Thursday, May 11, 2006

Revlevance of Bernard Lonergan

The Relevance of Bernard Lonergan
To Third World Theology

Dr. Melanio LaGuardia Aoanan**


The existence of a human being has to be celebrated, especially if that life is spent in the service of God and the Church. This year we celebrate the centenary of a man of God, Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan (1904-1984), who served as one of the greatest teachers of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. He was born in Buckingham, Canada, on December 17, 1904. He studied philosophy and theology in Canada, Great Britain, and Rome. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest on 25 July 1936. His life was devoted to academic pursuit having been a theological professor both in Canada (Regis College) and Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

This paper aims to appropriate Lonergan’s thought and framework of doing theology and seeks to relate them to the ongoing task of transformation of persons and institutions of the Church particularly the academe. The paper presupposes the urgent need for a continuing pastoral-spiritual formation as part of our responsibility in the “knowledge industry” of which our colleges and universities are, more than ever, referred to. Lonergan’s framework of thought can be used as a model for pastoral-spiritual formation in our institutions toward a creative and collaborative (interdisciplinary) task of building authentic human communities in our country. Therefore, the greater bulk of this paper is devoted to explicating Lonergan’s lifework and lasting legacy.

In a festschrift for Lonergan’s 60th birthday, Frederick E. Crowe writes stimulating description of Lonergan’s five stage intellectual development, tracing the twist and the turns of his thinking, which resulted into a mountain scholarly works.[1] I was introduced to Lonergan’s formidable scholarly productions during my stint at Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. To me, that experience was similar to a mountain climbing expedition. Scaling the heights of his thought is wrought with difficulties but thanks to competent guides who have blazed the trails and sketched the maps, one can now enjoy the exhilarating view of the horizon beyond.[2]

Lonergan’s Contribution to the Academe

With his voluminous scholarly works, Lonergan is admittedly one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. His contributions to theology is perhaps comparable to none among contemporary Catholic theologians. He may not yet be as widely known as the German Karl Rahner or the Swiss Hans Kung because his major works have not been made easily accessible except among a few academicians. But this will not be for long. His works, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1958) and Method in Theology (1972), are classic examples of lucid yet profound articulation and comprehensiveness.

There is now a growing number of students and scholars in almost all fields of learning, collaborating worldwide in studying and applying Lonergan’s seminal ideas and making them more accessible to an increasing number of educated Christians. In the Philippines, Lonergan’s works, particularly their relevance to Third World issues, have been gaining enthusiastic students and committed scholars both in the academe as well as in the field of socio-economic and political actions for transformation.[3]

In 1986, the Lonergan Center for Inculturation and Interdisciplinary Studies published a book, The Third World and Bernard Lonergan: A Tribute to a Concerned Thinker. The first article in the book endeavors to make a connection between Lonergan’s thought and the liberation theologians. Frederick E. Crowe, the author of the article, argues forcefully that Lonergan’s life-long interest anticipated the very questions that became the central concern of liberation theologians almost forty years later. Crowe takes all of Lonergan’s writings, from the earliest to the latest works up to his death in 1984, and makes a remarkable discovery that “the concerns of the liberation theologians are the very concerns of the young Lonergan at the beginning of his career.”[4]

From his earlier writings in the 1940s, Lonergan dealt with important economic issues and pointed to the failures of economic systems such as capitalism and socialism. The same themes reappeared in Insight (1958) with further elaboration on such complex issues as “technology, capital formation, economic and political systems, the emergence of classes and their conflicts, the demand for a creative human role in the making of history.”[5]

From his book, Method in Theology, Lonergan provides us with an elaborate and realistic notion of society, its common meaning and values which constitute the historical factors in the building of such a society. Likewise, in his more recent writings, e.g., on “circulation analysis,” Lonergan deals with issues that are of signal interest to liberation theologians in the Third World. Crowe says that Lonergan deals with the chief target of liberation theologians: the multinational corporations and related issues, such as colonial economy, unemployment, armaments, inflation, etc., that are contributory to economic underdevelopment of many Third World countries.[6] This paper, however, focuses on Lonergan’s significant contribution towards a framework for authentic community building.

From Method to Praxis
In the book, The Lonergan Enterprise, Frederick Crowe calls Lonergan’s significant contribution as an “organon for our time” after that of Aristotle and Francis Bacon.[7] An organon is “not an external tool to be picked up and used to hammer out theological products from raw materials, but an organic relation of theologian and theology, an organon stresses how inseparable theological knowing is from the theologian.”[8]

If doing theology is like a mountain climbing expedition wherein there are no definite trail sketches, then it is certainly risky. But the expedition must proceed; and there are bound to be mistakes. Yet Lonergan says that in the mind of every theologian there is always a built-in, dynamic, self-correcting process of learning that will uncover and correct those mistakes and bring about new discoveries and allow us to scale the mountain heights. In this risky expedition, Lonergan’s organon (or “praxis-method”) will help keep ourselves going and ever moving in the right direction. It tells us about a “theology that is done in prayer, in community, and in an ecumenical context.” These three constitute the framework of doing theology, a framework grounded on a firm foundation. That foundation or criterion of doing theology is “the authenticity of the theologian who does it.”[9]

It is precisely the explication of the fundamental criterion, i.e., the authenticity of the theologian that concerns us here. In order that the theologian attains authenticity, it is presupposed that he/she has experienced the threefold conversion: intellectual, moral, and religious. One’s progress toward personal authenticity is a sustained struggle against human biases, mistaken beliefs and moral impotence. As such, one needs a genuine conversion experience (metanoia), an about-face or pagbabalik-loob. Lonergan defines intellectual conversion as a “radical clarification and consequently the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity, and human knowledge.”[10] It was after spending many years of “reaching up to the mind of Aquinas” that Lonergan experienced a genuine and radical conversion on the intellectual level. This experience did not come in just “one blinding moment of insight; rather it was an instance of a gradual process of seeing old things in a completely new way.”[11]

If doing theology is about “faith seeking understanding,” then to Lonergan the unrestricted desire for knowledge is the central key to his cognitional structure. Behind Lonergan’s massive and magisterial book, Insight, is his demonstration of “our own dynamic power of enquiry.” He further writes: “Though I cannot recall to each reader his personal experiences, he can do for himself and thereby pluck my general phases from the dim world of thought to set them in the pulsing flow of life.”[12] What Lonergan refers to by the phrase “the pulsating flow of life” is our almost unrestricted desire for knowledge. This desire for knowledge comes to our consciousness in four distinctive ways: 1) in the scope of our experiencing; 2) in the insight of our understand-ing; 3) in the truth of our judging; and 4) in the goodness and beauty chosen or created in our deciding.”[13]
Obviously, these four distinctive ways correspond to Lonergan’s levels of consciousness and intentionality, namely: experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. There are two significant features in Lonergan’s formulation. The first is that the levels are stages, each builds on the preceding one: without experience there is no understanding, without understanding no judgment, without judgment no decision. The second feature is that the levels are conscious: we are aware in our experiencing, aware in our understanding, aware in our judging, and aware of deciding.”[14]

This, then, is Lonergan’s understanding of our cognitional structure. This understanding has five characteristics. First, Lonergan takes the fact of knowledge for granted and simply proceeds to demonstrate the capacity of the mind. Second, Lonergan recognizes that what is already known is very extensive, but his interest is in the structure of human knowing. Third, Lonergan says that “the congnitional structure of human knowing is the structure of one’s experiencing, understanding, and judging.” To him, this can be attained by “self-affirmation” which means “rational self-consciousness.” Each person has to do this self-affirmation oneself. Therefore, Lonergan invites each one to a “personal self-affirmation to discover, to identify, to become familiar with the activities of one’s own intelligence.” Fourth, the cognitional structure is arrived at not in a “single leap” but “by doing it thoroughly, slowly, and methodically.” It starts from below upwards not from above downwards. It is a “moving viewpoint” which means that “each context is set up only to reveal the need for a higher viewpoint.” The movement of the cognitional structure leads to a “structured and, at its final stage, self-affirmed recognition to the unrestricted desire to know.” Fifth, the structure of knowing starts with “people as they are—people who have the natural gift of intelligent inquiry and critical reflection; people who are lost and confused due to the plurality of counter positions and, therefore, feel the need to unify knowledge.”[15]
This is Lonergan’s ongoing invitation which should be taken seriously by any one who is engaged in “faith seeking understanding” as a challenge. This is the existential side of his academic theological work. As theological educators in the Philippines, we must then respond to Lonergan’s challenge and take up responsibly the task that he has set for us. But what is Lonergan’s specific challenge to the theological task that we have to respond to? In answer to this challenge, it is wise to heed Crowe when he says that no matter how penetrating Lonergan’s analysis and how impressive his ideas are, “his thought is ultimately oriented to the practical and is programmatic for the future. He has provided us with an instrument that is to be used, not just contemplated, and the real Lonergan of history is not so much the Lonergan studied and analyzed, discussed and debated, located and evaluated, but the Lonergan whose achievement is still to be applied to the urgent tasks of the new age that we are facing.”[16]

Lonergan’s Lasting Legacy
The need of our time, as Lonergan has seen very clearly, is not so much for a new set of answers as for a whole new beginning. He speaks of a new movement of theological aggiornamento “towards a total transformation of dogmatic theology,” and calls for “a complete restructuring of Catholic theology.”[17] In short, Lonergan’s lasting legacy to the intellectual enterprise, i.e., doing theology, is the creation of a fundamental method. This is the “organon for our time,”[18] an instrument for the incarnate subject—in the very acts of experiencing, questioning, deliberating, deciding, falling in love (or sometimes falling out of love).

Having identified Lonergan’s lasting legacy to the task of doing theology—an instrument for the incarnate subject—let me explain what this instrument is all about and how to make us of it. Initially, Lonergan calls the instrument “transcendental method.” And he defines it as “a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results.”[19] Lonergan offers three observations on his definition. First, he says, “method is often conceived as a set of rules that yield results.” “Results are progressive only if there is a succession of discoveries; they are cumulative only if there is effected a synthesis of each new insight with all previous, valid insights.” Secondly, his notion of method is “not a set of rules but as a prior, normative pattern of operations from which rules may be derived.” Thirdly, he notes “that modern science derives its distinctive character from this grasping together of logical and non-logical operations.”[20]

The basic operation in any intellectual enterprise (e.g., the writing of this paper or book), according to Lonergan, consists of “seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, inquiring, imagining, understanding, conceiving, formulating, reflecting, marshalling, and weighing the evidence, judging, deliberating, evaluating, deciding, speaking, writing.”[21]

To make a further clarification on the above intellectual or cognitional operations, Lonergan makes seven descriptive comments. First, all the operations are transitive both in the grammatical and psychological senses. Second, the operations “are operations of an operator” who is the subject (both in the grammatical and psychological senses). Third, the operations involve the “process of objectifying the contents of consciousness not by looking inwardly but by recognizing in our expressions the objectification of our subjective experience.” Fourth, from the operations, we can arrive at four levels of consciousness and intentionality, namely, empirical, intellectual, rational, and responsible. Fifth, the operations “yield qualitatively different modes of conscious subjects [and] different modes of intending.” Sixth, “distinction [in the operation] between elementary and compound knowing [so that] the many elementary objects are constructed into a single compound object, and in turn the many compound objects will be ordered in a single universe.” And seventh, Lonergan distinguished many conscious and intentional operations and arranged them in a succession of different levels of consciousness.” These different levels of consciousness are so intimately linked so that we need some measure of detachment in order to engage ourselves to a “moral pursuit of goodness, a philosophical pursuit of truth, a scientific pursuit of understanding, an artistic pursuit of beauty.”[22]

In a recent reformulation Lonergan calls his method “generalized empirical method.” This means a method that “operates principally on the data of consciousness to work out a cognitional theory, an epistemology, and a metaphysics.”[23] Lonergan emphasizes that the method can be employed repeatedly so that cumulative results will be attained: out of the cumulative results, a standard is set. The operations continue to be repeated in order to meet the set standard, and once met, the pattern of related operations become normative. Finally, therefore, the normative pattern of operations becomes the right way to do a particular task.[24]

Lonergan’s “Be-attitudes”

In this summary presentation, one cannot but notice the double dynamism of the process. It is dynamic both materially and formally. This double dynamic “is not blind but open-eyed; it is attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible; it is a conscious intending, ever going beyond what happens to the given or known, ever striving for a fuller and richer apprehension of the yet unknown or incompletely known totality, the whole universe.[25] Like the Master-Teacher of Nazareth who formulated what we now know as “The Beatitudes,” Lonergan has also succeeded in formulating a “Be-attitudes” which we can follow as we struggle for an authentic selfhood: “Be Attentive; Be Intelligent; Be Reasonable; Be Responsible; and Be Loving and Committed.”

At this juncture, it is important to note two of Lonergan’s warnings on his method. First, he says, “I am writing not theology but method in theology. I am concerned not with the objects that theologians expound but with the operations that theologians perform.”[26] Second, Lonergan also modestly states that his method is “only part of a theological method.” What he means by this, I think, is that his method simply provides the “basic anthropological component” of doing theology. Three basic questions which are part of our conscious and intentional operations are: “What am I doing when I am knowing? Why is doing that knowing? What do I do when I do it? The first question has something to do with congnitional theory. The second question deals with epistemology. And the third question deals with metaphysics.[27]

Also, it must be pointed out that Lonergan’s theological method consists of eight functional specialties, the exposition of which is beyond the scope of this paper.[28] Suffice it to say that how Lonergan arrived at these eight specialties may be explained by two principles. The first principle is that doing theology is divided into two phases: a) the mediating phase of theology (in oratione obliqua), i.e., what the tradition tells us about God and the salvation of humanity; b) the mediated phase of theology (in oratione recta), i.e., what theologians, enlightened by tradition of the past, speak to confront the challenges of the present and the future. The second principle is based on Lonergan’s four levels of consciousness, namely: experience, understanding, judgment, and decision. From these four levels of consciousness, Lonergan provides the four transcendental precepts, namely: Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible.

Concluding Statement

To recapitulate, Lonergan’s praxis-method of doing theology demands not only the threefold conversion experience (intellectual, moral, and religious), but also a creative and collaborative task in building authentic communities. This paper is a humble plea to make use to Lonergan’s lasting legacy and framework for doing theology. I believe with Matthew Lamb, another distinguished Lonergan scholar, that responsible theologizing today must take seriously the imperative of “solidarity with the victims.”[29] He insists that such solidarity is with “communities of victims and with the victims in common reflection and action.” Also, such solidarity must always be “open to dialogue and collaboration with others.”

As such, we who are involved in the academe and in our respective parishes must continue to intensify the possibility of creative and collaborative ways in which theologizing is done so that we can contribute to the liberating activity of God in the lives of our people and communities. I believe that Lonergan’s “praxis-method” of doing theology is relevant in overcoming the long range problems and basic alienation which are at the root of the sufferings and victimization to which various political and liberation theologies seek to respond. I am convinced [along with Matthew Lamb] that Lonergan’s “praxis-method” of theologizing can promote a creative and critical collaboration in the task of transforming ourselves and our society into a more attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, loving and committed Christians. And as Christians, “we are called to incarnate our struggles for humanization and personalization in the transformative values of doing the truth in love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[30] Indeed, this programmatic framework for a creative and collaborative effort is a concrete manifestation of the redemptive and transformative role of the Christian Church in human history.


Melanio LaGuardia Aoanan is Professorial Lecturer III (masteral/doctoral levels) at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at De La Salle University in Manila. He was former Administrative Pastor at the Church Among the Palms, UPLB Campus, Los Banos, Laguna. Earlier, he was professor of Ecumenics, Emerging Asian Theology, and Research at Union Theological Seminary, Dasmarinas, Cavite. His doctorate is from the Southeast Asia Graduate School of Theology and Ateneo de Manila University consortium.

[1]See “The Exigent Mind: Bernard Lonergan’s Intellectualism,” in Spirit as Inquiry: Studies in Honor of Bernard Lonergan. Edited by Frederick E. Crowe, S.J. St. Paul, MN: North Central Publishing Co., 1964. Crowe’s article concentrates on Lonergan’s intellectual development particularly his doctoral dissertation on “Operative Grace in the Thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas,” and his major work on cognitional theory, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1958). In Crowe’s chronological listing of Lonergan’s works up to 1964, the doctoral dissertation is number 10, “The Concept of Verbum in Saint Thomas” is number 27, and Insight is number 64. The last entry, “Existenz and Aggiornamento,” is number 99. Lonergan’s first published article was on G. K. Chesterton in 1931. See Spirit as Inquiry, pp. 244-249. From 1931 to 1964, Lonergan has a total of 99 works, which means an average of three works per year. One wonders how many more works this prolific man turned out from 1964 to 1984 (the year of his death). It is worth noting that the University of Toronto Press has published a 20-volume edition of The Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan under the editorship of Frederick E. Crowe. See also The Desires of the Human Heart: An Introduction of the Theology of Bernard Lonergan. Edited by Vernon Gregson. New York: Paulist Press, 1988, pp. xi-xii.
[2]I took a course on Bernard Lonergan with Fr. Walter L. Ysaac, S.J., who is a professor of Systematic Theology at the Loyola School of Theology.
[3]The task of introducing Lonergan’s thought in the Philippines is the concern of the Lonergan Center for Inculturation and Interdisciplinary Studies located at the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City. The Director is Fr. Walter L. Ysaac, S.J.
[4]The Third World and Bernard Lonergan, p. 3.
[5]Ibid., p. 3.
[6]Ibid., pp. 4-5.
[7]F. E. Crowe, S.J., The Lonergan Enterprise. Cowley Publications, 1980. This is published as part of the celebration of Lonergan’s 75th birthday. Fr. Crowe is one of the earliest students of Lonergan (1947). Crowe made an enlightening comparison of Lonergan’s “Method” with that of Aristotle’s “Logic”(which is the original organon) and Francis Bacon’s “experimental science” (the novum organum) in a discussion of a history of an idea. Cf. pp. ix, 29ff.
[8]The Lonergan Enterprise, p. xiv.
[9]Ibid., p. xvi.
[10]W. La Centra, The Authentic Self. New York: Peter Lang, 1987, p. 9.
[12]Insight, p. xix.
[13]See Vernon Gregson (ed.), The Desires of the Human Heart. New York: Paulist Press, 1988, p. 16.
[14]See The Desires of the Human Heart, pp. 18-19.
[15]See N. Falcao, ‘Konwing’ According to Bernard Lonergan. Rome: Urbaniana University Press, 1987, pp. 27-26.
[16]The Lonergan Enterprise, p. 2.
[17]See Bernard Lonergan, “Theology in A New Context,” in Theology of Renewal. Vol. 1. Edited by L. K. Shook. Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1968, pp. 45-46. See also A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard Lonergan. Edited by William F. J. Ryan & B. J. Tyrell. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974, p. 65.
[18]The making of Lonergan’s fundamental method is traced by Frederick Crowe from the time of his doctoral dissertation up to the publication of Method in Theology in 1972. See The Lonergan Enterprise, pp. 29ff.
[19]See Method in Theology, pp. 5-6. Later, Lonergan refers to his method as “generalized empirical method.” See “Lectures on Religious Studies and Theology,” in A Third Collection. Papers by Bernard Lonergan. Edited by F. E. Crowe. New York: Paulist Press, 1985, pp. 113-165.
[20]Method in Theology, pp. 7-13.
[21]Method in Theology, p. 6.
[22]Ibid., pp. 7-13. Lonergan discussed the pattern of operation in full and made a “compendious presentation” in his article “Cognitive Structure,” in Collection. Papers by Bernard Lonergan. Edited by F. E. Crowe. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1967.
[23]Bernard Lonergan, “Aquinas Today: Tradition and Innovation,” The Journal of Religion, Vol. 55; No. 2 (1975), p. 174.
[24]A Third Collection, p. 140.
[25]See Method in Theology, p. 13.
[26]See the Preface, Method in Theology, p. xii.
[27]See Method in Theology, p. 25. Fr. Walter L. Ysaac has reformulated these three questions in the context of theologizing in the Philippines: “What do I do when I do theology in the Philippine context? Why is doing that doing theology? What do I affirm and come to understand when I do that?” See his “Doing Theology in the Philippine Context.” Lecture delivered at Harvard Divinity School on 10 November 1987 (Mimeographed).
[28]See Method in Theology, chapters 5-14. Cf. The Lonergan Enterprise, chapters 2 and 3 for a concise description of each of the eight functional specialties and suggestions for practical application.
[29]See Matthew Lamb, Solidarity With Victims. New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1982, p. ix.
[30] Solidarity With Victims, p. 143.


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