To Opus Dei from the desk of Dr. Tatyana
Not more than a few weeks ago, I had been in Mass in the evening at my parish, when a lady dressed in scrubs randomly came up to me after communion to give me a holy card of an Opus Dei member declared by the Vatican a Blessed and the address to this movement’s women’s center. I had heard of mixed opinions regarding this wealthy movement with in the Catholic Church. I myself had no desire to be part of any movement within the Catholic Church, but I thought that I would see what goes on at these Opus Dei women’s houses where lay single Catholic women live. My only exposure to the Catholic lay movement and religious order called Opus Dei had been through a relative who is a “numerary” who was living in Jerusalem, and through friends in Bethlehem who were members.
I have been asked by one numerary at the women’s house to assist with their new library and to recommend books. The following books are what I recommend for any robust classical library:
Of recent publication (within the last century):
The New Media Epidemic And The Undermining of Society, The Family, And Your Own Soul (2019) by Jean-Claude Larchet
-An important book published by Holy Trinity Publications judging the effects that TV, computers, cellphones, and the smartphone has had
The Church and The Land (1926) by Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P.
-This book by the founder of the Catholic Land Movement (of England) draws upon the wisdom of Catholic Social teaching of his time, most notably Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. This book emphasizes that contemplation is doomed unless we return to the land for our bodily sustenance (and the worship of God).
Morals Makyth Man (1938) by Fr. Gerald Vann, O.P.
-This book discusses the importance of reason and philosophy, drawing especially from St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Little Office of Our Lady: A Treatise (1903) by Ethelred Taunton
-This book is an explanation one of the oldest Catholic liturgical practices, aside from the Catholic Mass, made available to the laity to pray.
Early and late Medieval texts:
The Little Office Of The Blessed Virgin Mary
-This very old small prayer book, part of the public prayer of the Catholic Church, the psalter of the Virgin Mary, was prayed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris for centuries by the laity and clergy of Paris. The version offered by Baronius Press in Latin and English in conformity with the 1961 Editio Typica of the Roman Breviary being that permitted by Summorum Pontificum includes Gregorian Chant appointed to be used.
Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas
-This seminal work by the medieval Dominican theologian and saint became the mainstay of theology in the Roman Catholic Church up until the 20th century. It addresses systematically all concerns regarding the nature of God and his revelation.
The Reformation of Morals by Yahya ibn Adi
-This very accessible work by the Christian Arab philosopher and theologian of the 10th century A.D. draws discreetly from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and Aristotle’s Politics without reference to the Bible in order to address matters of morality and within a so-called Islamic context. He lived under the Abassid caliphate in Baghdad, Iraq and was the head of the Baghdadi school of Aristotelians, following the death of his colleague, the famous Muslim philosopher, Alfarabi.
Texts from the ancient world:
Theogyny by Hesiod
-This is an ancient Greek poem (7th-8th century B.C.) synthesizing the Greek oral traditions regarding the gods. Hesiod as the first written poet of the West attempts to articulate reality as whole. The Greek and Roman pantheons come from this poem.
Iliad by Homer
-This epic poem by the Greek poet Homer (8th century B.C.) gives an account of the origins of Greece. This poem contains important thoughts on the divine and on the human soul, with crucial themes such as fate versus free will and thymos, Greek for “spiritedness” or the love of honor. Homer along with Hesiod are thought to be reponsible for codifying pagan Greece’s religious customs. These customs would be challenged later by the classical Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Odyssey by Homer
-This epic poem continues in the Greek tradition of the gods and godesses and analyzes the nature of these gods and godesses. It contains the theme of nostos, or return from wandering, and xenia or guest-friendship.
Aeneid by Virgil
-This epic poem by the Roman poet, Virgil, (19-29 B.C.) attempts to give a an account of the founding of Rome, written for the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, and emphasizes the Roman virtues.
Republic by Plato
-This work is a dialogue between Socrates and his interlocutors, his friends, regarding the nature of justice, both in the human soul and as it relates to the political regime. It is the most important work in the study called political philosophy. The conclusion seems to be that the just city exists only in thought or speech. Plato (427-327 B.C.) was the student of Socrates and wrote down these dialogues.
Laws by Plato
-This dialogue, in contrast with the Republic, does not include Socrates. It is an important dialogue dealing with the nature of law in the polis. It questions the role of the divine and the human in lawgiving, with the subtle hint by Plato that politics is not the highest activity, but rather contemplation.
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
-As the student of Plato who was a student of Socrates, Aristotle takes up the Platonic virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and moderation discussed by Socrates and slightly modifies them by expanding upon them. He sees a two-fold division existing between the moral and the intellectual virtues, with the intellectual virtues of wisdom and prudence being somehow in tension with the moral virtues of justice, courage, magnanimity, and temperance. Again, just as his teachers Socrates and Plato in the Republic, Aristotle argues in the Nicomachean Ethics that the contemplative life is the highest and most perfect activity of man.
Politics by Aristotle
-This treatise on the various political regimes systematically analyzes monarchy, aristocracy, the polity and their deviations (tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy). The most famous phrase “man is by nature a political animal” is from Book 1.1253a. This statement means that man alone is capable of speech and capable of distinguishing and enunciating the “advantageous” and the “harmful,” or right and wrong, or good and bad.
The Fathers of the Church series by CUA press
-The collection of writings by the Church Fathers is crucial for the doctrine of the Church because these collect the foundational insights into the Holy Scriptures.
Parallel Lives by Plutarch
-Plutarch (46 A.D.-119 A.D.) was a Greek Platonist philosopher who analyzed human character. Plutarch’s Lives is less an account of history than it is a work on ethics. It analyzes the virtues and vices of all the major figures in Greek and Roman history. It is interesting to note that he lived during the spread of early Christianity and was a contemporary of some of the Church Fathers.
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many other books or works by other thinkers I highly recommend, spanning all the centuries beginning from ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome and Jerusalem to the present. I hope that for the purposes of the Opus Dei women’s center this list will be of help in their mission to encourage contemplation. As silence is essential to contemplation, I believe that cities are no longer suitable for the activities of Opus Dei, rather I encourage members, both lay and clergy, of Opus Dei to seek refuge outside cities, as the saintly modern Dominican scholar, Fr. Vincent McNabb, encourages all Catholics to do in The Church and The Land. Here I wish to cite one of my favorite quotes:
” To find no one answering our Call to Contemplatives will seem to give the lie to one of our deepest and most matured convictions. If there is one truth more than another which life and thought have made us admit, against our will, it is that there is little hope of saving civilization or religion except by the return of contemplatives to the land!” (p. 1).