Acton Institute Powerblog

Rev. Sirico: What I learned from Michael Novak

Share this article:

Today is the first anniversary of the death of Michael Novak. The theologian, scholar, and writer was one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of his generation, and an indefatigable champion of free enterprise, democracy, and liberty.

During his life Novak was a prolific writer. In addition to being the author or editor of more than 50 books, he wrote a syndicated column that was nominated for a Pulitzer. He was also a teacher (he taught at Harvard, Stanford, SUNY Old Westbury, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria University), award-winning scholar (he was awarded twenty-seven honorary degrees and numerous honors, including recipient the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion), and champion of human rights (in 1981 and 1982, he served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights).

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Acton president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico writes about the influence Novak had on his life—and on the thinking of Pope John Paul II:

The first anniversary of his passing, Feb. 17, comes at a difficult time. Americans face an uncertain economy and deadlocked government. A vocal critic of capitalism leads the Catholic Church. Young people are showing a strange attraction to socialism, as are many Christians who might have been expected to sustain Novak’s philosophy of virtuous capitalism. The U.S. lacks leaders who combine prudence and moral vision.

I was intrigued to find a theologian who was familiar with writers like Friedrich Hayek. I sought his mentorship as I began my theological studies at a time when much of the academy was enamored with Marxist “liberation theology.” I even suggested that Novak squarely address that movement, which he did in another book, “Will It Liberate? Questions About Liberation Theology” (1986).

Even though we were from different generations, I soon found many parallels in our intellectual and religious trajectories. We had both identified as men of the left in early life. Over time we moved from advocating some form of democratic socialism to supporting the free economy. We spent decades defending free-market democracy as the system that best reflected the truth about man.

Next Wednesday, February 21, the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship is hosting an event in Heritage Hall on the campus of The Catholic University of America to honor the legacy of Novak.

The event will welcome the Novak family and hear from a number of voices, celebrating and reflecting on his life and work, and discussing how to carry forward his legacy of faith, reason, and service. This event is open to the public, but registration in advance is required. Click here to RSVP now.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).