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06 October 2011

A Response to a Comment

I received a very detailed and thoughtful comment in response to my last post and I'll attempt to answer thoughtfully in the space below.  To see the comment which prompted this post, click here.

First things first:

The reason why I chose Gutierrez as the medium by which I would test Lonergan's theory is because it was the material I had in front of me.  My choices for this particular paper were liberation theology or feminist critiques.  I found myself a lot more conversant with the theory and practice of liberation theology.  I spent my summer in Honduras and read A Theology of Liberation in its entirety while there.  That being said, while I am very sympathetic to liberation theology, I don't consider myself a liberation theologian by any means.  (If you look at the previous posts on this blog, I think you'll agree with me.)  I think, however, that Gutierrez is definitely on to something when he asks his primary question: how do you tell the poor that God actually loves them, given their particular and awful plight? I don't know if I agree with Gutierrez's conclusions, but I certainly sympathize with his question.  In fact, I would suggest that the rise of secular humanism and fundamentalist atheism is in large part due to Christianity's failure to offer a compelling narrative about why the world is as it is and what a Christian's task is in the (post-) modern world.

As for where I view Lonergan vis-a-vis Sacred Scripture... That's an excellent point and I spent the better part of my night crafting a paper on a corollary question.  I think two elements are in play here.  Lonergan's epistemology gives Christianity at least an even-money shot to enter into fruitful dialogue with modernity (and post-modernity, whatever that is).  The very nature of the inductive/deductive method bases itself on a sort of epistemological honesty.  In other words, this model recognizes that the fundamental questions of life -- and thus, faith -- are mystery at their core.  One can grow in knowledge using the method I elucidated in the previous post.  Yet, all efforts are short-circuited by sin on one hand and mystery on another.  At its very core, faith requires just that: faith.  All explanations are but sand slipping through our clutching theological fingers.  However, I don't believe that the implicit ineffability of God should dissuade us from pursuing his truth doggedly.  For my money, God spoke definitely through Jesus Christ.  This reality is communicated through Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church and the existential reality of the lived Christian life.  Thus far, Bernard Lonergan gives me the best tools to attempt to make sense of all this stuff called life and also keeps me honest while doing it.  

That brings me to the second question raised, namely that of Tradition and its place within the Church's professed faith.  I think, perhaps, it would help to clarify a definition of Tradition.  Tradition is the lived wisdom and experience of the Church.  It is Tradition that brought us the canon of Scripture; Tradition animated the Church Fathers. Tradition is at its very core the Holy Spirit working to keep the Church ever-new and ever-ancient, to riff off Augustine.  As a Catholic, I affirm that the Holy Spirit continues to work through the Church -- from the Roman Pontiff on down the line to a newly baptized baby -- and it does so through this collective wisdom.

I'm sure these answers are insufficient, because in many ways, the questions asked in response to my latest post are the enduring questions that animate my faith, my prayer and my feeble attempts at this thing called religious life.  

Bottom line: whoever you are, Anonymous, thanks for your questions and know of my prayers for you this evening.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your response, Br. Matt. Please know that my intention is not to challenge you in any negative way. I was really seeking your thoughts/insight with my post, especially because you are a person of faith who not only talks about it, but who actually lives it (or is attempting to each day, regardless of whether you're wearing the habit or not).

You've clarified some things for me and helped me to understand some very basic things that (to my shame) I should probably already know or understand but this whole studying theology business is tricky (both as a believer and as someone who has spent a little bit of time in grad school studying theology...which I do not claim with all that much confidence).

Nevertheless, I wanted to say that I sympathize with Gutierrez's question and I think you're on to something crucial when you say, "I would suggest that the rise of secular humanism and fundamentalist atheism is in large part due to Christianity's failure to offer a compelling narrative about why the world is as it is and what a Christian's task is in the (post-) modern world." I don't know if it is Christianity's job to offer a compelling narrativve about why the world is as it is, although Christianity would attribute that to sin/the Fall--but that's too much of a cop-out and a boring/outdated justification for secular humanists and fundamentalist atheists to continue to want to buy into. It's like we have to keep finding creative ways of talking about it and making it sound new and exciting (I find that interesting that we believers are trying so hard with that). Perhaps that is why (post-)modern hermeneutics is so en vogue right now? (Is this why we're using folks like Freud, Derrida, Foucault, ESF, etc., etc.?)

In your opinion, what compelling narrative can we Christians offer without compromising tradition/the word of God to conform to the likeness of this world? Now, I know the apostle Paul talked about becoming a slave (although we are free), becoming like a Jew, etc. in order to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 10:19-23) but to what extent? I think this is very dangerous in the academy because it's very easy to get sucked into the glamour and prestige of the intellectual life. I find that oftentimes we (believers) compromise our faith and relationship with God for the sake of working to garner approbation from faculty and colleagues (which makes sense when you're under pressure to prove your metal in the academy). Are we really doing this for the kingdom? Are we really seeking to glorify God? Or are we working under the pretense that it's for God? I find it intersting that we're leaving Him out of conversation most of the time when engaging our theology (i.e. not engaging scripture as believers, but as social scientists). There's a whole lot to be said but where is the Holy Spirit? He sure isn't guiding our conversations, in my opinion. (As you can see, I have a huge bone to pick with our approach to theology and biblical studies, in general).

Anonymous said...

*post continued--had to split it because it was too long, I apologize!*

I don't know Lonergan and I am not going to pretend like I even understand what he's saying or about but you wrote, "Lonergan's epistemology gives Christianity at least an even-money shot to enter into fruitful dialogue with modernity (and post-modernity, whatever that is). The very nature of the inductive/deductive method bases itself on a sort of epistemological honesty. In other words, this model recognizes that the fundamental questions of life -- and thus, faith -- are mystery at their core. One can grow in knowledge using the method I elucidated in the previous post. Yet, all efforts are short-circuited by sin on one hand and mystery on another." One can grow in knowledge but what knowledge? Epistemological knowledge? Where in scripture does God ask us to do that? Does God care what we're bantering about in regards to what we think we know about Him? So much head and very little heart...but again, intellectual honesty does not care about heart, which, ironically, the Lord does care about. So, again, I am confused about all this. I am chasing after knowledge that takes me further away from a relationship from God...I am wandering in the desert over here with our approach to theology today (or was there ever a time when theology actually helped bring people closer to God, instead of having us chase after deaf and mute gods? If there ever was a time, please let me know!).

You said all efforts are short-circuited by sin on one hand and mystery on the other. Now this is something I can sit comfortably with because as you have pointed out, it requires faith. I agree that we should pursue God's truth doggedly but my concern is whether or not the academy is the right place to do it. This isn't to say that one should not pursue an intellectual life, but again, it is dangerous because it is seductive. Very seductive.

Thank you for clarifying the definition of Tradition. When you said, "Tradition is at its very core the Holy Spirit working to keep the Church ever-new and ever-ancient, to riff off Augustine. As a Catholic, I affirm that the Holy Spirit continues to work through the Church..." I was put at ease. It's important to hear other believers affirm this because I have been hearing it less and less.

Seeing you work at your religious life motivates me to continue working at mine, knowing that others have that similar tenacity to keep pushing forward. Thank you for your prayers, Br. Matt. I surely need them because the life of faith is, honestly, the most difficult thing for me to work on. While it is a daily struggle, it is the greatest source of joy and peace knowing we are not alone and that we are working towards something together, whether we know each other or not.

Anonymous said...

By the way, please know that my intention was not/is not to challenge you in any confrontational way; I was just seeking your honest thoughts/comments/critiques, along with some intellectual honesty. I approach you with respect and humility but my passion and hunger for truth inspires a type of aggressive curiosity that usually manifests when I find other believers who challenge me. So, thank you!