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CHAPTER FIVE: GROWING CONVICTION
Augustine was so concerned with understanding, so
unmindful of universal concepts, that I began a long
period of trying to write an intelligible account of my
Lonergan was sent to Rome to study theology in the fall of
1933. It was a great boon in his life, especially since his time
teaching at Loyola College in Montreal had not been easy. As
William Mathews wrote of this time in the early 30's:
During his second year he had some kind of confrontation
with the Rector, Thomas McMahon. He was a man who had
the reputation of being something of a sergeant major,
and of meddling in other people's work. (2)
The nature of the confrontation is not clear. Nevertheless,
Lonergan's departure to theology, which should have been in the
summer of 1932, was delayed a year. In addition, two close friends
had recently left the community. (3) It was obviously a very painful
period for him, a period in which, nevertheless, he renewed his
commitment to his Jesuit vocation.
I had regarded myself as one condemned to sacrifice his
real interests and, in general, to be suspected and to
get into trouble for things I could not help and could
not explain. (4)
We might add a note on Lonergan's personality. As we
mentioned earlier, he was a quiet, retiring man whose interests
were deeply intellectual. A Latin evaluation of him from sometime
in the 1930's speaks of him as "indefatigabilis in labore." He was
considered somewhat timid, and as is often the case with such folk,
these characteristics can be misunderstood. Some felt he did not
sufficiently consider the feelings of others. There was some
suspicion of what was called, derogatively, "originality" in
intellectual matters. (5)
Nevertheless, the same evaluation speaks of him as accepting
humiliations well and making almost continual progress in the
spiritual life. An evaluation in French speaks of him as
...a very good religious...a pleasing personality...one
guesses at rather than sees his rich qualities...very
suited to the intellectual apostolate, perhaps more as a
writer than as a professor.
In this light the request that he study theology in Rome was
a tremendous elation for him.
At this juncture Fr. Hingston paid a flying visit to the
Immaculate where I had begun my theology. I was to go to
Rome. I was to do a biennium in philosophy. He put the
question, Was I orthodox? I told him that I was but also
that I thought a lot. I was beginning to go into detail
and happened to ask if I was making myself clear. He
said he considered I had already answered the question
In the same letter from which we have been quoting, a letter
he wrote to his provincial, he expressed his joy at being sent to
It was a magnificent vote of confidence which, combined
with the great encouragement I had had from Fr. Smeaton
after years of painful introversion and with the words
over the high altar in the church of St. Ignatius here
"Romae vobis propitius ero," was consolation indeed. (7)
It was during this period of the summer and fall of 1933 that
Lonergan began to write. In "Insight Revisited" Lonergan writes
that after reading Augustine, "I began a long period of trying to
write an intelligible account of my convictions." (8) In other words,
it is from this period of 1933 that he has such strong intellectual
convictions that he is led to write. Plato had given him "a theory
of intellect." We know from the letter he wrote to his provincial
that after reading Augustine and finding him "psychologically
exact," he put together a 25,000 word essay on the act of faith and
gave it to his friend, Fr. Henry Smeaton, who had a reputation of
being a brilliant Jesuit student. With what some might consider a
touch of arrogance Lonergan later wrote:
It was a complete success. Fr. Smeaton admitted that the
Catholic philosophers were content to serve theology as
best they could without having any philosophic
pretensions, that my views were far simpler and far more
satisfactory, that there was no cornering me by appealing
to any dogmatic decision. (9)
It seems that this particular effort to articulate his own
convictions dates from the summer of 1933, before starting
theology. Lonergan, along with the other Jesuit scholastics, spent
the latter part of the summer at the Jesuit villa on Loyola Island,
The area was marshy, the mosquitoes bad, so lights did
not go on in the evening. But Bernie could be heard
night after night typing through the twilight and into
the dark - a trivial little fact that acquires enormous
interest in the light of later information. (10)
1. "AN INTELLIGIBLE ACCOUNT OF MY CONVICTIONS"
In addition to the above essay on the act of faith, we know
that after his arrival in Rome in 1933, Lonergan submitted to
Father Leo W. Keeler, an American Jesuit teaching philosophy at the
Gregorian, an essay on Newman, "a feeler of some 30,000 words."
He did not grasp my main contention because I was not out
to be unpleasantly plain-spoken. But he was quite
impressed none the less. (11)
These early essays on the act of faith and on Newman have as
a whole been lost. Nevertheless, there are in the Lonergan
archives in Toronto some thirteen pages of "fragments" of what seem
to have been parts of these early efforts to "write an intelligible
account of my convictions." (12)
Keeler encouraged Lonergan to read Hume and other modern
philosophers. In 1935 Lonergan wrote to his provincial:
What do I know of modern philosophy? I confess I never
read a line of it but only such summaries as the history
of philosophy gives and occasional studies of particular
authors. But I know something about it. (13)
Nevertheless, in these fragments Lonergan addresses the basic
philosophical issues of modern philosophy. He begins with David
Hume. For Hume, human experience means the pure "presentations" of
sense. Such presentations do not reveal intelligible categories,
such as that of causality, for example. The category of causality
is not apprehended in the presentations of sense; all we really
apprehend is succession.
We do not see one man causing the death of another; what
we see is the sword in the hand of one going through the
body of the other. (14)
On the other hand,
In reading Hume, Kant was awakened from his dogmatic
slumbers; he granted Hume's contention that cause was not
presented; more, he felt that substance and other terms
did not represent what was presented in the strict sense,
what was simply appearance, phenomenon. Then, he went a
step further; since these terms did not represent
transcendent knowledge, they must be due to the
understanding of what was presented, to a grasping of the
ratio intelligibilis of the thing. (15)
Consequently, Lonergan goes on to say,
the idea of substance has become the trial case, the
"experimentum crucis," between the dogmatic and the
What is meant by these two opposing schools? It seems obvious
that by the "dogmatic" school Lonergan is thinking of the
scholastic philosophers as he had known them. They are
characterized by their doctrine of human understanding as some kind
of "apprehension." On the other hand, the "critical school" seems
to be his own understanding of human understanding in the light of
modern philosophy. He goes on to distinguish these two approaches
to the idea of substance.
For if understanding is ultimately apprehensive, then
"substance," what lies beneath or stands beneath the
appearances, must be had by apprehension: this is the
scholastic position. On the critical theory, the
substance is known by an immanent activity and so is not
apprehended but merely understood to be there; clearly
this corresponds exactly with our knowledge of substance:
we do not know what it is - as we would if we ever
apprehended it; all we know is that it is there. (16)
Earlier in this essay we noted Erich Przywara's comment that
English empiricism moves easily into Berkeley's perceptualism and
eventually, into Kantian idealism. Later in his life Lonergan
would recall an early fear of falling into idealism, and these
fragments indicate an initial sympathy with that tendency. Still,
he seeks to distance himself from it.
Of course, it does not follow that subscription to the
main contention of Hume or the initial moment of Kant's
thought implies either Hume's phenomenalism or the lumber
of categories and antinomies - invented by Kant but
hardly ever believed by anybody. Undoubtedly there are
consequences to such subscription and acceptance; but
what they are is to be decided not historically but
logically. Meanwhile the evidence in favour of the
critical view is not limited to the obscurity of the
scholastics' spiritual apprehension, or to the
correspondence between the critical theory of our
knowledge of substance and what de facto we know about
it. Verification of the hypothesis may be found all over
philosophical inquiry. (17)
He goes on to point out what he considered the key to the
Kantian error: it was a position he was to repeat through the
Kant suffered from the obsession that the only possible
justification was some sort of spiritual apprehension of
the thing-in-itself - a presentation and not a mere
understanding of the object. Since such a presentation
was not to be had...Kant decided that there could be no
theoretical justification for the demand to understand.
Metaphysics had to go by the boards; we have no right to
understand; all that we have is a practical need of
understanding, so as to be able to carry on the dull
business of daily life (18)
In other words, Kant's basic error was the same as that of the
naive realism of the scholastics: an understanding of understanding
as some kind of "spiritual apprehension of the thing-in-itself."
Lonergan then goes on to provide the evidence for his "critical"
theory of understanding, not as some type of "transcendent"
apprehension, as scholastics would have it, but rather as "immanent
act." For example, there is the very image of understanding as
"light." Just as light does not add new features to the presented
object, but only makes the features of the object actually visible,
so intelligence does not add new features to the sensible
presentation, is not a supervening, spiritual
apprehension, but only serves to make the sensible
features intelligible, or understood, or interpreted.
What else can be meant by the traditional phrase,
"intellectus agentis est illuminare phantasmata," I have
been unable to fathom. (19)
Just as aesthetic pleasure accompanies apprehension and is
preceded by curiosity, so understanding is preceded by wonder and
is accompanied by its own peculiar subjective satisfaction.
The intenser form of the pleasure, the joy, or still less
grossly the light, of understanding are found in the
student who has traced trains of influence in the drama
of history, unraveled the mysteries of mathematics, or in
philosophy catches unsuspected relations that link
together into a harmony what else was but a bleak and
insignificant plurality. (20)
As opposed to the palpableness of apprehension, intellectual
truth has for its characteristic trait, evidence. He relates
evidence to total explanation.
Evidence in itself is subjective; but evidence bears
witness to truth, shows that the evident way of
understanding is objectively the right way. We accept a
theory, a way of understanding, as objectively the right
way (i.e. as true) because it explains, illuminates,
interprets, synthesizes, all the facts. The emphasis is
on the fact of explanation; "all the facts" are important
because, unless the facts are included, then the evidence
of the theory will be destroyed when the incompatible
fact receives attention. Then the explanation will not
Lonergan examines the Kantian synthetic a priori judgments.
What is the source of the judgment that every contingent being must
have a cause? Why must every contingent being have a cause?
Because otherwise its existence could not be understood,
would have no sufficient reason.
It seems that the principle of sufficient reason is utterly
central to Lonergan's thought at this point. It coheres with his
repeated emphasis on understanding as explanation.
There must be a sufficient reason, else we should be
utterly unable to understand. We must be able to
understand, else reality is not per se intelligible. The
dispute over synthetic judgments is whether the decisive
element comes from the presentation, from the subject
transcending itself, or from the immanent activity of the
subject, from the subject's demand to understand. It
seems obvious that the latter is the case. (22)
In a handwritten note on the margin of the above quote
Lonergan emphasizes his point on the "transcendence" of sensitive
knowledge as opposed to the "immanence" of understanding. Here he
is arguing against the scholastic position of understanding as a
"Ens contingens:" the concept implies a cause, granted;
but is the concept a compound of presentation-transcendent - and understanding-immanent? If it is such
a compound, then the fact of the implication proves
nothing to the point. The scholastic has to prove a
spiritual apprehension; he doesn't and I don't think he
Unlike Kantian theory in which the apprehension of the object
is according to the formal category of substance, Lonergan's
analysis is "not formal but causal."
The substance therefore is not only what unifies the
different appearances of the object and makes it ens per
se, a thing by itself distinct from other things; it is
also the cause of the appearances. In other words, the
appearances are the substance manifested to us sensibly.
Hence there is no real distinction between the substance
and the appearances; that is, there is no real
distinction between substance and accidents as the
scholastic theory requires. For example, the white of
the object is not something objectively different from
the object itself; white is what the object appears to be
to the eye. (24)
Again, not only is the substance the cause of the
appearances but also it is the explanation of its action
and reaction...We may remark that being the explanation
of action includes being the explanation or cause of
sensation (in so far as sensation is caused by the object
perceived and not by the subject perceiving). (25)
The action and reaction of the substance is according to
intelligible law and this follows from the intelligibility of
reality. Such intelligible law is progressively discovered by
developing human intelligence.
It is remarkable in these notes that there is a section
prefiguring Lonergan's program in Insight, that is, a program of
unifying all the sciences in a "science of sciences" based on
In so far as the critical metaphysic is a view or theory
of reality, it is more pronouncedly positive and
inductive; it takes advantage of all human understanding
or science of the objective world and is, in the
theoretic order, a science of sciences....Critical
metaphysic takes the explanations arrived at in every
field of science - physics, chemistry, biology,
psychology, history, ethics, etc. - and frames a unified
view of reality in its totality. (26)
Lonergan distinguishes the intelligibility of the object from
the fact that the object exists and thus touches on the scholastic
doctrine of the real distinction of essence and existence.
The law of the object is distinct from the fact that the
object exists. This distinctness is due to the nature of
our knowledge. For the fact of existence is known by
apprehension; the law of the object is known by
understanding. Knowledge consists of a conjunction of
presentation and understanding into one whole; the pure
presentation of experience and the pure intellection
(abstract idea) are the entia quibus of knowledge
(human). This distinction the scholastic theory
objectifies by a real distinction between essence and
existence; it puts the composition, not in the mind, but
in some very obscure way, in the object. Whether the
critical metaphysician will assert such a real
distinction or not, I shall discuss presently. But if he
does, it will not be due to the distinction in the mind
but only on the analogy of this distinction and as a
theory to explain definite facts. (27)
The fragments contain no further comments on the "real
distinction," but since he had already denied the scholastic theory
of the real distinction between substance and accident, and since
he is at the very least ambiguous in his attitude toward it in the
above quote, it is safe to say that at this time it is not a
doctrine on which he has convictions.
There is then the critical problem:
What justification is there for the subject's demand to
understand? Why may we suppose that evidence, a
subjective experience, the illumination that comes of
having things explained, should be an ear-mark of truth,
that is, of the way things-in-themselves (so distinct
from our minds) should be explained? (28)
He pays tribute to Hegel.
Hegel indicated the germ of a solution by positing an
identity of intelligence and reality. His interest in
theory made him give the upper hand in this identity to
intelligence; for him the world is the idea gaining
consciousness of itself and unfolding itself according to
thesis, antithesis and higher synthesis. This is all
very nice for the theoretical side of things, however
misty, but what happens to the practical? Feuerbach
solved this by turning Hegel's house upside down. He
asserted the identity of intelligence and reality but
gave the upper hand to reality, in particular material
At this point Lonergan inserts a handwritten note about Marx's
dialectical materialism necessitating communism and the unity of
theory and practice as the basis of Bolshevism. It is obvious that
his interest in philosophy goes hand-in-hand with his interest in
the contemporary historical situation. He indicates his own
The intelligibility of reality itself needs an
explanation. The sole explanation is that there is an
ultimate identity of intelligence and reality; i.e. that
that in virtue of which other things are must be not only
a cause but also an intelligence. (30)
He specifies the meaning of this identity of intelligence and
Now, though an identity of intelligence and reality is
the solution, it does not follow that this identity need
be verified in the actual world. A radical and
fundamental identity is quite sufficient, the theist as
opposed to the monist position. This sets up a pre-established harmony (I do not mean a psycho-physical
parallelism) which makes the intellect of man apt to
understand the right way, and so justifies the demand of
the subject to understand, [and] gives a sufficient
reason for the axiom "ens et intelligibile
Referring to Newman he defines certitude:
Certitude is therefore an assent to an idea, to a theory,
as the sole possible explanation of the facts. (32)
In a further page of these fragments, he links this theory of
"intellect as immanent act" with mystical experience.
The theory of intellection as immanent act fits in with
a philosophy of mysticism; the mystical experience is sui
generis because it is an experience, a transcendence, of
the soul as soul and not merely as related to the body.
The uniqueness of this experience is more readily
understood, if our theory of ordinary knowledge does not
postulate spiritual apprehensions. (33)
At the same time, as in his early Blandyke Papers, there is in
these notes an emphasis on the need for experience, imagination,
the presentation, in order to understand.
...we have here an explanation of the need of phantasm,
of diagrams in geometry, of experiments in physics.
Parallel to this is the need of illustration in oratory
and exposition, of the importance of similitude, parable,
analogy in gaining ideas of things unseen. The last
brings us to the most profound example of the idea in the
concrete, the Incarnation; in the words of St. John: kai
ho logos sarx egeneto. (34)
The ultimate aim of his critical metaphysics is to consider
human life, not only in its metaphysical character, but as it
really is lived, with weakness but also tending toward a
transcendent telos. He quotes Augustine: "Fecisti nos ad te,
Domine, et inquietum cor nostrum donec requiescat in te."
In summary, we can make the following observations about
Lonergan's position in these early fragments. As in his early
Blandyke Papers, he is still distancing himself from the scholastic
position which he again characterizes as treating of human
understanding as some kind of spiritual "apprehension."
His basic point in these notes is the absolutely unique
character of the act of understanding and the radical identity of
intellect and reality. It is obvious that he is on to something;
and he knows he is on to something.
On the other hand, these notes are ambiguous about the sharp
distinction he will later make between understanding and judgment.
He speaks of the two components of knowledge as sensitive
apprehension and the intellectual act of understanding. He
characterizes the latter not only as light but also as evidence.
He claims that "the fact of existence is known by apprehension."
Furthermore, he contrasts sensitive apprehension and
understanding as transcendent and immanent. Later in life he will
characterize these two acts as moments in the one self-transcending
activity of the human person. But even in these fragments he is
not entirely consistent in his use of these terms, for in speaking
of mysticism he speaks of the "transcendence of the soul as soul
and not merely as related to the body."
Furthermore, this inconsistency over transcendence and
immanence is apparent in his treatment of substance as "not
apprehended but merely understood to be there." He says we do not
know what substance is; "all we know is that it is there." At this
point his understanding seems to presuppose spatial categories. I
am reminded of what he later wrote of the idealist philosopher.
The idealist insists that human knowing always includes
understanding as well as sense; but he retains the
empiricist's notion of reality. (35)
This underlying lack of clarity about the ultimate criterion
of reality is also revealed in his denial of the scholastic "real
distinction" between substance and accident, as well as his down-playing, if not denying, the real distinction between essence and
existence. This latter issue will be at the core of his
As I read these fragments from the early 1930's I am reminded
of his statement in Insight that between a materialism and a
critical realism "the halfway house is idealism." (36) He is on the
way to a critical realism.
2. "AN ANALYTIC CONCEPT OF HISTORY"
In a letter from Rome to his provincial on January 22, 1935 -
a letter we will consider more fully later on - Lonergan indicated
that he had applied his growing awareness to a philosophy of
As to application, I am certain (and I am not one who
becomes certain easily) that I can put together a
Thomistic metaphysic of history that will throw Hegel and
Marx, despite the enormity of their influence on this
very account, into the shade. I have a draft of this
written as I have of everything else. (37)
The claim is enormous: to overcome the philosophies of history
represented by Hegel and Marx! He describes his thesis:
It takes the "objective and inevitable laws" of
economics, of psychology (environment, tradition) and of
progress (material, intellectual; automatic up to a
point, then either deliberate and planned or the end of
a civilization) to find the higher synthesis of these
laws in the mystical Body.
Some roots of this interest in a philosophy of history can be
traced. From his time at Heythrop and a course by Fr. Lewis Watt,
SJ, on ethics and economics, he had been interested in economics
and social process. Watt introduced him to Marx and to what were
considered the necessary and "iron laws" of economics.
"It would have been sinful to interfere with the Irish
famine; that was supply and demand!" So I was interested
from that viewpoint. How can you get moral precepts that
are based on the economy itself? That was my question? (38)
Also, during the early 1930's he had read Christopher Dawson's
book, The Age of the Gods, which traced the move from primitive
cultures to the great high civilizations. According to Lonergan,
Dawson introduced him to "the anthropological notion of culture" as
distinct from the "classicist" one. The classicist view held that
there was only one culture and that was classical culture; all
other cultures were "barbarians." With the advent of historical
scholarship in the nineteenth century, however, a new notion of
culture had emerged, that is, the set of meanings and values that
concretely inform a particular people at a particular time. It was
the beginning of Lonergan's awareness of the distinction between
classical and historical consciousness.
Also, during his theology courses in Rome one part of his
Church history course dealt with political questions such as the
relation of the Church to revolution, liberalism, nationalism,
socialism and bolshevism. It also dealt with the Church in
America, Latin America and Asia. William Mathews notes that this
seems to have been one of the few courses in Rome for which
Lonergan kept his lecture notes, an interesting indicator of
There was also, of course, the great political ferment going
on in Europe during this time of his own intellectual conversion
and his breakthrough to understanding Thomas Aquinas' metaphysics.
This combination of introspective cognitional theory and
metaphysics gave him the tools with which to consider the ebb and
flow, the progress and decline of human history.
These unpublished papers, more than two hundred typed pages,
found in a file now located in the archives of the Lonergan
Research Institute in Toronto. Eight of the papers belong to the
1930's and one is dated "Dominica in Albis 1935," that is, April
Some of the titles of the essays are the following: "Analytic
Concept of History," "Sketch for a Metaphysic of Human Solidarity,"
"Analytic Concept of History, in Blurred Outline," "Essay in
Fundamental Sociology," "Philosophy of History, "A Theory of
History," "Outline of an Analytic Concept of History." There is
also a paper entitled "Pantôn Anakephalaiôsis" with the
accompanying first line:
Our aim is to outline the metaphysic of human solidarity
that is more or less implicit in the epistles of St.
From our point of view, the significance of these papers is
that they are a reflection of the intellectual ferment that was
going on within Lonergan during the early-1930's. It would seem
that some of these papers were written before what he later called
his intellectual conversion of 1935-1936 while others were written
In speaking of cognitional process, Lonergan is not as clear
as he will be in his later writings. Still, there is a focussing
on the various levels of cognitional process, while at the same
time a view of these levels in relationship to human action and
human history. The language is not as stable as it will become. The
papers consider human history from the viewpoint of
intelligibility. In the following quote Lonergan emphasizes three
of the four levels of consciousness on which he will eventually
Thus, in the action of the individual there are three
things: the physico-sensitive flow of change; the
intellectual forms with respect to the phantasmal flux;
the power of imposing the intellectual forms upon the
flow of change, thus transforming behavior into rational
conduct and speech into rational discourse. These three
causes merge to constitute a single action. (40)
Human action for the most part is not initiation, but only
control, the power of approval or inhibition.
What you can think about depends upon external
experience. What you think about it depends upon the
mentality you have imbibed from the environment of home,
school, university, and the general influences of
Human beings, then, are interconnected. From the viewpoint of
matter, the human family consists in discrete individuals. But
from the viewpoint of intelligibility and intelligible decisions,
the human family is interconnected. We are dependent on the wise
or foolish decisions of people in the past; we are connected by
persuasion and by the intelligent or unintelligent decisions of
others before us.
Thus the heritage of intellectual vacuity and social
chaos given by the nineteenth century to the twentieth is
the real reason why the twentieth century is such a
To handle the issue there is need for a fundamental set of
terms and relationships:
Hence nature explains why man is the kind of being that
he is. History explains why men are doing what they are
doing. Matter is the principle which makes the one human
nature into a successive manifold of individuals
operating the earlier upon the later according to the law
of a pre-determined bracket of influence and a
statistical uniformity within that bracket. (43)
Lonergan spells out what he calls "the analytic concept of
history," as distinct from the synthetic concept.
Any human act of understanding is the apperceptive unity
of a many. If the many in question is concrete and
particular, we have a synthetic act of understanding.
Example: Christopher Dawson's historical essays, Newman's
illative sense. If the many is abstract and universal,
we have the analytic act of understanding. (44)
As an example of an analytic act of understanding, he points
to the metaphysician's understanding of limited being as a compound
of essence and existence: such an analysis of a "many" is real but
static. What is needed for an analysis of human history is a real
but dynamic analysis. He proffers a scientific example:
The Newtonian astronomer's understanding of planetary
motion as a resultant of different accelerations on a
moving mass is an analytic concept based upon a real and
dynamic multiplicity. (45)
Years later he commented on the significance of what he was
doing, though he dates the work somewhat later than the mid-thirties.
It was about 1937-38 that I became interested in a
theoretical analysis of history. I worked out an
analysis on the model of a threefold approximation.
Newton's planetary theory had a first approximation in
the first law of motion: bodies move in a straight line
with constant velocity unless some force intervenes.
There was a second approximation when the addition of the
law of gravity between the sun and the planet yielded an
elliptical orbit for the planet. A third approximation
was reached when the influence of the gravity of the
planets on one another is taken into account to reveal
the perturbed ellipses in which the planets actually
move. The point to this model is, of course, that in the
intellectual construction of reality it is not any of the
earlier stages of the construction but only the final
product that actually exists. Planets do not move in
straight lines nor in properly elliptical orbits, but
these conceptions are needed to arrive at the perturbed
ellipses in which they actually do move. (46)
The point is that several interlocking perspectives are needed
to understand the concrete and dynamic. To analyze the concept of
history Lonergan provides three basic "differentials:" what he
later called "vectors," for understanding the complexity of the ebb
and flow of historical process: that is, progress, decline and
renaissance. He will change the names through the years to
progress, decline and redemption, but the basic schema will remain
Thus, obscurantists to the contrary, there is such a thing as
It is a matter of intellect. Intellect is understanding
of sensible data. It is the guiding form, statistically
effective, of human action transforming the sensible data
of life. Finally, it is a fresh intellectual synthesis
understanding the new situation created by the old
intellectual form and providing a statistically effective
form for the next cycle of human action that will bring
forth in reality the incompleteness of the later act of
intellect by setting its new problems. (47)
To the extent that human beings understand their situations,
develop intelligent and reasonable policies, put these policies
into effect, there will be progress. The emergence of philosophy
in Greece represents a significant moment in human progress. As we
noted previously, Lonergan pays particular tribute to Platonism.
The achievement of Platonism lay in its power of
criticism. The search for a definition of virtue in the
earlier dialogues establishes that virtue is an
irreducible something, the emergence of a new light upon
experience that cannot be brought back and expressed in
terms of experience. This discovery of the idea, of
intelligible forms, gave not only the dialectic but also
the means of social criticism. For it enabled men to
express not by a symbol but by a concept the divine. (48)
Although Lonergan does not clearly analyze the distinct role
of judgment in these notes, he analyzes the notion of truth and its
role in human history. Sense experience is always of "inexplicable
multiplicity." Even consciousness of the self acting is:
no more to be understood in itself as an existing ens per
se than the difference between points can be explained by
more points. (49)
Consequently, we are forced to set up another metaphysical
category and that is contingence. Contingence is the ultimate
empirical in the order of consciousness just as matter is the
ultimate empirical in the order of sense.
Finally there is intellect and it has its form. This
form is the truth of the intelligible. Whenever you
understand, you go on to ask whether your understanding
is true, for instance, whether the circle really is all
that it is because it is the locus of points equidistant
from a centre. And when you understand that it is, then
you know the truth.
He speaks of the transcendence of truth.
Now truth is true not in virtue of your knowing it. It
is true in itself and the change merely happens in you in
virtue of the contingence of your being. Thus, truth as
an absolute, as something that is what it is in itself
despite what you may happen to think and indifferent to
what you happen to think, is the ultimate form of
In the realm of human history, however, there is not just the
thesis of progress, but the antithesis of human decline and sin.
Where we would expect to find intelligibility, there is the surd. (51)
Platonism as a philosophy was impotent to affect this human
situation. It could not do away with the human cupidity and
selfishness of individuals and groups.
Read Plato and you know the impotence of humanity to
solve the problem created by the dialectic of sin. Plato
saw the better and approved, but could do nothing;
Aristotle wrote a practical ethic something that like
Stoicism helped men to endure life but did not teach
mankind to live it. (52)
Eventually cupidity and selfishness discredit even the name of
There is the tendency to self-justification. The sinner
hates his shame and his remorse, and cuts the Gordian
knot by denying sin to be sin. If he is isolated in his
sin, this attempt meets with little success and gives
little satisfaction. But if the sinners are many, then
the inner lie becomes an outward lie; the liars reinforce
one another in their affirmations and fling their
doubting consciences aside as superstition, the dark
fears that attack man when he is alone. A society in
this state is avid of excitement even if the excitement
be only noise. (53)
As a result there is a sheer discrediting of human reason. The
following words could easily have been written about our
Philosophy takes on the soberer task of determining why
philosophers are wrong, and mankind becomes a derelict
ship its rudder broken. There rise the winds of
Finally, the third "differential" is "renaissance" or
redemption. "Man disintegrated by matter can be united only by
Christ is the supernatural head of man, first in the
order of nature, of voluntary membership of an
intelligible unity in a society, of the personality of
the anthropos pneumatikos, of grace. (56)
It is in the Body of Christ that the Christian lives and
moves, lives the life of a soul elevated to the
supernatural order, moves in obedience to the idee-force;
the intelligible or rather trans-intelligible form which
by revelation is the Christian's dictate of reason. (57)
It seems to me that these notes on the philosophy of history
evidence an awareness of what Lonergan will later call "the
concrete universal," that is, the concrete demands of
intelligibility in history. In order to have some grasp of that
intelligibility, he constructs this "analytic concept of history,"
admittedly "abstract and universal," but with an amazing relevance
to the concrete. In his later writings this fundamental schema,
the product of his intellectual ferment in the 1930's, will be
applied more concretely to history.
Nevertheless, in spite of his interest in the concrete
dynamics of history, his underlying focus will continue to be "the
theory of knowledge." In this his developing understanding will be
aided by certain Thomistic writers in the Jesuit community.
1. Second Collection, 265.
2. William Mathews, "Lonergan's Apprenticeship," 14. Unpublished
article, quoted with permission of the author.
3. Frederick Crowe, Newsletter of the Upper Canada Jesuit Province,
Vol. 60, No 3 (May-June 1985) 15-18.
4. Letter of January 22, 1935, to Provincial, Fr. Henry Keane,
5. "...non sat consulit sensibilitatibus aliorum...Aliqui parum
intellexerunt hunc Patrem, quia a priori suspectant originalitatem,
ut dicitur, in studiis..." Quoted from F. Crowe, "Obituary for Fr.
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.," 18.
7. Ibid.. The words in Latin refer to the vision St. Ignatius
experienced on his journey from Spain to Rome in the little town of
LaStorta, outside of Rome, where the Lord spoke to him: "I will be
good to you in Rome." The present writer was also ordained to the
priesthood in the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome.
8. Second Collection 268.
9. Letter to provincial, January 22, 1935, 3.
10. Fred Crowe, S.J., "Obituary for Fr. Bernard J. F. Lonergan,
S.J.," Newsletter, Jesuit Province of Upper Canada, 60: 3(May-June
11. Letter of January 22, 1935.
12. Fred Crowe writes of these as "fragments of what may have been
the lost essay on assent." Cf. Crowe, Lonergan, 34n. Internal
elements in these fragments that seem to date them from the early
1930's are elements that reflect his concerns at that time, the
same concerns articulated in his letter of January 22, 1935, to his
provincial, Fr. Henry Keane. Those elements would be the
following: the insistence on an "experimentum crucis" for any
metaphysical theory; the argument against the idea of substance as
"something there;" his reference to conflicting views on the act of
faith during the Middle Ages; etc.. Also, as we will show, the
views expressed in these fragments reflect a definite stage in
Lonergan's development; they do not reflect his later way of
speaking: for example, his insistence on contrasting the
transcendence of sensitive experience with intellect as "immanent
act." Crowe also mentions Lonergan's somewhat negative assessment
of Aristotle in these notes and his preference for Plato.
13. Letter of January 22, 1935.
14. Fragments, 3.
16. Ibid.. Our emphases.
18. Ibid.. In a note in the margin Lonergan wrote: "Distinguish 1)
understanding that; 2) understanding what or how or why. 1) is a
substitute for apprehension; 2) is sui generis. Kant's error seems
a confusion of the two. This is the same error as the
scholastics." We might note that there exist a number of pages of
Lonergan's handwritten notes commenting on Kant's "Metaphysic of
Costumi;" they seem to be a commentary on an Italian work either
translating or commenting on Kant's critique of practical
20. Ibid., 8.
22. Ibid., 8-9.
23. Ibid., 9.
24. Ibid., 23-24. Elsewhere he speaks of the scholastic theory of
causality. "If on the scholastic theory it is impossible to deny
the principle of causality, then it is too bad for the scholastic
theory." Ibid., 28.
26. Ibid., 23.
27. Ibid., 24.
28. Ibid., 9.
30. Ibid., 33.
32. Ibid., 33. He explains the meaning of Newman's "real
apprehension:" "If the apprehension is intimate enough and real
enough then the idea that can be evident in it is the sole possible
explanation." Ibid., 35.
33. Ibid., 13.
35. Method in Theology, 238.
36. Insight, 22 (xxviii).
37. Letter to Provincial, January 22, 1935.
38. Caring About Meaning, 31. Cf. also 80-86 and 225-226. Also
Matthews, "Lonergan's Apprenticeship," 10; 16-17.
39. Cf. the doctoral dissertation of Michael Shute, The Origins of
Lonergan's Notion of the Dialectic of History, 1933-1938 (Regis
College, 1991). On the basis of internal evidence he divides the
papers into two batches, an earlier group that include Pantôn
Anakephalaiôsis, and a later that deal directly with history. Cf.
Crowe, Lonergan, 36.
40. This is found in the set of unpublished notes from the 1930's
entitled "Philosophy of History." Available at the Lonergan
Research Institute, Toronto.
41. Ibid., 91.
42. Ibid., 93.
43. Ibid., 93.
44. This is found in the set of notes entitled "Analytic Concept of
History in Blurred Outline," 1.
46. Second Collection, 271-272.
47. Notes entitled "Philosophy of History," 94.
48. Ibid.. This page seems to have been numbered by Lonergan 106.
It is the twelfth page in this set of notes.
49. Ibid., 95 (the sixth page in these notes).
50. Ibid., 96.
51. This is a term that will be prominent in Insight. In these
papers it is used to describe the deteriorating social situation.
Cf. paper entitled "A Theory of History."
52. This quote is found in the paper entitled "Pantôn
Anakephalaiôsis," the fifth page in this set of notes. In his
early writings Lonergan tends to be critical of Aristotle; this
evaluation will change as he studies Aquinas.
53. This is found in the paper entitled "Outline of an Analytic
Concept of History," 11.
55. "Panton Anakephalaiosis," second page in this set of notes.
57. "Philosophy of History," the twenty-seventh page in this set of