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preface || intro || 1 ||  2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 || 11 || 12 || Conclusion

Transforming Light




Insight was finally published in 1957. In the meantime, in 1953 Lonergan began teaching in Rome and remained there until 1965.

For the first ten years I was there I lectured in alternate years on the Incarnate Word and on the Trinity to both second and third year theologians. They were about six hundred and fifty strong and between them, not individually but distributively, they seemed to read everything. It was quite a challenge.

A major part of this challenge came from a growing encounter with contemporary European thought, chiefly existential and phenomenolgical philosophies, and modern studies of history and hermeneutics. As in Insight he was up to the challenge of the modern sciences, so now he was up to facing the challenge of modern historical scholarship. Rooted in all the influences we have documented in this book, he had experienced in himself what modern European thought called "the turn to the subject" or "the anthropological turn."

I had learnt honesty from my teachers of philosophy at Heythrop College. I had had an introduction to modern science from Joseph's Introduction to Logic and from the mathematics tutor at Heythrop, Fr. Charles O'Hara. I had become something of an existentialist from my study of Newman's A Grammar of Assent. I had become a Thomist through the influence of Maréchal mediated to me by Stefanos Stefanu and through Bernard Leeming's lectures on the unicum esse in Christo. In a practical way I had become familiar with historical work both in my doctoral dissertation on gratia operans and in my later study of verbum in Aquinas. Insight was the fruit of all this. It enabled me to achieve in myself what since has been called Die anthropologische Wende.

All of these were a major source of challenge to Catholic theology and constituted the definitive beginning of a transition from a classical to an historically conscious theology. This change in the structure and procedures of Catholic theology had been long awaited. This new age in Catholic theology

dates not from 1965 when the second Vatican council closed, but rather from 1845 when Newman completed his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

This new context set everything Lonergan had done so far in a deeper and wider context. It fleshed out the human reality that a methodical theology would study. Such an historically conscious and critically grounded theology would facilitate the understanding of how divine revelation seeks influence in all areas of human life.

However trifling the uses to which words may be put, still they are the vehicles of meaning, and meaning is the stuff of man's making of man. So it is that divine revelation is God's entry and his taking part in man's making of man. It is God's claim to have a say in the aims and purposes, the direction and development of human lives, human societies, human cultures, human history.

Eventually Lonergan's focus on human values, existential decision making and historical scholarship will result in a new breakthrough in his thought and the writing of Method in Theology in the late 1960's and its publication in 1972. In that work his treatment of religious and moral conversion in history, far from "dwarfing" his earlier work on intellectual conversion, only brings that work to "a far fuller realization."

Method in Theology is about conversion: the apprehension of conversion through historical scholarship and the communication of the meaning and value of authentic conversion through a methodical theology. In this work he distinguishes clearly between intellectual, moral, and religious conversion. Intellectual conversion we have spoken of throughout this work. Moral conversion is the radical change in the criterion of one's decisions and choices from satisfactions to values. It involves the thrust of our human freedom toward authenticity. Finally, religious conversion is "being grasped by an other-worldly love." It is total and permanent self-surrender without conditions, qualifications, reservations. For Christians it is, as Paul put it in Romans 5, 5, God's love flooding our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Lonergan explains the relations between intellectual, moral and religious conversions in terms of Karl Rahner's notion of "sublation" in the sense that

what sublates goes beyond what is sublated, introduces something new and distinct, puts everything on a new basis, yet so far from interfering with the sublated or destroying it, on the contrary needs it, includes it, preserves all its proper features and properties, and carries them forward to a fuller realization within a richer context.

In other words, moral conversion goes beyond intellectual conversion by going beyond the value of truth to values generally. It sets the human subject on a new, existential level of consciousness. But this in no way should interfere with or weaken the subject's devotion to truth.

He still needs truth, for he must apprehend reality and real potentiality before he can deliberately respond to value. The truth he needs is still the truth attained in accord with the exigences of rational consciousness. But now the pursuit of it is all the more secure because he has been armed against bias, and it is all the more meaningful and significant because it occurs within, and plays an essential role in, the far richer context of the pursuit of all values.

In a world in which alienation and ideology reign, intellectual conversion is extremely important for the social and cultural effectiveness of moral conversion. As he expressed it in the preface to Insight,

the very advance of knowledge brings a power over nature and over men too vast and terrifying to be entrusted to the good intentions of unconsciously biased minds. We have to learn to distinguish sharply between progress and decline, learn to encourage progress without putting a premium upon decline, learn to remove the tumor of the flight from understanding without destroying the organs of intelligence.

Similarly, religious conversion goes beyond moral and intellectual conversion. In itself, it is an other-worldly falling in love that brings a joy that this world cannot give. At the same time it introduces a new orientation into intellectual and moral living. When a person realizes that they have been "grasped by an other-worldly love," then there is a new basis for knowing and valuing.

In no way are the fruits of intellectual and moral conversion negated or diminished. On the contrary, all human pursuit of the true and the good is included within and furthered by a cosmic context and purpose and, as well, there now accrues to man the power of love to enable him to accept the suffering involved in undoing the effects of decline.

Lonergan preferred to explain intellectual conversion before explaining moral and religious conversion.

In an order of exposition I would prefer to explain first intellectual, then moral, then religious conversion.

The reason for this order of exposition, I surmise, is that intellectual conversion is the origin of the categories necessary to explain the dynamics of religious and moral conversion.

On the other hand, in fact, in the concrete, "there is no fixed rule of antecedence or consequence" among the different dimensions of conversion. Still, ordinarily religious conversion precedes moral conversion, and moral conversion ordinarily precedes intellectual conversion.

In the order of occurrence I would expect religious commonly but not necessarily to precede moral and both religious and moral to precede intellectual.

"Not necessarily," because for someone like Augustine, and perhaps for some today, intellectual conversion can open the way to religious and moral conversion. Thus, to take two modern Catholic figures, both Thomas Merton and Avery Dulles included in the chronicle of their own religious conversions the important moments of some familiarity with scholastic philosophy.

On the other hand, in a powerful exposition Lonergan sets out "the causal viewpoint" that is at the basis of the "normal" sequence of conversions.

Though religious conversion sublates moral, and moral conversion sublates intellectual, one is not to infer that intellectual conversion comes first and then moral and finally religious. On the contrary, from a causal viewpoint, one would say that first there is God's gift of his love. Next, the eye of this love reveals values in their splendor, while the strength of this love brings about their realization, and that is moral conversion. Finally, among the values discerned by the eye of love is the value of believing the truths taught by the religious tradition, and in such tradition and belief are the seeds of intellectual conversion.

Was this Lonergan's own experience? Was this what brought him in Bernard Leeming's course on Christ to recognize the absolute necessity for the real distinction between essence and existence? Was it the underlying experience of God's love in Christ that eventually led him to his own intellectual conversion? Is this what led him in his theological writings to see intellectual conversion as implicit in the Christian Church's doctrine on the divinity of Christ?

Whatever the answer to these questions, it is certain that he regarded the acceptance of the Word of God as ultimately leading to intellectual conversion.

For the word, spoken and heard, proceeds from and penetrates to all four levels of intentional consciousness. Its content is not just a content of experience but a content of experience and understanding and judging and deciding. The analogy of sight yields the cognitional myth. But fidelity to the word engages the whole man.

Sometime later, in a discussion, Lonergan would put it this way:

Well, there is a recent book on Christ and Consciousness and it says that Christians got their idea of reality from the resurrection of Christ. If Christ rose from the dead, there isn't just this world. It was the concrete understanding of what is meant by existence; it is what Saint Thomas meant by the third degree of abstraction which isn't an abstraction at all but a separation. The separation between the material and the immaterial and the real divides into the two. In other words, that is the way the Christians got hold of the Christian idea of spirituality.

He then relates it to the search for "the unknown god" among the ancients, particularly in Plato and Aristotle:

Insofar as they reached the unknown god, they were already within the horizon of being, of being that is immaterial beyond all knowledge. And you have the long-winded approach in Insight because people today do not know about the unknown god. You have to open up their minds, let them find out what their own minds are before they can begin to be open to thinking of anything beyond this world.

To an ensuing question on his own intellectual conversion, he adds:

Well that's when I accepted the distinction between essence and existence and I saw the necessity of it. But seeing the necessity of it was a matter of accepting Catholic dogma; and enabling people to accept that dogma was dealt with in a prior stage in Insight. We go through all this rigmarole of science, common sense and all the rest of it to help people find out what they have underneath their skulls - only it isn't underneath. Anything else?



I have written this book with the conviction that intellectual conversion is central to understanding Bernard Lonergan's Insight. This event of intellectual conversion - the reality, not the term -was key in Lonergan's own life in the 1930's. It was the event he sought to facilitate in others in Insight.

I have written this book with the further conviction that intellectual conversion is central to understanding all Lonergan's other writings: his writings in theology, his Method in Theology and other writings on method in science and scholarship, his final writings on economics. Without personal intellectual conversion these writings cannot properly be understood.

Furthermore, I have written this work with the conviction that Lonergan's writings and the intellectual conversion he sought to facilitate in others have a profound cultural importance. In a very incisive chapter Insight outlines the various "biases" that inhibit the pure desire to know and distort human consciousness. There is the "individual bias" or tendency to selfishness that rules out of court any questions whose answers might put a limit on one's own fears and desires. There is "group bias" in which the passions and selfishness of the group rule out of court any suggestion that the group's well-being is excessive.

But far deeper and more sinister is the "general bias" that rationalizes the "flight from understanding" and, under the cover of false philosophies and undignified myths of human life, considers "the really real" to be whatever fits in with the short-term practical needs and desires of human beings. The result is the gradual deterioration of the social situation and the inability of human beings to communicate on the basis of rational conviction.

The majority of people,

instead of attempting rationalization themselves, are content to create an effective demand, a welcoming market, for more or less consistently developed counter-positions presented in myths and philosophies.

In a powerful passage from Method in Theology Lonergan outlines this cumulative decline in the social situation:

What has been built up so slowly and so laboriously by the individual, the society, the culture, can collapse. Cognitional self-transcendence is neither an easy notion to grasp nor a readily accessible datum of consciousness to be verified.

In fact, Lonergan had spent many years searching for and finding this datum of consciousness in the classic writings of Newman, Plato, Augustine and Aquinas, and in the praxis of modern scientists. Similarly,

Values have a certain esoteric imperiousness, but can they keep outweighing carnal pleasure, wealth, power? Religion undoubtedly had its day, but is not that day over? Is it not illusory comfort for weaker souls, an opium distributed by the rich to quiet the poor, a mythical projection of man's own excellence into the sky?

The affirmative answer to such questions constitutes the breakdown of modern thought and culture, a breakdown that includes the disappearance of any genuine metaphysical vision.

Initially not all but some religion is pronounced illusory, not all but some moral precept is rejected as ineffective and useless, not all truth but some type of metaphysics is dismissed as mere talk. The negations may be true, and then they represent an effort to offset decline. But also they may be false, and then they are the beginning of decline. In the latter case some part of cultural achievement is being destroyed. It will cease being a familiar component in cultural experience. It will recede into a forgotten past for historians, perhaps, to rediscover and reconstruct.

Lonergan spent a major part of his life rediscovering himself and reconstructing for others a major "part of cultural achievement." That achievement he found in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Newman; and that achievement he reconstructed in his Insight and Method in Theology.

Without the continuing influence of that metaphysical vision, the conditions for genuine communication disappear.

Moreover, this elimination of a genuine part of the culture means that a previous whole has been mutilated...Increasing dissolution will then be matched by increasing division, incomprehension, suspicion, distrust, hostility, hatred violence. The body social is torn apart in many ways, and its cultural soul has been rendered incapable of reasonable convictions and responsible commitments...

Lonergan is describing the dissolution of meaningful conversation that, to a degree, he himself experienced in his own early study of philosophy. In such a world without basic shared philosophical convictions, believing others can lead to unbelief.

Then believing begins to work not for but against intellectual, moral and religious self-transcendence. What had been an uphill but universally respected course collapses into the peculiarity of an outdated minority.

In various ways through the years Lonergan identified the absence of intellectual conversion as one of the causes of the lack of human communication.

Intellectual conversion does not hinder you at all dealing with simple people or ordinary people or anything like that; it helps you to understand them better, what their difficulties may be. It isn't anything narrowing; it is something broadening, simplifying, clarifying.

You can misunderstand because the author is talking over your head. And when he is talking over your head in a very radical fashion, then conversion becomes very relevant.

The real menace to unity of faith does not lie either in the many brands of common sense or the many differentiations of human consciousness. It lies in the absence of intellectual or moral or religious conversion.

In Bernard Lonergan's thought and writings "some major part of cultural achievement" has been rediscovered and reconstructed. Lonergan's own reading in Newman, Plato, Augustine, Aristotle and Aquinas led him to the project of recovering the metaphysical vision of the human person as constituted by the drive to be intelligent, reasonable, responsible and loving; and correspondingly, the universe as constituted by an intelligent, reasonable and loving God who calls human beings to be and to become themselves.


I began this book by describing the challenge to my own thought represented by Lonergan's Insight. That challenge was intensified by my doctoral dissertation in the late 1960's on the thought of Susanne K. Langer. Langer's concern in her writings on the human mind was to remain strictly "scientific." But her empiricist interpretation of science precluded giving any meaning to the words "soul" or "mind" that would be open to religious realities.

Both Langer's and Lonergan's work were "theories:" both presented an explicitly articulated view of the universe supposedly in continuity with the modern sciences. But the crucial conflict was not that between conflicting viewpoints. The crucial conflict was that between any false theory of what constitutes human consciousness and the actual human performance of setting forth any theory whatsoever. The crucial conflict was between content and personal performance.

As I wrestled with Lonergan's thought, I slowly came to realize that not only was there a difference between Lonergan's view of human knowing and Langer's; there was also a difference between Lonergan's view on human knowing and my own spontaneous view of my own knowing. Indeed, that spontaneous view - in spite of years of scholastic philosophy - was, in its naive realism, closer to Langer's than to Lonergan's. As Lonergan put it, "some form of naive realism seems to appear utterly unquestionable to very many." I realized that it seemed so to me.

Ultimately then, the issue was not between the views of Langer and Lonergan. Ultimately, the issue was the conflict between my own activities of understanding and judging and the naive views of knowing I had carried with me for years. At a certain point I realized that the answer could not be found just by more reading of Langer or Lonergan or anyone else. For

intellectual habit is not possession of the book but freedom from the book. It is the birth and life in us of the light and evidence by which we operate on our own.

I knew what Langer meant - it was clear. It was clear to me that she assumed that scientific activity was reducible to imagination. It was clear that she was attempting to explain the more immediately accessible by an imagined view of what "science says."

I was wrestling with what Lonergan meant. That was less clear. But I felt through the darkness that there was "something there." I was aware of the Lonergan "system," his explanatory account of the structure of human consciousness, the acts that presuppose and complement each other in a structured unity. I had memorized his "system" quite well! I once remember Lonergan in class recommending memorization as a prelude to understanding!

Indeed, I was aware of the act of insight in myself, the act of catching on while reading a book, while reading Insight itself, the act of sizing up a human situation, of solving a problem. I could "feel" its importance as a source of the great works of culture and the achievements of civilization.

But I was not sure I had a real handle on it. What if Langer was right? What if every conscious act was reducible to imagination? I was not sure what insight was like. I was not sure I could situate it clearly in my own consciousness. I was not sure I "had" it.

Students of Lonergan's thought regularly go through this period of insecurity, of oscillating back and forth between imagined possibilities. Where does this insecurity come from?

And that is when I remember having an "Archimedean experience." It was late one afternoon in Rome and I had been working at this stuff all day. In fact, I was, like Archimedes, relaxing in water - taking a shower! I remember saying something to myself like:

Where is this act of insight?

And then it occurred to me:

You're asking the wrong question!

Look at the question you're asking! You're asking a question that can't be answered! Your asking "where?" is your attempt to visualize what can't be visualized. You're attempting to imagine what of its nature goes beyond imagination - that is, insight!

Indeed, you can be aware of the act of insight, understand it in its relationships with other cognitional acts, come to judge that understanding correct, but you can't see it! The very question you were asking was formulated in imaginative and visual terms and, as such, can't be answered.

It was an "inverse insight:" an understanding that the question I was asking, that I spontaneously felt could be answered, could not be answered. I was in the shower, in a room, in place that could be designated in spatial terms. But an explanatory understanding of my own understanding could not be so designated.

I remembered Augustine's words from the Confessions:

My mind was in search of such images as the forms of my eye was accustomed to see; and I did not realize that the mental act by which I formed these images was not itself a bodily image. (Confessions 7,1)

It was an moment of awareness that had been prepared for by many previous moments - indeed many questions and innumerable other "little insights." It would have to be reflected on, appropriated and applied in countless ways through succeeding years. Yet, it was a breakthrough. It was a moment that Lonergan aptly called an event of "startling strangeness." And

Winter twilight cannot be mistaken for the summer noonday sun.

Was this idealism?

Like Lonergan, I found this question in myself. But it is idealism only if "reality" is thought of as the object of some sort of a look, an intuition, an Anschauung. Idealism still holds on ("subconsciously," if you will) to "the already out there now real." If, on the other hand, as Lonergan had learned so well from Newman and Aquinas and Maréchal and Leeming, reality is mediated by reasonable judgment, rooted in evidence of the virtually unconditioned, then we are in a realism. And such a realism can become a critical realism through the process of self-appropriation and intellectual conversion.

Intellectual conversion is rooted in the intellectual breakthroughs most of us have had throughout our years of education.  But the full meaning of intellectual conversion is the full and conscious appropriation of our intellectual being, and indeed, our intellectual being in relation to the rest of our being - and to the universe.

What I was implicitly looking for those days in Rome was the "already out there now real" insight - something I could imagine. What I realized that day in the shower is that that is different than understanding understanding - or for that matter, any cognitional act. For even to fully and humanly understand imagination is not to imagine it; it is to understand it in its relations with the rest of our conscious acts and to judge that understanding correct.

It was the growing sharp distinction between two types of knowing - one rooted in imagination, the other in intelligence -that was at the basis for my coming to know both the inadequacies of Langer's ultimate position in philosophy (in spite of her fine work on art), and the inadequacies of the scholastic philosophy I had been taught (in spite of its honoring of Aquinas).

The affirmation of an intellectual conversion in oneself can be taken as an arrogant assertion. I do not intend it to be. Intellectual conversion, as Lonergan spoke of it, is only a beginning. Its fruits must be extended to the whole of one's life.

For the appropriation of one's own rational self-consciousness, which has been so stressed in this Introduction, is not an end in itself but rather a beginning. It is a necessary beginning, for unless one breaks the duality in one's knowing, one doubts that understanding correctly is knowing.

And indeed, just as there are stages moral and religious conversion, so one can speak analogously of stages in intellectual conversion, at least insofar as one allows intellectual conversion to influence all of one's intellectual life.

In any individual at any given time there may exist the abstract possibility, or the beginnings, or greater or lesser progress, or high development of intellectual or moral or religious conversion.

In a phrase Lonergan was fond of using, the event of intellectual conversion should exert its influence "all along the line." Indeed, in his own life, his early intellectual conversion bore fruit not only in his understanding of modern science and scholarship, but even in the human science of macro-economics. Many of us are "still reaching up" to Lonergan's understanding in that area - and many other areas as well.

I might end this book by noting that, although he began as my teacher, through the years Bernard Lonergan became my friend. He once wrote me a very treasured note congratulating me on a paper I had given on his Method in Theology. After my paper he had made some remarks in response. In the note he expressed what I would hope for from this book:

July 31, 1973

Dear Dick,

Many thanks for your note of July 1st.

Permit me to congratulate you again and most warmly on the very effective paper you read at the CTSA meeting. Like your book review in America it will contribute notably to the fortunes of Method in Theology.

I am glad some people found my jerky remarks at the end of the session acceptable. I would like to feel that they might serve to extricate me from the cocoon of abstractions in which, in the minds of some, I am supposed to dwell.

Wishing you all good things and keeping you in my prayers,

Bernie Lonergan



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