Saturday 23 June 2012

Lonergan Workshop 39: celebrating 50 years since Vatican II

A view of the Boston College campus

The 39th Annual Lonergan Workshop at Boston College celebrated the Promise and the Challenge of Vatican II, 50 years down the line, and also remembered Fr Frederick E. Crowe, SJ, the leading light of Lonergan studies, who passed away earlier this year.

The Workshop, which began when Lonergan was still alive, is convened annually by Fred and Sue Lawrence. Fred, himself one of the leading hermeneutical philosophers in North America, is a professor of theology at Boston College, and a student of Lonergan's at the Gregorian in the early 1960s.

Several of the papers dealt directly with the Council. Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, who used to teach ecclesiology at the Gregorian during the years of the Council, suggested that the church learn to make better use of the structure, mentioned in canon law, of regional plenary councils, which, in contrast to Episcopal Conferences, had legislative and executive powers. Robert A. Imbelli called for greater attention to Dei Verbum and the Christic focus of the Council. Michael McCarthy, John Dadosky, Grant Kaplan, Richard Liddy, and Gerard Whelan, SJ focused their papers quite specifically on the council and its implementation, with some being more critical and others advocating a more constructive approach, which is not to raise questions about the irenicity of either. Kaplan drew on the work of Hunermann to attempt to go beyond the hermeneutic of continuity vs the hermeneutic of rupture, speaking of the council in terms of constitutional texts of faith. Whelan opened up vistas upon the creative possibilities inherent in Lonergan's work: Lonergan often said that if theologians did their work properly - and his way was that of method - there would be less need of police work by the magisterium. Perhaps there is not enough irenic dialectic and dialogue between theologians - only a sort of mutual antagonism and often rejection between parties. Patrick Brennan's paper on the freedom of the church, the constitution of the state, and our contemporary situation raised strong feelings because of the uncompromising stand he took, saying that the current struggle in the American church should stand not on the freedom of individuals (or of a group), but on the inalienable, privileged and God-given rights of the church, by which he clearly meant the Catholic Church. This was a rather extraordinary thing to say, and it did provoke strong reactions - unless we understand it as calling for the right and duty of Christians to criticize, correct and transform the social situation - what Brennan called the social kingship of Christ.

Another set of papers dealt with themes raised by or connected to the council. Robert Doran's paper continued his ongoing focus on the multi-religious context, in continuation of the late Fred Crowe's work. One of the enlightening points he made was that actual operative grace is itself considered sanctifying in Lonergan's work.
Maury Schepers spoke about the ongoing self-constitution of the church as a synonym for communications.

Yet other papers dealt with people connected with the council. Randy Rosenberg gave a rather moving paper on Pope John XIII, who Fred Lawrence recalled was the only pope whom Lonergan referred to as 'good.' Ken Melchin presented the extraordinary figure of Sargent Shriver, Catholic layman in the field of active politics, founder of the Peace Corps, the Olympics for the Differently Abled, Head Start, and a hundred other programs, someone who literally lived a politics of charity. Shriver's son Timothy gave a talk that was much appreciated, one which I was sorry to have missed.

Another group of papers might perhaps be considered in the category of Lonergan exegesis, but still very much connected to the Council if we think of them as moments in the ongoing attempt to work out a creative response to the challenges and invitations of the Council. Jeremy Wilkins, the new Director of the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto, gave a very creative paper on the Dereliction or Abandonment of Christ, asking in what way Christ could be said to have become sin for us, or in what way the Father had abandoned his Son on the cross. Elizabeth Murray highlighted how passion very much forms a part of moral conversion in the later phase of Lonergan's work, in contrast to the rather more rational analysis of Insight. Charles C. Hefling, one of the senior stalwarts of the Lonergan movement, gave a brilliant paper on Lonergan's creation of special theological categories in an unpublished page now available on www.lonerganresource.com. William Mathews, SJ, continued his explorations into the topic of meaning in Lonergan. Neil Ormerod spoke about the needed renewal of systematic theology, capturing rather well the current not so hopeful state of affairs. William Murnion, another of the stalwarts, gave a magisterial and dialectical overview of alternative approaches to truth.

I missed another couple of papers, one of which would have been very interesting: that of Evaristus Ekwueme, SJ, on a Lonerganian View of Information Technology. My own paper was on a rather technical point from chapter 20 of Insight: I tried to make sense of the anomaly there of a "natural solution to the problem of evil that is in some sense supernatural." A recourse to Lonergan's early Latin theology threw up surprising clues: the notion of the supernatural quoad modum in contrast to the better known supernatural quoad substantiam, and the possibility of absolutely supernatural acts with natural formal objects quod. The category of the supernatural quoad modum, which is the same as gratia sanans or healing grace, helps explain the anomaly: the natural solution to the problem of evil that is in some sense supernatural is a gratia sanans type of solution. The solution is therefore, as Lonergan says, both transcendent and religious, it involves divine intervention, but it does not involve a communication and a participation and attainment of God as he is in himself. The possibility instead of absolutely supernatural acts with natural formal objects quod opens up the way to Lonergan's later view of the religions as all somehow rooted in God's gift of his love, without excluding the possibility that some of them may, as far as their beliefs are concerned, remain completely within what used to be called 'natural truths.' The enlightening point here is the possibility of religions that are in one sense fruits of the gift of God's love, and therefore properly supernatural, and yet in another sense quite 'natural.' The paper generated a good bit of discussion despite its extreme technicality as an exegesis of Lonergan, but perhaps more because of the concluding remarks about the place of consent in religious conversion. Given that Lonergan, following Aquinas, speaks of the infused virtue of charity in terms of mutual love and friendship, I had asked whether the gift of God's love might not itself be considered in some way as the gift of a response. The responses made it clear, as Aquinas himself makes it clear, that falling in love - the analogy for the operative moment, the gift of God's love - is itself something overwhelming, but that we can in a subsequent moment accept or else mysteriously reject it.

Patrick Byrne, another stalwart, presented an interesting paper comparing Teilhard and Lonergan, pointing out how Lonergan, with great admiration and respect for Teilhard, was able to correct certain deficiencies in the thought of the latter. He made the interesting remark that Teilhard stood to Bergson as Dante to Aquinas, and that Lonergan was still awaiting his Dante. Christine Jamieson spoke soberly and warmly about the way Lonergan can help in the difficult ethical decision-making in the medical field. Brian Braman gave an extended and creative reflection on how every space is moral, pointing out that the concept of 'privacy' - what I do is my own personal concern - is an attempt to carve out a space where the ethical does not apply. Michael Vertin presented a paper on the Lonergan Enterprise, which I was sorry to have missed because I had to catch a flight.

The Workshop reflected rather strongly the undercurrent of tension in the American church in particular and perhaps in the church in general about the direction and the implementation of the council. But I come away with the feeling that Lonergan does have creative ways of responding precisely to moments of tension. A searching study of his final papers in A Third Collection, for example, might turn up interesting pointers.

And: l'shana habaah b'irushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem, hopefully, at the Studium Theologicum Salesianum, Ratisbonne Monastery.

With talk also about an African Lonergan Workshop in Nairobi, an Asian Workshop in Hong Kong, and a British Workshop in London or in Oxford.

Friday 22 June 2012

Love and the cross

One of the most profound insights of this Workshop: Fred's observation that love is always self-sacrificing love, that the law of the cross should not be forgotten when we speak about love. He read a passage from Lonergan's "The Mediation of Christ in Prayer" (CWL 6). I was saying that it is not enough to speak of the gift of God's love and the state of being in love with God; we need to remember 'to put things into motion,' to think about the process of religious conversion. Fred added that we must not forget also the dramatic moment: the cross. There is no love without the cross. Lonergan went so far as to remind us that even natural love has a self-sacrificing dimension. 

Lonergan and Teilhard

Did Lonergan ever read Teilhard in his run up to Insight? Pat Byrne said he had consulted Bob Doran and Fred Lawrence, and he had not come across any evidence to that effect. Fred said he knew that between Insight and Method, Lonergan did read The Divine Milieu, and that he was very enthusiastic about it, talking about it very often. There was also a mention of Teilhard in discussion sessions at the end of the 1969 course at Toronto. And of course a single reference in Method in Theology.

I remember Luc Lantagne, at that time the Salesian Provincial of Canada, being quite categorical on the matter, that Lonergan knew his Teilhard. I need to try to track Luc down again on the matter. 

Waiting for Lonergan's Dante

Something more in the line of communication. Pat Byrne, in his paper on Teilhard and Lonergan at the 39th Lonergan Workshop that is drawing to a close, ended by wishing for someone who would be able to communicate Lonergan to the masses. Aquinas had his Dante; Bergson, he said, had Teilhard de Chardin, who was really translating Bergson into symbolic and metaphorical language. Lonergan awaited a poet-mystic. 

Gaudium et Spes and Spiderman

Did you ever think there would be a connection between Gaudium et Spes and Spiderman? GS n. 34: With increase in human powers comes broadening of responsibility. Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. 


Trivialization? Or communication?

Next year in Jerusalem!

L'shana habaah b'yerushalayim!

or perhaps, better:

L'shana habaah b'irushalayim!

The next International Lonergan Workshop will most likely be in Jerusalem - so keep the last two weeks of August 2013 free.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Wilkins, Murray, Hefling

Some great talks this morning. Jeremy Wilkins, who is going to be the new head of the Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, spoke brilliantly on the Dereliction or Abandonment of Christ on the Cross. Fred Lawrence put him to some very tough questioning, but that itself is, in my opinion, the esteem in which the young scholar is held.

From Elizabeth Murray I learnt that the component of passion enters along with the notion of value in Lonergan's reworking of the fourth level of intentional consciousness in Method in Theology.

And then there was Charles Hefling's tour de force on the rather obscure notion of the secondary esse involved in the hypostatic union. Hefling, as usual, was absolutely brilliant, and this was certainly one of the Workshop's electrifying moments, though I guess the Workshop is the only place in the world where such things are discussed anymore. Yet I have learned that nothing is 'merely obscure' or marginal or 'abstract' in Lonergan. Everything somehow has the most astounding practical implications. That, after all, is the point to his program of rooting everything in the experiential - the program in Insight, for example, of a verifiable metaphysics. And that was what drew us to Lonergan way back in Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, when his books were able to meet questions in a way that our very honest and competent professors could not.

And I just noticed the evolution of titles in Hefling's paper. In the 'schedule of probabilities' sent us by Fred before the Workshop, the title is "Metaphysics and/as Control of Meaning in Christology." Today, in the handout, the title was "'By Taking the Manhood into God': Christ’s Secondary Esse as Decentralizing Act." Hefling was reflecting on a one page, unpublished typescript datable to 1971 which, according to him, is the only instance in which Lonergan applies his own metaphysics to the task of Christology. Lonergan here extends the general metaphysical categories of central potency, form and act into the special categories of potential and actual assumption and decentralizing act. Given that this attempt does not seem to completely make its (metaphysical) way into two contemporary published papers of 1972 and 1975 respectively, Hefling asked about the 'necessity' of metaphysical categories to the theological enterprise in general.

He also remarked that the whole of this part of the Lonergan enterprise takes the Nicean and Chalcedonian definition of incarnation for granted. But outside this 'bubble' there were also the non-Chalcedonian churches. Fred Lawrence picked up on this remark, saying that Hefling was perhaps the only Lonergan scholar of note to keep us aware of the bubble, and that we should not judge the pre-Chalcedonian churches on the basis of questions that had not arisen for them. Which makes me think that a Workshop in Jerusalem around this area might be a brilliant idea...

Wednesday 20 June 2012

A Workshop in Jerusalem?

There is some possibility that the next international Lonergan Workshop will be hosted by the Salesian Monastery Ratisbonne, Jerusalem. Fred and Sue Lawrence have been talking about this for some time now, and perhaps it will happen. So: next year in Jerusalem!

And perhaps, if Mark Miller and John Dadosky get moving, an Asian Lonergan Workshop in Hong Kong, and even an African Lonergan Workshop, perhaps in Nairobi.

In the meantime, I met Stephen, a priest of the diocese of Trichy, who is pursuing his doctorate in Toronto, probably at Regis College. Stephen teaches at JDV, Pune, and is a member of the formation staff of the Papal Seminary.

I met also Shin-ja, who is Chae Young Kim's wife. Shin-ja lives in Newton with her children, and is an opera singer.

There was also Boskian, a diocesan priest from Slovenia. Boskian has just completed his Master's in Philosophy at BC, and is about to return to Slovenia.

Christian Krokus gave a great lecture on Louis Massignon, the pioneering Catholic Islamist who had an influence on the Second Vatican Council.

This morning was quite a different one for the Workshop, in terms of emotional content. Ken Melchin spoke on Sargent Shriver, outstanding Catholic layman, and Randy Rosenberg spoke warmly of Pope John XXIII. Both talks were moving, and met with a warm reception. Shriver is a name familiar to me thanks to Bro Joe Mascarenhas, who seems to have known the family, who were connected to the Kennedy's.

Grant Kaplan's talk, "Beyond Continuity vs Rupture: Vatican II as a Constitutional Text of Faith" was also rather extraordinary. Grant drew on the work of Peter Hunermann, and it was good to get a different perspective. 

The Flanagan House

Flanagan House, earlier Lonergan House

Another view of Flanagan House
At 1600 hrs the Lonergan House was converted to the Flanagan House, in honour of the late Joseph F.X. Flanagan, SJ, one of the moving spirits behind the Lonergan Workshop and movement in Boston College.

The house has been housing Lonergan Fellows over the years, and is just off the main campus, a lovely and probably old house of the Newton area. Several houses here have, in fact, been bought up by BC. I have seen a Rahner House and a Faber House among others.

The house was dedicated by William P. Leahy, SJ, President, BC, and Pat Byrne, Fred Lawrence and Michael McCarthy spoke. The blessing was done by Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, Socius of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus.

Monday 18 June 2012

The Workshop begins

Some of the participants

William Mathews, SJ

Fred Lawrence, Convener

Gaston Hall, Boston College
The 39th Annual Lonergan Workshop began this evening at Boston College. The first speaker was Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, who used to teach at the Gregorian in Rome, and was Fred Lawrence's teacher. He contributed to Lumen Gentium, I think, with his work. In his paper, he focussed on koinonia, communion, which he translated as participation. Among the things he suggested was the revival of plenary regional councils, a structure for promoting communion and participation that has not been much made use of. The difference between episcopal conferences and plenary councils is that the latter have, by canon law, legislative powers which the former do not, so that most 'documents' of episcopal conferences are simply gentlemen's agreements, not binding on individual bishops. Plenary councils also allow for greater and more representative participation: rectors of major seminaries, major superiors, deans of theology faculties, and laity.

Robert Imbelli spoke on Vatican II and the Christic focus. He said that Dei Verbum enjoyed a sort of theological primacy among the four constitutions promulgated by Vatican II, and that it provided a Christological foundation for all the other documents, but that it had been somewhat neglected in the post-conciliar period, which tended towards a reductive Christology or a reduction of Christ to a prophet of Israel, a moralizer, and so on. Imbelli argued gently but warmly for a restoration of the Christic focus of the Council, a non-reductive reading of the Council. Jeremy Wilkins and others said that perhaps the doctrine of the Spirit should be always brought in as a balance. But perhaps Imbelli's point was the too easy tendency to move into the direction of a contentless faith, extending in this way Lonergan's distinction between faith and beliefs.

Plenty of old faces at the Workshop: I was surprised and happy to see Hiroko from Japan. There was also Chae Young Kim, Mark Miller, Gene Ahner, Leo and Anne McCabe, Brian Braman, Gilles Mongeau. Among the new faces for me: Chris Friel, who knows Phyllis Wallbank. Interestingly and quite independently of the Workshop, Leo and Anne also know Phyllis.

Sue expressed keen interest in having a Workshop in Jerusalem, and said we should talk before I left. 

The indomitable Phyllis Wallbank


I was happy to find Phyllis Wallbank in good spirits. She is 93; two of her vertebrae are cracked; but she gets out of her house every day 5 days a week, taking the Mobility facility to Slough, and getting a three-wheeler that enables her to move around in the Shopping Centre that has been so carefully designed precisely to enable seniors like Phyllis to get around without difficulty.

A tremor does not allow Phyllis to cook or even eat, so she has taken advantage of another facility: three times a day someone comes to help her to eat, and with other small things. That way, Phyllis says, she can continue to stay in her own lovely little home, instead of going to a centre for senior citizens. The service is free for those who cannot afford it, and paid for those who can. Recently Phyllis had an extraordinary experience in which an angel came to her help after reading an article about her in the Daily Mail, so she can now afford to pay for the service.

Then of course people keep dropping in: the faithful Lorraine, Oliver from one of the houses on Boveney Road, who comes to take the retriever Boy for a walk, Philip who comes to do up the garden, and so on.

Phyllis is indomitable, and her cheerfulness is amazing. She is, in fact, much better now than a couple of years ago. She especially felt the loss of her little dog, and then the authorities would not allow her to have another one, saying she would not be able to take care of it. It was Oliver's mother who found an offer on the net, and now Boy is very happily an important and precious member of the house on Boveney Road. 

Sunday 17 June 2012

God, ha melech, the only King

This Sunday's gospel is about the kingdom of God. Fr Joseph at St Anthony of Padua, Brampton, Toronto, spoke about kings, and how (despite being in Canada) kings and queens are not very familiar any more. I was thinking: the world has progressed beyond kings and kingdoms; isn't the gospel somewhat outdated, with its talk of the kingdom? And suddenly it struck me: Sychar, Shechem, with the outburst of Gideon's last son against the son who had made himself king. The fierce anti-monarchical parable of the thorn bush swaying over the other trees. And how angry God was when the people of Israel demanded a king. They have betrayed me, not you. I am king, the only king of Israel.

And perhaps there lies the truth of kingdoms and democracies and all better political systems. The truth is that there is only one king who deserves the name king, and that is God. And his kingdom has no bounds and his rule is everlasting. Every other king is king only in name, and so to say. So in a sense, 'progress' and 'democracy' move closer towards this reality inasmuch as they implicitly make place for the sole kingship of the true King, God.

This of course does not get to the personal core of the matter. But sometimes faraway and exalted ideas are also in their own way very concrete.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Simone de Beauvoir

The Simone de Beauvoir biography: very interesting details. Surprising to learn about the type of poverty and family problems she faced while growing up. That she was, at one point of her childhood, fervently Catholic. That she abandoned her Catholicism in favour of a freedom to explore the passionate desires evoked by adolescence and untrammelled reading. That she knew and was quite friendly with Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and that, much before she met Sartre. That Merleau-Ponty was an in-and-out Catholic (I don't know how he ended up, this is up to the point I have reached in the book).

Wonderful how people's thinking begins to make so much more sense when seen against the background of their lives. 

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