Lord of the World

Fr. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World is a tantalizing and profound novel.  Its congruence with Papal documents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is striking.  While the circumstances of his world, especially that of technology are clearly those from the imagination of the early 1900’s, his novel strikes to the heart of he who is the Lord of the World.

A theme that was so powerfully embodied in the novel was that the Lord of the World became such through peace.  With a world poised for a catastrophic war and trembling in fear, his successful attainment of “peace” made him a savior.  National governments all vied for him to be their nation’s leader, but he wouldn’t accept…that is until they agreed to make him President over all nations.

That theme resonates with Sacred Scripture (cf. Rev. 13) and Josef Pieper’s The End of Time when he says, “perhaps the pseudo-order of the Dominion of the Antichrist, after a ‘period of chaos’ on a vast scale…[which] precedes the establishment of a universal state, will be greeted as a deliverance (which would exactly confirm the character of the Antichrist as a pseudo-Christ.”(p.128)

Another powerful theme was the participation of the nations in the persecution of the Church.  Through their representatives and by their own hands, the people of the world were not just bystanders; they often suggested new persecutions of the Church because they anticipated that was what their “savior” desired.  This coincided with the replacement of true worship with a perverse and mocking form of worship of man as the Superman.  “It was Positivism of a kind, Catholicism without Christianity, Humanity worship without its inadequacy.  It was not man that was worshiped, but the Idea of man, deprived of his supernatural principle.”

I must say, Benson’s book cast a spell over me…and filled me with terror.  I sat, mid-morning, reading of the end of time and I could feel the oppressive rule of the Lord of the World in the room with me.  I was transported to the streets where the millions of people waited to adore him even from afar.  I ran in terror as Rome was utterly destroyed and I stood as one of the representatives selected from all the nations to witness the final destruction of the Church at the hands of the Lord of the World.  Should it have been night when I read this novel, I might have been swept entirely into screaming fits of horror.  Benson so well captured the end of times that, even though the actual details might be different, the Lord of the World grasps its essence perfectly.  Though I am sorry to do so, I recommend this book as a must read.

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