|A view of the Boston College campus|
The 39th Annual Lonergan Workshop at Boston College celebrated the Promise and the Challenge of Vatican II, 50 years down the line, and also remembered Fr Frederick E. Crowe, SJ, the leading light of Lonergan studies, who passed away earlier this year.
The Workshop, which began when Lonergan was still alive, is convened annually by Fred and Sue Lawrence. Fred, himself one of the leading hermeneutical philosophers in North America, is a professor of theology at Boston College, and a student of Lonergan's at the Gregorian in the early 1960s.
Several of the papers dealt directly with the Council. Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, who used to teach ecclesiology at the Gregorian during the years of the Council, suggested that the church learn to make better use of the structure, mentioned in canon law, of regional plenary councils, which, in contrast to Episcopal Conferences, had legislative and executive powers. Robert A. Imbelli called for greater attention to Dei Verbum and the Christic focus of the Council. Michael McCarthy, John Dadosky, Grant Kaplan, Richard Liddy, and Gerard Whelan, SJ focused their papers quite specifically on the council and its implementation, with some being more critical and others advocating a more constructive approach, which is not to raise questions about the irenicity of either. Kaplan drew on the work of Hunermann to attempt to go beyond the hermeneutic of continuity vs the hermeneutic of rupture, speaking of the council in terms of constitutional texts of faith. Whelan opened up vistas upon the creative possibilities inherent in Lonergan's work: Lonergan often said that if theologians did their work properly - and his way was that of method - there would be less need of police work by the magisterium. Perhaps there is not enough irenic dialectic and dialogue between theologians - only a sort of mutual antagonism and often rejection between parties. Patrick Brennan's paper on the freedom of the church, the constitution of the state, and our contemporary situation raised strong feelings because of the uncompromising stand he took, saying that the current struggle in the American church should stand not on the freedom of individuals (or of a group), but on the inalienable, privileged and God-given rights of the church, by which he clearly meant the Catholic Church. This was a rather extraordinary thing to say, and it did provoke strong reactions - unless we understand it as calling for the right and duty of Christians to criticize, correct and transform the social situation - what Brennan called the social kingship of Christ.
Another set of papers dealt with themes raised by or connected to the council. Robert Doran's paper continued his ongoing focus on the multi-religious context, in continuation of the late Fred Crowe's work. One of the enlightening points he made was that actual operative grace is itself considered sanctifying in Lonergan's work.
Maury Schepers spoke about the ongoing self-constitution of the church as a synonym for communications.
Yet other papers dealt with people connected with the council. Randy Rosenberg gave a rather moving paper on Pope John XIII, who Fred Lawrence recalled was the only pope whom Lonergan referred to as 'good.' Ken Melchin presented the extraordinary figure of Sargent Shriver, Catholic layman in the field of active politics, founder of the Peace Corps, the Olympics for the Differently Abled, Head Start, and a hundred other programs, someone who literally lived a politics of charity. Shriver's son Timothy gave a talk that was much appreciated, one which I was sorry to have missed.
Another group of papers might perhaps be considered in the category of Lonergan exegesis, but still very much connected to the Council if we think of them as moments in the ongoing attempt to work out a creative response to the challenges and invitations of the Council. Jeremy Wilkins, the new Director of the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto, gave a very creative paper on the Dereliction or Abandonment of Christ, asking in what way Christ could be said to have become sin for us, or in what way the Father had abandoned his Son on the cross. Elizabeth Murray highlighted how passion very much forms a part of moral conversion in the later phase of Lonergan's work, in contrast to the rather more rational analysis of Insight. Charles C. Hefling, one of the senior stalwarts of the Lonergan movement, gave a brilliant paper on Lonergan's creation of special theological categories in an unpublished page now available on www.lonerganresource.com. William Mathews, SJ, continued his explorations into the topic of meaning in Lonergan. Neil Ormerod spoke about the needed renewal of systematic theology, capturing rather well the current not so hopeful state of affairs. William Murnion, another of the stalwarts, gave a magisterial and dialectical overview of alternative approaches to truth.
I missed another couple of papers, one of which would have been very interesting: that of Evaristus Ekwueme, SJ, on a Lonerganian View of Information Technology. My own paper was on a rather technical point from chapter 20 of Insight: I tried to make sense of the anomaly there of a "natural solution to the problem of evil that is in some sense supernatural." A recourse to Lonergan's early Latin theology threw up surprising clues: the notion of the supernatural quoad modum in contrast to the better known supernatural quoad substantiam, and the possibility of absolutely supernatural acts with natural formal objects quod. The category of the supernatural quoad modum, which is the same as gratia sanans or healing grace, helps explain the anomaly: the natural solution to the problem of evil that is in some sense supernatural is a gratia sanans type of solution. The solution is therefore, as Lonergan says, both transcendent and religious, it involves divine intervention, but it does not involve a communication and a participation and attainment of God as he is in himself. The possibility instead of absolutely supernatural acts with natural formal objects quod opens up the way to Lonergan's later view of the religions as all somehow rooted in God's gift of his love, without excluding the possibility that some of them may, as far as their beliefs are concerned, remain completely within what used to be called 'natural truths.' The enlightening point here is the possibility of religions that are in one sense fruits of the gift of God's love, and therefore properly supernatural, and yet in another sense quite 'natural.' The paper generated a good bit of discussion despite its extreme technicality as an exegesis of Lonergan, but perhaps more because of the concluding remarks about the place of consent in religious conversion. Given that Lonergan, following Aquinas, speaks of the infused virtue of charity in terms of mutual love and friendship, I had asked whether the gift of God's love might not itself be considered in some way as the gift of a response. The responses made it clear, as Aquinas himself makes it clear, that falling in love - the analogy for the operative moment, the gift of God's love - is itself something overwhelming, but that we can in a subsequent moment accept or else mysteriously reject it.
Patrick Byrne, another stalwart, presented an interesting paper comparing Teilhard and Lonergan, pointing out how Lonergan, with great admiration and respect for Teilhard, was able to correct certain deficiencies in the thought of the latter. He made the interesting remark that Teilhard stood to Bergson as Dante to Aquinas, and that Lonergan was still awaiting his Dante. Christine Jamieson spoke soberly and warmly about the way Lonergan can help in the difficult ethical decision-making in the medical field. Brian Braman gave an extended and creative reflection on how every space is moral, pointing out that the concept of 'privacy' - what I do is my own personal concern - is an attempt to carve out a space where the ethical does not apply. Michael Vertin presented a paper on the Lonergan Enterprise, which I was sorry to have missed because I had to catch a flight.
The Workshop reflected rather strongly the undercurrent of tension in the American church in particular and perhaps in the church in general about the direction and the implementation of the council. But I come away with the feeling that Lonergan does have creative ways of responding precisely to moments of tension. A searching study of his final papers in A Third Collection, for example, might turn up interesting pointers.
And: l'shana habaah b'irushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem, hopefully, at the Studium Theologicum Salesianum, Ratisbonne Monastery.
With talk also about an African Lonergan Workshop in Nairobi, an Asian Workshop in Hong Kong, and a British Workshop in London or in Oxford.