50 Years Ago: John Courtney Murray, SJ

Featured on the cover of Time magazine, 50 years ago today, was a one-time associate editor of America magazine you might have heard of.  The original portrait of John Courtney Murray, S.J., (1904-1967) by Boris Chaliapin, one of Time's regular cover artists, now hangs in the lobby of America House in New York.  If you've not heard of this great American Jesuit theologian, who was for a time prevented from writing on issues of church and state (his primary field of interest and the subject of his book We Hold These Truths), whose ideas were eventually incorporated into the Second Vatican Council's "Declaration on Religious Liberty," and who was later officially "rehabilitated" by Pope Paul VI during his concelebration with the pope at a public Mass, here are pieces in America by the Msgr. Robert McElroy ("He Held These Truths"), Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. ("American Catholics and the State"), John Coleman, S.J. on what was at stake in the debates over religious liberty during Vatican II ("Religious Liberty") and Fr. Murray himself, in an article that concisely maps out his position in 1963 ("On Religious Liberty.") The time of his "silencing" is covered in Robert Nugent's new book Silence Speaks: Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, John Courtney Murray and Thomas Merton.  As McElroy, Kalscheur, Coleman show, his far-ranging ideas on church and state are particularly applicable today.  And, as Nugent shows, the church often ends up incorporating into her teaching the very ideas that she rejected not long before.  Finally, an excellent bio of Fr. Murray is here at the Murray Collection at the Woodstock Center in Georgetown.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Crystal Watson
7 years 11 months ago
He's my hero  :)  You can listen to an audio file of him talking about religious liberty in 1965 at this page .... http://www.theo.kuleuven.be/page/centr_vatii-arch/#38
Bridget McKeon
7 years 11 months ago
Murray’s vision of religious freedom involved more than immunity from state interference or coercion. One of the assumptions on which his argument rested was the existence of a pluralistic, civil society that tolerated, even encouraged, religious diversity. The foreword to We Hold These Truths describes pluralism as:
The coexistence within the one political community of groups who hold divergent and incompatible views with regard to religious questions – those ultimate questions that concern the nature and destiny of man within a universe that stands under the reign of God. (ix-x)
Today, American society is a good deal more diverse than it was when Murray was writing. Pluralism requires a level of tolerance and good will that is often absent from what passes as public debate today. Murray also stated in We Hold These Truths, “Society becomes barbarian when men are huddled together under the rule of force and fear” (13). It seems that large segments of our society today are huddled together in fear of the “other,” especially when the other wears a veil or a turban. I don’t know whether the barbarian of which Murray warned has won, (although I certainly hope not!) but I do think that ''he'' is pounding at the gate. Murray’s ongoing relevance may lie in this area: as a challenge to future generations to remain vigilant in the defense of religious liberty and of the conditions that are necessary to support it. I am concerned that we may have lost the level of civility necessary to have the conversations that Murray thought were necessary to preserve the civil society that he wrote about.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
Such an important figure not just in the life of the  Church but in the history of mid-twentieth century America.  I'm heartened to see selections from WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS included in Hollinger and Cappter's edited volume, THE AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION (Oxford Univ. Press).
John Donaghy
7 years 11 months ago
Is there a significance of the frontispiece of a text of Robert Bellarmine behond Father JOhn Courtney Murray?

Advertisement
Advertisement

The latest from america

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta arrives in Osorno, Chile, on June 14, beginning a pastoral mission to promote healing in the wake of a clerical sexual abuse crisis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Archdiocese of Santiago)
The pope’s decision gives the Maltese archbishop the lead role in the fight against abuse in the church and in the protection of minors.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 13, 2018
“This hypothesis—that the reality of personal sexual misconduct by bishops...was a factor which inclined some bishops not to vigorously pursue allegations of abuse among their clergy—I believe that this is a valid hypothesis.”
Kevin ClarkeNovember 12, 2018
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, center, leads the opening prayer Nov. 12 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Also pictured are Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
U.S. bishops tell the authors of a groundbreaking new book that they feel a duty to speak out on issues of the day, but they must tread carefully with a secular press and fallout from the sexual abuse crisis.