Years ago, I took a theology class taught by Bernard Lonergan, SJ., and recently I’ve started reading a book by him called “The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology,” Philadelphia, 1964. The book’s an English translation of a course he taught in Latin on the Trinity.
Theologians, like the physicists who gave us the Higgs-Boson particle some weeks ago, like to explore. What makes up matter, physicists ask? Speculative theologians, like Lonergan, ask questions about God and, like physicists, they’re not always easy to follow.
How did we get from the fulsomeness of the scriptures, writings that “penetrate the sensibility, fire the imagination, engage the affections, touch the heart, open the eyes, attract and impel the will of the readers,” to the spare words of the Nicene Creed that seem “to bypass the senses, the feelings and the will, to appeal only to the mind?” That’s a question Lonergan asks and he’s not asking simply an historical question. He quotes from Wilfred Cantwell Smith in his preface: “ All religions are new religions, every morning. For religions do not exist in the sky, somewhat elaborated, finished and static. They exist in men’s hearts.”
Our thinking about God develops; Lonergan uses the development of early Trinitarian Theology to understand how. We hold to the faith of Nicea, but we’re people of today and our religion is new every morning, so we need to express it ourselves and in our time. “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. (T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding)
I hope the Year of Faith, which we’re beginning in October, is not just about last year’s words. We need words for today and tomorrow. Besides poets, mystics and artists, we need speculative theologians like Bernard Lonergan.