September 29, 2020

Damning With Faint Protestant Praise and a Question for My Catholic Friends

Hello Catholic friends. I’ve got a good one for you.

The passing of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has been noted on many Protestant blogs, and, unfortunately, some of the commentary has been a far cry from the classy tribute of Paul McCain.

More typical is this post by Greg Gilbert, who can’t quite see how Fr. Neuhaus could become or remain a Catholic. But with the quoted material from 2001’s Death on A Friday Afternoon in mind, there’s “some hope” that Neuhaus was saved by believing the Protestant Gospel.

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.

Gilbert’s comments are also typical of the mindset of many young, restless and reformed, who believe the RCC is absent the Biblical Gospel.

So my Catholic readers, here’s your chance to speak directly to many young Protestants: Is the Neuhaus quote true to Roman Catholicism and what the church teaches, or is it an example of bringing the Protestant Gospel into one Catholic’s experience, but real Catholics know it’s not what the church teaches?


  1. OK, I’ll do an about-face on “plead” (Neuhaus), based on Hebrews ch. 7.

    Can’t believe I somehow missed that! 😉

  2. Am:

    I am not attempting to become Catholic. Not going to happen. Not interested in joining any closed communion fellowship. Haven’t changed my mind about any of the 5 reasons I’m a Happy Enough Protestant.

    My wife converted and I’m just trying to be less ignorant and more supportive of her. And to help other people on a similar journey for whatever reason.



  3. Oh, I know you don’t want to be Catholic – I’ve been reading the blog, I’ve got the whole story. By “other side” I meant – feeling at peace with Mrs. Monk’s decision (and that’s what I meant by “under duress”).
    Also, to answer your question, no there’s nothing odd or surprising or un-Catholic about the passage you quoted.

  4. Which is pretty much what I meant, Am. Yes, if you don’t formally defect, you’re still Catholic.

    Of course, then we get to play the fine game of “What is the thinnest thread we can spin?”

    If someone says “I’m a Catholic, but…” then we have to look at what they say and do. If you disagree with 99% of church doctrine as currently propounded, what does it mean to you to say “I’m Catholic”? What does it mean to you? Why stay, instead of moving to somewhere that fits better?

    Again, there has to be a distinction between not knowing what the teachings are through no fault of one’s own, and being told and rejecting them. Saying “Officially, Catholicism doesn’t permit (for example) contraception, but 86% of American Catholics are on the Pill (have no idea of figures, so don’t quote me here!)” – well, are they or are they not Catholics? They may not have formally defected, but if they don’t bother to examine the teaching and the reasons for it, let alone make up their minds one way or the other, then what are they but Catholics nominally?

    The point is – if we start making distinctions between Official Teaching (that those old guys in the Curia promulgate) and What’s Really Believed (the rest of us layfolk out here in the Real World), then something is wrong somewhere. It’s like saying “I support the exercise of the plebiscite in free elections, not army coups, as a means of deciding government” and then advocating that martial law be instituted, the senior general take over, and all civilian instruments of government be shut down for the foreseeable future.

  5. iMonk, I’ve been thinking of previous discussion (on your blog and elsewhere)about the Schaeffer family while reading this post and the many replies.

    I remember feeling a little crazy when I was at Swiss L’Abri (back in the day) because there seemed to be so many things that were in tension – not anything wrong, but highly paradoxical for sure. For years, I thought that my perceptions were probably somewhat off (I wasn’t there for very long, didn’t “live the life” the way some friends who became workers did) – until I started reading Frank’s Crazy for God. Lightbulbs were flashing in my head – ditto for now, reading his Calvin Becker novels. (Although I must add that I don’t know Frank or his parents.)

    Some people get freaked out, or angered (or whatever) by the things Frank says about his parents – because to them, the things he says with no ill intent are *so* against the grain that they know (or are used to). The inherent paradoxes are just so hard to grasp. That doesn’t make them any less real or true, though.

    I think it’s much the same when coming to grips with Roman Catholic doctrine vs. actual, everyday practice. And I’m really an “I must figure it out!” kinda gal, so I really sympathize with you in your effort to wrap your mind around it all, and in wanting to support your wife.

    But – maybe – figuring it out isn’t the solution? (As others have suggested.)

  6. Surfnetter, that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter if the Pope does or does not do it – it matters if *you*, Mr. and Ms. Average sitting in the pew, do it.

    If it doesn’t matter if we all receive communion in each other’s churches, then we’re saying it’s just a symbol. And a sham symbol, at that, because communion means what it says: we are agreed on these common things, we are gathered together in this group, we have these beliefs and not those, we accept and are joined together.

    If I commune with the Anglicans this week and the Baptists next week, I’m at one and the same time saying “Yes, I agree children should/should not be baptised; that baptism is/is not a sacrament; that there is/is not a hierarchical priesthood” and many, many other things.

    Now, either I believe ten contradictory things at once, or (what is more likely) I believe none of them, and I’m just doing what a visitor to a mosque would do in taking off his shoes – observing the forms of behaviour in the place without meaning that I am one of the congregation.

  7. To be honest,the Rev.Neuhaus quote does not sound very Roman Catholic to me. I grew up in the Catholic Church here in New England ,became an evangelical for a while and have since gone back to The Catholic Church. The Church teaches us that we are saved by proper belief in the teachings of the Church and by striving to live a holy life. His writing sounds very protestant evangelical to me. Opinions and personal beliefs are like a particular body orifice, everbody has one ,but what the Church officially teaches is what really matters.

  8. e2c: If we were discussing some theological minutia, I would agree, but if Catholics speaking IN PUBLIC contradict each other on major areas like communing in other churches, then the problem isn’t my desire to understand. It’s complete chaos. It’s either A or B. Can’t be both on everything, even in Catholicism.

  9. Okay, one last thing, and then I’ll shut my beak.

    I did comment before that it’s a good job that I was never in line to be Pope, because I’d have slapped an interdict on the American church, and if they didn’t toe the line sharpish, I’d have declared them in schism and excommunicated the whole lot of them.

    Given the 70s experiences as related by eC2, are you surprised at my attitude? 😉

  10. Yes, the communion thing is A or B. Not allowed! Seems like Surfnetter was making the argument that it is allowed because, like, he does it and the pope police haven’t come to take him away… which is unhelpful because you were clearly looking for a doctrinal answer.

  11. Are you all going to sit there and say that there are no degrees here –[Mod edit]

    I can sit down and have juice and bread at a Protestant picnic, but not in the Sanctuary. Why? Because the Protestants say we’re wrong about Communion and it doesn’t change. OK — so it’s still juice and bread –why can’t I have some then? Because the Pope says it will cause confusion, and the Protestants and i[mod edit] Catholics who like to blog here say that I have to listen to the Pope or I won’t be Catholic. But if I stole a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine and dressed up like the Pope and said Mass on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I’d just be an insane criminal, in need of much prayer and forgiveness. But I’d still be Catholic.

  12. An Anxious Anglican says

    iMonk: thanks for this post. I strongly suggest that anyone interested in this question compare Father Neuhaus’ comments with the Catholic Catechism online at I am amazed that no one has quoted it in response to your question! In particular, please note the following (the numbers are paragraphs, for those inclined to look):

    1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.

    1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

    2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty. A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”

    2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. the saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

    “After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone…. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” St. Therese of Liseaux

    I hope that you’re starting to get the picture. One of the joys of Catholicism is that it has a magisterium that one can consult, instead of relying upon individual judgment like that of “Surfnetter” and others. And the unavoidable assessment after reviewing the Catechism and its cited authorities is that Father Neuhaus’ was squarely within the heartland of Catholic doctrine in the writing at issue.

    But I am sure that Surfnetter will have an alternative opinion! 🙂

    May Father Neuhaus rest in peace and rise in glory! Let light perpetual shine upon him.

  13. Oh, honestly. IM didn’t ask – “Is there anyone who is a member of the Catholic Church and/or who considers themselves to be Catholic who thinks it’d be ok for my Catholic wife to take communion with me at my Church?” He asked DOES THE CHURCH ALLOW IT? And the answer is no, and nobody said it’s the same as murder by anyone’s lights so you’re just being goofy. And you’re being disrespectful to everyone with that picnic comment – when protestants take communion they don’t think it’s the same as “eating bread and juice at a picnic”. And if you do then I wonder why you participate in something you don’t value.

  14. What Surfnetter is saying is wrong, and can be corroborated as incorrect according to the Catechism and the practice of actual Catholics throughout the world. There’s always going to be some people doing and saying differing things, picking and choosing which parts of the whole to believe in.

    Protestants are no different than Catholics on this one. You said on the BHT that Southern Baptists would agree almost entirely on the important essentials. I found a report ( ), though I’m somewhat skeptical about the source, which indicates that 2 in 5 Baptists in Kentucky believe that Jesus Christ sinned while on Earth, among other things. No group has 100% adherence to it’s teachings (except for controlling cults, but that’s another story). I can say, with no reservations, that Surfnetter is absolutely wrong according to the universal teaching of the Catholic Church, because the teaching exists objectively. I can also say that Richard Neuhaus (on-topic, yay!) is teaching nothing other than the universal teaching of the Church, from Pentecost to Nicea to Trent to Vatican II to present day priests in San Francisco, California, because it exists objectively, and can be known.

    That Surfnetter is acting wrongly has no bearing on the existence of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

  15. Is it over yet? Can I look?? Father, please…

  16. What I’m driving at is that the impression that Catholicism is a “closed” communion is in doctrine only. And the open communion in all of the Protestant churches I have been a member of is in theory only. Protestants will bounce you out faster than you can blink for whatever is the Pastor’s pet peeve. I have never seen anyone denied Communion in a Catholic Church. Even for the horrible sin of communing with Protestants.

    But I’m sure there will be examples posted.

  17. CCC 1400:

    Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.” It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible.

  18. Martha:

    I think I have figured out why I like you. I really like RCs who know what being an RC is and are not afraid to say it.

  19. Surfnetter, if anybody listened to your insane Mass on the steps of the Vatican and believed what you were doing or saying, you’d be considered by the RCC a heretic and you’d eventually be excommunicated. So, no, you wouldn’t continue to be A Catholic if you knowingly acted in such a way as to cause confusion about the Church’s teachings.

    Also, Martha is my favorite.

  20. I’m sorry to see that this has devolved into a back-and-forth over who is more (or less) Catholic.

    If you believe Christ is truly present in the bread and wine, well… he is. At least, that’s per Luther and other early Lutheran cathechists. I’m with them on that (consubstantiation).

    Things aren’t as black and white, either-or as some folks are (I think) trying to make them, but that seems to fall more into the realm of practice than that of official doctrinal statements (from any church or branch thereof).

    Ah well.

  21. Holy Mother of God – pray for us
    Thomas Merton – pray for us
    Richard John Neuhaus – pray for us
    Killian Mooney – pray for us
    Karl Rahner – pray for us
    All ya’ll up there, please – pray for us

    We do need it.

  22. … pray for us. We do need it.

    “Amen” – from this corner. 🙂

  23. For the doctrinally-minded, some info. on the LutheranWorld Federation – RCC Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which might have a bearing on what Neuhaus said… 😉

  24. Michael,

    As a recent convert to Catholicism, I have all of the obnoxious fervency that you so often reference of converts. Nevertheless, having read the CCC and just about everything Joseph Ratzinger has ever written, I think that you were mislead by Surfnetter. I would suspect that he/she might be more of a Baby Boomer Catholic. As a relatively young Catholic who converted after the election of Benedict XVI, I assure you that most faithful Catholics TRY to follow the teaching of the Magesterium, and accept that teaching to be true and right.

  25. Wow,

    First, it is apparent that the “roll your own” version of “chinese menu theology” (I’ll have two fom column A and one each from columns B and C.) is alive and well in the American RCC.

    Also, to Surfnetter and DanD, what about integrity and faithfulness to your chosen cofession? When you join the Lutheran Church, you vow before God and the congregation to faithfully uphold the confession and teachings of the Lutheran church, even in the face of persecution and death. I’m not an expert on the RCC, but I’m sure they must have something similar for adult converts and confirmands. What does it say about you and/or your church that you so easily choose to ignore or reject certain teachings? (Not minutiae either.)

    If you guys are to be believed, it seems that there is enough latitude in RCC teaching for you guys to refute each other all day in regard to what is “Real” catholicism.

  26. Scott Miller says

    “Iknowverylittle” hits it right on the head. Catholics in these postings, and some of the Catholics I know, are not much different than the average American mystical evangelical – they believe what they feel is right, regardless of whether it lines up with Rome or not. And maybe in America Neuhaus and those who think and speak like him are indecipherable from Lutheran or Reformed. But if that is the case, then there really isn’t anything left of the difference and the Reformation. We wouldn’t need the Reformation and the distinction after all. But RCC “orthodoxy” would disagree. Realistically, the RCC still sees Protestants as apostate. I couldn’t marry my wife in the RCC.
    Its nice that we have “common ground” on some doctrinal points, but does that ultimately make any difference? The RCC would still recognize us Protestants as apostate and beckon us to abandon our Protestantism and return to the One True Church.

  27. Maybe I should try it, then, Patrick, if you really think I might get a following. Definitely be covered on the talks shows. As L. Ron Hubbard used to tell his friends: “If you want to get rich start a religion.” We could call it the
    Church of St. Dismas, and we would ONLY use legitimately stolen bread and wine (or grape juice,) and we could not take communion with anyone who used materials they owned legitimately — although a member could attend their services and would be encouraged to steal what he could for use in the legitimate practice of the True Faith.

    I like to use the “alien anthropologist” POV from time to time — as a reality check, so to speak. They’d be scratching their bald green heads and asking, “What are these crazy earthlings fighting about now?”

  28. Just a quick thought on some earlier comments,

    It might be semantics, but in my mind the english word “refrain” means something quite different than the phrase “absolute prohibition.”

    If I want to lose weight, I must refrain from eating M&Ms. This is not an absolute prohibition against eating them, but a recommended guideline. Am I off base with my thought here?

  29. “Because the Pope says it will cause confusion.”

    I think the Pope is right on this one, Surfnetter, because you’ve certainly confused Michael 🙂

    Michael, the answer is: no. Same way with the Baptists you know who visit the off-licence (liquor store?) Church says “No drinking.” They’re buying alcohol, but that’s different – it’s for medicinal purposes only, or it’s for non-Baptist guests, or come on, it’s only a beer not white lightning, or geez, this *is* the Century of the Anchovy now, you know.

  30. Boethius – my blushes 🙂

    (Yes! I knew being an embittered hold-out against all the warm fuzziness would pay off someday!) 😉

  31. Martha:

    I am anathema. Your’re supposed to be shunning me. 😉

  32. In my heart I am, Boethius 😉

  33. BlaineFabin says

    There is a portion, and probably a rather large portion of catholics who could care less what rome has to say if it conflicts with their own personal beliefs. That doesn’t change what catholicism really is, it only helps to explain why it is so often mis construed. To surfnetter and really anyone that feels that they should be sitting ex cathedra… please just shut up. If you cannot agree with what the church teaches then don’t claim to be a part of it. Don’t try to fashion it into your image because in reality is that many of us catholics are catholic because we do agree with the church, even on the difficult issues. This thread started because someone was startled at the claims of Neuhaus, and I suspect that part of the reason they were startled is because too often the only exposure to catholicism is from those catholics who aren’t really being catholic.

  34. Getting back on topic – we were supposed to be talking about the late Fr. Neuhaus, yes?

    According to Dan Gilgoff of the God & Country blog at “U.S. News & World Report” (thanks to the ‘GetReligion’ blog for pointing this one out):

    “The foot soldiers in the American Christian right have always been evangelical, but the movement’s intellectual armature is undeniably Roman Catholic, a dynamic personified by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic theologian and polemicist who died yesterday at 72.

    …Neuhaus’s death also reminds us that Catholics remain the brains of a conservative movement built on evangelical brawn.”

    So, Michael, apparently we’re the brains of the operation, the power behind the throne, the éminences grises lurking in the shadows pulling the strings of our puppets, and we graciously allow the Evangelicals to do the heavy lifting, knuckledragging, threatening grunting, and lurking menacingly in public – isn’t that a heartwarming example of ecumenism in action? 🙂

  35. It’s too bad that this discussion which began with the death of Fr. Neuhaus has turned into a discussion on communion practice, though it is not surprising. Communion practice and ecclesiology go hand in hand. As one believes about the Body of Christ, so one communes in the Body of Christ.

    This would be a great topic for the Liturgical Gangstas to kick around. I would love to hear from my fellow Gangstas on this, and the comment stream is sure to be long and vigorous.

  36. “…Neuhaus’s death also reminds us that Catholics remain the brains of a conservative movement built on evangelical brawn.”

    I think the author means that Neuhaus embodied both Catholic brains and Evangelical brawn. Only a former LCMS Lutheran to pull that off. ; )

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  37. Blew my own punch line: Only a former LCMS Lutheran could pull that off.

    Oh well, you know what I meant. Teaches me for blogging on a Sunday morning, though it is not 10:06 am.

  38. First I can’t type, then I can’t read. Martha was right. Gilgoff meant Catholic head, Evangelical heart.


    It still takes a Lutheran to bring ’em together, I say.

    I’m outa here. Off to Mass.

  39. This is from Neuhaus’s statement on converting to Roman Catholicism in 1990:

    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.

  40. Martha:

    I believe you.

    Of course evangelicals do all the physical work. Your men in authority find it difficult to work in dresses. Sorry, I could not resist.

  41. Be careful, Boethius. There may some Scotsmen listening ….