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  • On Bernard Lonergan, S.J.

    jeudi 14 juillet 2016
    Louis Roy O.P.

    The Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan influenced a good number of students in all three departments of Dominican University College, principally through the teaching of Gaston Raymond, O.P., in the Faculty of Philosophy and at the Institut de pastorale, and of myself in the Faculty of Theology. I have expressed my intellectual debt to Lonergan in several articles and in my book Engaging the Thought of Bernard Lonergan (published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2016).

    I first met Lonergan in 1972, at Regis College, University of Toronto. Upon learning that I was a Dominican from Ottawa, he immediately praised the 1953 edition of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae (called the Piana edition), done by the Dominicans in Ottawa.

    Another instance of his courtesy took place in 1978, at the launching of Pour une méthode en théologie (which I had edited and which was the French translation of his book Method in Theology). Before that event took place, I had had the privilege of enjoying good conversation with him in Toronto where, during the summer of 1974 as a confrère and I were translating parts of Method, we would always speak in English. However, during the launch of the translation of his book, we were not in Toronto, but in Montreal. As usual, I greeted him in English, but he replied in French. I was impressed by his sensitivity to the French-Canadians’ desire to speak French in Québec.

    Likewise, he was always considerate in his letters to me, written in English, and yet sometimes with a few words in French. For instance, after I had sent him a first draft of the translation (done by a friend and me) of chapter 1 of Method, he consulted with another Jesuit, Jean-Marc Laporte, who mentioned that our French translation was too literal. So Lonergan suggested to me: “Write it as a Frenchman would put it.” At the end of his letter, he added: “En dépit de cette lettre, je ne suis pas un ours!”

    Regrettably, I was less tactful when, being a young and would-be-critical theologian, I had the audacity of saying to him, “In your book, Father Lonergan, you repeat yourself.” Smiling, he replied, “Old age, you know.” But a couple of seconds afterward, he reconsidered and pronounced, “No, good things recur!”

    At the launching of Pour une méthode, my father met him and, being an engineer and hence rather concise, he said to him: “My son would not have decided to translate your book had he not been convinced it was a great book” (emphases that my father made orally). Lonergan loved that twofold compliment and disclosed it to a few people who reported his reaction to me.

    On August 16th, 1977, he wrote to me: “I was touched by your wishing me ‘joie spirituelle’. Most sincerely I hope and pray that it be yours. After twenty-four years of aridity in the religious life, I moved into that happier state and have enjoyed it for over thirty-one years. But I have no doubt that God’s love is always with us no matter how we feel.” (The letter is in the archives of the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto; it was made public by Frederick E. Crowe, S.J., in 1992, with my consent, and it was also quoted by Gordon Rixon, S.J., in 2001.)

    One night, in a dream, I met Bernard Lonergan. He remained silent and he looked at me. His calm and insistent eyes conveyed his desire that I should accomplish my life’s task. Upon awakening, the image lingered of this solicitous elder, to whom I owed so much intellectually and spiritually, who had come to remind me of my philosophical-theological vocation. The following morning, that is, on November 26th, 1984, when I learned that he had just died, I understood the significance of his penetrating gaze and of his silent communication.

  • The Art of Making Mistakes

    vendredi 22 avril 2016
    Iva Apostolova

    Why are we so afraid of making a mistake? Like any fear, the fear of making a mistake is largely irrational, hence, difficult to control. Without being a Hobbesian, I have to admit, the old man was onto something in adjudicating that we, humans, are largely governed by fear and gain.

    The fear of making a mistake is a sub-species of the general fear of vulnerability, of exposing yourself to the harsh and cold world. And to be sure, the world can be harsh and cold. The irony, though, is that succumbing to the fear of vulnerability exposes us to something far worse and potentially destructive: the tyranny of perfectionism. That perfectionism that has to win an argument at all costs. That perfectionism that does not let us sleep at night over a sneeze in the presence of our boss. That perfectionism that turns us into the same petty-minded, judgmental people we feared in the first place. Perfectionism breeds power structures like nothing else does. The fear of making a mistake is the fear of being left behind in the race of winning and accumulating. In today’s culture of omnipresent certification and competence where one is valued by what they produce, not by who they are, making a mistake equals loss of status, potentially even loss of identity. 

    But if we shift the discourse from power to co-operation, we’ll see that making a mistake has important cognitive and heuristic, other than psychological, dimensions.  In making a mistake one realizes one’s limitations. Realizing one’s limitations, in turn, leads to opening up new horizons and in the end, increases both our cognitive capacity, as well as the sum total of knowledge.  

    Bertrand Russell defended the position that what philosophy holds over and above the sciences is the critical attitude toward one’s presuppositions and first principles, i.e., the engagement in the search for inconsistencies in one’s system of knowledge. Finding systemic errors fine-tunes the faculty of judgment, the one faculty which brings theory and practice together. It is precisely those mathematicians, Russell argued, who dared to imagine the falsehood of the established system, that were rewarded with the ‘discovery’ of non-Euclidean geometry. 

    Is there a better way of making a mistake then? Like everything else in life, being prepared helps. Anticipating mistakes and taking ownership of them creates a relaxed, even playful environment of interaction. Who would you trust with your thoughts and beliefs – an overachieving nit-picker, or a laid-back oddball? And if you’re feeling particularly brave one day, why not trip over yourself, literally I mean? Just for the fun of it. Don’t forget to put your hands out, though. You’ll see that the ground is not so bad from close-up and low-down.

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