Sunday, April 10, 2005

John Courtney Murray, SJ and the American Contribution


In an earlier post, I took umbrage with Vittorio Messori, who I think articulated a belief widely held in the Vatican and maybe among European Catholics:

Underlying some of the arm's-length attitudes toward the American church is a longtime European opinion that the United States has no culture and is given over to fads. "America has not given a major intellectual contribution to the universal church," argued Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist who interviewed the pontiff for a book on his teachings.

I mentioned Cardinal Avery Dulles as the Dean of American theologians, but that exemplified precisely what we are lacking, i.e, creativity. I mentioned Bernad Lonergan as one the towering giants of American theology. But I should clarify that he was in fact, Canadian. But one person I did not mention was Rev. John Courtney Murray, SJ.

Murray was a theologian who wrote extensively on political theology and came under suspicion with the Vatican and was silenced becuase of his view of religious freedom. But he made a come back during Vatican II and his thought is largely responsible for the shape of the document on religious freedom Dignitatis Humanae.

So I guess, we do have someone whose work proves the critics wrong. But then again, I find this on EWTN, an article on Murray and Vatican II. Here's the introduction:

In this thought-provoking article, Father Canavan places the still controversial thought of Father John Courtney Murray, S.J. on the subject of the relation of Church and State in perspective. According to Father Canavan, who knew Murray, Murray was not writing a theology but a politics and understands the American notion of separation of Church and State as a protection of the Church from the State so that the Church can work unhampered.

Geez, with friends like these who needs enemies. So here we have folks on the right denying the theological thrust of Murray and calling his contributions "a politics." So then, in the eyes of the Vatican and now, the Catholic Right, we remain non-contributors.

Anyway, I think most people with common sense would see Murray's contributions as theological.

Update: A qiuck last thought for now.

I took a class for on Christian Eschatology and we used, among other texts, Ratzonger's Eschatology, CUA Press-I think (actually it was part of a German series on dogmatic theology and CUA press did it in English). It was actually a very good book. What gave us all a chuckle was that all the sources and theologians cited for the book were German and continental in general. But this particular edition we had had an extra afterword in which Ratzinger noted that he has come to understand that the book is being used in the United States, as a result, he has added more American theologians to the footnotes and bibliography. Of course, the poignant fact was that they obviously weren't worthy of the initial text and this was more a concession to the American users.

Another experience with this whole thing was in a Scripture class on Paul. The text we used was by some guy named Jurgens. Now, this guy in the introduction mentioned that he is not going to use footnotes because the book is meant to be easy-type readng. Actually, the book was written for general consumption, i.e, regular folks who had no background in theology or scripture who were interested. The difference being that this general public for whom the book was written were German. Now, that's embarassing.

I suppose that's another issue to hash out, i.e, the degree to which a more sophisticated public enhances specialized disciplines. But that's another blog post. I think the U.S. culture, especially the political, with its unyeilding desire to annihilate anything to do with subtlety and nuance, is a drag that reaches academe, but. . . I'm not sure what else to say.


Blogger Ambrose said...

I wonder if part of the problem is that one major modern heresy is framed as "Americanism" so anything with the label American is suspect on top of continental arrogance.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Ono said...

Could be, that'd be interesting to look into. The Europeans have also had their own share of heresies, including modernism which reared its head at the turn of the 20th century. Even then, they pride themselves in the fact that their heresies are more sophisticated.

The modernists have made something of a comeback, but the only people interested in the Americanists are historians.

I believe it was Freud who said that America was a wonderful place, inspiring, uplifting, etc, but a mistake. It's just the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome, no respect.

10:52 AM  

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