This past spring I ran across an Aleteia blog post relaying that both our current pontiff, Pope Francis, and our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, have recommended the same novel to the Catholic reading public. The book–Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World–is a dystopian novel about the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. So I bought a cheap copy for Kindle and have since devoured it. I could not put it down.
Monsignor Benson was the son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury who converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest. Though he and his work are not as well known today, he was praised in his time by great Catholic writers like Hilaire Belloc, and today by the likes of Joseph Pearce. Pearce has this to say about Lord of the World:
The world depicted in Lord of the World is one where creeping secularism and Godless humanism have triumphed over religion and 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.”
The novel was written in 1907, but from the world it creates, I would have guessed it had been published after one or both of the World Wars. It does feel prophetic, though I’ve ceased to be surprised by this, given the number of literary classics I’ve read in recent years that seem as though they fit our times. But Benson’s book is short, gripping, dark, terrifying at times–and beautifully represents the challenges of living a Catholic faith in a world with little use for it.
That said, it is a very Catholic book and may not be enjoyed as much by non-Catholics (unless, God willing, they have a heart very much open to learning about the faith). The cheap download for Kindle have numerous typos, but Ave Maria Press has a new edition out for those who prefer print anyway. I recommend it wholeheartedly.