Appropriating the Lonergan Idea. By Frederick E. Crowe, S.J., edited by Michael Vertin


Pp. xvi, 414 , Toronto/Buffalo/London , University of Toronto Press , 2006, $75.00 .

This book perfectly fulfils the promise of its title. It succeeds in offering useful help in the appropriation of the fundamental ideas of Bernard Lonergan, both by commenting of Lonergan's seminal works and by using Lonergan's ideas in dealing with some issues in philosophy and theology. Crowe is the earliest and one of the most devoted and best of Lonergan's disciples, and this book is a collection of his best work in the field up to 1986. The first half of the book contains articles which introduce Lonergan's work and offer commentary and exegesis of it. The second half of the book is made up of articles in which Crowe does his own original work, using the method he has learned from Lonergan. It needs to be remembered that the book is a re-edition of a work first published in 1989; only one article in the present collection is new. The collection still retains its usefulness for anyone interested in Lonergan's contribution, and has some work by Crowe which has its own value and is worth consulting for that alone. One chapter in particular is especially valuable, chapter 12, ‘Eschaton and Worldly Mission in the Mind and Heart of Jesus’. In it Crowe develops Lonergan's thesis on the beatific vision of Jesus in a manner which is highly enlightening.

While sharing Crowe's basic conviction that Lonergan has extremely important things to say, the question arises in my mind if Crowe is not too much of a disciple. There is the danger that his concentration on the exegesis of Lonergan can lead to a forgetfulness of the underlying issues under discussion. It seems to me that this leads quickly to a decadence not unlike the decadence that entered into scholasticism, where the mind of the author, be it St Thomas on anyone else however illustrious, can be a distraction from the reality being investigated. One area in particular stands out, where Lonergan is weak and an uncritical approach prevents the recognition of that fact. Crowe has two chapters, 4 and 20, on what he calls Lonergan's new notion of value. He struggles to understand it, but never raises the question if it merits the effort expended. Lonergan shows small background as an ethicist and the question is never raised as to whether Lonergan's ideas in this area are particularly valuable at all. I would suggest that some soundings among professional ethicists, John Finnis or Servais Pinckaers for instance, might show up the weaknesses. Based on Pinckaers historical analysis, it might be seen that in Chapter 18 of Insight, Lonergan never really got beyond the decadent moralism of Francisco Suarez he picked up in his Jesuit formation and has not entered the genuine Aristotelian-Thomist tradition of ethics at all. Lonergan's amazing grasp of epistemological matters is not matched by a similar grasp of the meaning of the desire of end Aristotle's ethics. One small but significant point sounds a clear alarm.

Crowe mentions Lonergan's ‘explicit abandonment of faculty psychology’ on p. 54. He is referring to something which appears in Method in Theology as something already established aliunde on pp. 340 and 343. This has bothered me since I first read Method in 1972. What can Lonergan mean by this? Does he mean that it is no longer true to say that the human being possesses intellect and will? If he does mean that, how can he jettison such fundamental concepts that have stood out cultural tradition in good stead for more than two millennia without excuse or explanation? And further, how can he, or Crowe after him, not advert to the fact that there is a problem here for the Catholic theologian, in that the Third Council of Constantinople (681) teaches as definitive Church dogma that Christ has two wills, divine and human (DS 556)? Crowe does advert to the possibility the Lonergan's position lacks intellectual rigour, on p. 55. However, on p. 67, he formulates his real position: ‘I have assumed, though I hope I am read to let the assumption yield to fact, that his thought hangs together, that there is an inner consistency which I must discover under pain of missing his point altogether’.

My hunch is that, in the matter of the will, Crowe's assumption is to too strong to yield to the fact. The solution is not to dig any deeper into the mind of Lonergan but to recognise that he has wandered up a cul-de-sac. The anomaly of his cavalier abandonment of the will reveals a fundamental flaw in the Lonergan's system. His big breakthrough was in the awareness of the question and its fulfilment in insight. He has gone on from there to misinterpret all the rest of human experience in terms of this single, albeit important, element. The question is romanticized as the pure desire to know and postulated as the deepest desire of the human heart. It is no wonder that in this perspective the will vanishes into the thin intellectualist air, for the premise is a mistake. The deepest desire of the human heart is not the desire to know revealing itself in questions, but the desire of the good revealing itself in all the other desires and feelings we experience. And this is the desire underlying the will which Lonergan just happened to mislay. I suggest, therefore, that a thoroughgoing critique of Chapter 18 of Insight is called for on the basis of a solid grasp of Aristotle's Ethics, which, despite Lonergan's secession from the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition here, remains the proper touchstone for the perennial moral philosophy.