Richard John Neuhaus

Father Neuhaus on Anne Rice and The Road to Cana

by Benjamin Domenech on January 27, 2009

Typically, we would allow an author to respond in the event of a letter or comment from a reader – however, with the passing of Father Neuhaus, we will just allow his comment (published in his final edition of The Public Square) on Christopher Badeaux’s review in our Summer issue to stand, until such time as they can discuss it personally.

Poor Anne Rice. Recognizing that she does not claim to be a theologian, I had some kind words for her Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Christopher Badeaux, writing in the Baptist magazine The City, is not prepared to let her off so easily. He allows that she obviously wants to be an orthodox Catholic, but she gets the two natures in Christ, human and divine, into a terrible muddle. He writes: “Indeed, the divine nature seems like a hectoring scold, a lumbering brute, always on the edge of breaking down poor Yeshua and destroying his psyche and his world. (Again, his terrified, weary reaction to this is what makes the human Yeshua so ­compelling.) This Jesus does not merely laugh, he all but lusts (chastely, to be sure). His humanity is not remotely in doubt. His divinity is. Yet over the course of the book, Jesus transforms into the Christ, like an evolving caterpillar without a real need for the cocoon before becoming a butterfly.” She has not, he says, escaped from the literary genres that made her famous. “To anyone trying to grapple with the mystery of the Incarnation, it seems oddly abrupt, and at least as importantly, clearly a reflection of Rice’s thirty-year immersion in modern American science fiction and fantasy. The story of the young man thrust into an impossible world who rapidly grows superpowers and rises to the fore in the space of mere months is a peculiarly twentieth-century twist on an old archetype, and Rice’s Yeshua is such a protagonist.” The outcome is predictable: “As a result, after the baptism in the Jordan, her Christ swings almost 180 degrees and becomes an Eutychianist Monophysite Christ almost instantaneously, his human nature extinguished in all but name. That humanity becomes mere window dressing for his suddenly undeniably divine existence. Rice tries to, but cannot, salvage the man from the overbearing divine. All of the talk of hunger, of pangs of love, of regret, even of affection for his mother, seem like window dressing for a God who walks among men, who condescends to stand in time with his creation before leaving it.” You will remember that Monophysites contended that Christ really had only one nature, and Eutyches was a fifth-century heretic who said Christ’s human nature was not consubstantial with ours. These confusions were addressed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. If Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana was presented as a doctrinal treatise on Christology, Badeaux’s strictures would be entirely in order. But please, Rice is doing something quite different. Hers is an exercise of the devout imagination, more along the lines of the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola and others who encourage us to enter into the biblical narrative, composing and reconstructing events as though we were there. Of course nobody can adequately describe the experienced reality of being both God and man since nobody else is true God and true man as Christ was and is. To ponder, explore, meditate upon, and in some small way attempt to penetrate the mystery of the Incarnation is not to be confused with explaining the mystery. Nicea and Chalcedon do not claim to explain the mystery but only to provide the language appropriate to thinking about it. Attempting, with difficulty, to remain within that “rule of faith,” Anne Rice offers a suggestive narrative of a truth that surpasses understanding and she should, I think, be cut considerable slack. She does not presume to have done adequately what cannot be done, but she is to be credited with provoking her readers to think their way more deeply into the bottomless truth of what we will really know only when we know as we are known (1 Cor. 13).

A Gaping Hole in the Public Square

by Benjamin Domenech on January 12, 2009

Good morning, friends. Today’s recommended reading is by Joseph Bottum, a remembrance of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus that is eloquent and powerful. You can read it in The Weekly Standard:

He was the greatest reader I ever met. The greatest reader, and a cigar smoker, and a walker, and a preacher, and a brewer of some of the worst coffee ever made. What odd items the mind latches onto in moments of grief: the tilt of a friend’s head, the way he used his hands when he spoke, an awful meal shared a decade back, a conversation about a book only a month ago.

Only a month ago–it was only a month ago that he was still whole, still sharp, still himself. Novels and movies always seem to me to get it wrong. Grief doesn’t conjure up ghosts. Grief renders the world itself ghostly. The absent thing alone is real, and in comparison, all present things are pale, gray, and indistinct: a vague background to the sharp-edged portrait of what is gone.

In New York City, a wake will be held tonight, and a funeral mass tomorrow morning.  Several contributors and editors of The City will be in attendance to honor a magnificent man of God.

You can see pictures of the late RJN here, and read other interviews and acknowledgements collected here.

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

by Benjamin Domenech on January 8, 2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus passed away this morning in New York City. Joseph Bottum, the editor of First Things and a member of the advisory board of The City among many other things, writes:

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Several months ago, Fr. Neuhaus saw fit to recommend The City in his collected thoughts printed in First Things under the title The Public Square as an “evangelical First Things.” It was a moment of enormous pride for us, and more – that passing mention alone accounted for more than 1,000 new subscribers to The City.

It is safe to say that this project would not exist without Fr. Neuhaus’s work at First Things, and his lifetime of work on behalf of the goal of bringing Catholics and Evangelicals together. His imprint on religious life in America cannot be underestimated, and we will miss him enormously. If you have prayers to say, say them not for him – Fr. Neuhaus knew his Creator – but say them for all who loved and knew him best, and mourn the loss of a truly great man today.

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.” R.I.P.