St. Thomas Aquinas argues that sanctifying grace transforms the very essence of the human soul (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q 110, a. 4). This essence is at the basis of the powers and operations of the human soul. And with grace, those powers are elevated to a supernaturally capacity.
Lonergan transposes St. Thomas’s formulation of our essence, articulating it as the capacity for self-transcendence. This capacity comes to be known, as is the essence and the powers for Aquinas, via attending to our interior operations and acts of the human person. These operations and acts form into distinct sets of groups rooted upon distinct aims of human conscious existence. Lonergan sorts these sets into four levels with which many of us are familiar, three of which are specifically human: the level of understanding, the level of judgment, and the level of decision, and one that is shared with higher animals, namely the level of motor-sensate forms and schemes. And as for the aims of each of these levels, just as St. Thomas will speak of the agent intellect as the power that aims at “being” and brings about an actualization of the potency of the intellect1, Lonergan in INSIGHT will call this agent intellect the notion of being. By notion, he means a heuristic notion, which guides and directs us toward an object. And this particular notion underpins, penentrates, and goes beyond all other heuristic notions and the objects they intend (INSIGHT, chapter 12). By the time he wrote METHOD IN THEOLOGY, Lonergan will differentiate this into three notions; the notion of the intelligible, the notion of being/truth, and the notion of the good. Furthermore, he will add the term “transcendental”, because these notions, which are transcendental in scope, are the principles that both orient us toward the Transcendent and bring about self-transcendence in us.
These transcendental notions are the basic questions in us, but these are more than just questions. Once answers have arisen, it is by these same notions that we have the power to intend the answers (the objects). Furthermore, these same notions bring up new questions in light of the answers. Hence, in METHOD, Lonergan identifies three transcendental notions which bring about the ongoing development of three levels of conscious existence:
1. Level of Understanding Transcendental notion of intelligibility
2. Level of Judgment Transcendental notion of being/truth
3. Level of Decision Transcendental notion of value/good
Futhermore, one can understand each of these notions as being related to each other in terms of sublation. Sometimes Lonergan will also speak of sublation using the language of higher and lower levels of being; of the relatively natural and supernatural (only God is absolutely supernatural); or of the infrastructure and suprastructure (for a discussion of this, see my article on “Higher and Lower Levels of Being” in the section of the workofgod.org web site called “The Living Cosmopolis”). Thus, the notion of intelligibility sets-up the level of understanding so that it can provide the lower matrix which can then provide the conditions for the life of the level of judgment. The general form of the question at the level of judgment is “Is it true?”, and the “it” literally comes from the level of understanding. And in turn, the level of judgment permeated by the notion of being enhances the life of the notion of intelligibility. One cannot reach good judgments without an adequate number of insights that need to be weighed. When we ask “Is this true?” we might both seek more evidence in larger ranges of experience, but also seek more insights to reflect upon in relationship to experience. So, when we ask the question “what” it usually is also within the context of the intentional notion that seeks being. Likewise, the notion of value (or the good) enhances and expands the levels of judgment and understanding. One cannot become attuned to what is good without knowing what is real or true. And when we are seeking what is real and true, and trying to understand, it is usually in the context of seeking what is good.
The capacity for self-transcendence thus is what one begins to grasp once one comes to understand the unified or integrated levels of the potentiality of the transcendental notions. That capacity is a basic orientation toward a complete perfection of all these notions in their integral unification. This is the essence of the human soul.
Love as the orientation of our capacity for self-transcendence.
One of the things that begins to oriente this capacity is love. Whenever we fall in love with anything or anyone, we can then give the reason why we seek understanding, being, and goodness. This love is the reason why we use our bodies as we do, why we ask questions and get insights as we do, why we seek to know the real as we do, why we want to know what is good and respond in decisions as we do. Thus, if we love our car and only our car, then the way we use our body, our hands, our feet, our eyes and ears; the way we ask our questions to understand at the level of understanding; the way we ask our questions for reflection at the level judgment; the way we ask questions for deliberation at the level of decision are guided by the love of this car. Now, such a total love for such an object would of course be a bit distorted and unexpected, even for a young teenage boy. But one can see the point. Love orients our capacity for self-transcendence, whether that love is for another person, a family, a country, or for God.
But can such a love fully actuate our capacity for self-transcendence?
God and the gods.
This is where we can begin to grasp that only one love can oriente and actuate the totality of the capacity for self-transcendence. However it is a love that really is beyond the power of this capacity.
In order to love something, we have to have some kind of basic ability to attend to it and fall in love so as to be able to oriente our being toward it. This is a basic type of knowledge of the reality of the other. It does not mean that we necessarily understand the full intelligibilty and being, and thus goodness of this other, but it does require a basic knowledge that this other exists and is worthy of our love, and thus can become a centering point of our self-transcendence. This is not naturally possible to do with God.
First, what do we mean by “God”? Lonergan, in chapter 4 of METHOD IN THEOLOGY (and in chapter 19 of INSIGHT), gives some clarity to this. The term or aim of our transcendental notions are a bit mysterious. Our questions for understanding, and most comprehensively, our transcendental notion of intelligibility, is not restricted. It includes all that is intelligible, and excludes only what is not. It includes therefore the potential reality of an unrestricted intelligiblity. But this inclusion is not like other finite intelligible beings. Rather, that which is an unrestrictedly intelligible is an analogue that one grasps when one discovers the full unrestricted range of this transcendental notion. It is what happens when one beings to wonder about the complete and total intelligible meaning of everything about everything and whether there is an ultimate meaning to everything about everything. When one has reached this unrestricted meaning of this transcendental notion, one has reached the question of God. It is a question still, because it takes a further leap to affirm that such an unrestricted intelligibility exists that actually is proportionate to the totality of the transcendental notion itself. But nonetheless, Lonergan would highlight, that the reaching of this total question is itself how we come to know what is meant by God (and we do not necessarily do it with the precision that Lonergan has spelled out in chapter 4 of METHOD).
The same happens in examining the transcendental notion of the true or of being, and of value or the good. Each of these becomes the analog by which we grasp a meaning to “God” and thus are able to raise a question about the reality of God as being the proportionate completion or aim of these transcendental notions. Only then do we understand the totality of our aims in life, and that totality is really aimed at an unrestricted intelligibility, being, and good. Our question of God is rooted in our created being and the nature of our conscios intentionality. It is one way for understanding how we are in the image of God — and image which not only has rationality like God, but which is only completed in God.
Thus, since love orients our capacity for self-transcendence, the only term that could adequately complete that self-transcendence, and thus be the real perfection of it, is love of a being who is unrestrictedly intelligible, unrestrictedly true/real/being, and unrestrictely valuable/good. And thus only by loving God could our capacity be fully completed.
Yet, our own powers to oriente our capacity for self-transcendence are limited to things that we can naturally understand, know, and respond. Why? Lonergan throughout his life argues that we understand by insight into experience. And he goes on to argue that we know by judgments based on a reflection upon the adequacy of our insights into our experiences, a reflection which might lead to sufficient evidence grasped through a reflective insight. And furthermore, that we make decisions which transform our world based upon this naturally known knowledge into our experiences. Thus, what we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, along with our motor activities form experiences, because we can get insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights into these. Likewise, once we have questions and insights, make judgments and decisions, we can then get insights into these questions, insights, judgments, and decisions as such. Thus we have access to a second type of experience called data of consciousness, and thus can get insights and knowledge into that nature of our own selves, and also respond in decisions to transform ourselves (and through this, we can also understand others conscious existence).
However, we have no experience of God as God, only our orientation toward God in our capacity for self-transcendence. Thus, we cannot have direct insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights into God, and thus we cannot love God as God, as the proportionate perfection of our capacity for self-transcendence.
Hence, if we truly can love God as God, then this is a divine gift, a supernatural gift, a gift which raises the power to realize our capacity as such. It becomes a basic orientation and actualization of our capacity for self-transcendence. Thus, it can be identified as being placed into this essence of our soul. It can be described as Lonergan notes, as the love of God flooding our hearts, giving us a heart of flesh, a heart of flesh which has a supernatural destiny.
Thus, we can now define the gods.
Whenever we love something or someone who is not unrestrictedly intelligible, unrestrictedly real, unrestrictedly good as if they were, then we have turned this being into a god. It may be fleeting. It may be enduring. It could be our spouse. It may be our work, our intellects, or power. And whenever it happens, we have violated the first and greatest Commandment. We have made something to be what in reality it cannot be. And in reality, it never really can be the actuation of our capacity for self-transcendence, because just as we cannot naturally love God as God, so we cannot love a god with that kind of love of God as God. In the end, it would be a natural, finite love that masquerades as ultimate love and meaning. And this too is a lie.
1This agent St. Thomas identifies is also known as the light of being. This is a more descriptive language which has older roots. One finds it, for example, in St. Augustine, in a number of places in his book on the Holy Trinity. The light of being is a created illuminating power within us that is analogous to the sun. As the sun illumine physical objects so that they might be seen, so the light of being illumines intelligible objects so that they might be understood and known. It seems that earlier in Augustine’s life, he identified this light directly with God, however, toward the end of the De Trinitate, he clearly says this is a created light in us. This light, or agent intellect, is the way that human beings participate in the Being of God.