Conversion as foundation of theology: An interpretation of Bernard Lonergan's position

Joseph Warren Harrington, Fordham University


The purpose of this dissertation is to understand what Bernard Lonergan means by intellectual, moral and religious conversion as he has called in connection with functional specialization in theology. The first chapter outlines Lonergan's context as the modern turn to the subject. That occasions Lonergan's recognition that the renewal of theology is based on the renewal of the theologian. Lonergan conceives theology as a cooperative venture of persons who cooperate with each other in accordance with a scheme for the division of labor. Lonergan's scheme calls for two basic movements. One is an engagement with the past, the other engagement with the present and future. Research, interpretation, history and dialectic retrieve the various theological positions of the past. Foundations, doctrines, systematics and communications move theology into the future. The pivotal point between the two basic movements is, according to Lonergan, conversion. The second chapter investigates what Lonergan means by intellectual conversion. It is the moment in conversion which provides theology with its scientific foundations. In an investigation of Thomist metaphysics of knowledge, Lonergan found the inspiration for his own investigation of intelligence in the modern context. The two books which marked this phase of Lonergan's career are Verbum and Insight. It is found that judgment is the critical ground for all knowledge, implicitly also for theological knowledge. Further, knowledge is a compound of experience, understanding and judgment. The third chapter investigates what Lonergan means by Moral conversion. It is the moment in conversion which provides theology with its capacity for responsible conduct as a science. It consists in a shift in motivation and goals from pursuit of satisfaction to pursuit of value. In the period subsequent to writing Insight Lonergan studied the area of human affectivity extensively and modified his intellectualist position to recognize the great good which derives from feeling. The morally converted is able to decide clearly what is most desirable for theology's progress. The fourth chapter investigates what Lonergan means by religious conversion. While intellectual and moral conversion can lead to a natural theology, they are insufficient for theology as it has been understood over the centuries. Lonergan wants a theology which will be knowledge of God, consequently he needs a theology based on experience of God which in turn will be accurately understood. By religious conversion he means being unrestrictedly in love with God. Such love sublates all other conscious activities, directs them and brings them to fruition. The fifth chapter discusses various objections to Lonergan's position and attempts to defend, in the main, Lonergan's stance. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

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Recommended Citation

Harrington, Joseph Warren, "Conversion as foundation of theology: An interpretation of Bernard Lonergan's position" (1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8800633.