Bernard Lonergan, SJ (1904-1984)

Bernard Lonergan, SJ (1904-1984), was a philosopher-theologian and an economist. The Canadian Jesuit is regarded by many as one of the greatest philosophical and theological minds of the 20th century, following the Thomist tradition. Lonergan is best known for Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972). In Insight he worked out what he called a Generalized Empirical Method. In Method in Theology Lonergan demonstrated how this Generalized Empirical Method clarified the structure and process of work in theology.

Insight Bernard Lonergan’s monumental workaddresses the question What am I doing when I am knowing?  He asked this question for two reasons:

  1. To provide what he called a “common ground” on which people could meet one another, that is, the common ground of the operations through which they pursue meaning and truth.
  2. To provide what is probably a solution to the fragmentation of knowledgenot by attempting to integrate the content of knowledge, but by acknowledging the same operations of experiencing, understanding, and judging in all fields.

This acknowledgment, which Lonergan’s book Insight shows, brings a startling unity to knowledge and to the pursuit of understanding in every field. It helps us relate such “hard sciences” as mathematics, physics, and chemistry to the sciences of life, and to relate all of these to psychology, philosophy, the arts, and theology.

The key is the act of insight. Lonergan is seeking an insight into insight itself. He writes: “…to grasp it in its conditions, its working, and its results is to confer a basic yet startling unity on the whole field of human inquiry and human opinion.”

By Jim Campbell

Related Links

The Bernard Lonergan Archive at Marquette University
A digital depository of primary materials related to the work of the Jesuit philosopher-theologian. It includes archival papers and audio recordings of lectures.

The Lonergan Website
Includes workshops, book reviews, thesis abstracts, article reprints, and the Lonergan Studies Newsletter.

The Lonergan Institute at Boston College
The Lonergan Institute offers workshops, a wide-ranging collection of Lonergan’s works, articles about Lonergan, and books and periodicals relevant to Lonergan scholarship.

Bernard Lonergan: An Ignatian Thinker (PDF)

By Elizabeth A. Murray

Short presentation outlining possible correlations between Bernard Lonergan’s and Ignatius’s thinking. The author discusses Lonergan’s emphasis on method and the Ratio; self-appropriation and the Spiritual Exercises; self-consciousness and meditation; dialectic and discernment; polymorphism of human consciousness and the education of the whole person; and work in economics and concern for social justice.

Making Connections, Finding Meaning, Engaging the World
By Kurt M. Denk, SJ

In a 29-page article, Kurt M. Denk, SJ, provides a detailed set of strategies for reflecting on personal and ministry experience. The work is based on Bernard Lonergan’s philosophical method of the cumulative, processive, and repeatable movement from experience to understanding to judgment to decision. Denk provides nine models for reflection. The article link is located on Justice Web: A Resource for Jesuit Colleges and Universities, under the header “Reflection Materials.” Text is in Microsoft Word format.