Why the Passion?
This dissertation aims at understanding Bernard Lonergan’s understanding of how the passion of Jesus Christ is salvific. Because salvation is of human persons in a community, a history, and a cosmos, the first part of the dissertation examines Lonergan’s cosmology with an emphasis on his anthropology. For Lonergan the cosmos is a dynamic, interrelated hierarchy governed by the processes of what he calls “emergent probability.” Within the universe of emergent probability, humanity is given the ability to direct world processes with critical intelligence, freedom, love, and cooperation with each other and with the larger world order. This ability is not totally undirected. Rather, it has a natural orientation, a desire or eros for ultimate goodness, truth, beauty, and love, i.e. for God. When made effective through an authentic, recurrent cycle of experience, questioning, understanding, judgment, decision, action, and cooperation, this human desire for God results in progress. However, when this cycle is damaged by bias, sin and its evil consequences distort the order of creation, both in human persons and in the larger environment. Over time, the effects of sin and bias produce cumulative, self-feeding patterns of destruction, or decline. In answer to this distortion, God gives humanity the gift of grace. Grace heals and elevates human persons. Through the self-gift of divine, unrestricted Love and the Incarnate Word, God works with human sensitivity, imagination, intelligence, affect, freedom, and community to produce religious, moral, and intellectual conversion, and to form the renewed, renewing community Lonergan calls “cosmopolis” and the body of Christ. Building on this cosmology and anthropology, the second part of the dissertation turns to the culmination of God’s solution to the problem of sin and evil in the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, on the cross at Calvary. The cross does not redeem creation by destroying its order, nor does it redeem humanity by revoking its freedom. Rather, the cross redeems the world by working with the order and freedom of creation and humanity to fulfill their natural processes and purposes. Just as from all possible world orders, God chose the order of emergent probability and human freedom, from all possible ways of redeeming that order, God chose the way of the cross. How does the cross redeem a free humanity in a world of emergent probability? For Lonergan, the best way to understand the cross is through the analogy of communication. This communication is in two parts. First, the cross is a communication, primarily, of humanity to God. Lonergan calls this part “vicarious satisfaction.” He takes the general analogy from Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo?. But rather than understanding satisfaction primarily in an economic context of debt (as Anselm does), Lonergan situates it in the higher context of interpersonal psychology: Sin creates a rupture in the relationships between human persons and God, among human persons, and among all parts of creation. Christ’s vicarious satisfaction flows from a non-ruptured relationship. It expresses a perfect concord of the human and the divine, through its threefold communication of (1) a perfect knowledge and love of God and humanity, (2) a perfect knowledge and sorrow for the offense that sin is, (3) and a perfect knowledge and detestation of the evil sin causes. Conceived as a communication in the context of ruptured interpersonal relationships, Lonergan’s analogical understanding of the cross as vicarious satisfaction avoids Anselm’s understanding’s tendency to be misinterpreted as “satispassion” or “substitutionary penal atonement.” The other major part to Lonergan’s analogy of the cross as communication is called the “Law of the Cross.” While vicarious satisfaction is mainly Christ’s achievement prescinding from the cooperation of human freedom in a world of emergent probability, the Law of the Cross proposes that Christ’s crucifixion is an example and an exhortation to human persons. On the cross, Jesus wisely and lovingly transforms the evil consequences of sin into a twofold communication to humanity of a perfect human and divine (1) knowledge and love for humanity and (2) knowledge and condemnation of sin and evil. This twofold communication invites a twofold human response: the repentance of sin and a love for God and all things. This love and repentance form a reconciled relationship of God and humanity. Furthermore, when reconciled with God, a human person will tend to be moved to participate in Christ’s work by willingly taking on satisfaction for one’s own sin as well as the vicarious satisfaction for others’ sins. Such participatory vicarious activity invites still other human persons to repent and reconcile with God and other persons, and furthermore to engage in their own participatory acts of satisfaction and communication. Thus, Christ’s own work and human participation in his work are objective achievements as well as moving or inspiring examples. However, while Christ’s work and our participation are moving, their movements do not operate by necessity. Nor are the appropriate human responses of repentance, love, personal satisfaction, and vicarious satisfaction in any way forced upon human persons. Consequently, the cross as communication operates in harmony with a world of emergent probability and in cooperation with human freedom. With the cross as communication, redemption is reconciliation, a reconciliation that spreads historically and communally by human participation in the divine initiative. This is God’s solution to the problem of evil, according to Lonergan. Because God wills ultimately for human persons to be united to God and to all things by love, God wills freedom, and God allows the possibility of sin and evil. But sin and evil do not please God. Out of infinite wisdom, God did not do away with evil through power, but converted evil into a communication that preserves, works with, and fulfills the order of creation and the freedom of humanity.