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Book Reviews

The Lonergan Reader

Authors/Editors: Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

Reviewer: Dr. Neil Ormerod, Centre for Christian Spirituality,
Randwick, Australia

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Readers are a particular form of publication. Those who edit them will usually adopt one of two strategies. Either material will be arranged in a thematic order, placing together the thoughts of a great thinker on various subjects, or the editors will choose an historical approach, allowing the reader to see the thoughts of a great thinker unfold in time. While the former strategy gives us access to a thinkers stance on particular issues, it runs the risk of not alerting the reader to the possibility of development, even radical change in a thinker's stance, of harmonising what are really divergent positions. Wisely, the Morellis have chosen the latter strategy, giving us a chronological selection of Lonergan's writings beginning with Insight and moving on to articles which appeared in the later 70's and early 80's. However such a strategy raises its own question, that of the criteria of selection, a matter I shall return to later in this review.

In terms of content, major sections of the Reader are devoted to excerpts from Insight and Method in Theology. After a helpful introduction from the editors, which includes a brief biography of Lonergan's life, over 300 pages (out of a bit over 600) are given over to selections from Insight, including the original unpublished Preface to that work. Here the Morellis have focused on the basics, leaving some of the more difficult and technical aspects of Insight such as Chapter 5 on "Space and Time" or the difficult material in Chapter 15 on explanatory genera and species, for the more determined reader of the fuller work. It then moves through a selection of extracts, from the volume Understanding and Being (from adult education classes given by Lonergan after the publication of Insight), from the recently published Topics in Education, from Collection, the essays on cognitional structure and dimension of meanings, from Second Collection, essays on the future of Thomism, the new context for theology, and the subject, through to an extract from Doctrinal Pluralism, published just before the appearance of Method and reflecting its stance. Another 100 pages is then given over to extracts from Method itself.

These selections focus on the notion of transcendental method, the good, meaning, religion, the functional specialties, with special attention given to history, dialectic and foundations. It then finishes off Lonergan's thought with extracts from Philosophy of God, and Theology, and from a number of essays that have been published in A Third Collection, on authority, alienation, healing and creating in history, praxis, historical consciousness and self-transcendence. The edited volume concludes with a chronology of Lonergan's life, a bibliography of primary and selected secondary works and a useful index. Overall the selections are judicious, giving the reader a solid grasp of key themes in Lonergan's writings and their development over the decades. The print size is generous and attractive, as is the overall production of the volume.

To assist the reader in coming to grips with Lonergan's thought, the Morellis have added their own editorial comments on the selections, highlighting their significance in Lonergan's developing position, elucidating their meaning, and pointing the reader to other relevant sections in the Reader. They are well placed to make intelligent and informative comments through their long commitment to Lonergan studies, having edited the first edition of Understanding and Being.

Which moves us on to the question of selection. How does one decide what to include and what to exclude from an edited volume such as this? The Morellis have been quite explicit about the selection criteria they have used. First, they have limited themselves to works Lonergan either published himself or allowed others to publish. Second, they have excluded works written "for highly specialised audiences" such as his Latin theological works and his historical studies of Aquinas. Finally they have "attempted to balance the interests of the educated reader with the needs of teachers and students of philosophy, theology and interdisciplinary studies" (26). Still they have made exceptions to their own criteria, for example, in the inclusion of the unpublished preface to Insight. They have also consulted with various Lonergan experts through questionaries as to what should be included.

It is difficult to quarrel in the face of such expertise and the obvious need to limit the Reader to a reasonably sized publication. Still, if one were to take issue, one might ask why the selection began with Insight? Given that the editors chose to present Lonergan's material in chronological order, it does give the unprepared reader the impression that Insight was the first thing Lonergan wrote. While the earlier major studies on Aquinas, Grace and Freedom and Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas are specialised, there is material in them which identifies Lonergan's earliest concerns with the problem of theological method, particularly the unpublished preface to Grace and Freedom. There is also the essay, "Theology and Understanding", published in Collection which provides valuable material on Lonergan's developing thought on theological method. By omitting such pre-Insight material, there is the danger of hiding the very development that a chronological approach can present most properly. Similarly some of Lonergan's comments on theological method in the Epilogue to Insight would have been a valuable inclusion. My final gripe is the lack of inclusion of material from the essay, "Christology Today", published in A Third Collection. To my mind this essay gives a fine example of Lonergan's own application of his theological method, at least heuristically, to a particular problem in theology, indeed the only really accessible example of its kind.

This is not to detract from what has been achieved in this Reader. It is simply to rage against the finitude of the project. I am sure it was not possible to include everything and tough decisions had to be made. I would not like to nominate things which could have been excluded in order to include what I have nominated above.

Does the Reader achieve what it sets out to do? Undoubtedly, yes. I can speak personally of the sense of excitement I felt in giving this Reader to my eighteen year old son, who is beginning to become interested in philosophy, and saying "Read some of this", without burdening him with the whole of Insight. There are so many others who have asked, "What should I read of Lonergan's to get into his thought". This Reader will at last provide a suitable answer. For this, the Morellis should be congratulated.

There is however one typographical error which I should mention, if only because I was once a mathematician and perhaps only a mathematician would notice it. On p.60 Lonergan gives an example of insight using the notion of a recurring decimal. This is given concrete form in a footnote below the text. The lack of a dot above the 9 in the line "x = 0.9" renders the subsequent calculations meaningless. A very minor point in an otherwise excellent production.

Ormerod, Neil. Review of The Lonergan Reader by Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. 02 Oct. 1997. < > (Your access date).

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