even assemble vast hosts and armies at all?

Obviously then the vision of Revelation leaves much unstated.

It is simultaneously true that we won't and can't win by force of physical arms....and that we won't be unarmed and helpless in the end inasmuch as otherwise the forces of evil wouldn't need to mount such an assault!

But we will most certainly be outnumbered. It'll be as all the great historic battles and last stands have been, the good outnumbered and beyond all human hope of victory when the Lord comes and wins by his own arm, not our own, thus being our Savior even in military terms.

So we need to stay in the field. The victory is not ours but the fight is.

Evil always looks like an overwhelming force, an inevitable wave of the future against which resistance is futile.

In Noah's day, evil looked invincible. In the Exodus, Pharoah's army looked invincible, the peoples' back to the sea they looked doomed.

Time and again across the ages, things have looked hopeless and yet by standing firm to the end, people have seen God perform miracles.

Bill said...

I have read it two or three times. I'm afraid it is all too plausible. It was recommended to me early in Obama's first term.

Bill said...

Also, for those who may wish to read the book, it is available on Amazon in paper or e-book (the latter is free) or on

Bill said...

On reflection, however, I would recommend Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah. It is closer to present time, with well-developed characters and a great deal of content on which to reflect.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jusad - Do you see, then, that the Book of Revelation is a "forecast" of things to come?

Rood Screen said...

The first time I heard of it was when Cardinal George referred to it recently. I started reading it, but found it rather boring. Perhaps the Holy Father should read "Father Elijah".

Gene said...

Kavanaugh, it isn't just the Book of Revelation…try the Gospel of Matthew, for starters, then Luke and Mark.
Again, you attempt to marginalize true believers with your cynical and skeptical sidetracks. But, then, I doubt very seriously if you really expect Christ to return in Glory. I think Obama is a lot closer to your concept of a saviour.

Jdj said...

Yes, Jusad, absolutely!
The great lie perpetrated by the great liar with Hollywood-like panoply: evil is overwhelmingly invincible. Evil through the ages has always won, right?
NOT. We must never give in to that lie.
Evil cannot ultimately trump good, ever, for people of faith. And Revelation tells the real end of the story...

Marie said...

I read the book years ago and have almost forgotten what it was about. I still have it on the shelf. Time to reread it, I guess.

Jusadbellum said...

Fr. K, Revelation is of course about the past, the present (circa 90 AD) and the future.

It is a complex book with no easy one for one translation into the unfolding of human history. I doubt we will recognize Gog and Magog in time but in hindsight it will be clear that both world powers that were in competition were also in a sense in a real alliance against the saints.

Thus sure you could read the Cold War as a contest between USSR and USA and yet both powers also serving a lower master. Or England vs. France. or Rome vs. the Persian empire.

The point is not to tag any power as only and always Gog but to realize that worldly power, pomp, and glory is a sham if its not grounded in God. That the devil is a liar and thus his promises of power and glory are shams too.

We are both old enough to remember the Soviet Union and how it did very much look possible that the future would be painted Red... certainly thinking about a world without the USSR (and without a nuclear wasteland) was unthinkable in 1984. But by 1994 it was gone like a bad dream.

Today perhaps we can't even conceive of a Middle East that's not a boiling cauldron of Islamic terror and dictatorships. But it's entirely likely that we're seeing the death throes, not the birth pangs and in 10 years the land of ISIS or even Saudi Arabia could be converting to Christianity en mass.

I also believe the LGBTQ movement is nearly reached its zenith of power. The tip off is the shrillness and also the heavy handed coercive measures. Such are not the signs of people who feel confident to their bones of victory but of people in a panic to cement what gains they have before it blows away. And blow it will as the evidence rolls in of the disaster that is unnatural sex. One can be lionized by society, rich, famous, powerful...and yet still depressed, empty, and dying of illnesses and diseases unheard of a generation ago.

They've equipped themselves with a leviathan thinking that strength comes from such things. But like the Soviets, they'll learn that true strength has no need for coercive measures, and truth has no need for a vast and jealous ministry of propaganda.

Anonymous 2 said...

I have not read this book. I have, however, read Myles Connolly’s “Mr. Blue,” which James mentions in the first comment. That is indeed an excellent little book.

Charles G said...

I read it recently, and it made me feel suitably apocalyptic. It reminded me of Father Elijah as well, as someone mentioned in the thread. However, IF the Pope is a liberal dissenter (not saying he is -- the jury is still out), I wonder if the attraction of an apocalyptic vision is that if everything is going up in smoke, or at least seems to be doing so, then all those silly rules about doctrine and stuff and all that Vatican Curia stuff doesn't really matter any more, so we can throw it out the window, and just emphasize mercy, love, peace and kumbaya. Not sure if that is what is going on with Pope Francis, but just raising the thought.

Jdj said...

Again, Jusad, amen! And thanks for the voice of reason and faith (yes, they are compatible and complementary). Perspective is the most important thing when the latest evil surfaces. I am often so glad for your input here, and never more than with this thread!

JusadBellum said...

I wonder... Pope Francis does talk openly of the devil as a real person and a real threat.

And as I've argued elsewhere and seen zero refutation of, his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium takes pot shots not at Reaganonmics and the Right-wing but at the current socio-political regimes actually ruling the globe and they are decidedly not right-wing conservative tea partiers!

So I think we are all being played for fools. The Left hopes he's "on their side" and that's the spin...but it's spin, it's not entirely true. The right tends to assume the left is this vast highly competent monolith (they would also like to believe that!) so the right assumes the Left is correct.

But neither side is IMHO correct about Francis. Surely we all remember Thomas Becket? Past performance as a local bishop does not predict future performance as top pastor of the world. The same happens with our pastors who become bishops.