The dystopian 1907 classic novel, The Lord of the World, was written by the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury who became an Anglican priest and then converted to Catholicism. Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson sidestepped his own ascension to the Canterbury throne when his scandalous move to Rome laid the groundwork for the book that eerily reflects the world we live in today.
That world depicts the erosion of spirituality and the emergence of a new political environment where religion is abolished. This is a world where human freedom is restricted, and where the state creates a false religion based on the belief in Humanity rather than a transcendental God.
This new Church of Humanity comes complete with rituals that mirror Catholic liturgical life, since even the new government knows that people need some form of “worship.”
In Benson’s book, we read how Pope Silvester, the last pope of the Catholic Church, is forced to live in the Holy Land because Rome has been annihilated by the new government.
“…Christianity had smouldered away from Europe like a sunset on darkening peaks; Eternal Rome was a heap of ruins; in East and West alike a man had been set upon the throne of God, had been acclaimed as divine. The world had leaped forward; social science was supreme; man had learned consistency; they had learned, too, the social lessons of Christianity apart from a Divine Teacher, or, rather, they said, in spite of Him. There were left, perhaps three millions, perhaps five, at the utmost ten millions throughout the entire inhabited globe who still worshipped Jesus Christ as God. And the Vicar of Christ sat in a whitewashed room in Nazareth, dressed as simply as his master, waiting for the end.”
A question arises: Did it ever occur to Benson while writing ‘Lord of the World’ to depict the Vicar of Christ as playing a part in the creation of the new Church of Humanity?
Would Benson have dared write about a compromised papacy?
Could he have even imaged a pope who elevated social issues and political ideology to the level of religious dogma?
If Benson had been able to psychically transport himself into the future and actually “see” a pope in the 21st century putting a pagan idol (Pachamama) near the altar of Saint Peter’s, would he have dared put that into print?
My guess is no, because even in the dystopian world of fictional narrative such an inclusion would have been perceived as somehow ‘sacrilegious.’
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