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  • Writer's pictureNnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Theology as an introspection, according to Lonergan

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, (26/11/2021)

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