Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Missing R.J.N. on the First Things 20th Anniversary

Today's mail brought the latest volume of First Things -- as it happens, the 20th Anniversary issue.  It's been a little over a year since Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things, passed away, and this issue, a sort of "greatest hits" issue that includes his classic 2002 essay "How I Became the Catholic I Was", reminds me of how much I miss him.  A Christian thinker and writer of exceptional grace, wit, and charity, Neuhaus' death left a vacuum that will not soon be filled.  The following passage, in particular, exemplifies his style and substance:   

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 . . ."

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