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

The recent Facebook development brings to home the theology of Bernard Lonergan. Faced with all the troubles of the Fake News era and the backlash of its involvement in the pandemic management, the Facebook Inc. of Mark Zuckerberg changed its playbook. It evolved by bringing into a single platform (meta) all its numerous technological fields.

Likewise, when Bernard Lonergan understood the troubles involved in doing theology under the old playbook, he proposed to transcend the existing methods by ushering in a new playbook that considers every step in the human cognitive process. He offered to construct a system that brings together all the existing ways of approaching data and facts.

In this Facebook’s new playbook, all the existing technological advancements—texts, photos, and videos, are brought together to transport the users beyond—meta—(from) the 2D into the 3D technology. On this present playbook, users will no longer be limited in what they can experience as they will be able to, virtually, bring to life whatever their mind could conceive. However, this new development can only be possible if the company exploits the vast possibilities that internet algorithms can offer them.

It is also what Lonergan envisaged in his theological reflections. He imagined a system that, when organized, could transpose the theologian beyond the limit of what a single data or field of study can offer. He called this adventure the transcendental method. According to him, this method consists of meta-phases—a progressive development permuting and permitting each level to tap from the preceding stage, thus bringing more knowledge to the already known and existing fact or data. This method is transcendental because the product is beyond a given subject and embraces all fields of expertise and the human mind. There is virtually nothing beyond the human mind with the transcendental method, simply like in the metaverse.

Both Zuckerberg and Lonergan challenge theologians today. They understood that the human mind is endowed with a vast mine of knowledge which only needs to be refined through a proper method or playbook. They also challenge theologians to get out of their comfort zones and embrace this adventure, which, as Lonergan says it, transforms the subject (the theologian) and his world (method in theology p. 130), making them a witness to the truth (ibid. p. 133).

Finally, both ask those who are interested in theological reflection a few questions:

1. What are the old playbooks that prevent the convert (as Lonergan calls an engaged theologian) from going beyond (meta -transcend) all the a priori or stereotypes from our religious circle?

2. What are the available methods capable of bringing us in contact with the spiritual metaverses that prefigure our glorious beatific vision?

3. What are the algorithms capable of facilitating our engagement in the construction of a new paradise? For example, in metaverses, each player can build his or her world and territory; what world could our knowledge of God help us create?

4. In the transcendental method, Lonergan explains that theology does not limit itself with facts alone. It gathers data, interprets it, documents it and then creates a new narrative necessary to engage in praxis—affecting the future in a transformative way. What are those doctrines, dogmas and stereotypes we need to process and push aside or adapt to the present playbook, which is more significant than our old idea of Christianity?

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

Another Baobab presented in African theology of Bénézet Bujo and Juvenal Ilunga Muya (ed.) is Engelbert Mveng S.J. It is a presentation of the thoughts and works of this multidisciplinary Cameroonian Jesuit whose field of interest surpasses a short text (p. 39). Born on 9 May 1930, he joined the Society of Jesus, and after a series of studies, he became a staunch defender of authentic African theology.

By the time he was finishing his studies in the ’60s, the quest for an African (alternative) voice(s) in theological discourses was still an arduous task but no longer a question to be quickly waved away. Vincent Mulago and other earlier theologians had opened the door for the discussion.

The Vatican II was already questioning the hegemony of Neo-Scholasticism with the precursors of Nouvelles Théologies already smuggled into the temple of the official theological pantheon. The rehabilitation of Congar, Chenu, Rahner, etc., has forced the change in theological methods of that moment. They have brought history, humanities, and other epistemological fields into the menu of theology.

Through this historical context, one can better appreciate his contributions to the development of the then not yet recognized African theology. He and others like Tharcisse Tshibangu underlined the futile debates on the existence of African theology. Those familiar with the early arguments on African philosophy/ethnology will quickly grasp the situation of the period. Their opponent would want us to believe that African theology can’t exist because theology is a universal science seeking to recover the original. On the contrary, it is divine purity of revealed truth to confront it with modern thought and the great currents of world philosophy (41).

According to Alfred Vanneste, theology is never regional or cultural cogitation but a universal quest. And though theology could speak the language of a people, he thinks it can’t be a regional discipline as we would have African physics or mathematics. Thus, according to Vanneste, “Christianity’s first duty, as a universal religion, is to present its divine doctrine everywhere with formulas valid for all cultures and races” (195).

E. Mveng would consecrate a large part of his career on proving that Africa has its theology and that what Vanneste calls universal theology is nothing but a western contextualization of God-experience. So, with many other African theologians, he devoted his time to reestablish the rights of Africans to do theology from their historical, cultural, and anthropological backgrounds.

Man of his time, Engelbert Mveng, will be among the pioneers who established many faith-based associations, schools of thought and even called on the Church to listen to the African needs to develop her Church and theology. He also supported the call of Fabian Eboussi Boulaga for an African Council of the Church (43). It was an audacious quest that didn’t please both the Roman authorities and Roman sympathizers in the continent.

But among all his great theological-artistic realizations, his Hekima Christus Christology stands out. Hekima (Wisdom) Christus Christology of Mveng is a lower (Jesus first, and Christ later) Christology based on Dan Cultural initiation rite. In Hekima Christus Christology, Christ becomes the master of initiation who introduces his brothers and sisters to a divine existence through his victory over death. A quick look at his beautiful depiction of Hekima Christology could bring much freshness to anyone interested in discovering the authenticity and uniqueness of Engelbert Mveng’s theology.

He also questioned the idea of benevolent colonial masters. He highlighted the missionary role in impoverishing Africa. “The mission and the colonization, seen from a philanthropic point of view, have been all in all agents of anthropological impoverishment for Africa. This means that they intended to protect the Africa, so as to [sic] keep him in a state of inferiority and absolute dependence… Assimilation itself, by abolishing our identity and our right to be different, was an extreme form of anthropological impoverishment.” (43.)

He was vocal against the government of his country. He stepped on both small and big toes in his research for African independence from neocolonialism. Unfortunately, and like many revolutionary masters, Engelbert Mveng was later assassinated in 1995 in his native land, Cameroon.

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

I just finished the first chapter of African Theology, edited by Bénézet Bujo and Juvenal Ilunga Muya. The first chapter is consecrated to Vincent Mulago. He is among the ancestors of our modern African theology, Vincent Mulago. Born in 1924 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mushi Wasomire (the educated Mushi), as his Mushi compatriots nicknamed him, studied, first in his native country, then in Rwanda, before proceeding to Rome. Shortly after his priestly ordination in 1952, he obtained his doctorate (1955) and joined the other Pan-African thinkers to forge the way for what we have today as the African vision of the world.

Being among the pioneers and formed in Neo-Scholasticism, his work tries to embrace every aspect of theology: sacramental theology, Christology, ecclesiology, etc. And knowing the greatness and weaknesses of this school, one does not need to go far to comprehend why the greatness of his theology often ends up being its downfall.

His Christology, for example, was developed around what the Bénézet Buzo calls ecclesiological Christology (God-Church relationship as the key to understanding the nature of Christ). But, knowing the historical and theological contexts of Mushi Wasomire, one observes that his ecclesiology ended up being pyramidal. Thus, his ecclesiology complicated his Christology.

However, his attempt to touch every aspect of theology opened the possibility of examining them from his successors' African point of view. Also, as a Pan-Africanist, Mushi Wasomire engaged in the same fight as other Pan-Africanists. However, they were mainly interested in correcting the problems created by the Bantu philosophy of Tempels.

His work might not have developed in detail the elements of the African theology; still, it laid a foundation permitting his successors to cogitate on God while focusing on His possible incarnation on the African soil and culture. He also laid a foundation for African anthropological theology by examining different aspects of Bashi, Banyarwanda, and Burundi anthropology.

The article is very concise and gives much information, not just on what the theologian archived but on the vast field of theological studies he opened. Many questions he consciously or unconsciously raised still beg to be attended to. His difficulty in reasoning out of the establishment is still that of many African theologians. His inability to tackle specific theological problems from pure African points of view keeps hunting the development of theology in Africa.