Murray, John Courtney

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Jesuit theologian and expert on Church-state relations; b. New York City, Sept. 12, 1904; d. New York City, Aug. 16, 1967; the son of Michael John and Margaret Courtney Murray; entered the Society of Jesus in 1920; ordained June 25, 1933. Murray was educated at Weston College (B.A., 1926), Boston College (M.A.,1927), Woodstock College in Maryland (S.T.L., 1934), and the Gregorian University in Rome (S.T.D., 1937). Upon completing his studies at the Gregorian University, he was appointed professor of dogmatic theology at Woodstock, the Jesuit theological seminary for the Maryland province, where he remained on the staff until his death. He was one of the chief editors of the scholarly quarterly, Theological Studies (19411967); visiting professor of Medieval Philosophy and Culture at Yale (195152); and noted peritus at Vatican Council II. He also served as director of the John La Farge Institute in New York City, a center for the interreligious and interracial dialogue that was Murray's life-long commitment.

Murray first gained prominence through a series of literary debates on the questions of ecumenical cooperation, religious freedom, and the Church-state relationship. Convinced that the Catholic Church could not accomplish a redemptive purpose in society and history on its own, he began to promote what was then known as "inter-religious cooperation." This led to several bishops and theologians accusing him of promoting indifferentism. At the same time, many Jews and Protestants were equally suspicious of Catholic motives in "inter-religious cooperation," fearing that the Catholic Church would infringe on the religious freedom of non-Catholics. Writing in Theological Studies along with two other prominent Jesuits, John La Farge and Wilfried Parsons, Murray defended his view on Church-state relations and religious freedom against the attacks of several conservative theologians, notably Francis connell C.Ss.R., Joseph Clifford fenton and George Shea, writing in the American Ecclesiastical Review. The discussion continued in the two journals for more than eight years, and attracted national and international attention. In the debates, Murray strongly insisted that the American system of Church-state relations was in fact the most desirable form and should be acknowledged as such by the Vatican.

Murray's view attracted the criticism of Cardinal Ottaviani, secretary of the Holy Office, who denounced Murray's stance without naming him in a lecture on the duties of a Catholic state toward religion on March 5,1953. After being assured by pius xii's private secretary, Robert Leiber, S.J. that Ottaviani's views were his own, and by other sources that Pius XII's subsequent speech in December 1953 on tolerance was a diplomatic repudiation of Ottaviani, Murray delivered a lecture at the catholic university of america in March 1954 where he publicly stated that Pius XII had repudiated the position of Ottaviani on church-state relations. After learning of this, Ottaviani initiated a formal investigation into Murray's views. At a session on July 7, 1954, the Holy Office held that Murray's views, summarized in four propositions, were condemned as "erroneous." These were communicated to Murray by the Jesuit Father General in 1954. The Holy Office also attempted, without success, to halt the publication of a book by the University of Notre Dame Press that contained an essay of Murray's that was deemed objectionable. In October 1954, Murray's chief critics, Fenton and Connell, were given copies of the four propositions against Murray and informed of the measures against him, but they were told that these measures were to be kept under wraps.

Under pressure from the Holy Office, Murray's Jesuit superiors in Rome requested that he stop speaking and writing on the topic. When his 1955 essay to clarify and defend his position was rejected by the Roman censor, Murray was advised by his Jesuit superiors to withdraw from this area of enquiry. After another attempt in 1958 to clarify his stance was refused permission, Murray turned to what he called a "public philosophy," a set of principles derived from natural law that could serve as the foundation of a pluralistic society, providing the criteria for addressing social-ethical issues. In 1960, a selection of his many essays on this issue was published as We Hold These Truths: Reflections on the American Proposition, which subsequently earned him a place on the cover of Time magazine.

During the second session of Vatican Council II, Murray became one of the most influential and best known periti from the United States. Notwithstanding the repudiation of his views in the Theological Commission's first draft on Church and state, Cardinal Spellman secured Murray's appointment as a peritus, enabling him to be the U.S. bishops' chief adviser on Church-state matters. Murray was entrusted by Cardinal bea and his committee with the task of rewriting the Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae ), following the suggestions of the Council fathers in the second session. The final draft of the document, promulgated in 1965, adheres for the most part to the language and reasoning of Murray. In addition, his many appearances before various national groups of bishops contributed to the successful acceptance of his ideas on religious freedom by the Council. He spent the final two years of his life writing and lecturing on the Declaration on Religious Freedom.

In addition to many periodical articles, Murray is the author of the following books: We Hold These Truths (1961), The Problem of God (1963), Yesterday and Today (1963), Problems of Religious Freedom (1965), and editor of Religious Liberty, An End and A Beginning (1966). A selection of Murray's important writings may be found in J. C. Murray, Bridging the Sacred and the Secular: Selected Writings, ed. J. L. Hooper (Washington, DC 1994).

Bibliography: d. pelotte, John Courtney Murray: Theologian In Conflict (New York 1976). d. gonnet, La liberté religieuse à Vatican II: La contribution de John Courtney Murray (Paris 1994). j. l. hooper, The Ethics of Discourse: The Social Philosophy of John Courtney Murray (Washington, DC 1986). r. mcelroy, The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray (New York 1989).

[c. p. michael/

j. m. komonchak]

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Murray, John Courtney

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