Bernard Lonergan (1904-84) was a Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian. He earned his degrees at the University of London and the Gregorian University in Rome. His doctoral dissertation has been published as Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Writings of Thomas Aquinas. His major philosophical work is Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957). His last major work, on theological method, is Method in Theology (1972). His unpublished writings and publications during his lifetime are being issued as The Collected Works of Bernard Lonerganin twenty-seven volumes by the University of Toronto Press and the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto.
Lonergan taught Theology at the Gregorian for many years. In later years he taught at Boston College and Harvard Divinity School. Among the students whose doctoral dissertations he directed are Anthony Kenny, the well-known philosopher and former Master of Balliol College, Oxford; the pre-eminent American theologian David Tracy of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago; the systematic theologian John S. Dunne of Notre Dame. In his early years, in addition to pursuing philosophy and theology, he worked seriously in the fields of macroeconomics and political economy, and he returned to this work late in his life. Among his posthumous works is Macroeconomic Dynamics, a theory of monetary circulation. He once remarked that if you really want to help the poor in the long run, you should be willing to spend thirty years in the British Museum studying economics as Karl Marx did. He was very concerned that Catholic intellectuals were not keeping up with the times, especially with regard to modern developments in the natural and social sciences and philosophy.
Lonergan dedicated his considerable intellectual talents to the project of reconciling modern developments -- especially recent developments in the natural and social sciences and historical studies -- with the Christian faith. As his project unfolded, he worked out a post-Darwinian cosmology which attempts to respect fully the recent advances in natural science, conceived a philosophical synthesis of the multiplicity of contemporary disciplines based on a fundamental account of the human cognitive process at the root of all of them, and proposed a collaborative method for Catholic theology comprised of eight related functional specializations to be carried out by the community of theological scholars.
With increasing frequency the far-reaching significance of Lonergan's achievements for an age in search of a new integrating framework is being acknowledged in books, professional journals, and doctoral dissertations in philosophy and theology. Graduate courses in Lonergan’s thought have been taught at Fordham University, Boston College, Marquette University, St. Louis University, University of Toronto, and LMU. But Lonergan's influence has already been felt strongly in other quarters. The pre-eminent student of Lonergan in Germany, Giovanni Sala, S.J., was involved in drafting the papal encyclical Fides et Ratio. Further, at the Philadelphia conference on Jesuit Higher Education in the late 1990s, Lonergan's contributions were accorded the highest profile. The plenary address by John McDade, S.J., of Heythrop College, London, a member of the editorial team for GC 34 (the document produced by the General Congregation of the Jesuits), revealed to a very large audience that the key paragraphs on social justice in that document were borrowed without attribution from Lonergan's last major work, Method in Theology. The Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University relies for its methodology on the work of Bernard Lonergan. There are Lonergan Centers, like the one at LMU, in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, India, Australia, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines. Centers in the USA are located at Boston College, Seton Hall University, and LMU. Annual conferences devoted to Lonergan’s work are held in Toronto, Boston, Melbourne, and here in Los Angeles at LMU.
In his major philosophical work, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Bernard Lonergan insisted that the greatest contemporary need was for someone to do for the twentieth century what Aquinas did for the thirteenth. In Lonergan's work there is to be found a new synthetic and Catholic vision, fully informed by recent developments in the natural sciences and human studies, which other major contemporary thinkers, despite their extraordinary efforts, have so far failed to achieve.
Lonergan was awarded numerous honorary degrees and was recognized with the Order of Canada by the Canadian government; Centers for the study of his thought have been established around the world; Lonergan University College has been established at Concordia University in Montreal; the Lonergan Philosophical Society, based at LMU, meets annually with the American Catholic Philosophical Association; and the West Coast Methods Institute hosts an annual conference at Loyola Marymount University.
[Photo Credit: James McCue]