"On Not Neglecting the Self
in the Structure of Theological Revolutions"


Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan, S.J.
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987
Edited by Timothy P. Fallon, S.J. and Philip Boo Riley

pp. 125 -134

    In 1984 the University of Hawaii hosted an East-West  conference on "Paradigm Shifts in Buddhism and Christianity: Culture:Cultural Systems and the Self."  Hans Kung did the keynote presentation, "Paradigm Change in Theology." This essay was a response to Kung's paper.
    Kung calls for a subject-centered theology, but maintains that such theology will find continuity in regular returns to "the original Christian message," "the primordial testimony," "the original record of the Old and New Testament."
    . This response claims that Kung falls far short of Lonergan in recognizing the role of the subject, the self..


"The Christian message," as one doctrine among others, cannot be a solid basis for judging the authenticity (or the continuity) of doctrines, until a further factor is added.  That further factor is always the theologian's own insight and judgment as to what the Christian message really is.
    No amount of thumping the Bible or bowing to tradition will change this fact.  The existing text of the Scripture, far from being "the original Christian message," is only so many marks on paper until a human subject reads it and interprets it in the light of the subject's own self.  Neither does tradition preserve "the original Christian message," except insofar as the tradition is actively remembered, studied, appealed to as a norm by selves who have committed themselves freely to that specific tradition (even though they always know the tradition in only a fragmentary and imperfect way).
    Scripture and tradition are norms only to the selves who have freely chosen to make them their norms.  That free choice cannot be explained on the basis of Scripture and tradition.
    Therefore one cannot avoid relativism by appealing to the secure foundation of "the Christian message." In practice that phrase always ends up either standing generally for"everything good"; or else meaning specifically "those parts of the Bible and of early Christian monuments and history which happen, under a particular interpretation, to appeal to the person who is talking."