John Courtney Murray, S.J. and incarnational humanism

Richard S. Arndt, Marquette University


L John Courtney Murray has always been a controversial figure. In his lifetime, his scholarship on church-state issues and religious liberty was opposed by influential American Catholic theologians and even by the Roman curia. Although Murray's thought was significantly vindicated at Vatican II, his scholarship has continued to be met with criticism, even among Catholic scholars who should view Murray as a source and an ally in their attempts to revitalize American culture by bringing it into conformity with the Gospel of Christ. To a significant extent, Murray's critics have ignored the fact that he was an incarnational Christian humanist. Even those who mention his Christian humanism fail to realize that this fact defines who Murray was, reveals his theoretical horizon, and makes it possible to achieve a definitive interpretation of his scholarship. In part, the reason for this failure arises from the fact that many of Murray's critics do not seem to share this tradition. A more significant reason, however, consists in the observation that Christian humanism is a term that seems no longer to signify among contemporary scholars. In order to understand Murray, therefore, we need to recover the meaning of Christian humanism. Thus, this investigation begins with a ressourcement into the tradition of Christian humanism where the integral unity of Christian humanism and classical humanism is demonstrated. This integral unity consists in viewing piety and philosophy, faith and reason, as fundamentally and integrally unified. Returning to Murray, it is easy to demonstrate that he consciously participated in the centuries-old tradition of Christian humanism. He adopted its goals, accepted its hermeneutic, and his scholarship reflects this commitment. Returning to the critics, it becomes clear that understanding his horizon provides resources for exonerating Murray. At the same time, understanding the polemical-occasional nature of his scholarship provides additional resources. For, in many cases, Murray's critics have ignored the context of certain of his writings or have ignored texts in which Murray's full position becomes clear.

Recommended Citation

Arndt, Richard S., "John Courtney Murray, S.J. and incarnational humanism" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3357929.