Stephen MARTIN, Healing and Creativity in Economic Ethics: The Contribution of Bernard Lonergan’s Economic Thought to Catholic Social Teaching. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008. Pp. xviii + 200. $29.95 pb. ISBN-13: 978-0-7618-3765-7.
Reviewed by Paul J. LaCHANCE, College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ 07960.

After completing Method in Theology, Bernard Lonergan looked around for a new project. Moved by a comment from Gustavo Gutierrez, Lonergan decided to return to the work he had begun 30 years earlier on economics. One result of this decision was a course taught at Boston College, “Macroeconomics and the Dialectic of History”. This title suggests that in Lonergan’s mind economics is linked to the question of history: if history is constituted by acts of meaning, how can we account for an overarching course of historical development that is intended in no individual’s acts of meaning? Here we are reminded of Tolstoy’s criticism of those inclined to locate the burning of Moscow and Napoleon’s ultimate defeat in the intentions and deeds of the generals. Nothing, for Tolstoy, could be more irrelevant to history. For Lonergan, history is constituted by meaning because it is the result of a dialectic (the concrete unfolding of linked but opposed principles of change) and the exigencies and operations that constitute that dialectic are human. Individuals adopt meaningful cultural patterns and participate meaningfully in political and economic institutions, except, that is, when they don’t. The fallibility of human cooperation accounts for the difference between progress and decline, between intelligent, reasonable, and responsible cooperation and its opposite. What then is a human, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible pattern of economic cooperation?

Martin provides an engaging introduction to Lonergan’s contribution to an answer to this question. He begins with existential concerns of contemporary readers and moves toward Lonergan’s theoretical understanding of economic activity, concluding with a recommendation for collaboration between theologians and economists in the dual process of healing from above (centered on grace and conversion) and creativity from below (the application of practical reason to the world’s concrete economic difficulties). Healing and Creativity in Economic Ethics begins with an overview of Catholic Social Teaching and economic anthropology. The text then examines radical and neo-conservative appropriations of Catholic teaching. Martin offers a fair case for the legitimate reading of papal encyclicals on both sides and leaves the reader with a genuine sense that something is missing. Lonergan’s way forward is a more humane economics that respects human sociality, the integrity of human intelligence, the concrete character of the human good, and the reality of grace.

Martin succeeds in introducing his reader to the many relevant sides of Lonergan’s thought in a clear and accessible style. His explanation of Lonergan’s economic theory is studded with examples from current business practice that may engage readers and students in lively discussion and provide familiar images to assist the reader’s understanding. Martin’s own appropriation of the history of economic theory is deliberately dialectical and indicates his own struggle for authenticity. There are no ‘black hats’ in this text, yet he is critical of ethically normative but nonspecific directives and of pragmatic mandates that do not respect the fullness of economic anthropology articulated in Catholic Social Teaching. Particularly instructive is his critical evaluation of tension between the aim and the method of ‘living wage’ proposals.

For all its promise, this is admittedly not a completely clean text. It should be noted in the diagram on p. 131 that the direction of the arrows on the lower left hand side labeled “E’” and “c’O’” should be reversed. Despite this, Marin’s book will provide a helpful resource for theologians struggling to understand history’s place in theology and to articulate an intelligent critique of current economic ideologies and practice. There is good reason to believe that the necessary corrections will be made in a second edition.

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