Lord of the World

Book cover: 'Lord of the World'
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
Neumann Press
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
322 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Lord of the World, written in the early part of the 20th century, is an intelligent and Catholic fictional extrapolation on the trend towards Modernism described and condemned by Pope Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentabili Sane

The setting is a future society where the Catholic Church is no more than an embattled remnant. In the popular and intellectual view, culture has moved past the "need" for faith in the supernatural. Near the beginning of the book, two young priests discuss with their superior how to regain some Catholic foothold in a culture which has been de-sacramentalized; of the two, one goes over to the enemy's side, while the other will be hunted and scorned for his faith. The latter priest, Father Percy, a sort of focal point of the book, has the odd distinction of being physically almost identical to his counterpart, a mysterious international leader who has a more-than-human influence on the people he gathers around him. This anti-Christ figure is personable, not obviously evil, and seems in all ways more powerful than the fugitive priest - but as Christ's representative, Father Percy is ultimately victorious in the task he is called to carry out. Their physical resemblance seems to be a device to underline the contrast.

The contrast is also demonstrated in their respective influences on a married couple and the husband's mother, who are key characters in the book. The mother is drawn back towards the sacraments as she drifts closer to death while the attractive couple move from kind "tolerance" to active antagonism for the church and all it represents.

Modern humanitarian secularism eases into savage barbarism and the light of truth seems to flicker and die, but though the events are dark, the ending demonstrates that the battle has been won on a supernatural level even while lost by worldly standards.

I would probably save this book for an older high-schooler who is mature enough to distinguish between tenets of the faith and imaginative extrapolation. It might be quite interesting to read this book alongside some secular works in the same genre - Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, or even some of the works of H.G. Wells. Another book written from a Catholic perspective, a science fiction post-apocalyptic classic from the 1950's, is Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. One more book which deals with the effect of modernism on society is C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the last of his Space Trilogy. I could see these books being read as an introduction to modern worldviews in perhaps 11th or 12th grade.

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