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The lustre of our country [electronic resource] : the American experience of religious freedom /
John T. Noonan, Jr.
Berkeley : University of California Press, c1998.
436 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
0520209974 (alk. paper)
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Berkeley : University of California Press, c1998.
0520209974 (alk. paper)
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
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Includes bibliographical references (p. 359-421) and index.
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"A truly remarkable work of immense learning and urgent relevance. It explores the very roots of the notions of freedom which underlie a constitutional democracy. . . . This is a great work, grounded in vast learning and love of the principles of law, reason, and religion. "--Lawrence E. Sullivan, Director, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School "A wide-ranging study of freedom of religion and its connections to the establishment, set in a context of American constitutional law, American political thought, American political development, and most interestingly, constitutional development elsewhere, with 'elsewhere' including modern Catholicism."--Walter F. Murphy, Princeton University "One of the world's towering intellects has produced this remarkably learned, multidisciplinary study. Noonan fully addresses the blight of religious violence and bigotry along with the tolerance, the love of the 'other,' and above all the centrality of individual conscience that ideally accompany religious freedom."--Norman Dorsen, Stokes Professor of Law, New York University, and President, American Civil Liberties Union, 1977-1991
First Chapter

Chapter One

I was born in Boston on October 24, 1926, and writing about a subject as to which personal perspective means so much, I find it incumbent to give some account of my own religion as it was exercised from that date forward. I will begin with a bit of family history.

    My father's grandfather was a Protestant. He must have been Presbyterian, for he came from Scotland, but nothing was ever said in family memory of his specific denomination, because when he married my great-grandmother he became a Catholic, as was she. Over five centuries, all Protestants have had Catholic ancestors, and many Catholics have had Protestant ancestors, making the Christian community as a whole more of a family than is often acknowledged. In this case, the extra seriousness of the adult convert had a surprising result: the couple's two sons became priests of the diocese of Worcester. Three of the four daughters remained unmarried--"the girls in Springfield," as they were called even in their seventies, cheerful and intelligent maidens. Only my grandmother married and perpetuated the line.

    On my mother's side there were only Catholics and, as far as I know, no ecclesiastical connections. Growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, she had a faithful friend and wise counselor in her pastor, Matthew or Mattie Flaherty; and Father Flaherty, as he was alliteratively known, remained until his death a family friend, closer geographically and empathically than the somewhat remote and reserved uncles in Worcester.

    My parents were married in 1925 in St. Mary's in Brookline, where my mother had moved. Monsignor Splaine, the pastor, presided, as canon law provided. I often heard the story. "The uncles are all right," he said, i.e., the two priests from Worcester could sit on the altar, "but Mattie will have to stay to home," i.e., he was not to intrude into the monsignor's domain, a conclusion dictated by church politics and a sense of territoriality. To outsiders the Catholic Church in Boston looked like a monolith; within, the parish was the operative unit of everyday life, the religious orders provided variety, and there were intense internal battles.

    To isolate my religious education from the rest of my experience is to compose an artifact, arbitrary but for its relevance to the themes of this book. Specifically religious instruction began with my mother, who taught me to pray. She herself prayed regularly and, basing herself on experience, believed in the power of prayer. Her religious views were wide in the respect she accorded other faiths--she had been educated by similarly broad-minded nuns and priests at Trinity College in Washington--and she had no use for a bigotry that denied the sincerity, the goodness, and the ultimate salvation of those not of her persuasion. She had a number of close friendships with Protestants, formed chiefly in her Concord schooldays. She had more Catholic friends, including two members of the Congregation of Notre Dame de Namur, one ex-nun of that order, and one ex-postulant; those who had left the religious life had remained extraordinarily devout without their habits, and my mother valued their prayers and their love.

    My father should also be described as a religious man, although one less confident of eliciting the responses of God. His mind was critical, and he examined theological doctrines as well as priestly pronouncements from the pulpit critically. Wholly committed to Catholicism--what else was there? he thought--he meditated a good deal on its paradoxes and problems. As he and I grew older, he took delight in theological debate. I remember keenly his assaults on the teaching that then passed as orthodox, and had for over a millennium, that an ideal state would repress by force any heretical deviation from the Church; incredulity and scorn characterized his reaction to the doctrine. At a later date I recall his tormenting Richard McBrien, then teaching theology at Boston College, with the question, "What is the difference between `begotten' and `made' in the statement of the Creed that the Son was `begotten not made'?" And at a later date I recall his asking me how I thought Christ could have suffered on the cross if he was conscious that he was God as well as man. At the same time as he grew older his devotion to Lourdes, where he and my mother went as volunteers, grew. He was willing to believe that miracles had occurred there; it was the concreteness of the proofs that caught his eye and mind. And he translated from the French a long biography of Bernadette Soubirous.

    In this household, attendance at Sunday mass was a matter of course, never questioned, never neglected; and similarly attendance on all holy days of obligation. After my father's mother's death we usually went to mass on her anniversary; other ordinary days we did not. On Good Friday, from the age of about eleven, I would go to the Three Hours with my mother; the sermon sequence on those occasions is the only long exposure to preaching that I experienced.

    There were sermons--very short by Protestant standards, too long by ours--given usually, but not always, at Sunday mass. The mass was the thing, not the preaching. The latter was rarely eloquent and sometimes incoherent; delivery ranged from mediocre to bad. I cannot recall social issues or party politics ever being discussed. Sin was a topic, sex in general was referred to, materialism was often denounced. A literal-minded paraphrasing of the gospel of the day was standard. Memory does call from its depths several Jesuits and one or two Redemptorists who spoke with fire while preaching retreats.

    An event that took place as much as three or four times a year was a letter, read from the pulpit, opening with the salutation, "To the clergy and faithful of the archdiocese of Boston, health and benediction!" and concluding with the signature, "William Cardinal O'Connell, archbishop of Boston." The cardinal lived in an Italianate palazzo on Commonwealth Avenue, which was pointed out to me as a child from a distance. The letters were how he was chiefly present to the parishes. He, or his ghostwriters, had a classical rotundity of phrase that appealed to me and seemed to match the portliness of the cardinal himself. It was in observing the cardinal's relationship to civic affairs that I gained my first sense of the difference between the Church and governmental authorities and the interaction between them.

    William Henry O'Connell was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1859 and lived until 1944. Educated at Boston College and the North American College in Rome, of which he was later rector, he had been appointed coadjutor with right of succession in 1906 and had become the archbishop the next year; he was promoted to the cardinalate in 1911 by Pius X; and he continued as cardinal-archbishop until his death. Coming into office in 1906 at the age of forty-seven, a man of energy, ambition, and political adroitness, he personified the Catholic Church to the world in Boston. He was resisted by stubborn pastors and nuns. He was bereft of his Roman patrons with the death of Pius X and the eclipse of Pius X's secretary of state, Merry del Val. He was undermined with his fellow bishops by his cover-up (unsuccessful from them) of the secret marriage of his priest-nephew, whom he had improvidently made archdiocesan chancellor. None of these setbacks and disasters were topics for the press of the day, nor matters of gossip among the faithful he addressed by letter, nor exploited by other religious leaders outside his flock. Untroubled by defeat and unharassed by the media, he maintained the image of a strong, steady bulwark of Rome and sound morality.

    Morality was his stock in trade, a stock that appealed as much to the majority of his Catholic audience as it did to many inheritors of the Puritan ethic. Distinct as they were in origin, education, imagination, methods, beliefs, and aspirations--so distinct that they make an incongruous pairing--O'Connell and Theodore Parker, Boston's moral mentor of the 1850s, were linked by their focus on the moral side of religion. In chapter five, Parker's free exercise of religion to influence the morals of the community is set out at length. "The Puritan has passed; the Catholic remains," O'Connell declared in an hour-long address at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, marking in 1908 the centenary of Boston as a diocese of the Catholic Church. "The march to our duty here, not merely to ourselves, but to our surroundings, must proceed. God wills it." God was still marching as in the 1850s, or directing the march; moral progress and duty, the Parkerian watchwords of sixty years earlier, were still battle cries; but a different trumpeter blew the trumpet.

    O'Connell chose the issues on which he would commit himself and calibrated the degree of his commitment, with some care. Honesty in public office was one theme, superficially safe but practically fraught with danger if made particular and applied to individuals. Without pronouncement from the pulpit or circular letter to the parishes, he let be known his disapproval of James Michael Curley, the most prominent of rascals in Boston politics. In 1932, the cardinal's lawyer, Frederick Mansfield, defeated Curley for mayor of Boston and promptly began a lawsuit that succeeded in establishing in a specific case the kind of corruption that Curley had been suspected of engaging in on a wide scale; Curley was forced to disgorge his bribe. Yet Curley was irrepressible, and he went on to be governor: the cardinal was far from omnipotent.

    A subsequent election year the cardinal observed in public, "The walls are raised against honest men in civic life." On Tuesday, November 2, 1937, All Souls' Day and Election Day in Boston, Curley was again on the ballot for mayor, opposed by a young newcomer, Maurice J. Tobin. Above its masthead that morning the Boston Post quoted the cardinal's words about the walls raised against honesty and followed them with the newspaper's own advice: "You can break down those walls by voting for an honest, clean, competent young man, Maurice J. Tobin today. He will redeem the city." As was later remarked, "only the most careful reader" would have noticed where the quotation from O'Connell stopped. The cardinal took no steps to clarify the impression made. Curley's resounding defeat is attributed, at least in part, to the Post's proclamation. The method was more indirect than one that Parker would have used but the effect was one he would have applauded: a dishonest officeholder was denied reelection.

    I was eleven at the time of this campaign and would lie if I said I recalled the Post headline; but I do remember the cardinal's general hostility to the old mayor. My parents shared the former's deep antipathy to corrupt politicians, and as a rule of thumb in a state where Catholics were the largest bloc of voters, it was generally believed that a Catholic candidate for statewide office, running against a Protestant, would prevail, unless his honesty and competence fell signally below his opponent's; then, respect for governmental integrity would normally trump the fellow feeling of a once-oppressed minority that now could exercise political power.

    Geographic, economic, ethnic, and political overlaps existed. The Catholics as immigrants or the children of immigrants tended to be urban and poor, but some had reached the Berkshires and were farmers, or the suburbs and were doctors, lawyers, or real estate brokers; conversely, there were poor Protestants, occasionally referred to in political jargon as "swamp Yankees." The largest body of Catholics was of Irish descent; but Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and French immigrants had also brought Catholicism with them, and there was a small number of converts. The majority were Democrats, but the Republicans had wooed the Italians and the rising Irish. There were odd pockets such as Quincy where John Quincy Adams's grandson Thomas as a Democrat had turned the local Irish into Republicans. The stereotypical Catholic was urban, poor, Irish, and Democratic, with all factors reinforcing one another. Reality was more complex. Affected by, and affecting, all these forces, religion itself came in various shades, from the quiet fervor of the daily mass-goer to the disinterest of the fallen-aways.

    To have combined all these disparate factors into a solid political bloc capable of action on a wide range of issues would have been a next-to-impossible task. A Catholic Party on the model of the Center Party in Germany could not have been formed, if it had been wanted. And it was not wanted--not by the politicians, not by the church leaders.

    Religion, nonetheless, remained a factor to be taken into account by politicians, analysts, and ordinary voters in Massachusetts elections. For one thing, in the 1930s it was still used as an index to ethnic identity. The William James family, to give a literary example, were of Irish descent but in this country had never been Catholic; neither William nor Henry were looked on as Irish; it startled me recently to hear the critic Denis Donoghue describe Henry as "Ireland's second greatest novelist." For another, the residue of political discrimination based on religion was just disappearing. It was a century since Catholics had been barred by law from public office. In the cities the Catholics had become dominant; but it had taken a long time for any Catholic to achieve statewide office. The first Catholic governor had been David Ignatius Walsh, in 1914, and he had gone on to become the first Catholic senator in 1922. No Catholic sat on the Supreme Judicial Court until Walsh appointed James Bernard Carroll in 1915; there were none on the federal bench in Boston until George Sweeney in 1936. If voters did take religion into account, this pattern of exclusion, not a clerical conspiracy, was a cause. Once all traces of discrimination disappeared--say by the 1950s--the cohesiveness of religion declined markedly.

    O'Connell himself was conspicuous and explicit in saying that the Church endorsed no party. He had a friendly relation with only one president, William Howard Taft. He did nothing to forward the election of Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate, for whom Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly. His relations with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for whom Massachusetts was equally strong, were cool. He was suspected by militant Catholic Democrats of being a Republican. But he gave no public sign.

    To return to his public stand on issues he saw as moral, he spoke publicly in 1935 on a lottery to raise money for the state. The lottery bill, sponsored by Curley, was supposedly assured of passage. Opposition by newspapers and by Protestant church groups was unable to stop its inevitable success. The day before the final vote in the House, the cardinal publicly condemned the idea: lotteries were "a tremendous source of corruption and demoralization." The next day the bill was defeated 187 to 40. There is little question that the cardinal's voice was decisive.

    Besides corruption and the lottery, a third battle I was aware of as a boy--even more aware of because it brought sexuality into public discussion--was over birth control. In the 1870s, at the urging of the Protestant reformer Anthony Comstock, devices for preventing conception had been federally banned from the mails. Massachusetts had followed suit by forbidding their sale in the commonwealth. In 1941 a move to repeal the law was started in the legislature. Through his lawyer, Mansfield, O'Connell indicated his opposition. The sponsors, noting what had happened to the lottery bill, changed their tactics and introduced repeal by way of referendum to be voted on by the electorate at large. In November 1942. the issue was on the ballot--a moral issue if ever there was one, in Cardinal O'Connell's eyes. Yet the subject of sex was not one he would speak on personally, nor did he care to describe contraception. Instead, the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, thundered against "this unholy, unpatriotic, loathsome thing." Voters were told not to permit "a practice which God Almighty has forbidden." Pastors were encouraged to enroll voters and themselves to speak out in general terms against the initiative. I still have a clear memory of riding by car from Boston to Worcester in October 1942, seeing the highway at various strategic places carrying billboards with the stark and simple message: BIRTH CONTROL IS AGAINST GOD'S LAW. VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION TWO. I couldn't vote, but I could ask questions, and I did ask why. The answer--the orthodox one--was that it stopped a natural process. "Is it wrong to cut your fingernails, then?" I asked. The analogy was far from perfect but was enough to make me think that the message could be wrong.

    The cardinal did not lose that time on that one. But as he could effect nothing by force, and as such old-fashioned ecclesiastical methods as interdicts were out of style, he could succeed only if his views tapped a fund of moral sentiment already present in his audience. He occasionally lost, not only in his battles with Curley. At the explicit request of Cardinal Gasparri, Pius XI's secretary of state, he wrote Governor Fuller asking clemency for Sacco and Vanzetti and was rebuffed. Following his own sense of propriety, he rebuked (by category, not name, the same method used in his treatment of Curley) the demagogic Detroit priest Charles Coughlin: "Almost hysterical addresses by ecclesiastics" were out of place in political discourse. Catholic Boston remained Coughlinist in sympathy. Even where the welfare of churchly charities was at stake he did not necessarily prevail. A Massachusetts constitutional convention in 1917 considered a ban on state aid to sectarian institutions, including schools and hospitals. The proposal went exactly contrary to the old Protestant constitution's aid to the clergy and to Harvard. The former had been ended in 1833, and Harvard had not received appropriated funds since the 1840s; but other Protestant agencies had been subsidized. Sentiment to end state aid seemed to coincide with fear that Catholic entities would benefit. So at least O'Connell thought, declaring publicly: "even before we have a chance to speak, the door is slammed in our face." Despite the cardinal's admonitions, the amendment was supported by Boston Catholic politicians such as Martin Lomasney, the boss of the West End, and John McCormack, the future congressman and Speaker of the House; the convention adopted it; and the voters approved it overwhelmingly.

    As Lomasney, McCormack, and Curley illustrated, the Catholic politicians were not all in the cardinal's camp. Even the one political figure he regarded as a friend, Senator Walsh, received no political directives from him. O'Connell's reserve was in sharp contrast to Parker's interventions with Senator Charles Sumner, and O'Connell's maneuvering against Curley bears little comparison with Parker's denunciation of Senator Daniel Webster. In general, O'Connell can be fitted into one Tocquevillian insight--religion embodied in him operated as the foremost of American political institutions because it played no party game but sought to advance what its advocate saw as common morality.

    Growing up in this environment where Catholicism embodied moral energy--an energy that reinforced that of my parents--I did not take much interest in the dogmatic disputes of earlier centuries, and the implications of modern biblical criticism had not been absorbed by the Catholic mainstream. The Bible came in the regular readings of the gospels at mass, where the biblical text became part of the liturgy and enjoyed the liturgy's sense of being outside time; it was not history. My first recollection of the Bible outside this confining liturgical context is of reading at about age nine a set of "Bible stories" in my grandmother's house; Abraham's proposed sacrifice of his son I found a terrifying tale. Earlier, say when I was about seven, my mother had told me the story of Adam, Eve, and the snake, and I had asked, "In what language did the snake talk?"--a scientific rather than skeptical question. My first flash of real doubt occurred at Christmas when I was eleven or twelve: the whole story of Bethlehem struck me as improbable because of the detail. It was the same sensation I was to have later reading Paradise Lost: Milton's thick embroidery made the whole business fantasy. The accounts provided by Matthew and Luke, now styled "the Infancy Narratives," were to be analyzed in Raymond Brown's The Birth of the Messiah as largely midrashim, stories composed to convey a theological insight. But Brown's book came half a century later. Such freedom from literalism in reading the New Testament was uncontemplated in my education. In the case of Christmas I suppressed my thoughts. Religion in relation to morality was my focus.

    My formal religious education was completed at the Cenacle--first by kind sisters (I did not encounter the surly nuns of legend), then by a brilliant young priest, John Wright, later a cardinal and the lost hope of the American liberals (to be specific, he did not go to bat for them on the subject of contraception and similar issues). Besides the parish in Brookline of St. Lawrence, named for a saint renowned for being grilled, there was the Jesuit church of St. Ignatius, the chapel of Boston College; the Passionist monastery of St. Gabriel in Brighton; and the Franciscan friary in Brookline. As in Chaucer's day, the Franciscans were favorites as confessors. The religious range within Catholicism was rich enough to accommodate a variety of inclinations, moods, needs, and intellectual interests.

    The Protestant clergy was unknown to me, but the Protestant approach was familiar. Public school in Brookline opened class daily with a prayer--the Our Father and the Twenty-third Psalm. The Our Father was the Protestant version, with the extra line on "the power and the glory." As the Catholic form was the first prayer I knew, I was aware of the difference, and soon--I am not sure how soon--learned the reason for it and would be silent when the apocryphal addition was prayed. No teacher commented. Nor did any student or parent object to the prayers. The John D. Runkle School--later jocularly called "the Jewish Groton"--had then a mixed Protestant-Jewish-Catholic clientele.

    After four years at Runkle I attended the Rivers Country Day School for eight. Here the headmaster, Clarence Allen, began each week with a school assembly, at which he prayed and Protestant hymns were sung. There was a vestigial sense about this short weekly service, less frequent than our public school prayers, a faint remainder of the robust religious rites of High Church boarding schools. It was a tincture of religion. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the hymns, and some of their stirring stanzas still echo in my brain. I had of course a number of Protestant and Jewish friends, none of them, so far as I could tell, particularly religious or interested in religion. As usual, an exception to such a generalization comes to mind: my Rivers classmate, Arthur Chute McGill, who later became a professor at Harvard Divinity School. But at Rivers I thought of Arthur as my chief academic rival, doubly formidable because his uncle, Austin Chute, was our Latin teacher. Protestants outnumbered Catholics on the faculty and in the student body, but religious discrimination was not known.

    One final note on the Protestant heritage, a note moving from the explicitly religious to cultural history, but of relevance to the theme of this book: in the study of history and in general conversation the Salem witch trials were sometimes referred to, perhaps partly because witches were a topic for merriment at Halloween and partly because we would visit our Shea relatives in Salem, the site of the trials. But no one ever mentioned that in the nineteenth century Unitarians had dispossessed Congregationalists; that in the eighteenth century Congregationalists had jailed Baptists; that in the seventeenth century Congregationalists had beaten Baptists and killed Quakers. Nineteenth-century New Englanders had tried to keep alive the memory of the persecution of the Quakers. Nathaniel Hawthorne; descendant of one persecutor, memorialized the horror of it in 1832 in "The Gentle Boy," an early tale as haunting and guilt-ridden as vintage Hawthorne. John Greenleaf Whittier, himself a Quaker, put to verse the ordeal of the Southwick children. Brooks Adams, John Adams's great-grandson, in a book polemically entitled The Emancipation of Massachusetts, ascribed to "the Quaker martyrs" "our own perfect liberty of thought and speech." These efforts to preserve the cautionary legacy were in vain. That part of the Protestant past was swallowed up by a picture of Protestant amity and tolerance, a united Protestant front.

    Because of the war, I left Rivers early, in January 1944, to follow my father's footsteps to Harvard. No alternative was considered by me or my parents; not even the hint of a Catholic college was heard from them or from me. At Harvard in the spring of 1944 I plunged into the study of the New England Transcendentalists with F. O. Matthiessen as mentor. Emerson's Divinity School Address of 1836 made an immediate impression. But how far that seemed from the moribund Divinity School of the Harvard of my day! In similar ways religious themes ran through many of the courses I then took in English, although the religious as such was not isolated from the cultural and not often emphasized. Matthiessen was an exception, and I think of him reading "Ash Wednesday" as though trying to understand and empathize with T. S. Eliot's religious preoccupation. Eliot, at all events, stood as the best of American poets and was indubitably religious.

    The finest of teachers outside the English department was Joseph Schumpeter, the former finance minister of Austria. (Another ex. was Heinrich Mining, the Center Party leader and former German chancellor whom Hitler had pushed aside; I met him in Lowell House but did not know him well enough to learn from him). Schumpeter was a master teacher, and I took the Economics of Socialism from him. He thought that as an economic system socialism could work. I asked him why anyone would want it if it was not in the interest of their class. He answered, "Some men pursue women, some religion, some hunting." In his view socialism was a species of religion and was as arbitrarily and as personally chosen. He himself was reported to prefer the pursuit of women; but we gossiped remarkably little about our professors.

    My tutor was Jack Bate, then known to me as Assistant Professor W. Jackson Bate. With him I read Boswell on Dr. Johnson and was immediately captured by the great moralist. Encouraged by Bate, I embarked on a senior thesis comparing Johnson and Harvard's humanist, Irving Babbitt; my theme was the place of "absolute values" in the work of a critic, and I compared Johnson's Christian beliefs favorably with Babbitt's more tentative foundations. Harry Levin took an interest in this thesis, too, and I benefited from his sensitivity to issues of belief.

    I took no Philosophy, but on my own read The Unity of Philosophical Experience, the William James lectures given at Harvard by Etienne Gilson, a marvel of synopsis and simplification. I read some Newman, some Maritain, and was above all affected by a philosophical novel, George Santayana's The Last Puritan. Set in part in Boston, with a stifling Puritan legacy contrasted with a vital Catholic current and both set off against pagan unbelief, the work exhibited Santayana's clear grasp of the alternatives; the next year I was to visit him in Rome.

    With wartime acceleration, I graduated at the end of the summer of 1946, just as the war ended, and I had a sense that my college education had been too short and that I should continue it. Thanks to my parents' generosity, I did so at St. John's College, Cambridge University. In Europe I saw for the first time what a Christian culture had created, from universities like Cambridge to cathedrals like Siena's. For a believer, the cathedrals were not the museums they are for tourists, but still sacred places. I visited Lourdes, no great cathedral city, but a place where the palpable miracle was the faith of pilgrims, spiritually exalted whether they were bettered physically or not. I visited Rome and, through Cardinal Spellman and his friend Count Galeazzi, met Pius XII. Our conversation was not memorable, but my impression of the pope's intelligence remains. I visited the ancient church of San Clemente, built on a shrine to Mithras, and in its bowels encountered a Roman bust of Cardinal O'Connell, who had paid for the restoration. With Santayana I spoke at length, as also with Eliot in his office at Faber & Faber; I was struck by the photograph of Pius XII he had on his London desk.

    The European experience cumulatively confirmed what I already felt in my bones, that Catholicism was the largest intellectual force in my life, yet I knew so little about it. I had never studied it as a subject. My religious education, except for occasional reading, had not gone beyond the high school level. It seemed to me absurd to place such confidence in what I had examined so little. I took the advice of the chairman of the Harvard English department, George Sherburn. After consultation with his colleagues he recommended either the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at Toronto University or the Catholic University of America in Washington. Toronto looked like a cold place, Washington one that presented political vistas as well as academic ones. I chose Washington.

    My plan was to obtain a doctorate in philosophy, but first it was necessary to know enough philosophy to enter the Graduate School of Philosophy. The first year I pursued a private tutorial with Vincent Smith, one of the few persons I have known who had a pure philosophical mind, that is, who had internalized philosophical concepts as though they actually contained insights into reality. It was a pleasure to read and debate Thomas Aquinas with him. At the same time I studied Church History with Alfred Rush, Scripture with Edward Arbez, Apologetics with Edmund Benard. Smith was a layman and allowed himself to be paid for his work. The other three were priests and insisted that their tutorial efforts could not be compensated. I became friends with Arbez, an exile from France after the suppression of Modernism and an excellent Scripture scholar, too cautious one would say today, but fully aware of all modern methods of investigating the ancient texts. Benard was only a dozen years my senior, an expert on Newman, a pure Gallic intelligence from the diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. With him and his Paulist colleague Eugene Burke I became a dinner companion, golfing companion, and traveling companion. Our debates were unending.

    Of these debates the most relevant here (I see I have strayed into matters not strictly germane but perhaps they are excusable as context) was over the relation of religion to governmental power. In June 1948 the Catholic Theological Society met in Chicago. The society was only three years old. It was about to elect Burke its president. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive." John Courtney Murray, then forty-one years old, a graduate of Boston College and professor of theology at the Jesuit seminary at Woodstock for the past eleven years, presented a seventy-page paper entitled "Governmental Repression of Heresy," a subject which he accurately identified as "the neuralgic point on a contemporary controversy." He contended that it was not the duty of a good Catholic state to repress heresy even when it was practicable to do so.

    All the modern theological textwriters were against him--the Dominican Louis Bender; the curialist Alfredo Ottaviani; a variety of French, German, Italian, and Spanish Jesuits. In the United States the leading authority on "Catholic principles of politics," Monsignor John A. Ryan"--Right Reverend New Dealer," the liberal theological supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt--had studied the papal encyclical Mirari vos and taken specific note of its condemnation of "the doctrine of liberty of conscience and separation of Church and State." As recently as 1941 Ryan had published this pronouncement: "If there is only one true religion, and if its possession is the most important good in life for States as well as individuals, then the public profession, protection and promotion of this religion, and the legal prohibition of all direct assaults upon it, becomes one of the most obvious and fundamental duties of the State." From this principle Ryan drew the conclusion that in an ideal state the Catholic Church would be established and heresy would be repressed.

    The unanimity of the theologians was no accident. They were united because they followed what Gregory XVI had taught in Mirari vos, what Pius IX, following Gregory XVI, had taught in Quanta cura, what Leo XIII in the wake of his predecessors had proclaimed in Immortale Dei. In Mirari vos Gregory XVI had responded to the efforts of Felicite de Lamennais to make the Church a champion of religious liberty. The pope assailed "indifferentism," described as the doctrine that anyone could obtain eternal salvation, whatever his beliefs, provided that he lived a decent moral life. "From this most foul font of indifferentism," Gregory XVI went on, "flows that absurd and erroneous opinion, or, rather, madness, that freedom of conscience must be affirmed and defended for everyone." In Quanta cura Pius IX repeated Gregory XVI's attack on "the madness that freedom of conscience and of worship is the proper right of every human being and ought to be proclaimed by law and maintained in every rightly-constituted society." These teachings were dated respectively on the Feast of the Assumption, 1832, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1864, giving a Marian cachet to what were sent as encyclical letters to all the bishops of the Catholic Church. Their teaching was endorsed again in 1885 by Leo XIII in Immortale Dei, an encyclical explicitly focused upon "the Christian constitution of States."

    These pronouncements, as a reading of the next chapter will confirm, were consistent with Catholic teaching since St. Augustine on the coercion of heretics. They were, however, notably one-sided in ignoring Catholic teaching since Lactantius on the rights of conscience and the Catholic teaching incorporated in St. Thomas Aquinas on the duty to follow conscience. Gregory XVI, a former Camaldolese monk, and Pius IX, a disillusioned liberal, spoke with excited anxiety and anger as they contemplated the social ruin they thought freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion had brought to France and the Papal States. Read outside the broader context of Christian teaching, the encyclicals stood like boulders barring recognition of the universal freedom of conscience.

    Encyclicals are known from their opening words. Mirari vos (You have wondered) and Quanta cura (With what great care) resonated in my ears. I had wondered. The Church, with great care, had apparently answered. Small wonder that the Redemptorist Francis Connell, then Catholic America's best known moral theologian, announced at Chicago after hearing Murray, "I, for one, shall continue to uphold the traditional view." The furthest that orthodox theologians would go in glossing the papal position was to advocate a theory, daring when first conceived, that there was a thesis and an hypothesis. The thesis was that a Catholic state had a duty to repress heresy. The hypothesis was that, in some circumstances, more harm than good might be done by a state doing its duty. In these hypothetical circumstances, religious toleration became the duty. In the United States, for example, it was generally agreed that the circumstances of the hypothetical held. Catholics could and should accept and extend religious freedom; but in principle, religious repression was the state's responsibility. Naturally, this view that in ideal circumstances the Catholics would repress all other beliefs caused uneasiness. The unrest was skillfully played on by Protestant polemicists like Paul Blanshard. Critics of this character were guilty of being more Catholic than the pope--of taking the authoritative texts more literally than they were taken in the Catholic Church in America or Rome; but the critics' distrust was genuine and the doctrine they exploited had once been operative.

    What Murray did in defense and development of his idea was to cultivate an understanding of the difference between state and society; to critique the church-state theory of St. Robert Bellarmine; to invoke ideas on "the indirect power" of the Church first fashioned by the fourteenth-century theologian Jean Quidort (Sleeping John); and to suggest that the nineteenth-century encyclicals be read in context as polemics against a rationalism, a naturalism, and a Latin anticlericalism very different from the philosophy behind the American separation of church and state. He appealed as well to European history: "Political experience has taught us that the worst way to cope with dissidence is by legal suppression of it. Experience too has, I think, taught the Church that any attempt to establish or maintain religious unity by governmental coercion of dissenters does more harm than good to the Church."

    Murray was answered not by experience but by appeal to authoritative doctrine. His scholarly articles, his tentative attempts to establish historical contexts, were replied to by firm insistence on the black letter of the papal texts. At Catholic University, Murray's fierce opponent was Joseph Fenton, a diocesan priest from Springfield, Massachusetts, and Benard and Burke's colleague on the theological faculty. "Butch" Fenton, a bear of a man, was prepared to denounce Murray to the Holy Office in Rome and to delate Benard and Burke as well if they were in Murray's camp.

    I entered debate with my two friends, taking Fenton's position, as I had with my father, and teasing them for their sole authority, Sleeping John. I did so with a double motive. On the one hand, I thought Fenton had all history on his side, so that there was intellectual integrity in sticking to his position. On the other hand, I thought that if Fenton was right, the Church must be wrong to have such a position. And remember that my general posture was that of an investigator of the foundation of faith. Could I believe in a Church so firmly attached to a doctrine my own father thought was ridiculous?

    Finally tiring of my endless citation of papal pronouncements against religious freedom, Benard and Burke suggested I travel the short distance to Woodstock, Maryland and confront Murray himself. It was arranged. We spent the afternoon together. Murray stated his position. I stated my objections. He said, "The papal encyclicals must be seen in context. They spoke against the background of an anticlerical politics. They did not speak for all time." I saw what he meant; but I did not see how this background fully explained Gregory XVI's vehement denunciation in Mirari vos of the ideas of Felicite de Lamennais. Lamennais was not only the foremost apologist of the Church in France; he was, in contrast to the Gallican tradition, outspokenly propapal. In the early 1830s his paper L'Avenir had taught that the future lay with democracy and the Church. I did not understand how Murray's global explanation of the papal condemnation fitted his case. I felt the attraction of Murray's position without being persuaded of it. I put the question aside as not a practical one: after all, every Catholic accepted American democracy and liberty of religion today. But in the back of my mind I was aware that this practical comfort implicated a much larger question, the relation of history to the teaching of the Church, the question to which I have returned again and again.

    Meanwhile I found in the Graduate School of Philosophy the academic context in which to pursue my examination of the claims and credentials of the Catholic Church. My master's thesis was on Alfred Loisy. Loisy, a French priest and biblical scholar, had found it impossible to reconcile the results of modern biblical scholarship with traditional presentations of the Gospel. In L'Evangile et l'Eglise he ventured on a theory of the development of Church teaching that explained a dogmatic change as a response to changing human needs. His views were rejected by Pius X and condemned in the encyclical Pascendi where his approach, stigmatized as Modernism, was characterized as "the synthesis of all the heresies." It was such a synthesis because it provided for indefinite, ecclesiastically uncontrolled development of doctrine. I could see, I could feel the attraction of Loisy's position. Was it not what John Courtney Murray was arguing in explaining the change on church and state? But I also could see the strength of the papal position. If human needs were the criteria, what content did revelation have? Was there no principle of stability?

    I determined to look at the questions in terms of the philosophical postulates, explicit or implicit, in Loisy's work. My essay did not take enough account of the biblical data that had stimulated Loisy's solution, nor enough account of the theological dimensions; it did link Loisy to a chain of European subjectivism into which his speculations fitted; but my work was more an exercise than an enterprise wholly engaging me. It was different with my doctoral dissertation, into which I immediately plunged. The topic was the scholastic analysis of usury, that is, the way the Catholic theologians and canonists had presented the Church's prohibition of profit on a loan. The subject looked dusty to the outside observer. To me it had a triple appeal: its matter was moral, specifically, the demands of justice; the reasoning of the scholastic writers, while nominally philosophical, was very often legal, and already I was contemplating law school, to which I had been admitted in 1946; and finally, what I was studying was the evolution of a moral doctrine. That evolution challenged the Church's claim of constancy in its teaching.

Copyright © 1998 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1999-03-01:
Noonan is a remarkable figure who has bridged gulfs between both religion and law and theory and practice. (Formerly professor of law at Berkeley, he is now a Federal appeals court judge.) This engaging reflection on the American constitutional guarantee of religious freedom begins with an autobiographical reflection on Noonan's Catholic upbringing in WWII-era Boston and subsequent study at both Harvard and Catholic University. He segues from Catholic Boston to its Puritan forerunners, then fast-forwards to James Madison and the era of Constitution-making, and on through a variety of figures whose thought and experience have illustrated what he regards as an organic process of working through the implications of religious liberty in the US context. In his final chapters he ponders examples of its export to post-WWII Japan, Russia after the fall of the USSR, and, full circle, to the Catholic Church of Vatican II. Noonan is simultaneously erudite and relaxed; he shifts voice frequently to illuminate aspects of his complex topic from a variety of angles. His work is a fine and accessible introduction to a subject that he never pretends is simple but that he admires inordinately. Recommended for all readership levels; academic and public libraries. P. W. Williams; Miami University
Appeared in Library Journal on 1998-05-15:
The United States stands out among nations in its experience of religious freedomÄa freedom, argues Noonan, that is unique among nations, though other countries like Japan and France have learned from it. A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge with a Ph.D. in philosophy who is also an award-winning author, Noonan surveys the history of religious freedom and the struggle to ground it in America, then takes on the constitutional questions it inevitably raises. Based on good scholarship but clearly written for all audiences, this book will help readers both understand and appreciate religious freedom as a treasure to be guarded. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.ÄJohn Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Libs., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1998-05-11:
Noonan travels America's long and uncertain road to religious tolerance in this book. Although religious freedom is often taken for granted as an integral part of the American experience, Noonan, a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, argues that this liberty has never been, and may never be, unthreatened. Through an examination of the history of the ideal of the separation of church and state, Noonan concludes that, despite efforts to the contrary, government affects religion and religious belief inevitably informs civic decision making. Wide-ranging chapters include an account of James Madison's struggles to see religious rights protected by the Constitution and an examination of the ways that Durkheim's assertion that any society must worship itself conflicts with the notion of the separation of church and state. An imaginative and thoroughly researched volume, Noonan's book demonstrates that government has influenced religion in America as surely as spiritual belief has shaped government. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Choice, March 1999
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Long Description
A New York Times Notable Book This remarkable work offers a fresh approach to a freedom that is often taken for granted in the United States, yet is one of the strongest and proudest elements of American culture: religious freedom. In this compellingly written, distinctively personal book, Judge John T. Noonan asserts that freedom of religion, as James Madison conceived it, is an American invention previously unknown to any nation on earth.The Lustre of Our Countrydemonstrates how the idea of religious liberty is central to the American experience and to American influence around the world. Noonan's original book is a history of the idea of religious liberty and its relationship with the law. He begins with an intellectual autobiography, describing his own religious and legal training. After setting the stage with autobiography, Noonan turns to history, with each chapter written in a new voice. One chapter takes the form of a catechism (questions and answers), presenting the history of the idea of religious freedom in Christianity and the American colonies. Another chapter on James Madison argues that Madison's support of religious freedom was not purely secular but rather the outcome of his own religious beliefs. A fictional sister of Alexis de Toqueville writes, contrary to her brother's work, that the U.S. government is very closely tied to religion. Other chapters offer straightforward considerations of constitutional law. Throughout the book, Noonan shows how the free exercise of religion led to profound changes in American law--he discusses abolition, temperance, and civil rights--and how the legal notion of religious liberty influenced revolutionary France, Japan, and Russia, as well as the Catholic Church during Vatican II.The Lustre of Our Countryis a celebration of religious freedom--a personal and profound statement on what the author considers America's greatest moral contribution to the world.
Main Description
A New York Times Notable Book This remarkable work offers a fresh approach to a freedom that is often taken for granted in the United States, yet is one of the strongest and proudest elements of American culture: religious freedom. In this compellingly written, distinctively personal book, Judge John T. Noonan asserts that freedom of religion, as James Madison conceived it, is an American invention previously unknown to any nation on earth. The Lustre of Our Country demonstrates how the idea of religious liberty is central to the American experience and to American influence around the world. Noonan's original book is a history of the idea of religious liberty and its relationship with the law. He begins with an intellectual autobiography, describing his own religious and legal training. After setting the stage with autobiography, Noonan turns to history, with each chapter written in a new voice. One chapter takes the form of a catechism (questions and answers), presenting the history of the idea of religious freedom in Christianity and the American colonies. Another chapter on James Madison argues that Madison's support of religious freedom was not purely secular but rather the outcome of his own religious beliefs. A fictional sister of Alexis de Toqueville writes, contrary to her brother's work, that the U.S. government is very closely tied to religion. Other chapters offer straightforward considerations of constitutional law. Throughout the book, Noonan shows how the free exercise of religion led to profound changes in American law--he discusses abolition, temperance, and civil rights--and how the legal notion of religious liberty influenced revolutionary France, Japan, and Russia, as well as the Catholic Church during Vatican II. The Lustre of Our Country is a celebration of religious freedom--a personal and profound statement on what the author considers America's greatest moral contribution to the world.
Unpaid Annotation
"A New York Times Notable BookThis remarkable work offers a fresh approach to a freedom that is often taken for granted in the United States, yet is one of the strongest and proudest elements of American culture: religious freedom. In this compellingly written, distinctively personal book, Judge John T. Noonan asserts that freedom of religion, as James Madison conceived it, is an American invention previously unknown to any nation on earth. "The Lustre of Our Country demonstrates how the idea of religious liberty is central to the American experience and to American influence around the world.Noonan's original book is a history of the idea of religious liberty and its relationship with the law. He begins with an intellectual autobiography, describing his own religious and legal training. After setting the stage with autobiography, Noonan turns to history, with each chapter written in a new voice. One chapter takes the form of a catechism (questions and answers), presenting the history ofthe idea of religious freedom in Christianity and the American colonies. Another chapter on James Madison argues that Madison's support of religious freedom was not purely secular but rather the outcome of his own religious beliefs. A fictional sister of Alexis de Toqueville writes, contrary to her brother's work, that the U.S. government is very closely tied to religion. Other chapters offer straightforward considerations of constitutional law.Throughout the book, Noo
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Introductionp. 1
Boston, 1926-1956p. 13
To Kill a Quaker, to Beat a Baptist - Religious Liberty before the Revolutionp. 41
JM's Original Insightp. 59
The Foremost of Our Political Institutionsp. 93
God Is Marching Onp. 117
The Sorceress and the Sourcep. 139
The Pilgrim's Processp. 179
Durkheim's Dilemmap. 211
Martyrs and Crusadersp. 239
The Flicker from the Forestp. 263
In Behalf of the Supreme Commanderp. 285
American Advisers, American Missionariesp. 305
The Light of Revelation and the Lustre of Americap. 329
Ten Commandmentsp. 357
Notesp. 359
Indexp. 423
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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