Sunday, 29 June 2014

Catholicism and Ecumenism

I was going to spend the next three posts looking, respectively, at the functional specialties that Lonergan calls "interpretation," "history," and "dialectic." I still plan on getting around to that, but I wanted today to think about something different, namely Lonergan's Catholicism and what seems to me a much greater awareness of the demands of ecumenism in his later work.

Now, this growing awareness should probably be situated within the broader developments that took place within Catholicism during Lonergan's later life. Between Insight in 1957 and Method in Theology in 1971 there is this little thing called the Second Vatican Council. Lonergan was in fact teaching in Rome during most of the council, and was certainly cognizant that it represented in many ways a significant development in Catholic life and thought. I doubt it a coincidence that just as the Council Fathers are calling upon Catholics to enter into more serious and sincere engagement with the world's other religious traditions so does Lonergan begin to really focus upon developing what he will call a philosophy of religion.

Lonergan talks at length in Method about "conversion," identifying three major conversions that a person will ideally undertake in their journey toward authentic subjectivity (which subjectivity being the necessary ground for objectivity, but that is a discussion for another occasion): religious, moral, and intellectual. I think that his understanding of religious conversion is at the core of his ecumenism. It "is being grasped by ultimate concern" (Method, 240). Being thus grasped one is now ready for moral conversion, in which the subject comes to focus upon the question "What is right?" rather than the question "What is best for me?" Asking what "What is right?" the subject is now ready for intellectual conversion, in which the subject decides that it is very right to search diligently and honestly for truth. Having been grasped by ultimate concern we become concerned with value, and valuing we learn to value truth.

Now, Lonergan will describe what religious conversion means for Christians, talking about the Holy Spirit, the experience of grace, etc., but he leaves quite open the possibility that Christianity is not the only tradition via which one might come to be grasped by ultimate concern and thus open oneself to moral and intellectual conversion. The idea that I see developing in Lonergan's later work is that whilst truth is one and a commitment to truth normally follows from a commitment to value predicated upon an apprehension that there is more to this life then our workaday concerns one can come to these commitments and apprehensions from within a multitude of traditions. Thus the question is not "Which religion has the monopoly on truth?" but rather "What is there in any given religious tradition that could facilitate and even encourage the conversions necessary for the concerted pursuit of truth?"

Now, Lonergan was a Jesuit, and never abandons the commitments that that entails. As best I can tell he remains convinced that the concerted pursuit of truth will ordinarily lead to the judgment that orthodox Christianity offers the best answers when it comes to such matters as the nature of God, God's work in the world, etc., although he certainly thinks that these answers stand in urgent need of reformulation in light of the emergence of historical thinking in the 19th-century. He simply seems unwilling to shut the door on the idea that there can be intelligent and reasonable non-Christians as well as unintelligent and unreasonable Christians. What this means is that although Lonergan operates explicitly as a Catholic philosopher and theologian he is concerned to develop an account of knowing and of subjectivity that can enrich the thought of any human person, regardless of whether she or he is Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Confucian, Taoist, atheist, etc. All that is necessary is a desire to be a better person tomorrow than one is today. What Lonergan's thinking on this matter helps facilitate is more careful thought about exactly how these differences matter when it comes to scholarship within the particular discipline that is the object of this blog, namely New Testament studies.

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