Works By John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Woodstock Home | Woodstock Theological Center Library | Bibliography

Foreward

JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, S.J.

None of the speakers at the Patrick F. Healy Conference on Freedom and Man is likely to forget the occasion or the audience. The audience itself may forget, as audiences do, what the speakers said. Therefore this volume will be a useful reminder. In any case, I hope that the audience will not forget what brought it together. It is a striking event when more than five thousand people converge upon a university for three days to listen, with an alertness that was palpable in the atmosphere, to a series of discourses, none of which (save perhaps my own) were in the popular vein, so called. Only the theme itself can give the clue to the significance of the event and to the reason for the throng.

It may be that the word "freedom" has lost some of the political magic that it had in the nineteenth century. But this is only because the simplicities of the Political Century are no longer available to us in an age in which the fact and the theme of "socialization" also claim attention. Freedom, of course, continues to be what Lord Acton said it was, the highest political end. Today, however, we have come to understand better the complex conditions of its attainment. Freedom as a political end, or even as the political method, recedes beyond realization in a society which fails to reckon with the full truth about man and with all the exigencies of the order of justice among men. In particular, the noble phrase, the "free society," can have no more than a merely formalistic meaning, if love be lacking among the citizenry, if hatreds rend the body politic. Today political discourse about freedom must have more solid substance, if it is to be taken seriously by the peoples of the world whose personal and corporate lives feel increasingly the impact of Teilhard de Chardin's law of complexification.

The audience at Georgetown did not lack interest in freedom as a political and social problem. And the theme of the Conference itself required that this interest be met. The man whose freedom was under discussion is forever political and social man. Hence the discussion did not neglect these aspects of the problem. I think, however, that the chief interest of the audience had another focus. I shall not hesitate to call it theological. The audience was most evidently aware, as were all the speakers, that the Church is entering the Age of Renewal. The full profile of the new age has not yet emerged into clear definition. One feature, however, already stands out. Freedom is the feature. It is visible on the face that Vatican Council II has presented to a watching world. It will also be marked on the face of the new historical epoch into which the Council is moving a world that awaits the movement.

Some have greeted the new age with gladness; others, who are fewer, view it with alarm. Both reactions are superficial. The problem is to understand what it may legitimately mean to say that a new age of Christian freedom begins to dawn. It was, I think, the desire to make this effort at understanding that formed the common bond among the five thousand people who came to listen to men who were themselves engaged in the same effort. This was my reason for saying that I hoped the audience would not forget what brought it together. For the effort will be long, and it must be sustained. It must be sustained as it was begun, by searching study and by continued conversation.

The essays that follow deal with a wide variety of topics. They exhibit, however, a certain unity in that all of them develop in one way or another the theme of Christian freedom. (It need hardly be said, though it should be said, that to qualify freedom as Christian is not to impart to the word any sort of sectarian sense. Like the grace of Christ, the freedom that is Christian is given outside the confines of the visible Church.) The theme is fundamental. In the Prologue to his lengthy treatise on man and the moral life, St. Thomas states the unique human prerogative that is also the indispensable condition of all religion and morality. Man, he says, "is made in the image of God; and by image here is meant that man is intelligent, free in his power of choice, and of himself the master of himself . . . the active source of what he does." The statement contains an implicit citation from St. John Damascene which sums up the Greek patristic exegesis of the first thing said about man in the Scriptures (Gen. 1:26–27).

Father Rahner, as is his wont, pursues this truth about man into the depths of its mystery. It is not that man has the power to choose this or that, now and again. To say that man is free is to say that he can, and in the end will, make the final and definitive choice that is fraught with eternal consequence. Man can choose God or choose to reject God. Freedom is mystery indeed. Moreover, to say that man is free is also to say, with Teilhard de Chardin (and with his gifted interpreter in this volume, Father Mooney), that man faces the risk of the cosmic hamartia—a refusal, a failure, a falling short that would defeat the intention of evolution, which is man's personal ascent to the higher consciousness and his corporate growth into a community of love.

As the first truth about man is that he is free, so the first truth about Christ is that He is Liberator, the One through whom man is set free. St. Paul, speaking in the name of humanity, cried out for deliverance from "this body of death" (Rom. 7:24) which is the human environment, external and internal. And he proclaimed the good news that deliverance is at hand: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (8:2). This is Father Fransen's general theme. Man's liberation, moreover, is a rescue from isolation and from all its possibilities of errancy. It is a gathering into the Church, under her governance and guidance. Therefore the experience of the freedom for which Christ has set us free (cf. Gal. 5:1) is an experience of the polar tension between freedom and authority. The Christian experiences his freedom as also duty, as obedience, as responsibility, as being-for-the-others in community. This is the experience, often sacrificial, with which Father Johann, Mr. Callahan and Professor Kung deal, in different ways and from different standpoints.

Father Lynch points out the way to Christian freedom. It hardly seems, on a superficial view, to be a royal way, since it leads through all the density of the human, all the limitations of the finite, all the contingency of the historical moment, whose demands are ever unique, to be met by personal judgment and choice. But there is no other way. It is man who is free, and only free to be free humanly, not magically, within the full reality of the human, whose basic law has been defined: "Only that ought not to be which cannot be." In his turn, Professor McMullin selects a particular topic—freedom and the progress of science—out of the general theme that freedom is the principle of man's development in human living, the dynamism of his movement toward his own perfection. I myself, in taking up the subject of religious freedom, touch on one sector of the larger problem of preserving about the human person in society a certain zone or sphere of freedom, within which man must be immune from coercive constraints and restraints in the pursuit of the highest values of the person as such, who transcends society in virtue of his direct relatedness to the truth and to God who is the Truth. In what concerns religion, the dignity of man requires that he decide and act on the bidding or forbidding of his own conscience. No human agency may bring force to bear on him in restraint of his free exercise of religion according to conscience, unless and until it is proved in the case that his action offends against the legitimate requirements of public order. Finally, this same problem of the personal and corporate freedom of man in society is further pursued by Father Calvez in all the complexity that it presents within the conditions of our technological age.

Thus discourse on freedom leads one into all the areas of human thought, concern, and action. These essays show that the problem is never simple and easily solved. Within the Church the issue has a special delicacy and difficulty. Unless this is well understood, there will be no Age of Renewal, only an age of change, to be followed inevitably by retrogression. Freedom is indeed the first truth about man. But if the truth be debased, it becomes man's most destructive illusion. "Live as free men," St. Peter exhorts the faithful, "yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God" (1 Peter 2:16). "It was unto freedom that you were called," St. Paul proclaims, but he too adds the warning, "only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (Gal. 5:13). The injunction, following the warning, says the final inexhaustible word about Christian freedom. Freedom, say philosophers today, is man's very existence. They are not wrong, within the limits of philosophy. But Paul suggests the higher truth. Freedom is love. It is the experience of the new law whereby the children of God live.

It is both fitting and necessary, in conclusion, to express the gratitude of Georgetown University, and my own, to Father George H. Dunne, S.J., Director of the 175th Anniversary program, who conceived, planned, and organized the Conference, and to Professor Riley Hughes for the unwearied cheerfulness and most exact care with which he carried through the laborious task of assembling these essays and preparing them for publication.

Woodstock College May 24, 1965

Search the Murray Collection: