BY ANNA ARCO
BISHOP Tom Wright of Durham, considered by many to be one of the best Scripture scholars in the world, has written an acerbic response to Fr Riehard John Neuhaus's attack on his book Surprised by Hope, rejecting claims that his eschatology and ecclesiology are anti-Catholic. Bishop Wright's. rebuttal appeared on the website of First Things, an ecumenical journal which was founded and is edited by Fr Richard John Neuhaus. who has been described as one of America's 25 influential Evangelicals by Time magazine. The spat began when Fr Neuhaus criticised Bishop Wright's book for "anti-Catholicism" and said that "his argument is grievously marred by his heaping scorn on centuries of Christian piety revolving around the hope of 'going to heaven', and his repeated and unseemly suggestion that he is the first to have understood the New Testament correctly, or at least the first since a few thinkers in the patristic era got part of the Gospel right". Fr Neuhaus also accused Bishop Wright of inaccuracy and bad scholarship, saying: "In refuting Catholic ecclesiology, Wright invokes the authority of what he calls the 'magisterial work' of Canadian theologian Douglas Farrow in the 1990s, apparently unaware that Farrow has long since become a Catholic. Both unseemly and risible is Wright's claim that Pope Benedict is coming around to his own view of the traditional doctrine of purgatory, which Wright mockingly repudiates. Paraphrasing a text by Cardinal Ratzinger, Wright claims that it is 'a quite radical climbdown from Aquinas, Dante , Newman, and all that went in between.' "Bishop Wright would do well to consult Ratzinger-Benedict's encyclical Spe Salvi and what it says about purgatory." In his response Bishop Wright said that "the more freewheeling nature of Fr Richard John Neohans's column in First Things is used as an excuse for serious misrepresentation" and that "it is time to protest". Bishop Wright said that he had taken Fr Neuhaus out to lunch and told him the things he had written to his face. He wrote: "Errors abound in Neuhaus's discussion of Surprised by Hope. 1 do not 'heap scorn' on centuries of Christian piety. I do not claim that I am the first person since the New Testament and the early Fathers to take the thoroughly orthodox view that I do; many Orthodox and Reformed theologians of the last centuries have expounded a similar view. "And, despite Neuhaus's suggestion that I think myself superior to the Angelic Doctor, it is substantially Thomas Aquinas's view of the Resurrection to which I suggest the Church should return. The views I attempt to controvert are, in terms of overall Christian tradition, comparatively modem and mainly western. "Second, there is no 'pervasive edge of anti-Catholicism' in the book, which is in no sense a denominational polemic. Most of my main targets are in my own church. (Does that make me `antiAnglican'?) In the quest to speak clearly about eschatology, classic Roman Catholicism is a friend and ally." He added: "Nor was I `refuting Catholic ecclesiology' when I quoted Douglas Farrow — and neither was I ignorant of the fact that Doug, a good friend these past 20 years, has recently converted to Roman Catholicism. Doug was rightly attacking a particular form of ecclesial triumphalism, which occurs in many traditions, including some parts of Catholic tradition at some, not all, periods in history-but also occurring, particularly, in various types of liberal Protestantism. In any case, that part of the book was hardly central or particularly loadbearing for the whole." Bishop Wright also denied the claim that his imputed antiCatholicism came from an attempt to justify his separation, as an Anglican, from the centering authority of the ancient Church. Bishop Wright turned around the accusations of inaccuracy and. claimed that Fr Neuhaus had shown a "careless disregard for facts". He said he had thought the days had long past when kneejerk anti-Anglicanism would lead to misreading and misrepresentation.