Myth and the Human Condition: Merleau-Ponty and Tolkien (Part 1)

I will be doing a two part series on myth. This first post will focus on myth and the human condition and refer to French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the British novelist J.R.R. Tolkien. The second post will focus on myth and religion and refer to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

IMG_2347Maurice Merleau-Ponty discusses the purpose of myth in his Phenomenology of Perception:

[M]yth is a projection of existence and an expression of the human condition. But understanding the myth does not mean believing in it, and if all myths are true, this is insofar as they can be put back into a phenomenology of spirit that indicates their function in the emergence of self-consciousness and that ultimately grounds their proper sense upon the sense they have for the philosopher.[1]

There is truth in myth, Merleau-Ponty argues, but it is not found in establishing the historical validity of the myth. A myth is true when it illustrates something true about the human condition, when it represents the true spirit of the human consciousness seeking to understand the world. He often uses the word “magical” in describing how a human puts together the facts or sensations of the world to establish a cohesive whole. There is a magical or mythical element to the way we are in touch with the world.

Tolkien, author of the great mythical stories found in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, also believes in the truth of myths. Before his creation of middle earth, Tolkien is first famous for his work on the myth of Beowolf. In a lecture on Beowulf, Tolkien gives an analogy of a man who built a tower from old stone only for it later to be mocked and torn down. But, before it was destroyed, the man who built it had been able to climb the tower and “look out upon the sea.”[2] (See the picture above of the beautiful sea at Muriwai Beach on the North Island of New Zealand.) Tolkien relates this to Beowulf, who built a tower, his poem, only for it later to be criticized so severely. And yet, the building of the tower was not in vain as the man was still able to look out at the sea.

This is the benefit of the myth: the opportunity to look upon something great. Those who write myths are part of pointing us toward something great. Tolkien writes in his poem, “Mythopoeia”: “Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme, of things not found within recorded time.”[3]

The blessing of “looking out upon the sea” is like the blessing of looking upon truth. Myth reveals parts of our world to us and the way humans interact with the world. Tolkien believes that the best myths and fairy stories will provide the reader with euchatastrophe, unexpected joy. This will all the more take place when we encounter the greatest true myth, the incarnation of Christ. For Tolkien, the God-becoming-man myth is the key to understanding the human condition; this myth is where, according to Tolkien, “Legend and History have met and fused.”[4] When the man looks out at sea, Tolkien may be imagining him facing this incredible, infinite Truth of redemption. He may be thinking of the Psalmist who writes how such truth is greater than the ocean and deeper than the sea.[5]

Although Merleau-Ponty would not see redemption as part of the truth of myth, he, along with Tolkien, believe in the mythical element in the human condition. From his approach, Merleau-Ponty finds that pure objective thought does not account for the real way that humans live in the world. For example, humans live in what he calls a “mythical space.”[6]. This is why we can physically be in one place but that place “not necessarily [be] the landscape of our life.” He continues, “I can ‘be elsewhere’ while remaining here and if I am kept far from what I love, I feel far from the center of real life.”[7]. Homesickness, for example, is a way for us to be dwelling in the mythical space of our home while being physically somewhere else. Anyone who has been in love or has observed someone in love has seen that while that person may be in one location, perhaps even doing something enjoyable, he or she is not fully engaged because of the desire to be with his or her lover. Even dreams, as Merleau-Ponty points out, demonstrate the way that humans have a connection to the mythical. We escape to the myth in our sleep.

These mythical elements of the human experience are not peripheral, but integral to the very way we interact with the world. We approach objects, not as mere appearances, but as actual essences, because we believe, somehow, that there is a sense or meaning to all things. The world of myth invades are world of perception. Merleau-Ponty writes, “The myth fits the essence into the appearance; the mythical phenomenon is not a representation, but a genuine presence.”[8]. We experience objects as having a mythical presence, react according to that presence, and create our lived space in this world.

In summary, Tolkien finds mythical element in the human condition because it reveals our pursuit of truth. Ultimately, our love for myth, he argues, will drive us toward the highest form of truth, a religious form of truth. (We will find a similar notion, although not in accordance with the Christian religion, when we turn to Nietzsche’s notion of myth in the next post.) In a different way, Merleau-Ponty finds the mythical element in the human condition to explain the way we interact with the world. We are not mechanical, calculating robots but experience places and people according to mythical relationships. Both are revealing the integral part myth plays in the human.

  1. [1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London: Routledge, 2012), 306
  2. [2] J.R.R. Tolkien, a lecture to the British Academy in 1936 in Essays, pp. 7-8, quoted in T.A. Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 162.
  3. [3] Tolkien, “Mythopoeia,” in Tree and Leaf, including the Poem Mythopoeia (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988), 144, quoted in Bradley Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2003), xxi.
  4. [4] Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, 109, quoted in Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, 40.
  5. [5] See Psalm 36:5-7: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep . . . How priceless is your unfailing love!”
  6. [6] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 298
  7. [7] Ibid., 299.
  8. [8] Ibid., 303.

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.

Reflections on Wonder (with Reference to Marcel)

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I am fascinated by human fascination. I have titled this blog, Through Wonder, purposefully, because I feel that wonder and fascination are essential in pursuing truth. Wonder is both the starting point, as Aristotle and Plato point out (see my About page for their direct quotes), and, I would add, the ending point to true philosophic study. We end in wonder, not because we are finished, but because it is a state of consciousness that we cannot escape. The more one pursues philosophy, the more one realizes that such a pursuit must be constantly done in the presence of wonder.

What does it mean to wonder? Does it mean that we look at a math problem, such as 5000 divided by 5, and wonder what the solution is? And then, when we have discovered the solution is 1000, do we no longer have the need to wonder? Due to Aristotle’s scientific approach, his notion of wonder appears to be more along these lines: we have a curiosity about how things in the world work, we do the necessary steps and we can discover the solution. I would argue though, perhaps more in the vein of Plato, that wonder is much broader than this.[1]

Human wonder is not only the human desire to solve a puzzle, but, it is also our response to puzzles which cannot be solved. We have all had this experience in studying a particular subject: the more we study, the more we feel that we do not know. Having played the piano since I was little girl, I told myself that once I learned how to play the piano, then I would begin a new instrument. But as I studied the piano through high school and then through my degree in music in college, I continued to find more and more things that I did not know and that I wanted to learn. As a result, I have never learned to play another instrument (at least, not yet).

As we plunge into a subject, we begin to feel small, in contrast to the vastness of the knowledge that it includes as well as the unsolved complexities buried within its structure. Marcel puts this beautifully when he says that the thaumazein (wonder) of the Greeks “lies on the borderline between wonderment and admiration.” [2] Wondering as exploring, as opposed to wondering as solving, allows us to find admiration because we are forced to recognize how little we actually know.

Socrates praises Theaetetus for his pursuit of this kind of wonder, a wonder that brings him to admiration as opposed to arrogance. It’s easy to get away from this wonder and start to view philosophy as a chore, something to be attacked or sorted out. Through his interaction with Theaetetus, Socrates is reminding us of the starting place of philosophy: wonder at how certain things that seem true at first glance unravel upon investigation.

According to Marcel, when we have “progressed” beyond wonder, we are no longer doing philosophy. He writes, ” . . . a philosopher remains a philosopher only so long as he retains this capacity for wonderment in the presence of certain fundamental situations, despite everything surrounding and even within him that tends to dispel it.” [3]

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Thinking of wonder as the starting place for philosophy reminds me of the words of Christ. Jesus tells his followers that in order to enter the kingdom, they have to become like little children: “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place – becoming like this child – is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” [4]. Children let their wonder and curiosity guide them without reserve. Socrates praises Theaetetus, a young boy, for allowing his wonder to bring him to philosophy and Jesus encourages us to be like children, creatures of wonder, to draw us to Himself.

  1. [1] Granted, the url of this blog is based off the quote from Aristotle so I am in no way implying that Aristotle’s understanding of thaumazein is inaccurate. I am only suggesting, as the footnote on my About page also mentions, that his concept of thaumazein may need to be expanded to include the delight in wondering about mysteries. Thanks to Robert Wood for pointing out the distinctions between Plato and Aristotle’s views on wonder.
  2. [2] Gabriel Marcel, Existential Background of Human Dignity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 11
  3. [3] Ibid., 12.
  4. [4] Matthew 18:3-4. See also Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, and Luke 18:16-17.

Good Decisions Made Without Good Reasons: Connaturality According to Aquinas

Reason clearly plays an important role in making good ethical decisions. Looking back at our own personal lives, we can trace the source of our poor choices to a lack of good reasons or even to complete irrationality. We only need to review the improper actions of governments to see the horrific effects of decisions made without good reasons. And yet, we experience another phenomenon when making decisions where we make a good ethical choice, not based on reason, but on our own natural inclinations. In these situations, we might say, “It just felt right, but I’m not sure why.” Thomas Ryan, a commentator on Thomas Aquinas, accurately describes these types of experiences: “feeling, thinking, willing resonate with each other that this particular response is ‘right’.”[1]

We experience this phenomenon in two types of situations: major life decisions and quick response decisions. First, in a major life decision, we may list all of our reasons, make a pros and cons list, and talk with our family and friends, but when it comes down to it, we rely on our intuitive feeling of what seems right. For example, in choosing a spouse, though we avoid certain characteristics that we know will be harmful to a healthy marriage, we choose someone based on a ‘feeling of love’ for that person, which may be inexpressible in words. In regards to quick response decisions, we may also act, not based on carefully thought out reasons, but on our (hopefully) good intuitive sense in the moment. If we see someone about to walk in front of a moving vehicle, we will quickly shout to alert them without taking the time to contemplate the reasons for the most virtuous response in that situation.

So, what’s happening here? How are these decisions ethical? Thomas Aquinas offers his concept of connaturality to account for these experiences. Connaturality simply means a natural inclination or bent toward something. When Aquinas uses the term though, he is often referring to a natural inclination toward divine things, and ultimately, toward God. If we have a natural inclination toward the things of God, and thus to God, Himself, we will naturally choose the things of God. Aquinas discusses connaturality most explicitely in the Summa Theologica, Part Two of the Second Part, Question 45, Article 2:

Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Ghost to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them . . .
Now this sympathy or connaturality for Divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Cor. 6:17: “He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit.” Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity, but it has its essence in the intellect, whose act is to judge aright, as stated above.[2]

The first type of wisdom mentioned here is based on reason, but Aquinas calls our attention to another type of wisdom: wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This wisdom gives us the ability to judge things based on our relationship with God and our intimacy with Him. When we come to know God, we are joined with Him and, as a result, we have access to this wisdom. Even those who do not know God explicitly can still know Him though the natural law and thus, in a similar fashion, are also able to judge based on connaturality.

Connaturality springs out of the heart, a heart full of charity (love). The more that we love God, the closer we will be to Him; the closer we are to Him, the more His judgments will be our judgments. Thus, some of our decisions are made not based on a list of reasons but according to wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit.

Naturally, this concept can easily be abused. A person can claim that he or she is acting based on ‘connaturality’, but the actions clearly only bring despair and dissatisfaction. If the person’s inclinations are bent toward a lesser good, a good that becomes an evil when made a priority, then the decisions will reflect that. Aquinas constantly calls us to seek after the highest good, the only true source of happiness, which is the eternal vision of God. If we consistently direct our hearts toward God, if we “set our minds on things above and not on earthly things”[3], then we can trust our inclinations, given by the Holy Spirit, when we are called to make ethical judgments, whether big or small.

  1. [1] Thomas Ryan, “Revisiting Affective Knowledge and Connaturality in Aquinas,” Theological Studies 66 (March 2005): 58
  2. [2] Summa Theologica, Part Two of the Second Part, Question 45, Article 2 Online
  3. [3] Colossians 3:2

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