Lonergan, Bernard

views updated


Theologian, university professor, author, member of the Society of Jesus; b. December 17, 1904, Buckingham, Quebec (Canada); d. Pickering, Ontario, November 26, 1984. The eldest of three sons born to Gerald J., a land surveyor, and Josephine Helen (Wood) Lonergan, Bernard showed himself a precocious youngster. He was educated by the christian brothers at the elementary level in his hometown, and later acquired a solid grounding in classical languages, the humanities, and mathematics at Loyola High and Loyola College in Montreal. He entered the Society of Jesus at age 17 (1922), received his philosophic training at Heythrop College in England (192629), and earned an external Bachelor of Arts in classics at London University (192930). By his own account, it was the basic honesty and modesty of his Jesuit professors in philosophy that made the greatest impact on him at the time. He was especially influenced by the genial instruction in mathematics he received from his tutor, Charles O'Hara, S.J., and seriousness with which Lewis Watt, S.J. approached questions about economics and morality in the social encyclicals. He confessed that newman's An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, "made (him) something of an existentialist" (Second Collection,271). Letters of the period attest to Lonergan's fascination with methodology; and one can discern his budding interest in cognitional theory from the titles of three of his works from this period: Blandyke Papers: "The Form of Mathematical Inference" (1928); "The Syllogism"(1928); "True Judgment and Science" [on Newman's illative sense] (1929).

Early Career and Insight. After a three-year period teaching at Loyola College in Montreal, Lonergan attained a licentiate in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome (1937), where he had been ordained a priest in 1936. There he went on to do doctoral work on thomas aquinas's theory of grace and human freedom (193840), though he was not actually awarded the doctorate until after World War II (1946). The next 13 years were evenly split as professor of theology at Jesuit theologates in Montreal and Toronto. His intensive research on the thought of Aquinas gave rise to an impressive flow of publications in theological journals, principally of his reworked doctoral thesis, "St. Thomas's Thought on Gratia Operans, " which appeared in installments in Theological Studies (19411942); and "The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas," in five parts in the same journal between 1946 and 1949.

During these years Lonergan labored to find in economics, sociology, and history the theoretic basis that might underpin a concrete realization of the conditions required to achieve the ends envisioned in the great social encyclicals of leo xiii and pius xi. This work is documented in unpublished manuscripts, including the final version of an "Essay on Circulation Analysis" (c. 194344), a topic to which Lonergan returned in his later works.

In a series of courses taught during the late 1940s at the Thomas More Institute for Adult Education in Montreal (founded by his life-long friend and collaborator, R. Eric O'Connor, S.J.), Lonergan attempted to transpose what he had learned from Aquinas about human understanding and knowledge into the world of the twentieth century, addressing issues in mathematics and sciences undreamt of by St. Thomas. The result was Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957).

Method in Theology and Post-Method Interests. In 1953 Lonergan had taken up duties as professor of dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome during which time he published several works in Latin related to his courses on Christology and the Trinity. He characterized them as products of teaching in a situation that "was hopelessly antiquated" (Second Collection,212). These maps for the 650 students attending his lectures include De constitutione Christi ontologica et psychologica supplementum (1956), Divinarum personarum conceptionem analogicam (1957), De Verbo incarnato (1961, with later revisions), and De Deo trino (1964).

The main challenge to which Lonergan responded in his Roman years "came from the Geisteswissenschaften, from the problems of hermeneutics and critical history" (Second Collection, 277). His concern to take seriously the 19th-century emergence of scholarship and to think out the implications of human being as constituted by meaning in history is most explicitly documented in the notes from his exercitatio courses (graduate seminars devoted to specialized topics)De intellectu et methodo, De systemate et historia, and De methodo theologiae as well as in summer courses on topics such as mathematical logic, existentialism, philosophy of education, and method in theology.

After 12 years in Rome, he returned to Toronto to be treated for cancer in 1965. Following his recovery from the surgical removal of one of his lungs, his superiors at Regis College made it possible for him to complete his Method in Theology. The period after 196465 witnessed the reformulation of Insight 's preoccupation with experience, direct understanding, and reflective understanding in terms of "intentionality analysis" (Method, ch. 1), blossoming into what Lonergon would at last affirm to be the primacy of the practical and existential level of human consciousness on which we evaluate, decide, act and love. This change supplements his sensibility for historical mindedness cultivated in Rome with new developments regarding the role of the dynamic unconscious, feelings, images and symbols, and religious experience.

The sweep of these developments permit Lonergan in Method to situate his intentionality analysis of the fourfold cognitional structure of attentiveness, intelligence, reasonableness, and responsibility into ever more concrete and complex contexts. Accordingly, Insight 's chapter 18, in which "the good was the intelligent and the reasonable" (Second Collection, 277), shifts into the context of "The Human Good" (Method, ch. 2) with its elaboration of feelings as intentional responses to vital, social, cultural, religious, and personal values. Again, Insight 's idea of meaning as "a relation between sign and signified (x)" gets plunged into "Meaning" (Method, ch.3), with its types, elements, functions, realms, and stages. Similarly, Insight 's account of mystery and myth and of God's existence and nature (ch. 19) are shifted into the context of "Religion" (Method, ch. 4) where "the question of God is considered more important than the precise manner in which an answer is formulated, and our basic awareness of God comes to us not through our arguments or choices but primarily through God's gift of love" (Second Collection, 277).

Both on the way to Method and after its publication Lonergan published a series of essays and lectures clarifying, applying, drawing the implications of, and further working out the implications of the 196465 shift to the primacy of the practical and existential (Second Collection and Third Collection ). In the academic year of 197172 Lonergan was the Stillman Professor at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., where he put the finishing touches on Method, which finally came out in 1972. From 1975 until 1983 he taught at Boston College, alternating each year between courses having to do with issues in Method and those devoted to the last great preoccupation of his productive years, economics and the dynamics of history.

Of his post-Method work most students of Lonergan would probably agree with Frederick E. Crowe, S.J., that the chief fruit is his ever sharper elucidation of the two complementary rhythms of human development with the healing vector moving from above downwards (i.e., of being-in-love with God [with love's eyes of faith], believing, evaluating, judging, understanding, experiencing); and the creative vector moving from below upwards (i.e., experiencing, understanding, reflecting, deliberating, believing, loving). Next in importance would probably be his analysis of the "pure cycle" of the rhythms of money circulation within and between economic factors producing things for producers (surplus circuit of capital formation) and those producing goods and services for consumers (basic circuit). This analysis lays bare the normative intelligibility of exigencies underlying people's free and moral accommodations to the antiegalitarian and egalitarian flows of money, goods, and services required by industrial exchange economies. Lonergan saw the intelligibility of the economy as dependent upon people's intelligence, reasonableness, responsibilityand so convertednessin a way unsuspected by and unaccounted for by either Marxist or "supply-side/demand-side" conventions in economic theory.

Achievement. The Christian faith is now undergoing a hermeneutical crisis diagnosed by Lonergan as rooted in Christianity's inability to make the transition to modern society and culture. As a Roman Catholic theologian he was critical of the failure of Catholic philosophy and theology to pass from the fixist norms espoused by a mentality he named "classicist" towards a transcultural normativity compatible with historical consciousness. To be sure, he was no less critical of the historicist or positivist drift towards relativism on the part of those who more or less renounced any kind of normativity along with the heritage of scholasticism. Lonergan's life was dedicated chiefly to helping Christian theology meet this hermeneutical crisis and make the transition to modernity without losing its integrity.

Both Lonergan's execution of this task and the results of his work are profoundly and uniquely hermeneutical, especially in the way his lifework pivots on his nuanced historical relationship to the paradigm-figure of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas. He concluded that "in the practice of Aquinas (theology) was the principle for the molding and the transformation of a culture." The lesson Lonergan learned from St. Thomas' practice was that besides "reflecting on revelation" by "investigating, ordering, expounding, communicating divine revelation," theology "has somehow to mediate God's meaning into the whole of human affairs" (Second Collection, 62).

One thing that makes the meaning of "method" for Lonergan so profound and so unprecedented, therefore, is the manner in which his project of method flows out of the way he paid attention to, understood, judged, and appreciated the practice of Aquinas as a theologian. As he insisted in Method, such "encounter is the one way in which self-understanding and horizon can be put to the test" (247). Whereas ordinary ideas about method tend to be technical in the Enlightenment vein of descartes or bacon, and so are focussed on "a set of verbal propositions enunciating rules to be followed in a scientific investigation" (Second Collection, 64), Lonergan placed method in the context of Aquinas's dictum that "it is characteristic of the wise person to bring about order in all things." By reconceiving the Thomist viewpoint of highest wisdom in terms of the phenomenological notion of horizon, Lonergan makes method in the most serious sense a matter of at once utmost radicality and complete concreteness. To do method for Lonergan comes down to appropriating and articulating the grounds of theological (and any ) practice in one's own total and basic horizon.

Hence, on account of his engagement with the thought of Aquinas, method in its plainer but quite important sense of "distinguishing different tasks, and thereby eliminating totalitarian ambitions" (Second Collection, 212) was realized by Lonergan to be anchored in the human subject's appropriation of method as 'transcendental'i.e., the thematization of our own ultimate (and so transcultural) set of operations of experiencing, understanding, reflecting, deliberating, deciding, and loving. Thus, at root, "method" means 1) appropriating the structures of one's own conscious intentionality that specify our horizon as total and basic; and 2) consciously living in accord with one's horizon by following the transcendental precepts: Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible. Be loving.

The cognitive dimension of consciousness became most clear to Lonergan while writing the Verbum articles, especially the implications of the dependency of that dimension of consciousness upon the practical and existential levels. Deliberation, decision, and loving action presuppose and complement knowing, but the way knowing presupposes and complements those operations is even more crucial. Lonergan was increasingly able to express in terms of the notion of intentionality the metaphysical explanation of human freedom and divine grace that he had earlier retrieved in the 1930s and 1940s from St. Thomas.

In Insight Lonergan had tended to equate the breakthrough to the total and basic horizon with the appropriation of rational consciousness in one's affirmation of oneself as a knower (ch. 11) (fourth-level rational self consciousness takes center-stage only at ch. 18); with one's clear recognition that knowing is a compound dynamic structure of experiencing, understanding, and judging; and especially with one's ability "to discriminate with ease and from personal conviction between one's purely intellectual activities and the manifold of other 'existential' concerns that invade and mix and blend with the operations of intellect to render it ambivalent and its pronouncements ambiguous" (intro., xix). Already in his lectures on "Intelligence and Reality" (195051) he had indicated that the key to Insight 's breakthrough was "radical intellectual conversion"(27) because it involved a revolution in oneself and a purification of oneself from what he there calls "inhibiting and reinforcing (i.e., reductively utilitarian) desires" (19) in order to liberate the pure, disinterested, and unrestricted desire to know being, and to make this desire normative in one's actual living. By the time of writing Method, however, what was implicit before was fully explicated: on account of the primacy of the practical and existential levels of conscious intentionality intellectual conversion (as uncovery of one's horizon as total and basic) presupposes both moral conversion (from one's spontaneous likes to the truly good or right) and religious conversion (from stupid self-centeredness to being-in-love with God).

But, as was already altogether clear in Grace and Freedom, religious conversion is the result of the gift of God's self-communication, beyond the horizon of finite human knowing and choosing. God's Spirit and Word are sent to make moral and intellectual conversion possible. Those conversions in turn demand the exercise of our liberty by which we reorient ourselves and bring the horizon of our day-to-day living into ever closer attunement with the infinite potentiality of our total and basic horizon. Openness as Gift heals us to transform our sinful closedness and elevates us to the factual, healing and creative openness of divine adoption.

Bibliography: The Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, has a complete archive of Lonergan's works. The Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan is being published by the Lonergan Research Institute and the University of Toronto Press. b. lonergan. "Insight Revisited." In Second Collection (London 1974). p. byrne. "The Fabric of Lonergan's Thought." Lonergan Workshop 6 (Atlanta 1986). f. e. crowe, Lonergan (Collegeville, Minn. 1992). j. flanagan. Quest for Self-Knowledge: An Essay in Lonergan's Philosophy (Toronto 1997). v. gregson. The Desires of the Human Heart: An Introduction to the Theology of Bernard Lonergan (New York 1988). r. liddy. Transforming Light: Intellectual Conversion in the Early Lonergan (Collegeville, Minn. 1993).

[f. g. lawrence]