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  • The Givenness of Desire: Concrete Subjectivity and the Natural Desire to See God by Randall S. Rosenberg
  • Wayne Lott (bio)
Randall S. Rosenberg. The Givenness of Desire: Concrete Subjectivity and the Natural Desire to See God. University of Toronto Press. xii, 274. $77.00

Randall Rosenberg takes up the topic of the natural desire to know God. With the help of other key thinkers, especially the Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, he sets out to settle some tensions among those who have discussed this topic at a highly engaged intellectual level and to bring the relevance of this topic to bear on contemporary personal, social, and cultural issues of pressing concern.

In Part One of his book, Rosenberg details some of the historical development of the idea and the debate that came to a head in the mid-twentieth-century exchange between the French ressourcement theologians, especially Henri de Lubac, and neo-scholastic theologians like Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Rosenberg finds shortcomings and strengths on both sides of this debate. He stands in agreement with de Lubac's emphasis on human nature in all of its concrete and historical complexity. On the other hand, he agrees with the neo-Thomist critique that de Lubac's position lacks a substantial account of human nature.

In Part Two, Rosenberg shows how the thought of Lonergan addresses de Lubac's concerns about human nature in its concrete and historical reality, while providing a substantial account of human nature for which the neo-scholastics call. Unlike the neo-scholastic abstract account of human nature, however, Lonergan's account of human nature is dynamic, concrete, historical, and emergent. As the lower orders of human nature condition the possibility of its higher orders (that is, physical, chemical, biological, psychic, spiritual), so too is grace not something that is merely superadded to human nature. Grace is not merely contradictory to nature but is also conditioned by human nature even while it is supernaturally added to it. [End Page 223]

In Part Three, Rosenberg, with the help of French scholar René Gerard, addresses the issue of socially mediated mimetic desire. All desire is essentially mimetic, seeking the good it finds in others. While this can lead to many dangers, in itself mimetic desire is good. With Girardian mimetic desire in mind, and correlating it to Lonergan's notion of incarnate meaning, Rosenberg takes several steps towards the development of a theology of the saints, who are those people who demonstrate self-transcendence through their graced receptivity to the love of God (sanctifying grace) and active self-giving towards others (habit of love), as exemplified in the figures of Therese of Lisieux and Etty Hillesum. Rosenburg concludes with a discussion of the modern-day idolatrous vice of consumerism and how it stultifies self-transcending desire that ultimately directs us towards God. Consumerism arises from a distorted desire that prioritizes "having" over "being" and, moreover, distorts the normative scale of values that is consistent with true self-transcendence.

Rosenberg's development and application of Lonergan's thought, among others, makes this book stimulating to read both for its intellectual contribution and its thoughtful and challenging practicality. That said, one challenge facing readers who are not familiar with the thought of Bernard Lonergan and the debate on the natural desire to see God is the use of certain key technical terms. Words such as "extrinsicism," "static essentialism," and "dynamic intellectualism" begin showing up in the early chapters and go undefined until much later on in the book. It would have been helpful for the author to have defined these terms early on in the book so as to help readers navigate their way through these earlier chapters with better understanding.

Rosenberg's extension and application of Lonergan and René Girard to his discussion on a theology of the saints and the contemporary vice of consumerism is commendable in how it demonstrates the fruitfulness of Lonergan's thought. His developed understanding of human self-transcending desire, different kinds of bias, and his normative scale of values can be tools for both personal intellectual, moral and religious development, and substantive social critique. Moreover, Rosenberg's critique of consumerism as a...


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