Printer Friendly

Christopher Dawson's influence on Bernard Lonergan's project of "introducing history into theology".

THIS ARTICLE FOCUSES on Bernard Lonergan's project of bringing history, as its own field and specialty, into conjunction with Biblical, foundational, doctrinal, and systematic forms of knowledge. In this endeavor, he was deeply influenced by Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), the British cultural historian and philosopher of history who was a Catholic convert. (1) An examination of Dawson's influence offers a broad context for opening the historical dimension of Lonergan's contribution to Catholic theology and provides a significant approximation and example of what Lonergan proposes in Method in Theology as "critical history," or history as it explains "the meaning going forward" in a tradition.

I.1 Christopher Dawson's Method

The initiation of Dawson's life-long work as a historian of culture had its promising start during Holy Week 1909, when, at the age of 20, while still a student at Oxford, Dawson joined his longtime friend Edward Watkin, himself a recent convert, for his first visit to Rome. Having attended the Holy Triduum ceremonies at the different basilicas, he was stunned by the synergy of the ambience of Roman pagan antiquity and the living Catholic faith that he found there. He was already familiar, and agreed with Lord Acton's hypothesis that "religion is the key to history." There, in Rome, the immediate sense of the flow of historical existence awakened in him the desire to serve the important recovery of the step-by-step process by which Christianity had transformed the collapsing empire into the new creation of a Christian culture.

Dawson was both familiar and impressed with Edward Gibbon's, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (2) and had a keen appreciation both of Gibbon's style of writing and of his broad historical knowledge. (3) While rejecting Gibbon's claim that Christianity had been the cause of the collapse of the empire, Dawson had not yet worked out his own "upper blade" for translating Acton's vision into practice in regard to Gibbon's claims. On Easter Sunday he climbed the steps to the church of Ara Coeli, situated on the Capitoline hill, where Gibbon had stood when he was inspired to take up his project of the history of the Roman Empire. Christina Scott, Dawson's daughter, reports that there is a note in her father's journal sometime late in 1909 recalling "a vow made at Easter at the Ara Coeli" and that Dawson had been thinking of how the vow might be fulfilled, noting that he had in the meantime gotten "great light on the way it may be carried out. However unfit I may be, I believe it is God's will I should attempt it." (4) There would be four difficult years before Dawson would follow the steps of John Henry Newman and his friend Watkin and enter the Roman Catholic Church, being baptized on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1914 by Fr. O'Hare, SJ, at St. Aloysius Church, Oxford. (5)

By this time, Dawson's image for fulfilling his plan was taking shape as a result of his research and reading that was part of his preparation of a study of world civilizations and with the intention of writing a five-volume history of culture. By 1922 he had worked out a theory of the cycles of civilizations before having read Oswald Spengler's work, The Decline of the West, with which he was to be in serious disagreement because of its failure to grasp the dynamic interactions of different cultures. Dawson's own approach to a theory proposed a schema that would analyze the dynamic interconnection of civilizations from 4000 B.C. to the twentieth century. His conclusion was that civilizations were the result of parent (often primitive) cultures, which had distinct stages of origin, progress, and maturity, leading, in turn, to the emergence of new cultures. This heuristic had been identified by means of the massive research that he had done for his first major book published in 1928, The Age of the Gods: A Study in the Origins of Culture in Pre-historic Europe and the Ancient East. (6) In preparation for almost fifteen years, this work was considered to be the first of the five-volume projected work to be titled, The Life of Civilizations.

The following year his next book, Progress and Religion: An historical enquiry into the causes and development of progress and its relationship to religion, was published. This was the methodological analysis of the whole project, and a summation of Dawson's wider cultural vision. (7) It is in the second chapter of that work that he presents a critique of historical idealism in the writings of both Spengler and R.J. Collingwood. Their idealism, he realized, was a limitation of their ability to understand the organic flow of cultures, and in following Hegel it led to overestimating the meaning and role of the State in the understanding of human progress. (8)

Among the key elements in Dawson's articulation of a history of culture and civilization is the method that accompanied his heuristic synoptic account of the history of the West in Progress and Religion. He adopted and adapted some of his insights from the French sociological tradition, particularly from August Comte and Pierre Frederic Le Play, a Catholic thinker who belonged to the Comtean School of social analysis but who nonetheless did not accept Comte's positivistic ideology. What interested Le Play in Comte was his shift of the focus of a theory of progress away from what had been predominant in the various accounts of the early French Encyclopedists, namely an improvement in material well-being that led to an automatic increase in freedom and enlightenment. Comte, as Dawson notes, "had made the discovery that all social development is the expression of a spiritual consensus and it is that which creates the vital unity of society. ... In other words, in order to construct a genuine sociology, the study of social institutions must go hand in hand with the study of the intellectual and spiritual forces which give unity to the particular age and society in question." (9)

But it was Le Play, in Dawson's view, who was the first thinker to connect social science with the concrete historical conditions of living. Thus he broke with the social philosophers and engaged the empirical conditions of discrete social worlds insofar as they could be identified. He was dedicated to analysis of the regional geography and environment, to the natural conditions that allowed the emergence of certain kinds of work and economic exchange, to the exact thinking and planning that led to particular arrangements of governing. His method, Dawson remarks, had been identified by Fontenelle, and Le Play used it as the motto of his major text: "He enquired with care into the value of soils, and their yield, into the aptitude of the peasants, their common fare and their daily earnings--details which, though they appear contemptible and abject, nevertheless belong to the great art of government." (10) Thus, for Le Play, progress can only be understood where there is established the interplay of the natural environment and the spiritual sources of intelligence, anthropology, and religion. Furthermore, the underlying unity that holds together the conditions of human living and the natural response ordered by intelligence is more deeply ordered to a spiritual unity both within its own geographic region and in relationship to other regions. This holds true in societies that are ordered by the most primitive as well as the most systematic of religions. Whereas Comte had hoped to create an instrumental rationalistic spiritual unity that would shape social meanings, Le Play (11) recognized that the source was already present within the religion of the social community itself. In addition, he had begun a task that Dawson continued, namely the effort to find local variant social elements and the sociological categories that would link them with world types. This study could give new terms and relations to the task of history and provide a first step in clarifying the meaning of progress.

From within this context, Dawson identified the ideological threat that came from abstract theories of progress employed by some of the Enlightenment thinkers. Such theories, on the one hand, were due to the loss of a philosophical grasp of human nature as a result of Descartes's bifurcation of body and spirit, and on the other hand, to the ideology of the perfectibility of a neutral state of nature that was identified already as good and needed only the help of human engineering. Dawson saw that a genuine empirical investigation demanded the study of the regional communities and their gradual interaction with other regions as various civilizations emerged. Thus his interest touched the specific local aspects of human living that participated in, and partially created, the movements of historical events and meanings. These realities are constituted by primary social groups in their relations to their geography and to other local groups. This linking of social constituencies offered converging evidence that permitted one to identify the broad cultural unities emerging and then constituting world history.

Thus, for example, in The Age of the Gods, Dawson is concerned with the influences generated by peasant and tribal societies in forming a culture based on the specific place, economy, social interconnections, anthropology, and religion. He points to the fact that the Archaic civilization of Egypt-Mesopotamia results from the ethos of a unique peasant society that, in turn, prepares for the later great achievements of Egyptian culture. Or again, he notes that the classical civilization of Greece and Rome cannot be understood without grasping them as forming a unity with the older city civilization of the East with its tribal structures of barbarian warriors who invaded the Mediterranean at the end of the second millennium. Thus there is always an organic connection that underlies not only the constancy of region and place, but also an organic emergence of history and social life. (12)

In an essay published six years after The Age of the Gods, Dawson developed his insight into the fact that history and sociology are complementary spheres of understanding in a single science of social life. Here he notes that sociology offers "a general systematic analysis of the social process" and history provides "a genetic description of the same process in detail." His analogy is that sociology is related to history as "general biology is related to the study of organic evolution." (13) In fact, he warned about two dangers here that present clear concerns for the contemporary setting, the first is that sociology has been "indifferent to the facts of history, and ... has tended to invent a history of its own"; the second is "the real danger of the sociologist trespassing on the territory of the other Geisteswissenschaften and attempting to play the part of a theologian or a philosopher." (14) It is to this relationship of philosophy and theology to history that I now turn.

I.2 Dawson on History and Religion

Dawson had begun his analysis of culture with a study of religion as it shaped the foundational reality that ordered all the natural and spiritual elements together. In the introduction to The Age of the Gods, he says:
  Every religion embodies an attitude to life and a conception of
  reality, and any change in these brings with it a change in the
  whole character of the culture as we see in the case of the
  transformation of ancient civilization by Christianity, or the
  transformation of the society of Pagan Arabia by Islam. Thus
  the prophet and the religious reformer, in whom a new view of
  life--a new revelation--becomes explicit, is perhaps the greatest
  of all agents of social change, even though he is himself the
  product of social causes and the vehicle of an ancient cultural
  tradition. (15)


In this matter of religion and its influence on culture, Dawson was most deeply influenced by St. Augustine's City of God. He notes that Augustine's work was the counterbalance to Gibbon's Decline and Fall. In 1930 he had written a critical analysis focusing on this work in an essay entitled, "St. Augustine and His Age." (16) Here he developed a number of the central issues that Augustine had proposed and that were perennially important for relating Christian faith, belief, and life to the formation of culture. Dawson remarks that over a fourteen-year period (A.D. 412-26), The City of God "developed from being a controversial pamphlet into a vast synthesis which embraces the history of the whole human race and its destinies in time and eternity. It is the one great work of Christian antiquity which professedly deals with the relation of the state and of human society in general to Christian principles; and consequently it has had an incalculable influence on the development of European thought." (17)

Against certain German scholars of the time, Dawson argued that Augustine's work is a philosophy of history, but he also acknowledged that The City of God is not a "philosophical theory of history." This is so because Augustine does not arrive at it through an induction of historical facts "but sees in history the working out of universal principles." In other words:
  What Augustine does give us is a synthesis of universal history
  in the light of Christian principles. His theory of history is
  strictly deduced from his theory of human nature, which, in turn,
  follows necessarily from his theology of creation and grace. In so
  far as it begins and ends in a revealed dogma, it is not rational
  theory, but it is rational in the strict logic of its procedure
  and it involves a definitely rational and philosophic theory of
  the nature of society and law and of the relation of social life
  to ethics. (18)


For Dawson, then, the originality of Augustine's understanding of Christian life develops as he integrates the philosophical, theoretical tradition of the Greek world, which while lacking a "theory of history," had its theory of society and politics, with the Christian tradition that had no philosophy of society or politics, but had a theory of history. In fact, Christianity knew itself not through theogonic symbols and mythology but through a sacred history. Furthermore, this history was not focused simply on the past intervention of God in human living, but rather as a plan that embraced all times and peoples. Indeed, the Christian transformation of the Old Testament prophetic "theory of history" meant not only that no division any longer existed between Jew and Gentile, but also that now there was a new human solidarity brought into being by Christ who makes "the fullness of times," reordering humanity "into an organic spiritual unity." Christ restores all things in himself. Thus Dawson recognizes that Augustine's insight identifies Christian reality as effecting the transforming of the soul, revealing the meaning of history, and establishing the goal of a common human nature.

As grace informs the soul, it begins in the individual the reversal of the concupiscence that leads human intelligence and decisions toward sin, and thus it enters into individual historical events and affects the conditions of human solidarity or the community of mankind. For Augustine, Dawson notes, the two Cities "had acquired a philosophic meaning that had been related to a rational theory of sociology ... [Augustine] defines a people as a multitude of rational creatures associated in a common agreement as to the thing which it loves." (19) Not only do the two loves, that of God and of self, create different persons, they also create two types of society that are each based on the respective love functioning as the principle of living. From these principles and their making of societies, the historical theory is formed and understood. For these two Cities "have been running their course mingling one with the other through all the changes of times from the beginning of the human race, and shall so move on together until the end of the world, when they are destined to be separated at the last judgment." (20) The human will, broken and disordered in injustice, creates a history of deformed institutions in which recovery is always ambiguous, and so it requires a redemption to create a new order from the debris.

Dawson recognizes that the crucial issue of how Christian faith and life act in both history and the social world provides the community with the intelligibility that flows from the Christian mission of self-sacrificing love. This intelligibility needs to be available in each new age, in order to allow the Church to be more engaged in self-consciously ordering the means of redemption to the crises and dangers of every age. The relationship of a theory of history and of sociological knowledge advance the understanding of the Church both in its past, and, just as importantly, in its present and future responsibility of addressing the world in its own dialectical condition. It was such a translation that Augustine had identified and advanced in the crisis of and for the Church in the Roman Empire. The ability of members of the Church to identify what responses were needed over more than a dozen centuries created what was called "Christendom," a way for the Christian spiritual actions to give some concrete guidance to the world and so to bring into history a spiritual unity that brought peoples within local regions together who, in turn, created the bonds with other localities so as to forge a common way of life and a solidarity of hope.

I.3 Dawson and Dialectics

There are two dialectical fields that are important in Dawson's work and that relate to a further development that takes place in Lonergan's thought. The first is the dialectic within and between cultures. The second is the notion of world history and the dialectic of theories of history.

First, in his study of regional peoples and the meaning of their way of life, Dawson points to the fact that the development of the intellectual aspect that sets forth the possible emergence of social change needs to be integrated with the vital spirit of the culture if it is to be a principle of progress and not decline. Thus in the organic sense of cultural history, the emergence of a genuine development must arise within the cultural soil and experience, and thus it must grow out of the conditions that already exist. If the change is a revolutionary overthrow of the culture, it may lead to its death. This can be true of a technological invention that disturbs and endangers primitive cultures when they are flooded with advanced Western material technologies, or of intellectual revolutions that shred the meaning of an ancient culture, as occurred with bolshevism in Russia. (21) If the culture is stable enough, it may be able to wait out the sources of decline.

In the interconnection of cultures, strains of common meaning can antagonize the community into outward acts of aggression or defense. In this dialectic of cultures it can often happen, as it did with the classical Greeks, that "their standards of life, their ideals of civic and individual liberty and enjoyment, were too high to stand the strain of political competition and they went down before the ruder and harder peoples like the Macedonians and the Romans, who asked less of life and got more." (22)

It is also possible for a culture to be destroyed and yet have its cultural influence continue. One of the difficult assessments to make is how the traditions and meaning of a vanquished culture may return centuries after their original connection with the new dominant culture. Dawson claims that the classical civilizations in which the major world religions appeared were constituted in such a manner. In such cases two peoples were brought into sets of common meaning, and their cultural traditions were gradually united to bring forth a new culture. Thus ancient resources are transformed so as to open up a wider range of reality, as for example what Karl Jaspers calls "the Axial Age," (23) or it means drawing prior social forms into a new situation of meaning as Christianity did in bringing the pagan Celtic tribes into the form of a major monastic movement. (24)

As cultures have their own patterns of emergence, growth and maturity, or eruptions of deformation and frailty, so they can change through either, or both, progress and decline. Both progress and decline could be occurring simultaneously in the same culture, as for example when there is advancement in material aspects of culture and a decline in the spiritual resources of culture. Often the times of greatest opportunity and greatest danger are when cultures meet each other like shifting tectonic plates in something of a chaos of meaning, or when they begin the task of making connections in moments of new creativity. What will often guide the outcome are the spiritual visions that uphold the core reality of common meaning that grounds all the tasks of living. Insightful in Dawson's studies are the dialectical histories of Islamic-Christian cultures in medieval times in the Iberian Peninsula.

The second dialectic field regards the question of world histories and theories of history. Dawson is doubtful about the possibility of a world history, given the need to know the details of each cultural tradition, its emergence, and history. However, given the possibility of focusing again on sociological types, it may be possible to identify the stages of great periods within cultures. Dawson identifies four such periods over against Jaspers's single "Axial age." Dawson's work suggests that just such a knowledge of sociological types is a possibility, and the hints of its structures and movements fill the pages of his writings. In particular, he points to the dialectical character of the major world religions in terms of the dynamic sources that they bring to bear in new situations, as is the case of Christianity with the consistent rituals, knowledge, and actions through which it engages new historical circumstances, as the Church strives to live out the mystery of the Incarnation faithfully in any age. (25) Because of this eternal dynamic ontology, Dawson finds that the formation of the reality called "Europe" came into being as Christian faith was lived in the lives of peoples in their local worlds, and not by some explicit cultural design of Christian thinkers and monks. Precisely because of its divine origin and missionary call, it is the only culture that intentionally reaches out to other cultures and is the one culture by which other cultures meet each other, save for places where the tectonic plates engage each other, such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Far East.

As a corollary to the question of a world history, there is the dialectic of theories of history. In this study Dawson engaged in serious dialogue with those who were part of the academic study of cultures and civilizations, which were popular in the middle third of the twentieth century. As noted above, he engaged Spengler, and found him lacking in the data of his project in that he treated every culture as if it were a closed system, not understanding the organic complexity and historical transfers that cultures make with one another. He also found Toynbee's project both deeply fascinating and substantively flawed. (26) His most serious critique of Toynbee was aimed at his proposal, which has been taken up by a large body of Western intellectualist scholarship, that the religious form for the world that is coming into being is a syncretist world religion. For Dawson, the source of that vision was tied to eighteenth-century liberalism with its reduction of meaning to material progress and the exercise of techniques to find resolutions of human imperfection. The dialectic that Dawson found between philosophical liberalism that relegates religion to the private sphere and historical Christian faith effectively removed that faith from being properly identified as the spiritual unity of theWest. For Dawson it would either be recovered, or in the long run the spiritual vacuum grounding the culture would both create and reveal the decay that would, yet again, in a manner different from the creation of spiritual unity of the West, require healing from the only source of redemption.

II.1. Lonergan and Dawson

Lonergan often acknowledged the liberating influence that Dawson's work had on him as a young scholar. Obviously he was one tutor among many, but I think that Dawson, together with Newman, provided a major invitation to Lonergan's struggle to integrate history into the philosophical and theological life of Catholic intelligence. Furthermore I think that Dawson remains an example and one of the best approximations of the kind of academic work that is necessary to meet the standards that Lonergan has called for in advancing this integration between theology and critical history. Lonergan was a philosopher and theologian, not a cultural historian; Dawson was a cultural historian, not a philosopher or theologian. Yet when one engages them together one can grasp the profound order of knowledge and living that underlies Christian revelation and Catholic tradition, with its potential for guiding persons in shaping a history that is worthy of their nature as it is being redeemed in Christ. (27)

In his reflection on his own development of thought about the intellectual operations that constitute philosophy, theology, and history, Lonergan recalled: "In the summer of 1930 I was assigned to teach at Loyola College, Montreal and despite the variety of my duties was able to do some reading. Christopher Dawson's The Age of the Gods introduced me to the anthropological notion of culture and so began my hitherto normative of classical notion." (28) It wasn't until the publication of the materials found after his death that a fuller clarification was made available into the kind of work that Lonergan was pursuing in the area of history and sociology from about 1933 to 1938. In a letter to his superior, Fr. Keane, SJ, he had indicated an interest in the philosophy of history but understood that it did not have as yet a significant place in Catholic intellectual life. But he continued, "I wish to ask your approval for maintaining my interest in it, profiting by such opportunities as may crop up, and in general devoting to it such time as I prudently judge can be spared." (29)

Lonergan notes that his interest in the concreteness of historical knowledge had deepened and that he had made some headway in comprehending the knowledge reached by historical learning. "It was about 1937-38 that I became interested in a theoretical analysis of history. I worked out an analysis on the model of a three fold approximation." (30) It seems that the work that he had done in this regard was first employed in his own dissertation on grace and freedom in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. (31) Lonergan mentions this briefly in his 1960 essay, "The Philosophy of History," where he speaks of the kind of history he was pursuing as "technical history" and goes on to provide the links that allow one to grasp the developing intelligence of Aquinas: "The movement itself and the interlocking of the data provide an understanding of St. Thomas as thinking, as developing, as changing his opinions that is exceedingly difficult to interpret in different ways." And again, "you could almost see him think." (32) Here already implicit is the subject-as-subject of the later years. Furthermore, a differentiation is made between types of historical knowledge, identified as occasional, technical, and explanatory. The additional use of the sphere of "technical history," as he calls the history of doctrines, is found in any number of the works that follow his thesis. (33)

It must be noted that this shift to "historical mindedness" was considered from the start as being tied to the basic constitution and mission of the Church. It was further tied to the important ongoing grasp of the intelligibility of the mysteries of Revelation, Incarnation, Trinity, and particularly, redemption. In his 1976 responses to questions regarding the role of philosophy in modern Catholic thought, Lonergan presented his own understanding both of the situation of the times and part of his own efforts to respond to them.
  It has long been my conviction that if Catholics and in particular
  Jesuits are to live and operate on the level of the times, they must
  not only know about theories of history but also work out their
  own. The precepts of the moral law while rich and detailed in
  prohibitions (malum et quicumque defectu) are of extreme generality
  in their positive content (bonum ex integra causa). But what moves
  men is the good; the good is concrete; but what the concrete good
  of Christian living is, we shall come to know only in thematizing
  the dynamic of Christian living in this world in itself and in its
  relations to liberal progress and Marxist dialectic. To put it
  bluntly, until we move onto the level of historical dynamics,
  we shall face our secularist and atheistic opponents as the Red
  Indians, armed with bows and arrows, faced European muskets. (34)


He had sensed and articulated this crucial character for the Church's mission in the earliest texts that were found in the famous "File 713--History," some of which have appeared in METHOD: Journal of Lonergan Studies. (35) The first document of this file, Panton Anakephalaiosis (The Restoration of All Things), written in 1933, offers a summary account of the need for developing a philosophy of history. The rationale given in 1933 is strikingly similar to that given in 1976:
  Any reflection on modern history and its consequent "crisis in the
  West" reveals unmistakably the necessity of a Summa Sociologica.
  A metaphysic of history is not only imperative for the church to
  meet the attack of Marxian materialist conception of history and
  its realization in apostolic Bolshevism: it is imperative if man
  is to solve the modern politico-economic entanglement, if political
  and cultural values and all the achievement of the past is to be
  saved both from the onslaughts of purblind statesmen and from the
  perfidious diplomacy of the merely destructive power of communism.
  (36)


The problem coming into clarification was the Church's practical transmission of the grace of redemption and the power of the resurrection. At various times of the Church's history, the individuals who created social and historical actions had effectively transmitted this reality of Christian truth and living that responded to a wide variety of situations in need of healing. But in other periods such responses were not present. Absent from the theological foundations that grounded and mediated the intelligibility of grace and freedom, the Incarnation and the Trinity, as realities known through faith, and examined through metaphysical knowledge, was how these mysteries could bring effective intelligibility into concrete and cultural needs.

Dawson had presented evidence and identified the historical fact that religion is the dynamic source that created the underlying spiritual unity of peoples, shaping and sustaining traditions that supported a wide variety of human solidarity and approximations of human dignity. While he could argue for the facticity of such realities, it was Lonergan who realized the depth of the problem and the possibilities that Dawson's work revealed. He understood more fully the need to address the philosophical foundations underlying theology, history, and the complexity of sociology, in order to bring them into an integral intelligibility and thus overcome the weakened situation for the Church's mission.

In a variety of works, he notes that the centuries during which theologians were laboring from within forms of nominalism, and then later in the conflicts of the Reformation, work could and should have been underway to address the absent mediation between the metaphysical account of Christian truth and the influence of the structures of daily living in specific human societies. In the Panton, Lonergan takes up Dawson's insights into this dilemma, even to the point of including remarks about Le Play, and points to the emergence of the signs of a new attention to this matter arising from theological considerations of the meaning of the Church from within the categories of "the mystical body."

Another issue that Dawson recognized as problematic in the absence of an integral connector between the philosophy, theology, and the social sciences was the meaning of "progress." It was, he noted, the dominant idea of the modern age. It was the optimistic faith that was at first not so much of interest to historians and anthropologists but "to political theorists and revolutionaries whose whole attention was concentrated on the immediate future." (37) Following Newman, Dawson referred to the system that entered into the vacuum of an integral intelligence for Christian faith by the name "philosophical liberalism." It was this philosophical form that developed and defended the emerging social sciences, and it excluded any connection with the metaphysical accounts of human nature and God. In this context, "progress" was defined in a manner that not only could not account for grace, but also denied its existence, save for a sweeping mechanistic providence. Progress, then, was considered an advance in external, material, and technical goods, and in the power and control over their creation and benefits.

With philosophical liberalism's reconfigured understanding of human nature through the elimination of the Fall, there was no longer any need for grace, or any other Christian reality. Liberalism asserted the individual intellectual as the absolute norm over all communities of knowledge in their historical unfolding through a tradition in time. It saw religious traditions based on revealed truth as the enemies of progress; it assigned to religion the room of private opinion and repudiated it as a retrograde influence in the new enterprise of perfecting human existence. It arranged the new historical world, requiring that academic historical research and knowledge abide by its arrangement according to the three ages of classical, medieval, and modern, assuming enlightenment in the first and third ages and assigning ignorance to the second. (38)

As is clear from the essays from "File 713--History," (39) Lonergan began the task that he consistently saw as central for the Church and culture through his entire life. The central issue was how to form an integral structure of human intelligence that could hold together the particular concerns of the social sciences and the universals of philosophy, and, as sociologists such as Michael Zoller have argued, how to allow the social sciences to benefit from the kind of universal knowledge that governs terms and relations for the social sciences themselves. (40) Zoller's work provides two critical clarifications. The first is the establishment of sociological terms and relations that permit the move toward the emergence of an explanatory history. The second is the recognition that the sociological terms and relations are not derived from the usual ideological forms of power and domination that control sociological thought, but actual institutions that carry the structure of the good, including the common good and the terminal good. In Lonergan's synthesis there is the possibility of keeping the genius of the classical accounts of knowledge, God, and theological knowledge of the Christian reality available to the community, while explaining the transpositions that permit the new knowledge of the social sciences to add their differentiations, however dialectically, to the understanding of how Christian faith both has and continues to inform human cultures. In the Cincinnati lectures on education in 1959, Lonergan summarized his concerns about the relationship of theology and history:
  There is a corollary that follows from what I have said about
  theology, namely, that the teaching of religion and theology is
  an enormous problem, and particularly at the present time. It is
  at the present time that the full impact of the development of
  the historical sciences during the past century is hitting theology,
  and theology has not thought its way through the problems yet.
  So there will be a difficulty finding satisfactory books and
  satisfactory ways of treating the matter. (41)


II.2. "Thinking a way through"

In 1935, Lonergan had already indicated that there was a basis in Aquinas for integrating concrete historical events and their emergence, particularly as that tradition could be related to Newman's account of intelligent acts. One of the earliest efforts that he made was to explain authentic progress by transposing the Aristotelean-Thomistic understanding of physical change by means of causes to the situation of the causes of human action. The causes he looks at are material, formal, and efficient. The material cause is an outer flow of change; the formal is the intelligent form that shapes the outer flow, and the efficient is the control of the will as it is ordained by human reason.

The transposition then follows. An action is constituted by three causes: 1) the material given as predetermined, 2) an intellectual grasp of the given and its potencies, and 3) the will as moving to the true good that transforms the given into intelligent and rational good. What leads to failure of such control of the givens is sin, the will's refusal to follow the intellect's grasp of the truth. In this account, the givens and the two spiritual actions (knowing and willing) provide a norm for grasping both human nature and the human shaping of historical events and meanings: the causes offer the intelligible grasp of what human nature is, the individual actors are simple matters of fact, and as individuals with the common human nature they possess a common unity that includes their capacity for abandoning norms. Thus there is already a statistical flow of human action that brings the events and meanings into being.

The relations of freedom to the givens is understood in that freedom does not eliminate the predetermined elements of existence, since they are the preconditions for the possibility of freedom to emerge. Furthermore because human actions are performed in the context of a common unity, there exists the historical effect of earlier generations as they become the givens for later generations leading to a unity of human effort. (42)

After proposing the form of history, he turns to the question of history's goal. Taking over a term developed by Peter Wust in the essays that he contributed with Dawson, Jacques Maritain, and others, he indicates that the answer to that question is to be found in the development of a "metaphysics of history." (43) In the chapter entitled, "Humanity During the Classical and Christian Eras. The First Two Phases of Decline," Wust remarks:
  We are today, one and all, too apt to forget the fact that history,
  in its deepest sense, does not consist merely of secular happenings,
  but that it is always at the same time a sacred process, a spiritual
  happening. For it is only at the surface that history is a motio
  physica of wars, battles, national disorders, political catastrophes,
  and so on. Below, in the depths that are accessible to the mind
  alone, it is a truly majestic motio metaphysica voluntatis, a
  passionately stirring will-drama of the spirit. And, if this is so,
  then the really decisive factor in this will-drama will be that
  tremendous tension which continually exists in one form or another
  between the organism, compound of all human wills and the
  absolute Will of God.


He continues his opening of the historical dialectics:
  The truly epoch making occurrence of that sacred history which
  is wrought in the depths of the human spirit, the action that was
  to bring this state of tension to an end, took place in the midst of
  time. It was Christ's act of redemption. Since, however, we have
  lost our understanding of the metaphysics of history, this fact
  of redemption--in reality of central historical importance-will
  scarcely appear to us as historical. This was not always the case.


For Lonergan, that recovery will need to address the differentials of history, which when they are grasped allow for a control of the direction of actions forming history either for progress in intelligence, freedom, truth, and good, or a decline in the same. It is this that is also linked to "the metaphysical principle of Redemption." (44)

Progress requires advancement in intelligence as it sets up the conditions for freedom to form the outer action that either continues, transforms, or reverses historical flows. Since the process recurs in individuals and in communities, it is also normative. As opposed to liberalism's assumption that progress is measured in the minds of certain individuals, "the best and the brightest," Lonergan notes that advancement or progress is said of the whole species, for it is constituted by the unity in intelligence that guides the freedom of many to common goals and actions.

In "Philosophy of History," he presents two distinct orders of intelligence that prefigure the realms of common sense and theory as ways that there develop concrete flows of history. The first he names "automatic," and the second, "philosophic." The former he connects with Dawson's account of the existence and development of primitive cultures as they manifest "a series of brilliant flowerings and failures. "The latter phase provides a fundamental reflection that seeks to overcome the failures by guiding historical events through advancement in intelligence. As a result of a double dialectic, the first within philosophy and the second between the "automatic" and the "philosophic," one can identify four historical periods: a) the automatic, b) the emergence of the philosophic and its failure, c) automatic cultural expansion, and d) the future. As a result of the failure of the dialectic of historical fact, on its own, to provide a consistent exercise of human intelligence through the actions of freedom, he indicates that history as both automatic and philosophical must be included within a larger dialectic. Thus there is a third dialectic introduced as a result of sin and the need for redemption. To the dialectic of fact and thought he adds the absolute dialectic that is established by "revelation, prophecy and development of dogma."

This opens both the realm of fact and thought in new directions for the future. Thus, the dialectic of fact includes 1) mere fact, 2) sin, and 3) revealed fact. The dialectic of thought includes 1) natural reason, 2) rationalism, and 3) faith. Within this expanded view of the causes of human action and their effects, "the hope for the future lies in a philosophic presentation of the supernatural concept of social order."

The theological connection with history is concerned to examine the account of the supernatural agency in history through the intelligibility of the Mystical Body of Christ. This reality reorders the whole dialectic of history as it holds together in its account both the proper and the deformed elements of the dialectics of fact and thought. They do so in the context of a common human nature wherein Christ's action reorients the conditions of human nature and the action of grace reorders human freedom in its effective making of history.

II.3. A Further Advance.

In the "Analytic Concept of History," (45) Lonergan makes a second schema for considering the structure of history and its dialectical character. Here we find him not eliminating the insights from the Aristotelean-Thomistic account of causes, but transposing them into what looks like the beginning of his work in intentionality analysis. In part I, "Analytic Concepts," there is a move from material causality to concepts of apprehension, or as is indicated by his inclusion of the structure of the definition of the circle, an implicit definition. This is followed by acts of understanding that proceed from many abstract instances and those that proceed from many instances that are particular, the former are named "analytical," and the latter, "synthetic." Examples of the latter he indicates are in "Christopher Dawson's historical essay and Newman's illative sense." Added is that these acts can be distinguished so as to provide logical and real definitions.

Human understanding as it develops is able to progress and decline, or it may be static as in the logical definitions. Therefore the analytic concept of history is ordered by a synthetic understanding that is real and dynamic. It is analytic because it starts from abstract terms of human nature and sociological constructs. It is synthetic because it moves from these to the terms of historical events. The dynamism allows one to engage the dialectic of nature, sin, and grace.

A distinction follows between the historian and the theoretician of history. The former is engaged in history that is written; the latter with history that is written about. The work of the historian is synthetic as it identifies and unites the data of events and actions. But the historian is unable to account for the total meaning of historical aggregates that constitutes history as a science. This is the task of the theoretician of history, whose work proceeds analytically as it unifies the abstract data on human action and its concrete effects.

In order to comprehend the situation of history in both its forms, Lonergan again turns to the importance of dialectics. He specifies the difference it has for him in relationship to Plato, Hegel, and Marx. For him it is "something like a series of experiments, a process of trial and error ... rather an inverted experiment, in which objective reality moulds the mind of man into conformity with itself by imposing upon him the penalty of ignorance, error, sin and at the same time offering rewards of knowledge, truth, righteousness."

Because it is concrete and dynamic, it can hold together the material, aggregate intelligence in its unifying and the social bond of solidarity. It can proceed in a way that will either overcome the consequences of ignorance and deformed freedom, or it can proceed in the opposite direction. The factual dialectic is established by the choices people have made in creating the actual situation that makes a culture what it is.

The dialectic reveals three types of human action: 1) that which follows humans' understanding of their nature, 2) that which operates contrary to nature and is unintelligible, and 3) that which is above human nature or is an intelligibility that transcends human nature. The "ideal line" of history is a state in which humans would in all conditions of their knowing and doing would be in attunement with natural law without supernatural assistance. Giving this image of an ideal line of how history would be a continual growth and progress in human intelligence and resolutions of prior failures and evils, Lonergan turns to the facts of history and to the deviations from the natural order of human existence. This he calls "decline"; its principle is sin, which is systematically turned into principles or rules that lead history and culture into massive forms of disorder. It is the systematic repudiation of human intelligence in act and, as he writes, "Decline realizes this repudiation. The cumulative effects of systematic sin empty out of the world's philosophy every principle that raises man above the beast."

Major decline "terminates in the emancipation of man from reason and his enslavement to the accidental causes of history." Here we have an analytic comprehension of what writers such as Dawson and Wust were presenting in synthetic understanding of the "Crisis of the West." Now it is expanded into the general condition of human nature as it corrupts its own structure of intelligence and freedom.

Finally, because human intelligence cannot grasp the unintelligibility of sin, it is not able to provide a solution to the crisis. What is left to it is a supernatural solution that Lonergan refers to as a "renaissance." He distinguishes an accidental and essential renaissance: the former is a correction that occurs because of the passing of time; the latter is what emerges from the supernatural order that restores the dialectic of progress and decline. For humans, an essential renaissance is both knowable and a mystery.

The solution, originating in the Trinitarian life and made known and given in history through the Incarnation and redemptive suffering of Christ, is mediated into the ongoing historical condition through the Mystical Body of Christ. The blocking of the effect of that solution is due to the fallen natural human order, both on its own terms of limited intelligence and because of the decline within it that stands often in opposition to the solution. Even that, Lonergan notes, can be met in the solution of the Divine self-sacrificing love, wherein what is to the human vision a failure becomes a triumph.

In one sense, it is strange to see here, so early in his work, the implications of what would become Lonergan's theology of the "Law of the Cross." The new solidarity created by the action by which God is Lord of history arises for Lonergan through the recognition that religious truth is the intelligibility that grounds the fullest expansion of progress and that transforms the lives of people within the common meanings of the cultures that they cause to come into being.

Dawson had long written about the necessity of linking faith with the concrete actions that constitute the meaning of life in cultures. He knew of the decline and the conditions that permitted it to begin and continue. He once wrote of it in terms of the importance and tasks of Christian education.
  The vital problem of Christian education is a sociological one;
  how to make students culturally conscious of their religion;
  otherwise they will be divided personalities--with a Christian
  faith and a pagan culture which contradict one another continually.
  We have to ask ourselves are we Christians who happen to live in
  England or America, or are we English or Americans who happen
  to attend a church on Sundays? There is no doubt which is the New
  Testament view; there the Christians are one people in the full
  sociological sense, but scattered among different cities and peoples.
  But today we mostly take the opposite view, so that our national
  cultures are the only culture we have and our religion has to exist
  on a sectarian sub-culture. Thus the sociological problem of
  Christian culture is also a psychological problem of integration
  and spiritual health. This is the key issue ... We must make an
  effort to achieve an open Christian culture which is sufficiently
  conscious of the value of its own tradition to be able to meet
  secularist culture on an equal footing. (46)


Notes

(1.) For an early account of Dawson's work in religion and culture, see Phillips Temple's brief essay, "Christopher Dawson, Philosopher of History," in Sheed and Ward's Own Trumpet, I, May, 1943, 10-11.

(2.) Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: J.M. Dent & Sons; New York: E.P. Dutton Co., 1934).

(3.) In his introduction to the Everyman edition of Decline and Fall, Dawson applied to Gibbon the words of his favorite emperor, Julian: "Perfidus ille Deo quamvis nonperfidus Urbi."

(4.) Christina Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 49.

(5.) Scott, A Historian, 65.

(6.) Christopher Dawson, The Age of the Gods (London: J. Murray, 1928).

(7.) Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion (London: Sheed & Ward, 1929). Originally Dawson's program called for three other volumes that would treat the formation of religion and culture in the West. The proposed works were: vol. 2, The Rise of World Religions; several essays were published on this topic, but the book was not completed; vol. 3, The Making of Europe: An introduction to the history of European unity (London: Sheed and Ward, 1932); vol. 4, Mediaeval Religion and Other Essays (London: Sheed & Ward, 1934).

(8.) Dawson, Progress and Religion, 27-46. The problem regarding Collingwood, he notes, is that "the conception of culture is purely subjective, and owes its existence to the observing mind" (44).

(9.) Christopher Dawson, "Sociology and the Theory of Progress," in Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (La Salle, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Co., Publishers, 1978), 38.

(10.) Dawson, Dynamics of World History, 39.

(11.) Le Play's six-volume opus, Les Ouvriers Europeen, published in 1855, was composed of 36 monographs on individual families scattered throughout Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Each family account is accompanied by detailed information on local economic conditions, historical traditions, associations, ecology, and relations between workers and employers. A second edition was published 1877-79 and contained fifty-seven monographs.

(12.) Cf. Christopher Dawson, The Age of the Gods: A Study in the Origins of Culture in Prehistoric Europe and the Ancient East (London: Sheed & Ward, 1933), 87-164.

(13.) "Sociology as Science," in Dynamics of World History, ed. by John J. Mulloy (La Salle, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Co., 1978, 12-33.

(14.) "Sociology as Science," p. 28.

(15.) Dawson, The Age of the Gods, xx.

(16.) Christopher Dawson, "St. Augustine and His Age," in A Monument to St. Augustine: A symposium by Martin C. D'Arcy and others (New York: Dial Press, 1930).

(17.) Christopher Dawson, "St. Augustine and His Age," reprinted in Enquiries into Religion and Culture (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937), 223.

(18.) Ibid., 224.

(19.) Ibid., 240.

(20.) Ibid., 241.

(21.) Christopher Dawson, The Gods of Revolution (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972).

(22.) Christopher Dawson, The Modern Dilemma (London: Sheed & Ward, 1938), 37.

(23.) Cf. Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953), 1-8. Jaspers work was published in German in 1949; Dawson had written about the same historical period in 1929, cf. Progress and Religion, 119-21.

(24.) Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture: Gifford Lectures, 1948-1949 (London: Sheed & Ward, 1950), chapters 2-3.

(25.) Cf., for example, "Christianity in the New Age," Essays in Order, ed. Jacques Maritain, Christopher Dawson, and Peter Wust (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1931); Christopher Dawson, Understanding Europe (London: Sheed & Ward, 1952); and Christopher Dawson, Medieval Religion and other Essays (London: Sheed & Ward, 1934).

(26.) Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1934-61).

(27.) While it has been known for some time that Lonergan was deeply influenced by The Age of the Gods, it is only recently with the publication of Lonergan's economic studies that we learn of his references to Dawson's essay, "Karl Marx and the Dialectic of History," published in 1935 in Lonergan's essay "Healing and Creating in History." Cf. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 15, Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis, ed. Frederick G. Lawrence, Patrick H. Byrne, and Charles C. Hefling, Jr. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 104-105.

(28.) "Insight Revisited," in Second Collection, 264.

(29.) Frederick E. Crowe, SJ, "Notes on Lonergan's Dissertation," 5.

(30.) Second Collection, 271.

(31.) Published by Bernard Lonergan as Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971). This has been published as Volume I in the critical edition of The Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).

(32.) Bernard Lonergan, "Philosophy of History," in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 6: Philosophical and Theological Papers, 1958-64 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 58.

(33.) Cf. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 2, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997); "Praemittenda" in De Deo Trino, vol. I (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1964).

(34.) Bernard Lonergan, "Questionnaire on Philosophy," 14-15.

(35.) Cf. October 1991 and April 1993.

(36.) "Lonergan's Panton Anakephalaiosis (The Restoration of All Things)," METHOD: Journal of Lonergan Studies 9 (1991), 134-72.

(37.) Dawson, Progress and Religion, 5.

(38.) Cf. Dawson's "The Six Ages of the Church," in Christianity and European Culture, ed. Gerald J. Russello (Washington, DC: University of America Press, 1998), 34-45.

(39.) For a thorough study of the documents in this file see Michael Shute, The Origins of Lonergan's Notion of the Dialectic of History: A Study of Lonergan's Early Writings on History (Washington, DC: University of America Press, 1992).

(40.) Michael Zoeller, Washington and Rome: Catholicism in American Culture, trans. Steven Rendall and Albert Wimmer (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999). See especially the Preface, "Catholicism in America: A Cultural Impossibility," chapter 6, "On Being Catholic in America," and the Afterword.

(41.) Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Topics in Education: The Cincinnati Lectures of 1959 on the Philosophy of Education, ed. Robert Doran and Frederick Crowe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 247. Among the works of Dawson's cited in chapter 10 are: The Age of the Gods, 251; The Dynamics of World History, 253; and Understanding Europe, 254.

(42.) Cf. Lonergan, Panton, 140-46.

(43.) Jacques Maritain, Peter Wust, and Christopher Dawson, Essays in Order (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1931), 101-102.

(44.) Lonergan, Panton, 150.

(45.) Lonergan's "Analytic Concept of History," ed. Fred Crowe, METHOD: Journal of Lonergan Studies, vol. 11 (1993), 1-35.

(46.) Christopher Dawson, "The Enlightenment and Technology," Communio, vol. XXII, no. 4 (Winter 1995) 726.

MOST REV. ARTHUR KENNEDY
COPYRIGHT 2012 Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kennedy, Arthur
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:9431
Previous Article:Indissoluble marriage: a defense.
Next Article:Preface.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters