Lord of the World
|Author||Robert Hugh Benson|
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Lord of the World is a 1907 novel by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. Despite focusing on the coming of the Anti-Christ, the Lord of the World is sometimes referred to as one of the first modern dystopias.
People have no history or hope so they often turn to euthanasia, which is mandatory for the ill, disabled, and dying. Further there is a single global government that uses Esperanto for a common language. Westminster Cathedral is the only church in London that is still used for religious purposes, with the others having become Masonic lodges. Protestantism is virtually dead, Oxford University has been abolished, and the Royal Houses of Europe have been deposed and replaced with Marxist-Masonic one party states.
Meanwhile, Pope John XXIV has signed an agreement with the Italian government: the Catholic Church can have all of Rome, while all other churches in Italy are surrendered to the government. The deposed royal houses of the world, including the now-Catholic House of Romanov and Manchu Dynasty, are now resident in Rome. Outside Rome, only Ireland still remains staunchly Catholic.
Writing during the pontificate of Pope Pius X and prior to the First World War, Monsignor Benson accurately predicted interstate highways and passenger air travel using an advanced form of Zeppelin called the "volor". However, he also presumed the survival of the British Empire and predominant travel by rail. Like many other Catholics of the era in which he wrote, Monsignor Benson shares the political and economic views of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
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.
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 places of the last days pictured in 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."
- When Lord of the World was written, the Antipopes Alexander V and John XXIII were seen as validly elected Roman Pontiffs. Therefore, Monsignor Benson's Pope John is "XXIV" rather than "XXIII". As Pope Silvester III was then seen as an Antipope, Monsignor Benson's Pope Silvester is "III" rather than "IV".
- Monsignor Benson was heavily influenced by his reading about the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror. President Felsenburgh's savage persecution of all Catholics is inspired by the Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution. A scene in which Felsenburgh leads an enormous congregation in the worship of a nude female statue in St. Paul's Cathedral is a more decorous version of the worship of the Goddess of Reason inside Notre Dame Cathedral in 1793. The number of former priests and bishops who willingly collaborate with Felsenburgh are inspired by the French clergymen who rejected Papal authority and became State employees following the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.
- The conspiracy to blow up President Felsenburgh and his underlings is inspired by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which a small number of persecuted English Catholics led by Robert Catesby attempted to blow up King James I of England during a session of Parliament. Like its fictional counterpart, the conspiracy was discovered in advance and set off a persecution intended to destroy Catholicism completely and permanently.
- Lord of the World bears many similarities to "A Short Tale of the Anti-Christ" by Vladimir Solovyov, although it is unknown to what degree Monsignor Benson was influenced by Solovyov.
Although it is not as well known as the dystopian writings of Evgeny Zamyatin, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley, Lord of the World continues to have many admirers -- especially among Conservative and Traditionalist Catholics. In 2005, Joseph Pearce wrote that, while Orwell and Huxley's novels are "great literature", they "are clearly inferior works of prophecy." Pearce explains that while "the political dictatorships" that inspired Huxley and Orwell "have had their day", "Benson's novel-nightmare ...is coming true before our very eyes."
The world depicted in Lord of the World is one where creeping secularism and godless humanism have triumphed over traditional morality. It is a world where philosophical relativism has triumphed over objectivity; a world where, in the name of tolerance, religious doctrine is not tolerated. It is a world where euthanasia is practiced widely and religion hardly practiced at all. The lord of this nightmare world is a benign-looking politician intent on power in the name of "peace", and intent on the destruction of religion in the name of "truth". In such a world, only a small and shrinking Church stands resolutely against the demonic "Lord of the World".
EWTN talk show host and American Chesterton Society President Dale Ahlquist has also praised Monsignor Benson's novel and said that it deserves a wider audience. Furthermore, Michael D. O'Brien's has cited it has an influence on his Apocalyptic series Children of the Last Days. Moreover, in a sermon in November, 2013, Pope Francis praised Lord of the World as depicting, "the spirit of the world which leads to apostasy almost as if it were a prophecy."
- Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World, London. Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd. 1907.
- Benson, Lord of the World, Saint Augustine's Press, 2011. Page 3.
- Pearce (2005), Literary Giants, Literary Catholics, page 141.
- Pearce (2005), page 141.
- Pope Francis Denounces "Adolescent Progressivism" Calls "Lord of the World" Prophetic, Catholic News Service, November 19, 2013.
- Ahlquist, Dale (2012). "The End of the World," The American Chesterton Society, March 12.[dead link]
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 48.
- Cuddy, Denis L. (2005). "Lord of the World," News with Views, April 20.
- McCloskey, Fr. John. "Introduction to Benson's 'Lord of the World'," Catholic City, [n.d.].
- Wood. Joseph (2009). "Lord of the World," The Catholic Thing, March 31.
- Rutler, Fr. George W. (2008). "The One We Were Waiting For," National Review, November 3.
- Schall, Rev. James V. (2012). "The Lord of the World," Crisis Magazine, July 10.
- "Lord of the World", St. Augustine's Press, 2001. ISBN 1-890318-38-8
- "Lord of the World" complete text online at Authorama.com - public domain books
- "Lord of the World" complete text from Project Gutenberg.
- "Lord of the World", Dood, Mead & Company, 1908 1917, from Internet Archive.
- "Lord of the World", Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1918, from Hathi Trust.