Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine May-June 2009

Richard John Neuhaus died on 8th January this year at the age of seventy-two. Here are some of his ever pertinent reflections from across the years.


1. There are, however, other movements afoot. When the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) came out in 1989, Canadians jumped the gun and started using it in the Mass. Rome jumped on the Canadians, noting that there were doctrinal problems with the NRSV, which was in some instances more an interpretation than a translation. What is called "inclusive language," for example, substituted the third person plural for "he" and "him" in Old Testament passages that the Church has always understood to refer to Christ. The Canadians got to work

on revising the NRSV to meet Rome's objections and report that they have now received official approval for their rendering of the lessons used in Sunday Mass. (A further advantage of the Catholic edition of the RSV is that, unlike the Canadian Revised New Revised Standard Version, it is a complete Bible, meaning the same text can be used for study and for liturgical purposes.) But now there may be a question about whether the National Council of Churches (NCC), which holds the copyright for the RSV and NRSV, will go along with Canada's RNRSV. (03/07)

2.  Meanwhile - are you still with me? -other English-speaking conferences, led by the UK and Australia, decided to undertake their own revision of the NRSV. The project was going along swimmingly until, quite abruptly, the NCC let it be known that it would not give permission for the NRSV to be used in the form proposed. So the Brits and Aussies are now thinking about using the Jerusalem Bible (JB) as the basis of their new lectionary. The Jerusalem Bible has its origins in a French project and made its first appearance in English in 1966. In 1985 a thoroughly "updated" revision was issued in English, the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB). The JB has an imprimatur for study purposes but not for liturgical use. (One notes that, after some hassle, it was decided that the Scripture referencesin the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be "adapted" texts from the RSV and NRSV.) So this would seem to leave us with the prospect of a Canadian RNRSV, a Brit-Aussie RNJB, and of course the American NAB - the last being in a constant state of revision, which makes it now, give or take an R or two, the RRRNAB. (It may be hard to believe, but in 1985, I think it was, Forbes magazine declared the Catholic Church to be the most efficiently managed international institution in the world.) The Second Vatican Council called for a common biblical text for each language group, preferably one produced in ecumenical cooperation. The Catholic edition of the RSV fits that description perfectly, but the bishops of the Antilles are alone in recognising that. The upshot of allthis is that, for the foreseeable future, American Catholics at Mass will be compelled to endure the clumsy novelties and embarrassing gaucheries of the ever evolving NAB. It really does seem that there ought to be an alternative other than moving to Bermuda. (03/07)

3. Of course it's a lie, but the sheer brazenness of it elicits something akin Jo respect. It's this week's new Bible translation (it does seem there is one every week), which is, as is all too often the case, no translation at all. This one is called The Inclusive New Testament and is published by an outfit called Priests for Equality, in Hyattsville, Maryland. Read what Anne Carr, professor of theology at the University of Chicago, no less, says about it: "The text reads smoothly and beautifully, betraying no other agenda than a faithful rendition of the New Testament." Uh huh. Then read the allegedly faithful rendition of, for instance, Colossians 3:18ff. But first recall the passage (Revised Standard Version): "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord." And so forth. Now the same (so to speak) passage in The Inclusive New Testament: "You who are in committed relationships, be submissive to each other. This is your duty in Christ Jesus. Partners joined by God, love each other. Avoid any bitterness between you." And so forth. What to do when faced with a problematic text? Simply to say it is wrong might offend the faithful. Explaining how it really says what one wishes it to say takes effort, and may be unpersuasive. The much easier, albeit dishonest, thing is to rewrite the text and call it a translation. Professor Carr is the author of Transforming Grace. Watch for her next book,Transforming Texts. (11/95)


Long ago, when I was a student at Concordia College (now Concordia University) in Austin, Texas, I was greatly impressed by a sermon that kept returning to the theme, "God has no grandchildren. He only has children." The preacher's point was that faith cannot be inherited; each of us become children of God by our own act of faith. I do not reject that insight when I observe that, in saying Mass today, there are few parts of the rite that so consistently touch my heart as the phrase before the Sign of Peace, "Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church." The Church does believe with me, and for me. We do have grandparents and brothers and sisters and cousins and a host of the faithful both here and in glory who sustain us in faith. This truth was brought to mind in reading anaddress on "The Question of Authority" by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster in England. He cites the commentary by Henri de Lubac on the statement by the third-century Origen, "For myself, I desire to be truly ecclesiastic." I have written a good bit on what it means to be an "ecclesiastical Christian," and some say they are puzzled by the phrase. I mean what de Lubac writes in The Splendor of the Church: "Anyone who is possessed by a similar desire will not find it enough to be loyal or obedient to perform -iexactly everything demanded by his profession of the Catholic faith. Such a man will have fallen in love with the beauty of the house of God; the Church will have stolen his heart." Which is to say that Christ has stolen his heart. Murphy-O'Connor notes thattoday the word "authority" is so problematic because it is habitually associated with power. But ecclesial authority is grounded in love, the love of God in Christ. He writes: "The Church has nothing to offer but Jesus Christ. The reality that the Church offers to our world is Christ, his gift of forgiveness and his gift of love. These are given in his word, in his sacraments, in his presence, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Like Peter in the Acts of Apostles, we say, 'I have neither silver nor gold but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, walk,' and Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up (Acts 3:6-7). If Christ's is the authority of the Church, Peter is the model of its exercise. He is also a sign of the paradox which is ourexperience of human weakness and God-given strength. Peter was given the power of the keys, but it was not because he was strong or because he was faithful. He was, for some considerable time, neither. He betrayed Jesus out of his own mouth. His shame and his moral collapse at that moment was utterly disabling. Surely Peter is the least authoritative and trustworthy of founders? One might think so; but it is here that something of the mystery of God's graciousness and freedom is revealed, and, as with the cross, we discover a truth which is a source of incomprehension (perhaps even scandal) to many. The answer is that we can trust Peter precisely because he has fallen, because he is weak, because he is forgiven, and because he is raised up to service. We trust him because in him we seeGod's power working in our human weakness. Peter knew from his own experience the depth of the gift he offered; he knew that it was neither his gift nor his authority but that of the One he denied and yet loved. Like each one of us, he experienced not only his own need of forgiveness; he experienced first hand from where that forgiveness comes. He was both empowered and commissioned to go out and to offer that same forgiveness to the whole of mankind. He was indeed the rock on which the Church was founded. She, like Peter, speaks not out of any kind of false strength, but out of her experience of weakness. And she speaks God's truth that she lives and experiences every day. This is the authentic voice of the Church, a voice enriched with the gifts our Lord has given her and emboldened andquickened with the authority with which he has invested her:

'Go therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and know that I am with you always, even to the end of time.'" (2/03) (cf Joe Carola's article The Sinful Priest: Minister of the Church's Faithfulness, Faith Nov '08)


Collective Spirituality Behind Youth Crowds for Pope?" asks the headline of a story in Religion Watch. We don't usually use the word "collective", but some Christians, the apostle Paul included, do think Christianity is a corporate thing, as, for example, in "Church". The report is based on a sniffishly dismissive article in The Tablet (London) on how the pope manages to attract crowds of hundreds of thousands and even millions all over the world. "The Pope believes in a powerful, visible and obedient Church. The large assemblies of Catholics who congregate during his pastoral visits are the best expression of this muscular Christianity.... It is interesting to note that those who organise the youth days are the trusted 'Pope's legions': Opus Dei, theFocolare, Communione e Liberazione, charismatics and the rest, while those who attend are often the vast mass of drifters, of semi-believers, those who seek the warmth and emotion of a mass meeting, whether it be Woodstock, a Billy Graham rally or St. Peter's Square." In fact, events such as the recent world youth gathering in Paris are organised by the local church, but more interesting is the reassurance that properly liberal Tablet types would not be caught dead attending, never mind helping to organise, such gatherings of the great unwashed. "Charismatics and the rest" is a particularly nice touch. It has even been rumoured that this pope has approved of eating with tax collectors and sinners. The more decorous Catholics of England cannot help but be nervous about what theirAnglican friends will think of them. (2/98)

Faith Magazine