by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB
by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB
Not infrequently, in different texts, Aquinas refers to a principle which he uses as a principle of explanation–a principle which avers that “whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the receiver.” Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 5; 3a, q. 5. In the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 4, a more specific application of this principle is proposed in terms which say that “a thing known exists in a knower according to the mode of a knower.” Cogitum…est in cognoscente secundum modum cognoscentis. For further references, see Summa Theologiae, q. 14, a. 1, ad 3; q. 16, a. 1; q. 19, a. 6, ad 2; Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 79, 7; De Veritate, q. 2, a. 3. In knowing anything, or in thinking that one knows anything, something is known by a prospective knower according to the mode of a knower’s being where what is understood and known is regulated or determined according to how a thing is known by a knower. In the context of his systematic theology of the Trinity, Lonergan takes this Thomist principle and uses it to explain why ongoing development sometimes fails to occur in theology. See Lonergan, The Triune God: Systematics, p. 25. Seminal insights are not always well understood (as these insights come from major thinkers in the theological tradition as in
To cite only one notable example as one looks back into the history of Catholic theology, in the De ente supernaturali: Supplementum schematicum (On Supernatural Being: A Schematic Supplement), Lonergan argues that the dispute which irrupted in the 16th Century between Molinists and Bannezians about the relation between grace and human freedom should be regarded as a false controversy because it proceeded on the basis of a number of shared misunderstandings. To cite a particular glaring instance, both schools adhered to a theory of human understanding which cannot be squared with Aquinas’s stated views. When human understanding is understood as a vital act, it is said that human understanding causes itself. It is essentially self-caused or self-willed. Cf. J. Michael Stebbins, The Divine Initiative: Grace, World-Order, and Human Freedom in the Early Writings of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), pp. 107-110. But, the self-actualization of human knowing is not only a mistaken notion in itself but one which is doubly false if one tries to claim that it represents Aquinas’s understanding of human cognition. As Aquinas himself says, “the knower as such is not an efficient…cause.” Cf. Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 8, a. 6. Human knowing is not to be equated with the activity or efficient causality of the agent intellect. Human knowledge is not essentially a product of human effort (as a human knower moves from not knowing or not understanding to knowing or understanding). As essential as is the reasoning process for moving toward understanding, no one can know if understanding will ever enter into one’s conscious experience. The absence of any guarantees accordingly distinguishes understanding from any kind of human making or human producing. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 2. There is nothing which a person can do whose term is necessarily an act of understanding (even if an act of understanding is personally possessed by a knower when it is enjoyed). Hence, as a consequence, understanding presents itself as something which can only be elicited (and not produced) by what human beings do. It cannot be earned. While given to persons who ask questions, understanding exists as essentially a reception. It is a “being-acted-upon.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 79, a. 2. It is an act, not an action. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 28, a. 3, ad 1; Sententia super Physicam, 3, 5, 320. While an action is something which is produced (it comes from a subject or agent as its source or point of origin), as an act, understanding is properly a passion (passio). It is a passive potency. It is something which a subject receives or accepts. It is the act of a subject which exists within a subject who, as a patient, undergoes and experiences what is undergone and experienced, but who can only receive certain operations according to the form or nature which specifies a subject’s operations in terms of what can be received and what cannot be received by a given subject. Cf. De Veritate, q. 26, a. 1; a. 3; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 41, a.1, ad 2; Stebbins, p. 107. In Lonergan’s own words, “act is limited by the potency in which it is received.” Cf. Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, p. 147. Every form possesses an inclination of its own which specifies what it may properly receive. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 6, a. 4, ad 2. Hence, until understanding dawns, one must continue to work and hope for it and, until it dawns, one cannot say what one has understood. The receptive character of human understanding accordingly explains why Aquinas speaks about understanding as a “movement to the soul” from an agent object instead of a movement “from the soul” to outer things. Cf. De Malo, q. 6, a. un., arg. 14a. Intellectual knowledge is received from external things in a way which shows that understanding operates “from things to the soul,” via a rebus ad animam. Cf. De potentia, q. 9, a. 9. If the receptive character of human understanding is not properly understood, it will lead to a false notion of human autonomy (an exaggerated notion of it) and, as a result, God’s grace will not be understood with regard to its full efficacy.
By attending then to the wording of Aquinas’s principle (“whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the receiver”)and as one thinks about its meaning, one can begin to sense that this principle probably explains why Lonergan moved into an intentionality analysis of the human subject after spending years reading into Aquinas’s thought. Aquinas sometimes explicitly refers to inner experience which human beings can have of themselves when they are engaged in certain acts. For instance, as a prime example which Lonergan often refers to in one or more various texts, in the ST, 1a, q. 84, a. 7, Aquinas avers: “Anyone can experience this for himself that when he tries to understand something, he forms certain phantasms to serve him by way of examples in which, as it were, he examines what he is trying to understand. For this reason, when we wish to make someone understand something, we lay examples before him from which he can form phantasms for the purpose of understanding.” Cf. Aquinas as cited by Giovanni B. Sala S.J., “From Thomas Aquinas to Bernard Lonergan: Continuity and Novelty,” http://www.workofgod.org/dialogue_partners/Sala/from_thomas_aquinas_to_bernard_l.htm#_ftnref10; Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 44. But, while Aquinas does not frequently refer to inner human experience in preferring to use a method of analysis which moves from exterior objects to inner human acts (our inner conscious experience of these acts), Lonergan prefers to work conversely through a form of analysis which moves from our inner experience of human acts toward transcendent objects that are intended by our desires and the different kinds of questions that we ask. Where Aquinas distinguishes between different kinds of acts by distinguishing between different kinds of objects, Lonergan moves from our experience of questions and the existence of different kinds of questions to objects by way of acts. By attending to questions and by distinguishing them, one can determine an order of different intended objects and then, by attending to this order of intended objects, one can specify the different kinds of acts which come into existence, or which can come into existence, in order to meet these different intended goals. Differences within the order of human intentionality reveal a normative structure and a connatural order which exists within the larger world of being or reality–a connatural order which refers to a correspondence or a proportion which exists between the order of our human knowing and the order which exists within the world of being (as this is proportionate to the order of our human knowing). Two types of analysis can be contrasted as we think about the kind of analysis that Aquinas prefers to use and the kind that Lonergan prefers to use. But, within Aquinas, one finds principles which lead from one kind of analysis to another: from the metaphysics of Aquinas to the theory of human cognition present in the work of Bernard Lonergan.
by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB
When Lonergan speaks about judgment in terms of affirmation and negation (one affirms, for instance, that something is so or one affirms that something is not so), he speaks differently from Aquinas who had tended to speak about judgment in terms of notions which refer to composition and division (compositio et divisio). Cf. Giovanni B. Sala, “Intentionality versus Intuition,” Lonergan and Kant: Five Essays on Human Knowledge, trans. Joseph Spoerl, ed. Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), p. 101. As Aquinas, for example, speaks about two basic operations of the human intellect (which is his way of speaking about the structure of human understanding), in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3, he says as follows:
The intellect has two operations, one called the “understanding of indivisibles,” by which it knows what a thing is; and another by which it composes and divides, that is to say, by forming affirmative and negative enunciations. Now these two operations correspond to two principles in things. The first operation has regard to the nature itself of a thing, in virtue of which the known thing holds a certain rank among beings, whether it be a complete thing, as some whole, or an incomplete thing, as a part or an accident. The second operation has regard to a things’s act of existing (esse), which results from the union of the principles of a thing in composite substances, or, as in the case of simple substances, accompanies the thing’s simple nature.
In his St. Thomas Aquinas Philosophical Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 221, n. 604 , Thomas Gilby translates this same text as follows:
Of the two phases of mental activity, the first is the understanding of essential meanings, while the second is a judgment, either affirmative or negative. A dual reality corresponds to these activities: to the former corresponds the nature of a thing, according to its state of being, complete or incomplete, part or accident, as the case may be; to the latter corresponds the existence of the thing.
However, in turning to Lonergan, one finds an account which clearly distinguishes between a synthetic element which always exists in any given judgment and a process or act of affirming or denying a proposed synthesis in a given judgment–a synthesis which has already been understood or grasped by prior acts of understanding before questions later arise which ask about the truth or falsity of one’s prior act of understanding. Cf. Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, pp. 62-63. When Aquinas uses the language of Aristotle to speak about judgment, an initial meaning which is communicated suggests that every judgment creates or discovers a synthesis or relation which, before, had not been known or experienced as a rational possibility. But, when Lonergan speaks about the difference between acts of direct understanding and acts of reflective understanding, he speaks about judgment in a manner which gives to it a more precise, a more specific meaning. Acts of direct understanding as acts of understanding reveal or present connections or relations between things that are not sensed but which are understood within one’s acts of understanding. In every act of abstractive understanding, one can speak about a mental synthesis which reveals itself. Cf. Verbum, p. 63. But later, through a judgment as an act of reflective understanding, a connection which has been understood and which is first inwardly postulated within one’s act of understanding is either affirmed or posited or, on the other hand, it can be denied or negated. In every affirmative judgment, a synthesis which is first given in an idea and as an idea is taken and then, through one’s discursive self-reflection which goes back and attends to what one has done in one’s thinking and understanding, this synthesis is converted into a rationally known truth or a rationally known fact. Through the truth which is affirmed, a person as a knower is then joined to a world of real objects.
Hence, through a differentiation which Lonergan introduces into how Aquinas speaks about the nature of human understanding (through a differentiation which is introduced into Aquinas’s understanding of judgement), in his theology of God Lonergan is able to say that God is not simply ipsum intelligere (Intelligence itself or Understanding itself). Cf. The Triune God: Systematics, p. 187. It is true, of course, to say that God is ipsum intelligere. He is the source of all understanding as an unrestricted uncreated act of understanding from which all else comes and flows. However, if understanding properly exists as a rational positing or as a rational affirmation of intelligible relations, one can speak of God not only as ipsum intelligere but also as ipsum affirmare (as an unrestricted act of affirming or as an unrestricted act of judging). To speak of God as the highest being, the highest truth, and the highest good means that one can speak of him as an unrestricted act of understanding (an unrestricted act of meaning), as an unrestricted act of judging, and as an unrestricted act of loving. The meaning, the truth, and the goodness all exists supremely in God–God as an pure act (actus purus) whose lack of potentiality is such that it is wholly lacking in any restrictions or limitations.
by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB
For an initial understanding about what is meant by a “transposition of meaning,” as Matthew Lamb argues in “Lonergan’s Transpositions of Augustine and Aquinas: Exploratory Suggestions,” The Importance of Insight Essays in Honour of Michael Vertin, pp. 3-21, it is one thing to understand or to come to grips with a theological understanding which had been enjoyed by someone like Augustine or Aquinas and which they had spoken about within an earlier context of meaning. But, after one has truly and properly understood what another has understood and said, one must then find a way to take this same understanding and bring it into a new context of meaning–a new, broader context of meaning which is the result of later achievements in the history of science and philosophy. By means of what is new, one takes the old and raises it to a greater degree of perfection. As Pope Leo XIII had urged in his encyclical Aeterni Patris: Vetera novis augere et perficere. Augment and perfect the old by what is new.
Turning then to how Lonergan speaks about the existence of more than one kind of intellectual emanation within God, Lonergan opens an initial argument by moving from the created order of things to the uncreated order of things. By a positive or affirmative analogy, he moves from created acts of understanding, knowing, and willing to the reasonableness of concluding that, in God, understanding, knowing, and willing must exist to an extraordinary degree. If, among human beings (and angels), understanding, knowing, and willing exist in a self-transcending manner as spiritual acts, to an even greater degree, such things (these acts) must exist in God (God as the creator and ultimate source of all understanding, knowing, and willing). For this reason, as Lonergan argues in his The Triune God: Systematics, we can speak of God as an unrestricted act of understanding, or as an unrestricted act of knowing, or as an unrestricted act of loving and doing. The infinity of each act explains why each species of act includes the other species. From an explanatory viewpoint (or, in other words, from a divine point of view), only a conceptual distinction exists between these different kinds of acts in God.
However, as one attends to a close reading of Lonergan’s argument and at how he applies his analogy and speaks about it, one finds a juxtaposition of words and meanings which suggests that, to some extent, Lonergan is attempting to introduce a transposition of meaning in his discussion. With respect to how Lonergan speaks about God in terms of understanding, knowing, and willing, he juxtaposes (to some extent) a traditional way of speaking about God with a manner which directly and more properly comes from his analysis of the structure of human cognition. As Aquinas had spoken about God in the language which he uses, God exists as a totally self-subsistent being, as pure act (actus purus), or pure being (esse tantum), or as being itself (ipsum esse). No other being is more fully in act. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 25, a. 1. Being by participation is sharply distinguished from simple being (being per se), or being by nature or essence which only belongs to God as a being whose essence is simply to be or to exist (in contrast with the essence of every other being whose essence is not simply to be but to participate in some limited way in the act of being or existence which is God). As Aquinas also notes, as subsistent understanding or understanding itself, God is ipsum intelligere. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 54, aa. 1-3. By and through His understanding, God exists in His being. Cf. De Malo, p. 16, a. 3. God confers being or existence on all other things. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 44, a. 1. Hence, and as Lonergan repeats, it can be said that God is truth or reality itself. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 16, a. 5. God’s existence as a disembodied, disincarnate form (which is to be equated with an unrestricted act of understanding) precludes the possibility or need for any kind of existence which must exist or rely in anything else. Cf. De Veritate, q. 21, a. 5. The self-subsistence is entirely absolute and not relative in any way since, as other things emerge and relate to God and as they depend for Him for their own being and existence, in no way does God depend on them for anything which could be needed by him. Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 18, 2; 2, 18, 4; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 3, a. 7.
However, from a Thomist understanding and insight which speaks about God as pure act or as an unrestricted act of understanding and loving, Lonergan is able to speak about God in a more fully differentiated manner–in a manner which speaks about acts by way of acts of understanding, affirming, and loving. God as intelligibility is an unrestricted act of understanding. God as truth is an unrestricted act of judging or affirming. God as love is an unrestricted act of loving. As we accordingly distinguish between different kinds of intellectual emanation which exist within ourselves (our souls), we can then think about the question of emanations in God. Yes, God is one. God exists, in himself, as an unrestricted act of understanding which, in its infinity and perfection, encompasses every kind of proceeding or emanation that can exist. Everything unfolds from within. In turning to our human experience, we are aware of inner words which proceed from prior acts of understanding (be they acts of direct understanding or acts of reflective understanding) and we are also aware of acts of willing or doing which also proceed or emanate from prior acts of understanding as these exist within moral deliberation. However, as Lonergan argues, these different emanations all exist in a relation with each other which points to an unmistakable, fundamental unity. As much as real distinctions exist among these different emanations, each emanation exists in a manner which naturally either elicits the need for another species of emanation or which points to the necessity and value of having earlier, prior emanations. The proceeding of an inner word from a prior act of direct understanding elicits a desire and need for a second form of proceeding which is the emanation of an inner word of judgment from a prior act of reflective understanding. But, as understanding and knowing lead to loving and doing, the proceeding of any act of willing or doing from a prior act of reflective understanding in ethics not only presupposes a proximate act of reflective understanding about goodness or value but, at the same time, this same emanation also presupposes prior, earlier emanations with respect to truths of fact and being which refer to a world that is always the context of our moral deliberation.
In adverting thus to truths of faith which speak about a coming or a proceeding of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and in also adverting to different kinds of proceeding which exist in our own souls, in this way, we can think about the possible existence of more than one emanation in God. We can think about two basic species of emanation. One refers to the proceeding of an inner word from an act of understanding (whether the act of understanding is an act of direct understanding or an act of reflective understanding). The other refers to a movement which shifts from understanding and knowing to an expression or communication that exists in willing and doing. In some mysterious way, one can think about two possible emanations which exist within God–two emanations which do not contradict with each other as love naturally and rationally emerges from understanding and as understanding also naturally and rationally arises from the kind of love which exists in any desires that yearn for understanding. Because of mutual or reciprocal relation which exists within human subjectivity as regards how our understanding and knowing relate to our desiring, loving, and willing, in an analogical way, one can think about the kind of unity which must exist in God with respect to how divine understanding is related to divine willing. A perfect unity can be thought about. It can be conceived by us though, truly, it cannot also be imagined by us. Within this context, two emanations can be conceived: the proceeding of God as Word and the proceeding of God as Love. In a very real sense, no emanation can exist without the other. Always, where there is the proceeding of a Word (an inner Word), a proceeding of Love exists and where there is the proceeding of Love, the proceeding of an inner Word also exists. As Lonergan concludes his argument here: “…two divine processions…can be conceived through the likeness of intellectual emanation.” Cf. Triune God: Systematics, p. 189.
by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB In Lonergan’s theology of the Trinity as this is given in his The Triune God: Systematics, Lonergan postulates explanatory principles (as needed) in order to move toward richer experiences of meaning with respect to how the God of Christian belief is to be conceived and understood. If one can postulate an explanatory principle which allows one to apprehend a larger number of connections, a dogma of faith becomes more fully known with respect to its intrinsic meaningfulness. A truth by meaning acts within a person’s soul to effect a change in consciousness (which becomes a change in one’s life and how one lives one’s life). From a standpoint which is grounded in an interiority analysis of human subjectivity, Lonergan proposes that one can speak about an intellectual emanation within God if one supposes that God is conscious. As Aquinas had noted in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, God has life “in the most perfect degree” by existing as an act of understanding. Nobody or nothing is more alive or more present to itself than God. God is intellectually conscious as an unrestricted act of understanding and, because this is so, it is not possible to conceive about how God can exist as an unrestricted act of understanding and, at the same time, not be aware of himself as someone who is existing as an unrestricted act of understanding. In lacking organs and acts of sense, it cannot be said that God is sensibly conscious. He cannot be conscious in a way which is determined by any act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. However, from a degree of self-knowledge that we have achieved–a degree which tells us that intellectual consciousness is specified or determined according to what kinds of intellectual act we are presently engaged in–on the basis of this principle, we can say about God’s intellectual consciousness that it is determined by only one act. From God’s perfect unity and utter simplicity (a simplicity that we have no direct experience of but to which we may conclude), with respect to God, we can say of him that he exists as an unrestricted act of understanding. No real distinction exists between his existence as an unrestricted act of understanding and the existence of intellectual consciousness in God. The two are identical. However, with respect to God’s existence as an unrestricted act of understanding, the unrestrictedness of this act, at the same time, also clearly suggests that it is an indeterminate act, i.e., it is whollly lacking in any restrictions or limitations (as an essentially reasonable, rational act). An infiniteness exists with respect to it, and this infiniteness or lack of restriction leads one to conclude that it possesses an inherent boundlessness. In the kind of language which Lonergan uses, God is inherently dynamic. Cf. Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, p. 163. The lack of restriction suggests a degree and level of activity which can only belong to God and to no other being, i.e., no other subject. And so, we can say about God that God’s activity is always full and complete. There is nothing potential in it. There is nothing to be realized, nothing more to be done. Everything is always fully in act. As Aquinas had put it, God is pure act (actus purus). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. He understands everything about everything in an understanding and knowledge of self that, as dynamic, is to be perfectly identified with the unrestrictedness of God’s willing, doing, and causing. From the boundlessness of God’s understanding comes an understanding on our part that acknowledges a fittingness for the existence of emanations or processions within divine understanding (where one thing comes from another), a fittingness which Lonergan refers to as a “conscious exigence.” Something about the nature of divine understanding (in its infinity) suggests that intellectual emanations should exist within it although in a manner which should exist in a perfectly natural way (in a manner which is wholly proper to God). From the boundlessness or the essential dynamism of divine understanding, Lonergan then concludes that one can move from the unrestrictedness or infinity of God’s understanding to an understanding which can grasp how God’s understanding can be understood as a point of origin: as an “originating act.” Between an infinite act and an originating act in God only a conceptual distinction can be postulated and affirmed since, as has been noted, divine understanding is perfectly simple and one in itself. An infinite act cannot really differ from an originating act. But, on the other hand, to understand why the infinity of God’s understanding can be understood as an originating act (an originating act of understanding), one can refer to a datum of human consciousness which refers to our human self-consciousness and the knowing about knowing which exists in our self-consciousness. And so, with reference to God as an unrestricted act of understanding, a consciousness of self cannot but also exist in God’s unrestricted act of understanding since, in the unrestrictedness of his understanding, God cannot be unaware of the knowledge which God has of himself and of the unrestrictedness which exists in his divine understanding. In divine self-consciousness, in divine self-understanding, and in divine self-knowledge, an infinite knowing exists about an infinite knowing. The infinity of God’s understanding includes an infinity which refers to divine self-understanding and which is rooted in divine self-understanding. And so, when we advert to divine self-understanding and as we think about God’s self-knowledge (as much as this self-knowledge is unequivocally perfectly united with God’s being as an unrestricted act of understanding), we have a principle that can be used to help us understand how or why God’s existence as an infinite act of understanding can also be understood as an originating act of understanding–an origination act which exists as a first, most basic principle from which other things follow in a sequence which emanates but which is not caused (given that what is being emanated, in its infinity, possesses a status that is no less than the infinity of what is emanating in an originating act). In divine self-consciousness, an originating always already exists. It is already, constantly occurring. Everything else comes from it. With respect thus to how one might attempt to think about the possible existence of intellectual emanations within God, by attending to what Aquinas has to say about the subject, one finds two things. First, in Aquinas, an analogical explanation also speaks about God in terms of God’s existence as an act of understanding and the perfect kind of self-knowledge which exists in God. One understands something about the origins and provenance of Lonergan’s discussion even if one finds that Aquinas prefers to speak of movements within divine understanding in a manner which prefers a metaphysical form of expression and less a form of expression that refers to inner experiences of conscious acts. As Aquinas argues, for instance, about God’s self-knowledge (in different texts): what is understood in God’s act of understanding is the same as God’s act of understanding and, since God’s being is to be equated with God (existing as an act of understanding), God’s understanding is engaged essentially in self-understanding or self-knowing. See Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1, 48; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 12, 11, 2613; 2617; 2620; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. Self-understanding accordingly exists as a fecund first principle from which everything else comes by way of sequences but not as effects. In the language that Aquinas uses, in or from God’s perfect self-understanding comes a perfect divine self-movement which is strictly internal. In Aquinas’s wo
rds (which suggest that Aquinas is working from a reflective understanding of human cognition), “what understands itself is said to move itself.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, ad 1. And so, in this movement, one finds a kind of self-movement which is unlike any other kind of self-movement because it is the self-movement of a being (a “divine subject” as Lonergan would speak of it), who is fully and entirely perfect as he exists in himself (being fully in act in terms of its self-movement). Nothing in any way is lacking which is quite unlike the self-movement or any acts of origination that exist in other kinds of being. Second, in the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas, one finds discussions which add to the kind of understanding which Lonergan tries to give and to provoke in persons–discussions which move one’s understanding of subjective events toward an understanding which can grasp an order of transcendent objects. As an adage which can be quoted from a number of Lonergan’s writings: “the path to objectivity is by way of authentic subjectivity.” Hence, through introspective psychological analysis, one can find sources of meaning within the self which help move one toward an appreciative understanding of metaphysics (as the science or study of being). However, if one wants to understand how different thing fit together in a general scheme, as one naturally moves through subjectivity toward objectivity, one yearns for some kind of overall metaphysical grasp, a general understanding of things which can reveal a broad horizon–a wider scope of meaning which takes in a greater whole. And so, one finds this kind of meaning if one burrows into Aquinas’s texts. For instance, if one attends to a close reading about what Aquinas has to say about the existence of life in God (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3), one finds a chain of reasoning which moves from one grade of being to another within the hierarchical order of being which exists in the universe. Self-movement (or origination) exists more prominently and more radically as one moves through created things: from plants to animals and then to human beings. Plants engage in self-movement when they send out shoots and move their leaves toward brighter light although they are not capable of locomotion. But, in contrast with plants, animals can move themselves from one location to another though some animals are more capable of locomotion than others. And then, when one turns to human beings, one finds that physical locomotion is sublated by a new species of locomotion which is intellectual or rational–a movement which belongs to the discursiveness of human cognition. In human inquiry, questions function as originating acts. Without inquiry, nothing else can follow. Nothing can come later in terms of acts of reasoning, understanding, and judgment. From acts of understanding, acts of conceptualization always follow. Relative to acts of conceptualization, acts of understanding present themselves as originating acts. However, as one attends to self-movement (or origination) as this exists in contingent things, one finds that the origination always exists or occurs in a conditioned way. If originating acts are to exist and function, other things need to happen. Prior acts need to occur; they need to be received. Acts of sense, for instance, need to be operative if questions are to arise about what is being experienced and known through our acts of sense. Acts of understanding in human beings always exist as receptions and not as actions. Hence, as one attends to the conditioned character of originating acts in the contingent order of things, and as one also attends to a trajectory which exists among contingent things and which points toward the necessity of some kind of act that is purely or radically originating, we are moved to acknowledge something which is purely and essentially originating in God’s existence as an unconditioned, unrestricted act of being and understanding. Something about this act is purely originating. It is purely originating from within itself even if this originating is a reality which we cannot properly know or comprehend in this life (though our reasoning and arguments does lead us to acknowledge the fact that such a thing exists–a special and unique originating which exists only in God and which accounts for every other kind of originating that can exist in other acts). In conclusion thus and more as a corollary than would otherwise be the case, if one recalls that, between the order of knowing and the order of being, an isomorphic structure exists (Aquinas speaks about proportionality while Lonergan speaks about isomorphism), one finds that an explanation of things that is proffered either in psychological terms or in metaphysical terms is not too comprehensive. Each is not quite adequate. Each is limited in some way since, in terms of meaning, each offers a different slant, a different perspective. But, if in one’s studying, reading, and thinking, one can intelligently move from one species of meaning to another (back and forth as is needed), one will better understand things if one can work with a critical philosophy of human cognition that can be combined with metaphysical apprehensions of meaning which are cognate. If one thinks in general about the relation between knowing and being (knowing and reality), one must conclude thus that knowing exists as a service to knowers. It exists so that potential knowers will be able to enter into a world which is greater than all the acts of cognition that are needed if one is to encounter into this greater world which is constituted by sets of real objects. On the basis then of this orientation of knowing to being, one can conclude that, in theology (and in other disciplines), in giving explanations for things, if consciousness (if activities which are constituted by consciousness) are to experience the transcendence which is proper to them, metaphysical apprehensions of meaning will serve as a corrective antidote. Between these two spheres or realms of meaning, a mutual enrichment in meaning should properly result.
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by David Fleischacker
I hear people wondering at times about the meaning and purpose of the Catholic belief in the seven sacraments. Traditionally, these sacraments are understood as sacred gifts given to us from God which both signify and effect grace in us. Yet, some ask, creation is given by God as well, and doesn’t it reflect God, and even provide moments of God’s grace and love, both of which transform us? Hence, what is the big deal about the special seven?
It is a question I have heard for most of my adult life, and many of my friends who grew up Catholic with me would answer this last question with the answer “nothing.” There is really no difference between the way that God can come to us in the seven and in the general world itself. General revelation is more universal they would add (as a note, they would not say “general revelation” but rather “nature”). It is more open to people of all places and times. It really is more Catholic in the end. However, though at one time in my head I would have agreed, in my heart and in my experience of the sacraments, I knew it was not true. What is true is that God can and does work in just about any place and time. Creation really is God’s and God really does speak to us through it. However, in my own heart, I know that this was not in contradiction to the claim that the sacraments have a special place. I now would like to put some philosophical and theological flesh on these existential perceptions.
The key, I believe, resides in the acts of meaning that constitute Divine gifts that transform us in specific types of gifts given to us from God, in Jesus, through his Passion. In general, it is God’s entrance into the “world mediated by meaning” (METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 118 – 119), and this is what grounds the difference between meeting God in creation and meeting God through the sacraments, brought to us through the apostolic mediators that carry that grace. If one examines any of the sacramental rites, one finds a person to person mediation of the Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning. God enters into a person to person conversation with us, to transform us, to let us know about that transformation, and in these gifts to actually constitute the transformation. It is different, in the end, because God has made it different. This is something that one would not experience in creation alone, as glorious as it can be at times, especially in the great events of the birth of child or the great sacrifices that some make for others.
And as glorious as the birth of a child can be, or a courageous act of self-sacrifice, these same acts become greater yet when they enter into the sacramental carriers of God’s life and love. Then the birth of a child can unite with the great Eucharistic thanksgiving, and the sacrifices of one’s self can unite with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. What this means is that the special revelatory graces that come through the seven sacraments sublate the created natural order and its goodness (for Lonergan’s meaning of “sublation” see METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 241).
A parallel can be found in St. Augustine, in his essay against the Manicheans, which illustrates this same point of sublation, but with regard to the moral virtues rather than the sacraments. Prudence is not annihilated by God’s love but raised up into the wisdom of God. Courage not only means courage in the context of society and the natural order, but it is raised up to be self-sacrifice on the Cross. Temperance is raised up to become kingship, in which the love of God and neighbor rules over one’s mind and one’s body. Justice comes to take on a whole new meaning as giving what is due to others because it is giving what is due to God (which later becomes the virtue of religion). Hence, the moral virtues are sublated into the theological virtues.
Thus, not only are the moral virtues sublated, but so is creation when brought into the life of the seven sacraments. The theological virtues are the aim of the seven sacraments constituted by God’s entrance into our history, especially through the mission of the Son incarnate and the mission of the Holy Spirit. Through these missions, God sheds his love upon upon us. It reaches its highest levels when it comes through His Body, through His Church, through His sacraments.
As a note, Lonergan has some profound theological formulations of these missions in “THE TRIUNE GOD: SYSTEMATICS” part 6 on the divine missions. This critical edition of this book is now available to the public (Volume 12 of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan). I recommend this text to any serious systematic theologians interested in the Trinity. It far surpasses anything else that I have read from the 20th century, whether from Karl Rahner or from Walter Kasper or from Jürgen Moltmann. There are interesting insights in some of these other authors, but none as far as I can tell genuinely understands the great achievements of St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Thomas, or others as does Lonergan, and then creatively builds upon them.
In short, what makes the seven sacraments more important for encounter God than the “general revelation” of creation? The answer can be formulated in terms of the same relation as grace and freedom or grace and nature. Just as grace sublates nature and freedom, so the graces that God intentionally bestows upon us through the sacraments sublate us, our world, and our history.
In short, the highest and most profound and personal encounter with God comes through the seven sacraments.