Trinitarian Reflections: The Transcentdental Notions and God, blog 1

by David Fleischacker

About two years ago, I started a new notebook on linking together the University and its life with that of the Holy Trinity.  One of the areas that I wondered about was whether the Transcendental Notions (TN) could provide any type of analogy for understanding the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  There are after all, three transcendental notions that Lonergan develops which are spiritual in nature, hence intrinsically independent of the empirical residue.  These spiritual transcendental notions are Lonergan’s transposition of the agent intellect found in Aristotle and St. Thomas, and of the Light of Being (conscience, mind, etc) as found in the Platonists and St. Augustine (as a note, Augustine was clearly not a Platonist once you get into his head more thoroughly even if he learned much from them and borrowed some notions from them).

One of the immediate difficulties of course which one finds noted in Lonergan is that in finding an analogy for the Holy Trinity, we need to deal with acts or operations, not with anything in potency.  The TN are a kind of potency, but much different than normal.  These actually have the power or capacity to bring about self-transcendence.  In St. Thomas (and Aristotle), these “lights” of the mind have the power to illumine, hence they act as agent causes.  Most potencies do not have such capabilities.  Hence the reason these lights are in a kind of actuality as well.  Notice how some of the metaphysical terms and relations get stretched (but not violated! or confused).  The TN are in a potency in relationship to the operations that arise, but in relationship to the potencies in the human subject to receive these operations they are in act.  Many would say that this imprecision of the metaphysical terms and relations is why one needs to leave out the metaphysical, and turn to intentionality analysis. That is true in part, but if one does so, one as Lonergan notes in Insight, needs to run the full circuit, and return to metaphysics, both to refine the metaphysics, but also to articulate the intelligibilities discovered as belonging to being.  To stay merely with a cognitive apprehension of conscious and intentional life leaves one ignorant of its “reality.”  So the circuit does need to be run.

The reason I mention the circuit is because if one is to transpose the analogies for the Holy Trinity found in St. Thomas, then one needs to deal with some of the metaphysical points that he makes, such as God is pure act, and hence we need to find analogies in act that help us, and this is true of the Persons as well as of God.  The Father is pure act, as is the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Hence, are the TN in act enough for them to be used as analogies?

The TNs, though in a kind of potency, are also the “light” that makes possible the conscious and intentional operations.  This means that in some manner, they are more in act than the operations.  They underpin, penetrate, and transcend all operations.  Still, there must be a reason that Lonergan did not turn toward these as analogies. He stuck with operations (eg. apprehension of the good, judgment of value of the good, love/decision of/for the good). I suppose one could argue that these operations are in part constituted by the TN, as the TN penetrate them.  We could look at what that “penetration” means.  It of course is not physical, but spiritual.  Descriptively, it “illumines” the operation.  It is what “receives” the operation.  It is what “beholds” the operation.  The TN is not only light, but also an intentional focus, hence can be described as the “eye” of the mind as well.  I am tending to think that the TN is both light and eye (hence not distinct as these are physically in us — but I could be wrong).  I suppose one could say the “eye” is the conscious subject as awakened in a TN and thus seeking an answer, hence waiting for an operation that mediates the answer.  Then once the operation emerges, the subject as beholding the operation in the TN is an eye that beholds.  The subject is however conscious through the TN, and thus the TN constitutes both the horizon and the subject as a gazing subject.

One of the areas that I explored a couple years ago in my notebook was whether there was a sufficient distinction and set of relations between the TN to result in some kind of analogy that sheds light upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, does the TN of intelligibility have a kind of relationship to that of being/truth such that the former begets that latter.  Of course, this does not happen without an operation. And it does not happen without the subject moving (raising the question for reflection).  Likewise does the TN of goodness spirate from the TN of being?  I cannot repeat all of the reflections here, but I can say that my reflections were not conclusive.  I do intend however to start publishing these reflections in this particular sequence of blogs.

Even if I discover that those reflections do provide an interesting analogy, there is still the further question about whether the analogy is an improvement upon that of the operations as such.  I have a suspicion that they do not, but they might help to deepen my understanding of the operational based analogy (apprehension of the good, judgement of value of the good, decision for the good).  Part of my reason for this suspicion is that God as pure act is the cause of the light that is in us, which we call the TNs.  The TNs do allow us to grasp the unrestricted nature of the operations in God, but those are operations in God, not TNs.   Just a few thoughts.

More later.

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