January 8, 2009
Richard John Neuhaus, RIP (Updated)
First Things founder and editor dies at 72.
Richard John Neuhaus, the Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest who founded the influential journal First Things, died last night after a bout with cancer.
Charles Colson, who worked with Neuhaus extensively on the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project and several political initiatives issued this statement:
Richard Neuhaus is one of the most remarkable human beings I've ever known, a man of extraordinary intellect, a great communicator and theologian. His writings will be his great legacy in the manner C. S. Lewis's are to us today. He had become a very dear friend and I will sorely miss him. He was one of the towering figures of our age.
Blogger Justin Taylor has a good timeline of Neuhaus's life.
National Catholic Reporter's obituary, written by John Allen, notes:
From the early 1970s forward, Neuhaus was a key architect of two alliances with profound consequences for American politics, both of which overcame histories of mutual antagonism: one between conservative Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals, and the other between free market neo-conservatives and "faith and values" social conservatives. ...
To Catholic insiders, however, it was Neuhaus' writing rather than his political activism that made him a celebrity. From the pages of First Things, the unapologetically high-brow journal he founded in 1990, Neuhaus kept up a steady stream of commentary on matters both sacred and secular. ... Over the years, even people who disagreed with Neuhaus' politics or theology would devour his monthly essay in First Things, titled "The Public Square," for sheer literary pleasure. His combination of epigrammatic formulae and occasionally biting satire often reminded fans of English-language Catholic luminaries of earlier eras, such as G.K. Chesterton or Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant President Bush and director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, offered this note at National Review's blog The Corner:
It was Father Neuhaus, along with his dear, long-time friend George Weigel and just a handful of others like Michael Novak, who not only championed the pro-life cause for so many years, but who gave the rest of us both the grounding and the vocabulary to speak on this issue.
They made the pro-life cause the cause of those seeking justice and protection for the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human community. ... Father Neuhaus's influence was quiet, profound, and virtually without boundaries. A former, very influential member of Congress wrote me just yesterday, saying, "When I first ran for Congress I read everything I could from him to formulate my thinking on social policy."
Indeed, in 2004 Bush told Christianity Today, "Father Richard [Neuhaus] helped me craft what is still the integral part of my position on abortion, which is: Every child welcomed to life and protected by law. That is the goal of this administration."
Many commentators are noting that Neuhaus had keen insights on death and dying. One of his best-loved books was Death on a Friday Afternoon, about Jesus' last words. He also wrote As I Lay Dying, a book about his earlier brush with death. In a tribute published in Friday's Wall Street Journal, EWTN's Raymond Arroyo describes how Neuhaus corrected him on the subject:
On April 11, 2005, I entered St. Peter's Basilica in Rome with my friend Father Richard John Neuhaus to pay our respects to the recently deceased Pope John Paul II. After kneeling before the pontiff's body, I remarked at how small the pope appeared. "That wasn't him. He isn't there," I said. "No," Father Neuhaus said. "He is there. These are the remains, what is left behind of a life such as we are not likely to see again, waiting with all of us for the Resurrection of the dead, the final vindication of the hope he proclaimed."
As was his wont, Father Neuhaus was capable of delivering impromptu corrections with an eloquence and precision that would elude the best of us. When I learned of his passing yesterday at the age of 72, his words echoed in my memory. He was not only a great intellectual and an exemplary man of letters but, as his remark to me illustrates, he was a man who put his mind and his literary skill at the service of his church and the truths it protected. He was first and last a man animated by his faith.
Neuhaus was a Christianity Today advisory editor and contributed several articles to the publication and to our sister magazines over the years. Neuhaus wrote about Pope John Paul II for both Christianity Today and Christian History, and about Pope Benedict XVI back when he was known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Books & Culture's John Wilson wrote about Neuhaus after First Things and its editor were savaged by former staffer Damon Linker.
The First Things site, of course, is the main place to go for the bulk of Neuhaus's articles, including the current issue's excellent "The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960s." The Ratzinger Fan Club site has put together a list of links to some of his best pieces, as well as some other Neuhaus-authored items elsewhere.
Links to more obituaries and tributes after the jump.
Other tributes and remembrances:
- Ross Douthat in The Atlantic: "At their best, his essays and arguments achieved a grace to which that all religious authors should aspire: They not only conveyed the sense that Richard John Neuhaus, priest and author, cared about the issues of the age, but that God Himself cared about them as well."
- Alan Jacobs in The American Scene: "So when I think of Father Neuhaus I think primarily of two things. First, I think of his personal encouragement and support of me when I was a young and unknown writer. And second, I think of the major role he played in creating a new space for serious and thoughtful reflection on the place of religion in the public square; for informed and critical cultural commentary; for appreciation of the role of art in shaping and interpreting religious faith and practice."
- Journalist Gary Stern of The Journal News: "Let's be honest: Most people never heard of Neuhaus. He wasn't really a public figure, in the modern celebrity sense. But among those who care about Catholic thought, the larger realm of Christian thought, the political school of thinking that's become known as neo-conservativism, and the role of religion in the public square, he was really an intellectual giant."
- Journalist Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today: "As I began learning this beat (a never ending process) a decade ago, Neuhaus early and quickly became a key source: accessible, clear, and forceful. I remain grateful to have been able to call on him."
- George Weigel, in a press release from Americans United for Life: "Father Richard Neuhaus consistently worked to encourage religious leaders to understand the centrality of the sanctity of human life as an issue of civil rights, and to put aside denominational differences and work together for the common good of protecting the unborn. He never wavered on the centrality of the life issue as a matter of human rights and social justice."
- Raymond J. de Souza, in the National Catholic Register: "The Catholic Church lost one of its greatest public intellectuals, a theologian who brought the light of the Gospel to the world of public life. More than that, though, Father Neuhaus made possible a new world of intellectual engagement with the culture."
- Robert Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute: "The loss of Neuhaus to the effort for an honest ecumenism, a robust and stylish debate over matters liturgical, cultural, political and literary in his death is monumental. Who will replace him? Indeed, I can almost hear Richard's deep, sonorous voice countering me, 'Robert?.we are each unrepeatable, irreplaceable.' Still, in the death of Richard John Neuhaus, America has lost one of its most capable and finest interpreters and the Church has lost (or better, gained for ever) one of her most loyal sons."
- President George W. Bush: "Laura and I are saddened by the death of Father Richard John Neuhaus. Father Neuhaus was an inspirational leader, admired theologian, and accomplished author who devoted his life to the service of the Almighty and to the betterment of our world. He was also a dear friend, and I have treasured his wise counsel and guidance. Our thoughts and prayers are with Father Neuhaus' family, friends, and fellow clergy during this difficult time."
- Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family Action: "Richard Neuhaus was to moral principle what William Buckley was to conservative politics: a leader who brought intellectual heft, urbane wit and a gentle spirit to the great debates about truth. While we differed with Rev. Neuhaus on some aspects of his theology, we appreciate his tremendous contributions."
- National Review, in an editorial: "Neuhaus began his adult life as a Canadian, a left-winger, and a Lutheran. ... He became nonetheless an American, a conservative, and a Catholic. And from these three conversions he forged for himself a distinctive religious identity that was conservative and generous, traditional and open, charitable and - yes - combative. ... But fighting and controversy, though necessary to the propagation of religious truth in our age, were secondary themes in Neuhaus's life. His achievements were essentially creative.