Academic journal article Theological Studies

Sanctifying Grace in a "Methodical Theology"

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Sanctifying Grace in a "Methodical Theology"

Article excerpt

IN METHOD IN THEOLOGY, Bernard Lonergan described religious experience as a "dynamic state of being in love unrestrictedly," and he suggested that this description differs merely notionally from the traditional idea of "sanctifying grace." (1) He distinguished between the Christian language of "grace" and the transformative reception of a "gift" offered to all throughout human history. (2) Thus he spoke of "grace" as a transcultural dynamism of religious experience that effects the flourishing of religiously converted subjects in their concrete socio-historical contexts. In this article, I explore the proposals of various interpreters of Lonergan who use the categories of religious interiority to account for this universally accessible reality.

In giving priority to religious experience, Lonergan introduced the challenge of constructing what he called a "methodical theology," that is, a theology explicitly grounded in the conscious operations and states of the existential subject. In the metaphysical categories of a theoretical theology, "sanctifying grace" denotes an entitative habit rooted in the essence of the soul. In a methodical theology, however, Lonergan described the reality of that habit as the "dynamic state" mentioned above. But what would a more detailed explanation of that transposition from metaphysical to interiority categories entail? What difference does an entitative habit actually make in consciousness?

When Robert Doran raised these questions over ten years ago, he sparked a discussion that unfolded in a series of articles written by himself, Michael Vertin, Tad Dunne, and Patrick Byrne. (3) Though the conversation covered a number of points related to the later Lonergan's idea of "being in love," it also showed a definite lack of consensus on a crucial point of methodical theology among prominent Lonergan interpreters. In what follows, I add another voice to the conversation. But in my attempt to explain the meaning of grace in the language of religious interiority, I focus on the question specifically in terms of the transposition. After discussing the nature of the task, I give an account of the theoretical understanding of "sanctifying grace" in the systematics of the early Lonergan. I emphasize the importance of the theorem of natural proportion in the theology of grace and the critical guideposts it supplies for translating the idea of an entitative habit into the language of interiority. The second half of the article presents various explanations of the transposition. After a review of the pertinent literature, I present my own proposal according to the critical directives highlighted in the first half of the article.

WHERE TO BEGIN? THE EXAMPLE OF ROBERT M. DORAN

In his initial foray into the matter, Doran follows a particular path that I find highly instructive for articulating the idea of "sanctifying grace" in a methodical theology. He begins: "I have made a general decision that, wherever possible, I will begin my own treatment of systematic issues by attempting to transpose Lonergan's systematic achievements into categories derived from religiously and interiorly differentiated consciousness." (4) From this statement, the question may arise as to whether or not Doran's approach undercuts the primacy over metaphysics that Lonergan clearly attributed to "intentionality analysis," which, he argued, supplies the critical ground for eliminating "empty or misleading [metaphysical] terms and relations," and for clarifying "valid ones ... by the conscious intention from which they are derived." (5) In this way, intentionality analysis offers the critical control that enables theologians to cut through "vast arid wastes of theological controversy." (6) In a critically grounded metaphysics, Lonergan frankly asserted that "for every term and relation there will exist a corresponding element in intentional consciousness." (7) The primacy attributed to intentionality analysis may seem to imply that theological reflection ought to begin exclusively with categories derived from interiority, categories that ground the subsequent derivation of valid metaphysical terms and relations. …

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