Book Review of Saints & Schemers: Opus Dei and Its Paradoxes
by Joan Estruch (From the ODAN Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1996)
Reviewed by a parent of a former member of Opus Dei. The review reflects the personal opinions of the reviewer.
This book was fascinating and perceptively written, although it was a difficult book to read due to the detailed information which it contained and its scholarly focus.
The author gives a comprehensive, factual history of Opus Dei, with much emphasis on the Founder, whom he believes defines the organization itself.
The author uses several sources, including the “official” literature of Opus Dei, historical data, interviews with members and former members, and interviews with insiders connected to the Vatican.
The first part of the book focuses on the history and sociology of Opus Dei. The second part focuses on the Opus Dei ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
The author offers many theories, poses numerous questions, and does his best to do so in an unbiased forum.
Perhaps the most startling of the author’s theories is that contrary to “official” Opus Dei history, the organization was founded not in 1928, but much later, and that its main goal from the beginning was not “the sanctification of daily work” but a desire to influence academic circles in Spain.
The author faults Opus Dei for not being true to its own history; Opus Dei stubbornly denies its many changes over the years.
By outlining the different emphases in each new edition of The Way, Escriva’s first major work, Estruch tracks the changes in Opus Dei itself over the years.
For example, earlier editions of The Way do not even mention “sanctification of work” in the index; The Way has little to say about this subject, yet Opus Dei still claims that the Founder visualized the entirety of Opus Dei in 1928, and that the emphasis was on “sanctification of daily work.”
Also hindering the search for Opus Dei’s true history is the fact that Opus Dei will not reveal crucial documents and letters written in the early years.
Official biographies of the Founder omit many crucial facts and do not admit political or cultural influences.
Estruch illustrates that the history of Opus Dei is closely connected to the Spain of the 1930s and 1940s in the religious, political and social spheres. He also shows that the rivals of Opus Dei, the Jesuits, were actually the model used to form Opus Dei.
He proposes that their relationship is marked by confrontation and conflict because of their similarities — at least in the beginning — rather than their differences.
In the final chapter, Estruch outlines some of the many paradoxes in Opus Dei, including the following: how Opus Dei, an “elitist” organization, nevertheless says it is made up of “ordinary Christians”; how Opus Dei claims to profess a “clearly lay spirituality” while inducing many of its most valuable members to enter the priesthood; how Opus Dei claims that it participates in all the affairs of society, in the name of its radical “secularity,” yet at the same time in the name of “discretion” seeks to pass unnoticed in society, employing much energy to keep its true identity secret.
In summary, Estruch points out that the ideals of Opus Dei are not in accord with the structure of the organization and its actual practices. (p. 261)
This was an extremely interesting and insightful book. Of particular interest was learning how greatly this movement has ingratiated itself in the Vatican, with obvious power in the Roman Catholic Church. I would recommend the volume to anyone interested in a comprehensive, factual documentation of this elusive organization.
Posted to website May 13, 2002