The Lord of Heaven and Earth

08-23-2020Weekly Reflection

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.3 It is written: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon." Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast" refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God. Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Lord of the World, was written by the English Catholic convert Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (the son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury) in 1907. He attempts a vision of the world more than a century in the future — in the early 21st century… our own time… predicting the rise of Communism, the fall of faith in many places, the advance of technology and so forth, up until… the Second Coming of the Lord, with which his vision ends. For this reason, and also because Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have repeatedly cited Benson’s book, saying its clarification of the danger of a type of humanitarianism without God is a true danger that we do face.

In this regard there is also the book by Daniel J. Mahoney, The Idol of Our Age How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity which should also be read. It’s easily obtained as a kindle-book.

The French revolution was an attempt to base liberty, equality, and brotherhood on humanity alone as political religion to which the Church must be subservient. These political pseudo-religions like political correctness, secular humanism, communism, socialism still deceive and attract as “answers” to injustice, materialism, consumerism, and the spiritual disorder of the world. They always are hostile to and attack the true religion of Christ and anything flowing from it like the natural order and the nuclear family. They impose these religions by raw political power and always tend to totalitarian control. Reality is defined by the ideas of the enlightened to be imposed on others. There is no truth in these pseudo-religions except political power and control. Any number of apostate clergy have gone over to these pseudo-religions in the past and today. This type of pseudo, political religion is the basis of an anti-church within Christ’s own Church, which is the battle of our times. It constantly mounts an attack on the teachings of the Church from within and without especially on family life and sexuality and the Church’s social teachings replacing them with political ideology rather than the Gospel.

St. Ignatius Loyola reminds us: God created man/woman to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls. God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose. From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end. The Spiritual Exercises Principle and Foundation.

Men and women are not gods and never will be but the temptation to live and act as if human beings are gods unto themselves is all around us. When you read Lord of the World, it’s easy to see the prophetic character of the book, to see the technological predictions that have materialized, to see even some of the political predictions come true; we think of other stories such as 1984 and Brave New World. Indeed, in the edition recently released by Ave Maria Press, the excellent introductory essays describe Robert Hugh Benson’s vision as one that inspired the genre of dystopian fiction, and they also give background on Benson’s conversion from Anglican cleric to Catholic priest.

The story itself concerns the ascent of Antichrist to world power, primarily in the person of the enigmatic Julian Felsenburgh, a mysterious American senator who rises to worldwide prominence by negotiating a long-desired world peace. Any opposition to Felsenburgh and the world order that he leads melts away: nations beg Felsenburgh to be their leader, and people embrace him by mass acclamation. The only ones who remain in opposition are the few members of a remnant Church, led by Fr. Percy Franklin, who is elected Pope Sylvester III and who looks strikingly similar to Felsenburgh.

In the midst of this large-scale story of materialism, technological advancement and world government battling a seemingly defeated Church, it is easy to overlook a subtle spiritual reality: a world that denies the supernatural does not cease to be influenced by supernatural forces but rather simply blinds itself to those influences. The government ministers, the average citizens on the street, apostate priests who join the humanitarian movement all fall in with Felsenburgh out of emotion and false hope; they lose not only the perceived superstitions and moral chains of Christian faith, but they lose their ability to recognize the spirit of Antichrist come into the world. In this way, Lord of the World is reminiscent of another novel that recounts the entrance of Satan into an atheistic world that denies his existence: Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

A world that fails to recognize the supernatural, a world that seeks to elevate humanity to the highest order is one into which Antichrist can enter and operate more easily. Man does not lose his need for hope; Benson’s depiction of the mass movement to embrace and project hopes onto Felsenburgh presages the mass movements that engulfed world affairs throughout the 20th century and up to the present moment. Viewed in this light, we can see the character of Mabel Brand, who undergoes a profound alienation from the humanitarian mass movement, as a sort of conversion story: she comes to see the reality of evil in the world and flees from it, while halfway around the world, Felsenburgh and Pope Sylvester meet in a final cataclysmic battle between good and evil.

Perhaps this is why the popes have suggested we read the book. We ought not only be cautious to avoid using the work of globalization for the purposes of propagating policies that harm people in the developing world, but we must also bear in mind the supernatural reality that Good and Evil are real, and that to deny the Devil is to give him place to operate.