January 8, 2009
Father Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of First Things journal and a constant advocate for thoughtful conservatism, died this morning from complications in his battle with cancer. He was 72.
Neuhaus’ humble position as a priest in the Catholic Church belied his influence as a Christian thinker, theologian and public voice. Through his platform at First Things, Neuhaus commentated eloquently on matters both secular and sacred, and always about the church’s response to such matters.
He may best be remembered for his part in bringing unity between those on both sides of Reformation theology and institution. A former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism, Neuhaus allied himself with Charles Colson in 1990 to co-found “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” and co-authored the document by the same name. As the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) wrote, Neuhaus hoped to foster ecumenical dialogue between Protestant evangelicals and conservative Catholics outside of official talks between church institutions.
Neuhaus worked to cross institutionalized boundaries personally, and he remained a close advisor to President George W. Bush on social issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and traditional marriage.
Time magazine recognized Neuhaus’ transcending position by including the Catholic priest in its 2005 list of America’s most influential evangelicals. As Time reported then, President Bush gave Neuhaus credit for helping him “articulate these [religious] things” that affected his policy. The priest also wrote for or advised a handful of conservative think thanks, including the Institute on Religion & Democracy.
Although he spoke mainly from his pen, the news media often relied on Father Neuhaus’ intellect and opinion when religious controversy arose.
Dallas Morning News reporter Jeffrey Weiss remembered him by saying, “There can scarcely be a religion reporter who has worked over the past several decades who hasn't had occasion to talk to the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus once or thrice. He was smart, quotable and available -- an irresistible combination.”
For many, Neuhaus’ greatest contribution lies tucked inside the pages of First Things. Neuhaus maintained his constant integration of faith into nuanced articles until the end, with a style that spun scriptural themes into broader, applied language.
“[Neuhaus] inspired countless Christians by his theological and spiritual writings and personal example,” Neuhaus’ friend and Catholic writer George Weigel said, NCR reported. “He had the rare ability of letting his own high intellectual and literary energy level energize others, which means that his thought is likely to have an impact on the U.S. religious scene for a long time to come.”