"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

March 24, 2020

The Early Work of John Courtney Murray

Around 1990 I was given access to the diaries of Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton one-time professor and chair of the School of Theology at Catholic University. In the 1964 volume I found four propositions that, he wrote, were found to be erroneous. They concerned matters of Church and State and religious freedom, and I almost immediately surmised that they were the propositions that the Holy Office attributed to John Courtney Murray and condemned. To verify that this was the case, I embarked on a lengthy inquiry, which I can tell elsewhere, that led me into extensive research into the thought of the American Jesuit, some of which found its way into print.

I discovered that much of the secondary literature on Murray had been based upon his published work. Even most of the scholars who did some archival work confined that to Murray’s papers held at Georgetown University. Teaching at the time at Catholic University, I was able to expand my inquiry to include the CUA archives, the archives of the USCCB, the archives of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists, and later I visited archives of the archdioceses of New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati. I discovered that there was a great deal of material that could be used to tell in much more precise detail the story of the development of Murray’s thought.

The result was a whole set of essays that were supposed to become a very large book on Murray. For a variety of reasons, I have not been able to assemble them into a grand narrative–the first publisher whom I approached about the project asked me, “What is your story? Which left me almost speechless, because I had not imagined that I needed a story with a plot, but that it would be enough to set out individual pieces. In any case, it is now unlikely that I am going to be able to turn all this into a book, and so I have decided to send it out on the Internet to be of whatever interest it may be in general and of whatever help it can be to other scholars.

Please note that much of this research was done some twenty to thirty years ago and that in the meantime I have not kept as close a track of recent scholarship as I would have liked to. Here and there, as I would come upon some relevant books or articles, I would include them in a footnote, but I do not have time now to do the updating that may be required.

A few readers who looked at my stuff said that I had too many quotes and especially too many long quotations; but that is how I have worked, preferring to put too many original sources in my text than too few, and thinking some day I might prune them. But I set out many things that have not been adverted to before, and perhaps the essays could be considered as a mine of information. (I remember fondly that the publisher Michael Glazier, of beloved memory, read it all and said that, if he were still publishing, he’d publish every word of it. He thought it would be an indispensable reference-work.) In any case, here it goes.

The first batch of essays tells of the early writings of John Courtney Murray soon after he returned from Europe after having completed his doctoral studies in Rome. He was already intensely interested in what he would come to call “the spiritual crisis in the temporal order.” This is evident in two sets of lectures he gave in the early 1940s in which he lay out the doctrinal and theological grounds for the Church’s mission and activity in society and culture. The crisis was rendered more acute by the outbreak of the Second World War, and Murray was among those who thought it possible, indeed necessary, for Catholics to engage in inter-religious cooperation for believers to meet the crisis and to be able to take part in the restoration of order once the War was over. This proposal was not welcomed by many Catholic churchmen and theologians, and Murray had to engage in lengthy conversations, in published articles and in private conversations, to defend his position against the charge that it would lead to religious indifferentism. Many Protestants also were reluctant to cooperate with Roman Catholics who were, as they believed, ready, should they become a majority, to deprive them of their religious freedom.

From both sides, then, Catholic and Protestant, the issue of religious freedom became critical, and this explains why, beginning in the mid-1940’s, Murray turned his attention to that subject and began the series of publications that would lead him again into controversy, make him subject to high Roman censure, and end with his vindication at the Second Vatican Council. Whereupon, as he put it right after the Council, Catholics could “get on to the deeper issue of the effective presence of the Church in the world today”–which was, of course, the passion that first inspired him.

So here are five “chapters” as well as the transcribed text of the two set of lectures that Murray gave early In his career.

Comments, corrections, etc. are, of couse, very welcome.

1 – JCM -Early texts

2 – Initial Debate

3 – Theological Debate

4 – US Bishops Respond

5-LaterDebates

JCM – Loyola Lectures 1940

Jewish Theological Seminary Lectures – 1942

4 Comments »

  1. Wonderful. Kindly advise where I can view this condemned propositions.
    Best,
    William Holland
    Wholland68@yahoo.com

    Comment by William Holland — March 25, 2020 @ 1:19 pm

    • You can find them in my essay on the silencing of Murray below. I think it’s page 678.

      Comment by komonchak — March 25, 2020 @ 3:42 pm

  2. Thank you for making this available. I hope you’re doing well.

    Comment by Martin Madar — April 22, 2020 @ 10:41 pm

  3. So helpful! Thanks, Pater! -Christopher McMahon

    Comment by christopherfaszer — April 30, 2020 @ 1:03 pm


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