• Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary
Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Seabury, 1972), pp. 3-26, 125-145.

To better comprehend Bernard Lonergan, one must understand which principal question he wants theology to answer. As a Thomist, Lonergan is interested in Aquinas epistemological question: “how do we know what we know”? Put in Aquinas’s word, “Does the soul know material things through the intellect” (Summa Theologica,1a q84 a1). However, more than Aquinas, Lonergan’s interest is not only in knowing “how we know what we know” but also in “what we do when we know.” This particularity portrays the ingenuity of Lonergan’s thought. He wants the reader to go beyond how one knows things to discover what happens afterwards. In his Method in theology, he transcends the Thomistic epistemology. He calls it Introspection. According to him, Introspection is the objectification of the contents of consciousness. This process moves from the sense-data through inquiry, insight, reflection, and judgment to statements about sensible things. (Lonergan, 1972, 8–10)

Lonergan’s theology has its source in this epistemological process. However, before explaining this procedure, he proposes a cumulative process, different from set of rules, necessary in theological reflection, which he called Method.

According to Lonergan, when one applies Method in theology, it becomes “a set of related and recurrent operations cumulatively advancing towards an ideal goal” (125). However, owing to the specialization of knowledge, he states that we should not see method as a single set of related operations but a series of interdependent groups. Each specialization is independent, but its comprehension depends on the sum of their antecedence - “a series of interdependent sets.”

Furthermore, Lonergan continues to establish the possible relationship between different disciplines. He proposes that theological knowledge goes from compound data—texts, documents, through hypothesis—interpretation of and commentary on the tests and documents to constructing narratives from the gathered information (126). Finally, Lonergan explains that following these steps in Method, theology could be classified into eight functional specializations: research, interpretation, history, dialectic, foundation, doctrines/policies, systems/plans, and communication/implementations (127–132).

The division in Lonergan is not simply his way of showing different forms of theology but also an explanation of how the human mind works.[1] The first four divisions—research, interpretation, history, and dialectic are “the four levels of human transcendence—being attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsive” (ibid). Furthermore, as Lonergan sees theology in terms of praxis, the second part of the division shows how theologians should act once engaged in this quest. The first part of Lonergan’s theological specialization is in the past. The second, which is in the future, reminds the theologian to be involved in the transformation of society. Here, he proposes that theology should change the life of the theologian—through an act of conversion — “transformation of the subject and his world” (130) or “being a witness to it” (133)

Knowing that Lonergan’s Method works as an algorithm capable of linking different fields of knowledge, it is evident that his theology has not yet been exploited enough in our present-day society. People keep on regarding theology to be vague, disconnected, and unpopular. In contrast, Lonergan has proven that when theologies follow a transcendental method, it could save the society from itself by giving it directions for self-discovery and societal transformation.

All the same, the difficulties with Lonergan’s theology is and will for a long time be its complicated system. Looking for a way of building a system capable of interacting with one another, he seems to have constructed a complex structure reserved only for a few individuals.

[1] Tad Dune, https://iep.utm.edu/lonergan/ (26/11/2021)

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  • Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary

Les autres étoiles, même si elles brillent très fort, n'estomperont jamais l'étoile polaire

Un jour, j’ai eu la visite de ma famille de Malio. J’étais à Ekuanitshit. Timak venait juste de m’apprendre à faire la pizza. Je voulais donc les impressionner. Ça ne faisait pas encore longtemps depuis mon arrivée dans la communauté. Je suis donc allé acheter des peppéronis au dépanneur de la communauté. Et comme il n’y avait pas de peppéroni là-bas, j’ai acheté du Baloney. J’étais bien fier d’avoir réussi ma pizza. Et puis, ils se sont mis à manger avec appétit. Je me réjouissais intérieurement car Timak semblait aimer ma pizza. Et tout d’un coup, il me demande ce que j’avais mis dans la pizza. Je ne connaissais pas encore bien la différence entre le Baloney, le peppéroni, et le salami. Je sors donc le reste, et c’était bien du Baloney. Il riait toute la soirée de ma pizza au Baloney. « C’était du jamais vu, qu’il me disait ! »

J’aurais beaucoup d’autres histoires à raconter sur Timak, mais je sais que tous ceux et toutes celles qui l’ont connu ou côtoyé auraient aussi tant de choses à dire sur ses histoires qui ne finissent jamais. Tout le monde sait que Timak avait toujours une histoire à raconter.

Si vous l’avez croisé dans sa cantine (Cantine TIMAK), ou encore lors de ses moments de paparazzi, dans une activité culturelle, ou une rencontre spirituelle, etc., vous aurez déjà eu l’honneur d’écouter ce grand conteur. Il avait une histoire pour chaque événement.

Depuis que je l’ai connu, on a toujours été content de se voir. Et il avait toujours une nouvelle recette à me faire goûter, et surtout une histoire à me conter. Maintenant, je suis presque sûr qu’il est en train de raconter des histoires aux gens qui ont tout le temps pour l’écouter.

Timak, je joins ma voix à celle de toute la famille Vollant pour te remercier pour tout ce que tu as été pour eux, pour moi, et pour toute la communauté. Ta porte était toujours grandement ouverte pour moi, et toute ta famille est devenue la mienne depuis que j’ai été (quasiment) adoptée par ta famille. Ton départ est difficile à comprendre, mais qui a dit qu’on peut comprendre la mort ? Une chose est, toutefois, claire : tu mérites ce repos que le Créateur vient de t’accorder.

L’hiver te sera désormais agréable, et le Nord, la terre sacrée de tes ancêtres, près de ton cœur nomade. Cette cinquième saison dans laquelle tu viens juste d’entrer, le chemin rouge te l’a aussi préparée d’avance. Regarde en avant, et tu verras l’étoile du Nord. Il te guidera vers d’autres gens qui t’ont précédé. Écoute bien, et tu entendras atikut, uapushat, mashkut, maikana, etc., te dire Kuei, Timak, bon retour au Nuitshimit, où tu as toujours été attendu depuis ta naissance. Tu peux sembler presque absent, aujourd’hui, mais quand une étoile s’éteint, elle laisse toujours la trace de son existence.

Les nombreux voyages que tu as organisés pour les jeunes, ainsi que tous les temps que tu as investis pour ta famille, ta communauté, ta culture et la spiritualité, te serviront de mot de passe pour entrer dans ton nouveau chez toi. Et, pour nous, la trace de ton passage dans cette partie de Nitassinan.

Je t’ai écouté parler, une centaine de fois, de ta foi en humanité ; de ton profond respect pour le sacré et la diversité de voies menant à Dieu, de ton respect pour les valeurs de ton peuple ; et ton respect pour le sacré se faisait régulièrement ressentir.

Que les ancêtres t’accueillent avec beaucoup de joie dans ce territoire céleste et nordique. Et que le visage du Grand Esprit t’illumine le chemin.

Vas-y, Marc, repose-toi auprès de ton Créateur, mais n’oublie pas de nous envoyer tes photos de temps à autre.

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  • Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary

Bernard Lonergan started his significant theological corpus Method in Theology (1979) with this provoking statement: “A THEOLOGY mediates between a cultural matrix and the significance and role of a religion in that matrix” (11). It took me almost ages to wrap my finger around this prophetic utterance. I grew up in a young Church that was more inexperienced compared to the other Churches around her. But the greatest challenge of our Church is not her age but her quasi-inability to value her own God experience. She was made to believe that her experience was not as necessary as that of the other Churches.

She was also convinced that her story was not vital because she believed in the single story sold to her by the older Churches. This single story has been passed over to her in the name of the Universal narrative. They made her give up her own meta-narratives when they presented her with a well-orchestrated pseudo-universal narrative built within a given cultural matrix. It was this innocent Church that formed my early beliefs.

In a well-celebrated article, Contextual Theology (2010), Steve Bevans introduced his text with this fantastic affirmation:

All theology is contextual. One can even say that there is no such thing as ‘theology,’ because there is only contextual theology: African American, Latino/a, Asian, Liberal Protestant, Neo-orthodox, Congolese, feminist or womanist, Thomist, White U.S. American or European. Theology has always been contextual, whether Elohist or Priestly in the Old Testament or Matthean, Johannine or Pauline in the New Testament. Ephrem, the Syrian in the fourth century, did theology in a distinctly West Asian way; Augustine theologized in the context of controversies that raised key questions for Christianity: the validity of Baptism, the necessity of grace, the instability of the present world. Aquinas’s context was the new culture of thirteenth-century Europe and the recent re-discovery of Aristotle; Luther’s context was widespread corruption in the Church and emerging individuality in Western thought; Teresa of Ávila’s was the Catholic Reformation. De las Casas did theology as he argued for the rights of indigenous Americans; Schleiermacher theologized in dialogue with the Enlightenment’s ‘turn to the subjective’; Karl Rahner tried to make sense of a world torn apart by war, and Rosemary Radford Reuther theologizes with the conviction that Christianity must include women’s flourishing.”

It is in line with this affirmation that the beauty of Lonergan’s statement makes sense. When he says that a theology mediates between a cultural matrix, he wants us to understand that every speculation or cogitation on God is always in a dialogue between a people, language, culture, spirituality, political and historical situation, and God. Theology is never outside a cultural matrix (a context) but within and with it. It’s also a mediation, a conciliation, a dialogue between the meaning of the people ascribe to religion and spirituality and the role these play in their society, context, or cultural matrix.

The danger, however, is to take the social context not as a matrix but as the standard of theological reflection. It is here that theological hermeneutics becomes vital. Claude Geffré maintains that theological hermeneutics is the standard in every effort to theologize a social, political, and religious experience. In his book, Croire et Interpreter (2001), he explains that the role of the theologian is to consider the relationship between the experience of the first Christian community, the experience of today’s Christians community and their respective historical contexts (20). Steven Bevans (Models of Contextual Theology, 1992) will even go further to suggest that no theology should be judged authentic until it is filtered of its imported cultural packages and then incarnated in the context of the receiving community (5).

Unfortunately, but few Africans go the extra mile to bring theology to mediate with our cultural matrix. Many import the cultural matrix of Western society and impose it on our people. This practice is what Robert Schreiter (Constructing Local Theologies, 1986) calls a translational model of theology. It’s a model of theology that adopts foreign theological narratives to a new context (7). It is crucial to make a few distinctions here because often, we see it from the wrong dimension. I have heard people cite gender and sexual orientation theories and family models as imported cultural matrices. Those are false arguments. And to be truthful, it’s even the arguments they advance that are unfortunately borrowed from the West.

The cultural matrix of Africa is expressed in her spirituality, political situations, and anthropology. The historical praxis of Gutierrez is an excellent example of such theology. It’s a theology that starts not at the pulpit but on the street. Gutierrez explains in Théologie de la Libération (1974) that theology must be inspired not by simple speculations [on perfect and non-existing] principles but by an engagement and an attitude that promotes life and involves itself in the betterment of the society (20). African theologians ought to rethink their theology. Many have made a significant shift in their theological quests by adapting their language to the African situation. Yet, the truth is that an authentic African theology should not be a theology simply done by an African but done with an African cultural matrix—which is the point of departure—and African societal betterment should be its destination.

This does not mean that Africans have always been silent in this theological conversation. On the contrary, a strong presence of that desire to bring theology to the African palaver abounds already. James H. Cone and many other black Africans and Americans have done a great job on that. Also, the courageous action of the martyrs of the Igbo landing is a robust theological act of self-liberation. On arriving at the Dunbar Cree, Georgia, in 1803, a band of Igbo slaves took control of their ship and decided to take control of the narrative of their own earthly life journey. They posed a decisive liberation theological question when they refused to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (Psalm 137, 4). Today again, through the multiplication of sects and churches, many keep on working for an African theology of liberation, says the Jesuit theologian Engelbert Mveng, S.J. (F.-X. Akono, Explorer la théologie d’Engelbert Mveng, 2011, 49–50). Though perpetuating a translational theological model, these local initiatives are how young Africans wish the streamline theologies to mediate with and within the African cultural matrix.

Finally, an authentic African theology must work to realize the kingdom of God in the African land. It should respond to the prayer of Christ, “Thy will be done on earth (on the African soil) as it is in heaven” because when the will of God is done, the daily bread of Africans will be assured. But we know that hunger is still killing millions on our continent. It is then either that the African theologians are yet to do theology from our cultural matrix, or their voices are not yet strong enough as those of the profits they are called to be. In her book Jesus of Africa (2004), Diane B. Stinton presents Jesus as the liberator in the works of Jean-Marc Ela. She states that African theology must stand firm against every form of oppression “because the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands our participation in the struggle to free people from all forms of dehumanization” (216).




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