Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Word Study: Opus Dei

Opus Dei, as you may have noticed from recent news reports, is the name of a Roman Catholic organization of some 85,000 members worldwide, made famous or infamous in The Da Vinci Code. This Jonal entry isn't about the misrepresentation of Opus Dei in the book by Dan Brown and movie about to be released about it, nor is this a defense of the unfairly misrepresented (as I believe) organization, but about what the words mean and what the organization describes as its purpose. And I want to mention and request your input about parallels to it in other Christian traditions.

A CBS News report says this (among other things) about Opus Dei: Jose Maria Escriva "founded Opus Dei—Latin for the 'work of God'—in 1928 in Spain. He taught that through any kind of honest work in the everyday world, ordinary people, striving for a kind of spiritual perfectionism, can find holiness."

I am grateful for the exploitation of Opus Dei in Brown's slanderous and blasphemous novel because before it became controversial I had barely, if ever, heard of Opus Dei and had no idea there was a Catholic movement devoted to finding holiness through honest work other than church vocations. In fact, for years I taught that only Calvinists had such a teaching and for that reason I found Calvinism (orthodox Presbyterian and Reformed Protestantism) the most attractive option among Christian bodies. I went on to say (in many articles and seminars) that because Catholics use the word "vocation" to mean a calling to the priesthood and Calvinists speak of any legitimate "life's work" as a "vocation," the two communions had opposite teachings on this matter. I sincerely (but wrongly) believed that Catholicism teaches a nature/grace dualism in which everything "natural" is (or tends to be) sinful and everything "grace"—as defined by the Church—is holy or capable of being holy or of imparting holiness.

I was surprised when studying Eastern Orthodoxy a dozen years ago, before I converted to it, to find that the early church fathers defended "nature" as just as godly and as vital in Christian worldview as "grace," because in Jesus Christ God himself became a "natural" and "material" being. This is the central kernel of the the doctrine of the "incarnation" (which literally means "in-flesh-ment") of God in human form. The doctrines of the Trinity, the two natures (but one person and one purpose or will) in Jesus—the divine nature and the human nature—hang on this understanding that both nature and grace are godly.

Moreover—and this is where Brown's fictional speculations become heretical—the idea that "spirit tends to all that is good" and "material tends to all that is evil" is classical gnosticism, labeled heretical by the bishops of the church long before there was a Christian emperor of Rome or a residence for the bishop of Rome in the Vatican (the Vatican Hill was an unpopulated area adjacent to the city of Rome where the tradition holds that St. Peter, first senior pastor or bishop of Rome) was buried. The first church buildings constructed there did not come until 326, over two centuries after the death of Peter and generations of occupiers of his "top Christian clergyman of Rome" office).

Brown's book and the movie about to come out based on it, teach gnosticism, the most ancient anti-Christian perversion of the teachings of Christ, which is referred to already in the Book of Acts, and false prophets like Brown try to make out that it was at least equal, if not more important, to New Testament Christianity in the church's first generations. But in fact, gnosticism was never popular enough to survive on its own, and fairly quickly died out without violence to eradicate, as was used in some other teachings later in church history. It has reared its head in various other movements throughout history, including Christian Science, but it has never been able to gain a large following in opposition to the Christianity of the Gospels and Acts.

But this discursion has gotten us off the track of Christian teachings about "vocation," so I promise (D.v.) to get back to that in Wednesday's Jonal.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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