It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously. It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world’s opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object…
…he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination.
Persecution, he said, was coming. … But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan’s attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once.
But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.”
Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
Written before WWI. Benson feared what would happen if the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of modernism – socialism – worked, what might happen if secular powers were able, by intelligent management, to eliminate the physical causes of human suffering, and, by making suicide a sacred, state-supported right, cause spiritual suffering to be something avoidable and individually chosen.
Looked at from Benson’s perspective, we have been spared, I suppose, the curse of successful socialism. He was writing before the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent horrors under Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian and so on, Communist regimes. His worries that secular management of everything would WORK proved baseless. Instead, we have the curse of those committed to the idea that a paradies is around the corner despite it never having resulted from previous efforts, that it will work if we just keep trying, in the face of mountains of evidence – and mountains of bodies – proving it won’t.
Hurray! I guess?
Question: In that last paragraph, did Benson overrate the shrewdness of secular government? Is he right about the adoption of the trappings of liturgy and sacrifice?