(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Richard John Neuhaus first came to national prominence in the mid-1960’s when, as a Lutheran pastor, he participated in both the Civil Rights and antiwar movements. Later, after a much documented conversion to Roman Catholicism and ordination into the priesthood, he emerged as a staunchly conservative Church commentator on social and political issues. In the early 1990’s, Neuhaus survived a catastrophic health crisis; a tumor ruptured in his intestines, and several mishandled procedures led to further complications. That near-death experience encouraged the theologian to explore the implications of mortality and specifically the difficult mystery of a Christian death. Those speculations led Neuhaus to focus on the words Christ spoke during the three-hour public execution on the cross (Christianity, he points out, is alone in centering its faith on the death of its God). The seven passages, as recorded by the four Evangelists, are: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”; “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”; “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother”; “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”; “I thirst”; “It is finished”; and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Neuhaus devotes a chapter to each utterance. Drawing on a wide range of relevant biblical passages and traditional scholarship, Neuhaus explicates the import of each passage and extends its argument to reveal the mysteries that are central to the cross, mysteries that Neuhaus contends are not designed to be resolved but rather contemplated until they yield not answers but wonder. His exegesis is directed particularly to contemporary Christians who have not sufficiently examined the Passion or who have been persuaded by the faddish optimism of New Age revisionism to embrace the joy of Easter at the expense of confronting the complicated love at the heart of the ghastly sacrifice on Calvary.

Neuhaus’s premise is that Christians...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, Raymond. The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave—A Commentary on the Passion Narrative in the Four Gospels. New York: Doubleday, 1994. A standard work in the genre of Passion commentaries. Although Neuhaus draws on commentaries since Saint Augustine, Brown’s reading, a traditional exegesis, is a frequent subject of Neuhaus’s critique.

Neuhaus, Richard John. As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning. New York: Perseus, 2002. An indispensable companion volume that brings together eschatological theology with personal testimony by exploring the implications of mortality and Christianity through Neuhaus’s own medical crisis.

Neuhaus, Richard John. Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy and the Splendor of Truth. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Neuhaus examines the state of the Catholic Church, especially after Vatican II, and describes why he became a priest.

“Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-.” Contemporary Authors Online. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2006. Overview of Neuhaus’s spiritual journey from Lutheran pastor and political activist to archconservative voice of Catholicism. Includes helpful biographical timeline and bibliography.