Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We Hold These Truths

It is one of the most remarkable books from an American Catholic theologian—We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, by John Courtney Murray, S. J. (1960)—ever written, and I was reminded of that in the new issue of The Catholic Social Science Review, the journal of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, where, in introducing a symposium on Murray’s book, Kenneth L. Grasso (2011) wrote:

“…I would suggest that the task of understanding and critically engaging its far ranging, complex, and subtle argument remains among the most important pieces of unfinished business facing American Catholic thought.” (Getting Murray Right, in The Catholic Social Science Review: Volume XVI, (p. 85)

And, in rereading Murray, I came across this:

“Perhaps one day the noble many-storied mansion of democracy will be dismantled, leveled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged. Perhaps there will one day be wide dissent even from the political principles which emerge from natural law, as well as dissent from the constellation of ideas that have historically undergirded these principles—the idea that government has a moral basis; that the universal moral law is the foundation of society; that the legal order of society—that is, the state—is subject to judgment by a law that is not statistical but inherent in the nature of man; that the eternal reason of God is the ultimate origin of all law; that this nation in all its aspects—as a society, a state, an ordered and free relationship between governors and governed—is under God. The possibility that widespread dissent from these principles should develop is not foreclosed. If that evil day should come, the results would introduce one more paradox into history. The Catholic community would still be speaking in the ethical and political idiom familiar to them as it was familiar to their fathers, both the Fathers of the Church and the Fathers of the American Republic. The guardianship of the original American consensus, based on the Western heritage, would have passed to the Catholic community, within which the heritage was elaborated long before America was. And it would be for others, not Catholics, to ask themselves whether they still shared the consensus which first fashioned the American people into a body politic and determined the structure of its fundamental law." (1960) Sheed and Ward, New York. (pp. 42-43)

This hearkens back to the first post of this blog in 2007 commenting on a book written 47 years after Murrays’.