Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In 2002 Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (1902–1975), founder of Opus Dei, was canonized by Pope John Paul II. Opus Dei, God’s Work, is an organization that challenges all people, clerical, laity and religious, to find eternal happiness by changing “the human work of our usual working day into the work of God: something that will last for ever.”1 In an interview to the New York Times in 1966 Escrivá claimed that his organization’s goal was “to remind Christians that, as we read in the book of Genesis, God created man to work,” and “that any honest and worthwhile work can be converted into a divine occupation” capable of sanctifying the individual worker “and sanctifying others through it.”2 Escrivá takes issue with a common theological assumption, that work is a punishment humanity wrought upon itself as a result of sin. Rather, “work is man’s original vocation. It is a blessing from God, and those who consider it a punishment are sadly mistaken. The Lord, who is the best of fathers, placed the first man in Paradise ut operaretur, so that he would work.”3 Moreover, “no occupation is in itself great or small. Everything gains the value of the love with which it is done.”4 Opus Dei’s message is timely, for “the conditions of contemporary society, which places an ever higher value on work, evidently make it easier for the people of our time to understand this aspect of the Christian message.”5


Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Role Monasticism Labor Historian Medieval Society 
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  1. 1.
    Josemaría Escrivá, The Forge (London: Scepter, 1988), 742 (p. 256). In this day of heightened ideological division within academia, I believe a few words of the subject of labeling matters conservative and liberal might be helpful. Both Opus Dei and John Paul II’s papacy have been widely proclaimed to be conservative, even ultra conservative, in the media throughout the world. From a liberal’s point of view the label is justified because of the papacy’s staunch defense of traditional interpretations of doctrine as it relates to belief and behavior. Opus Dei’s pledge to support papal policy consequently justifies labeling Opus Dei conservative. These labels are particularly prevalent in discussion concerning sex and material goods, two overwhelmingly dominant preoccupations in modern Western society. So be it. I caution the reader liberal or conservative, however, to be careful not to let such labels close one’s mind to what is being explored here. Dismissing all that comes from ethically conservative sources simply because it is incompatible with liberalism is detrimental to the search for truth, just as conservatives who disregard politically liberal sources severely handicap themselves in the pursuit of knowledge. Best that we leave such labels behind as we proceed. Moreover, in this instance the so-called conservative sources turn out to be not-so-conservative in matters concerning the concept of work. According to socialist theologian Gregory Baum, for example, John Paul II comes from a socialist society built on socialist ideas, most of which he accepted as politically valid. Thus Baum considers John Paul II to be the first socialist pope. Whether we agree with Baum’s analysis of John Paul II’s politics or not, we would be hard pressed to ignore the presence of socialist ideas in the pope’s writings or to declare his political thought to be conservative (see note 15 below). The same point can be made concerning Opus Dei’s underlying conception of work. It has much more in common with liberalism and socialism than is often acknowledged. To repeat then, better we bypass constricting labels that may inhibit the openmindedness appropriate to academic discussions whose sole goal should be the pursuit of truth, wherever it may be.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Josemaría Escrivá, quoted in Dennis M. Helming, Footsteps in the Snow, “Forward” Malcolm Muggeridge (New York: Scepter, 1986), p. 19. Escrivá’s emphasis on lay spirituality is part of a movement begun in the late nineteenth century which articulated a spirituality specifically aimed at the laity and at ordinary life; Therese Martin of Lisieux and her Little Way is perhaps the most well known of these spiritualities.Google Scholar
  3. See Patricia Ranft, A Woman’s Way (New York: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 182–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Josemarí a Escrivá, Furrow (London: Scepter, 1987), 482 (p. 183).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Adriano Tilgher, Work: What It Has Meant to Men through the Ages (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1930), p. 90.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Herbert Applebaum, The Concept of Work: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 452–53;Google Scholar
  7. and Daniel Rodgers, The Work Ethic in Industrial America: 1850–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Georg Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, trans. T. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), quoted in Applebaum, Concept of Work, p. 441;Google Scholar
  9. see also Julian Marías, History of Philosophy, trans. Stanley Applebaum and Clarence Strowbridge, 22d ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 1967), pp. 328–29.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Marías, ibid., 338, deems it most important to identify Marx’s reflections as a political economy and not a philosophy. “Marx was a very important economist, but is even more important as a political theorist, the founder of one of the greatest mass movements in history. However, this does not signify philosophical importance.” See also Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, trans. S. W. Ryazanskaya (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970).Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 86 n.14 and text, p. 86.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Henri de Man, Joy in Work, trans. Eden Paul and Cedar Paul (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1929).Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (1911 :New York: Modern Library Edition, 1944), p. 201.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    See J. Bryan Hehir, “John Paul II: Continuity and Change in the Social Teaching of the Church,” in Co-Creation and Capitalism, ed. John Houck and Oliver F. Williams (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983), pp. 124–40.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    See Michael Novak, “Creation Theology,” in Co-Creation, pp. 17–41. This stance is refuted by Stanley Hauerwas, “Work as Co-Creation: A Critique of a Remarkably Bad Idea,” ibid., pp. 42–58. Hauerwas argues that John Paul II’s dependence on Genesis is “highly selective and comes close to being dishonest” and that his exegesis of Genesis is “shockingly naive” (pp. 43, 45). David Hollenbach, “Human Work and the Story of Creation: Theology and Ethics in Laborem exercens” in ibid., pp. 59–77, argues that the encyclical’s exegesis is “useful but incomplete and that this incompleteness leads to an oversimplification of the issues” (p. 61). Both these critiques are rooted in an environmental controversy of the 1960s and 1970s in which some maintained that Gn 1:26–28 mandated stewardship not dominance of the earth’s resources and that the misreading of these verses was responsible for an ecological crisis they said was perpetuated by the West. See Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155 (March 10, 1967): 1203–07;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. James Barr, “Man and Nature: The Ecological Controversy and the Old Testament,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 55 (1972–73): 9–32;Google Scholar
  17. and Bernhard Anderson, “Human Dominion Over Nature” in Biblical Studies in Contemporary Thought, ed. Miriam Ward (Somerville, MA: Greeno, Hadden and Co., 1975), pp. 27–45. In the study that follows, deciding which exegesis is correct is irrelevant (and, I believe, not possible); what matters is how eleventh-century scholars interpretated the verses. I would also like to note here that Hollenbach, ibid., p. 65, argues that “the major theological contribution of the encyclical, therefore, lies in the grounding it provides for a very positive evaluation of human work through the interpretation of the imago Dei”; I believe that eleventh-century theologians such as Peter Damian made the same contribution with the same positive result.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    Michael Postan, “Why Was Science Backward in the Middle Ages?” in The History of Science: A Symposium (Glenoe, IL: Free Press, 1951), p. 26.Google Scholar
  19. See George Ovitt, The Restoration of Perfection: Labor and Technology in Medieval Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), pp. 3–56 for a critique of the writers of this period.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    See Marc Bloch, Land and Work in Medieval Europe: Selected Papers, trans. J. E. Anderson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967);Google Scholar
  21. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966–67);Google Scholar
  22. Lynn White, “The Study of Medieval Technology, 1924–1978: Personal Reflections,” Technology and Culture 16 (1975): 519–30;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Carlo Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution (New York: Norton, 1976);Google Scholar
  24. and Franz Feldhaus, Die Technik der Antike und des Mittelalters (Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische verlagsge-sellschaft Athenaion, 1931). 32.Google Scholar
  25. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), p. 78; see also Applebaum, Concept of Work, p. 337.Google Scholar
  26. 37.
    Herbert Workman, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (London: Kelly, 1913), p. 219, preceded Mumford in this thesis, but Workman’s study is so flawed by his anti-Roman bias that it had little positive influence on future studies.Google Scholar
  27. 38.
    Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), p. 128; cited in Applebaum, Concept of Work, p. 196.Google Scholar
  28. 40.
    Jacques LeGoff Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977; trans. 1980), p. 114.Google Scholar
  29. 47.
    Michael Uebel, “Introduction: Conceptualizing Labor in the Middle Ages,” in The Middle Ages at Work: Practicing Labor in Late Medieval England, ed. Kellie Robertson and Michael Uebel (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 1.Google Scholar
  30. 48.
    See in particular two works in this series: ibid., and Kellie Robertson, The Laborer’s Two Bodies: Literary and Legal Productions in Britain, 1350–1500 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).Google Scholar
  31. 49.
    See Lujo Brentano, “On the history and development of gilds,” in English Gilds, ed. Joshua Toulmin Smith (London: N. Trubner, 1870);Google Scholar
  32. Francis Aidan Hibbert, The Influence and Development of English Gilds (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1891; repr. New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1970);Google Scholar
  33. Charles Gross, Gild Merchant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1890);Google Scholar
  34. Stella Kramer, The English Craft Gilds and the Government (New York: Columbia University Press, 1908; repr. New York: AMS Press, 1968);Google Scholar
  35. George Unwin, The Guilds and Companies oft London (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1908; 4th ed. (Watford: Frank Cass and Co., 1963);Google Scholar
  36. and Georges Renard, Guilds in the Middle Ages, trans. Dorothy Terry (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1918; repr. New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1968).Google Scholar
  37. 50.
    For example, as early as 1890 Charles Gross was already revising Brentano’s thesis that gilds formed the foundation of English city governments. In turn James Tait, The Medieval English Borough: Studies on Its Origin and Constitutional History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1936) challenged Gross’s revisions,Google Scholar
  38. to which Susan Reynolds, yet another generation later agreed and expanded upon in Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900–1300 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    Brian Tierney, Medieval Poor Laws (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1959), p. 129.Google Scholar
  40. 52.
    See Lawrence M. Clopper, “Langland’s Persona: An Anthology of the Mendicant Orders,” in Written Work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship, ed. Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), pp. 144–84;Google Scholar
  41. Penn R. Szittya, The Antiflraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  42. Robert Worth Frank, Piers Plowman and the Scheme oft Salvation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957);Google Scholar
  43. David Aers, “Piers Plowman: Poverty, Work, and Community,” in David Aers, Community, Gender and Individual Identity: English Writing 1360–1430 (London: Routledge, 1988), pp. 20–72; and Robertson, The Laborer’s Two Bodies. Google Scholar
  44. 54.
    Steven A. Epstein, Wage, Labor, and Guilds in Medieval Europe (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Caroline Press, 1991) does acknowledge the need to study theology to uncover medieval attitudes toward work, and he presents one of the more comprehensive reviews of what some medieval theologians said about work (pp. 172–87), but he starts his search too late, with Bonaventure, Aquinas, Anthony of Padua—all thirteenth-century theologians. Unfortunately, this leads him to conclude that there was no theologian who considered work central to their theological understanding of life.Google Scholar
  45. 58.
    Witness is an essential element in Damian’s theology. See Patricia Ranft, “The Concept of Witness: From Its Origin to Its Institutionalization,” Revue bénédictine 103 (1987): 21–45.Google Scholar
  46. 59.
    Owen Blum has almost single handedly kept Damian alive in English. His dissertation was published in 1947 as St. Peter Damian: His Teaching on the Spiritual Life (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1947); he has written various articles and his translation of Reindel’s critical edition continue on today: Peter Damian Letters, vols. 1–3, 5 vols. 6–7 with Irven Resnick (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989–2005). John Wang, “St. Peter Damian, the Monk,” Ph.D. diss., Fordham University, 1957, and John Oostermann, “Peter Damian’s Doctrine of Sacerotal Office,” Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America, 1980, are also helpful.Google Scholar
  47. Prior to Blum’s translations, the only works of Damian available in English were Stephen Hurlbut, The Song of St. Peter Damiani: On the Joyes and Glory of Paradise (Washington, DC: St. Alban’s Press, 1928);Google Scholar
  48. and Hurlbut A, Hortus Conclusus (Washington, DC: St. Alban’s Press, 1936); St. Peter Damian: Selected Writings on the Spiritual Life, trans. Patricia McNutley (London: Faber and Faber, 1959); and Book of Gomorrah, trans. Pierre Payer (Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982). Secondary works are scarce but can be found;Google Scholar
  49. see Irven Resnick, Divine Power and Possibility in St. Peter Damian’s “De Divina Omnipotentia” (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992) and its excellent bibliography;Google Scholar
  50. and J. Joseph Ryan, Saint Peter Damiani and His Canonical Sources (Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1956).Google Scholar
  51. 60.
    In Italian, there has been a small flourish of recent studies. See Nicolangelo D’Acunto, I Laici Nella Chiesa E Nella Società Secondo Pier Damiani (Roma: Nella Sede Dell’Instituo, 1999);Google Scholar
  52. Giuseppe Fornasari, Medioevo Riformato del Secolo XI (Napoli: Liguori Editore, 1996), esp. pp. 31–126;Google Scholar
  53. and Benedetto Calati, Sapienza Monastica (Roma: Studia Anselmiana 117, 1994), esp. pp. 365–89;Google Scholar
  54. Paolo Golinelli, Indiscreta Sanctitas (Roma: Nella Sede Dell’ Istituto, 1988), esp. pp. 158–91.Google Scholar
  55. In French Jean Leclercq, Saint Pierre Damien Ermite et Homme D’Église (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1960) is a standard work;Google Scholar
  56. also Michel Grandjean, Laïcs dans L’Église regards de Pierre Damien, Anselme de Cantorbéry, Yves de Chartres (Paris: Beauchesne, 1994).Google Scholar
  57. In German, see Stephen Freund, Studien zur literarischen Wirksamkeit des Petrus Damiani (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1995).Google Scholar
  58. See also the works on the Gregorian reform for occasional reference to Peter Damian; for bibliography on the reform see H. E. J. Cowdrey, Pope Gregory VII, 1073–85 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Constantino Gastani’s edition of Damian’s Opera omnia is found in PL 144–145, while the critical edition of Damian’s letters appears in MGH Die Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 4 (1983), ed. Kurt Reindel, Petrus Damiani, Die Briefe des Petrus Damiani. Damian’s sermons are found in Santi Petri Damiani sermones, ed. G. Lucchesi, CCCM 57 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1983).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Patricia Ranft 2006

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