From Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of
Bernard Lonergan, S.J., ed. Timothy P. Fallon, S.J., and Philip Boo
Riley, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1986, 63-78. Fr.
Hosinski argues that the philosophies of
Alfred North Whitehead and
Bernard J. F. Lonergan are fundamentally compatible.
The text of his
dissertation defending that proposition
is available elsewhere on this site.
Lonergan and a Process
Understanding of God
Thomas Hosinski, C.S.C.
To speak of
Lonergan and process theology in the same breath usually signals a
debate. The discussion, we suspect beforehand, will compare, evaluate,
judge and finally side with one against the other. Certainly almost all
philosophers and theologians who have addressed this topic have
understood Lonergan’s philosophy of God to be at odds with the interpretation
of God presented by Alfred North Whitehead or Charles Hartshorne. It is
difficult to disagree with this stance—and difficult to envision any
other type of discussion—so long as we confine ourselves to Lonergan’s
conscious intention, his stated philosophy of God in Insight, and
his own judgment: in Lonergan’s own mind, his philosophy of God is
at odds with a process understanding of God..
Despite this state of affairs, I intend to address
this topic in a most unexpected way. I will not directly compare
Lonergan’s philosophy of God to Whitehead’s,, nor will I
debate their relative merits. Instead, my concern will be entirely with
the inner dynamic and the implications of Lonergan’s own thought. In my
estimation, the implications of the important developments in Lonergan’s
post-Insight thought ought to have an effect on Lonergan’s
philosophy of God. Although they have been applied to the context in
which the philosophy of God is done, they have yet to be applied fully to
the understanding of God that results from the inquiry. Reflection on
this will lead me to advance the novel and unexpected thesis that Lonergan’s thought can be a resource for a process understanding of God.
thesis certainly goes beyond what Lonergan himself intended and is evening
opposition to his own stated judgment, I hope to show that the dynamic of
this thought and the pursuit of his insights can lead legitimately in
this direction. Moreover, such an approach might help to persuade both
those influence by Lonergan’s thought and those influenced by process
thought that it is actually possible for them to have collaborative
Since the thesis
that Lonergan’s thought can give rise to a process understanding of God is
novel and unexpected, I must begin by discussing the grounds which support
such an approach to Lonergan’s thought.
I. The Grounds
the Idea of
The tasks of the
philosophy of God and the functional specialty of systematics are distinct
but, as Lonergan has argued persuasively, this does not mean that they
ought to be separated.. In fact, as
Lonergan points out the philosophical and the religious questions of God
are related fundamentally in several ways. Stemming from a common root in
what, on a theological analysis, can be called “religious experience,”
all the questions of God are trying to discover the ultimate ground and
final end of our experience as subjects..
The questions are distinct because of the contexts in which the inquiry is
pursued, but even so they are cumulative and the strictly philosophical
questions lead into the strictly religious questions of God..
philosophical questions of God ask about the ultimate ground of our
experience. They arise when we reflect on the implications of our
subjective experience as it has been philosophically been analyzed and understood.
They are “wondering” questions, which begin with the structures of
experience and ask what make our experience, so understood, possible.
Thus reflecting on the implications of the human subject’s cognitional experience, Lonergan
raises the questions concerning the ultimate ground
of the intelligibility and the contingency of the universe..
Reflecting on the existential subject’s moral intentionality, Lonergan
raises the question concerning the ultimate ground of value..
But the philosophical questions of God do not end here. As is
implicit especially in the moral question of God, the philosopher can also
ask about the final meaning of human experience and the universe. In this
form the question becomes more “anxious” than “wondering,” more
existentially acute. It is moved by craving for importance, for meaning,
for purpose, for fulfillment. The “anxious” question is distinct from
the “wondering” questions, yet they are related since both ask about the
ultimate ground of the universe in different ways. Whereas the wondering
questions ask about the ultimate ground in the sense of wanting to know
what makes experience possible, the anxious question asks what
experience means relative to that ultimate ground; it asks about
the character of that ground.
Here the final
philosophical question of God merges with the strictly religious
question of God, which always asks about meaning and fulfillment. In
the anxious, unfulfilled form, the strictly religious question asks, “Is
there anyone or anything I can love without restriction?” And when we examine
religious experience, we find religion preoccupied with discovering the
divine character and the consequent meaning of our experience.
As Lonergan expresses it, the strictly religious question of God (in the
fulfilled form) emerges from the experience of being in love without
restriction and asks, “with whom am I in love?"”
Thus the questions of God are cumulative; the philosophical questions are
drawn to and merge with the strictly religious questions of God.
Furthermore, Lonergan has argued that the ground of
the answers to all these questions is to be found in religious
experience.. Faith, the knowledge born
of religious love, answers our anxious questions in experience
because in faith we apprehend a boundless love poured into our hearts; we
experience the character of the God we seek. But religious experience
also discovers in itself the answers to the “wondering” questions raised
by reflection on our cognitional and moral intentionality. This may be a
(because the subject lacks the proper differentiation of
consciousness), but religious experience brings with it a conviction
regarding the ground of the universe, so that even if we do not know how,
cognitively and reflectively, nevertheless we know with our hearts that
God is the answer to all questions for intelligence, reflection, and
deliberation concerning the ultimate ground of our experience. Thus,
Lonergan can argue, in actuality the God of the philosophers and the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are one and the same, and so the philosophy
of God and the functional specialty of systematics, though distinct, ought
not to be separated..
Now if all of this is
the case, then it seems to me that it ought to have some effect on the
idea of God. If the ground of the answers to the cognitional and moral
questions of God is to be found in religious experience, then certainly it
seems reasonable to hold that the testimony of religious experience ought
to have an important role in the understanding of God that emerges from
those inquiries. If the questions of God are related, then it
would seem that the answers to those questions, as expressed in
ideas, would also be related. Moreover, if the questions of God are
cumulative, then it would seem that any answers proposed to the
“wondering” philosophical questions are in an important way incomplete
until they have been united with and complemented by the understanding of
God derived from religious experience. The very idea of God itself
ought to reflect the fact that the God of the philosophers and the God of
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus are one and the same.
Lonergan, I believe, has pointed in this direction.
In a brief but rich and tantalizing set of remarks, he has shown how the
testimony of religious experience transforms the idea of God as it emerges
from reflection on our moral intentionality. “Without faith the
originating value is man and the terminal value is the human good man
brings about."” But when a
subject has been transformed by religious experience, when the subject’s
values have been transvalued by the supreme value known in faith,
is divine light and love, while terminal value is the whole universe. So
the human good becomes absorbed in an all-encompassing good. Where before
an account of the human good related men to one another and to nature, now
human concern reaches beyond man’s world to God and God’s
In short, religious
conversion leads to moral conversion and moral conversion reveals to us
the supreme value in the God with whom we are in love. Cognitive
reflection on this experience enables us to understand that God is the
originating and supreme instance of moral consciousness and that we find
value in the world and in our moral intentionality because both we and all
our fellow creatures are God’s terminal values. Conceiving of God and the
world in this way, Lonergan states, has certain implications.
To conceive of God
as originating value and the world as terminal value implies that God too
is self-transcending and that the world is the fruit of his
self-transcendence, the expression and manifestation of his benevolence
and beneficence, his glory. . . . To say that God created the world for
his glory is to say that he created it not for his sake but for ours. He
made us in his image, for our authenticity consists in being like him, in
self-transcending, in being origins of value, in
reflection on what we know in faith, we gradually come to understand that
the self-transcending moral intentionality found in every human subject
has its ground and fulfillment in the self-transcendence of God. Our
subjectivity is in God’s image.
of God as the supreme self-transcending subject implies that the idea of
God is to be conceived by analogy with the structure we discover in our
own subjectivity as that structure is enlightened by the testimony of
religious experience. I am in complete agreement with this approach, but
when I turn to Lonergan’s discussion of God in Insight, I do not
find this approach exemplified there.
Procedure of “Insight”
and a Possible
provided a new context, Lonergan never revised the content of the notion
of God presented in Insight.. Yet Lonergan’s brief
discussion of God in Method in Theology leads me to believe that
it is a fruitful line of inquiry to consider how the post-Insight
developments in Lonergan’s thought might affect not just the context for
the philosophy of God but also the content of the notion of God itself.
Such a development of Lonergan’s thought can be faithful to his
methodological insights and might bring greater coherence and unity to the
idea of God as it emerges from Lonergan’s philosophy. My reasons for
suggesting this line of inquiry can be presented most easily by first
directing attention to several methodological issues.
First, it is
important to notice that when Lonergan discusses the question of God as it
arises from an analysis of our moral intentionality he actually raises a
double question, or a question with both objective and subjective sides.
He asks for the ultimate ground of the value we feel in the world (the
objective side) and for the ultimate ground of the subject’s moral
intentionality (the subjective side).. Because he asks the subjective
side of the question, Lonergan comes to conceive of God by analogy with
the structure of human moral self-transcendence: God is discovered to be
the supreme self-transcending subject. But when discussing the question
of God as it arises from the two cognitional questions, Lonergan raises
only the objective side.. He asks for the ultimate ground of the
intelligibility and the contingent existence of the universe.. But he
does not ask for the ultimate ground of the subject’s ability to
understand the intelligible or to make virtually unconditioned judgments
of fact. It is clear that the subjective sides of these questions are
implicit in Lonergan’s thought. But if we raise them explicitly, it might
lead us to reflect on the ultimate implications of understanding God
analogically by reference to our experience of ourselves as knowing
subjects. I will pursue the importance of this point below.
Second, it is
important to notice that the two cognitional questions of God are
metaphysical in character. Lonergan explicitly asks for the ultimate
ground of the intelligible, contingent universe. Yet the analysis
designed to answer these questions is expressed only in cognitional terms
(concluding to the existence of the unrestricted act of understanding). Lonergan does not express these questions or pursue his analysis in terms
of his own metaphysical elements. It might prove interesting to consider
what would result if this cognitional analysis were complemented by an expression and an analysis in Lonergan’s metaphysical terms as well.
Furthermore, since we are attempting to discover the metaphysical
characteristics of God and God’s relation to the world, it seems
methodologically reasonable to ask that this be done.
methodological issue concerns Lonergan’s procedure when, in Insight,
he attempts to show that the unrestricted act of understanding is
properly called “God.” It may help to set this in context. If we
carefully examine Lonergan’s procedure in Chapter XIX, we find that in the
first eight sections of the chapter. Lonergan prepares the ground,
raises the questions, and performs the analysis which conceives of the
transcendent and unrestricted act of understanding as the ultimate ground
required by the intelligibility and contingent existence of the universe.
Having established this, Lonergan attempts to show in section nine that
the unrestricted act of understanding is properly called “God.”” In
light of Lonergan’s later discussion of the philosophical and religious
questions of God, let us ask what Lonergan is attempting to do methodologically
at this point. It seems to me that he is no longer addressing the
strictly philosophical questions of God; in the new context provided by
his post-Insight thought, these questions are effectively met by
the first eight sections of Chapter XIX. Rather in section nine
Lonergan seems to be trying to answer the strictly religious
question of God by deriving the character of God from the implications of
the philosophical conceptualization of God as unrestricted act of
understanding. Yet Lonergan’s procedure in section nine seems to be at
variance with his procedure in discussing God in Method in Theology
and this suggests that a procedure different from the one Lonergan
actually follows in Insight might be possible within the framework
of Lonergan’s thought.
In Method in
Theology Lonergan reflects on the implications of religious experience
in order to conceptualize the character of God in relation to moral
intentionality. He develops an understanding that presents God as exhibiting
or exemplifying the same structure found in human subjects. God, like
human subjects, is originating value and the world and human subjects are
God’s terminal values. Certainly we could understand God to be
transcendent in the perfection with which God illustrates this structure:
God is perfectly related to all terminal values by means of divine
feelings, whereas we are severely limited in this regard. Yet neither the
perfection nor the transcendence of God prevents Lonergan from conceiving
of God as exemplifying the basic structure or moral intentionality and
Yet when we examine
how Lonergan conceives of God in section nine of Insight, it is
clear that his discussion immediately makes God a radical exception
to structure of cognitional process. This is obvious in the first major
implication Lonergan derives from the unrestricted act of understanding.
He argues that since the unrestricted act of understanding must be
invulnerable as understanding, it must also be unconditional knowing..
The observation I would make here is that this argument does not depend on
Lonergan’s own brilliant analysis of cognitional process, which ahs shown
that knowing is always a complex process of distinct acts and operations.
Understanding is not knowing but is always a grasping of potential or
possible intelligibilities that may have relevance for knowledge.
Knowing, in contrast, always requires a reflective grasp of the possible
intelligibilities as given in experience. Knowing, in short, always
requires judgment; and judgment rests on encounter in experience. But
when he comes to God, Lonergan makes God the radical exception to this
structure. Unlike all cognitional structure with which we are familiar,
in God understanding and knowing are identical and occur in a simple act.
I would argue that
instead of making God a radical exception to the affirmed structure of
cognitional process, one could pursue an understanding of God and God’s
knowledge as supremely illustrating this structure, just as Lonergan did
in the face of the moral question of God. Such an approach would
have the merit of employing generalized empirical method, utilizing the affirmed
structure of cognitional process, subjectivity, and being, and calling
upon the testimony of religious experience just as Lonergan does in
Method in Theology. Generalized empirical method would not allow us
to invoke exceptions to what has been discovered in our previous
inquiries. Rather, the starting point would be that we have no reason to
think that God’s knowledge and (God’s being), transcendent and perfect
though God may be, is ontologically different from the structure we find
in our knowing. After all, the entire philosophical conception of God is
based on the assumption that we may conceive of God by analogy with the
structure we discover in human subjective experience. If God’s
transcendence is taken to mean that God must be an exception to the
structure of human cognitional process and becoming, then how can we ever
be sure at what point to invoke the exception? It seems far more
reasonable to assume that God is not an exception to the structure—though
God may very well be transcendent in the perfection of how God illustrates
it—and to try to work out an understanding of God in these terms.
Moreover, such an approach would allow us to unify Lonergan’s
understanding of God as derived (in Method in Theology) from
reflection on moral experience with an understanding of God derived from
reflection on cogntional experience. We could then understand how God is
the supreme illustration of all levels of our subjective
There is another
feature of Lonergan’s development of the notion of God that I must
consider since it would seem to preclude any process conception of God.
This has to do with the attribute of perfection and what is derived from
it. After having shown that the unrestricted act of understanding can be
understood to be the primary being, Lonergan goes on to argue that “the
primary being would be without any defect or lack or imperfection..”
But later in the analysis, when Lonergan turns to the relation between
the primary and the secondary intelligibles (or the relation between God
and the world), he argues that “the perfect primary being does not
develop, for it is without defect or lack or imperfection..” The
clear presupposition of this argument is that development is inherently a
“defect or lack or imperfection.” Yet I believe it is possible to argue
that this presupposition can find no ground in Lonergan’s own
In the climactic
moment of Lonergan’s metaphysics, there occurs the insight into the
isomorphism of knowing and the known. The ontological structure of being
is discovered to be isomorphic with the affirmed structure of cognitional
process. This results in a metaphysics of being understood as a dynamic
process of becoming.. The ontological elements conceive of each
actuality as a process, an emerging act of form developing from
potency.. Moreover, Lonergan’s cosmology, the world view of emergent
probability, envisions the universe as a whole as a process of
self-transcendent development.. The affirmed structure of being in
Lonergan’s metaphysics is a dynamic process of becoming, a process of
development. This metaphysics offers no ground that I can find for
holding that development per se is inherently an imperfection. This
presupposition of Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics appears to be at odds
with the implications of Lonergan’s own metaphysics. Moreover, God’s
transcendence and perfection do not demand this presupposition; in the
understanding of God Lonergan worked out in Method in Theology,
God’s transcendence and perfection are shown not by making God a radical
exception to the self-transcending structure discovered in human
subjectivity, but by having God supremely illustrate that structure.
Thus it seems to me
that it is possible to develop an approach to the understanding of God
that differs from the one Lonergan actually took in Insight but
which is in accord with the implications of his later thought. since I
have argued, however, that the notion of God must also be expressed in
terms of Lonergan’s metaphysics, I must first outline a reformulation of
Lonergan’s ontology that includes the most important developments of his
post-Insight thought. This will make it possible to outline a
process understanding of God based solely on Lonergan’s own thought.
Lonergan’s Process Ontology
One of the
hallmarks of Lonergan’s post-Insight thought is the attention he
devoted to the fourth level of the human subject, the level of “rational
self-consciousness,” the level on which the human subject deliberates,
evaluates, decides, and acts.. This fourth level, Lonergan argues,
sublates the first three levels of empirical, intelligent, and rational
consciousness. But even as Lonergan is speaking of this sublation
and the emergence of the “existential subject” as “human consciousness at its
fullest,” he notes that this fourth level emerges and sublates the first
three “when the already acting subject confronts his world and adverts
to his own acting in it..” The importance of this remark
for my present concern emerges when we consider Lonergan’s discussion of
feelings and value in Method in Theology.
distinguishes between non-intentional states and trends (“feeling” such
as fatigue or irritability for the former and hunger or thirst for the
latter) and intentional responses (“feelings” such as joy, sorrow,
love, hatred, tenderness, or veneration).. Intentional responses
relate us to objects in terms of apprehended values. Such a response has
two elements: the recognition of value (which is feeling’s “absolute”
element), and the preferential ranking and selection of values (which is
feeling’s “relative” element).. Decision is the making of a
judgment of value, the selection of which value we shall attempt to
actualize. From our decisions flows our conduct..
It is important to
note that this fourth level of human subjectivity is driven toward the actualization
of value by the presence in the subject of the transcendental notion of
value.. This notion is an orientation in the subject toward the good,
and it is the urgency of this orientation that calls, leads, or draws the
subject to self-transcendence. Thus just as the first three levels of
human subjectivity are driven by the immanence in the subject of the
notion of being, so is the fourth level driven by the immanence in the
subject of the notion of value. Further, since the fourth level sublates
and unifies the first three, so does the notion of value sublate the
notion of being. If we consider this in light of Lonergan’s
ontological element of finality, we can say that the notion of being is
the presence of finality in knowing, and the notion of value is the presence of
finality in our deciding and acting.
Lonergan is clearly
aware that he is presenting the ideal possibility of how our knowing
and acting can be unified.. As I pointed out above, Lonergan
recognizes that before ever the subject can attempt such rational
selfconsciousness the subject is already acting in the world. If
acting can only be understood as the result of a decision to pursue the
actualization of some value selected on the basis of feelings, then
clearly such a process goes on without benefit of reflective
knowing in all of us much of the time. Lonergan himself notes that long
before rational consciousness differentiated itself, feelings apprehended
values and that feelings were expressed in and evoked by symbols..
This implies that in our actual experience the existential level of
subjectivity is prior to the cognitional levels..
My point in
reviewing this is that it can be generalized and related to Lonergan’s
ontology. If the human subject acts on the basis of a decision to pursue
some value, apprehended and selected by means of feelings, then we can
argue that “decision” occurs very often without the benefit of judgment in
the sense of reflective judgment. If we can further admit (as
Lonergan does in Insight.) that animals exhibit emotion and
conation, we have a basis for generalizing the notions of value, feelings,
purpose, and decision beyond the specifically human case. If we were
also convinced that this whole area of our experience is so important that it
must be generalized and reflected in our ontology (because the notion of
value sublates the notion of being), then we would try to connect it
integrally with the ontological elements of potency, form, act, and
finality. But first we would recognize that subjectivity itself must
be generalized so that each ontological act is understood to be a subject.
This is necessary because we can only understand feelings, responses based
on the grasping of value, selection among values, and the formation of
purpose as operations of a subject.
that the fundamental facts of the universe are “acts of form developed
from potency.” They present themselves as the result of a dynamic
process of construction and there is a true sense in which each of these
concrete actualities is unique (central act). But Lonergan’s ontology
does not suggest that one ought to conceive of these “acts” as subjects,
as agents of their own construction. There are, however, at least two
aspects of Lonergan’s thought which seem to demand such an
interpretation. Both concern the implications of the metaphysical
insight into the isomorphism of knowing and becoming.
cognitional theory argues most persuasively that knowing does not occur
in a vacuum, but within a subject as a complex functioning of
that subject. When Lonergan works out the implications of the
insight into the isomorphism of knowing and becoming, he discovers in
the structure of becoming a parallel to all the dynamic and functional
elements of knowing except for this one: that knowing is always by
a subject. It seems to me that the insight of isomorphism demands this
further parallelism of knowing and becoming, that just as it is subjects
who know, so it is subjects which become.
There is a further
reason in Lonergan’s ontology which seems to demand this interpretation.
Lonergan draws his notion of “finality” in the dynamic structure of
becoming from the correspondence to the notion of being as the unifying
drive in knowing. Just as the notion of being drives and unifies the
process of knowing, so does finality drive and unify becoming. But the
notion of being is identical in his thought with the unrestricted desire
to know being; it is the Eros which drives the subject through the
cognitional process. Ontologically, finality must play the same
function. It is the unconscious “heading for being” that develops form
from potency and results in a unified concrete act of form. But unless we
are to conceive of “dead matter” pushed and prodded by some unintelligible
force, we must conceive of finality as an experienced drive. This
seems to me to require the further notion of a subject as the developing
center experiencing this unconscious “orientation” toward and “heading
for” being.. Lonergan’s notion of finality seems to demand that
we postulate a subject experiencing the drive to actualize form from
If we conceive of
ontological act as a subject, we can then generalize the notions of
value, feelings, purpose, and decision so as to connect them integrally
with the ontological elements. We could do this not by postulating yet
another “elemental” level of becoming, but by integrating value, feeling,
purpose and decision with the functions of relations of potency, form,
act, and finality. The grounds for doing this are in the structure of the
acting subject (the “existential” subject). The intentionality of
the acting subject sublates all other levels; the notion of value sublates
the notion of being. This is the immanence of “finality” within the
acting subject. If the insight of isomorphism grasped that the structure
of knowing and acting must be isomorphic with the structure of
becoming, that, indeed, our acting exhibits the ontological structure of
all becoming, then the pursuit of value (and with it, feelings and
decision) would be understood to be integral to becoming..
If finality is
immanent in the developing act and is experienced by the developing center
of that act, then we could understand it as a purposive or intentional
desire to actualize some form for itself. Finality, as experienced,
the “subjective aim” of the developing ontological act.. In other
words, finality inherently orients a subject toward the value of being.
The developing subject is “attracted,” so to speak, to being because of
the values inherent in the potential or possible forms it finds given for
it. the developing act is related to these forms by means of its
“feelings.” Thus one could speak of the developing act grasping
“forms” in its potency by means of its “feelings.” These feelings
would be understood to be the
subject’s unconscious but intentional responses to its potential forms,
valuations of them for the becoming of the subject (act). Recalling that
there is both an absolute and a relative element to feeling, we can
understand that such feelings would embody both the recognition of value
and the preferential ranking of the values in the forms. The
standard for the preferential ranking of the values is contained in the “subjective
aim,” the “pull” of finality as it is experienced by the developing act.
We could also
distinguish between feelings that grasp and respond to the values inherent
in possibilities or forms and feelings that grasp and respond to other
actualities. The basis for such a distinction is in cognitional theory,
for Lonergan has distinguished between two kinds of insights: the insight
that grasps an intelligibility, which leads to understanding; and the
reflective insight that grasps an intelligibility as virtually
unconditioned, that is, as given in the facts of experience, which leads
to knowledge. Thus we could speak of insights having to do with
possible intelligibilities and insights having to do with encountered
intelligible actualities. The ontological counterpart to this
cognitional distinction would be what we might call “conceptual” and
“physical” feelings.. The physical feelings orient the developing ontological act toward other
actualities which form both the immediate ground of and the limit on the
potency of the developing act. The conceptual feelings enable the
developing act to grasp and respond to the values inherent in both
potential forms and other ontological acts.
then, is the result of a process of becoming. Through its physical
feelings the act has been oriented with regard to other actualities.
through its conceptual feelings the developing act grasps and responds to
the values inherent both in actualities and in potential forms (which
together constitute the potency of the developing act). Because of
its subjective aim or finalistic drive, the developing act ranks all the values in its
potential forms and selects the form it shall attempt to actualize. This
selection is ontological “decision.” Ontological act, in other words,
emerges as the result of a process of “decision” among potential forms
based on the “preference” of one form over others. Both the drive and the
standard for such “selection” is inherent in the “subjective aim,” the
immanence of finality in the developing act.
It is no doubt
evident to the reader familiar with Whitehead’s philosophy that such a
reformulation of Lonergan’s ontology in light of his later thought bears
a remarkable resemblance to Whitehead’s ontology. While limitations of
space prevents both a thorough expression and any defense of this
reformulation, I hope that my brief remarks have at least illustrated both
that such a reformulation of Lonergan’s ontology is possible and that the
grounds for it can be found in Lonergan’s own thought. I will now
try to show that the results of my analysis thus far make it possible to
formulate a process understanding of God in dependence on Lonergan’s own
Lonerganian Process Theology
I have argued above
that it is important to raise the subjective sides of the cognitional
questions of God and that both the questions and the analysis designed to
answer them ought to be expressed in metaphysical terms. The two
cognitional questions as Lonergan expresses them ask for the ultimate
ground of the intelligibility and the contingent existence of the
universe. Expressing the subjective sides of these questions, we would
ask for the ultimate ground of the subject’s ability to grasp
intelligibilities and to make virtually unconditioned judgments. When
these questions are expressed in terms of Lonergan’s ontology as I have
reformulated it, the result is one set of questions (since
ontological act is understood as a subject). The questions would have the
If ontological acts
depend on intelligible forms and potency, then what is required to ground
ultimately the dynamic universe of emergent probability? First, each
developing act must be endowed with its potency, that is, the general,
specific, and particular conditions that make that emergent act possible.
But what is the ultimate ground of all these conditions? Second, each
developing act requires its potential intelligible forms. These forms are
really possible precisely because of all the conditions which constitute
the potency of the act, but if they are merely potential and not actual,
where do they come from? How is it possible for the developing act to
grasp forms that are merely potential and not actual? Third, from among
these possible intelligible forms the emergent act will select the one it
shall attempt to actualize. But the ability to select and the drive to
actualize some form depends on the present of finality in the developing
act. Once could say that finality is the very dynamism of becoming, its
very “life.” But where does this dynamism come from? It cannot explain
itself, and so it seems that the emergent act must derive the living
dynamism of its own becoming—its ability to develop form from potency—from
some ultimate ground. Taken together, these three questions outline all
the conditions required for the occurrence of an ontological act.
heuristically point to the required answer. The ultimate ground must be
an act, but it cannot be a temporal act since every temporal
ontological act requires all these conditions for its occurrence. As
the required ground of these conditions, the required act must transcend
temporality. Second, this act must somehow be the ultimate ground and
source of all potency and all intelligible forms. Finally, the required
act must be the source of the finality immanent in all temporal
ontological acts. Employing generalized empirical method we can, as
Lonergan has done, conceive of a transcendent and unrestricted act of
understanding as the answer required by the questions. The
unrestricted act of understanding is the transcendent, eternal, complete, and
unrestricted grasp of all intelligible forms. It is unconditioned and not
contingent in any way. In the unity of this unrestricted act of
understanding we find established the relationships between all
intelligible forms; these relationships constitute the ultimate ground of
all the conditions which form the potency for the occurrence of temporal
ontological acts. In the complete and unrestricted nature of this act of
understanding we find the required source of all potential intelligible
forms grasped by developing acts of form. In the creativity of this
unrestricted act of understanding we find the dynamism which grounds
finality immanent in each ontological act. This is only a rough sketch,
but it is enough to indicate that thus far the understanding of God retains
almost every single attribute Lonergan works out for the unrestricted act
of understanding as he addresses the cognitional questions..
At this point, by
philosophical reflection we have discovered the ultimate ground of the
universe, the ultimate ground of all subjective experience. The
“wondering” questions have been met; we know what makes our experience
possible. But now the “anxious” questions arise. If the ultimate ground
of the universe is God, what is God like? What is God’s character?
Generalized empirical method would require that we examine this notion of
God in light of the already affirmed structures of subjectivity. We would
not presume that the necessary transcendence of the unrestricted act of
understanding means that it is a radical exception to the structure of
cognitional process and being. Rather, we would attempt to work out
an understanding of God by analogy with these structures. Moreover, since
we are asking the final philosophical question which merges with the
religious question of God, we will have to take into account the
testimony of religious experience.
Doing this reveals
that our notion of God is not yet complete. We have found thus far that
God is the ultimate ground of the universe, that God gives the potency,
the intelligible forms, and the finalistic drive to each ontological
act. But reflecting on the implications of cognitional process and the
structure of becoming, we would recognize that all of this has to do with
possibility. The cognitional questions ask for the ultimate
ground of all the conditions that make contingent existence both
intelligible and possible. These questions can be met by conceiving of an
unrestricted act of understanding. Thus far God has been understood to be
the supreme illustration of understanding. But understanding has to do
with possibility. In cognitional terms, understanding the product of
insights grasping possible intelligibilities. Thus metaphysically, our
notion of an unrestricted act of understanding postulates that God as
ultimate ground has infinite “conceptual” feelings grasping, evaluating
and organizing all intelligible forms. But this in itself offers no
ground for conceiving of God as knowing anything. Knowing, as we
have affirmed in cognitional theory, is based on reflective insights into
intelligibilities as given in the facts of experience.
In both cognitional and metaphysical terms this means that knowing is always
based on encounters in actuality. Understanding is accomplished through
“conceptual” feelings, but knowing always requires “physical” feelings
(since it is through physical feelings that the subject is related to
other actualities). Thus to conceive of God as an unrestricted act of
understanding does not in itself offer any basis for conceiving of God’s
knowledge. Note that it is the structure disclosed by cognitional
theory that establishes this..
This reveals to us
that our notion of God is incomplete, that we have actually conceived of
God as a truncated subject. As unrestricted act of understanding,
God must enjoy infinite “conceptual” feelings; God’s grasp of possible
intelligible forms is complete, unrestricted, transcendent, unconditioned
and perfect in every way. But subjectivity, as the structure disclosed by
cognitional theory and metaphysics has shown us, involves more than
”conceptual” feelings or insights into possible intelligible forms; it
also involves “physical” feelings or reflective insights into intelligible
forms as given in experience. It was not incorrect to have conceived
God as unrestricted act of understanding, for that is the answer required by
cognitional questions of God. Nor was it incorrect to conceive of God as
transcendent and completely unconditioned in this respect, for in order
to answer the questions we must hold to God’s complete and unconditioned
transcendence as ultimate ground of all potency, forms, and acts. But
reflecting on this in light of the affirmed structure of subjectivity, we
discover that this is not yet a complete notion of God, since we cannot
yet conceive of God as a full subject, nor can we yet conceptualize
either God’s knowledge or God’s love. Both knowing and loving are
dependent on encounters in experience with the known or love actually.
Neither are mere “conceptual” operations. Our notion of God thus far has
conceptualized only God’s understanding of possibilities. When we turn to
religious experience, we find it testifying most forcefully that God both
knows and loves the world. There must be, then, some way of
conceptualizing God’s knowledge and love.
On the strength of
the testimony of religious experience and following generalized empirical
method, we would employ the affirmed structure of subjectivity as our analogical guide. We could then conceive of God as supremely
illustrating every level of the structure of subjectivity.
Cognitionally, we would predict that God’s knowing illustrates the same
structure as all knowing exhibits: God knows by grasping together the
intelligible possibility and the givenness of that intelligibility in the
facts of actual experience. Metaphysically, this means that God,
like all subjects, must have “physical” feelings which relate God to the
actualities of the universe. God’s knowing is then an integration of
God’s conceptual feelings of what is possible with God physical feelings
of what is in fact the case. Physical feelings, by their very nature, are
dependent on their objects; they are thus necessarily conditioned and
occur in dependence on actualities. This implies that God’s physical
experience and God’s knowledge must have to do with an aspect of God
distinct from God’s function as ultimate ground of the universe, since in
the latter function God must be completely unconditioned.
It is difficult for
us to think of God in this fashion, especially if we are accustomed to
thinking in the Thomist tradition. But this is the direction in
which we are led when we conceive of God as a subject who supremely illustrates
the structure of cognitional process and being. If we are patient and
work out all the implications, the result is not incompatible either with
reason or with Christian faith. For example, conceiving of God and God’s
relation to the world in this way immediately resolves the classical
problem concerning freedom of contingent events which are rooted in the
necessary and efficacious knowledge of God.. Every
ontological act enjoys a true, though limited, freedom as it develops
itself. God creates by providing the potency, the intelligible
forms, and the finalistic drive; but the developing ontological act is
finally free to develop itself. Or, as Whitehead might say, God creates by
providing all the necessary conditions for an actual occasion and
“luring” the creature to create itself on this divinely-given ground.
Once it has been endowed with the necessary conditions which make it
possible, the self-formation of an ontological act is free. Ontological
act, then, is not caused by knowledge of it as actual, but
by understanding of as possible. Finality, derived from
God, includes the gift of freedom and is the world’s share in God’s own
freedom. Once the developing act has become actual, once it has developed
itself, God’s physical feelings encounter it and know it for what it has
made of itself. This divine response in knowledge and love makes
possible the next moment in temporal becoming.
Thus by analogy
with the structure of our own subjectivity and the structure we find in
all becoming, Lonergan’s thought could give rise to a process
understanding of God and God’s relation to the world. Instead of
God’s knowing and being as an exception to the structure of cognitional
process and becoming, we can understand them to be the supreme
illustration of that structure. God develops the divine experience in an
everlasting act of self-transcendence in relation to the world. God’s
perfection and transcendence are exhibited by the completeness of the divine
conceptual and physical feelings and in the infinite wisdom and love
involved in their integration. God is a trans-temporal act which develops
as all self-transcending acts develop, but which infinitely transcends
all the limitations of knowing and becoming by temporal acts in the
world. If at first we find it incredible that God can be both absolutely
unconditioned and also dependent, incredible that God is both necessary,
infinite source of every ontological act and also dependent on the world
for physical feelings, in the end we are able to understand how this
incredible fact can be, and we understand it by conceiving of God as a
subject with the same basic structure as all subjects, except that God is
the everlasting and perfect subject who illustrates that structure to an
infinite degree. Our subjectivity is truly in God’s image.
It can be shown, I
believe, that such an understanding of God allows us to include the
testimony of religious experience within the philosophical
understanding of God. Religious experience, as is clear in the biblical
witness, testifies that God is affected by the world. But the Thomist
understanding of God could not express this within the
philosophical idea of God. I am not saying that it was not expressed;
surely Aquinas expressed it if one takes his entire theological system
into account. Yet it was difficult to reconcile the transcendent,
completely unconditioned God to which the philosophical analysis concluded
with the God of Scripture. This is precisely what gave rise to the
observation that the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob were not the same. If we are to show that they
are the same, we ought to try to exhibit this in the very idea
of God. This is possible, I believe, if we are faithful to the
implications of Lonergan’s thought; and it would enable us to fashion an
idea of God that is both intelligible to our culture and service to our
My proposal raises
a multitude of questions, but I hope that my brief remarks have at least
illustrated that such an approach to Lonergan’s thought is both possible
and in accord with the implications of his thought. in conclusion I
would simply note that such a process understanding of God based on
Lonergan’s thought has much in common with Whitehead’s philosophy and that
to recognize this gives good reason for collaboration than contention
between Lonerganians and process theologians.
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Philosophy of God, and Theology
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), pp. 64-64. (Hereafter cited
elsewhere compared Lonergan and Whitehead at great length and defended
the thesis that their philosophies are fundamentally compatible. See
Thomas E. Hosinski, “Process, Insight, and Empirical Method,” 2 vols.
(Ph.D Dissertation, The Divinity School, University of Chicago,
1983). (Hereafter cited as “Process.”).
See Bernard Lonergan,
Method in Theology, 2nd ed. (New York: Herder and
Herder, 1973), pp. 337-344 (hereafter cited as Method): and
PGT, pp. 11-14, 33-35, 45-59.
PGT, pp. 54-55, 58.
Method, pp. 101-102; PGT, pp. 53-54.
Method, pp. 102-103; PGT, p. 54.
Method, pp. 105-107; PGT, p. 54. For the “anxious” form of
the strictly religious question of God, see PGT, p. 55.
Method, pp. 115-116.
PGT, pp. 11, 14, 50-52; and Bernard J. F. Lonergan, A Second
Collection, ed. William F. J. Ryan and Bernard J. Tyrrell
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), pp. 120-121, 131-132.
(Hereafter cited as Second Collection.)
Method, p. 116. See Ibid., pp. 47-52 for Lonergan’s
analysis of the structure of the human good which forms the
Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study in Human Understanding,
revised ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1958), “General Transcendent
Knowledge,” pp. 634-686. (Hereafter cited as Insight.)
PGT, p. 54; Method, pp. 102-103.
was first pointed out by Langdon Gilkey, “Empirical Science and
Theological Knowledge,” in Philip McShane, ed., Foundations of
Theology (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972) pp.
76-101; see pp. 83-84, 94-97.
Insight, pp. 641-657; Method, pp. 101-102; PGT, pp.
Insight, pp. 634-657.
cannot take the space to substantiate this at length; see Hosinski,
“Process,” 2: 587-594.
find no place where Lonergan uses this exact expression, but this
clearly represents his position. For example, see Insight,
Insight, Chapters XV and XVI, pp. 431-529, esp. pp. 483-487,
Insight, pp. 115-139, 259-267, 451-483.
especially “The Subject,” Second Collection, pp. 79-84; also
see Method, pp. 14-16, and Chapter 2, “The Human Good,” pp.
Second Collection, pp. 80, 81; my emphasis.
Ibid., pp. 30-32, 115.
Ibid., pp. 36-41.
Ibid., pp. 34-36.
e.g., Ibid., pp. 39-40.
Ibid., pp. 64-69, esp. pp. 66-67.
Lonergan’s analysis of religious experience supports this position;
see Ibid., pp. 104-107.
Insight, p. 183.
interesting that Lonergan speaks of such unconscious “orientation”
toward and “heading for” being, but never pursues what this implies
ontologically. See Insight, p. 355.
will no doubt be objections to extending the notions of feeling,
value, purpose, and decision to the ontological structure of all
becoming. However, some support for such an extension of these
notions can be found in Lonergan’s brilliant (and completely
overlooked) discussion of genera and species; see Insight, pp.
259-265, and Hosinski, “Process,” 1: 396-398, 450-452.
deliberately chosen one of Whitehead’s technical terms (“subjective
aim”) because such a development of Lonergan’s ontology corresponds
quite closely to what Whitehead meant by this term. See Alfred North
Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology.
Corrected Edition, David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, eds.
(New York: The Free Press, 1978), pp. 19, 47, 87, and passim
again deliberately chosen Whitehead’s technical terms (“conceptual”
and “physical” feelings) because such a development of Lonergan’s
ontology corresponds exactly with what Whitehead means by these
terms. See ibid., pp. 236-243 and passim (see Index).
referring here to what Lonergan discusses in sections five through
eight of Chapter XIX, Insight, pp. 644-657.
In his presentation at the Lonergan Symposium held at the University
of Santa Clara in March, 1984, Michael Vertin argued that Lonergan
discusses God in cognitional terms in order to maintain critical
control over the discussion. I would not disagree with this
intention, but I would argue that by making God a radical exception
to the structure affirmed by cognitional theory, Lonergan has
inadvertently subverted what he hoped to achieve. If cognitional
theory is to provide both the meanings and the relations for
metaphysical terms and is to control critically the metaphysical
discussion of God, then the metaphysical description of God and God’s
relation to the world cannot be based on a radical exception to the
structure disclosed by cognitional theory; instead, it must be based
on a faithful employment of that structure. Though Vertin and I
will no doubt continue to disagree, I am grateful to him for a
conversation in which he helped me to understand more clearly Lonergan’s intention
in this regard.
Bernard Tyrrell acknowledges that Lonergan’s response to this problem
does not establish or attempt to explain how it can be possible and
true both that God necessarily and efficaciously knows from all
eternity each contingent act and that contingent acts are truly free.
See Tyrrell, Bernard Lonergan’s Philosophy of God (Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1974), p. 160.