“Intellectual fervor and huge stakes”

The current issue of America magazine includes a review article called “Vatican II: The Next 50 Years,” by Patrick Howell, SJ. Father Howell reviews three new books that he says “convincingly underscore the unfinished business of Vatican II and delve into the arguments and events that characterized the intense, dynamic debates that marked the council up to and during its four sessions.”

It’s a delight to see my own Struggle, Condemnation, VIndication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II included as one of the three, and humbling to be in the company of two fine books by two extraordinary theologians.

About my book, Howell writes:

Barry Hudock expertly narrates the intriguing and tortured history of the arguments of John Courtney Murray, S.J., for religious liberty that led directly to the council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” As Hudock’s title, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication, suggests, Murray valiantly threaded his way through the multiple obstacles posed by his theological adversaries, primarily the American theologians Francis Connell and Joseph Fenton, and the formidable Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office.

Murray’s thesis ingeniously asserted that the religious liberty provided by the U.S. Bill of Rights has its roots in the Catholic natural law tradition. The American cardinals eventually brought Murray to the council as an expert (peritus), and the document on religious liberty became the singular American contribution to the universal church. By all accounts Murray was brilliant. Even one of his critics acknowledged Murray’s “impressive erudition, remarkable dexterity, and uncommon command of language.”

Hudock captures the intellectual fervor and the huge stakes in the battle. He lifts the curtain to reveal some of the machinations during the council to derail the effort. The document on religious liberty was, after all, the clearest reversal of the teaching of Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX, who had condemned freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the separation of church and state. Murray lived to see his vindication, though he died shortly after the council in 1967. At his funeral Walter Burghardt, S.J., affirmed, “Untold Catholics will never sense that they live so gracefully in this dear land because John Murray showed so persuasively that the American proposition is quite congenial to the Catholic reality.”

My thanks to Fr. Howell and America magazine for the nod!


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