On January 8, 2009 A.D. Richard John Neuhaus died. He was the founder of First Things, an influential journal of religion, culture, and public life. I first ran across First Things in law school regarding pro-life issues, and still have my copy dated November 1996, Number 67. The subtitle of that issue was “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics,” and it included essays by Judge Robert Bork, Charles Colson, and Robert George, among others. Richard John Neuhaus was an eloquent figure in the pro-life movement and one of the most influential conservative Roman Catholics in America.
Father Neuhaus began his career as a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), then he joined the liberal ELCA, and finally he became a conservative Roman Catholic priest with access to the highest levels of the Vatican. And he always held Martin Luther in high regard. His is an interesting story.
He joined the Roman Catholic Church when he concluded that “real, existent Lutheranism—as distinct from Lutheranism as an idea or school of thought—had, willy-nilly but decisively, turned against the fulfillment of its destiny as a reforming movement within the one Church of Christ. . . [and instead] had settled for being a permanently separated Protestant denomination” (First Things).
Here is an excerpt from his book entitled Death on a Friday Afternoon:
When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways—these and all other gifts I have received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will … look to Christ and Christ alone.
Then I hope to hear him say, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” as I hope with all my being—because, although looking to him alone, I am not alone—he will say to all.
Here are some posts from the Lutheran blogosphere regarding the death of Richard John Neuhaus: