Saturday, January 10, 2009

Glasvegas makes its move on America

By Shay Quillen
San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 01/08/2009 12:00:00 AM PST

Last year, Glasvegas went from being a Scottish act with two obscure singles under its belt to being one of the most celebrated young bands in Great Britain. And as 2009 begins, the group is setting its sights on America — a country whose musical past plays a crucial role in its look and sound.

Glasvegas. L-R: Rab Allan, James Allan, Paul Donoghue, Caroline McKay (Photo Credit: Steve Gullick)

In Britain, "the name's out there, and people are getting it," says bassist Paul Donoghue, speaking from a tour stop in Manchester last month. "Now we need to go to America and really put a lot of work and a lot of effort into that."

The quartet — which also includes singer-songwriter James Allan, guitarist Rab Allan (James' cousin) and stand-up drummer Caroline McKay — played some East Coast dates last year but just embarked on its first jaunt across America. It's marking the U.S. release of its self-titled debut album, which hit No. 2 in England last year, with two national TV spots and a handful of club dates, including a Popscene show tonight at 330 Ritch St. in San Francisco.

Monday, Glasvegas played "Geraldine" on "Late Night With David Letterman." Next Thursday, the band will wrap up the tour with an appearance on "The Late Late Show," hosted by fellow Glaswegian Craig Ferguson.

It's a remarkable turn of events for a band that still lives in the gritty East End of the Scottish city that inspired its tongue-in-cheek name.

"It's like any other working-class city in Britain: It's got its bad points, but it's also got a lot of electricity and a lot of romance to it," Donoghue says in a Glaswegian accent so thick that, at times, it's unintelligible to American ears. "I love the East End of Glasgow, and I don't think I'd ever move."

The bassist says that when the band started about five years ago, James Allan's songs showed promise, but he hadn't quite arrived at what would become the band's signature sound — soaring, heart-on-sleeve vocals in a thick Scottish accent over music that manages to suggest both the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Shirelles.

"They were a lot more poppy," Donoghue says of Allan's early efforts. "I still think Glasvegas make pop music, but back then it was a lot more of the indie, color-by-numbers thing, jangly guitars and stuff like that. As James' confidence grew, that wasn't what he wanted to do. . . . He realized if he wanted to be true to himself, he had to completely change the style of songwriting."

Fueled by long record-listening sessions at McKay's house, the musicians began gravitating toward vintage American sounds by artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dion.

The band broke out of Scotland with the self-released "Daddy's Gone," voted the No. 2 single of 2007 in the influential English music magazine NME. The song was re-recorded for the band's debut album and became Glasvegas' biggest hit to date in the U.K.

"Where we were in Glasgow, there's so many broken families," Dougherty says. "Be it a child whose father left or a father who's left children — people will come up and say the song really affects them."

JANUARY 05: Musician James Allan of the band Glasvegas performs onstage at Virgin Megastore Union Square on January 5, 2009 in New York City.(Getty Images)

Last winter, NME's staff awarded the band, which had yet to release an album, the Philip Hall Radar Award, an honor that previously had gone to Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs. The award was presented by the Libertines' Carl Barat, who will perform a solo opening set at tonight's show.

Glasvegas is the kind of up-and-coming British act music fans have come to expect on Thursdays at the little room at 330 Ritch St. Over the past 13 years, Popscene — a series co-founded and booked by "Live 105" Music Director Aaron Axelsen — has given the Bay Area an early, up-close look at such soon-to-be-massive acts as Bloc Party, Muse and Amy Winehouse.

Axelsen voted the British import of "Glasvegas" as his No. 1 record of 2008, and his Popscene partners share his love for the band.

"The first thing I noticed while listening to Glasvegas was this incredible sound that reminded me of all the records I love — the shoegaze ones, the doo-wop ones, the space rock ones," writes DJ and marketing maven Nako Hashizume via e-mail. "I just wanted to drown in those waves of sound."

Contact Shay Quillen at or (408) 920-2741.

Glasvegas has plenty of potential import

Special to The Kansas City Star
January 16, 2009

The resounding debut album from Glasvegas opens with “Flowers and Football Tops.”

Sung by James Allan, a 29-year-old from Glasgow’s tough east side, its perspective is that of a mother who’s just learned of the death of her young son. The lyrics don’t specify what events brought the police to her door, but the song evokes the story of young James Bulger, the Liverpool boy killed by two boys scarcely his senior.

Guitarist Rab Allan, the singer’s younger cousin, opens the song with a full minute of glacial, harmonic distortion that sets the stage for Caroline McKay’s whopping Phil Spector backbeat and James’ raw, impassioned vocal.

Allan sings like a cross between Joe Strummer and a Glaswegian Joey Ramone. Assuming the persona of a grieving mother is a potential landmine for any male singer, but Allan makes the grief dramatic and dignified.

Remarkably Glasvegas maintains the pace established by “Flowers and Football Tops” throughout most of its 11-song program.

The songs of James Allan are not basic pop fodder, tending instead toward evocative portrayals of working class life in Glasgow — its perils and iniquities. “Stabbed” evokes the everyday horrors of gang life. “Go Square Go” is sung by a young man steeling himself for a showdown with a playground bully (the refrain is terrifically catchy, but its repetitive use of the f-word won’t garner much media play). “Geraldine,” like “Football Tops,” finds Allan in female persona, this time as an empathetic social worker.

Especially powerful is “Daddy’s Gone,” a song for both an absent father and the young protagonist himself, which combines regret, resignation and defiance.

Beginning in 2003 as an Oasis cover band, only gradually did James Allan start writing songs for the band. Like so many of rock’s powerful ensemble sounds, Glasvegas’ was built piece by piece by trial and error.

Performing initially at blistering punk tempos, they found that slower tempos breathed life into Allan’s gritty songs.

Bassist Paul Donoghue and McKay lay down a propulsive foundation. Rab Allan’s mammoth guitar sound is derived from Will Sergeant (Echo and the Bunnymen), the Edge, and the Jesus and Mary Chain.

In a curious way it also updates the slap-back echo of early Sun Records recordings. He frames his cousin’s vocals with a strum and drone, pedal tone-heavy palette that’s huge and dense.

And while that density can be overwhelming, it’s consistently affecting.
As it’s already one of Britain’s most popular bands, it will be interesting to see how this latest, potent British import translates to an American audience.

Concert Review: Glasvegas

Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY - 01.06.09
Filter Grade: 86%

by Samantha Barnes 01.09.2009

JANUARY 05: Musician James Allan of the band Glasvegas performs onstage at Virgin Megastore Union Square on January 5, 2009 in New York City.(Getty Images)

The scene was a cold and rainy night, perfect to make Scotland’s hottest import, Glasvegas, feel right at home in New York City. Playing an overly sold-out show at SoHo’s Bowery Ballroom on the day of their debut album’s U.S. release, the band was set to encounter a New York audience full of hipsters, industry wigs, fellow musicians and music fans eager to see if the act lived up to they hype. Surely a tall order to fill, but despite minor distractions, the band showcased just why Bowery was the place to be that night.

With no introduction needed, the band, all clad in black, took the stage to the backdrop of moody blue strobe lights and kicked right into the 7-minute pulsing album opener, “Flowers And Football Tops.” Frontman James Allan’s vocals soared over the dark room with his repeated pleas to his “baby,” evoking another generation’s Danny Zuko with his leather jacket, mini-pompadour and soulful croon. As the song built intensity, so did the light show, until bona fide stadium lights flared at the 550-capacity venue, causing most to turn away from the stage and some less forgiving concert-goers to yell out for relief. Concluding the song with a heartbreaking rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” they prepared the crowd for exactly what was in store for the following 40 minutes – brooding sounds with spot-on vocals and a dreadfully inappropriate light show.

The quartet played through several songs without acknowledging the crowd, slowly building the excitement while loosening up to the typically stagnant New York audience. By mid-way through the relatively short 10-song set, they found just the chord to please the crowd. The lush sounds and sharp guitars of UK chart-topper, “Geraldine” had the room swaying and bopping along, led the whole time by Allan’s pitch-perfect voice. Following the crowd’s warm embrace of “Geraldine,” they switched to their darker side with the dramatic, building “Ice Cream Van,” showing only haunting shadows to the enraptured crowd while organs filled the air. Other set stand-outs include the stomping “Go Square Go” which broke into an all-out dance party and of course the highlight of the night - the powerful sing-along set closer “Daddy’s Gone.”

While the night may have ended too soon for some, Glasvegas proved that less is more with their concise set, only leaving the crowd wanting more, despite the potential retinal damage. Rest easy New York, they will return again with a little more confidence, a few more songs and perhaps a little less gusto for lights.

Set List

1. Flowers And Football Tops
2. Lonesome Swan
3. It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
4. Please Come Back Home
5. Polmont On My Mind
6. Geraldine
7. Ice Cream Van
8. Go Square Go
9. Stabbed
10. Daddy’s Gone

Today's Tune: Glasvegas - Flowers and Football Tops

(Click on title to play video)

why you not home yet
baby its getting late
i wish you would be home by now.
door bell rings
who could it be at this time
police on my left and right
my sons not coming home tonight

baby, they dont need to show
its over, i know
baby, they dont need to show
flowers and football tops, i know
baby, baby, baby, why you?

no sweeping exits
no hollywood endings
flowers and football tops
dont mean a thing.

my baby is six feet under
just another number
my daughter without her brother

baby, they dont need to show
its over, i know
baby, they dont need to show
flowers and football tops, i know

my baby is gone?

(you are my sunshine
my only sunshine
you make me happy
when skies are grey
i hope you noticed
how much i loved you
how could they take my sunshine away)

W. D. Zantzinger, Subject of Dylan Song, Dies at 69

The New York Times
January 10, 2009

William Devereux Zantzinger, whose six-month sentence in the fatal caning of a black barmaid named Hattie Carroll at a Baltimore charity ball moved Bob Dylan to write a dramatic, almost journalistic song in 1963 that became a classic of modern American folk music, died on Jan. 3. He was 69.

Baltimore Sun
William D. Zantzinger was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six months in 1963 in the death of Hattie Carroll

His death was confirmed by an employee of the Brinsfield-Echols Funeral Home, who said Mr. Zantzinger’s family had prohibited the release of more details.

Mr. Dylan took some liberties with the truth in the song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” though there is disagreement over just how many. He recorded it in 1964 for the Columbia album “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” for some reason dropping the letter “t” from Mr. Zantzinger’s name. It begins:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll

With a cane he twirled around his diamond ring finger

At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.

The incident occurred on Feb. 8, 1963. Mr. Zantzinger, a 24-year-old Maryland tobacco farmer, and his wife, Jane, had stopped with friends at a restaurant on their way to Baltimore’s annual Spinsters’ Ball, a white-tie affair.

Mr. Zantzinger was wearing a top hat and carrying a toy cane he had picked up at a farm fair. At the restaurant, he became disorderly, hitting employees with the cane, then left with his group after they were refused more drinks.

The party moved on to the ball, at the Emerson Hotel. A recapitulation of the evening in The Washington Post Magazine in 1991 said Mr. Zantzinger had entered bellowing: “I just flew in from Texas! Gimme a drink!”

As the evening progressed, he hit several hotel employees with the cane and used racial epithets. Time magazine said he pushed his wife to the floor. He later strode to the bar and ordered a drink from Mrs. Carroll, 51. But she was too slow, he said, and began criticizing her. Then he repeatedly struck her with the cane. Fleeing to the kitchen, she told co-workers that she felt “deathly ill.” An ambulance was called.

Mr. Zantzinger was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $600 bail. But on the morning of Feb. 9, Mrs. Carroll died of a stroke. Now Mr. Zantzinger was charged with murder.

In the trial, Mr. Zantzinger testified that he could not remember hitting anyone. His lawyers said Mrs. Carroll’s stroke could have been caused by the hypertension she was known to have. A three-judge court agreed that the caning alone could not have caused the death and reduced the charge to manslaughter.

Mr. Zantzinger was convicted in June, and in August he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On Aug. 29, The New York Times published a dispatch by United Press International, reporting on the sentencing. A friend of Mr. Dylan showed the singer the article. Some accounts say he wrote the song at an all-night coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, others that he wrote it at the singer Joan Baez’s house in Carmel, Calif.

Baltimore Sun
Hattie Carroll

The literary critic Christopher B. Ricks wrote a chapter about the song in his book, “Dylan’s Visions of Sin” (2004), praising Mr. Dylan’s “exact control of each word.”

Clinton Heylin, in his book “Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited” (2001), countered that the song “verges on the libelous” because of “its tenuous grasp of the facts of the case.” One criticism was that Mr. Zantzinger’s “high office relations,” as Mr. Dylan called them, were overstated: his father had been a one-term state legislator and a member of the Maryland planning commission.

The song did not mention that Mrs. Carroll was black, although listeners made that correct assumption. It also did not refer to the reduced charge of manslaughter, only the six-month sentence.

One error of fact in the song was that Mrs. Carroll had 10 children; she had 11. Critics suggested that 11 did not fit the meter.

Time magazine called Mr. Zantzinger “a rural aristocrat,” who enjoyed fox-hunting. He attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington and the University of Maryland. The magazine Mother Jones reported in 2004 that he had worked alongside his farm employees, including blacks.

After prison, Mr. Zantzinger left the farm and went into real estate. He sold antiques, became an auctioneer and owned a night club.

In 1991, The Maryland Independent disclosed that Mr. Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned; Charles County, Md., had foreclosed on them for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Mr. Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past-due rent, and won.

He pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only nights in jail.

Information on Mr. Zantzinger’s survivors was unavailable. Though he long refused interviews, he did speak to the author Howard Sounes for his book “Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan” (2001) , telling him of his scorn for Mr. Dylan.

“I should have sued him and put him in jail,” he said.

The 'oldest hatred' lives, from Gaza to Florida

Jew-hating pathologies ultimately harm the Jew-hater, too.

Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, January 9, 2009

In Toronto, anti-Israel demonstrators yell "You are the brothers of pigs!," and a protester complains to his interviewer that "Hitler didn't do a good job."

In Fort Lauderdale, Palestinian supporters sneer at Jews, "You need a big oven, that's what you need!"

In Amsterdam, the crowd shouts, "Hamas, Hamas! Jews to the gas!"

Pakistani activists set fire to an Israeli flag in Chaman. More than 50,000 Egyptians rallied after Friday prayers to condemn Israel's assault against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as sweeping protests rocked other parts of the Arab world.
(AFP/Asghar Achakzai)

In Paris, the state-owned TV network France-2 broadcasts film of dozens of dead Palestinians killed in an Israeli air raid on New Year's Day. The channel subsequently admits that, in fact, the footage is not from Jan. 1, 2009, but from 2005, and, while the corpses are certainly Palestinian, they were killed when a truck loaded with Hamas explosives detonated prematurely while leaving the Jabaliya refugee camp in another of those unfortunate work-related accidents to which Gaza is sadly prone. Conceding that the Palestinians supposedly killed by Israel were, alas, killed by Hamas, France-2 says the footage was broadcast "accidentally."

In Toulouse, a synagogue is firebombed; in Bordeaux, two kosher butchers are attacked; at the Auber RER train station, a Jewish man is savagely assaulted by 20 youths taunting, "Palestine will kill the Jews"; in Villiers-le-Bel, a Jewish schoolgirl is brutally beaten by a gang jeering, "Jews must die."

In Helsingborg, Sweden, the congregation at a synagogue takes shelter as a window is broken and burning cloths thrown in. in Odense, principal Olav Nielsen announces that he will no longer admit Jewish children to the local school after a Dane of Lebanese extraction goes to the shopping mall and shoots two men working at the Dead Sea Products store. in Brussels, a Molotov cocktail is hurled at a synagogue; in Antwerp, Netherlands, lit rags are pushed through the mail flap of a Jewish home; and, across the Channel in Britain, "youths" attempt to burn the Brondesbury Park Synagogue.

In London, the police advise British Jews to review their security procedures because of potential revenge attacks. The Sun reports "fears" that "Islamic extremists" are drawing up a "hit list" of prominent Jews, including the Foreign Secretary, Amy Winehouse's record producer and the late Princess of Wales' divorce lawyer. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Islamic nonextremists from the British Muslim Forum, the Islamic Foundation and other impeccably respectable "moderate" groups have warned the government that the Israelis' "disproportionate force" in Gaza risks inflaming British Muslims, "reviving extremist groups," and provoking "UK terrorist attacks" – not against Amy Winehouse's record producer and other sinister members of the International Jewish Conspiracy but against targets of, ah, more general interest.

Forget, for the moment, Gaza. Forget that the Palestinian people are the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the Earth. For the past 60 years they have been entrusted to the care of the United Nations, the Arab League, the PLO, Hamas and the "global community" – and the results are pretty much what you'd expect.

You would have to be very hardhearted not to weep at the sight of dead Palestinian children, but you would also have to accord a measure of blame to the Hamas officials who choose to use grade schools as launch pads for Israeli-bound rockets, and to the U.N. refugee agency that turns a blind eye to it. And, even if you don't deplore Fatah and Hamas for marinating their infants in a sick death cult in which martyrdom in the course of Jew-killing is the greatest goal to which a citizen can aspire, any fair-minded visitor to the West Bank or Gaza in the decade and a half in which the "Palestinian Authority" has exercised sovereign powers roughly equivalent to those of the nascent Irish Free State in 1922 would have to concede that the Palestinian "nationalist movement" has a profound shortage of nationalists interested in running a nation, or indeed capable of doing so. There is fault on both sides, of course, and Israel has few good long-term options. But, if this was a conventional ethno-nationalist dispute, it would have been over long ago.

So, as I said, forget Gaza. And, instead, ponder the reaction to Gaza in Scandinavia, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and golly, even Florida. As the delegitimization of Israel has metastasized, we are assured that criticism of the Jewish state is not the same as anti-Semitism. We are further assured that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, which is a wee bit more of a stretch.

Only Israel attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence. For the purposes of comparison, let's take a state that came into existence at the exact same time as the Zionist Entity, and involved far bloodier population displacements. I happen to think the creation of Pakistan was the greatest failure of post-war British imperial policy. But the fact is that Pakistan exists, and if I were to launch a movement of anti-Pakism it would get pretty short shrift.

But, even allowing for that, what has a schoolgirl in Villiers-le-Bel to do with Israeli government policy? Just weeks ago, terrorists attacked Mumbai, seized hostages, tortured them, killed them, and mutilated their bodies. The police intercepts of the phone conversations between the terrorists and their controllers make for lively reading:

"Pakistan caller 1: 'Kill all hostages, except the two Muslims. Keep your phone switched on so that we can hear the gunfire.'

"Mumbai terrorist 2: 'We have three foreigners, including women. From Singapore and China'

"Pakistan caller 1: 'Kill them.'

"(Voices of gunmen can be heard directing hostages to stand in a line, and telling two Muslims to stand aside. Sound of gunfire. Sound of cheering voices.)"

"Kill all hostages, except the two Muslims." Tough for those Singaporean women. Yet no mosques in Singapore have been attacked. The large Hindu populations in London, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale have not shouted "Muslims must die!" or firebombed Halal butchers or attacked hijab-clad schoolgirls. CAIR and other Muslim lobby groups' eternal bleating about "Islamophobia" is in inverse proportion to any examples of it. Meanwhile, "moderate Muslims" in London warn the government: "I'm a peaceful fellow myself, but I can't speak for my excitable friends. Nice little G7 advanced Western democracy you got here. Shame if anything were to happen to it."

But why worry about European Muslims? The European political and media class essentially shares the same view of the situation – to the point where state TV stations are broadcasting fake Israeli "war crimes."

As I always say, the "oldest hatred" didn't get that way without an ability to adapt: Once upon a time on the Continent, Jews were hated as rootless cosmopolitan figures who owed no national allegiance. So they became a conventional nation state, and now they're hated for that. And, if Hamas get their way and destroy the Jewish state, the few who survive will be hated for something else. So it goes.

But Jew-hating has consequences for the Jew-hater, too. A few years ago the poet Nizar Qabbani wrote an ode to the intifada:

O mad people of Gaza,

a thousand greetings to the mad

The age of political reason

has long departed

so teach us madness.

You can just about understand why living in Gaza would teach you madness. The enthusiastic adoption of the same pathologies by mainstream Europe is even more deranged – and in the end will prove just as self-destructive.


Two Endgames for Israel

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
January 09, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Israel's leaders have purposely obscured their war aims in Gaza. But there are only two possible endgames: (A) a Lebanon-like cessation of hostilities to be supervised by international observers, or (B) the disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Israeli artillery shells explode over the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israel-Gaza border. Israeli troops battled Hamas fighters in Gaza into a third week, as a new round of diplomacy got underway to end a war that has killed more than 800 people despite a UN truce call.
(AFP/Jack Guez)

Under tremendous international pressure -- including from an increasingly wobbly U.S. State Department -- the government of Ehud Olmert has begun hinting that it is receptive to a French-Egyptian cease-fire plan, essentially acquiescing to Endgame A.

That would be a terrible mistake.

It would fail on its own terms. It would have the same elements as the phony peace in Lebanon: an international force that abjures any meaningful use of force, an arms embargo under which arms will most assuredly flood in, and a cessation of hostilities until the terrorist side is rearmed and ready to initiate the next round of hostilities.

The U.N.-mandated disarmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon is a well-known farce. Not only have foreign forces not stopped Hezbollah's massive rearmament. Their very presence makes it impossible for Israel to take any preventive military action, lest it accidentally hit a blue-helmeted Belgian crossing guard.

The "international community" is now pushing very hard for a replay in Gaza of that charade. Does anyone imagine that international monitors will risk their lives to prevent weapons smuggling? To arrest terrorists? To engage in shootouts with rocket-launching teams attacking Israeli civilians across the Gaza border?

Of course not. Weapons will continue to be smuggled. Deeper and more secure fortifications will be built for the next round. Mosques, schools and hospitals will again be used for weapons storage and terrorist safe havens. Do you think French "peacekeepers" are going to raid them?

Which is why the only acceptable outcome of this war, both for Israel and for the civilized world, is Endgame B: the disintegration of Hamas rule. It is already under way.

This is not about killing every last Hamas gunman. Not possible, not necessary. Regimes rule not by physically overpowering every person in their domain, but by getting the majority to accept their authority. That is what sustains Hamas, and that is what is now under massive assault.

Hamas' leadership is not only seriously degraded but openly humiliated. The great warriors urging others to martyrdom are cowering underground almost entirely incommunicado. Demonstrably unable to protect their own people, they beg for outside help, receiving in return nothing but words from their Arab and Iranian brothers. And who in fact is providing the corridors for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians? Israel.

In the first four minutes of this war, the Israel Air Force destroyed 50 targets, taking down practically every instrument and symbol of Hamas rule. Gaza's Potemkin leaders were marginalized and rendered helpless, leaving their people to fend for themselves. At such moments, regimes are extremely vulnerable to forfeiting what the Chinese call the mandate of heaven, the sense of legitimacy that undergirds all forms of governance.

The fall of Hamas rule in Gaza is within reach, but only if Israel does not cave in to pressure to stop now. Overthrowing Hamas would not require a permanent Israeli reoccupation. A transitional international force would be brought in to immediately make way for the return of the Palestinian Authority, the legitimate government whose forces will be far less squeamish than the Europeans in establishing order in Gaza.

The disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza would be a devastating blow to Palestinian rejectionists, who since the Hamas takeover of Gaza have been the ascendant "strong horse" in Palestinian politics. It would be a devastating blow to Iran as patron of radical Islamist movements throughout the region, particularly after the defeat and marginalization of Iran's Sadrist client in Iraq. It would encourage the moderate Arab states to continue their U.S.-allied confrontation of Iran and its proxies. And it would demonstrate Israel's irreplaceable strategic value to the U.S. in curbing and containing Iran's regional ambitions.

Olmert had such an opportunity in Lebanon. He blew it. He now has a rare second chance. The one-step-from-madness gangster theocracy in Gaza -- just four days before the fighting, the Hamas parliament passed a Sharia criminal code, legalizing, among other niceties, crucifixion -- is teetering on the brink. It can be brought down, but only if Israel is prepared -- and allowed -- to complete the real mission of this war. For the Bush State Department, in its last significant act, to prevent that with the premature imposition of a cease-fire would be not just self-defeating but shameful.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Death on a Thursday Morning

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, R.I.P.

By the Editors
National Review
January 8, 2009 3:00 PM

Richard John Neuhaus, who died earlier today in New York, was the most influential Catholic and Christian theologian and writer in America during the second half of the 20th century. His influence can be compared to that of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, with one important distinction: Fulton Sheen exercised his sway over the public directly, through his radio and television sermons. Father Neuhaus did so less directly, through his books and articles, through his editorship of two important magazines devoted to religion and politics, through his friendship with Pope John Paul II, and through his impact on other theologians both in the Catholic Church and in other Christian congregations. Partly for those reasons, however, Neuhaus’s influence is likely to be the deeper, longer-lasting and more extensive one.

Neuhaus began his adult life as a Canadian, a left-winger, and a Lutheran. He never lost his love for his country of birth — he spent six weeks of every year vacationing, reading, and reflecting in the Quebec countryside — his respect for a liberalism shaped by charity, or his admiration for the Lutheran tradition. He became nonetheless an American, a conservative, and a Catholic. And from these three conversions he forged for himself a distinctive religious identity that was conservative and generous, traditional and open, charitable and — yes — combative.

Neuhaus was a superb, natural controversialist. His two regular columns in the magazine he founded and edited, First Things, commented on the overlapping topics of religion, culture, and politics both in long, thoughtful articles and in short, brilliant squibs. Both profound and witty, they were required reading for morally serious people. His wit was a vehicle for important truths, and some of his epigrams have entered the language.

Thus: “For the New York Times the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.”

Or: “Whenever orthodoxy becomes optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed.”

Neuhaus never shrank from what he considered a necessary fight — even one with friends — when the issue was important enough. He abandoned his original allies on the Left over Roe v. Wade. On the same issue he later devoted a special issue of First Things to an attack on judicial supremacy that questioned whether an American political regime that tolerated mass abortions was a legitimate one. That formulation divided the Right and led to the Left inventing the term “theocons” to demonize him and the Christian conservatives. To the end of his life Neuhaus continued to fight passionately for the thousands of innocents we kill annually.

But fighting and controversy, though necessary to the propagation of religious truth in our age, were secondary themes in Neuhaus’s life. His achievements were essentially creative. He was a natural organizer who did not stop at reshaping his own religious identity. Along with Michael Novak, George Weigel, and others, he established First Things and made it the focus for an intellectually respectable resistance to the theological liberalism of the 1960s in Judaism and all Christian denominations. That achieved, he worked successfully to bring together Catholics and evangelicals — traditionally not the friendliest of fellow-Christians — in a new, unified political constituency for “Life” issues and other concerns of traditional believers. He reshaped that old-time religion.

Without Richard John Neuhaus, the Christian conservatives in America would have been politically much weaker and intellectually far less formidable.

Much more could be written about his influence on Christianity in America and worldwide. But we at National Review also knew Richard as a valued colleague — our religion editor for many years — and a dear friend. Most of us have enjoyed dinners with him that would begin with a strong Beefeater martini and end with equally strong draughts of laughter. Some of us sought his pastoral advice and benefited from his wisdom. That he was just a few streets away in New York was itself a source of consolation.

We feel sorrow at his passing, but mainly for ourselves. He has gone to the Savior he served so well and faithfully. R.I.P.

By Ramesh Ponnuru
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Although he would probably not have taken this description as a compliment, Fr. Neuhaus's "The Public Square" feature in First Things was an extraordinary journalistic accomplishment. Every month he read everything from Lutheran newsletters to the New York Review of Books and added comments of his own that rarely failed to enlighten, entertain, or, frequently, both.

The Naked Public Square is probably his most influential work, but the one I value most highly is Death on a Friday Afternoon. On hearing the news of his death, I looked up this passage:

When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of "justification by faith alone," although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways—these and all other gifts I have received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone.

Then I hope to hear him say, "Today you will be with me in paradise," as I hope with all my being—because, although looking to him alone, I am not alone—he will say to all.


01/08 01:47 PM

A Tribute to Father Neuhaus
By Peter Wehner
Thursday, January 08, 2009

The death of Father Neuhaus is a terrible blow. Not for him, who is now united with his Savior and his Redeemer, in whom Father Neuhaus placed all of his trust and all of his hope; but for us, who have lost one of America's leading public intellectuals, a man of profound wisdom and learning, and a great champion for the unborn. It was Father Neuhaus, along with his dear, long-time friend George Weigel and just a handful of others like Michael Novak, who not only championed the pro-life cause for so many years, but who gave the rest of us both the grounding and the vocabulary to speak on this issue.

They made the pro-life cause the cause of those seeking justice and protection for the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human community.

Father Neuhaus was author of one of the most important, debate-changing books in the history of modern conservatism: The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (published in 1984). He penned many other books, before and after, and they were unfailingly intelligent, well-argued, elegantly written, and often moving. He was editor in chief of First Things and author of its very popular column "The Public Square," Neuhaus's monthly survey of religion, culture, and public life. And he was a central figure in finding common ground among Catholics and evangelicals. Father Neuhaus's influence was quiet, profound, and virtually without boundaries. A former, very influential member of Congress wrote me just yesterday, saying, "When I first ran for Congress I read everything I could from him to formulate my thinking on social policy."

Beyond his influence in our national life, Father Neuhaus was a wonderful and delightful man. Many knew him better than I, but what I did know of him led me to conclude he was an exceptional man. When I would travel to New York City while serving in the White House, I would make it a point to drop in to see Father Neuhaus, to benefit from his wisdom, to gain perspective, and to experience the joy of his company. I helped arrange to have him come to the White House, so others, including the President, might as well. Over the years he was always very kind and supportive of me. And I would always delight in receiving e-mails from him, often in response to something I had written, many times offering an insight which I wish I had thought of, and sometimes offering a gentle corrective.

I accepted every one of them.

Richard John Neuhaus was many things, and people will dilate on them in this space and in other places in the coming hours and days. But he was, above everything else, a man of faith who loved his church and loved his Lord. He served Him honorably and well all the days of his life.

In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote,

How greatly I long for the dawning of this day, and the end of all worldly things. On the Saints this day already shines, resplendent with everlasting glory; but to us who are pilgrims on earth it appears but dim and distant. The citizens of Heaven now taste the joys of this day. Having excluded all worldly things from his heart and life, he will be worthy to take his place in the choir of Angels.

A few hours ago, Richard John Neuhaus went from being a pilgrim to becoming a citizen of Heaven, taking his place in the choir of Angels.

He is at peace; and they are now blessed to receive him.

01/08 12:33 PM

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009
John Podhoretz - 01.08.2009 - 11:23 AM

Richard John Neuhaus, perhaps the most important and influential religious intellectual in the United States since the passing of Reinhold Niebuhr, died last night. A Canadian by birth, he was a Lutheran pastor who came to the United States and served as the minister of a congregation in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood. A liberal in the model of Niebuhr, Neuhaus found himself migrating rightward once the Supreme Court inaugurated the age of abortion on demand with the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In 1984, he wrote the book for which he will be remembered, The Naked Public Square — a concise masterpiece about the role of religion in a democracy and the danger posed to a democratic society in the notion that public life should be effectively atheistic.

He was ever a man of principle. As an official of the Rockford Institute, he could not hold his silence when the magazine published by that institute, Chronicles, began running barely veiled anti-Semitic work (much of it aimed at COMMENTARY and his contributors). His breach with Rockford led to the creation of the Institute on Religion and Public Life and the creation of First Things, the brilliant monthly he edited and then supervised until his passing. At the same time, he completed his own religious journey when he converted to Catholicism and became a priest of the church and an intimate of Pope John Paul II.

His conviction that abortion was the great crime of the age and his disgust with the American system’s failure to expunge the crime led to the most controversial act of his editorship, the publication of a symposium entitled “The End of Democracy?” in which he and other participants flirted with the notion that the United States had lost its legitimacy. COMMENTARY’s editors responded in part with a symposium entitled “On the Future of Conservatism,” in which various contributors argued heatedly against what they perceived to be an unacceptable radicalization of conservative discourse.

The breach was never fully healed, and yet, through it all, there was Richard, a man of great personal good cheer and bonhomie, always in possession of a terrific piece of gossip he always knew exactly when and how to drop in order to cause the biggest commotion, who somehow found the time to crank out thousands of words a month while jetting back and forth from Rome, engaging in plots and subplots and side bets. He was an exemplar of the truism that a righteous man need not be or conduct himself as though he were holier-than-thou. But in the end, his work was his life, and whether he was ministering to fatherless youths in Brooklyn or offering his considered and always highly informed opinion on the matter of stem-cell research, Richard John Neuhaus did what he did and said what he said for the betterment of humankind and for the greater glory of God.

Fr. Richard Neuhaus, 1936-2009

By Tony Esolen
Touchstone Magazine
January 8, 2009

A few days ago, after saying a few prayers for Father Neuhaus, I stopped to consider the man's remarkable life and work. Who is there like him who is with us still? He was a boy during the Second World War and came of age as a faithful Lutheran in the 1950's, just when the liberal theological poison was about to pass that liminal point beyond which it sets its hosts into irreversible decline. He did not join that party, but when the Civil Rights Movement rocked the country, Reverend Neuhaus joined his voice to those who fought for justice for blacks in America, as he soon afterwards joined the movement to protest the most poorly commanded war in American history.

The easy journalistic interpretation of Reverend Neuhaus' prominence in these movements is that he was a "liberal" who when he grew older rejected his youthful political indiscretions. No such thing; he was in his youth what he was to the end, a passionate defender of human liberty, based upon man's having been created in the image and likeness of God. The man who detested Communist crushing of the human spirit was the man who detested war as bureaucratic maneuvering of bodies for geopolitical purposes, and the man who defended American democracy and a public square wherein people could speak from the deepest wellsprings of their convictions; the man who defended the incomparable worth of every human life; who loved art and music and poetry, and who loathed -- and laughed heartily at -- artistic impostors. He remained, in the truest sense of the words, profoundly conservative and liberal to the last.

But other people can speak with fuller knowledge of these things. I know only that here was a man who counted the likes of Martin Luther King and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy among his associates and friends; he knew and wrote about and dined with cardinals in the Roman Curia and heads of state. His reading was, to all appearances, omnivorous. Indeed, to read his monthly essays in First Things was to embark upon a kind of vicarious education; there did not seem to be any subject that the now Father Neuhaus could not discuss, from Dostoyevsky criticism to Brahms, from the Eastern Fathers to Jacques Maritain, from Plato to the Federalist to Robert Nisbet and Christopher Lasch.

Yet for all that he wore his learning lightly enough. He did not lecture; he elucidated. He indulged himself in much laughter at the folly, ignorance, and intolerance of his favorite prigs, the journalists -- especially those at the fish-wrapper he called "Mother Times" and "Our Parish Newsletter." But, and I hope he'll forgive me for saying so, he was himself an ideal journalist, everything that his satirical targets failed to be. His essays are less whimsical than those of Chesterton, but, on the whole, every bit as incisive, and perhaps, given what he has meant to conservative thought in America, more influential. I hope that they will not be left to the archives of First Things. They are, as journalistic essays ought to be, those strange creatures of the day that retain the power to speak to us time and again.

I never met Father Neuhaus, but First Things -- and that means, principally, Neuhaus' reflections -- was important in my reversion to the Catholic faith, fifteen years ago. For that I owe him a debt of deep gratitude. We shall not see his like again. And now he sees the face of Him whom he loved with a quiet and unassuming love that yet beat warmly in everything he wrote. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Comments (8)

The Public Square

By Mark Steyn
Thursday, January 08, 2009

I would like to second Ramesh's praise: "The Public Square" in First Things was, indeed, "an extraordinary journalistic achievement". Every issue, Father Neuhaus pulled an array of surprising and often apparently trivial items from the world's media and addressed the deeper currents running underneath. A few years ago in that space he noted with regret an emerging post-Zionist fatalism regarding Israel's prospects. Here are five sentences from that long-ago squib that sum up what's happening in Gaza:

As too many people are eager to remind us, Israel is doing bad things to the Palestinians. And, as too many fail to say, Palestinians are doing bad things to Israelis, and it is not always easy to sort out which is action and which reaction, which is aggression and which defense. There should be no difficulty, however, in sorting out the difference between the one party that has the declared purpose of destroying or expelling the other party, and the other party that wants only to live in security and peace. This, I think, we know for sure: there could be a real peace process and a real peace if the Arabs believably accepted a sovereign Jewish state in their midst. This, sadly, does not seem to be in the offing.

And, in the end, that last point is the only one that matters — the one that keeps this thing going. Here he is again, getting to the heart of the matter, this time in response to a New York Times editorial:

The editors are also exercised that religious institutions are exempt from regulations having to do with religious and gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. But the key point, invoked over the years by opponents of free exercise, is that tax exemption is actually a government subsidy.

The underlying, and nascently totalitarian, assumption is that everything in the society belongs to the state and should be under state control. Government exemptions from tax and control are a privilege granted, not a right respected. From which it follows that an exemption is, in fact, a subsidy. This is a long way from the Founders’ understanding of the independent sovereignty of religion that the government is bound to respect.

Richard John Neuhaus was profound, civilized and witty, and "The Public Square" was one of my favorite features anywhere in the world's media. It was, as Ramesh says, a brilliant achievement.

01/08 06:49 PM

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936–2009

By Joseph Bottum
January 9, 2009

Our great, good friend is gone.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather, for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception—414 E. 14th Street, New York City—on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 10 a.m.

Bishops and priests who wish to attend are asked please to inform Nathaniel Peters (by e-mail or phone 212-627-2288) by Sunday afternoon, January 11, at the latest.

A Christian wake service in the form of a Vigil for the Deceased will be celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Monday evening, January 12, at 7:30 p.m. Clergy who plan to attend are asked to sit with the congregation.

In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for Fr. Neuhaus’ work, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, online at this page or by mail to:

Institute on Religion and Public Life
156 Fifth Avenue
Suite 400
New York, NY 10010

Please accept our thanks for all your prayers and good wishes.

In Deepest Sorrow,

Joseph Bottum
First Things

January 9, 2009

How I Became the Catholic I Was
By Richard John Neuhaus

This essay by Richard John Neuhaus was published in the April 2002 issue of First Things.

This is more a story than an argument. It is in some ways a very personal story, and yet not without broader implications. It is just possible that some may discern in the story suggestions of an argument, even an argument about the nature of Lutheranism, and of Protestantism more generally.

When in 1990 I was received by the late John Cardinal O’Connor into full communion with the Catholic Church—on September 8, the Nativity of Our Lady—I issued a short statement in response to the question Why. With Lutheran friends especially in mind, I said, “To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger. We travel together still.”

When Cardinal Newman was asked at a dinner party why he became a Catholic, he responded that it was not the kind of thing that can be properly explained between soup and the fish course. When asked the same question, and of course one is asked it with great frequency, I usually refer to Newman’s response. But then I add what I call the short answer, which is simply this: I became a Catholic in order to be more fully what I was and who I was as a Lutheran. The story that follows may shed some light on that short answer.

In the statement of September 8, 1990, I also said:

I cannot express adequately my gratitude for all the goodness I have known in the Lutheran communion. There I was baptized, there I learned my prayers, there I was introduced to Scripture and creed, there I was nurtured by Christ on Christ, there I came to know the utterly gratuitous love of God by which we live astonished. For my theological formation, for friendships beyond numbering, for great battles fought, for mutual consolations in defeat, for companionship in ministry—for all this I give thanks. . . . As for my thirty years as a Lutheran pastor, there is nothing in that ministry that I would repudiate, except my many sins and shortcomings. My becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church will be the completion and right ordering of what was begun all those years ago. Nothing that is good is rejected, all is fulfilled.

Begin at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the Ottawa Valley of Canada. To be brought up a Lutheran, at least a Missouri Synod Lutheran, at least there and at least then, was to know oneself as an ecclesial Christian. Of course I did not put it that way as a young boy, nor was it put that way to me, but I would later see what had happened. An ecclesial Christian is one who understands with mind and heart, and even feels with his fingertips, that Christ and his Church, head and body, are inseparable. For the ecclesial Christian, the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church are not two acts of faith but one. In the words of the third century St. Cyprian, martyr bishop of Carthage, “He who would have God as his Father must have the Church as his mother.” In an important sense, every Christian, even the most individualistic, is an ecclesial Christian, since no one knows the gospel except from the Church. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—no salvation outside the Church—applies to all. For some, that truth is incidental; for the ecclesial Christian it is constitutive, it is at the very core, of faith and life.

In my Missouri Synod childhood there were seemingly little things that made a big difference. Some would call them “nontheological factors,” but I see now that they were fraught with theological significance. Across the street from the parsonage of St. John’s was an evangelical Protestant church. Also across the street lived my best friends, the Spooner brothers, who with their devoutly Catholic family attended St. Columkil’s Cathedral. I am sure it was unarticulated but self-evident to me by the time I was five years old that St. John’s and the cathedral had more in common than either had with the evangelical chapel. For one immeasurably momentous thing, our churches baptized babies. Then too, our being saved was something that God did through His Church; it was a given, a gift. It did not depend—as it did for Dougy Cahill, our evangelical friend—upon feelings or spiritual experience. It depended upon grace bestowed through things done.

Unlike the Spooner boys, I was in catechism class taught to speak of sola gratia, and was told that the truth in that phrase divided us from the Catholics, but, as best I can remember, I was much more impressed by the gratia and disinclined to pick a fight over the sola. We both knew that we were to keep the commandments and try to please God in all that we did. The distinction supposedly was that I, as a Lutheran, tried to be good in gratitude for being saved, while Catholics tried to be good in order to be saved. I don’t recall ever discussing this with the Spooner boys, but I expect we would have thought it a distinction without much of a difference. We knew we were baptized children of God for whom Christ died, and that it was a very bad thing to get on God’s wrong side. In catechism class I was told that they, as Catholics, were more afraid of God’s punishment than I, who was sure of forgiveness, but I never noticed that to be the case.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not theologically precocious at age five, or even ten. I was not even especially devout. I really didn’t like having to go to church. But I am looking back now, trying to understand the formation of an ecclesial Christian—a Christian of lower-case catholic sensibilities who would, step by step, be led to upper-case Catholic allegiance. There were other seemingly little things. St. John’s and the other Lutheran churches I knew had a high altar. As did the cathedral. With candles. Also important, there was not a bare cross but a crucifix. And a communion rail at which we knelt and received what we were taught was really and truly and without any equivocation the Body and Blood of Christ. As were the Spooner boys taught, and as we both said we believed although we agreed that we sure couldn’t figure it out. And we had catechisms to memorize that were almost identical in format and questions, although not always in answers. And everybody knew that the way to tell the difference between Catholic and Lutheran churches and all the others is that Catholics and Lutherans put a cross on top of their steeples instead of a weather vane or nothing at all.

Then too, although in catechism class I heard about sola scriptura, we both knew we had a Magisterium, although I’m sure I never heard the term. When it came to settling a question in dispute, they had the pope—and we had the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. It was perfectly natural to ask the question, “What’s our position on this or that?” The “our” in the question self-evidently referred to the Missouri Synod, and the answer was commonly given by reference to an article in the synod’s official publication, The Lutheran Witness, usually written, or so it seemed, by Dr. Theodore Graebner. Why the Spooners went to one church and we to another seemed obvious enough; they were Catholics and we were Lutherans. They were taught that they belonged to the “one true Church” and I was taught that I belonged to the Missouri Synod and all those who are in doctrinal agreement with the Missouri Synod, which community made up “the true visible Church on earth.” So, between their ecclesiological claim and ours, it seemed pretty much a toss-up. They were taught that, despite my not belonging to the one true Church, I could be saved by virtue of “invincible ignorance.” I was taught that, despite their not belonging to the true visible Church on earth, they could be saved by—in the delicious phrase of Francis Pieper, Missouri’s chief dogmatician—”felicitous inconsistency.”

I doubt if ever for a moment the Spooner boys thought that maybe they should be Lutheran. I am sure that I as a boy thought—not very seriously, certainly not obsessively—but I thought about being a Catholic. It seemed that, of all the good things we had, they had more. Catholicism was more. Then too, I knew where all those good things we had came from. They came from the Church that had more. Much later I would hear the schism of the sixteenth century described as, in the fine phrase of Jaroslav Pelikan, a “tragic necessity.” I thought, then and now, that the tragedy was much more believable than the necessity. But in my boyhood, the division did not seem tragic. It was just the way things were. I do not recall anything that could aptly be described as anti-Catholicism. My father’s deer hunting buddy was a Catholic priest, and deer hunting, for my Dad, was something very close to communicatio in sacris. In the Missouri Synod of those days, praying with Catholics—or anyone else with whom we were not in complete doctrinal agreement—was condemned as “unionism.” The rules didn’t say anything about the deep communion of deer hunting.

Of course, we kids went to different schools; they to the “separate” (meaning Catholic) school and we to the “public” (meaning Protestant) school. Sometimes they would walk home on one side of the street and shout, “Catholic, Catholic ring the bell / Protestant, Protestant go to hell.” To which we on the other side of the street reciprocated by reversing the jingle. It was all in good fun, much like a school cheer. I don’t think for a moment that either of us thought it had any reference to the other’s eternal destiny. It is just the way things were. There were other differences. Tommy and Eddie went to confession, and I was curious about that. At St. John’s Lutheran, on Saturday evenings before “communion Sunday,” people came to “announce” for communion, a pale ritual trace of what had once been confession, utterly devoid of any sense of sacramental mystery. It was a simple matter of writing down their names in the “communion book,” and, if my Dad wasn’t there to do it, it was done by my Mother or one of my older siblings.

And there was this: St. Columkil’s had a bishop, put there, it was said, by the pope in Rome. St. John’s had, well, my Dad, put there, as he told the story, by his seminary classmate who got him the call. To be sure it was, in Missouri parlance, a “divine call,” but I wonder now if as a child I intuited that there was, between Bishop Smith and my Dad, some qualitative difference of ecclesial authority. Not that I was inclined to doubt what my Dad taught. After all, he had the Bible, Martin Luther, and the St. Louis faculty on his side. And he was indisputably authoritative in manner. Not for nothing during his days at seminary was he called “Pope Neuhaus.” But this young boy sensed, although he could not say just how, that between the Bishop of Pembroke and the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Pembroke, there was a qualitative difference of office.

It was not a matter of life-or-death urgency. Live and let live was the order of the day. Where we differed, we were right and they were wrong. In disagreeing with Catholics, everybody on our side—what was vaguely described as the Protestant side—was agreed. But then, we Lutherans disagreed with many Protestants and took the Catholic side when it came to, for instance, baptizing babies and knowing that Jesus is really and truly and without equivocation present in the Holy Communion. It was all very confusing, and didn’t bear too much thinking about. I would in time come to understand that the question is that of authority, and it must be thought about very carefully indeed.

I will return to the question of authority, but for now I simply underscore the ways in which being brought up a Missouri Lutheran—at least then and at least there—produced an ecclesial Christian. One might also speak of a sacramental Christian or an incarnational Christian, but, whatever the terminology, the deepest-down conviction, the most irrepressible sensibility, is that of the touchability, the visibility, the palpability of what we might call “the Christian thing.” To use the language of old eucharistic controversies, finitum capax infiniti—the finite is capable of the infinite. Put differently, there is no access to the infinite except through the finite. Or yet again, God’s investment in the finite can be trusted infinitely. Although Lutheran theology discarded the phrase, it is the ex opere operato conviction evident in Luther’s ultimate defiance of Satan’s every temptation by playing the trump card, “I am baptized!” Ex opere operato is the sacramental enactment of sola gratia. It is uncompromisingly objective. By it morbid introspection, the delusions of religious enthusiasm, and the endlessly clever postulations of the theological imagination are called to order by truth that is answerable to no higher truth; for it is Christ, who is the Truth, who speaks in the voice of his Church-”I baptize you . . . ,” “I forgive you your sins . . . ,” “This is my body . . .”

Moving forward to my teenage years, I had in high school what our evangelical friends would call a born-again experience, and for a time viewed with contempt the ritual and sacramental formalities of what I thought to be a spiritually comatose Lutheranism. For a time, I suppose I might have been a good candidate for the Baptist ministry, but it did not last. Missouri’s traditional hostility toward “pietism”—an exaggerated emphasis on the affective dimension of Christian faith—struck me as hostility toward piety. But after a period of frequently anguished uncertainty about the possibility of sorting out subjective experience and egotistic assertiveness from the workings of grace, I came to a new appreciation of Luther’s warnings against religious enthusiasm. Several years later, at Concordia, St. Louis, I was to discover the possible synthesis of piety, clear reason, and ecclesial authority in the person and teaching of Professor Arthur Carl Piepkorn.

The students most closely gathered around him called him—behind his back, to be sure—”the Pieps,” and those who in American Lutheranism today describe themselves as “evangelical catholics”—perhaps a fourth or more of the clergy—are aptly called the Piepkornians. Piepkorn was a man of disciplined prayer and profound erudition, and was deeply engaged in the liturgical renewal and the beginnings of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. At St. Louis he taught the Lutheran confessional writings of the sixteenth century, which he insistently called “the symbolical books of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.” They were, he insisted, the “symbols” of a distinctive communion within the communion of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. They represented a way of being catholic as the heirs of a Reformation that was intended to be a movement of reform within and for the one Church of Christ.

Piepkorn underscored the Church’s tradition prior to the Reformation, the tradition of which Lutheranism was part. The accent was on continuity, not discontinuity. Perhaps the sixteenth century break was necessary—although that was never emphasized—but certainly the Lutheran Reformation, unlike other movements that claimed the Reformation heritage, had no delusions about being a new beginning, a so-called rediscovery of the gospel, by which the authentic and apostolic Church was reconstituted. Lutheranism was not a new beginning but another chapter in the history of the one Church. The Church is not a theological school of thought, or a society formed by allegiance to theological formulas—not even formulas such as “justification by faith”—but is, rather, the historically specifiable community of ordered discipleship through time, until the end of time. Piepkorn emphasized that we are Christians first, catholic Christians second, and Lutheran Christians third. In this understanding, the goal was to fulfill the promise of the Lutheran Reformation by bringing its gifts into full communion with the Great Tradition that is most fully and rightly ordered through time in the Roman Catholic Church.

In this understanding, the conclusion of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 was taken to be normative. There the signers declare:

Only those things have been recounted which it seemed necessary to say in order that it may be understood that nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic. For it is manifest that we have guarded diligently against the introduction into our churches of any new and ungodly doctrines.

For us Piepkornians, everything was to be held accountable to that claim. In some streams of Lutheran orthodoxy, as well as in Protestant liberalism, a very different notion of normativity was proposed. In the language of the twentieth-century Paul Tillich, catholic substance was to be held in tension with Protestant principle, with Protestant principle having the corrective and final word. But a principle that is not part of the substance inevitably undermines the substance. And what is called the Protestant principle is, as we know from sad experience, so protean, so subject to variation, that it results either in the vitiation of doctrine itself or further schism in the defense of doctrinal novelty. Theology that is not in service to “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) turns against the faith once delivered to the saints. Ideas that are not held accountable to “the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) will in time become the enemy of that truth. Such was our understanding of the normative claim of the Augustana to have received nothing contrary to Scripture or to the Catholic Church.

But the Lutheran chapter in the history of the Church did occasion schism, and for that unhappy fact there was blame enough to share all around. In my judgment, the division was tragic but not necessary. There was and is no truth that requires division from the pillar and bulwark of truth. The Catholic Church, as Chesterton observed, is ever so much larger from the inside than from the outside. And especially is that the case, I would add, for those whose identity as Protestants depends upon their being outside. And so it was that for thirty years as a Lutheran pastor, thinker, and writer, as editor of Una Sancta, an ecumenical journal of theology, and, later, Forum Letter, an independent Lutheran publication, I worked for what I incessantly called “the healing of the breach of the sixteenth century between Rome and the Reformation.” For a long time there seemed to be believable, albeit painfully slow, movement toward that goal. Very hopeful was the reappropriation of the Lutheran tradition associated with the nineteenth-century “evangelical catholic,” Wilhelm Loehe, and the ressourcement—the going back to the sources—evident in the 1970s production and reception of the Lutheran Book of Worship. Then too, there were promising new levels of understanding and theological reconciliation achieved in the formal Lutheran-Roman Catholic theological dialogues. These hopeful signs, however, were not to last.

The last several decades have not been kind to Lutheranism. By the end of the 1980s it seemed evident to me that real, existent Lutheranism—as distinct from Lutheranism as an idea or school of thought—had, willy-nilly but decisively, turned against the fulfillment of its destiny as a reforming movement within the one Church of Christ. Lutheranism in all its parts, both in this country and elsewhere, had settled for being a permanently separated Protestant denomination; or, as the case may be, several Protestant denominations. Some of my Lutheran friends say that, in entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, I acted precipitously, I jumped the gun. To which I say that I hope they are right; and if, someday in some way that cannot now be foreseen, there is ecclesial reconciliation and a healing of the breach of the sixteenth century, I hope that my decision will have played at least a minuscule part in that happy outcome.

Mine was a decision mandated by conscience. I have never found it in his writings, but a St. Louis professor who had been his student told me that the great confessional Lutheran theologian Peter Brunner regularly said that a Lutheran who does not daily ask himself why he is not a Roman Catholic cannot know why he is a Lutheran. That impressed me very deeply. I was thirty years a Lutheran pastor, and after thirty years of asking myself why I was not a Roman Catholic I finally ran out of answers that were convincing either to me or to others. And so I discovered not so much that I had made the decision as that the decision was made, and I have never looked back, except to trace the marks of grace, of sola gratia, each step of the way.

My reception occasioned some little comment, in cluding the observation that I and others who make this decision have a “felt need for authority.” This is usually said in a condescending manner by people who believe that they are able to live with ambiguities and tensions that some of us cannot handle. Do I have a felt need for authority, for obedience, for submission? But of course. Obedience is the rightly ordered disposition toward truth, and submission is subordination of the self to that by which the self is claimed. Truth commands, and authority has to do with the authorship, the origins, of commanding truth. By what authority? By whose authority? There are no more important questions for the right ordering of our lives and ministries. Otherwise, in our preaching, teaching, and entire ministry we are just making it up as we go along, and, by acting in God’s name, taking His name in vain.

It was sadly amusing to read that a Lutheran denomination in this country is undertaking a major study with a view toward revising its teaching on sexual morality, with particular reference to homosexuality. Especially striking was the assurance that the study would be conducted “without any prior assumptions.” Imagine that. The entire course of Christian fidelity is obedience to the received truth of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and the Spirit’s guiding of the Church’s reflection on that truth. At some point this Lutheran body will arrive at its new teaching. Through a complicated process of bureaucratic planning, interest group agitation, and a legitimating majority vote, it will eventually arrive at the point of saying “this we believe, teach, and confess.” Undoubtedly Scripture will be cited, but, as Luther said, biblical texts, like wax noses, can be twisted to fit. If, as seems probable, this body adopts a new teaching and one asks by what authority it teaches this new doctrine, the only honest answer will be, “Because we will it to be so.” “It is what was decided by the procedures adopted by our religious society,” they might say. “Ours is, after all, a voluntary association, so nobody else has any right to complain.” By the rules of that denomination, the Church through time and the contemporary Church universal, to which Christ promised the Spirit’s guidance, does not get a vote.

From my boyhood intuitions as an ecclesial Christian, it seemed self-evident that, if God intended to reveal any definite truths for the benefit of humankind, and if Jesus intended a continuing community of discipleship, then some reliable means would be provided for the preservation and transmission of such truths through the centuries. Catholics believe that God did provide such reliable means by giving the apostles and their successors, the bishops, authority to teach in His name and by promising to be with them forever. The teaching of the apostles and of the apostolic churches, securely grounded in the biblical Word of God, continues to this day, and will continue to the end of time. Catholics believe that, under certain carefully prescribed circumstances, the pope and the whole body of bishops are able to teach with infallibility. That is a word that frightens many, but I don’t think it should. It means that the Church is indefectible, that we have God’s promise that He will never allow the Church to definitively defect from the truth, to fall into apostasy. Infallibility, Avery Cardinal Dulles writes, “is simply another way of saying that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Church against using its full authority to require its members to assent to what is false.” Without that assurance, he adds, “the truth of revelation would not be preserved in recognizable form.” And, I would add, to obey the truth we must be able to recognize the truth.

The question of authority, the question of Who says so?, has been with the Church from the beginning. In Corinth some invoked Peter, some Paul, some Apollos, and some Christ. And so it was later with the Montanists, the Arians, the Nestorians, the Valentinians, the Donatists, and on and on. A sure mark of a heretical and schismatic community, said St. Augustine, is that it names itself by a man or an idea rather than by the simple title “Catholic.” Also centuries later, for example in the sixteenth century, those who had sense enough to know that the Church did not begin with their new theological insight tried to reconstruct Christian history to fit their views. Thus the Lutheran Matthias Illyricus Flacius compiled the Magdeburg Centuries; thus followers of John Knox claimed to have reestablished the polity of the New Testament Church; thus the “Landmarkist” historiography of American Baptists who trace the lineage of the one true Church through Cathari, Waldensians, Lollards, Albigenses, and all the way back to Jesus himself. All such efforts attempt to answer the question of authority. Some are less ludicrous than others, but none is plausible. As St. Augustine and all Catholic teachers have known, the teaching of the Church is lived forward, not reconstructed backward.

St. Augustine appealed to the securus judicat orbis terrarum—the secure judgment of the whole world, by which he meant the Catholic Church. Yes, but what do you do when that judgment is unclear or in heated dispute? Augustine’s answer is that you wait, in firm communion with the Catholic Church and in firm confidence that the Holy Spirit will, as promised, clarify the matter in due course. The point is that apostolic doctrine cannot be maintained over time without apostolic ministry, meaning ministry that is both apostolic in its origins and apostolic in its governing authority. This argument is brilliantly advanced in his polemic against the Donatists, who appealed to St. Cyprian as precedent for refusing to recognize the sacraments of the traditores, those who had lapsed in time of persecution. Yes, answered Augustine, the holy Cyprian was confused, and admitted as much; but he awaited clarification by the securus judicat orbis terrarum. The one thing he would not do, unlike the Donatists, was to break communion with the Catholic Church.

The Church is holy in practice and correct in doctrine, said the schismatic Donatists, and therefore it cannot exist in communion with the unholy and erring. It follows that the Donatists are the true Church. To which Augustine replied:

If, therefore, by such communion with the wicked the just cannot but perish, the Church had already perished in the time of Cyprian. Whence then sprang the origin of Donatus? Where was he taught, where was he baptized, where was he ordained, since [you claim that] the Church had been already destroyed by the contagion of communion with the wicked? But if the Church still existed, the wicked could do no harm to the good in one communion with them. Wherefore did you separate yourselves?

“Wherefore did you separate yourselves?” Augustine’s question echoes down through the centuries, directed at all who have separated themselves from communion with the Catholic Church. Today the criticism is heard that the Catholic Church, for all its magisterial authority, will permit almost anything in teaching or practice so long as one does not formally break communion with the Church. There is truth in that, although I think it not a criticism but a compliment. While what Lutherans call the publica doctrina, the public teaching, of the Catholic Church is lucidly clear, it is true that the Church bends every effort, puts the best construction on every deviant opinion, in order to avoid what Augustine calls “the heinous and damnable sin of schism.” For instance, in the twenty-three years of the supposedly authoritarian pontificate of John Paul II, the number of theologians publicly censured can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the only schism has been that of the integralist Lefebvrists of France. Disagreement, confusion, and false teaching can do great evil, but the remedy for such evil is always to be found in communion with that body that is gifted with the charism of providing securus judicat orbis terrarum.

Councils can err, said the Reformers. No, says the Catholic Church, but the Church’s teaching lives forward, and no definition, including that of councils, is entirely adequate to the whole of the truth. The Catholic Church has always taught with St. Paul that now, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood. Along the way to that eschatological fullness—which is a frequently jagged, confusing, and conflicted way—it is promised to the Church that she will not, she will not irretrievably, lose the way. It is not everything that we might want, but it is enough; it is more than enough.

The Church’s teaching lives forward; it is not reconstructed backward—whether from the fifth century or the sixteenth or the nineteenth or the twenty-first. But through all the changes of living forward, how do we know what is corruption and what is authentic development? Recall Cardinal Newman’s reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church’s apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority. And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church’s old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth “ever ancient, ever new.”

And so it is that this ecclesial Christian, this son of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Pembroke, this former Lutheran pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn, was led to September 8, 1990, to be received into full communion by John Cardinal O’Connor in his residence chapel of St. John the Evangelist, my patron saint. In every way, including my awareness of the intercession of St. John, the continuities are ever so much more striking than the discontinuities. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, my Protestant brothers and sisters are, by virtue of baptism and faith in Christ, truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church. Which means also, of course, that I am truly but imperfectly in communion with them. Moreover, and according to the same Council, all the saving and sanctifying grace to be found outside the boundaries of the Catholic Church gravitates toward the perfection of that imperfect communion. Some view the Catholic Church as claiming to be self-sufficient, but that is not true. Her ecclesiology is such that, of all Christian communions, she knows herself to be most in need. Nowhere are the words Ut unum sint, “that they may all be one,” prayed so fervently; nowhere is the wound of our broken communion felt so keenly; nowhere is the commitment to reconciliation so relentless or irrevocable.

It would take another essay to survey the current prospect for such reconciliation. Suffice it to say that, whether with respect to the Orthodox Church of the East or the separated communions of the West, these are hard times for ecumenism, hard times for the hope for Christian unity. But the Church has known many times that were harder, much harder; she has learned that the better part of fidelity is sometimes simply persistent waiting upon the movement of the Holy Spirit toward possibilities that she can neither anticipate nor control, but for which we must together pray.

As for now, I end where I began—as in my life’s course I began where I have ended—by saying again: “To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger. We travel together still.”

Rev. R. J. Neuhaus, Political Theologian, Dies at 72

The New York Times
January 9, 2009

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a theologian who transformed himself from a liberal Lutheran leader of the civil rights and antiwar struggles in the 1960s to a Roman Catholic beacon of the neoconservative movement of today, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 72 and lived in Manhattan.

Paul Hosefros/The New York Times
Father Neuhaus, right, at a 1997 Congressional hearing on religious persecution. To his right were Trent Lott, the Senate Republican leader, center, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

He learned that he had cancer in November and recently developed a systemic infection that doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center say led to his death, said Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life. Father Neuhaus founded the journal and served as editor in chief.

Father Neuhaus’s best-known book, “The Naked Public Square,” argued that American democracy must not be stripped of religious morality. Published in 1984, it provoked a debate about the role of religion in affairs of state and was embraced by the growing Christian conservative movement.

In the last 20 years, Father Neuhaus helped give evangelical Protestants and Catholics a theological framework for joining forces in the nation’s culture wars.

With Charles Colson, the former Watergate felon who became a born-again leader of American evangelicals, Father Neuhaus convened a group that in 1994 produced “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” It was a widely distributed manifesto that initially came under fire by critics, who accused the two men of diluting theological differences for political expediency. But the document was ultimately credited with helping to cement the alliance, which has reshaped American politics.

“Richard’s Protestant background gave him a unique brokerage position,” George Weigel, a Catholic commentator and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Weigel likened Father Neuhaus to the Rev. John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit theologian who was often called on to navigate the relationship between religion and American government in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Mr. Weigel said of Father Neuhaus, “He was a philosopher and theologian of American democracy, and that is the bright line that links all” the stages of his life.

Father Neuhaus underwent several conversions in his life. He was born in Pembroke, Ontario, and emigrated to the United States, which he came to love fervently. He was a Lutheran minister, like his father, but at the age of 54 was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Politically, he evolved from a liberal Democrat and admirer of Senator Eugene J. McCarthy to a conservative and occasional adviser to President Bush.

No matter which side he was on, Father Neuhaus was always a leader. The Rev. Max L. Stackhouse, a professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, said he first glimpsed Pastor Neuhaus marching in Selma, Ala., in a row of clergy members flanking the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He thought that somebody ought to be out front carrying the ball, and he designated himself, and he was pretty good at it,” Dr. Stackhouse said. “He was not poverty-stricken when it came to confidence, and he did a lot of his homework and made judgments and felt very secure in them. He did enjoy controversy.”

In the 1960s, he was pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, a predominantly black and Hispanic Lutheran congregation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was arrested at a sit-in at the New York City Board of Education headquarters, demanding integration of the public schools.

With the war in Vietnam raging, he and other prominent members of the clergy, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, founded Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam, an advocacy group. This contact with Jewish and Catholic leaders seeded his passion for interfaith dialogue.

In 1968, Pastor Neuhaus was a delegate for Senator McCarthy to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. When the Chicago police clashed with demonstrators, he was among those arrested and tried for disorderly conduct.

Two years later, he made an unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic candidate for the Congressional seat representing the 14th District, in Brooklyn.

By the mid-1970s his ideas about the relationship between religion and politics were evolving. He helped write a theological statement criticizing churches for speaking out on secular social issues without sufficient attention to faith and spirituality.

He joined conservative clergy members in a campaign against the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, accusing the organizations of a taking a leftist approach to international affairs and cozying up to Marxist governments. He wrote the founding manifesto for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a group that challenges mainline Protestant denominations it considers too liberal.

In 1990, after years of uneasiness in the Lutheran church, Father Neuhaus was accepted into the Catholic Church by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York in the chapel of the cardinal’s residence on Madison Avenue. A year later the cardinal ordained him a priest. Father Neuhaus insisted that his conversion was not so much political as theological. He said the goal of Martin Luther’s Reformation had always been a united Christian church.

“I have long believed that the Roman Catholic Church is the fullest expression of the church of Christ through time,” he said in an interview then.

His survivors include his sisters, Mildred Schwich of East Wenatchee, Wash., and Johanna Speckhard of Valparaiso, Ind.; and his brothers, Clemens, of Redlands, Calif.; George, of Seeshaupt, Germany; Joseph, of Stone Mountain, Ga.; and Thomas, of St. Hippolyte, Quebec.

Father Neuhaus wrote and edited nearly 30 books, among them “The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World,” “Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus From the Cross,” and “As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning,” about his near-death experience during an early bout with colon cancer.

He advised President Bush and the White House on issues like stem cell research and gay marriage. On Thursday, President and Mrs. Bush issued a statement praising “his wise counsel and guidance.” When Time magazine published a list of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America in 2005, Father Neuhaus, despite his Roman Catholic affiliation, was on it.

In First Things, the journal he founded, he maintained a column of caustic commentary on political, social and religious developments until he fell ill last year.

Father Neuhaus’s last book was “American Babylon,” to be published in March by Basic Books. In it, he depicts America as a nation defined by consumerism and decadence and argues that Christians must learn to live there as if they are in exile from the promised land.