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Lonergan, Bernard (1904–1984)

  1. Frederick Lawrence

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0825

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Lawrence, F. 2011. Lonergan, Bernard (1904–1984). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan was born on December 17, 1904, in Buckingham, Quebec, Canada. After attending Loyola College in Montreal, in 1922 he entered the Canadian Province of the Society of Jesus. While at Heythrop College outside Oxford, Lonergan earned an external degree in mathematics, Greek and Latin classics, and French at the University of London (1926–1930), and studied economic theory to grasp how moral precepts can be grounded in economic reality. Already deeply influenced by Newman's Grammar of Ascent, during his three-year Regency, teaching high school in Montreal, he devoured Christopher Dawson's The Age of the Gods, Augustine's Cassiciacum dialogues, J. A. Stewart's Plato's Doctrine of Ideas, and some Platonic dialogues. At the Gregorian University, Rome, where he pursued theological studies (1933), Lonergan wrote seminal papers on the philosophy of history responding to Hegel and Marx; here, too, careful firsthand study of Thomas Aquinas' opera omnia initiated his 11 year apprenticeship. Lonergan's Roman doctoral dissertation (1938–1940) was a genetic study of operative grace in Aquinas, which resolved interpretative, philosophical, and theological issues on divine grace and human freedom that had been left unresolved by the Baroque scholastics Domingo Bañez O. P. and Luis Molina S. J. Theology teaching at Jesuit seminaries in Montreal (1940–1946) and Toronto (1947–1953) raised issues in Thomist trinitarian theory, inspiring him to publish Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, a radical retrieval of the primacy of the act of understanding over concepts, propositions, and deductions in Thomas' gnoseology, enabling him to meet modern issues of cognitional theory (What are we doing when we are knowing?), epistemology (Why is doing that knowing?), and critically grounded metaphysics (What do we know when we understand and judge?). Insight: A Study in Human Understanding (1957) placed the findings of Verbum within the context of modern mathematics and science, common sense, and dialectical aspects of human studies. Appointed professor of Systematic Theology at the Gregorian (1954–1965), he deepened his familiarity with post-Kantian Continental philosophy and theology while preparing Method in Theology (1972), showing how the anti-Modernist style of ahistorical orthodoxy could be transformed to integrate the new notions of empirical science, modern scholarship, and history without falling prey to scientism, relativism, or historicism. Method as “a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results” explains the transformation of medieval theology's lectio into a functionally specialized collaborative effort of research, interpretation, history, and dialectics; of disputatio into foundations, doctrines, and systematics; and of praedicatio into communications. Functional specialization is relevant to any human discipline that anticipates the future in light of the past. With Method completed, he returned to his economic theory of monetary circulation. He also wrote essays developing the hermeneutics of love that, grounded in the gift of God's love, pivots on religious, moral, and intellectual conversion to engage in the hermeneutics of achievement's upward spiral through repeated acts of experience, understanding, judgments of fact and value, decision, and action. Lonergan held the Stillman Chair at Harvard Divinity School (1971–1972) and a Distinguished Lectureship at Boston College (1974–1983). He died in 1984.


  • lonergan, bernard (1904–1984);
  • lonergan's roman doctoral dissertation;
  • thomist trinitarian theory;
  • findings of verbum, modern mathematics and science;
  • economic theory of monetary circulation