On January 3, 2018, my plane touched down at Roma Fiumicino airport.  I had arrived in Rome for the second time, and this would be a long visit—a sabbatical of six months.  I fully expected to use Lonergan’s theology in my writing while here in Rome, since my work is on the dialogue between Reformed (Calvinist) and Roman Catholic believers, and Lonergan is my main avenue into Catholic theology.  What I did not expect is how thoroughly Lonergan’s thinking on theological method has prepared me to embrace and enjoy this complex, deeply Catholic environment around me.

First, the Catholic world is diverse, even (and perhaps especially) in Rome.  A good example of its diversity is the ongoing tension within and between the Pontifical universities as to how Thomas Aquinas should be taught.  Is Thomas’ work a source of unchanging ideals, to which Catholics should subscribe in every age, regardless of how philosophical views may have shifted?  Or is the work of Thomas—especially his use of Aristotle—outmoded now, and displaced by contemporary views of truth and value as constantly shifting? I live among students at the Pontifical Universities, and more than once, this tension has been a topic of impassioned discussion at mealtime.

Having entered the study of Aquinas through Lonergan, I am fortunate that I can see this as a false distinction.  Lonergan retrieved what is excellent about Thomas while placing it into conversation with modern approaches to history, to human experience, and to the common good. In the way he read Thomas, he modeled his own conviction that there is such a thing as truth, but that we discover it through a dynamic process which takes account of our time, place, and degree of conversion.

Secondly, I quickly realized that while I am focused on working toward unity between Christians, the larger preoccupation here in Rome is the dialogue between Catholicism and other religions, specifically Islam.  The word “pluralism” is everywhere, and it means different things to different people. For some in Rome, pluralism calls on Catholics to conclude that all religions are equally true. For others, pluralism means that Catholics should practice hospitality to the religious “other” because we all want to preserve a truly democratic society. This emphasis on pluralism, however it is defined, seems especially important when I think of Fatima, a young woman I met at an academic conference in Bologna.  She has no mosque in which to worship.

Once again, Lonergan helps me find a way forward through this tangle of issues. At the level of judgment, truth claims do in fact differ– and all of them need to be tested.  At the level of experience, however, I can love and serve those in the Muslim community and stand with them in the presence of religious mystery. Lonergan wrote that religious experience “has the power of unrestricted love to reveal and uphold all that is truly good… Beliefs do differ, but behind this difference, there is a deeper unity” (Method in Theology, 1971, p. 119).   I think Lonergan can equip many Catholics in Europe with the tools to remain authentically Christian, while striving to make Europe a safer, more democratic, place.

Finally, my hope has always been to dialogue with Roman Catholics, to live among them and love them, while remaining deeply Calvinist in my personal faith.  Lonergan’s method helps me to do this. It gives me the ability to see that many of our differences are the fruit of having lived so long apart, even while we are gathered around the same Gospel and following the same Lord.  It also gives me hope with respect to more fundamental differences that seem insurmountable. God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5.5). God longs for all of us to move to a higher viewpoint in which our differences still exist, but in their positive dimensions.  Deeply Reformed, and reflecting on Lonergan’s method, I have confidence in God’s ability to woo us (slowly and gently) toward that higher viewpoint.

The views expressed in this essay belong entirely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lonergan Institute staff or the values of Boston College.