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Blog - Blogue

  • On Bernard Lonergan, S.J.

    Thursday, July 14, 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.

  • On Anscombe and Wittgenstein

    Friday, January 08, 2016
    Louis Roy O.P.

    As a doctoral student in Cambridge, I paid a visit, in 1981, to Professor Elizabeth Anscombe in order to ask her authorization to attend her course on “Existence.” She was the best disciple of Ludwig Wittgenstein and a strongly built, formidable (in the sense of “to be feared”) lady. Her esteem of me was perhaps rather low, since she had heard me, in a Sunday homily at Blackfriars’ chapel, wanting to say “successively” about the Samaritan woman, wrongly say that “she had successfully had five husbands.” During homilies, she and her husband Peter Geach, himself also a renowned philosopher, would look at the preacher with severe, apparently distrustful eyes. Given that they had got in touch with the Dominican prior provincial of England to accuse of heresy a friar at Cambridge who was on the whole more traditional than me in his ideas, it was intimidating to preach in front of these two powerful and highly critical intellects.

    She nonetheless graciously consented to my presence in her course. During our conversation, I blundered again by mentioning my interest in Lonergan’s thought. She replied, making short pauses: “Lonergan … Lonergan … He is obscure … And when occasionally he writes clearly, he is wrong!” Needless to say, I never uttered Lonergan’s name again in front of her. Peter Geach confided that the three times he began to read Insight, Lonergan’s masterpiece, he fell asleep.

    In class, she spoke very slowly, with an aristocratic pronunciation. She was obviously thinking aloud, with the help of a few notes on very small pieces of paper. At times, Peter Geach would express a thought and, being seated in the front row, this big man would turn towards us and look at us pointblank in a dire silence, as if to ask, “Who among you, doctoral students, would dare contradict me?” Evidently, the two of them were not keen on dialogue; they could be blunt and tough with people who disagreed with them.

    Yet they cared for Dominicans and they invited me to dinner once. Their residence had no curtains – a bit like the bare house Wittgenstein had designed for his sister. Seated on the floor, they drew for me the truth tables (or logical constants) of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus on a little black slate. Realizing that I was not understanding much about those tables, I was afraid they would summon me to rephrase the gist of what they had taught me – which I would have been incapable of doing. Fortunately, I did not undergo this humiliation, because it was soon time for supper. The prayers were pronounced with piety. Suddenly John, a simple-minded person who would spend his days in town, speaking with anybody – including me –, appeared and ate with us. The Geaches had invited him to occupy a room in their home, but he declined, explaining he would prefer staying next door, in the shed.

    For all their staunch and militant conservatism – they played a key role in obtaining permission to maintain the rite of Pius V in several parishes of England –, they were generous and charitable. I am the one who gave them the news that the Dominican who had received them into the Catholic Church had died. This Dominican had previously left the Order. I do remember that Elizabeth was moved and I was struck by the fact that far from condemning his having renounced the exercise of his priesthood, she said, with compassion and tenderness, “Oh, Tony.”

    When Wittgenstein became very sick, he asked Elizabeth to find him a priest in order to prepare for reconciliation with the Church. Wittgenstein had been for decades what the British call “a lapsed Catholic.” He added: “I want a priest who is not a philosopher.” The Dominican Conrad Pepler told me, with British humour: “Then Elizabeth chose me!” He and Wittgenstein met a few times, but he passed away before making his confession. Conrad, with whom I lived in Cambridge, was a very holy and prayerful friar, with profound insights into the Christian life. Wittgenstein could not have found a better spiritual accompaniment as he prepared for his encounter with the God of love.