Friday, August 05, 2022

Three New Republications of Non-fiction Works by Msgr Robert Hugh Benson

On the heels of their excellent new editions of two of Msgr. Benson’s better-known historical novels, The Cenacle Press of Silverstream Priory has just released three more non-fiction titles by the same author: Confessions of a Convert, Papers of a Pariah, and The Friendship of Christ.

In his autobiographical Confessions of a Convert, Benson describes his journey to the Church, starting as an Anglican brought up in “the moderate High Church school of thought” and ending as a Catholic priest living under “the sunlight of Eternal Truth.”

Says Joseph Shaw: “Benson’s Confessions of a Convert are edifying and entertaining in equal measure, and a fascinating snapshot of the Anglican and Catholic scenes in his day. They remind us of the great soul-searching and also personal suffering undertaken by the generations of converts, from Newman up to the 1950s, who enriched the Catholic Church in the British Isles while the Church was subject to the soft persecution of prejudice and social exclusion.”

In Papers of a Pariah, Benson imagines the experiences of a fallen-away Protestant who returns to the practice of religion and then finds himself drawn to the Catholic Church. Under this literary device, Benson comments:
Even to me, Protestant as I am, it did seem completely suitable that an event so stupendous could scarcely be approached by any other process than that of a sacred dramatic dance, with an accompaniment of rigid and minute Court etiquette. To leave the conduct of such a thing to the individual personality and the private taste of a simple clergyman in a surplice, would be nothing else than bathos of the worst description; human outlines must be obliterated by some overpowering uniform, personal tastes and methods of behaving must be rigidly supplanted by set movements and gestures. In fact, for such a drama as this we need not clericalism, but the most emphatic sacerdotalism. Originality in the sanctuary, as has been well observed, is the grossest vulgarity known to men.
The relevance of these comments, made 60 years before the introduction into the Catholic liturgy of so many elements that render it casual, personal, and de-ritualized, hardly needs to be pointed out. It serves as a timely reminder that such liturgical fallacies existed and were recognized by Catholics long before they were being perpetrated within the sanctuaries of Catholic churches!

Speaking of Benson, Evelyn Waugh said: “He was a magnetic preacher, an excellent story-teller, a ready writer; he had enthusiasm and unremitting energy, a rich imagination, an exuberant curiosity about people and things. But he knew that there was only one relationship of absolute value, that of the soul to God.” In his book The Friendship of Christ, Benson addresses this question of the soul’s relationship with God.

“How to love an invisible God? For anyone who has asked themselves this question,” comments Melinda Nielsen of Baylor University, “Robert Hugh Benson weaves together the many strands of the Catholic faith to reveal the one thing needful—the radiant face of Christ. Here Benson unfolds the secret of the saints: that Christ is the truest of all friends, not metaphorically, but in reality.” A classic of “modern” spirituality, this work is perhaps the most essential of these three works to acquire for your Catholic bookshelf.

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