Column: Death of First Things editor is a great loss to us all

by Michael Schuttloffel

When news came in 410 A.D. that Alaric and his Visigoths had breached the walls of Rome, ending in a stroke 800 years of impregnability, St. Jerome would write from Jerusalem: “The brightest light of the whole world is extinguished.”

There are those today who, while not wanting to overstate matters, might nonetheless wish to associate themselves with those sentiments as they mourn the passing of their intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual lodestar, Richard John Neuhaus.

Father Neuhaus, who testified to the axiom that converts make the best

Catholics, once said: “I have prayed to God that I should remain religiously orthodox, culturally conservative, politically liberal and economically pragmatic.” With time, his understanding of “politically liberal” came to differ from many of those whose company he kept in the 1960s and ’70s.

It was during those heady days that the then-Lutheran minister helped found the antiwar group “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.” Of more enduring value, he fought for the extension of full civil rights to African-Americans, arm in arm with his friend Martin Luther King Jr.

After Roe v. Wade, Neuhaus came to see the pro-life movement as the civil rights movement’s moral successor. However, not all agreed, and the old band did not stay together.

In one of history’s most tragic ironies, America replaced the sin of state-sanctioned racial oppression with that of abortion — an almost simultaneous handoff four decades ago. The long-awaited moment of our greatest moral triumph would instead mark the dawn of a new era of moral depravity.

In the decades that followed, after converting to Catholicism and being ordained a priest, Father Neuhaus became a highly influential intellectual, gaining notoriety for his pioneering publication First Things magazine and his insightful contributions to the church-state debate.

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