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...
(The entire section is 817 words.)