He had already begun to write before this, but from this time on his literary career blossomed. He began to produce historical novels such as By What Authority? (1904) and The King’s Achievement (1905), in which the religious controversies of the Reformation period were explored. He eventually wrote twenty-seven books, of which seventeen were novels.
Up until 1908 he worked among the students at Cambridge, but then obtained permission to retire from pastoral work to concentrate on writing and preaching, tasks which fully occupied him for the remaining six years of his life. He was enormously popular as a preacher, giving Lenten sermons in alternate years in Rome and the United States, sermons that were responsible for many conversions.
The year 1907 saw the publication of one of his most famous novels, the futuristic Lord of the World. This was set around the year 2000 and is uncomfortably prophetic in describing some modern aspects of Church life, such as the diminishing of faith under the assaults of materialism, as well as developments including aircraft and euthanasia.
This novel was regarded as too pessimistic by some, and as a response, Msgr. Benson wrote The Dawn of All in 1911, a book in which the Church is seen as ultimately victorious. He also produced further historical novels including Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912), a romance set in the time of Elizabeth I and the English Catholic martyrs.
During the last few years of his life Msgr. Benson produced more modern works, most of which explore the problems involved in living up to the practices of Catholicism and the general search for truth in a sinful world.
He was appointed a monsignor by Pope Pius X, and died in 1914 due to heart problems brought on by overwork and pneumonia, being buried in the grounds of his home, Hare Street House, at Buntingford, near London. In his will he bequeathed it to the Archbishop of Westminster as a retreat.
Fr. C. John McCloskeyis a Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, DC.