Dawn of All

Book cover: 'Dawn of All'
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
Lepanto Press
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
282 pages
Grade / Age level: 

This book, together with its counterpart Lord of the World, is an early venture into the "speculative" genre of fiction. Written in 1911, it could be considered early science fiction with its descriptions of future technology, but it is really much more a religious and philosophical exploration of the effects of belief systems on society.

Msgr. Benson wrote the book, he comments in a preface, as a response to readers of Lord of the World who felt he painted too bleak a picture of a future where Christianity was marginalized and all but extinguished by the forces of Modernism. This book takes the opposite premise as a starting point - that the truth of Catholic claims have been almost universally recognized except by a few stubborn Socialists.

A dying priest of the turn of the century, who has lost his faith to the modern conceptual framework of science and psychology, slips into a coma and find himself, with no memory of his past, in a future world which seems strange and unsettling to his Modernist sensibilities. The science and psychology communities studying miracles under the authority of religion at Lourdes? An Ireland which has become basically a country-wide contemplative order? Learned men telling him pityingly that it is only the half-educated mind which can compartmentalize faith and reason rather than realizing they are both tools for the search for Truth? The USA government a monarchy, with Massachusetts a haven for a last remnant of earnest, earthbound Socialism?

The searching, intellectual, slightly distanced tone of these observations suits the character of the protagonist-priest. With his intellect, he sees the force of the Catholic claims; but his heart continues to resist. A crisis comes when he witnesses the trial and execution of a pure-minded but self-confessed heretic priest under the secular authority. How can this be right? Can this ascendant Church, whose supremacy is acknowledged world-wide, be truly the Church of its suffering servant Founder? In a world where societies punish heresy as a crime, and "freethinkers" are sent to exile, how can church leaders claim to be allied with He who is meek and humble of heart? The church has shown herself to have the Truth, but does she have a heart?

Monsignor Benson uses this projected future society to explore some of the criticisms of our past, historical Church and offer some perspective on the paradox of a Holy Church whose earthly work is carried out by weak, fallen man. I don't think it is any coincidence that the dying priest has lost his faith while co-writing a book about the popes. When a ferocious German socialist party, willing to annihilate the world rather than concede defeat, threatens Europe and kills Catholic envoys, it is a pope who show how meekness and courage can be reconciled with authority in one person, the person of Christ's Vicar.

Reading this book, the Catholic reader must examine his assumptions and think about profound topics. Though the reading and interest level is suitable for a ninth grader, I think the novel should be read under supervision, with some care to explain to the student the genre and intentions of the book. I think it would be more profitably read along with the companion novel Lord of the World and possibly as a starting point to a study of various ideologies and how they affect the day to day details of society.

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