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Historical Notes

Where did the first Opus Dei members stand politically?

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Most of the first members of Opus Dei were students on various courses, coming from different parts of Spain, and with all sorts of political sympathies. They included, for instance, militants of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), sympathizers of Youth for Popular Action (JAP), of the Traditionalist Scholars Association (AET), and of liberal-centrist groups.

The special political circumstances of the Second Spanish Republic, in which the left-wing parties encouraged anti-clericalism and sowed the ideology of religious persecution, meant that Catholics were highly unlikely to belong to the left.

Father Josemaria himself never asked about the political opinions of the people he met. Many of the first Opus Dei members had no particular interest in politics at all.

Author François Gondrand wrote a paper on “The Founder of Opus Dei and his attitude towards those in power”. He said:

Father Josemaria’s arms were open to everybody, and he respected each individual’s freedom. He didn’t make any kind of party-political statement about the current situation. The young men who followed him had very different and sometimes conflicting political views. They included nationalists, monarchists who were increasingly opposed to the government, strongly republican Basque Catholics who defended their region’s freedom, etc.

The Father, as everyone called him, made no allusion to the freely-held opinions of each of them. What he did ask of them was that they should not talk about politics there in the Opus Dei centre where they went for Christian formational activities. He explained to them that the apostolate he was doing could in no way be considered a response to the politico-religious situation the country was going through. “The Work of God,” he would say, “was not dreamed up by a man to solve the lamentable circumstances of the Church in Spain since 1931.” And he stressed, “We are not an ad-hoc organisation (…), nor do we come to fill the specific needs of a particular country or time. Jesus wants his Work to have a universal, catholic heart from the start.” He also said, “The bond that unites you is an exclusively spiritual one (…) in which any political and party-political ideas or intentions have no place.”

Father Josemaria limited himself to teaching the message of Opus Dei, which was itself a huge task. It was a message that summoned ordinary Christians to seek holiness in the middle of the world and to strive to put the Gospel call into practice with all its consequences. He reminded people of our Lord’s words, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He did not propose any specific social reforms, nor any political programme. He knew, and recalled to others, that the effort to transform society and make it more faithful to the Gospel values is a task that belongs properly to each individual Christian. It is well-formed Christians who should draw up and propose, responsibly, the specific social consequences which they each judge to be included in that message. (Extract from “Un fundador que respetaba la libertad de sus seguidores”, (“A founder who respected his followers’ freedom”)