Prophesy, Public Theology, and Questions of Justice: Some Modest Reflections

31 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2019

See all articles by Barry Sullivan

Barry Sullivan

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: February 11, 2019


In “Prophesy, Public Theology, and Questions of Justice: Some Modest Reflections,” which is a contribution to a recent symposium on “The Question of Religious Freedom: From John Courtney Murray, SJ and Vatican II to the Present,” Professor Sullivan argues that Murray was an important contributor to the work of Vatican II and the development of American public theology, but that his contribution may sometimes be overstated, partly because the contributions of other important voices are minimized and partly because some erroneously view Catholicism in overly monolithic terms, thereby overlooking the rich historical diversity of Catholic thought concerning political freedom and democracy. Professor Sullivan also questions the lacuna that exists in Murray’s thought with respect to some of the most salient features of public life in the United States at that time, especially the then-growing awareness of the immorality of racism and its fundamental inconsistency with principles of liberal democracy. Critiquing Murray’s seminal work, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections of the American Proposition, Professor Sullivan argues that, “racism continued to be a central feature of ‘the American proposition.’ For that reason, it is difficult today to read Murray’s work without being struck by the virtual absence of any discussion of racial segregation, racial prejudice, or the practical exclusion of African Americans from meaningful participation in the political life of the country.” Given this seemingly inexplicable omission, Professor Sullivan suggests that we need to be mindful of the possibility that “public theology may have more in common with politics than with prophesy.” His paper invites a more inclusive reading of social injustice to sharpen moral judgments for the sake of fostering necessary and just legal change.

Suggested Citation

Sullivan, Barry, Prophesy, Public Theology, and Questions of Justice: Some Modest Reflections (February 11, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Barry Sullivan (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States


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