April 17, 2002
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v2.1 Reference

John Paul II and the Legacy of Dignitatis Humanae

It was by far the most controversial document to emerge from Vatican II—Dignitatis Humanae, or the Declaration on Religious Freedom. Drafted largely by prominent Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, it represented a departure from previous Catholic teachings in that it acknowledged and accepted as normative the separation between Church and State and declared religious freedom a fundamental human right. In doing this, it set forth guidelines for the role of the Catholic Church in secular liberal and pluralistic societies.

Nearly four decades later, Hermínio Rico examines the continued relevance of this declaration in today's world, compares its most paradigmatic interpretations, and proposes a reconsideration of its import for contemporary church-society relationships. He offers a detailed analysis of how Pope John Paul II has appropriated, interpreted, and developed the main themes of the document, and how he has applied them to such contentious modern issues as the fall of Communism and the rise of secular pluralism. In addition, Rico sets forth his own vision of the future of Dignitatis Humanae, and how the profound themes of the declaration can be applied in years to come to help the church find a way to engage effectively with, and within, pluralistic societies.

Of interest to students of Catholic thought, church-society relationships, the legacy of John Courtney Murray, and the teachings of John Paul II, this book offers a fresh perspective on one of the most important documents in the modern history of the Catholic church.

About the Author

Hermínio Rico, SJ, is editor of the Jesuit cultural monthly journal Brotéria - Cristianismo e Cultura, and guest lecturer at the Faculdade de Teologia, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Lisbon.


"Rico has made an important and timely contribution to the issue of religious freedom in general and to the understanding of Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae in particular. Rico's examination is a significant contribution to comprehend better this dilemma of the present day."—Theological Studies

"The Conciliar debates about truth, dialogue and liberty are still very much alive, and we do well to revisit past contributions such Dignitatis Humanae and Gaudium et spes. And this magnificent book will be a worthy guide. "—The Way


"Scholars interested in contemporary Catholic thought on religious freedom and the intellectual contribution of John Courtney Murray will profit greatly from this explanation."—Journal of Religion


"With insight, analytical precision, clarity, and calm brilliance, Rico tells the story of how Dignitatis Humanae has helped gradually to reshape Catholic identity. . . and how its doctrine contains possibilities yet to be internalized. A superb, informative critique of the recent history of ideas within Roman Catholicism."—Roger Haight, SJ, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

"What John Courtney Murray did for Pope Leo XIII . . . Rico has done for John Paul II: namely, he has read, with an appreciative yet critical eye, John Paul's stances toward religious freedom within complex . . . transformations of the late 20th century."—J. Leon Hooper, Woodstock Theological Seminary, Georgetown University

"A most insightful study . . . Rico's extremely well researched work helps us think more fruitfully about the significance and ethical implications of pivotal developments for our increasingly pluralistic church and world."—Thomas Massaro, SJ, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

Georgetown University Press
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