Pope Francis and The Lord of the World

So now we hear that Pope Francis likes Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World. My response when I first heard this was, “Really?” How surpassingly odd. But I shrugged it off as another glaring inconsistency in this incomprehensible papacy. If you are not familiar with the novel, which is arguably the best of Msgr. Benson’s many novels, I recommend reading Father Schall’s excellent review of the book for Crisis Magazine  here: Today though, I found another comment on the anomaly of Pope Francis’ supposed affinity for a prophetic novel that pretty much condemns every single thing he stands for. For what it’s worth here is what I consider a good response to the latest media hype surrounding Pope Francis favorite bedside book, The Lord of the World:

The latest on R.H. Benson’s book ‘The Lord of the World”
In the many interviews he grants to the press, Pope Francis likes to share his bedside books. As he has a great many, Corriere della Sera launched a collection last May – “Pope Francis’ library” – that will include no less than 20 books. The second work to be edited for this collection is Robert Hugh Benson’s masterpiece ‘The Lord of the World’. This surprising choice for a pontiff so open to today’s world inspired the author of a biography on Benson recently published in Italy, Luca Fumagalli, to write some reflections entitled “But has Bergoglio ever read The Lord of the World?” and published on the Italian website Les cronache di Papa Francesco.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to appreciate the English author’s most famous book can not help but ask: but has Bergoglio actually read the novel?

The Lord of the World is the dystopian story ..  of a future in which Catholicism is scorned and the Church is on the verge of extinction. The new humanitarian ideology that pretends to substitute man for God has opened the doors to apostasy and sin*. Euthanasia, abortion and religious persecution are the result of a culture of false tolerance that, thanks to a prophetic intuition, is really not very different from what we see today. When the decadence reaches its climax, Felsenburgh, a mysterious politician who soon shows all the characteristics of the biblical figure of the Antichrist, manages to gain power over the whole earth with the one goal of eradicating the Church of Christ.

Written under Pius X’s pontificate, the novel paints a picture of a Catholicism radically opposed to that promoted by Francis.

Indeed, throughout the plot, Benson insists several times on the clear division between the world and the Church. The criterion of worldliness is considered as dangerous for the soul, the fruit of a conspiracy against the good whose sole purpose is to stifle any spiritual instinct. In The Lord of the World, even lay values like solidarity and respect, that Bergoglio so often mentions, are presented in a negative light because they are just a screen that cannot hide for long the liberal’s hatred for the truth. So it is a “great divorce” – to quote the title of a famous novel by C.S. Lewis – that is carried out for the triumph of Christ and that calls for a radically militant Church, very different from the post-conciliar ideology of a community on a pilgrimage, marching towards a horizon of truth that is beyond everyone’s grasp.

Far from the embrace of the world of which Bergoglio has become a shining example, Benson even imagines in his dystopia …  that the different Christian churches or sects have been reabsorbed by the Church of Rome, the only one to have proved a solid and credible rampart against the temptations of modernity.

The attack on modernism and freemasonry is the ultimate seal of a radically anti-modern work that has nothing to do with Francis: from his disavowal of proselytism to ecumenism, from his mea culpa’s to his nods to the dominant way of thinking (the latest, comparing Catholic mothers to rabbits is at the least revolting, author’s note), the suspicion almost arises that Bergoglio and Benson might belong to two different religions.

A few years ago, Archbishop Luigi Negri, archbishop of Ferrare-Comacchio, had written in a preface to the Italian re-edition of The Lord of the World:

“Written in 1907 by a great Christian, this book is a terrible prophecy by (its depiction) of the reality and specificity of the world in which we are living, and of the path that led to this world. This enormous system that standardizes people, social groups, nations, and peoples on the basis of an essentially atheistic humanism, with references to common values that are profoundly laicized and secularized Christian values. A society in which there are no longer any differences, any sort of differences: be they religious, social, or cultural, they are seen as negative and the goal is to unify, we might say to make uniform, the entire planet.

“There are also the differences that arise threatening, such as the entire East, the entire Orient, but beyond the specificity of the situations, Benson’s intuition is that we are moving towards a negation of God through the construction of a society that objectively has no God. In order for this society to be built – and this, too, is an impressive intuition – the attempt we are making has to be divinized, as when the Tower of Babel was being built; the project has to become an absolute and those realizing it must be divinized, and since the logic of the unity is strictly human, the one in charge of guiding the whole operation has to become an absolute. That is the image of Julian Felsenburgh, who is in substance the Antichrist, a soft Antichrist, but nonetheless the Antichrist of a society that wants to do without God and therefore without Christ. (…)

“But the Church resists the atheistic humanism and violence towards Christianity; she is progressively reduced, and conserves a strong sentiment of unity around Peter and his successor. And yet, even though she is gravely weakened, she does not die and even with numerically reduced proportions, she remains a living reality, coagulated around this great idea of a religious order of Christ Crucified that was the great intuition of the novel’s protagonist, who ends up being the last pope.”
(source: corriere della sera/ trad. Française: benoitetmoi – DICI no.310 Feb. 13, 2015)

Perhaps Pope Francis likens himself to a Pope that unites all Christians, but as Bishop Negri noted, any attempt to do this must resist atheistic humanism and violence towards Christianity and adhere to the “great idea of a religious order of Christ Crucified”. Exactly! Yet Francis in his words and actions appears more in sympathy with Felsenburgh.

*In Pope Francis’s writings on the economy he criticizes the economy for not being centered on man. The Catholic (true) view is that the economy as all else, must be centered on God, NOT man. In this as in much else, Bergoglio is much more in sync with Felsenburgh than with Msgr. Benson. So who exactly is The Lord of the World, as far as Francis is concerned?

Pray the Pray the Rosary and confound the devil!

~ evensong ~