So who is Bernard J. F. Lonergan? Just possibly the most important orthodox philosopher-theologian of the century in the Anglo-American Christian world. And March 31-April 3 may mark the time when the rest of the world began to know it.
During those four days, seventy-seven high-powered intellectuals gathered in St. Leo, Florida, to analyze and criticize the thought of the 65-year-old Canadian Jesuit—a former faculty member of the Gregorian University in Rome, and one of only three English-speaking members of the new Pontifical Theological Commission.
Up to now, Lonergan’s reputation has largely been limited to top Catholic academic circles and has rested on one masterpiece, Insight, a study of human understanding. The work attempts to provide a methodological framework for epistemology in all disciplines.He will lecture on theological method at Boston College June 14–26.
Protestant stars attending included theologians Langdon Gilkey and Schubert Ogden (University of Chicago); Thomas J. J. (“death of God”) Altizer; New Testament scholar James M. Robinson (Claremont); and Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten. Major Catholic figures included Scripture scholars John L. McKenzie (Notre Dame) and Quentin Quesnell (Marquette); British bishop Christopher Butler; Charles Curran (Catholic University); Charles Davis (English theologian and noted defector from the church); Kenneth Rexrath (a founding father of the beatnik philosopher-poet); Leslie Dewart (University of Toronto); theologians John Dunne and David Burrell (Notre Dame); and Michael Novak (State University of New York, Old Westbury).
A few who admitted to knowing little of Lonergan were also around, including Senator Eugene McCarthy and distinguished English philosopher and Catholic convert Elizabeth Anscombe (Oxford and the University of Chicago). Some luminaries scheduled to attend did not: German theologian Karl Rahner (who sent a paper), Harvard’s Harvey Cox, Dutch theologian Eduard Schillebeeckx, and French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. No evangelical Protestants were invited, a probable reflection of their lack of distinction in philosophy.
It isn’t often that a major thinker receives this kind of scrutiny from his intellectual peers during his lifetime. In advance the seventy-seven participants turned in and read papers totaling over 700,000 words (to be published later). The papers were the basis of small-group discussion (the conference had two plenary sessions). The conference was an honor, but no panegyric. Existentialists claimed that Lonergan was not existential enough, liberals that he was too traditional, and Scripture scholars that he had no adequate room for Scripture.
Lonergan’s attempt to restructure traditional Catholic philosphy to accommodate empirical science, existential philosophy, and modern culture excites the whole scholarly Catholic spectrum. English scholar Hugo Meynell (University of Leeds) believes Lonergan “states doctrines intelligently and as though he meant them” while asserting Christianity’s “present relevance without making nonsense of its past.” Meanwhile Catholic dropout Davis was able to write in his conference paper: “I myself should never have been able to leave the Roman Catholic Church, had it not been for my reading of Lonergan.”
Since the emphasis of Insight is on method rather than content, many liberal conference participants, including agnostic Rocco Cacopardo (Italian Olivetti executive), tuned into Lonergan’s first 633 densely reasoned pages on the “inquiry into inquiry.” But they turned off at chapter nineteen: “General Transcendent Knowledge.”
This group argued that Lonergan’s thought had changed since Insight (1957), and that his new book (Method in Theology, to be finished in a year) would show the subjectivist orientation of his more recent interaction with existential philosophy. The liberals thought they sensed victory when Lonergan, in an April 2 plenary session, said he might as well have put chapters nineteen and twenty into his new book. But it was the conservatives who went home happy: in the closing session the next day Lonergan stressed the logical continuity of all his work, stating that his later writing reflected only a change of context rather than a shift in opinion.
The key question on this point, appropriately enough, came from Altizer: Has Lonergan, as some of his fans claim, revised his concept of God since Insight? The answer came as a flat, resounding “no!” Pointing out that he had written extensively on the Trinity (some 600 pages in Latin) he added: “If chapter nineteen [of Insight] is eliminated, then all the rest falls under contingency, relativity, and temporality, and there is nothing left.”
For evangelicals seriously interested in grappling with the critical problem of providing an adequate philosophical underpinning for an orthodox Christian faith in the contemporary world, Bernard Lonergan is a name to remember.
JOAN K. OSTLING
Priests’ Union: Talking Tougher
Ubi episcopus ibi ecclesia: “Where the bishop is, there is the church.” So says an ancient Roman Catholic dictum. But at least 250 of the nation’s Catholic priests think they should share more responsibility for church affairs with the hierarchy. They planned to test their beliefs at the national meeting of the U. S. bishops this month.
Members of the National Federation of Priests Councils (NFPC) said they would take the suggestion for a National Pastoral Council and an appeal on behalf of nineteen disciplined Washington, D. C., priests to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in San Francisco April 20. And they said that if they were not permitted to enter the usually secret meetings and present their case, they would stage a public protest.
NFPC spokesmen (the group claims to represent 35,000 of the nation’s 55,000 priests) are both demanding and taking a larger voice in church matters. One such thrust was a unanimous vote last month at the NFPC national conference in San Deigo calling for the formation of a National Pastoral Council to become the legislative body of the U. S. church. It would have delegates ranging from bishops to priests and nuns and lay people. All delegates would have equal votes in deciding all church matters except theology.
NFPC past president Patrick O’Malley says he is sure it will take three to six years to get a council working even after the assent of the bishops.
Meantime, the young lions of the U. S. priesthood have other things in mind. Prominent among them are the Washington priests who have appealed directly to Pope Paul VI for a decision on their case against the Washington Archdiocese. They suffered various punishments imposed by Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle after they and twenty-one other priests signed a statement saying they believed Catholic couples could decide on birth control according to their own consciences.
Roman theologian Bernard Haring meanwhile told 200 Italian moral theologians (who applauded) that the dictates of human conscience are better guides to proper behavior than are the possibly mistaken declarations of a pope, the New York Times reported.
And in New York, a group of Catholic scholars said this month that a secret Vatican document proposes a basic church code that would bring progress in the church to a standstill. If implemented, it would cause “a crisis of major proportions,” according to the Reverend William Bassett of Washington, D. C., a canon lawyer of Catholic University. The document, containing ninety-four broad provisions for governing the church, clearly defines the powers of the pope but leaves ambiguous what powers are granted to other members of the church, the scholars said.
Forecast For Charity: A Bit Cloudy
The new federal tax law leaves some questions unanswered, according to an Illinois lawyer who has made a thorough study of the statute.
C. William Pollard gave a detailed interpretation of the Tax Reform Act of 1969 at the eighth annual meeting of the evangelically oriented Christian Stewardship Council in Dallas last month. He focused upon facets of the law that relate to charitable contributions and private foundations.
A key feature of the new law is an increase in the deduction for substantial charitable giving. The general limitation on deductions for charitable gifts from individuals has been raised from 30 per cent of adjusted gross income to 50 per cent of the taxpayer’s “contribution base” (adjusted gross income computed without regard to any net operating loss carryback).
A number of tax loopholes are closed by the new law. But Pollard said there is a question left hanging on so-called bargain sale gifts. These are donations made through transfer of property to qualified charitable organizations for less than fair market value. The donor is entitled to some tax break, but according to Pollard, “it is not clear under the new law whether this deduction is limited by the 30 per cent limitation or the 50 per cent limitation.”
Also up in the air, Pollard said, is whether transfers to “annuity trusts” will be treated as taxable sales. “Annuity trusts” are carefully defined in the new law, as are “unitrusts” and “pooled income fund trusts.” A gift of a remainder interest in trust to a qualified charitable organization is not deductible unless the trust can be defined under one of these three designations.
The new tax law is currently taking on added significance because a number of religious groups are reporting revenue declines (see also January 16 issue, page 31).
Florida Easter Week: Student ‘Exkursions’
Even though a rock music festival set for Easter week in Fort Lauderdale was canceled, the largest crowd of sun-and-fun-seeking collegians to hit the Florida beach city since 1961 gathered there for the vacation break.
This could be, according to Pete Hammond of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship—which conducted the major witnessing effort on the beach—because the gap was filled by the Exkursions. The hard-rock musical group told, in concert, about their encounters with Jesus Christ.
Singing and witnessing from the beach bandstand, the Exkursions had an audience of some 30,000 students. The group also played at the Alternative, an IVCF coffeehouse set up with the help of CASE (Christians for Action and Student Evangelism), the local interdenominational body to coordinate Christian beach activities with city officials.
Observers noted an irenic mood at the festival. “The temperament of the kids is different,” noted Police Lieutenant J. E. Miller. “They don’t want to get messed up with the long hairs or the drug scene.”
Besides beach and coffeehouse concerts, mornings were devoted to Bible study and classes in personal evangelism, and afternoons to discussion groups on the sand, with IVCF members scattered about strategically.
“For the first time in our nine years on the beach, people are coming looking for us,” said Hammond. No accurate count of decisions for Christ was compiled, but twenty-five were reported the first day. Hammond also noted a great demand for New Testaments and a psychedelic “love” version of the Gospel of John provided by the American Bible Society and Southern Baptist Convention.
The Baptist Student Union and a group from Bibletown, U. S. A., shared in the Fort Lauderdale beach ministry. Campus Crusade for Christ, which frequently works that city, shifted to Daytona Beach this year, where the largest Florida vacation student crowds (50,000) collected.
Meanwhile, motorcycle gang members policed a dude ranch south of Orlando where perhaps 40,000 youngsters—some cuddled in sleeping bags, some smoking marijuana—awaited the start of an abortive rock festival scheduled by the promoters of the canceled one in Fort Lauderdale.
Finally, some little-known rock bands performed and the promoters were arrested. There was no organized witnessing at the muddy cow pasture.
Smoking Out State Aid
Twenty million dollars in state aid will begin to flow to Pennsylvania’s non-public schools next September under terms of a new law signed by Governor Raymond P. Shafer last month. The annual aid is expected to be collected from the state’s eighteen-cents-a-pack cigarette tax; the revenue will help pay for salaries, textbooks, and instruction materials for non-religious subjects in denominational and private schools.
A similar bill, which would have produced an estimated $12 million annually in aid for Maryland non-public schools, was killed in the state legislature.
Shafer noted Pennsylvania “was the first state to acknowledge the need to assist the education of all its students.” Since last May 31, $4.8 million has been raised for private schools in Pennsylvania from harness and flat-track horse racing (see May 23, 1969, issue, page 34).
Union’S New President
Taking over the presidency of 134-year-old Union Seminary in New York City this October will be the Right Reverend J. Brooke Mosley, 54, former Episcopal bishop of Delaware who is now head of the overseas program of the Episcopal Church.
As predicted (see April 10 issue, page 52), Mosley will follow Union’s eleventh president, Dr. John C. Bennett, who will retire July 1 after seven years as administrative head of the interdenominational seminary. A search committee spent two years seeking Bennett’s replacement.
Mosley became known as an early supporter of civil rights while in Delaware (he became a bishop there in 1953), and he was an early critic of the Viet Nam war. Much of his ministry has been in urban situations. He has not previously held any academic post. He said he had been reluctant to take the Union post because he lacked this background.
The whitehaired bishop will inherit a campus situation already pocked by dissent among student, faculty, and administrator factions. The seminary board meeting at which he was elected March 31 was interrupted when about thirty students walked in with a petition seeking a delay in the election.
The reason? The student body as a whole had not had a chance to meet with Mosley, the students said.
Kansas City Methodists: Horse Of A Different Color
White circuit-riding Methodists in Kansas City, Missouri, are having difficulty saddling their wild stallion. The horse of another color is the black Inner City Parish, and the circuit includes frequent missions to the Black Panthers.
As a result, seven local ministers have issued a formal complaint, bishops of both Missouri and Kansas have declared themselves “polarized against the Panther-sympathizing parish,” sixty white area clergymen have met in secret council, and Kansas City Methodist members have cut contributions in protest.
Drawing added attention to the situation, the House Committee on Internal Security (formerly the House Un-American Activities Committee) subpoenaed Phillip Lawson, executive director of the Methodist Inner City Parish, to explain the church’s relation to the Panthers. Kansas City Black Panthers are the first of several metropolitan chapters to be scrutinized by the committee.An international news service with a North Korea dateline quotes in full a telegram said to have been sent from the Black Panther party of the United States to North Korean leader Kim Il-song last December 30. It says, in part: “The Black Panther party will join hands with the forty million Korean people in our common struggle against the facist and imperialist administration of the United States, our common enemy, and its ruling classes. We renew the determination to … deal merciless and mortal blows to it.…”
But the battle looms even larger, reflecting a widening division between conservatives and liberals in the mid-western segment of the United Methodist Church. Some of the church’s conservatives have also scored other Kansas City-based “specialized ministries believing in a theology of power and a sociology of violence.”
Why has the Methodist Inner City Parish, composed of three United Methodist churches in decaying neighborhoods and designed to minister to the city’s 200,000 blacks, come under attack by white Methodists? The opposition charges that:
Two members of the parish board of directors are also presidents of local welfare-rights organizations; two other member directors are Black Panthers, including Pete O’Neal, head of the local Panther chapter; the parish has rented two buildings to Panthers for use as their headquarters (the most recent rented for $1.00 per year); the parish paid utility bills for the Panthers last spring, as well as supplying them with a station wagon, and paid nearly $1,000 in bail bonds for Panthers last year.
It has, in addition, financially assisted Panther free-breakfast programs for ghetto children, hired two Panthers to direct Methodist youth and drug programs, and accepted $200 from the government’s Human Resources Center to run a community patrol.
United Methodist bishops Eugene M. Frank of St. Louis and W. McFerrin Strowe of Topeka consequently issued a joint statement rejecting the philosophy and actions of the Black Panthers, admitting they were forced into a “polarized position,” and calling on the Inner City Parish to “sever all relationships” with the Panthers. The bishops’ statement follows a request made by the Kansas City Police Department a year ago objecting to the Panther-parish link.
A secret meeting of sixty United Methodist clergy was held a few days later in an all-white suburban church to plan protests against radical social ministries of the church. The meeting was closed to the press (virtually all Panther meetings are also), but word leaked out, and six uninvited blacks participated.
But Lawson and his assistant executive director, John Preciphs (both are black), are ignoring the complaints. Lawson says: “I tend to think the people who raise doubts and fears about the Panthers are people who are dealing with their own anxieties and problems.” Preciphs contends that the Panthers are the best thing that has ever happened to the black community.
St. Paul School of Theology professor Paul W. Jones, also under attack, defends the directors as well as the Panthers: “I see as entertainable the possibility of property-directed violence.” But when he meets with the black leaders, he says, he tries to lead them into thinking of new ways of “being human.” The Panthers have agreed to discuss the Christian way of solving problems with Jones, which leads him to criticize area ministers “who are undercutting our ability to relate, dialogue, and influence these people.”
Indications are that the pace of circuit-riders on both sides will increase. And relations between them will very likely get hotter before they get better.
JAMES S. TINNEY
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more