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  • Fr. Giovanni Sala, S.J., Philosopher and Theologian
  • Matthew L. Lamb

During the night of March 14–15, 2011, Fr. Giovanni Sala, S.J., passed through the portals of death to meet the Lord Jesus, whom he had followed so faithfully as a Jesuit scholar. He ranks high among the insightful and productive philosophers and theologians renewing Catholic intellectual life and culture in our times. Most of his many books and even more articles and essays have appeared in German or Italian. They explore the intellectual and scholarly coherence and brilliance of Catholic philosophical and theological traditions, as well as the intellectual indigence and mediocrity of those dissenting from the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium.1 Only a very few of his essays have been translated into English. In this retrospective, I shall first sketch the orientation of Sala's exposition of Fr. Bernard Lonergan's explanatory articulation of human experiencing, understanding, knowing, and willing—what Lonergan calls the third stage of meaning: interiority. Secondly, I shall outline how important this interior orientation is for doing genuine Catholic theology up to the level of our times. [End Page 75]

The Orientation of Lonergan's Cognitional Theoretical Achievement

Sala's last book has two parts,2 the first of which gives a detailed examination of the operations of human knowing and the second of which orders the major achievements of human knowledge in the fields of common sense, natural sciences, human sciences, metaphysics, and natural theology. Part I of the book has ten chapters and ten excursi. The latter are important in showing the ways in which Lonergan's appropriation of the related and recurrent operations of intelligence shows the relevance of Aquinas's analysis of intellectual operations. Sala understood that the only way to overcome the conceptualism and nominalism of modern cultures was to articulate the related and recurrent experiences of the human mind. Such experiences are both universally present in all human beings and uniquely present in all individual persons.

Thus, he begins the book with chapters on the needed heightening of awareness (ch. 1) in order to attend to both the human innate desire to know and the two types of related questions, those pertaining to understanding (what is it?) and those pertaining to judgment (is it so?). The questions for judgment are all of the type that can be answered by "yes," "no," or "maybe," and all other questions cannot be so answered and are questions for understanding. The dynamic relation between these two different types of questioning are seen in the fact that we do not want only to think about something; we want to know what really exists—we desire to know being (ch. 2). This knowing is a formally dynamic structure in that human beings spontaneously raise these two fundamental types of questions given their intelligence and reason (ch. 3).

After going on to show that overlooking this formally dynamic structure results in an "intuitionism" of empiricist or conceptualist varieties (ch. 4), Sala then details the conscious acts and objects constituting how and what we experience (ch. 5). These experiences provide the data on which the two sets of intelligent acts or operations seek: first, to understand and—if we gain some insight—conceptualize (ch. 6), and then second, to judge whether the concepts are verified in the data and, thus, are true knowledge of the objects (ch. 7).

After each of these chapters there are excursi in which Sala [End Page 76] provides evidence for Lonergan's recovery and transposition of what was classically called by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas (among many others) the "theoretical way of living." In doing this, Sala concentrates on Lonergan's explanatory retrieval of Aquinas's teaching on knowing and being, as well as how this retrieval shows the nominalist and conceptualist roots of modern and contemporary pendulum swings between empiricism and idealism, between libertarianism and authoritarianism, between nihilistic relativism and a-rational voluntarism.

A fundamental challenge within post-Enlightenment cultures and philosophies consists in overcoming the conceptualism that obfuscates the natural orientation of all human knowing toward being, toward what actually exists. Sala was a recognized expert on the work of Immanuel Kant. When his provincial...


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