Feast of John Courtney Murray (August 16)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of Vatican City

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY (SEPTEMBER 12, 1904-AUGUST 16, 1967)

U.S. Roman Catholic Priest and Theologian

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), lists John Courtney Murray as the saint for August 16.

Murray was perhaps the greatest U.S. Roman Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, for he helped to pave the way to the Second Vatican Council (1959-1965), in which he was involved.  Our saint, born in Queens, New York, New York, on September 12, 1904, became a Jesuit in 1920.  He graduated from Boston College (B.S., 1926; M.A., 1927) then taught Latin and English literature at the Ateneo de Manila, The Philippines, from 1927 to 1930.  Murray, ordained a priest in 1933, graduated from the Gregorian University, Rome, four years later.  In 1940 he joined the faculty of the Jesuit college at Woodstock, Maryland.  The following year Murray became the editor of Theological Studies, a Jesuit journal.

Murray had liberalized by the late 1940s, when his theological writing attracted much attention.  Our saint argued, for example, that there was salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.  he also contradicted Pope Pius IX, who, in the 1800s, had argued that constitutional government and Roman Catholicism were incompatible.  The Church had contended that

error enjoys no rights,

a justification for the rejection of religious toleration and for the union of church and state.  Murray countered that Roman Catholicism and religious pluralism were indeed compatible.  The Vatican silenced him in 1954, but our saint wrote in private.

Murray’s influence was evident in Vatican II.  Cardinal Francis Spellman took him to the Council.  On November 19, 1963, Murray completed the first draft of the Declaration on Religious Freedom, the final draft of which the Council approved in 1965.  Chapter 1 of the Declaration begins:

This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.  This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wist that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a matter contrary to his own beliefs.  Nor is anyone to be forced to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The Synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed.  Thus it is to become a civil right.

–Quoted in Walter M. Abbott, S. J., ed. The Documents of Vatican II (New York:  Guild Press, 1966), 678-679

The Declaration, in its final form, was the result of vigorous debates.  The document was also a profound theological statement and a turning point in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Murray died of a heart attack in New York City on August 16, 1967.  He was nearly 63 years old.

I have added some other Modernist Roman Catholic theologians to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  They died prior to Vatican II, however, and some spent their final years as excommunicated persons.  Murray, unlike them, not only lived long enough to witness the vindicating revolution, but helped to make it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 18, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRANCK, HEINRICH HELD, AND SIMON DACH, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MASSIE, HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant John Courtney Murray,

and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge

of the truth we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. 

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 61

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