Bernard Lonergan SJ


“Lonergan is considered by many intellectuals to be the finest philosophic thinker of the twentieth century.”~Time Magazine


Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. was a philosopher-theologian, an economist, with an abiding interest in methodology. He taught at Loyola College (Montreal) (now part of Concordia University), Regis College (Toronto), the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), Harvard University, and Boston College. He best known as the author of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972).

Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) invites the reader to take self-possession of herself or himself as a subject, spontaneously conscious of experiencing, understanding, and judging, with regard to objects, as they occur in the fields of mathematics, empirical science and common sense. 

So it comes about that the extroverted subject visualizing extension and experiencing duration gives place to the subject orientated to the objective of the unrestricted desire to know and affirming beings differentiated by certain conjugate potencies, forms, and acts grounding certain laws and frequencies. It is this shift that gives rise to the antithesis of positions and counter positions. It is through its acknowledgment of the fact of this shift that a philosophy or metaphysics is critical. It is only by a rigorous confinement of the metaphysician to the intellectual pattern of experience, and of metaphysical objects to the universe of being as explained that this basic enterprise of human intelligence can free itself from the morass of pseudo problems that otherwise beset it. (Insight 537)


This “coming about” or the fullness of “intellectual conversion” constitutes a new horizon and one has not come about yet “if one has no clear memory of its startling strangeness” (Insight, xxiii) Lonergan’s achievement, as accessible and made thematic in Insight, enables the reader to grasp interiority as grounds for the far larger work of implementing a critical methodology of authentic collaboration in meeting history’s challenges.  The “X” to be implemented is given the name cosmopolis.

What is necessary is a cosmopolis that is neither class nor state, that stands above all their claims, that cuts them down to size, that is founded on the native detachment and disinterestedness of every intelligence, that commands man’s first allegiance, that is too universal to be bribed, too impalpable to be forced, too effective to be ignored.(Insight,  263)


In Insight, Lonergan also discusses some of the aspects and properties of cosmpolis, describing “what” might (or ought) be done.   Method in Theology (1972) provides the “how” of implementing cosmopolis.  It identifies eight functional specialities which, as Karl Rahner said in regard to the publication in 1969  of Lonergan”s 1965 “discovery” of functional specialisation, “Lonergan’s theological methodology seems to me to be so generic that it actually suits every science.”

“Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan has set out to do for the twentieth century what even Aquinas could not do for the thirteenth…It may take another generation for his thought to be fully felt within the church that nourished him, but Lonergan’s reach is already far wider.” ~Newsweek Magazine



Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan (17 December 1904 – 26 November 1984)


Bernard J.F. Lonergan was born on 17 December 1904 in Buckingham, Quebec, Canada. In 1922, after four years at Loyola College, Montreal, he entered the Society of Jesus in Guelph, Ontario.

From 1926 to 1930 he studied philosophy, languages, and mathematics at Heythrop College and the University of London, England.

He was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1933.  His four years of theological studies as required by the Jesuits were done at the Gregorian University, Rome, from 1933 to 1937. He added two  years of doctoral studies in theology and obtained his S.T.D. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1940—the awarding postponed due to World War II—for a dissertation, advised by Charles Boyer, S.J., and later published as Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

He began teaching theology at Collège de l’Immaculée Conception in Montreal in 1940. He taught at the Jesuit Seminary in Toronto from 1947 to 1953, and then at the Gregorian University from 1953 to 1965. His first great book—rounded off in preparation for departure to Rome, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, was published in 1957.

From 1965 to 1975 he was Professor of Theology at Regis College, Toronto, and in 1972 published the long-awaited Method in Theology. He was the Stillman Professor at Harvard University in 1971-1972, and in 1975 became Distinguished Visiting Professor of Theology at Boston College.

In later life while teaching at Boston College, Lonergan returned his attention to the economic interests of his younger days. The University of Toronto Press has published his two works on economics: For a New Political Economy and Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis.
He returned to Canada in late 1983 and died at the Jesuit Infirmary, Pickering, on 26 November 1984.
In the course of his long and illustrious academic career, he received 19 honorary doctorates and a number of other honours, including being invested as Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971 and being named Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 1975. He was named by Pope Paul VI one of the original members of the International Theological Commission.

Published works

He is the author of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972).  While these are the two best known of his works, his literary output extends far beyond these works. University of Toronto Press is currently in the process of publishing the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan,. The series will consist of twenty-five volumes. Of these, 14 have been published to date.  The published volumes, all of which will also be made available in digital form in the near future, are:

1. Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St Thomas Aquinas, (2000)
2. Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, (1997)
3. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, (1992)
4. Collection, (1988)
5. Understanding and Being,(1990)
6. Philosophical and Theological Papers 1958-1964, (1996)
7. The Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, Latin/English (2002)
10. Topics in Education, (1993)
12. The Triune God: Systematics, Latin/English (2007)
15. Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis, (1999)
17. Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, (2004)
18. Phenomenology and Logic, (2001)
20. Shorter Papers, (2007)
21. For a New Political Economy, (1998)

Yet to be published are the following works:

8. The Incarnate Word
9. The Redemption
11. The Triune God: Doctrines Latin/English (expected in 2008)
13. A Second Collection
14. Method in Theology
15. A Third Collection
19. Early Latin Theology (expected in 2009)
22. Early Works on Theological Method I (expected in 2009)
23. Early Works on Theological Method II
24. Archival Material
25. General Index