I finish this Introduction by mentioning passing you on to the Introduction Preface written by my good friend, the late renowned Catholic philosopher and novelist Ralph McInerny, who was professor at the University of Notre Dame for many decades and an outstanding intellectual figure in American society.
If you would like to hear a free conversation between the two of us on the Lord of the World, you can find it online at www.EWTN.com. Search by my last name, McCloskey, for a MP3 from Program Five on my Catholic Authors 2 series. If you are more ambitious or can afford it, you might consider purchasing the DVD itself and its companion that provide 26 half-hour shows on Catholic Literature.
Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) is another member of a group of important Catholic writers from the first half of the twentieth century. In his case, though, his premature death in his early forties meant that he has never become as well known as some of his more famous contemporaries, such as Msgr. Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc, and G. K. Chesterton.
He is best known for his novels but in his time he was also a sought-after preacher.
Like Ronald Knox he was the son of an Anglican bishop, but in his case he managed to go one better in that his father was actually the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson. His autobiography, Confessions of a Convert, which was originally published as a series of articles between 1906 and 1907 in the American Catholic magazine, "Ave Maria," details his gradual progress into the Catholic Church.
Again, like Ronald Knox he went to Eton, but here too the conventional tenets and practices of the Established Church made little real impression on him. It was only after leaving Eton, and before going to Cambridge University, that he had what he describes as his first touch of "personal religion." This came about through his fascination with the music and worship at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
But once he went to Cambridge he slipped back into indecision about spiritual matters. Despite this he decided to follow the "family profession" and become an Anglican clergyman; at this time, like many Protestants, he still harbored a deep suspicion of the Catholic Church. Thus his father ordained him in 1895.
Following his father’s death shortly after, though, he began to look at Catholicism more closely, especially after some time spent abroad in the Middle East; he came to realize just how small the Anglican communion was in relation to Christendom as a whole. Nevertheless, he joined an Anglican religious community, hoping this would calm his troubled mind, which for a time was the case, being professed in July 1901.
However, his worries and doubts resurfaced in 1902, as he weighed up the conflicting claims of Anglicanism and Catholicism. He discovered that this was an impossible task for him on an intellectual level, since he felt incompetent to decide which set of theological "experts" he should believe.
This led him on to the extremely important point that the true Church should be discoverable by everyone, even the not-so-clever, and that humility and singleness of motive were the most important elements in this search, an idea Benson was to stress in his book The Religion of the Plain Man. Catholic writers, and particularly Cardinal Newman, also influenced him in his famous Development of Doctrine.
It was principally by a study of Catholic claims in the light of the New Testament, though, that he came into the Church, being received by Fr. Reginald Buckler, OPo.p., in September 1903, the first son of an Anglican archbishop to become a Catholic in three hundred years, an event which was, naturally enough, something of a sensation. Shortly after this he went to study in Rome for the priesthood, being ordained there in June 1904.