“A resounding success”: new review from the Catholic Historical Review

The autumn 2015 issue of The Catholic Historical Review includes a new review of my book, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II. Here’s the full text of that review, written by Thomas O’Brien, associate professor of religious studies at DePaul University.

This reviewer was both intrigued and skeptical when the author claimed in the introduction that “this is a theological adventure story” (p. xxiv). It is difficult to imagine the quiet, scholarly, and scrupulous John Courtney Murray as the subject of an “adventure” in the more common understanding of the term. Nevertheless, by the end of this concise and readable account of Murray’s life, Hudock’s characterization is convincing. Those who have worked with the Murray corpus for decades are all too familiar with Donald E. Pelotte’s authoritative biography, and many might have questioned the need for another historical survey of Murray’s life and work. However, this book represents a substantially fresh perspective on Murray’s archival record from someone who was not a contemporary. It is a contextual reading of Murray from the vantage point of several generations removed from the events described and from the controversies that arose around Murray’s work in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

For this reason, one could argue that this book has the advantage of understanding Murray and his work from a sufficient historical distance, and for this reason, the controversies and scandals of those eras have much less influence on the way the story is told and the way the theology is interpreted. Although the book does not claim to be breaking new ground in Murray research, it is a treasure trove of information about Murray and his opponents, especially Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, Redemptorist priest Francis Connell, and Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. Hudock excels at reconstructing the conversations on both sides of the Catholic religious-liberty issue—before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council. It is particularly illuminating when it reviews and analyzes the personal journals and confidential correspondence of those immersed in these conversations.

So, although the author is forthcoming that the purpose of the book is not to introduce new archival information on Murray’s life or offer a novel interpretation of Murray’s work, it nevertheless presents  he reader with a remarkably lucid introduction to the life and work of the most influential American Catholic theologian For this reason, the book might be used with students and other uninitiated readers to give an overview of Murray’s life and career, and introduce the various theological themes and controversies that were the hallmarks of his life’s work.

The weaknesses of the book are minor in comparison to the previously mentioned virtues. One shortcoming is the thin treatment of Americanism regarding how it both deeply influenced Murray and dogged him as a convenient condemnation of his work. The dismissal of Murray by his opponents via the category of Americanism was personally vexing for Murray, and he expended a great deal of time and effort trying to demonstrate that the Church, in many ways, had always tacitly endorsed what he called the American proposition.

Overall, the book is a resounding success at offering the Murray neophyte a current, lucid, and extremely well-written overview of Murray’s life and work. It also offers the seasoned Murray scholar a fresh interpretation of Murray within the context of mid-twentieth century American Catholic theology and its impact on the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council.

 

This is exciting and gratifying. I also happen to agree with the criticism mentioned in the penultimate paragraph. My thanks to Professor O’Brien for his gracious words.

 

“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!

New review of the Murray book

My book on John Courtney Murray reviewed in the new issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies. Below is the full text of the review, which is by Fordham University’s William Gould. (It can also be found online here.)

Murray’s story is an utterly fascinating, timely, and yes, dramatic one, and it was a pleasure to retell it in this book. I’m relieved to think I succeeded to some degree. My thanks to William Gould and the Journal of Jesuit Studies!

. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. Pp. 216. Pb, $19.95.

American Jesuit John Courtney Murray (1904–1967) is well known both for his work as a public philosopher, as exemplified in his celebrated book , and as a leading architect of the church’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom” () at Vatican , which affirmed religious freedom as a fundamental civil right. In , Barry Hudock focuses chiefly on Murray’s contribution to church teaching on religious liberty.

Concerned that most younger Catholics are unfamiliar with Murray and his achievement, Hudock wants to make Murray’s work better known to them and to the larger community. As he indicates in his Introduction, his book is a successor to Donald Pelotte’s earlier work (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1976), which covered much of the same ground. While acknowledging the value of Pelotte’s book, Hudock notes that it is out of print, and that in the nearly four decades since its publication important new resources have appeared, including major articles by Joseph Komonchak, and the personal correspondence of Joseph Clifford Fenton, that greatly enrich our understanding of Murray’s achievement. In addition, the Pelotte book is scholarly in nature, while Hudock intends to offer something more accessible to the general public, which not only describes what Murray accomplished, but captures the personal drama he experienced.

The result is a lively, fast moving narrative in the form of “a theological adventure story” (as Hudock characterizes it), whose leading characters are Murray and his two principal antagonists, Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton, a theologian at Catholic University and editor of the influential , and Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The story is set against the background of the pre-Vatican church’s support for the confessional state and the old thesis/hypothesis framework whereby the Catholic ideal was that in countries like Spain, with a predominantly Catholic population, Catholicism should be the state religion and restrictions should be placed on the freedom of other religions (the thesis), whereas in countries like the United States, where Catholics were in the minority and a Catholic confessional state was not feasible, the right to religious freedom was accepted (the hypothesis).

Hudock explains how Murray, beginning in the 1940s, responded to this situation by adopting an historically-minded approach to the way the relation between church and state is to be understood in the Catholic tradition, seeking to separate the permanent or transtemporal elements in that tradition from those that were historically conditioned. Murray argued that with the Gelasian dyarchy (from Gelasius I in 494), Christianity inaugurated a distinction between spiritual and temporal authority that gave rise to a nascent constitutionalism in the Middle Ages, but that with the subsequent emergence of the nation state the Gelasian principle took two divergent paths: in continental Europe, it suffered rejection, first at the hands of royal absolutism and then, following the French Revolution, from a virulently secular, anti-clerical liberalism. It fared much better in the Anglo-American world, particularly the United States, where the Gelasian dyarchy found substantial, if imperfect, expression in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Murray argued that condemnations of the separation of church and state and of religious freedom by nineteenth-century pontiffs reflected justified opposition to the laicism of continental liberalism, but did not apply to the American version of church-state separation (with which the popes were not familiar). Murray further contended that the encyclicals of Leo XIII, on which he wrote extensively in , the Jesuit journal he edited, constituted a revival of the Gelasian principle. Furthermore, this principle was further developed by subsequent popes, particularly Pius , along lines reflecting support for limited constitutional government and the rights associated with modern democratic states, including the right to religious freedom.

As Hudock recounts in detail, Murray’s interpretation of Leo XIII and the contribution of more recent popes met with stiff opposition from Monsignor Fenton and his Catholic University of America colleague Father Francis Connell, who rejected Murray’s historically-conscious approach and pointed out numerous papal texts that challenged Murray’s claims. Monsignor Fenton also sent a number of private communications to Cardinal Ottaviani, expressing concern about Murray’s views and calling for action from Rome against him. After a speech at CUA in 1954 on Pius ’s address to Catholic jurists, , in which Murray claimed that the pope had repudiated the thesis-hypothesis model of church-state relations, as well as also making remarks that were interpreted as critical of Cardinal Ottaviani, such action came. In 1955, Murray was required to cease publishing on church-state issues and his last major article on Leo was withheld from publication.

Hudock then describes in detail Murray’s subsequent vindication at Vatican II. Although absent from the first session of the council (from which Murray said he was “disinvited”), Murray was chosen by Cardinal Spellman as a for the second session and played a key role thereafter both as a major contributor to the many drafts of the document that eventually became and as an advisor to the American bishops, whose support for in debates on the council floor proved crucial to its approval. Hudock does a good job of capturing the tense and at times dramatic atmosphere in which the supporters, like Murray, of the document endorsing religious freedom and those, like Ottaviani and his allies, who opposed it, clashed. Ultimately, of course, Murray’s side triumphed, and he is credited with making a major contribution to the development of doctrine in this area.

This is a valuable book for anyone interested in Murray, but I think it will be especially so to readers new to the man, for whom it will serve as a good introduction. I can see it working well in undergraduate courses, for example. It is not, however, an in-depth study of Murray’s life and thought. One hopes that someday someone (Father Komonchak, perhaps) will give us this kind of intellectual biography of Murray.

Reviewed in NCR

A review of my new book was posted yesterday on the National Catholic Reporter website Written by New York Theological Seminary professor Marian Ronan, it also appears in their current print edition.  I enjoyed Ronan’s opening lines:

After four Fortnights for Freedom and multiple Catholic lawsuits over the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, an observer might well conclude that religious freedom is a fundamental tenet of the Catholic faith. In Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication, Barry Hudock sets readers straight about how recently the Catholic church came to accept religious freedom at all and the fierce battles that preceded such acceptance.

Hudock weaves several plotlines into his narrative of the months and years leading up to the passage of Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom at the Second Vatican Council.

And then there’s the gracious closing line of the review: “Somebody should send a copy of this book to each of the U.S. bishops.”

You can read everything in between here. (And you can get yourself a copy here or here. Thanks for considering it!)

The lessons Murray offers, at Pray Tell

This morning, the Pray Tell blog has posted the conclusion to my John Courtney Murray book. Fr. Anthony, the blog’s moderator, introduces the post by noting that the text was “not written with the upcoming 2015 Synod of Bishops explicitly in mind, but it touches upon themes that apply remarkably well to the synod and the conversations now taking place in preparation for it.” About that, he is right.

He’s also right when he notes that it is not my intention to advocate any particular doctrinal (or, for that matter, pastoral) development by the upcoming synod. Indeed, I’m happy to acknowledge my uncertainty and ambivalence about the most controversial issues facing the synod. But Murray’s story certainly may be, as Fr. Anthony says, “helpful in thinking about Christian faithfulness in a rapidly-changing world.”

The Pray Tell post is here.