Thursday, January 08, 2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus is Called Home to the Lord

In paradisum deducant angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyrus
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipatet
cum Lazaro, quondam paupere,
aeternam habeas requiem.

Reverend Father Richard John Neuhaus +

Father John Neuhaus died today at 10am this morning (Jan. 8th, 2009) and his funeral Mass will be on Tuesday, Jan. 13th at 10am at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, NYC. My last encounter with this brilliant man was on Memorial Day 2007 when he preached the Mass and Archbishop O'Brien, then Military Ordinary, was the celebrant. He preached like he wrote; succinct, erudite and witty. He spoke a several years earlier to the presbyterate of my diocese for our annual diocesan workshop. Some of the fellows did not like his unrepentent and unequivocal orthodoxy. When asked about ecumenism, he said AS A FORMER PROTESTANT THEOLOGIAN, that there is no reasonable hope for formal reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants since the latter does not have what the former has always possessed, i.e., an authoratative teaching and governing authority. Without a Magisterium and Papacy, there is no mechanism to implement any theological agreements. Were Catholicism to yield, then Catholics, clergy and laity alike, would obey. But Protestantism is consecrated individualism, hence, there is no solid hierarchy, certainly no Magisterium and no obvious chain of command. Therefore, Protestants are not obligated to obey or to yield no matter how many of their theologians and churchmen do so themselves. The essence of the Reformation was independence at all cost. This is why Neuhaus converted to Catholicism. He saw that there had to be a true church where the FULLNESS of Truth and the FULLNESS of Grace would be found. He acknowledged that his Lutheran background showed him that non-Catholic Christian churches have SOME truth but not the fullness as they only recognize 1/2 of Revelation (Sacred Scripture) while ignoring the other valid half (Sacred Tradition). Half an alphabet is correct but it is not complete. It is not that the Catholic Church is right and the Protestant Churches are wrong, rather, it is that the Catholic Church has the FULLNESS of truth and the reform churches have partial or only some of it by limiting themselves to sola Scriptura. Likewise, Catholicism has the FULLNESS of grace in having all Seven valid Sacraments, while Protestantism has one (baptism) and denotes the other six as 'orinances.'

This is not to say that Neuhaus was ant-ecumenical. He vigorously fought and argued for more dialog and cooperation on many issues, like defending the unborn. He contention, however, was that it is naive at best to dream the impossible dream of full and formal reunion of the Christian churches. The East split from Rome in the 11th century and the Protestanst left Rome in the 16th century. Both moved away from Rome and the Bishop of Rome. What was true then is true now. Seven Sacraments were instituted by Christ, not one and not three but SEVEN. Divine Revelation comes through BOTH Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition. The authority of Christ is manifested in the Vicar of Christ and in the Successors of the Apostles in union with him. It does not reside theologians nor with the assembly of believers. Rank and file have no higher authority to move them back into unity since each individual conscience is autonomous in their system. Like the Old Soviet Union, you could have individual defectors cross the line and join the West but the only way whole countries and nations could do it (like Poland and East Germany) was to dissolve the the Wall and the Empire. The USSR had to disappear in order for the satellite countries to flee en masse and embrace democracy. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cramner, Knox, etc., made themselves 'popes' when they severed their ties to the real Pope in Rome.

Neuhaus espoused a realistic detente and perestroika with Protestantism and worked to cooperate on urgent moral issues, like abolishing abortion and defending marriage and the family. He loved his Protestant heritage but loved more his return home to Rome. He loved his separated brothers and sisters in their Protestant churches and treated them with dignity and respect. Unlike some in the ecumenical movement who patronize and condescend by pretending there are no substantive divisions among us, he spoke like a realistic diplomat from the Middle East who must contend with realities between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs. He affirmed that Protestantism enriched reverence and respect for the Written Word of God but he also defended the dogma that God speaks through both the Written and the Unwritten Word (Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition). The absolute fullness of Revelation is therefore not the Written or even the Unwritten Word, but the WORD MADE FLESH. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God is the Word become Flesh and in the Holy Eucharist, the WORDS of Christ allow bread and wine to become His real, true and substantial Flesh and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Dissident theologians in Catholic circles could learn volumes from Neuhaus. Loyalty and obedience to the Magisterium and the Roman Pontiff do not violate one's conscience or academic freedom anymore than obeying the Will of God can destroy the freedom of the human will. He had the honesty and decency to leave the church he could no longer follow totally and completely to come into full communion with the one he knew was telling and teaching the whole truth and not just parts of it. Dissident Catholic theologians today don't have the courage, guts or integrity to leave if they cannot obey and respect the Magisterium and/or the Pope. They remain to antogonize and confuse the faithful while cashing their paychecks on this side of the Tiber. If a theologian has problems with the Catechism, he has problems with the Church, with the Magisterium, with the Pope and ultimately with Jesus Christ Who started them all. Imagine mathmaticians disagreeing that 2+2=4 and still having a professor's job teaching math. Were someone to hold that 2+2=5, he or she would not have a job as a math teacher, in college, high school or grade school. Teach that Jesus was not the Son of God, that He was not a Divine Person, that He was unaware of His Divine nature, that He never intended to found a Church, etc., and you can still have tenure as a Catholic theologian in some colleges and seminaries, sad to say.


Sarah - Kala said...

Those who appreciate him will miss him the most. But, we have a great Church Triumphant - I think he'll fit in nicely there. May God rest his soul and comfort those left to mourn.

radio45 said...

Father Neuhaus will be missed. I agreed with him about 35% of the time, but I listened to him 100% of the time. While I agreed on the work of Evangelicals and Catholics together, I disagreed on his premise, that a reconciliation is not possible. All things are possible with God, and this is God's Church. If God does not ordain it, it is for God's purpose and for the benefit of His Church. What I mean is this. I once knew a blind man. This man taught me to shave without a mirror, make coffee and pour it in total darkness and the value of hearing when you cannot see. He, as he would acknowledge, did not have the fullness of the human body, yet he developed his other faculties to make up for his weakness. This imparted knowledge helped me to utilize my senses with greater efficiency. Do you say that my blind friend and client was deficient because of his lack of sight? In a sense yes. But that deficiency helped to show me my own deficiency in my wholeness. Protestants may not have the fullness of truth, but that does not mean they use the truth they have foolishly. When we as Catholics can not only respect but learn from Protestants, from Kingdom Hall to Willow Creek, and their approach to the faith, we can improve our own deficiency in our wholeness. The parable of the talents in Matthew shows that it is not how many talents you are given but ultimately what you do with them.

Unknown said...

While it is true that a blind mind can teach the man with sight many things he may overlook or be unaware of, nevertheless, is it not better to be able to see? My brother had Muscular Dystrophy and got around in a wheelchair. While he compensated for his disability, he would have preferred to have had a fully working and intact body from day one.

Likewise, we Catholics can and should learn more from our Protestant brethren about Sacred Scripture. Yet, we must realize that since Catholicism has the FULLNESS of truth and grace, it behooves us to evangelize and catechize to bring both Sacred Scripture & Sacred Tradition; to bring all Seven Sacraments to our brothers & sisters in Christ.

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