Bernard Lonergan (1904 - 1984)

Bio: Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan 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.


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 at the Gregorian, and 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, 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.

He returned to Canada in late 1983 and died at the Jesuit Infirmary, Pickering, on 26 November 1984.


Bernard gets award In the course of his long and illustrious academic career, he received 19 honorary doctorates and a number of other honors, 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.

Bernard Lonergan: Published He is the author of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972). In Insight he worked out what he called a Generalized Empirical Method, and in Method in Theology he showed how this method elucidated the structure and process of work in theology.

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, under the General Editorship of Robert M. Doran of Marquette University. The generous contribution of the Malliner Charitable Foundation has made possible the production of the entire series. The series will consist of twenty-five volumes. Of these, 23 have been published to date, and work is going forward on the two final volumes at the present time. 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, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (2000)
  2. Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (1997)
  3. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (1992)
  4. Collection, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (1988)
  5. Understanding and Being, ed. Etrzabeth A. Moreltr and Mark D. Moreltr (1990)
  6. Philosophical and Theological Papers 1958-1964, ed. Robert C. Croken, Frederick E. Crowe, and Robert M. Doran (1996)
  7. The Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (2002)
  8. The Incarnate Wordem>, trans. Charles C. Hefling, Jr., ed. Robert M. Doran and Jeremy D. Wilkins (2016)
  9. Topics in Education, ed. Robert M. Doran and Frederick E. Crowe (1993)
  10. The Triune God: Doctrines, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour (2009)
  11. The Triune God: Systematics, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour (2007)
  12. A Second Collection, ed. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dadosky (2016)
  13. Method in Theology, ed. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dadosky (2017)
  14. Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis, ed. Frederick G. Lawrence, Patrick H. Byrne, and Charles C. Heftrng, Jr. (1999)
  15. A Third Collection, ed. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dadosky (2017)
  16. Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, ed. Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran (2004)
  17. Phenomenology and Logic, ed. Phitrp J. McShane (2001)
  18. Early Latin Theology, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour (2011)
  19. Shorter Papers, ed. Robert C. Croken, Robert M. Doran, and H. Daniel Monsour (2007)
  20. For a New Potrtical Economy, ed. Phitrp J. McShane (1998)
  21. Early Works on Theological Method 1, ed. Robert M. Doran and Robert C. Croken (2010)
  22. Early Works on Theological Method 2, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour (2013)
  23. Early Works on Theological Method 3, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran and H. Daniel Monsour (2013)

Yet to be published are the following works:

  1. The Redemption, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran, H. Daniel Monsour, and Jeremy D. Wilkins
  2. Archival Material, ed. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dadosky

Philosophy/Theology of Bernard Lonergan

Bernard Lonergan is regarded by many as one of the greatest philosophical and theological minds of the twentieth century. In this initial introduction, adapted from one that Robert Doran wrote several years ago, we can focus on the following three points.


(1) What am I doing when I am knowing? The first eleven chapters of Lonergan’s book Insight - his monumental work - are an attempt to answer this question. Why did he ask this question? There are at least two reasons:

(a) to provide what he called a ‘common ground’ on which people could meet one another, that is, the common ground of the operations through which they pursue meaning and truth, and

(b) to provide what is probably a solution to the fragmentation of knowledge - not by attempting to integrate the content of knowledge, which is not possible, but by acknowledging the same operations of experiencing, understanding, and judging in all fields. This acknowledgment, which Lonergan’s book Insight shows, brings a startling unity to knowledge and to the pursuit of understanding in every field. It helps us relate such ‘hard sciences’ as mathematics, physics, and chemistry to the sciences of life, and to relate all of these to psychology, philosophy, the arts, and theology.

The key is the act of insight. Lonergan is seeking an insight into insight itself. He writes: “…to grasp it in its conditions, its working, and its results is to confer a basic yet startling unity on the whole field of human inquiry and human opinion.”

(2) What difference does this make?

From the study of insight, Lonergan tackles some of the major challenges of our time, all of which are in one way or another a function of biases that interfere with the operations of experiencing, understanding, and judging. So not only does he show us many different kinds of insights; he also displays several kinds of bias that interfere with insight and prevent us from being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. There is the psychic bias that comes from trauma, the individual bias of the egoist, the group bias of the privileged classes, and a general bias that we all have against asking the hard questions and facing the ultimate issues and long-range consequences of our actions. All of these are spelled out in intricate detail in his work.

Another difference is that from his study of experiencing, understanding, judging, and (to add another set of operations) deciding (E-U-J-D), Lonergan goes on to show us how various academic disciplines can be ‘mapped’ according to what he calls functional specialties: to each level of consciousness (E-U-J-D) there corresponds a whole set of operations both for understanding the previous history of the discipline and for moving creatively into the future.


(3) Is this all there is?

Many of the most pressing problems of our own time have to do with religion. Religion is at the heart of a great deal of violence and persecution. It also is the ultimate source of most of what is good in the human world. Is there any way of discriminating authentic from inauthentic religion? Is there a way of providing a ground for inter-religious dialogue in the pursuit of peace? These are issues to which Lonergan gave increasing attention in his last years. Stay tuned, because these are the areas where his thought is going to give rise to a number of wonderful developments.

Lonergan did not just expand the fields of Theology and Philosophy. He also applied his tenets of thought to Economics. Many people have had the experience on reading Lonergan, “This is worth a lifetime.” This website is the result of that experience. Perhaps now we can help others have the same experience.