14 December 2014


Since our beloved Holy Father is reported to have enjoyed Mgr Benson's apocalyptic novel Lord of the World, I thought I had better read it ... truth to tell, His Holiness's ideology and strategy still leave me in a state of some incomprehension; if anything is going to help me, I thought, to acquire the key to his mind, perhaps this volume might; and so I ought to give it a try.

I don't know that it has helped. Pope Francis does quite often mention the Devil, and this novel certainly takes seriously the personal power of Evil. And, I think in future, I will keep my eyes open in case his utterances indicate a belief that the End is very imminent. But the novel's profound conviction is that, in the Final Apostasy, Mankind is to be divided very radically between those who fall for Satan and the Antichrist, and those who reject them and adhere to the Catholic Church; and I don't think this idea comes out in the current Roman Pontiff's utterances. Still, perhaps I have been careless and obtuse in failing to detect this subtext. I will examine what he says more carefully in future for signs of what, back in the 1960s, our lecturers used to call Unrealised and Imminent Eschatology.

Entertainingly, one can find a hint in Mgr Benson's oeuvre of the Ordinariates! In his world, Protestantism has evaporated, squeezed out, and all that is left facing the Antichrist is the Church. So, realignment has occurred: the 'Ritualists' went over from the Church of England when the Nicene Creed was abolished (no; Benson does not foresee the gender errors and dysfunctions symbolised by the Ordination of women) and, during the course of the narrative ... while clergy of the diocese of Westminster, and surviving old Recusant families, fall into apostasy and have to be excommunicated ... the Bishop of Carlisle and half-a-dozen of his clergy enter the Church. (It will be remembered that the Monsignore, God bless him, was an ex-Anglican ... one of us ...)

Benson did not foresee the rise of the Great Dictators and their passionate love-affairs with Death. His dystopia was written in 1907, and, true, his fantasy world is richly endowed with Euthanasia (which my OED indicates was first used in its modern sense of murder in 1869). But he could not know that Hitler was to give all that sort of thing a terribly bad name, and that it would be half a century or more after 1945 before the Death Movement fully got all its courage back.

I don't think this book is great literature, but it is a decided cut above most of what is offered for us to read nowadays. I'm extremely glad the Holy Father enjoyed it. If he wants to enjoy more of our very fine English-language fiction, and thus acquire a taste for our Anglo-Saxon sense of humour, I would recommend a Lenten retreat spent in the Close at Barchester and a tour around the Ireland of Miss Nugent and Castle Rackrent, followed by a sabbatical year or two in Shrewsbury College Oxford with long, lazy, bibulous vacations spent at Brideshead playing croquet, riding to hounds, and celebrating the Extraordinary Form in the Art Nouveau Chapel which Lord Melstead* has recently restored.

What would be your recommendations? (Comments nominating Blandings Castle will not be enabled; the current Lord Emsworth has not joined the Ordinariate.)
* Transpontine readers may welcome an explanation of who this gentleman is. Upon the extinction of the Hanoverian Marquisate of Marchmain and the Earldom of Brideshead, the 1415 Barony by writ of summons survived by having passed through a woman in a cadet (and Recusant) branch of the Flyte family. His Lordship is the 23rd Baron, and he inherited Brideshead (there being no entail) under the will of his fourth cousin twice removed, Lady Julia Flyte. His grandfather had recouped the family's finances by marrying a Transpontine heiress and his own daughter has married a Russian oligarch. Consequently, there are no financial constraints to force the House to open to the Public, and its Lodges are manned by heavily armed Slavic security personnel, rendering it a safe and agreeable residence for any Sovereign Pontiff where he would not be troubled by common ordinary folk.


Patricius said...

You can't beat good old-fashioned escapism - in its proper sense, that of a man getting out of prison. This is why I love Tolkien so much. His work is not only bethought of his right English goodliness of speechcraft but is filled to the depths with an English Catholicity scarce to be found in other works of modern literature. A legendary sword, a perilous quest (or pilgrimage if you like) AND mugs of beer.

Nobody's ever had that!

Michael Ortiz said...

I agree that this novel is not "great" literature. I found it interesting, but disappointing in its execution.

Jacobi said...

I’m not very literary, but recently in sheer desperation, I started rereading my old favourites.

Shute’s ” Pied Piper” is an extraordinary study in instinctive responsibility and selflessness, and not just by the goodies!

Lepanto said...

'Decline and Fall' by Evelyn Waugh contains many useful insights useful to this Pope.

RichardT said...

Would His Holiness be allowed a sabbatical at Shrewsbury? Surely it has not gone mixed?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps he could read the works of Mgr Benson's brother, E.F. I am sure they have nothing like Mapp and Lucia in Rome or Buenos Aires.
They certainly seem to have been a successful family. Although I suppose having the Archbishop of Canterbury as your father may open some doors.

Melinda said...

Surely not Shrewsbury but Simon Magus? Regardless, I'd have to recommend a night with the Primroses on the way to the Flying Inn.

Also, a recent discovery: is Fanny Burney's _Evelina_ supposed to be as funny as it seems now?

Don Camillo SSC said...

Benson also wrote "The Dawn of All", a kind of mirror image of "The Lord of the World", describing a future, (the early sixties!) when faith is triumphant, and Ireland one big monastery. Benson said he wrote it because many readers found the earlier book too depressing. I suppose humans tend to find bad news more credible than good. I once read both books. Benson was a close friend of Frederick Rolfe, author of "Hadrian VII", another example of future fiction that has (so far) proved spectacularly inaccurate.

Sue Sims said...

I fear that Shrewsbury has indeed gone mixed - it held out till 1992 and then bowed to the Zeitgeist.

After the deaths of Miss Hillyard and Miss Lydgate (both surviving to extremely ripe old ages), there were few Fellows who had the determination to resist Progress, and the gradual decline of the college in the Norrington Table and consequential difficulty in recruiting first-class Fellows, meant that there were few to oppose the opening of Shrewsbury to men.

I imagine that His Holiness might consider St Saviour's; admittedly, Charles Reding had to leave in some disgrace, but the ecumenical movement has conveniently forgotten that unfortunate episode.

Stephen Barber said...

I suggest Descent into Hell and All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams.

John H. Graney said...

I'm liked 'None Other Gods' better. I'm was left thinking, "YES! THIS!" It's very good. I've read 'Lord of the World' but wasn't thrilled. I frankly like the apocalypse better as a mystery.

Titus said...

Yes, Lord of the World is a fantastic tale, but only a fair telling.

For something completely different, lay hands on Msgr. Benson's An Alphabet of Saints, available from TAN Books in these United States. It's an excellent present for the little ones.