Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square by Randy Boyagoda
With an eye towards the most important details of Richard John Neuhaus’ life, author Randy Boyagoda has penned an informative and wide-ranging book on one of modern Catholicism’s most notable figures. With a sense of highlighting the main features of Richard’s ministry, his long career at First Things, and his engagement with the church at all levels, Randy gives the reader a well-rounded portrait of Neuhaus.
Early on, Randy points out the way Richard’s experiences in school left an indelible mark on his life. Boyagoda recounts, “His very first teacher declared him “uneducable” and his parents pulled him out of school after this early, failed effort (34).” Yet, his father Clem nurtured his son’s insatiable desire for learning by putting him in front of his catechism class at the early age of ten years old (33). Richard was a bit of prankster at school yet remained enthralled with learning, albeit on his own path.
Concordia Seminary had a lasting impact upon Neuhaus throughout his entire life. One item that Boyagoda mentions is the influence of certain authors on his view of church/state relations. Boyagoda writes, “While at seminary he read The State and the New Testament, a 1956 treatise by Lutheran Scripture scholar Oscar Cullmann that advocated for the Gospel-driven necessity of Christian’s engaging with the secular state, which Neuhaus later invoked as “the one book that launched me into serious concern about church-state relationships (64).” I was amazed here at how Cullman had such a drastic impact since Cullman’s major work was directed toward Christology in the New Testament. Yet, it was the impetus for a burgeoning philosophy of church-state relations that Neuhaus took from Cullman.
We find an extraordinary amount of time during the Civil Rights era with Neuhaus involved in every facet of the fight against racism and those who opposed blacks. Boyagoda writes, “Indeed, rather than mixing with elites, Neuhaus pursued only greater involvements with the marginalized masses, as when he attended the August 1964 march on Washington (82).” His commitment to racial equality was initially fueled by his father’s long history of opposition to Nazism and the training he received, but the application of these principles were furthered by Neuhaus’ insistence that faith not remain in the shadows but in the light of social and cultural changing norms.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and hope that you will find a multi-faceted view of Richard John Neuhaus.
Thanks to Blogging for Books and Image for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.