Potential Problems in Augustine’s Conversion Narrative, Part 2

This is Part 2 of two posts on the potential problems in Augustine’s conversion account. To see the post on the first question, see Potential Problems in Augustine’s Conversion Narrative, Part 1.

The Question

Our second question tries to sort out the timing of when Augustine first put his faith in Christ. At first, we simply scan for the life-altering moment of a religious conversion and easily locate it in the experience at the Milan garden. But, when we examine the text closer, we realize that there is evidence of faith sprinkled throughout his life prior to his garden experience. To fully grasp the puzzle of this question, we must do a brief overview of his wanderings toward faith.

As young child, he feels drawn to God through the teachings of his mother and the yearnings of his own heart. To avoid beatings at school, he would pray that God would protect him. And when he is very sick as a child, he asks to be baptized, but before the sacrament could take place, he quickly recovers. This yearning for Christ propels him on his search for truth, and he stumbles across Cicero. Upon reading Cicero’s Hortensius, he longs for true wisdom and even begins to turn back to God. He writes:

The book changed my feelings. It altered my prayers, Lord, to be towards you yourself. It gave me different values and priorities. Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart. I began to rise up to return to you (et surgere coeperam, ut ad te redirem). [1]

The last sentence in the Latin tells us that his intention or purpose in rising up (surgere) is in order that he may return to God. If he intends and plans to return to God, would this not be the beginning of his faith in God?

His desire for God appears unmistakable; he cries out: “My God, how I burned, how I burned with longing to leave earthly things and fly back to you.”[2] And yet, his response is perplexing, for though he rises up toward God and burns with desire for God, he keeps falling back into the mire:

For almost nine years then followed during which I was in the deep mire and darkness of falsehood. Despite my frequent efforts to climb out of it (cum saepe surgere conarer), I was the more heavily plunged back into the filth and wallowed in it.[3]

Despite his repeated attempts to climb, literally “to rise up” (he uses the same verb, surgere, again), out of the mire, he cannot consummate his conversion and instead, sinks deeper into the filth. His turn to Manichaeism, a gnostic religion of that time, reflects another attempt to pull himself out of the mire and hold on to truth. Again, his efforts are in vain, and his restlessness and emptiness continues to plague him.

After finally breaking off from the Manichees, he begins eagerly listening to the sermons of Ambrose. As the truth of Ambrose’s words slowly enters into his heart, Augustine realizes that the teachings of the church are not contradictory and irrational as he had believed; in consequence, he writes, “I was being turned around (et convertebar).”[4] In other words, he was being converted by someone or something outside himself, as indicated through the passive voice of convertebar, and not by his own power or effort. Referring again to the passage in Book VII, we find that this “turning around” does reveal some kind of faith, but it is unformed: “But there was a firm place in my heart for the faith within the Catholic Church, in your Christ, our Lord and Savior. In many respects this faith was still unformed and hesitant about the norm of doctrine.”[5]

What does it mean for Augustine to have faith, but for it to lack form or completeness? Is not any kind of faith, even faith as small as mustard seed, sufficient for conversion?

Tackling the Question with Help of Bernard Lonergan

We will again turn to the helpful three-part description of conversion by Bernard Lonergan. (To see an overview of Lonergan’s three types of conversion, intellectual, moral and religious, see Part 1 of this series).

If conversion is a dynamic, ongoing process, as we discussed previously, it makes sense for there to be evidence of faith early on in his life as he is being slowly pulled closer and closer to God’s love. He continually refers to something or someone who is outside himself (hence, the passive convertebar (I was being converted/turned around) is used) to show that this is a passive, gradual yet dynamic process. Like an hour hand on a clock steadily being turned by the wheels hidden behind its face (see image above), Augustine is slowly being turned by a hidden power greater than himself.

Though all of the conversions are connected to one another, the seeds of religious conversion, in a causal sense, must come first and begin this process of being turned around. Religious conversion is a “dynamic state that is prior to and principle of subsequent acts.”[6] Prior to any other cognitional acts, there is the gift of God’s love, the beginnings of a religious conversion.[7] Such love is what draws Augustine to the wisdom espoused by Cicero, to the name of Christ claimed by the Manichees and ultimately, to the church of Christ. Augustine continues to rise up (surgere) out of his pit because of the pull of this love, but he falls back because he has not received this gift as his own. He reaches for it, but does not put his belief or trust in it yet. He still refuses to beg for help.

In retrospect, he is aware of this: “By believing I could have been healed (et sanari credendo poteram).”[8] If he had only asked and accepted the gift of God’s love, the Lord would have turned and healed him, opened his eyes and set him free. Lonergan notes, “The acceptance of the gift of God’s love both constitutes religious conversion and leads to moral and even intellectual conversion.”[9] This gift, which manifests as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer, is what enables true faith and allows the believer to then fully implement the knowledge and values gained from intellectual and moral conversion. Augustine’s unformed faith is evidence of God’s gift of love, but it could not bear fruit until there was acceptance accompanied by unconditional, surrendering, unqualified, unreserved belief.

In summary then, by recognizing that conversion is an ongoing, dynamic process, his early faith and attempts to return to God reveal this gradual process. God’s gift of love early on in Augustine’s life, though not fully accepted until the moment in the garden, compels him to keep seeking until he finds.

Again, Lonergan’s vocabulary gives us further insight into understanding Augustine’s conversion (and conversion in general). However, as we noted earlier, a conversion still has elements of mystery in it that cannot be fully expressed. What exactly happened in the garden when Augustine crossed over from death to life? What does that look like? These questions are perhaps not explainable in words, but only understood through personal testimony and experience.

  1. [1] Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), III.iv (7), p. 39. Literally, we could translate the italics as, “I began to rise up with the purpose of or with the intention of returning to you.”
  2. [2] Ibid., III.iv (8), p. 39.
  3. [3] Ibid. III.xi (20), p. 50. Literally, we could translate the italics as, “Although I was often trying to rise up . . .”
  4. [4] Ibid., Vi.iv (5), p. 94. Convertere comes from the prefix com, meaning “with” or “together”, and vertere, meaning “to turn.” Thus, our word conversion contains this notion of “being turned all together” or, more colloquially, “being turned completely around.”
  5. [5] Ibid., VII.v (7), p. 116. Also, see VII.vii (11), p. 119, where he refers to the “faith which I held.”
  6. [6] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 240.
  7. [7] Ibid., 238, 243.
  8. [8] Augustine, The Confessions, Vi.iv (6), p. 95.
  9. [9] Lonergan, Method in Theology, 327.

Potential Problems in Augustine’s Conversion Narrative, Part 1

As many readers have expressed, the experience of reading Augustine’s Confessions is irrefutably powerful, but also brings with it several confusing, at first conflicting, accounts of conversion. In a series of two posts, I will be addressing two questions which often arise upon reading The Confessions. In this post, we will encounter the first question: how can Augustine be simultaneously certain of the Christian faith, but unwilling to adhere to it?

The Question

This question stems from a passage in Book VIII where Augustine records:

My desire (cupiebam) was not to be more certain (certior) of you but to be more stable (stabilior) in you. But in my temporal life everything was in a state of uncertainty (nutabant omnia),[1]and my heart (cor) needed to be purified from the old leaven. I was attracted to the way, the Savior himself, but was still reluctant to go along its narrow paths.[2]

At this point in his journey, Augustine’s quest for certainty has been satisfied due to his readings of the Platonist books and the compelling expositions of Scripture and Christian doctrine from Bishop Ambrose. Although he acknowledges the truth of Christianity, he is not secure in his faith because the things of this life cause his heart to waver and remain impure; he is still on his quest for stability.[3] The use of the comparative adjective, stabilior, coming from the verb, stare, meaning “to stand, stay or remain,” gives us a clue on what kind of stability Augustine desires. To be more stable, then, is, as Robert O’Connell puts it, “to take a ‘stand’ and maintain it.”[4] Like a man attempting to find a firm foothold in the strong current of a river or in the oncoming tides of an ocean, Augustine’s feet keep shifting away from the faith as he is being pulled and pushed by the waters of his other desires. With his certainty of Christianity, he has the tools necessary to stand strong, to plant his feet firmly in the river, but, for some reason, he remains divided and cannot access them.

His conflicted nature is clearly seen when he recalls in Book VII:

But there was a firm place (stabiliter) in my heart (corde) for the faith within the Catholic Church, in your Christ, our Lord and Savior. In many respects this faith was still unformed and hesitant about the norm of doctrine. Yet my mind (animus) did not abandon it, but daily drank in more and more.[5]

His heart is not completely devoid of stability (thus, the adverb of stabilis: stabiliter, is used) as he has some kind of stable or firm place for this unformed faith. But this stability is not enough to push his heart toward embracing doctrine and enduring purification. His mind, on the other hand, is gulping down truth in increasing quantities. We are led to ask then: if he were truly convinced that Christ is the only true source for goodness and truth, would not his whole being, heart and mind, reach out to take hold of such goodness? Why do his feet keep slipping?

Tackling the Question with the Help of Bernard Lonergan

Lonergan writes of three different types of conversion in his Method in Theology. I believe that his differentiation between conversions will help us address this question. First, we will briefly look at his three types and then see how they relate to Augustine’s conversion narrative.

Lonergan’s three types of conversion are intellectual, moral and religious. Intellectual conversion is a “radical clarification and, consequently, the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity and human knowledge.”[6] This myth, which Lonergan repeatedly counters throughout his writings, is that knowing is solely looking at the world and the real is only what it out there right now. Upon rejecting this myth, our minds are turned and converted to the proper way of grasping the world, a world that is mediated by meaning.

Moral conversion “changes the criterion of one’s decisions and choices from satisfaction to values.”[7] This is where we decide on what standards we will employ to determine whether an act is good or bad.

Religious conversion is “being grasped by ultimate concern,” “a other-worldly falling in love,” and “a total and permanent self-surrender without conditions, qualifications, reservations.”[8] We are taken with what is most important because we have fallen in love with Someone outside of this world, the Creator of the universe. This love compels us to surrender our whole being to Him without limits.

Using Lonergan’s description, we can now differentiate between Augustine’s conversions: intellectual, moral and religious. First, we recognize that Augustine has experienced the beginnings of an intellectual conversion through reading Platonists and listening to Ambrose. He turns from his false beliefs in materialism to embrace a world, both visible and invisible, mediated by meaning. As a result of this intellectual turn, he is able to claim certainty in the Christian faith. Thus, even before the garden experience, his mind starts to engage in the truth of God, “ . . . my mind (animus) did not abandon [my faith in Christ], but daily drank in more and more,” but his heart, though it has enough stability to have unformed faith, is still reluctant to give up the sinful pleasures and plunge completely in God.[9]

Augustine’s intellectual conversion brings about rumblings of a moral conversion as well. He realizes that his moral decisions need to be made according to the values of the Christian faith and not according to his own sensual desires. Even though he has chosen his standard and has made his decision, he does not act upon it. He prays, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet,” fearing that God may cure him too quickly of his sexual disease.[10]

Through experiencing and understanding the world, Augustine begins both his intellectual conversion, where he is able to judge reality more appropriately, and a moral conversion, where he can decide on what is good. And yet, he cannot find the stability because it must come from the highest conversion, the religious conversion. For, as Lonergan comments, “Deciding is one thing, doing is another.”[11] Without a religious conversion, Augustine does not have the power to implement his other two conversions. A religious conversion provides the “power of love to enable” a person to do what he or she knows is right.[12] Though Augustine has met with both intellectual and moral conversions and has become convicted of the truth of Christianity, he needs the power of God’s love to obtain the stability for which he longs.

An experience, such as a conversion, can never by fully systematized (as we will discuss in the next post). But, upon referring to Lonergan’s description of conversion, we have been provided helpful vocabulary in order to engage in Augustine’s conflicted state. Through this engagement, we can more clearly identify the elements which push him toward certainty and the elements which hold him back from stability.

In the next post, we will address a second complexing issue: when did Augustine actually put his faith in Christ?

  1. [1] Chadwick’s translation of omnia nutabant as “everything was in a state of uncertainty” can be misleading. It is important to note that this “certainty” does not refer to the certainty (certior) mentioned in the previous sentence. Literally, we could translate it as “all things were wavering,” referring not to the need for certainty, but the need for stability. Augustine is not contradicting himself; though his mind is certain, his heart is wavering and unstable.
  2. [2] Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), VIII.i (1), p. 133.
  3. [3] Robert O’Connell uses the helpful terms: “quest for certainty” and “quest for stability/gift of stability” in differentiating Augustine’s journey. See his Images of Conversion in St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” (New York: Fordham University Press, 1996).
  4. [4] O’Connell, Images of Conversion in St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” 192.
  5. [5] Augustine, The Confessions, VII.v (7), p. 116.
  6. [6] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 238.
  7. [7] Ibid., 240.
  8. [8] Ibid.
  9. [9] Augustine, The Confessions, VII.v (7), p. 116.
  10. [10] Ibid., VIII.vii (17), p. 145.
  11. [11] Lonergan, Method in Theology, 240.
  12. [12] Ibid., 242.

Abstract for The Need for World Community: Lonergan’s Cosmopolis and Arendt’s Public Realm

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(This abstract was recently accepted by the North Texas Philosophical Association for the 2013 Annual Meeting which will take place at the University of North Texas, April 4-6, 2013. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

We do not have to look far to find elements of decline in our society: oppression of others exemplified by genocide, slavery and sex-trafficking; suppression of ideas represented by extreme censorship and propaganda; and alienation between human and human as well as between human and earth are several of the ostentatious signs of a society in decline.

Though they come from radically different backgrounds and presuppositions, Bernard Lonergan and Hannah Arendt are both deeply concerned with the signs of societal decline, and are driven to postulate a notion of world community to combat it. Lonergan’s notion of world community, which he labels “cosmopolis,” and Arendt’s notion of world community, which she designates, “public realm,” are surprisingly similar, and I will argue that they offer us a complementary and beneficial picture of world community.

In this paper, we will, first, explore the source of society’s decline according to Lonergan and Arendt, second, look at their respective definitions and descriptions of world community; and third, conclude with whether Arendt and Lonergan’s notions of world community are actually compatible and whether such notions can truly address any of the problems society is facing today.[1]

  1. [1] To read more on this, please see my Freedom in World Community: Lonergan and Arendt where I discuss one of the most important aspects of world community: freedom.

A Starting Point for Metaphysics: Kant and Lonergan

Immanuel Kant’s famous distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal world naturally poses problems for metaphysics. The noumenal world is the intelligible world or the world of things-in-themselves where, if we had access to it, we would be able to understand our sensible experiences in the phenomenal world. Access to the noumenal world would include understanding pure ideas such as justice and courage as well as an understanding of causes and effects seemingly found in our world. But, according to Kant, we do not have access to the noumenal world and are stuck in the phenomenal world, the world of appearances, where we can only make speculations about what is really going on. We cannot make synthetic a priori judgments; in other words, we cannot make any universal truth claims based on our experiences in the world. Our link between experience and truth is cut off. In light of this, Kant must reject metaphysics since we are unable to make any metaphysical claims about reality. Metaphysics may exist but we have no way of knowing anything contained in it.

However, Kant appears to take a step closer to the noumenal world in his third critique, Critique of Judgment. In this Critique, he discusses how aesthetic judgment links art to morality. As Wood puts it, “Our shipwreck in the theoretical order points to the real purpose of our faculties: moral action in this world” [1] Art brings out our act of judging and through this act which reflects both freedom and nature, Kant may be finding a unity between the world of appearances and the world of truth. Wood argues, “The whole region of reflective judgment – the beautiful, the sublime, and the organic – points to the possibility of the insertion of causality through concepts into the mechanical world of nature and thus serves to bring together the fractured halves of the field of thought . . .” [2]

Though Kant would not claim that human judgment is a starting point for metaphysics, others, such as Bernard Lonergan, do offer such a proposition. Lonergan seeks to understand the human faculty of judging (along with the other human faculties) in order to first, find a method for how we come to know things (epistemology) and second, to discover a starting point for metaphysics. In his carefully structured 700 page masterpiece, Insight, he slowly finds that the capacity to judge or “revise” the world is where we can find truth about the sensible world. In the Chapter 14, “Method of Metaphysics,” he states, “Bluntly, the starting point of metaphysics is people as they are.” [3]

Sadly, Kant was unwilling to make such a claim, although perhaps he was drawing closer to it in his third critique. Lonergan, in contrast, offers this rather simple starting point for metaphysics: people as they are. People have the unusual capacity to judge the world around them, have insights, revise insights and slowly build up a dynamic set of metaphysical principles. Though all other metaphysical principles are able to be questioned, the fact that we are questioning is unquestionable. Thus, the fact that we are revisers cannot be revised: “for there is no revision of revisers themselves.”[4] It may seem like an obvious principle to grant, but as Lonergan attempts to do, from it, one can begin to discover many other metaphysical principles along the way.

This is not to say that this principle is the only starting point for metaphysics. Certainly, there are many other points on which to begin as philosophers have shown over the centuries. For, if there really is a metaphysics, there will be more than one way to find it.

  1. [1] Robert E. Wood, Placing Aesthetics: Reflections on the Philosophic Tradition (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999), 125.
  2. [2] Ibid., 145
  3. [3] Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 422.
  4. [4] Ibid., 302

Technology: Demonstrating Our Detached, Disinterested Desire to Know

(This abstract was recently accepted by the Institute for Faith and Learning for the 2012 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture where this year’s conference title is: Technology and Human Flourishing. The conference will take place at Baylor University, October 25-27, 2012 where I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

Technology has become the most tangible proof for the validity of scientific knowledge owing to the prodigious complexity of its products and to our daily reliance on their efficiency and functionality. Whether or not we understand how a product works, we take for granted the credibility of the knowledge used to engineer it and expect it to function according to our needs. Technology’s products have been more than successful demanding that there must be something valid in the knowledge and method behind their creation. In other words, the method for producing technology works, because we can see its concrete results all around us. With the success of this method staring us in the face, our curiosity cannot help but be piqued. What kind of method is capable of producing such results? What catalyst is responsible for our great advancement in technology?

In this paper, I will explore the answers to these questions by drawing upon Bernard Lonergan’s work on method in Insight. We will begin by looking at the steps of the scientific method, which fuel the production of technology. Though the steps seem simple enough: asking a question, making a hypothesis, gathering and testing data and then reaching some kind of solution, they reveal something deeper about our humanity. Taking the first step, for example, we see that the method has to start with a human being asking a question; why do humans ask these questions? Certainly, some ask questions motivated by greed hoping that the results will turn out a product for their own financial gain. Others ask questions motivated by selfishness hoping that their findings will bring about their own glory. But, in order for the scientific method to be successful, these questions must come from a pure, unrestricted desire to know; a desire for knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. The seeker must be open to the answer being different from what he or she expects and be willing to discover something that he or she has never even considered. Just as Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath and pondering whether the king’s crown was made of gold, we stumble across knowledge unexpectedly and often find answers when we are willing to think outside the box. Though our biases will obstruct us, every human does have this desire to know: we desire knowledge simply because we are curious and simply because we wonder.

Lonergan calls this uniquely human trait: a detached, disinterested desire to know. Any method, but especially the scientific method, can reveal this desire to know and thus, Lonergan’s formidable goal is to create a method, which will foster this desire to know and lead us to true knowledge. In our investigation, we will, first, see how our desire to know is the root of method, specifically the scientific method as demonstrated by technology; secondly, we will consider this human desire in depth by looking at its biases; and thirdly, we will learn how to cultivate this desire in order to find true knowledge in other aspects of our lives.

Freedom in World Community: Lonergan and Arendt

Though they come from radically different backgrounds and presuppositions, Bernard Lonergan and Hannah Arendt describe a surprisingly similar need for world community. They both are concerned with the decline of society and the dangers of solipsism, materialism and totalitarianism; they both desire an environment where humans can speak and act in freedom. From this concern for decline and this desire for freedom, they postulate a notion of world community. Though Lonergan labels world community a ‘cosmopolis’ (i.e. a world city) and Arendt calls it the ‘public realm’, they are both promoting a world community established for the same purpose: to get rid of false judgments, biases and prejudices and to create a place for the discovery and advancement of true knowledge and meaning. In this post, I will highlight why freedom, for both Lonergan and Arendt, is necessary for world community.

Freedom, for Lonergan, means simply a space to ask questions; it allows the unrestricted desire to know free reign. In a world community, all questions are permitted; no one is restrained from pursuing his or her curiosity. Though many solutions may later be rejected, all of them remain possibilities at the beginning. Lonergan gives five characteristics of a cosmopolis and four of them relate to freedom. First, a cosmopolis is “not a police force” and is “above all politics.”[1] Cosmopolis is not backed by any kind of force, whether from the police or a particular government or a powerful social institution, but rather by freedom which more powerfully promulgates the fruitful ideas of the cosmopolis. (See The Problem of Liberation: Lonergan and the Use of Force for more thoughts on the problem of using force to promote good principles.)

Second, cosmopolis “is concerned to make operative the timely and fruitful ideas that otherwise are inoperative.”[2] Ideas, which are normally suppressed by dominant groups, have the freedom to be aired in the cosmopolis. Not only will they be discussed, but the ideas, which prove to be helpful, will be put into action.

Third, the cosmopolis is “not a busybody.”[3] The cosmopolis does not try to manipulate others through false knowledge, but rather to stop “dominant groups from deluding mankind.”[4] The cosmopolis hopes to free humans from the enslavement to delusion and rationalization.

Fourth, in a similar fashion, cosmopolis aims “to protect the future against the rationalization of abuses and the creation of myths.”[5] The flourishing of all sorts of cultural entities protects against rationalization and myths, as Lonergan describes:

. . . it invites the vast potentialities and pent-up energies of our time to contribute to their solution by developing an art and a literature, a theatre and a broadcasting, a journalism and a history, a school and a university, a personal depth and a public opinion, that through appreciation and criticism give men of common sense the opportunity and help they need and desire to correct the general bias of their common sense.[6]

From art to literature, from journalism to history, world community allows the freedom for all of these cultural products to develop. The cosmopolis rests on freedom and exercises freedom through its cultural products. This freedom is exercised within a “cooperating community” or a “matrix of personal relations.”[7] The complexity of the matrix reveals a tension in the cosmopolis between allowing the freedom of ideas and allowing the freedom of criticism. The freedom of the cosmopolis does not mean that all actions are permissible nor does it imply a relativistic view of values, but instead creates a space where all ideas can be presented and then critiqued by cooperative analysis.

Hannah Arendt also places freedom at the core of world community. To be free, for Arendt, means “both not to be subject to the necessity of life or the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It [means] neither to rule nor to be ruled.”[8] Freedom begins by rising above the necessities of life. A human focused on survival and practical gain is a animal laborans, living in the private realm without freedom. But a human in the public realm is a homo faber or a craftsman. Craftsmen are not only connected to the products that they make, but also to the world of things to which they add their own products, and, indirectly, to the other craftsmen who are adding their products. A craftsman, whose work allows him to rise above survival, is free to engage in the public realm and thus free to be truly human.

Because freedom, for Arendt, goes beyond an individual’s survival, she finds it in a public space where humans come together on equal terms for the sake of common goals and where no one is ruling over anyone else. As a result, decisions are made based on words and persuasion. In order for equality of humans and freedom of ideas to thrive, Arendt, with Lonergan, denies the use of force in world community. She contends, “To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided by words and persuasion and not through force and violence.”[9].

At this point, we may perfectly agree with Lonergan and Arendt that our society is in decline and desperately needs a community founded on freedom. But, practically speaking, how is such a community possible? The practical steps are not spelled out by Arendt or Lonergan. Arendt realizes that she cannot even address the practical steps until she first convinces others that the public realm is not only beneficial, but completely necessary for humanity; we cannot, she claims, be fully human until we are part of the public sphere. Once we recognize our need for the public realm, then we can consider the practical organization for such a community. Lonergan, in a similar vein, believes that world community is only a starting place. And he recognizes that creating such a community is very difficult. In fact, his fifth characteristic of cosmopolis is that it is not easy.[10] He too, like Arendt, wants others to recognize the need for such a community, but he (unlike Arendt) asserts that for such a community to practically function, it will need some sort of higher viewpoint or standard to which it will refer.

Putting that aside for now, we can at least say, along with Lonergan and Arendt, that world community, not as the final measure for human actions, but as a way to move beyond mere practical survival is worth considering. World community could create a space where knowledge is pursued communally and has potential for reforming and changing a society. World community, then, may not provide the answer to our problems in society, but it can give us a place to start.

  1. [1] Bernard Lonergan, Insight in The Lonergan Reader, ed. Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2002), 148-149
  2. [2] Ibid., 149
  3. [3] Ibid.
  4. [4] Ibid.
  5. [5] Ibid., 150
  6. [6] Ibid., 151
  7. [7] Lonergan, The Method of Theology in The Lonergan Reader, 463
  8. [8] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 32
  9. [9] Ibid., 26
  10. [10] Lonergan, Insight in The Lonergan Reader, 151

Lonergan: Genuineness is Necessary for the Pursuit of Truth

One of the most lucid and beautiful sections in Lonergan’s Insight is on the idea of genuineness. Lonergan describes,

Genuineness is the admission of that tension into consciousness, and so it is the necessary condition of the harmonious cooperation of the conscious and unconscious components of development. It does not brush questions aside, smother doubts, push problems down, escape to activity, to chatter, to passive entertainment, to sleep, to narcotics. It confronts issues, inspects them, studies their many aspects, works out their various implications, contemplates their concrete consequences in one’s own life and in the lives of others. If it respects inertial tendencies as necessary conservative forces, it does not conclude that a defective routine is to be maintained because one has grown accustomed to it. Though it fears the cold plunge into becoming other than one is, it does not dodge the issue, nor pretend bravery, nor act out of bravado. It is capable of assurance and confidence, not only in what has been tried and found successful, but also in what is yet to be tried. It grows weary with the perpetual renewal of further questions to be faced, it longs for rest, it falters and fails, but it knows its weakness and its failures, and it does not try to rationalize them. Such genuineness is ideal.[1].

Though the quotation is rather lengthy, I felt compelled to put the whole paragraph as each sentence offers a unique description to the idea of genuineness. Genuineness is a bridging of the conscious and the unconscious through the organic organization of development. When we engage in genuineness, we do not suppress the questions that are slowly eating away at us. We face them full on, with a knowledge that sometimes they will be scary, but with the passionate desire to know, leaving no stone unturned. What we find will change us completely; it will be uncomfortable and even painful but we crave the unity of thought.

For Lonergan, this ideal genuineness is the foundation for possessing good will. Good will is a “willingness to follow the lead of intelligence and truth.”[2] This willingness comes from our whole being and includes our whole person. Lonergan states, “For the appropriation of truth even in the cognitional field makes demands upon the whole man.”[3] A genuine pursuit of the truth is demanding. Not only does it take a lot of work, but, based on what we discover, we have to be willing to completely change our lives and even who we are. It may mean tossing out ideas or habits that we love and training ourselves into new ways of thinking and acting. This reminds me of St. Paul’s words,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Pursuit of truth demands a sacrifice of the whole person. Only when we lay our whole being on the altar is truth able to transform our lives and renew our minds. For followers of God, this means allowing our wills to be changed to His will. His will is the truth in our lives and we desire to align our will with His.

But, can we truly develop a harmony between the unconscious and the conscious? Will the tension always make us perplexed? Can we actually eradicate our individual or group bias? Is this ideal genuineness possible? I believe Lonergan would say that while we cannot perfectly attain it, we should continue to strive for this attitude when we pursue truth. For, unless we have the humility which comes from genuineness, we cannot have our minds renewed and we cannot gain the deeper insights of truth.

  1. [1] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 261
  2. [2] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 269
  3. [3] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 269

The Problem of Liberation: Lonergan and the Use of Force

Bernard Lonergan describes our unique human curiosity and wonder about the world as a detached, disinterested desire to know. But due to our moral impotence, we often restrict one another’s freedom to pursue this pure desire to know. He calls this the ‘problem of liberation’. In searching for a solution to this problem, he states, “The problem is not met by setting up a benevolent despotism to enforce a correct philosophy, ethics or human science.”[1] When we have discovered a cohesive philosophy or a proper code of ethics, we desire others to agree with us and live according to our principles. We naturally want to be part of a community united under a common set of philosophic and ethical principles. But, in order to create this unity, we may appeal to the use of force in order to insure that everyone follows these principles. While it is better to have force from benevolence, than from malevolence, “the appeal to force is a counsel of despair.”[2] The solution to the problem of liberation, according to Lonergan, is not found in forcing humans to follow a certain philosophy. For, as he ironically puts it, “Is everyone to use force against everyone to convince everyone that force is beside the point?”[3]

Sadly, we have seen the principle of force used in order to give power to certain idealistic governments. Some political ideologies have good aspects to them but they are implanted through the use of force causing many violations of human rights. For example, some of the Marxist ideals behind communism aim at promoting freedom, equality and human rights. The idea of shared property and communal living can even be found in the early church where the believers lived under a certain type of pure communism: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44). The generosity and communal ownership of the early believers sprang from a free and willing spirit in the individuals; it was not a policy enacted by the church leaders.[4] Apparently, Marx desired communist ideals to be implemented among freely associated individuals as well. However, communism usually has an additional element from Leninism requiring an armed Vanguard party which uses force to put these ideals in place and keep the order. The result, as we have seen in history, is that the communist nations have had one of the highest records for the violation of human rights and mass murders. During the Great Purge of Stalin (1937-1938), conservative estimates for the death rate are about 1000 people per day. According to one scholar, Stephane Courtois, author of The Black Book of Communism, the death count for mass killings in communist countries in the 20th century is just under 100 million.

The point is that using force to push certain ideals is not the way to allow for the freedom of knowledge. So, what is the solution? Lonergan states that the solution to the problem of liberation is a need for a higher integration of human living. The solution needs to take people “just as they are” and point them toward a higher level.[5] It is built on an acknowledgement and respect for our human intelligence, reasonableness and freedom. From this starting place, we will search for a universal view point which will raise the question of transcendent knowledge. Lonergan suggests that exploration into transcendent knowledge will provide the basis for the freedom of the detached, disinterested desire to know.

  1. [1] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 288
  2. [2] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 288
  3. [3] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 289
  4. [4] In fact, the church leaders did not expect people to give up all their property as we can see in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Their deaths were due to their pretended generosity though they were under no obligation to give their money away.
  5. [5] Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 289