Fidel Sebastian: "The author of 'Camino' is a Spanish classic, and a popular one at that".

The Way" is the fourth most translated work in the Spanish language, according to the Cervantes Institute. It was published in 1934 by St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, and these days a new critical edition is being presented by philologist Fidel Sebastián, who told Omnes that "The Way is a Spanish classic, and also a popular classic, whose sayings are repeated, as we saw in past centuries with Quevedo or St. Teresa of Jesus".

Francisco Otamendi-September 16, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Fidel Sebastian

At the initiative of the St. Josemaría Escrivá Historical Institute (ISJE), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (PUSC) presented in Rome the new critical edition of the book The Way, by St. Josemaría Escrivá, authored by philologist Fidel Sebastián Mediavilla, a specialist in the Spanish Golden Age, and edited by the Center for the Publication of Spanish Classics, directed by academic Francisco Rico.

In addition to the author of this edition, historian Luis Cano, and professors Vicente Bosch and Rafael Jiménez participated in the presentation. The Way is the fruit of the priestly work that St. Josemaría Escrivá began in 1925, and was first published in 1934 in Cuenca, Spain, under the title Consideraciones espirituales.

The Cervantes Institute recently pointed out in the World Map of Translation that The Way is the fourth most translated work of Spanish literature, and St. Josemaría Escrivá the fifteenth most translated author into languages other than Spanish. In the interview with Omnes, we first asked philologist Fidel Sebastián about his work as an editor. 

What in particular has been your task as editor of this well-known book by St. Josemaría Escrivá?

-This is a critical edition, with all that this entails: a collation of variants that have arisen (voluntarily or involuntarily) in the course of the editions published since 1939, in order to fix the text with the most justified readings, as is reflected in the critical apparatus that we publish as a separate section. 

After fixing the text, it became necessary to annotate each of the points of which the book is composed. Sometimes it is a word whose meaning or intention requires clarification in order to show the coincidence with the ways of writing used by the writers of their chronological and cultural environment. Sometimes it is necessary to clarify the situation or the identity of the characters involved in the anecdotes or events related by the author. 

In a word, it was necessary to provide the reader, by means of a sufficient annotation, with the hidden details, the whys and wherefores of a sentence, or the literary source that had left its mark on the writer's memory.

You are a philologist, a specialist in the Spanish Golden Age. Can the author of Camino be considered among the classical Spanish writers of the 20th century?

-Without any doubt, I consider the author of The Way is a Spanish classic; an author consecrated by the loyalty of a public that has read him and, above all, reread him with pleasure for ninety years; an author who can face the judgment of literary critics with hope in the future. Escriva is, moreover, a popular classic, whose sayings are repeated by the seamstress and the professor alike: "As St. Josemaría used to say...," they say, although they then quote him (as is often the case) "approximately," without the author's traditional grace. We have seen the same thing in past centuries with Quevedo or with St. Teresa of Jesus.

In the critical apparatus of this edition, it includes the variants that have been produced. Can you explain it a little? 

-By the time of the author's death (1975), 28 editions of The Way had been published in Spanish. Historical and cultural circumstances that had changed over the years made it advisable to modify some points, avoiding allusions that might sound offensive to some groups of people, avoiding the warlike language of the letters of his young correspondents, or adapting the text of some parts of the recitation of the Mass that had changed after the Second Vatican Council. 

Other variants, mostly of punctuation, but not only, but of one word for another, had been introduced unexpectedly, but in a way and for reasons well known by the treatises on textual criticism already in the manuscript copies. Of these, I have come across a very interesting one, which had gone unnoticed since the 3rd edition (1945), and which I do not reveal here in order to allow the reader of this edition to enjoy discovering it in point 998, the penultimate point of the work, and which is reported in the corresponding note and reference to the critical apparatus.

The scoring of the 999 Camino points must have been a daunting task, which helps to contextualize each point, does it?

-The regular reader of The Way, who has frequently used it for prayer, will enjoy learning the ins and outs of an anecdote, the author of a letter that is quoted, the circumstances in which this or that point was written. Others will enjoy seeing the connection between the spirit transmitted by St. Josemaría and the best of the patristic tradition and the Castilian mystics. For philologists, in particular, the timeliness of the lexicon and style of writing. 

His turns of phrase, it can be said, are the turns of phrase used by a Galdós or the author of La Regenta. It is not to say that he had read all of them assiduously, although he was always an avid and constant reader and taster of the best classics. What is meant to be said, and pointed out, is that, in speaking of the highest things, he did not use ecclesiastical language, so to speak, but lay language, appropriate to his spiritual message, which consisted mainly in urging men to seek holiness through the ordinary, converting work and other daily occupations into a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Finally, what did you notice most in the Introduction?

-In the introduction I have followed the same scheme that I have applied to the complementary studies to the edition of the Libro de la vida de santa Teresa or to the Introducción del símbolo de la fe de fray Luis de Granada for the Biblioteca Clásica de la Real Academia Española collection. That is, a study, based on what has been written so far about the life of the author, as well as his writings. 

As for The Way in particular, the novelty of its message, its style and sources, the history of the making of the text, and a chapter especially pleasing to me (since I have dedicated myself for years to this subject), the spelling and punctuation in The Way, where unsuspected manifestations of the innovative character, within the tradition, of the writer, the man, and the founder, are reserved for the reader.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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