Tradition and Innovation at Catholic Universities: Ideas from Bernard Lonergan

By Teevan, Donna | Catholic Education, March 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Tradition and Innovation at Catholic Universities: Ideas from Bernard Lonergan


Teevan, Donna, Catholic Education


This article discusses applications of Lonergan's thinking on tradition and innovation to the world of Catholic education. Even now, at the beginning of the 21st century and 20 years after his death, it is worthwhile to explore his understanding of tradition and innovation, with attention to how it related to the Catholic intellectual culture of his own time and, more importantly, how it might contribute to an understanding of the identity of Catholic educational institutions in today's period of great transition. In recent years, faculty members and administrators at Catholic universities have been engaged in many discussions about the Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic higher education. Most of the attention in these conversations has gone to the issue of what it means to be Catholic. The next step is to explore what it means to have a tradition. Thus, this essay examines the usefulness of one leading 20th century Catholic intellectual's approach to tradition as it relates to Catholic education in general and to Catholic universities in particular.

**********

Lonergan, a Canadian Jesuit theologian and philosopher who lived from 1904-1984, aimed to do Catholic theology on what he described as "the level of the times." In his day, this entailed bringing Catholic thought into dialogue with the social and natural sciences, historical consciousness, and modern philosophy. In our own time, in Catholic higher education, this dialogue is taken for granted. What has become more challenging for many today, especially for Catholic theologians, is an understanding of tradition that maintains identity while embracing a life-giving pluralism. The Catholic intellectual tradition, understood not as an artifact but as a process, is always at its best when its capacity for innovation is fully functioning.

To explore Lonergan's approach to tradition, we begin with a few comments about what he said directly about tradition. In itself, however, this will not suffice because a fuller understanding of a tradition demands a consideration of the dynamics of community, the workings of history, and the nature of meaning. We will examine each of these and will conclude with some thoughts on the relevance of Lonergan's thinking to a few key issues facing contemporary Catholic universities.

TRADITION

Lonergan's recognition of the ambiguous status of tradition is clear in his distinction between authentic and inauthentic tradition. He asserts that a tradition may be described as authentic in one or two senses: (1) in its faithfulness to the original message it seeks to carry forward, and/or (2) in its embodiment and promotion of conversion. In the first sense, authentic tradition is "a long accumulation of insights, adjustments, reinterpretations that repeat the original message afresh for each age" (Lonergan, 1972, p. 162). In contrast, inauthentic tradition offers only a "watering down of the original message," a recasting of it in terms that satisfy those who have dodged what he calls "radical conversion" (Lonergan, 1972, p. 162). Hence, a tradition that is authentic retains its connection to the original message by continually opening itself to intellectual, moral, and religious conversion. Note that for Lonergan a tradition may stand in need of conversion and may be either authentic or inauthentic.

Along with the issue of the authenticity or inauthenticity of the tradition itself is the question of an individual's authenticity in relation to a tradition. Lonergan points out the complexity of this matter. A person may authentically appropriate an inauthentic tradition. Conversely, a person may inauthentically appropriate an authentic tradition. In this latter case, the person promotes a decay of what is authentic in the tradition, and the tradition itself may eventually become inauthentic. Thus, the individual's relation to the tradition is not just a private concern even though it is deeply personal.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Tradition and Innovation at Catholic Universities: Ideas from Bernard Lonergan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?