and Other Writings
following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily
reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network,
Note: The author of this article has asked that his name
The Many Names of Opus Dei’s Founder
But if they ask me
what his name is, how shall I answer?
Honors, distinctions, titles:
things of air, puffs of pride, lies, nothingness.
677, The Way
To understand Opus Dei, one needs
to study the Founder.
Opus Dei’s founder changed his name many times over the course of
his life. He was born on January 2, 1902.
Four days later, he was baptized in the Cathedral at Barbastro,
Spain with the baptismal name recorded among Church records as José
María Julian Mariano.
“According to the entry in the baptismal register of the Church
where he was christened, his surname was spelled Escribá[.]”
He was given the same first name as his father, José Escribá; his
mother was named María de los Dolores Albás y Blanc.
Adding the aristocratic “y Albás”
after his father’s textile business failed in 1915, he studied for
the priesthood and was ordained in 1925.
Before the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he began joining “y Albás”
to his surname; it appears in the published memento of his first
Castilian Spanish, use of the conjunction “y” (“and”) joining
father’s and mother’s surnames is associated with aristocratic
Use of a modified conjunctive surname would not have been socially
acceptable by someone not belonging to the aristocracy; since
Escribá did not come from an aristocratic family, he may have been
subjected to ridicule: as late as the 1960s, Father Escribá rarely
experimented publicly with the use of “y Albás”.
From Escribá to the more distinguished Escrivá
May 24, 1941, Bishop Leopoldo Eijo Garay of Madrid sent a letter
that systematically has been cited in Opus Dei literature as the
first document written by a member of Church hierarchy in defense of
Opus Dei and its founder.
In his letter, Bishop Garay refers to the founder, whom he says he
knows very well, as Dr. Escribá—three times.
But as early as his school days, José Escribá had “adopted the
rather more distinguished version spelled with a “v” rather than a
“b,” which in Spanish sounds exactly the same.”
His name is spelled Escrivá in the memento of his first Mass.
In 1943, when he was 41, Church records were altered on June 20 to
memorialize the change: the registry book of the Barbastro Cathedral
and the baptismal certificate of José María were annotated to
reflect “that the surname Escribá was changed to Escrivá de Balaguer.”
None of the official Opus Dei biographies reference this spelling
Adding the distinguishing “de Balaguer”
16, 1940 [age 38], the Spanish Boletín Oficial del Estado
records that Father Escrivá requested of the government that he be
permitted to change his “first surname so it will be written Escrivá
He justified the petition by claiming that “the name Escrivá is
common in the east coast and Catalonia, leading to harmful and
One of the earliest members of Opus Dei, architect Miguel Fisac,
describes reasons why Father Escrivá may have chosen to modify his
name. First, Fisac describes that Escrivá may have suffered a
childhood trauma as follows:
When he was still a
child, his father and a partner had a cloth business in Barbastro,
the founder’s birthplace. The firm went bankrupt and the founder was
embarrassingly forced to leave.
His father was reduced
to the position of simple shop assistant[.]
describes Escrivá’s embarrassment at his father’s failure, and
reflects on the likely motivation for Escrivá’s name changes:
I suppose that his
interest in giving importance to his surname was related to his
childhood trauma which I have mentioned before. Living in close
contact with Monsignor Escrivá, it was easy to appreciate the great
affection he felt for the aristocracy: Marquises, Counts[,] etc. As
some of these personages were related to some of the nuns in the
Royal Foundation of Santa Isabel, and he was its rector, whenever
the nuns introduced him to any of these aristocrats and they heard
his surname was Escrivá, they would at once ask casually, “Escrivá
de Romaní?” (a well known aristocratic family). When he answered
that he wasn’t, they made their feeling of rejection obvious and
deeply upset him. This is not my imagination; I heard Escrivá
himself tell how he decided to add the name of the Catalan town
where his family possibly originated from: “Balaguer.” This he did.
I was present when the documents were gathered for presentation in
the Ministry of Justice for approval.
The leader of an organization known for proclaiming to be composed
of common Christians claimed that confusion caused by having a
common name is annoying.
None of the Opus Dei biographies comment on the official 1940
petition for the name change or its justification.
And as to the claim of confusion with the names as alleged in the
official petition, it has been pointed out that Escrivá de Romaní is
not “exactly ‘common in the east coast and Catalonia.’”
From José María to Josemaría
Monsignor Escrivá also modified his first name. From the common José
María, he changed it to the original Josemaría. Biographers state,
that around 1935 [age 33], “he joined his first two names because
his single love for the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph were equally
Though there had been many Saint José’s, there had never been a
For a while, Escrivá tried on the title of Doctor, but eventually he
abandoned this adventure. His doctoral degree from the university
appears to be surrounded with mystery.
Of the alleged doctorate in theology obtained at age 53, nothing is
known, not even the topic of the thesis, which was never published.
According to Antonio Perez, one of Escrivá’s principal
collaborators, ordained in 1948 and a former Opus Dei general
manager, “Father Escrivá was not a great jurist, as we were later
led to believe. I even have serious doubts about whether he studied
law at all. I never saw his bachelor’s degree, and the way things
were in the Work, if he had it, he would have put it in an
impressive gold frame. But he might have lost this document, like so
many others during the war.”
1947, Father Escrivá was nominated to be “Prelato Domestico di Sua
Santita.” This title conferred the right to be addressed as
Monsignor. Official biographers claim that before accepting Father
Escrivá hesitated, “since he wanted nothing for himself. If, in the
end, he accepted, it was so as not to anger those who had nominated
However, it turns out that the honor had been proposed by one Alvaro
del Portillo, then number two man at Opus Dei, we are asked to
believe without the knowledge of Father Escrivá. According to
biographers, Monsignor Escrivá “rarely wore the showy prelate’s
robes, or wore the buckled shoes. He felt the weight of the purple
vestments as a hair shirt; but on notable occasions, knowing how
much the color entertained his children, he followed the path of
the other hand, according to many who have left Opus Dei, Escrivá
was especially fond of luxury, aristocratic refinements, honors,
titles and symbols of prestige.
One need only visit Opus Dei properties to observe the conspicuous
display of wealth.
Marquis of Peralta
January 1968, The Official State Bulletin in Madrid published the
following Ministry of Justice announcement:
Don José María Escrivá
de Balageur y Albás has requested the rehabilitation of the title of
Marquis, granted on 12 February 1718 by the Archduke Charles of
Austria to Don Tomas de Peralta, the interested party having chosen
in grace the distinction of Marquis of Peralta. The provisions of
Article 4 of the Decree 4 June 1948 for granting the request having
been satisfied, a delay of three months from the publication of this
edict exists for any persons wishing to be made known their
opposition. Madrid, 24 January 1968.
The notice was signed by the Ministry’s Under Secretary, Alfredo
Lopez, an Opus Dei supernumerary.
Opus Dei supporters have maintained that this was not a “puff of
pride,” but rather the just exercise of a fundamental right.
Monsignor Escrivá insisted that he had not made the request for his
own benefit, but that the title was intended to benefit his nephews.
He claimed he merely was compensating his family for the sacrifices
they had made to permit him to carry out The Work. Official
biographers portray it as “a matter of filial piety and justice.”
According to researchers, the Marquisate of Peralta was bestowed
upon one of Escrivá‘s more distant ancestors who had been Minister
of Justice in Naples following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
Monsignor Escrivá had in recent years accepted awards of the Spanish
Gold Cross of St. Raymond of Penafort, the Grand Cross of Alfonso X
the Wise, the Grand Cross of Isabel the Catholic, and the Cross of
Charles III. But to show his modesty, his biographers assure that he
never wore them.
Id. The author goes on to state that
after the announcement in the state bulletin that Monsignor
Escrivá would adopt the title of Marquis of Peralta,
the obvious irony was noted by those unwilling to make
excuses for the duality of his message and practice. One
joke going around Madrid at the time suggested that “The
Way” would be republished as “The Super Highway” by the
Marquis of Peralta.
Posted June 9, 2006