SAINTS AND SCHEMERS: Opus Del and Its Paradoxes by Joan Estruch

SAINTS AND SCHEMERS: Opus Del and Its Paradoxes

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A dry study of the origins and evolution of a fiercely controversial organization in the Roman Catholic Church. Opus Del (work of God), officially founded in Madrid in 1928 by Monsignor Escriv de Balaguer, is a unique body of priests and laypeople (more than 75,000 worldwide) who see work as the means to holiness, both because it is a sharing in God's creative action in the world and because it is a concrete way of making Christ present in society. For Opus Dei members, asceticism involves striving to be highly successful as professionals, something that has not often been characteristic of Catholic lay spirituality, and this has brought many charges of elitism and power-seeking, not least from other Catholics. Because of its policy of ""discretion"" and the discipline imposed on its members, Opus Dei has been accused of beig a secret society within the Church, even a ""holy Mafia."" Pope John Paul II recently declared Escriv (who died in 1975) ""blessed,"" and he acceded to the founder's desire that the organization be given a large measure of autonomy as a personal prelature. Estruch (Sociology/Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) takes readers through a labyrinth of documents, chiefly from the official literature of Opus Dei. He shows that the complex character of Escriv and the organization was very much a product--though a most unusual one--of Franco's Spain, and that Opus Dei has, in fact, adjusted its thinking more than many members like to admit in order to keep pace with changes in both Spain and the Catholic Church. In a final section, the author draws on Max Weber's thought to make a stimulating comparison between Opus Dei's ""sanctification of work"" and the worldly asceticism of Puritanism. Confined to documentation and constantly referring to methodology, this study makes for heavy reading. Meticulous, but perhaps excessively unsensational.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.