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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/27/18

According to John Courtney Murray, Vatican II Embraced a Bottom-Up Conception of Society

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 27, 2018: As everybody who reads OEN knows, Rob Kall loves top-down/bottom-up imagery. From time to time, I have called his attention to somebody else's use of this imagery.

For example, I recently called his attention to the American Jesuit theologian and public intellectual John Courtney Murray (1904-1967; doctorate in Catholic theology, Gregorian University in Rome, 1937) use of top-down/bottom-up imagery in his 1966 essay titled "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," which is reprinted in the book Bridging the Sacred and the Secular: Selected Writings of John Courtney Murray, S.J., edited by J. Leon Hooper, S.J. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994, pages 187-199; the imagery occurs on page 196).

As OEN readers may know, Murray was instrumental in formulating the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. As a theology professor at the Jesuit theologate in Woodstock, Maryland, Murray had devoted a lot of time pondering the words "We the people," the famous opening words of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution -- and the words of certain other famous American documents such as the Declaration of Independence and President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Murray did most of his writing as a cutting-edge Catholic theologian and public intellectual in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) famously describes the Roman Catholic Church as the people of God -- seemingly echoing the expression "We the people."

I am deliberately belaboring the American context of Murray's thought to make the point that no Roman Catholic theologian in Europe or elsewhere would have pondered the American experiment in representative democracy as deeply as Murray did. On the contrary, the French Revolution and its aftermath tended to be uppermost in the thought of Roman Catholic theologians in Europe -- along with World War I and World War II. Indeed, there were certain European theologians whose scholarly researches influenced the Second Vatican Council. But their influence emerges in certain other Council documents.

From 1941 to his death in 1967 from a heart attack, Murray served as the editor-in-chief of the Jesuit-sponsored journal Theological Studies. In the academic year 1951-1952, Murray was a visiting professor in philosophy at Yale University. In the fall of 1960, his book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition was published. In December of 1960, Murray was featured on the cover of Time (dated December 12, 1960).

Because I am belaboring the American context of Murray's thought, I should also mention that certain American Protestants questioned the loyalty of American Catholics -- because of their loyalty to the pope. This line of argument against American Catholics was developed by Paul Blanshard (1892-1980) in his books American Freedom and Catholic Power (1949; 2nd ed., 1958) and Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power (1951). Incidentally, he also published the book Paul Blanshard on Vatican II (1966).

Nevertheless, even though I am belaboring the American context of Murray's thought, I should also mention the influence of the thought of the Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984; doctorate in Catholic theology, Gregorian University in Rome, 1946 [delayed by WWII]) on Murray's thought. As the editor-in-chief of the Jesuit-sponsored journal Theological Studies, Murray had published a series of studies by Lonergan of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (1) volume 7 (1946): pages 349-392; (2) volume 8 (1947): pages 35-79; (3) volume 8 (1947): pages 404-444; (4) volume 10 (1949): pages 3-40; and (5) volume 10 (1949): pages 359-393.

In the 1994 book Bridging the Sacred and the Secular, mentioned above, the American Jesuit theologian J. Leon Hooper repeatedly points out Murray's use of Lonergan's distinction between understanding and judgment, on the one hand, and, on the other, his distinction between classic and historical thought (for example, pages 222 and 334, note 2).

Lonergan carefully develops the distinction between understanding and judgment in his philosophical masterpiece Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 5th ed. (University of Toronto Press, 1992; orig. ed., 1957).

As Hooper notes, Lonergan presented the paper "The Transition from a Classicist World View to Historical-Mindedness" to the Canon Law Society of America in 1966 -- and it was first published in 1967 (page 334, note 2).

According to Hooper, "Several months earlier Murray received a draft of what eventually became Lonergan's 'The Transition from a Classicist World View to Historical-Mindedness'" (page 334, note 2). In any event, Murray uses Lonergan's terminology in his 1967 talk in Toledo (page 335).

Now, Murray positioned himself to be instrumental in formulating that famous Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom by studying and writing extensively about the "immense body of [Pope] Leo XIII's writings" (page 197). Pope Leo XIII was born in 1810; he became pope in 1978; he died in 1903. Leo XIII's influential encyclical Aeterni patris (1879) launched the enormous twentieth-century Catholic revival of interest in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

Because the Roman Catholic Church has a hierarchical governance structure, perhaps we could describe the enormous influence of his encyclical as top-down. In any event, American Catholics educated in American Catholic colleges and universities in, roughly, the first half of the twentieth century -- before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) -- studied Thomistic philosophy in detail in the core curriculum of required philosophy courses. Your guess is as good as mine as to how many American Catholic students actually grasped the import of those philosophy courses. However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) downgraded Thomism a wee bit.

Now, according to Murray, in Leo XIII's conception, "society is to be built and rendered virtuous from the top down, as it were" (page 196).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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