Friday, 6 April 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Who is Lonergan?

It is Good Friday, and if you're looking for some Good Friday reading for Singles, please see "The Cross that Singles Bear" in Seraphic Singles (U.S.A: The Closet's All Mine). (Update: you can read it here, too.) It is in Polish here.

But now for something completely different. I received an email about Lonergan, which I have boiled down to this:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Who is this Lonergan person?

Who Is Lonergan?

P.S. I bought your book!

Dear Who Is Lonergan,

I'm delighted to answer your question on Lonergan. (And thank you for buying my book!)

Father Bernard Lonergan, SJ, was born in Buckingham, Quebec, Canada in 1904. He joined the English-speaking Canadian Jesuits as a young man and eventually went to the Gregorian, where he studied theology and produced a groundbreaking thesis on Aquinas's thought on Grace. At some point he also got tremendously interested in epistemology--how people come to know things. He wanted to take on modern philosophies, although in a respectful way. One of the underlying themes in his huge work Insight is his post-war fear that if people didn't find common ground there would be a massive nuclear catastrophe.

So he sat down and figured out what everyone could agree on. What everyone had to agree on was "experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding" since all those things--and questioning--are self-evident. The minute you ask, "Is there questioning?" , you have to say "Yes." And Lonergan determined that experiencing, understanding (which follows the question "What is it?) and judging ("Is it really so?") are the three steps necessary for knowing. Deciding takes us into the realm of the ethical: "Now that I know that, what do I do?"

Now Lonergan was a product of his times and of his religious order. As you may know, the Society of Jesus was one way before Pedro Arrupe became General and a completely different way afterwards. Lonergan's best work has the unmistakable stamp of St. Ignatius of Loyola on it, and to his dying day he was a Thomist and thus also an Augustinian. However, after the Second Vatican Council (and Arrupe), Lonergan turned his thoughts towards economics, the recent rejection of children as THE primary reason for marriage, and ecumenism. In this he was obedient to the Second Vatican Council, particularly as that Council was interpreted by the SJ.

He became a cult figure to increasing numbers of young Boomer theology students including, to his surprise, lay men and young women. (Before the 1960s, Lonergan taught only seminarians.) These students were products of their own generation and seized Lonergan's ideas to bolster up their own. Today people of all kinds of academic backgrounds and varying politics meet at Lonergan conferences, often with very little in common but a love of Lonergan's ideas. There are even atheist Lonerganians, which seems rather mad to me. I wonder if Father Lonergan, who died in 1984, is amused to discover that sometimes the "common ground" is he himself.

The elephant in the room is Lonergan's language. Lonergan was a good writer, but his thought was so precise and so detailed that his work is very hard to read and understand. The best interpreters of Lonergan work diligently to make his work accessible to new students. The worst add to the difficulty by making up their own Lonergan-inspired terminology. Between Lonergan's language and the esoteric attitude of his Boomer disciples, many students are completely turned off. "Insight" was reputedly the "hardest" course at my theologate, so I took it. And it was pretty hard, although thank heaven I "got" it and produced a good term paper.

One of the strengths of the classic Jesuit system of teaching is something called "Ignatian repetition." Usually this is a spiritual technique, but it serves in teaching as well. As the Jesuit theologate in Toronto is a major repository of Lonergan's thought, important Lonerganian themes are repeated over and over again from class to class. Gradually students learn Lonergan's thought the way people learn languages.

I find Lonergan's epistemology convincing and helpful when I consider the situation of young Single Catholic women today. To paraphrase Father Lonergan, "The dating world is before us in pieces, and it is up to the men and women of good will to put it together again." And part of that is strict attention to what really is.

You may have noticed how I mention "being rooted in reality" over and over again. This is because very often people do not make their decisions on what is true, but what they have uncritically accepted as true, or want to be true, or fear to be true. In the experiencing, understanding, judging scheme of knowing, a thinker can only move from understanding (in which hypotheses are raised) to judging (in which hypothesis are tested) when all the facts (or data) are in. My sanity has been saved on many an occasion by the admission that "I don't have enough data to make a judgement."

I gave a paper on Lonerganians themselves (see photo, above), which unsurprisingly, the Lonerganians who heard it rather enjoyed. My research suggested that a major factor in students' interest in, or rejection of, Lonergan's ideas was the Lonerganians themselves. My advice to young traditionalists who are disturbed by what they have heard about Lonergan is to see beyond the presenter to Father Lonergan himself and then always remember the historical circumstances in which Father Lonergan lived: the Society of Jesus both before and after the Second Vatican Council. He was influenced by St. Ignatius, Aquinas, Augustine, John Henry Newman--and then the Second Vatican Council.

I am told that the theological craziness of the 1970s disturbed him very much, but that is anecdotal.

Beginning to read Lonergan, especially without a good professor, can be a hair-raising experience. I recommend beginning with Chapter 2, "The Human Good", of his Method in Theology. (This is available also in other language, including in Polish as Metoda w Teologii. The Polish MwT is out-of-print, but it can be found in specialist libraries.) It will give you a brief glimpse into what he is all about.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace
P.S. Lonergan was not a Kantian. I mention this only because any Catholic man with a philosophical background who has only dabbled in Lonergan tends to dismiss him as a Kantian. But he was not a Kantian, as has been demonstrated again and again. Which I hope you will say airily if the subject ever comes up.


Svar said...

I have a question-why exactly was V2 necessary? Most orthodox Catholics tell me that it just was but they don't tell me why. However, most Trads and Sedevancantists tell me it was wrong(obviously) and they give reasons ranging from the reasonable to the insane.

Seraphic said...

Er. Now that I think about it, the only explanation I ever got that was not rooted in "The Church needed to CHANGE!" was that Vatican I was broken off, and Vatican II was supposed to complete its work.

What few ever discover, until they get beyond people who tell them Vatican II was a New Pentecost and the only Council that ever really counts nowadays, is that nervous bishops left a lot of the brainwork in the hands of their periti (theological advisors, often priests bursting with innovative ideas from theology school) and the Council Fathers fought like crazy over some of the documents.

Many bishops were very unhappy with what happened during the Council, but because they were brought up above everything else to OBEY, eventually they knuckled under, if only (like LeFebvre) temporarily. Fortunately, the wording in some of the more controversial documents is ambiguous and thus open to the hermeneutic of continuity.

Jam said...

That is the historical question of the century as far as I'm concerned...

Svar said...

Thank you, Seraphic for the explanation. Even though I accept V2, I find it odd how the post-V2 Church is different than the pre-V2 one. The doctrine and teachings are the same but it seems that the Church, which was the bastion of Classical Conservatism has moved towards a soft liberalism in all aspects except "gay rights" and "reproductive justice". In almost everything else, it seems to be in agreement with the Left. I learned of thitheir to Chilton Williamson Jr., a writer for the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles. This shift in the politics of the Church after V2 is a bit strange.

I have read also an article from a former Catholic priest about V2 talking about how it was almost hijacked by radical leftist elements, but that was resolved.

To be honest, I'm very new to all of this(Catholicism), so I am curious: what exactly was V2 made to accomplish?

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

My personal interest, and the majority of my knowledge is in the whole area of the liturgical changes after VII, and within that particular sphere it's clear, at least in my mind, that there was a very strong influence of change for the sake of change. Were that not the case, never in a million years would we have seen the complete demolition and hasty reconstruction of the Propers and the Office.

My own opinion on the Second Vatican Council is that it began with good intentions, but somewhere along the way those who were of the mind of "change for the sake of change" gained too much influence over the direction of the Council.

There absolutely was room for beautiful liturgical renewal and enrichment, however that opportunity was squandered. It's still not too late, of course. I'm assuming that the same is true, more or less, in all areas of the Council. Many opportunities, some of which were lost, but many of which we still have an opportunity to make some use of.

Seraphic said...

When I was a child reading Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene or a saint or any other writer on the Mass, I couldn't understand why I couldn't recognize what on earth they were taking about.

I went to Mass every week, and to after-Mass tea, and eventually to youth group and then even to an all- girls school in a convent, and yet my experience of Catholicism was nothing like the descriptions in the books.

Eventually references to the "bad old days" and Vatican II clued me in that there were radical, sweeping changes in the 1960s. I remember asking my Grade 13 history teacher what it was like to be a Catholic Vatican II, so really it was not until I was 18 that I actually voiced my "What happened?"

One of the book I read was Antonia White's "Frost in May", so I am aware that at least the way children were treated in convent schools had to change. Of course, there was emotional and physical abuse of children in every type of school in White's day.

I think the sad thing about the early 1960s is that not in a million years could the strong, confident Church imagine what would happen after Vatican II. As the priests in Austria and German mill about in disobedience, I think of the poor bishops who had such difficulties with Vatican II and yet forced their outraged consciences to obey. And it is such an irony that I grew up hearing of and thinking of Bishop LeFebvre as a monstrously disobedient heretic when, in fact, we have LeFebvre to thank for the preservation of the 1962 Mass, and so many priests disobey the rubrics of the 1970 Mass, and who know what else, over and over again.

Svar said...

What do you mean by the "bad old days", Seraphic?

Iraeneus, I thought that the radical elements were kicked out of the V2 council and didn't have much of a chance to do anything drastic. For the most part, things like the anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-divorce, anti-female inordination, the Sacraments, and pro-male headship in marriage(the mutual submission doctrine doesn't erase what St. Paul said, only explains it better) are still apart of Church teachings and therefore the Church is still orthodox.

The Church has always had it share of corruption whether that of the neo- pagans in Justinian's time, the pornocracy of the 10th century, or the leftist radicals which plague the Church today. I still remember all the jokes about how Satan can't destroy the Church because of the bishops and priests have been trying to do that for years while failing. Also reminds me of a story about a Catholic who told his Jewish friend about the faith, but was horrified to learn that the Jew was so intrigued that he wanted to visit Rome; when the Jew came back, he told his friend that he had converted. When asked why, he said, "when I saw how corrupt the bishops and cardinals were, I knew it was a miracle that the Church has lasted this long".

Overall, we have it fairly good; Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are good popes.

Svar said...

Oops, I meant Emperor Julian not Emperor Justinian.

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

It's possible that we can look back, someday in the future, on the SSPX's April 15th response as a watershed moment in terms of the renewal of Catholic identity. I sure hope so, at least...

Charming Disarray said...

Very interesting and informative post.

Funny, I was brought up very trad and was basically told that V2 was Just The Most Evil Thing Ever and never thought about it as anything else until very recently. I find myself wishing I had been giving a more balanced view and told what actually happened instead of a broad oversimplification. Maybe there's been a fair amount of that on both sides.

Seraphic said...

*I* don't mean anything by "the bad old days." "The bad old days", however, is sometimes used by homilists to get a knowing laugh out of their congregations. I assume they are referring either to the entire sweep of Christian history from Pentecost until the 960s or just the Council of Trent until the 1960s. Either way, it's dismissive, ahistorical and brainless.

sciencegirl said...

I remember in one of his books, possibly "Spirit of the Liturgy," then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the liturgical changes were the easiest, quickest and least controversial decisions among the council members. They were all much more worried about what to say about the future role of Thomism and the historical method in scripture interpretation. He seemed a bit bemused over how the Council was interpreted by most of the Church as primarily liturgical in character. In some ways, I suppose it mirrors how the Holy Father can now give a long homily about Christ and his salvific action, giving an example of perhaps a stumbling child being picked up and bandaged by his loving parents, only to read in his morning AP bulletin, "Pope Blasts Clumsy Children," and "No Need for Antiseptic -- Just Slap on a Bandage, Says Vatican."

"Sing a Hermeneutic of Continuity into Being" just doesn't scan well, I guess.