The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1904–1967)

ANGELA C. CARMELLA

In Dignitatis Humanae (1965), the Declaration on Religious Freedom, the Second Vatican Council rejected earlier papal teaching and affirmed religious freedom as a human and civil right. One cannot understand the declaration's embrace of religious freedom and the intense doctrinal development it signaled without knowing the life and thought of one of its primary architects, John Courtney Murray, S.J. Equipped with a brilliant command of church history and theology, and profoundly influenced by the First Amendment, Murray had long argued that religious freedom, not religious establishment, represented the church's authentic doctrine.

In addition to being known as a theologian, Murray is also known as a public philosopher whose work “was incomparably the most important instance of liberal Catholic Americanism in the post-World War II era.”1 His best-known work, We Hold These Truths, describes the deep affinities between Catholic social thought and American political principles. By Murray's account, American liberalism is not associated with individualism, the privatization of religion, and the secularization of society; rather, it is rooted in medieval Christian political and legal traditions and respects the dignity and freedom essential to the flourishing of the human person. In this role, Murray's major contribution was to help a predominantly Protestant America better understand and accept Catholics as citizens and as political leaders.


“THE ETERNAL RETURN OF NATURAL LAW”

Murray's education with the Jesuits came at a time when Catholic learning was steeped in a neo-Thomist revival, thanks to the efforts of Pope Leo XIII decades before. Born into an Irish-Scottish family in New York City and educated at Boston College, Woodstock College in Maryland, and the

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