Prophetic Catholicism appropriating John Courtney Murray, S.J., in postmodern America

Jennifer Laske, Marquette University


I seek to demonstrate the ongoing importance of John Courtney Murray for contemporary public theology. Murray had keen awareness of the exigencies of living traditions, both Catholic and American. Of particular import for this dissertation was his understanding of the development of doctrine within his thought on religious liberty. His insights on the "Problem of God" and the "Problem of Religious Freedom" are especially helpful in addressing how the Church can retain its identity within a religiously pluralistic culture without becoming assimilated to it or isolated from it. Murray demonstrated, moreover, what Catholic participation in the public realm concretely means given the American political tradition of the separation of Church and state. He discerned and articulated the most crucial distinctions necessary for an efficacious public theology in the American context, namely: the distinction between the state and society, the distinction between the "spiritual" and the "temporal" (meaning Church and state authority), and the distinction between reason and revelation. I show, however, that distinction never meant separation for Murray. Murray made distinctions in order to properly unite them. Furthermore, his main concern and underlying problematic--the relationship between the Church and the world--continues to offer profound insights. Equally significant as Murray's intellectual contributions was the wisdom operative within his life and thought. He sustained a "primacy of faith," developing even his most philosophical arguments within a Catholic horizon. Yet, he correctly saw that Catholic Tradition itself has the resources from which to develop a social ethic accessible to those who do not adhere to Catholic belief. Thus Murray studies are particularly apt for developing a public theology in the prophetic mode. Since, I contend, the prophetic dimension of ecclesial life is central to Catholic identity and mission within a religiously pluralistic context, Murray should be recognized as foundational for contemporary Catholic American public theology. A brief introduction offers initial remarks on Murray's work and the American public consensus. Chapters One and Two lay out Murray's thought while addressing current critiques of his legacy. Chapter Three and Chapter Four appropriate Murray's thought to the postmodern context. Finally, Chapter Five and a brief conclusion reflect further on the wisdom of Murray's framework in the development of "prophetic Catholicism."

Recommended Citation

Laske, Jennifer, "Prophetic Catholicism appropriating John Courtney Murray, S.J., in postmodern America" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306528.