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Lonergan at the Greg

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Fr Gerard Whelan, the Irish Jesuit who teaches Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, has another large call on his energies: the preparation of an international conference on Lonergan. He reports on its background:

When Fr. François-Xavier Dumortier became Rector of the Gregorian three years ago, he began speaking about a desire to start a “little school of Lonergan” at the Gregorian. He noted that this Canadian Jesuit (1904-85) had been a student and a professor at this university (1933-40, and 1953-65) and expressed his conviction that Lonergan’s understanding of the human person, and the theological method that emerges from it, is of the highest importance in helping the Church implement the vision of Vatican II today. Similarly, he suggested that Lonergan’s books Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957), and Method in Theology (1972) could make a contribution to interdisciplinary collaboration within the Gregorian university and help to revitalize the intellectual life of the institution.

With these goals in mind, he suggested that we should first organize an international conference on Lonergan and, subsequently, investigate other possibilities for integrating a Lonergan perspective within the university. In October of 2012 a committee of ten academics was formed by the Rector to plan for the first step in this larger plan. We settled on a theme: “Revisiting Lonergan’s Anthropology,” suggesting that the question of anthropology, i.e. of human identity, is an “issue under the issues” in much theological and public policy debate today.

The committee suggested that the best means of communicating Lonergan’s thought would be to stress that his anthropology translates into a usable method that has wide application. Consequently, our conference will feature panel discussions where individuals from  many countries describe how they employ Lonergan’s method in fields that include: interreligious dialogue, ecumenism, the dialogue of theology and social science, and the nature of a Catholic university.

In addition to having a limited number of formal lectures by international figures, we plan parallel afternoon workshops where we invite participants to speak of research projects in which they are engaged. In our advertising for the conference, we stress that it is part of a series of events at the university that celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. We recall Lonergan’s statement that the function of theology is to “mediate between a cultural matrix and the significance and role of a religion within that matrix,” and we feature the following statement that Lonergan made at the closing of the Council:

“Classical culture cannot be jettisoned without being replaced . . . There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this, now that new development . . . But what will count is a perhaps not numerous centre, big enough to be at home in both the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half-measures.” (Lonergan, “Dimensions of Meaning”)