The Dynamism of Desire: Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S. J. on The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. By James L. Connor


S. J. and Fellows of the Woodstock Theological Center . Pp. xii, 492 , Saint Louis , The Institute of Jesuit Sources , 2006 , $10.00.

This is an excellent book, though possibly limited in its appeal. As the title leads one to expect, it presents an extended commentary on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola applying, in the main, categories taken from the philosophical and theological reflection of Bernard Lonergan. There are lots of other valuable points made about the Exercises and lots of other interesting references and quotations, but the clear focus is on the use of Lonergan to understand Ignatius better. For anyone formed in both the Ignatian Exercises and Lonergan, the book is an absolute must read. It challenges and excites, offering illumination in both directions. For such a one, the understanding of both the Exercises and Lonergan cannot remain unaffected by the reading of this book.

It is not at all clear however what a person with no background in Lonergan's thought is going to make of it all. Lonergan has created a vocabulary of his own, and for the outsider it must all appear somewhat opaque. Familiarity with the Exercises has to be presumed for anyone even opening this book, and I cannot but believe that any ordinary person coming to it unprepared is going to find things here that will be found to be distinctly odd, even bizarre.

There is a major presupposition of this book which is highly questionable, even for a devotee of Lonergan, and it is that the Lonergan's project and the project of the Spiritual Exercises are basically one and the same. In Insight, Lonergan's sums up the goal of his book as promoting a process of self-appropriation, coming to recognize in one's own experience the dynamism of the human spirit and the process of coming to know. The authors of this book consider that the Spiritual Exercises is another form of self-appropriation also. In a way it no doubt is, for self knowledge is essential to Christian conversion, but the two are quite different in their source and their goal. Self-appropriation is a theoretical goal, leading to an epistemology, a metaphysics and an ethics, indeed a whole philosophy. Christian conversion is quite a different process entirely. Lonergan's use of the word ‘conversion’ for his breakthrough to a heightened self-awareness and an epistemology is misguided. Becoming aware of one's intentional operations in the new way which underpins Lonergan's approach involves a sense of newness, a startling strangeness, and can be associated with an experience of conversion, even moral and religious. But in itself it is simply a heightening of awareness together with a number of particular philosophical judgments, and in no true sense a conversion at all. It is open to each and all, with no need for the help of divine grace which genuine conversion requires. Lonergan's particular solution to the critical problem is not so well established that it can arrogate to itself the language of conversion in this manner. A perfectly valid result of one's self-appropriation would be to reject Lonergan's critical realism as mistaken and more akin in the end to Kantian Idealism than to Thomistic Realism.

Behind this misidentification there lurks what appears to me to be a profound flaw in the Lonergan synthesis. Lonergan, and with him the authors of this book, claims that the deepest dynamism of desire in the human heart, underlying all science and philosophy, human relations and religion, is ‘the Eros of the mind, the desire and the drive to understand’ (p. 44). This, however, is simply not so. There is a deeper desire of the human heart which Lonergan failed to uncover, the desire for love and communion, the desire for the finis ultimus, the desire for happiness. The deepest well-spring of human motivation is not curiosity and the desire to know which leads to science and philosophy, but loneliness and the desire for love which is fulfilled by friendship and communion, ultimately with God.

The authors of this book have done us all a service by putting these two fundamental projects together for analysis and comparison. As well as giving many useful insights into both, they have raised fundamental questions about Lonergan's project and method and his basic synthesis.

Errata: The first line on page 44 repeats the last line of page 43. On page 51 the capital T introducing chapter 4 is missing, and on page 197 the capital I introducing chapter 9 is missing.