John Courtney Murray

John Courtney Murray, SJ, (September 12, 1904 – August 16, 1967), was an American Jesuit priest and theologian, who was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state.

During the Second Vatican Council, he played a key role in persuading the assembly of the Catholic bishops to adopt the Council's ground-breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis humanae.

John Courtney Murray, S.J.
John Courtney Murray
BornSeptember 12, 1904
New York City
DiedAugust 16, 1967 (aged 62)
Queens, New York
Academic background
Alma materBoston College, Gregorian University
Academic work
InstitutionsAteneo de Manila, Jesuit theologate Woodstock, Maryland
Main interestsTheology
Notable worksWe Hold These Truths
Notable ideasDignitatis humanae

Early life and education

John Courtney Murray was born in New York City on September 12, 1904. In 1920 he entered the New York province of the Society of Jesus. He studied Classics and Philosophy at Boston College, receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in 1926 and 1927 respectively. Following his graduation, he travelled to the Philippines, where he taught Latin and English literature at the Ateneo de Manila.[1]


In 1930, Murray returned to the United States. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1933. He pursued further studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and in 1937, he completed a doctorate in sacred theology.[1]

After his return from Rome to the United States, just before the beginning of World War II, he joined the Jesuit theologate in Woodstock, Maryland and taught Catholic trinitarian theology. In 1940, Murray still fully supported the Catholic doctrine that there was no salvation outside the Church.[2]

In 1941, he was named editor of the Jesuit journal Theological Studies. He held both positions until his death.[1]

As representative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and consultant to the religious affairs section of the Allied High Commission, he helped draft and promote the 1943 Declaration on World Peace, an interfaith statement of principles for postwar reconstruction, and successfully promoted a close constitutional arrangement between the restored German state and the Church, which included sharing of tax revenue with the churches.

By 1944, Murray's endorsement of full co-operation with other theists led many Catholics to complain that he endangered American Catholic faith, who at the time, recommended minimal cooperation with non-Catholics for fear that lay Catholic faith would be weakened.[2]

Similarly, Murray advocated religious freedom as defined and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which contradicted Catholic doctrines of church/state relations before Vatican II.[2]

Postwar reconstruction

While his background and training suggest a heavily theoretical bent, Murray became a leading public figure, and his work dealt primarily with the tensions between religion and public life. His best-known book, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition (1960), collects a number of his essays on such topics[3]

In 1951 to 1952, following a lectureship at Yale University, he collaborated on a project with Robert Morrison MacIver of Columbia University to assess academic freedom and religious education in American public universities. Ultimately, the proposal argued for tax aid to private schools and for sympathetic exposure of religious faiths in public schools. The project was both nationally influential and personally formative, as it deepened Murray's understanding of and esteem for American constitutional law.

In his increasingly public role, several American bishops consulted Murray on legal issues such as censorship and birth control. He argued against what he saw as the reactionary and coercive practices of some Catholic bishops and instead advocated participation in substantive public debate, which he suggested offered a better appeal to public virtue. Instead of civic coercion, he argued, presenting moral opinions in the context of public discourse enabled Americans to both deepen their moral commitments and safeguard the 'genius' of American freedoms.

From 1958 to 1962, he served at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, applying just war criteria to Soviet-American relations.

Throughout the 1950s Murray promoted his ideas in Catholic journals where they received heavy criticism from the leading Catholic thinkers of the day. Msgr Fenton was the most prominent amongst those that opposed Murray as Murray's line was much closer to Americanism which had been condemned by Leo XIII. Murray had the advantage of being friends with Clare Boothe Luce, the US ambassador to Italy and second wife of Henry Luce the prominent magazine magnate. Murray's ideas were featured in Luce's Time magazine, most prominently on December 12 1960 when Murray graced the cover in a feature about 'US Catholics and the State'.[4] Henry Luce was a prominent Republican and close friends with John Foster Dulles, (father of Avery Dulles SJ who known to be sympathetic to Murray's innovative and suspect theology)[5] and Allen Dulles. The CIA, during this period were engaged in Operation Mockingbird which sought to use the news media to influence public opinion during the Cold War. Murray's liberal approach to religious liberty and the traditionally strong Catholic opposition to Communism was useful in the global battle against Communism especially in Latin America and other Catholic strongholds.[6] After his death in 1967 his obituary in Time declared that he was responsible for incorporating ‘the US secular doctrines of church-state separation and freedom of conscience in to the spiritual tradition of Roman Catholicism' despite the efforts of the "ultra conservative" faction in the Church.[7]

Tensions with the Vatican, 1954

By the late 1940s, Murray argued, that Catholic teaching on church/state relations was inadequate to the "moral functioning" of contemporary peoples. The Anglo-American West, he claimed, had developed a fuller truth about human dignity, which was the responsibility of all citizens to assume "moral control" over their own religious beliefs and to wrest control from paternalistic states. That truth was an "intention of nature" or a new dictate of natural law philosophy.[1]

Murray’s claim that a "new moral truth" had emerged outside the church led to conflict with Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Pro-Secretary of the Vatican Holy Office. In 1954, the Vatican demanded for Murray to end both writing on religious freedom and publishing his two latest articles on the issue.[1]

Second Vatican Council, 1963

In spite of his silencing, Murray continued to write privately on religious liberties and submitted his works to Rome, all of which were rejected.

In 1963, he was invited to the second (but not the first) session of the Second Vatican Council in which he drafted the third and fourth versions.[8]

In 1965, it eventually became the council's endorsement of religious freedom Dignitatis humanae personae.[9] After the council, he continued writing on the issue by claiming that the arguments offered by the final decree were inadequate even if the affirmation of religious freedom was unequivocal.

In 1966, prompted by the Vietnam War, he was appointed to serve on Lyndon Johnson's presidential commission, which reviewed Selective Service classifications. He supported the allowance of a classification for those opposed on moral grounds to some (though not all) wars, but the recommendation was not accepted by the Selective Service Administration.[10]

Murray then turned to questions of how the Church might arrive at new theological doctrines. He argued that Catholics who arrived at new truths about God would have to do so in conversation "on a footing of equality" with non-Catholics and atheists. He suggested greater reforms, including a restructuring of the Church, which he saw as having overdeveloped its notion of authority and hierarchy at the expense of the bonds of love that had, from the start, defined the authentically Christian life.[10]


In August 1967, Murray died of a heart attack in Queens, New York, one month before his 63rd birthday.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "John Courtney Murray, SJ (1904-1967)", Ignatian Spirituality
  2. ^ a b c "Murray, John Courtney, American theologian". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
  3. ^ Murray SJ, John Courtney. We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, (Sheed & Ward, 1960)
  4. ^ "Time Magazine cover: John Courtney Murray". Time. Time. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  5. ^ Ashley, J. Matthew. "An Ignatian Spirit Avery Dulles's Theological Journey". Commonweal Magazine. Society of Jesus. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  6. ^ Wemhoff, David A. "John Courtney Murray, Time/Life, and the American Proposition: How the CIA's Doctrinal Warfare Program Changed the Catholic Church (book review)". Federal Bar Association. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Religion: Man of the City". Time. Time. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Religious freedom-- Vatican II modernizes church-state ties", Agostino Bono, Catholic News Service, 12 Oct 2005, retrieved 15 May 2007.[1]
  9. ^ "Dignitatis humanae personae", Second Vatican Council, 1965, retrieved 15 May 2007 [2]
  10. ^ a b S.J. Leon Hooper,Murray Biography from American National Biography Edited by John A Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999

External links

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Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J. (born October 6, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA.) is a Jesuit priest, professor, author, and moral theologian currently serving as the Pedro Arrupe Distinguished Research Professor of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is a consultant to the Jesuit Refugee Service and is the recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1998.

Dignitatis humanae

Dignitatis humanae (Latin: Of the Dignity of the Human Person) is the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. In the context of the council's stated intention "to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society", Dignitatis humanae spells out the church's support for the protection of religious liberty. It set the ground rules by which the church would relate to secular states, both pluralistic ones like the United States and officially Catholic nations like Malta and Costa Rica.

The passage of this measure by a vote of 2,308 to 70 is considered by many to be one of the most significant events of the council. This declaration was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965.

Dignitatis humanae became one of the key points of dispute between the Vatican and traditionalists such as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who argued that the encyclical was incompatible with previous authoritatively stated Catholic teaching.

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John Courtney Murray Award

The John Courtney Murray Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Catholic Theological Society of America, named after John Courtney Murray, the great American theologian known for his work on religious liberty.

John T. Pawlikowski

John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M. (born November 2, 1940) is a Servite Friar priest, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, and Former Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, part of The Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago. He is currently in residence at Assumption Church in the River North section of Chicago.As member of Catholic Theological Union since 1968, Pawlikowski was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1980 by then-President Jimmy Carter. He was subsequently re-appointed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. As of 2008, he chaired the Council's Subcommittee on Church Relations and served on its Executive Committee, the Committee on Conscience, and Academic Committee. Pawlikowski also served as president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) from 2002-2008.

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List of Jesuit theologians

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Mirari vos

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Multiconfessionalism is a term applied to countries which have a power sharing arrangement between people of different faiths, usually three or more significant confessional groups within the same jurisdiction. Examples of modern countries deemed multiconfessional are Lebanon and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The "National Pact" is a formal agreement altering the 1926 Constitution, which laid the foundation of Lebanon as a confessionalist state. Instead of the minority wielding the most power, political power became more representative.

National Affairs

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Robert Araujo

The Reverend Robert Araujo, SJ (October 30, 1948 – October 21, 2015), was the John Courtney Murray Professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Formerly, he was the Robert Bellarmine University Professor in American and Public International Law at Gonzaga University School of Law (1994–2005) and an Ordinary Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (2005–2008).

He was a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, St. Louis University School of Law, Boston College School of Law, and Fordham University Law School. He has an A.B.and a J.D. from Georgetown University; a M. Div. and a S.T.L. from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology; an LL.M. and a J.S.D. from Columbia University; and a B.C.L. from Oxford University.Beginning in 1996, he was an advisor to the Holy See providing counsel on public international law, in that capacity, he was a delegate to United Nations General Assembly, to the 1998 Rome Conference on the establishment of the International Criminal Court and to the negotiation of the United Nations Declaration banning all forms of Human Cloning.He entered the Society of Jesus in 1986.

Robert W. McElroy

Robert Walter McElroy (born February 5, 1954) is a Roman Catholic prelate and bishop. From 2010 through 2015 he was auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, California. In 2015, he became the sixth Bishop of the San Diego Diocese. McElroy was educated by the Jesuits and writes for their official publication in the United States, America.

Sandra M. Schneiders

Sandra Marie Schneiders, I.H.M. (born 12 November 1936), is professor emerita in the Jesuit School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

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Her education included

B.A. at Marygrove College,

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Second Vatican Council

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. The council, through the Holy See, was formally opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and was closed under Pope Paul VI on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1965.

Several changes resulted from the council, including the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, ecumenical efforts towards dialogue with other religions, and the universal call to holiness, which according to Pope Paul VI was "the most characteristic and ultimate purpose of the teachings of the Council".According to Pope Benedict XVI, the most important and essential message of the council is "the Paschal Mystery as the center of what it is to be Christian and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons". Other changes which followed the council included the widespread use of vernacular languages in the Mass instead of Latin, the subtle disuse of ornate clerical regalia, the revision of Eucharistic prayers, the abbreviation of the liturgical calendar, the ability to celebrate the Mass versus populum (with the officiant facing the congregation), as well as ad orientem (facing the "East" and the Crucifix), and modern aesthetic changes encompassing contemporary Catholic liturgical music and artwork. Many of these changes remain divisive among the Catholic faithful.Of those who took part in the council's opening session, four have become popes: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding John XXIII took the name Pope Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future Pope John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II; and Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who became Pope Benedict XVI.In the 1950s, theological and biblical studies in the Catholic Church had begun to sway away from the Neo-Scholasticism and biblical literalism which a reaction to Catholic modernism had enforced since the First Vatican Council. This shift could be seen in theologians such as Karl Rahner, Michael Herbert, and John Courtney Murray who looked to integrate modern human experience with church principles based on Jesus Christ, as well as others such as Yves Congar, Joseph Ratzinger and Henri de Lubac, who looked to an accurate understanding of scripture and the early Church Fathers as a source of renewal (ressourcement).

At the same time, the world's bishops faced challenges driven by political, social, economic, and technological change. Some of these bishops sought new ways of addressing those challenges. The First Vatican Council had been held nearly a century before but had been cut short in 1870 when the Italian Army entered the city of Rome at the end of Italian unification. As a result, only deliberations on the role of the papacy and the congruent relationship of faith and reason were completed, with examination of pastoral issues concerning the direction of the Church left unaddressed.Pope John XXIII, however, gave notice of his intention to convene the Council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. This sudden announcement, which caught the Curia by surprise, caused little initial official comment from Church insiders. Reaction to the announcement was widespread and largely positive from both religious and secular leaders outside the Catholic Church, and the council was formally summoned by the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis on 25 December 1961. In various discussions before the Council convened, John XXIII said that it was time to "open the windows [of the Church] and let in some fresh air". He invited other Christians outside the Catholic Church to send observers to the Council. Acceptances came from both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant denominations as internal observers, but these observers did not cast votes in the approbation of the conciliar documents.

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