Is Opus Dei Jansenist?

A great deal of priests in my area dismiss Opus Dei as being a Jansenistic organization that should not be followed. They say that the disciplines of Opus Dei are far too rigid and extreme and that it is primarily for priests and those within the orders. They strongly discourage my attention to Opus Dei. Are they right? Isn’t Opus Dei conveying what Christ has called us to do?

First, let’s define Jansenism. It is a heresy that arose in the seventeenth century and is named for its principle theologian, Cornelius Jansen. Jansen’s precepts emphasized predestination, denied free will, and insisted that human nature is not capable of being good. None of this has anything to do with Opus Dei, which is a personal prelature with a mission to help laypeople achieve holiness through everyday work. By its very charism of aiding laypeople in achieving holiness, Opus Dei’s principles stand in stark opposition to Jansenism, which denies that men can become holy.

It is likely that those with whom you have spoken are using the term Jansenist to allude to the behavior of some of Jansenism’s followers in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France. Jansenist nuns of the Abbey of Port-Royal des Champs insisted on performing severe penances and rebelling against ecclesial authority. One churchman described the nuns to be “pure as angels and proud as devils.” Because Opus Dei has encouraged Christian self-mortification and is a personal prelature independent of diocesan bishops, a charge of “Jansenism” may appear to skeptics to be apt but is in fact an ungenerous misapplication. Self-mortification is a long-standing Christian discipline, and the personal prelature status was granted to Opus Dei by Pope John Paul II.

The next time you hear any charge against a person or organization, it is fair to ask the person making the charge to substantiate it. In the case of Opus Dei, it would be fair to ask its detracters to substantiate charges that it is Jansenist.

**Recommended reading:

Understanding the Catholic Meaning of “The Passion of the Christ”**
by Steven D. Greydanus

Opus Dei: Leadership and Vision in Today’s Catholic Church by Vittorio Messori

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