Bernard Lonergan’s “Insight”: on becoming an intellectually fulfilled theist

“Well, they’re deductivists. And you know what I think of deductivists.”

That’s how Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984) answered when I asked him about the Austrian school of economics.

Yes, I did know what he thought of them. More on that presently.

On June 22, 1983 I was on the campus of Boston College, engrossed in an afternoon session on Lonergan’s then-unpublished “Essay in Circulation Analysis, the economics section of that year’s Lonergan Workshop. (An unofficial edition circulated among Lonerganians.) My aunt, the late Anne T. Flood, Sister of Charity, Ph.D. (Catholic University of America; dissertation on Bishop Christopher Butler and Lonergan) beckoned me from the hallway.

Would I like to meet the great man?

I didn’t return to the classroom.

Patricia “Pat” Coonan, who had known Lonergan since 1945, drove us from Chestnut Hill to Weston, where he was convalescing at the Campion Center. When we arrived, it wasn’t certain that Lonergan was up to a visit. We might have to turn around.

But soon he was ready [my diary shows] and greeted us [from his hospital bed] with a smile. Pat introduced me to the master, and I managed to comport myself properly. I did not interview him, but I did tell him about myself, what his work has meant to me, and even raised the question [of] macroeconomics with him when Pat brought up her difficulties with the “Circulation Analysis.” Lonergan stressed his own macroeconomic approach, not seeming to be aware that [Ludwig von] Mises’ and [Murray N.] Rothbard’s “microeconomic” approach has addressed the “Depression” argument against the free market.

Image result for bernard lonerganIn the aftermath of the Great Depression, immersed in theological studies and spiritual formation between his profession of vows in 1924 and ordination in 1936, Lonergan produced that manuscript. In the ‘70s, after his methodological work was done, he returned to it.

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Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order

“What ‘banged’?”

That was Eric Voegelin‘s derisive reaction to someone’s mentioning the prevailing cosmology, the Big Bang theory (not to be confused with the television comedy whose theme song’s lyrics encapsulate the disordered cosmology Voegelin analyzed*).

He asked that rhetorical question on March 26, 1983 in Newton, Massachusetts during a Friday night-Saturday afternoon conference arranged by organizers of the annual Lonergan Workshops. (During that year’s meeting in June I’d meet Bernard J. F. Lonergan, SJ, whose mind I revered as much as Voegelin’s.)

Being a Rothbardian libertarian, I could hardly resist asking Voegelin about the seminars that Ludwig von Mises led in Vienna in the twenties. Smiling, Voegelin said he appreciated learning from Mises that inflation is not an increase in prices but rather the central bank’s increase in the money supply not commensurate with an increase in production of commodities. (A government may politically “freeze” prices, but then the economic effect of the inflation, that is, of the physical increase, is a shortage of the goods whose prices were frozen.) 

At the cocktail hour I asked Voegelin (I paraphrase from memory) how he could communicate with scholars whose grasp of the historical material was far below his (among whom he did not number Father Lonergan, but I certainly include myself). “With a kind of controlled irony,” he deadpanned. 

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