If my understanding of the “optics” unit of physics is close to correct, the reality we term light has been explored by scientists on the basis of its behavior under two great headings: light as a stream of particles and light as a wave. These conceptualizations seem to be mutually exclusive, but both are needed to account for varying aspects of light’s activity. I even seem to remember scientists coining the term “wavicle” to try to bridge between the two conceptualizations.
In a somewhat parallel sense, contemporary theologians distinguish transcendental and hermeneutical approaches to theology. For some, the differences between these two approaches – especially in their starting points, conceptualization of human existence, theory of knowledge, and criteria for determining truth – are so vast that they cannot be considered complementary; one must opt for either one or the other way of doing theology, much as one must explore light either as a wave or a stream of particles. Others, however, do not consider these approaches necessarily absolute alternatives, but engaged in a complementary dialectic; while they cannot be brought together into one theological system, both perspectives are needed at various points in a theologian’s explorations. Finally, some seek to bridge between the approaches, creating the equivalent of a “theological wavicle”.
Donna Teevan, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University, appears to be such a bridge builder as she leads her readers through the thickets of transcendental and hermeneutical approaches to theology in Lonergan, Hermeneutics, & Theological Method. With admirable concision and clarity she announces her intention at the outset: “This book argues that Bernard Lonergan’s transcendental method offers an approach to theology that is in some sense hermeneutical…. In the pages that follow I bring into relief the features of Lonergan’s transcendental method that make any polarization of the two approaches questionable. Ultimately, what I offer is an interpretation of his transcendental method as a hermeneutical approach to theology.” (13).
The first two chapters set up the problem she will explore. Chapter One, on philosophical hermeneutics and theology, provides an especially helpful eleven-point set of general themes and characteristics of hermeneutical thought that will reappear in Chapter Six as the author adumbrates Lonergan’s stances on each of these topics. Chapter Two explicates an editorial symposium printed in a 1989 volume of Horizons (16/2, pp. 316-245) in which Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Jack Bonsor, Morny Joy, and Frederick Lawrence react to an article by Peter Drilling attempting “to demonstrate the complementarity and in some instances the underlying unity of hermeneutical and transcendental
The heart of the book appears in the next three chapters in which Teevan explores Lonergan’s hermeneutics, the interpretation of texts, and his understanding of history and historicity. Drawing primarily on Insight, Lonergan’s 1962 “Lecture on Hermeneutics”, and Method in Theology, Teevan’s treatment reads as a deeply informed exposition of Lonergan’s treatment of the functional specialties of interpretation and history. For this reader, the most fruitful part of Teevan’s exposition occurs in her remarks on Lonergan’s hermeneutics and contemporary hermeneutical issues: “Lonergan attempts to articulate the grounds for authentic human knowing and doing in a way which avoids the classicism justifiably being denounced by relativism but which avoids as well the nihilism that a fully executed relativism gives rise to in its neglect of the human exigencies for being, value, and transcendent mystery. The extra-textual foundations of Lonergan’s hermeneutics – the notion of being, the notion of value, and the orientation to transcendent mystery – provide the basis for a hermeneutics grounded not merely in cultural frameworks and languages games but in the eros of the human spirit. By grounding his philosophy (and by extension, his hermeneutics) in this manner, Lonergan offers an approach that incorporates existential and ontological concerns and that resists the establishment of foundations that are ahistorical, abstract, solipsistic, or static.” (130)
As mentioned above, Chapter Six begins with the author’s presentation of Lonergan’s stances on the eleven-point set of general themes and characteristics of hermeneutical thought she had articulated in Chapter One. In my opinion, she amply demonstrates the common ground shared by Lonergan’s transcendental method and hermeneutical thought, while acknowledging some significant differences. She concludes with a few thoughts on the distinctive contribution of Lonergan’s transcendental method as it functions as a hermeneutical approach to theology: the hermeneutical function of explanatory self-appropriation, hermeneutical theology as praxis, and the further functional specialties of dialectic and foundations as evaluative hermeneutics. With lapidary precision she summarizes the results of her investigation: “Although Lonergan’s concern for normativity reveals the transcendental character of his method, his formulation of that norm in terms of the cognitive and existential praxis of real human beings living in a world mediated by meaning aligns him with the finest insights of hermeneutical thought, making his transcendental method in a genuine sense a hermeneutical approach to theology.” (210-211). Voilà, Teevan’s “theological wavicle”.
As one can tell from the citations I have included with this review, Lonergan, Hermeneutics & Theological Method is not a work for undergraduates nor the “interested general reader”. In fact, it might be too dense even for some graduate students and seminarians. But I would strongly recommend it, however, for graduate students and professors with a special interest in fundamental questions about theology and its practice in the contemporary academy.