Lonergan's framework for the future

Swain, Bernard F.

MEETING THE DEMANDS OF RENEWAL Lonergan's framework for the future BERNARD F. SWAIN NEWS OF Bernard Lonergan's death reached me, appropriately enough, not through the media but by word of mouth....

...This led to a double ambition for the impact of liberation theologies, which "were expected to both change the world and keep theology alive...
...Cornel West has noted how liberation theologians, perceiving theology as bankrupt, hoped to "breathe new life into a fading and faltering mode of intellectual reflection...
...Such claims may seem extravagant, and they are admittedly small in number and local in scale but they nonetheless suggest the enormous potential for pastoral development latent in Lonergan's work...
...Quixote, that theological training yields no more than "a few tattered volumes of a theological kind, the relics of his studies.'' Instead, students realize their prior study can now be mobilized to make them more effective in ministry...
...Or because of some fundamental obstacles to acceptance whether flaws in the method or biases within the theological community...
...Lonergan's work has challenged a generation of students and scholars to care about the present health and future prospects of theology...
...Yet the evidence of his influence is overwhelming: scores of doctoral theses on his work since 1970, two major symposia, annual Lonergan workshops at Boston College and elsewhere, Lonergan research centers in Santa Clara, Toronto, and Dublin, a special convocation for Lonergan (and Rahner) at the University of Chicago in 1974...
...This challenge heightened after 1971 with the long-awaited publication of Method in Theology, which proposed his framework for a more critical and collaborative approach to theology in the form of eight "functional specialties...
...To understand Lonergan's impact we must explain how such a deep, strong current could remain beneath the surface mainstream of public theological discourse and controversy...
...These conditions made it difficult not only to teach effectively but also to write creatively...
...Lonergan did not, of course, share the liberation theologians' politics...
...To be sure, others offered new approaches and made important contributions to theological method (Rahner's an-thropocentric turn, Schillebeeckx's negative critique), but such contributions were the means, not the ends, of their work...
...If Lonergan's career had been in art, music, film, or theater, one would be tempted to explain the contrast between his relative lack of celebrity and his undoubtedly large and dedicated following by calling him a "cult figure...
...2) interpretation ascertains what their writings meant...
...On one level, this challenge has enjoyed astonishing success, evidenced by the massive response in theses, workshops, Festschrifts, research centers, newsletters, journals, and books on his work...
...Lonergan produced few works on theological issues of current pastoral concern: no books on Confirmation or prayer (like Rahner), on infallibility (like Kiing), or on ministry (like Schillebeeckx...
...This is not surprising, for despite his clarity of style Lonergan is notoriously difficult for most readers, due largely to the abstractness of his concerns combined with the technicality of his language...
...3) history sets them in the context of theological and cultural development...
...6) doctrines gives this viewpoint express formulation...
...Once we recognize that while other theologians constructed a "theology of renewal," Lonergan became a chief architect of the "renewal of theology," our sense of his career sharpens...
...Second, the experience liberates students (especially seminary graduates) from feeling, like Graham Greene's Msgr...
...Many have created church-based projects applying this process to team-building in pastoral staffs, curriculum design in catechetical programs, goal-setting in parish councils, planning and development in diocesan agencies...
...His functional specialties were therefore both descriptive of what theology already is and prescriptive of what it should and must become...
...Both had received phone calls themselves from others closer to the event...
...I had already read the November 27 Boston Globe (missing the modest obituary on page 72) when two phone calls brought word that Lonergan had died...
...in the second phase "the theologian, enlightened by the past, confronts the problems of the day...
...To pose this point another way: David Tracy has suggested that any theology may address one or more of three publics: academy, church, society...
...On another level, however, Lonergan's success has been limited and even questionable...
...He did not regard his method as a minor or relative improvement on established methods, or as one among many competing methods...
...Or because of certain misconceptions about it...
...ON HEARING OF Lonergan's death my first memory was of a discussion I had with another Lonergan student on the way to class one evening in 1971...
...5) foundations selects one viewpoint as the basic "horizon" for further work...
...My impression (a part-time academic's, subjectto correction) is that the importance of Lonergan's work on the problem of method is widely accepted, but his proffered solution is not (except among the growing minority of "Lonerganians...
...3) his "functional specialties" applied transcendental method to the specific case of theology in a way consistent with the norms already implicit in the practice of theology...
...Lonergan's impact on the first is easy to document, but the intriguing question and the thorniest point of comparison between, him and figures like Rahner, Schillebeeckx, and Kiing regards Lonergan's impact beyond the community of theological scholars...
...Method's second part ("Foreground") applied this transcendental method to the specific field of theology...
...At such moments, there is only one remedy: I must return to my room and pick up Lonergan's Insight...
...He argued Rahner's case, and I Lonergan's partly in defense of Lonergan, partly as devil's advocate against Rahner...
...Second, Lonergan divided each phase into the four levels of cognitional theory, and called these "functional specialties": "The very structure of human inquiry results in four functional specialties, and since in theology there are two distinct phases we are led to eight functional specializations in theology...
...I say "appropriately" because Lonergan was not a media star...
...One call was from a Jesuit with whom I work, the other from a man who had studied with me under Lonergan at Harvard in 1971...
...Instead, they wrote books on faith and its foundations, on the church and its institutions, on the sacraments and their ministers...
...he viewed his challenge, in fact, rather like Pascal's wager: if he is right about cognitional Commonweal: 48 theory, transcendental method, and the functional specialties, then the future success of theology as a public and collaborative discipline hangs on employing his method or something like it...
...Indeed, Lonergan himself found mat most of the Latin theology he wrote early in his career was not "enduring" enough to bother translating into English...
...And since by "non-theologians" I mean all those who do not make theological scholarship their business including most clergy, most Catholic seminary, college, and school graduates, most parishioners, and most lay people doing the church's work in the world this point, though less obvious, is all the more important to assess...
...Yet it raised a point I have pondered all the years since: if it is obvious that Lonergan was, as John L, McKenzie called him, the "theologian's theologian," it is less obvious what difference his work made or could make to non-theologians...
...This has led some to discount Lonergan's importance witness the critic who complained that "after watching Lonergan spend years sharpening his theological tools, I am impatient to see him cut something with them...
...He further claimed to accomplish this restoration in the three cumulative steps I briefly outlined above: (1) his "cognitional theory" provided a normative account of the pattern of all human inquiry...
...Over time, such writing will undoubtedly produce pastoral benefits already implicit in Lonergan's work...
...While they have developed theology as a way of promoting the renewal of the church, Lonergan developed method as a way of promoting the renewal of theology...
...Daniel Helminiak and William Johnston on spirituality...
...A more immediate effect has surfaced, especially since 1980, in the form of "theological reflection...
...He never achieved the celebrity of Kiing, Schillebeeckx, Rahner, or liberation theologians...
...I am reminded of my own introduction to the name' 'Lonergan...
...they were presented as the basic structure of a theological method which was not merely convenient or helpful, but even indispensable...
...7) systematics relates this viewpoint to other theological issues touched by it...
...Third, this process leads students,to train others (especially parishioners) in theological reflection, thus renewing the experience and function of theology at the very foundation of local church life...
...This work yields three practical effects: First, the abstractions of Lonergan's method take practical form as when students study the functional specialty "dialectic," then 25 January 1985: 49 employ it to build consensus around parish priorities...
...I was not entirely comfortable with my position even then, and would be unlikely to defend it now...
...Built on Lonergan-influenced texts and perspectives, such as the Whiteheads' Method in Ministry, Edward Braxton's Wisdom Community, and David Tracy's Blessed Rage for Order, these courses present theology as a way of thinking, a skill, a tool for ministry, instead of a bookbound body of knowledge...
...Here lies the problem...
...Originally developed as a component of seminary field education programs, "theological reflectiQn in ministry" is emerging as a core course in ministry training curricula such as the Doctor of Ministry Program at St...
...But Lonergan regarded his method as something not optional but normative...
...Nearly all of it focuses on the very founda-tional and methodological concerns (and their implications across a wide range of issues) that were at the core of Lonergan's career...
...We come to judge his overall impact by more complex standards: his direct effect on theology itself, and his indirect effect on the renewal of church and society...
...Is this simply because the jury is still out on Lonergan's proposed method...
...A Jesuit at Holy Cross piqued my curiosity by supporting his advice that I seek out Lonergan with the following fervent confession: "There are times I become quite discouraged with the state of the world, the church, and especially with the state of theology...
...Clearly Lonergan intended, hoped, even expected, that people would use his method to reorganize the whole theological enterprise...
...Any section will do, just a few pages...
...8) communications aims at disseminating this viewpoint into the life of church and world...
...Lonergan himself clearly suffered, during his early career, because of die academic institutions and practices he inherited: "The situation I was in was hopelessly antiquated, but had not yet been demolished...
...Whatever the reasons, this limited acceptance bids us ask whether (as the Lonergan Studies Newsletter put it) "the influence of the Lonergan movement will spread beyond its own circle...
...Lonergan, by contrast, spent his whole career developing a new approach to theology...
...That movement, after all, sought not only "a theology of liberation" but also "the liberation of theology...
...The first is in the growing literature exploring the relevance of Lonergan's foundational concerns to practical issues...
...First, Lonergan divided theological investigation into two phases: the first reveals the current religious situation by putting theologians in touch with past traditions...
...For his work proposed not just that others concern themselves with method in general, but that the academy adopt and develop some specific method presumably his own...
...Lonergan has directly inspired this generation of scholars to focus on the problem of method...
...We debated whether Rahner or Lonergan would, in the long run, have greater pastoral impact...
...pared to other major theological figures of the post-conciliar period, Lonergan was less prolific, less known to the general public, less read, and probably less understood...
...But the fact remains that a little Lonergan is a dangerous thing, and widespread misconceptions persist especially the notion that Lonergan is not relevant to the pastoral concerns of the present generation...
...Rather, he claimed to be restoring to contemporary form and practice a method developed by generations of thinkers from Athanasius to Aquinas but subsequently lost...
...In short, the ego beneath Lonergan's shy and sometimes diffident exterior aimed not only to pose the problem of theological method but to provide the solution as well...
...Using cases from their own pastoral experience, students learn the process of mediating tradition and culture (proposed by Lonergan's functional specialties) as a practical task for ministers...
...Then I can sleep.'' Commonweal: 46 I found this rather extravagant praise, yet I could not resist it: I began to read Insight to find out for myself...
...Theology becomes a means of personal formation, a source of mutual support among ministers, and a tool for building consensus within church communities...
...Unfortunately, Method in Theology has often proved to be one of those books (rather like Ham-marskjold's Markings in more popular circles in the mid-1960s) which everyone knows and speaks of but few have actually read and even fewer understand...
...His ambition was at once more conservative and more modest...
...Certainly he wrote theological texts (e.g., on the Trinity), especially when his teaching required it, but these were seldom the fruit of his method rather, they prepared him for its mature formulation...
...In short, the functional specialties challenged theologians to arrange all their activities into "a patterned set of operations that will ensure their methodical interaction," yielding progressive and cumulative results...
...To cite a few examples, there are: Matthew Lamb writing on theory, praxis, and social transformation...
...I find it helpful to approach this question by first recognizing that the focus of Lonergan's career in theology was different from that of these other major figures...
...In this sense one could make a sensible (if not probable) comparison with the liberation theologies...
...I open it at random and read...
...Like his death in Pickering, Ontario, Lonergan's career in Montreal, Rome, Toronto, Cambridge, and Boston was rather a quiet, in-house affair, so that his impact cannot be measured by usual standards...
...he may yet have the indirect effect of enabling the next generation of pastoral ministers to make theology as integral to pastoral life as Lonergan himself 'ways expected it to be...
...2) his "transcendental method" derived from cognitional theory a set of norms applicable to any intellectual discipline...
...The reports of these projects indicate that such pastoral application of "a more critical and collaborative" approach to theology promotes a more confident clergy, a more responsive and powerful laity, better lay-clergy relations, and more dynamic relations between parish life and society...
...Method's first part ("Background," the densest writing in all Lonergan, each chapter really meriting its own book) proposed a universal model for any methodical investigation in any field, based on his cognitional theory...
...This theory claimed that all knowing follows a fixed, universal pattern of asking questions on a succession of levels: experience, understanding, judgment, and decision...
...LONERGAN'S indirect effect on pastoral life does not surface where one might first expect it: among seminary students and graduates...
...Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, the Lay Ministry Training Institute in Boston, and the Rhode Island School for Deacons...
...Instead, Lonergan's pastoral impact takes two quite different forms...
...Since then I have learned that such profound attachment to Lonergan's work is quite common among those who know it well...
...Sullivan, Paul Robb, Mary Boys, and Thomas Groome on conversion...
...Earlier, in his massive Insight (the "little book" that prepared for Method) Lonergan had developed his "cognitional theory...
...Lonergan then turned his career to "keeping theology alive," developing and honing theological method not so much for his own use (his age and health made that unlikely in any case) as for the use of others...
...Called "transcendental method," this model supposed that all investigations are performed by people whose minds operate in conformity with a fixed pattern "presented by the mind itself...
...ComBERNARD F. swain is coordinator of the Paulist Leadership and Renewal Project in Boston, advisor to Roman Catholic students at Harvard Divinity School, and author of Liberating Leadership: Emerging Options in Pastoral Ministry (forthcoming from Winston-Seabury...
...Marc Smith, J.W...
...For many have applauded Lonergan's cognitional theory, and even his transcendental method, while regarding the functional specialties as options they could take or leave...
...I feel as though we've lost our bearings and aren't about to get them back...
...4) dialectic compares the results of different viewpoints...
...I taught theology for twenty-five years under impossible conditions...
...For any issue under study, these functional specialties separate the successive stages in the process of theological investigation into distinct steps: (1) research examines all relevant data, especially the work of previous theologians...
...At a time when Vatican II focused the world's attention (and most theologians' energies) on the renewal of the church, Lonergan devoted his career to founding a theology that could meet the demands of that renewal...
...Lonergan's direct effect on the enterprise of theology, at 25 January 1985: 47 least in North America, is both profound and problematic...
...If not, the long-term risk is that Lonergan's work might succeed, not in reorganizing the theological enterprise, but merely in establishing yet another school of theology...
...Such criticism, it seems to me, misses the whole point and focus of Lonergan's career, a career concerned not with the immediate and even urgent pastoral need for specific theological positions on specific issues facing the church, but with the long-term necessity of providing firmer foundations for the whole enterprise of theology...
...Nonetheless, one aiming to name Lonergan's ambition could do worse than say "he sought to keep theology alive...
...They did not devote their whole careers to method...

Vol. 112 • January 1985 • No. 2


 
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