I will have more to say about Richard John Neuhaus, who died yesterday at 72, next month in The New Criterion, but I wanted to take a moment now to register my sadness at his passing, admiration for his work, and gratitude for his friendship.
Many people reading this will know that Fr. Neuhaus founded and presided over First Things, our most vibrant journal devoted to religion, culture, and public life. Although now edited by the redoubtable Joseph Bottum, First Things naturally bears the stamp and impress of its creator. Month in and month out, Fr. Neuhaus populated “The Public Square,” a capacious section of the magazine that often ran to 20 pages or more. With an astonishing fluency and perspicacity, he would stride over the issues, personalities, and contretemps of the moment, moving with ease from arcane theological disputes to the demotic hurly-burly of the culture wars. It was an extraordinary performance.
Fr. Neuhaus was also the author of a shelf of important books. I well remember the deep impression that The Naked Public Square made on me when I first encountered it in the mid-1980s. He dramatized with awful clarity the Chestertonian truth that the forces of radical secularism, abetted by an activist judiciary, will regularly transform a civilization that championed freedom of religion into a culture whose gospel was freedom from religion.
Fr. Neuhaus spoke about this and other matters with a rare authority, grounded in faith, burnished by a logical tidiness, range of reference, and generous humanity that made his writing as wise as it was informative and engaging. I want to stress the humanity. Fr. Neuhaus was an able polemicist, eager and devastating in the defense of Catholic probity, but he was also a man of enormous kindliness and communicable good cheer.
There is much more to say about this exemplary public intellectual, but for now I wish simply to offer my condolences to his many friends and extended family at First Things.
Requiescat in pace.