In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Catholics rejected the world that grew up out of liberalism and the industrial revolution. Some of them expressed nostalgia for an idealized Middle Ages and in Spain for the Golden Age of the Catholic Kings. Many took up positions outside the modern age and attempted to build a new society based on Christian principles.
In this article François-Xavier Guerra, a professor of history at the University of Paris I – Sorbonne applies to four of Escrivá’s published works the tools of linguistic analysis in an effort to determine the attitude of the founder of Opus Dei to the “modern world.”
Guerra finds that in Escrivá’s writings the word “modern” “does not have any negative connotations at all, but is equivalent rather to ‘contemporary.’” For Escrivá “the ‘modern world’ … does not refer to a universe that is hostile to Christianity but simply to the world in which the modern Christian lives and in which he is not at all an outsider.” Similarly, in sharp contrast to many of Escrivá’s contemporaries, Guerra does not find in his writings “any allusion to a golden age or to a time or a society that represents the ideal of Christianity.” Escrivá’s ideal is that Christians embrace the world in which they live and annimate it from within with the doctrine of Christ.
José Luis Illanes, a theologian and former director of the Istituto Storico San Josemaría Escrivá,is the co-author of the critical-historical edition of Conversaciones con Monseñor Josemaría Escriva published in 2012. In this article he offers an overview of the corpus of published and unpublished writings of the founder of Opus Dei including the notes taken by others of his preaching and preserved in the archives of the Opus Dei Prelature in Rome. This survey excludes only Escrivá’s correspondence and the statues of Opus Dei.
Illanes takes a chronological approach in this survey. He distinguishes three major periods in Escrivá’s literary production: 1) from the foundation of Opus Dei in 1928 to 1946, 2) from 1946 to the late 1950s, and 3) from the late 1950’s to the author’s death in 1975. Most of Escrivá’s writings belong to the first and third periods. During the second period, he wrote relatively little.
A particularly interesting aspect of Illanes’s study is the information he gives on the very different ways in which Escriva approached writing his various works. Until about 1950 he wrote drafts by hand or on a typewriter and corrected them by hand. Around 1950 he began to use a dictaphone or tape recorder and revise the transcribed text. The Way was based primarily on notes that Escrivá had taken over many years about events in his own spiritual life and in his priestly dealings with many other people. Conversations, on the other hand, began with draft answers prepared by his secretaries to questions posed by journalists, which Escrivá then edited and revised. The homilies eventually published in Christ is Passing By, and Friends of God, began with the more or less detailed notes Escrivá prepared for preaching and later expanded with more quotations from Scripture, from the Fathers of the Church and from other sources.
Even more helpful is Illanes’ explanation of the origin and significance of the series of 37 “letters” which Escrivá wrote to the members of Opus Dei. Twenty-five are essays on various aspects of the spirit and activities of Opus Dei, whereas 12 deal with the juridical status of Opus Dei. They average 60 to 80 pages, but range in length from 7 to 400 pages. They were given final form in the 1960s, but in many cases Escrivá assigned to them earlier dates that roughly correspond to the periods in which he formulated the materials on which the final versions were based.