Saturday 17 August 2013

Lonergan's apport

Mini-Lonergan Workshop at breakfast this morning. Vernet asked, what is Lonergan's apport? I tried to say: to bring 'history' into Catholic theology. Or perhaps: to find a new language for theology. (Which, I think, was also the basic or initial question for Heidegger.) The dogmatic and systematic theologian faced with the challenges of the Geisteswissenschaften, of the historical revolution, concretely manifest in the mountains of material produced by exegetes and historians.

In the light of this, some basic convictions:

1. No science is carried by a single individual. So also theology: the carrier of theology is the community. Theology today has to be done in team. It is a collaborative effort. So we need a way of collaborating, a method. Lonergan wants to work out this method

2. Lonergan dislikes asking, What is theology? or What is theological method? Instead, he likes to ask: What is happening when we are doing theology?

3. His initial aim was to write a book on theological method. When he was transferred to Rome, he wound up what he had written and published it as Insight: A Study of Human Understanding.

4. Lonergan is not a born Thomist. He liked to say that he was a convert to Thomism. During his initial philosophy years, the philosophy that was taught was Suarezian in orientation, something he did not much care for. He spent his time reading Newman's Grammar of Assent, 6 times, he said. It was from Newman that he picked up the sharp distinction between understanding and judgment. And it was thanks to Newman's reading of Aristotle that, when he began studying Thomas for his doctoral dissertation, he found a similar distinction in Aquinas.

5. Theological specializations exist. There are field specializations, and subject specializations. Lonergan proposes functional specializations: sub-divisions of the process of doing theology. He suggests that this process falls into two parts, listening to the past, and speaking to the present and future. Theology in oratione obliqua, and in oratione recta. What Isaiah, Luke, Paul said, and what we are saying, I am saying. Each of these parts divide into four. Thus we have Research, Interpretation, History, Dialectic; and Foundations, Doctrines, Systematics, Communications.

6. The core of the method lies in Dialectic and Foundations. The fact is that there are conflicting researches, interpretations, histories, for example. How to handle conflicts? Lonergan suggests that we distinguish first between different types of conflicts: those based in data; those that are perspectival or genetic; and those that are radical or dialectical. Dialectic deals with the third type of conflict.

How does it deal with this kind of conflict? By tracing conflicts to their roots in intellectual / philosophical, moral, religious, and perhaps emotional / psychic issues.  Radical conflicts are rooted in basic options in these areas, whether or not these options are made with high deliberation or simply by drifting into some contemporary horizon.

Very likely we will be able to presume moral and religious authenticity. The core problem seems to be intellectual and emotional.

The seminars and workshops of the future will presuppose time spent in getting to know one another, praying together, becoming friends. Friendship is the condition for doing theology. Within an atmosphere of friendship, we will be able to gently point out what we think are inconsistencies in the other, and s/he in us. and perhaps someone might be led to change. Or else to deliberate options, high options, which is all the authenticity that we are often capable of.

What we are doing really is bringing our often hidden horizons to the light that we can. This Lonergan calls the crucial experiment: objectification of subjectivity, objectification of our controlling preunderstandings.

Foundations follows: on the basis of the horizons that we have hopefully now deliberately opted for, a certain language follows, a certain set of categories. These will then provide the criteria for selection from among the range of possible choices of doctrines, and also the language or categories in which to couch these doctrines, what we believe.

And so on to Systematics, and Communications.

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