The Lonergan Institute




Reflection: Sertillanges
on the
Intellectual Life

by David Alexander
"When we speak of vocation, we refer to those who intend to make intellectual work their life, whether they are entirely free to give themselves up to study, or whether, though engaged in some calling, they hold happily in reserve, as a supplement of their activity and as a reward, the development and deepening of their mind."

So begins The Intellectual Life: It's Spirit, Conditions, Methods by A.G. Sertillanges, first published in 1921. It has since become a classic on its topic, a book from which many in our group at the Lonergan Institute have already drawn considerable inspiration and guidance.

Sertillanges conveys the hard outlines of a purposeful life in Christ, addressing those called to intellectual work and thought. In our discussion group on Aquinas' theology we acknowledge this calling. It enables us to face the often difficult and challenging material covered in the group.

Rahner recommended Sertillanges' Der heilige Thomas von Aquin as an introduction to Aquinas. Voegelin cites Sertillanges' Avec Henri Bergson in the The New Science of Politics, another book we are avidly studying. Sertillanges is speaking from no small experience; but does he use his experience and knowledge well, with wisdom?

I asked Roland Krismer why he "swore by Sertillanges." He replied that Sertillanges reunites BEING (experienced as revelation), the nous (the organ by which we participate in transcendent being), and philosophizing (the activity by virtue of the nous.) These have been almost entirely separated through the course of Western history after their initial unity in figures like Parmenides.

Krismer writes, "Sertillanges puts the things (faith and reason) in place. He shows the interrelations between revelation and being, faith and reason, intellect and the good, etc. He shows that an intellectual life can be one way of a true Christian life; he encourages persons who feel inclined to a life of study to go their way."

I asked Br. Dunstan why he thought Sertillanges important, since Dunstan suggested The Intellectual Life. He replied, "I would say that the chief value of Sertillanges' book is that it brings to consciousness our need to develop an intellectual life that is closely allied to prayer.

"I have met persons who seemed to have an intellectual life divorced from prayer. Are such persons really growing in wisdom? I believe wisdom is more important than being smart since, with wisdom, one is in touch with reality. It is therefore not so easy to cultivate and it requires a way of living to nourish and encourage it."

Sertillanges points the way to such a life by writing with uncommon depth of knowledge of the spirit, conditions and methods of the intellectual life. With him the spiritual and the practical, knowledge and faith, prayer, virtue and intellect are united in a lucid, summoning, ordered, poetic and wholesome vision of the intellectual calling in Christ.


The Most Reverend Patrick Kelly
Archbishop of Liverpool, England

Patrick H. Byrne, Ph.D.
Boston College, Boston, MA

Rev. Fr. Frederick Crowe, SJ
Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, Ontario

Mary Ann Glendon
Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Rev. Fr. Matthew Lamb
Boston College, Boston, MA

Frederick Lawrence, Ph.D.
Boston College, Boston, MA

Msgr. Rev. Richard Liddy
Seton Hall Univ., South Orange, NJ

Rev. Fr. Sebastian Moore, OSB
Downside Abbey, England

Rev. Fr. Giovanni B. Sala, SJ
Hochschule Für Philosophie, Munich

Rev. Fr. Louis Roy, OP
Boston College, Boston, MA

Phyllis Wallbank, MBE
Windsor, Berks, England



Rev. Fr. Arthur Kennedy
University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN

Michael P. Maxwell, Jr. , J.D., Ph.D.
Marian College, Indianapolis, Indiana

Dunstan Robidoux, OSB, MA, PhL,
Vice-Director, The Lonergan Institute

Mark Rougeux, MA, MBA
Louisville, Kentucky

David Fleischacker, MA, MA, PhD
Director, The Lonergan Institute

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Aims of the Institute
Through education and research, we are implementing the thought of Bernard Lonergan and his concern for the "human good" (or as our sub-title reads, the "Good Under Construction"). The term "human good" was used by Lonergan as a means of retrieving and applying what traditionally was called the common good (Bernard Lonergan was a Jesuit theologian and philosopher who was born in 1904 in Quebec, Canada and died in 1984). In his understanding of the human good, he developed a way of distinguishing and relating all the various goods that human beings seek: from the food that they eat and produce in agricultural systems to the religious graces of God that are carried and bestowed through a religious tradition.

Theology, Culture, and Education

Our educational and research projects will focus upon three areas. First, as a training institute for theology, we will nurture the Church's theological apostolate by fostering the religious, personal, moral, and intellectual context in which a person develops theology. We will use Lonergan's theology as a unifying context to advance both the theory and practice of Catholic theology in a manner that faithfully respects the tradition while genuinely responding to the call of aggiornamento issued by the Second Vatican Council. We will offer seminars, discussion groups, and support for the spiritual, moral, and intellectual formation of theologians. In addition, we will provide both a location and financial support for theologians who wish to further the thought of Bernard Lonergan through research and scholarship (one of the possibilities includes funding for undergraduates who are majoring in theology and would like to spend a summer doing research with us). Second, we will address current cultural and social issues by translating Lonergan's analyses into the needs of daily life.

We will be hiring promising individuals for research that will combine thinking, reflection, and action. This research will address questions that pertain to the "human good" raised by ecumenical issues, the human and social sciences, physical science and technology, and health care. Using the results of these studies, we will offer seminars, courses, and discussion groups to the general public which will help people to integrate work, family, political, and international activities with their faith. Third, as a resource center for education, we will address the foundations and nature of all stages of Catholic education. We will treat issues of coordinated curriculum from kindergarten through graduate school as well as interdisciplinary issues using Lonergan's understanding of human consciousness, of human development, and of human community. With the fruits of these studies, we will offer our resources to educators through seminars, courses, and personal collaboration.

The Future of the Institute
Concern with the "good under construction" is simultaneously a concern with a stewardship of history. Since the future is conditioned by how we understand and respond to the world around us, we need ongoing appraisals that will treat development, decline, and redemption. Thus, we hope to continue raising crucial funds to support sustained research that will develop insights from the wealth of our Catholic tradition and, through education, make them available for the needs of today (special attention will be given to building financial support for lay theologians since their numbers continue to increase due to the call of Pope John Paul II and the Church for them). In the end, the whole purpose of this institute is to improve the way that Catholics and Christians integrate their faith to all aspects of life by improving the way that we live out the religious precepts of loving God and loving our neighbor as Christ has done and commands us to do.

The Status of the Institute
Since 1993, discussion and reading groups focusing upon Lonergan's book INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING have been held either at The Catholic University of America or at St. Anselm's Abbey. New seminars have been initiated. Two read and discussed Patristic, Medieval, and Modern writings on the Trinity. A third discussed a book on grace and human freedom by Dr. Michael Stebbins who led the seminar. In 1997, a discussion seminar was initiated developing a philosophy of science based upon Lonergan's work. This was led by Dr. John Young and Dr. Ronald Vardiman. These seminars take place in an office and seminar room dedicated to the Lonergan Institute at St. Anselm's Abbey and maintained with the help of the monks and good friends (especially Abbot Aidan Shea OSB). If we are able to get funding and increase the number of members, perhaps this will expand. Much, in the end, depends on divine providence. We can always use your prayers.

Who and Where We Are

The Institute is headed by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB, Vice-Director, and David Fleischacker, Director. It is located in St. Anselm's Abbey at 4501 South Dakota Avenue in Washington, D.C.. The idea of the Institute developed, in part, from the reading and discussion groups that have been established since the fall of 1993. From reading Lonergan, a larger project has sprung, and we subsequently incorporated as a non-profit organization on April 18, 1997.


At present we hope to raise $500,000 in order to fund both faculty and a series of research projects that are linked to the three major tasks mentioned earlier (including both a study of the relationship between religious formation and theology, and the preparation of an integrated curriculum for Catholic education from elementary to graduate school). We are hoping that the majority of our funding will be solicited from foundations and friends. If you wish to make a tax deductible donation, please send checks payable to "The Lonergan Institute" to the address below.

Published by the Lonergan Institute for the "Good Under Construction" 4501 South Dakota Ave. NE Washington DC 20017
Phone: 202-269-6650 Web