WE CAN SPURN COMPLEXITY IN THE DISCUSSION OF HUMAN QUESTIONS ONLY IF WE ALSO ABANDON THE CLAIM THAT WE KNOW WITH ACCURACY WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT
IF WE LED A RELATIVELY HAPPY LIFE ON EARTH AND, WITHOUT ‘LEAVING’ IT, WITHOUT RELINQUISHING ANY OF ITS JOYS AND COMFORTS, WENT ON WITHOUT BREAK OR INTERRUPTION TO RECEIVE IN ADDITION THE DIVINE LIFE, WHAT PRIOR SENSE OF NEED WOULD THERE BE? OUR UNIVERSE, IN WHICH DEATH WAS UNKNOWN, WOULD BE EXPANDED BY ANOTHER UNIVERSE FOR WHICH WE FELT NO REALLY AGONIZING NEED.
Remembering Frederick Crowe
Remarks at his Wake by Michael Vertin
ST JOSEPH CHAPEL, REGIS COLLEGE
It is obvious that many of Father Frederick Crowe’s relatives, Jesuit colleagues, and other friends knew him better than I did. That group undoubtedly includes some of you here this evening. Nonetheless, I was privileged to develop a moderately broad and deep familiarity of my own with Father Crowe during the 45 years that I worked closely with him on a variety of Lonergan projects. Those projects included the Lonergan Centre (later the Lonergan Research Institute), the Lonergan Trust Fund, and two different multi-year study groups investigating implementation of the functional specialties that Lonergan labelled “Foundations” and “Interpretation.”
However, perhaps the most distinctive dimension of my acquaintance with Father Crowe emerged during the 25 years that I served as his editor, helping him get four volumes of his essays printed or reprinted. I would like to draw upon those volumes this evening in order to highlight four (of the many) themes that he emphasizes in his writings. I will illustrate each theme by reading a paragraph from one of the four volumes. My hope is that by sharing with you a few of Fred’s most characteristic theological ideas, I can help you appreciate more fully both his scholarly acuity and his personal profundity.
For the first theme, let me quote from an essay originally written in 1959 and republished in 2000 in the volume Three Thomist Studies. In the following passage, Crowe draws upon Thomas Aquinas in order to reject vigorously the often-repeated idea that talking about human things in the best way means talking about them in a simple way. He says:
St. Thomas has a rather fully elaborated doctrine according to which the operations of earthly agents take on an increasing complexity as those agents rise in the scale of perfection, while angelic operations grow simpler as the spiritual being approaches the simplicity of God. Humans, standing at the confines of the material and spiritual worlds, are therefore the most complex of beings. In the measure in which this view is valid—-and I think the intervening seven centuries support rather than upset it … —-we can spurn complexity in the discussion of human questions only if we also abandon the claim that we know with accuracy what we are talking about. (114)
Finally, one of Crowe’s most personal ideas dates from late in his working life as a professional theologian. Not surprisingly, he was pondering more concretely the prospect of his own death. He wrote a short essay entitled “Why We Have to Die” that appeared in 2004 in the volume Developing the Lonergan Legacy. His central thesis is that an essential part of our preparation for life with God is having the experience of our own relative nothingness. I quote:
If we led a relatively happy life on earth and, without ‘leaving’ it, without relinquishing any of its joys and comforts, went on without break or interruption to receive in addition the divine life, what prior sense of need would there be? Our universe, in which death was unknown, would be expanded by another universe for which we felt no really agonizing need. Of course, once the divine life became ours, we would see the relative nothingness of the human, of even the highest in the human, but we would see it somewhat abstractly, not having experienced it, not having in the prior life on earth longed for the other world … We would not have faced extinction, or a ghostly, shadowy existence in Sheol. In short it is intrinsic to human existence, as a creature of potency, to know the need that that potency is, and to desire its actuation; and the possibility of such knowledge and such desire is confrontation with extinction in death. (312)
Perhaps all of us who knew Father Frederick Crowe, whether well or even just a little bit, can join together in joyful thanks for the elegant written expressions of luminous meaning and holy value that he provided us in his writings—-and also for the inspiring incarnate expressions of the same that he provided us by his life.
THERE IS A SENSE OF OUR POTENTIAL INFINITY, AND THEREFORE OF AN INFINITE EMPTINESS. THERE IS AN EXPERIENCE OF THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SENSES AND OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT. IT IS THE ABSENCE, THE LACK, THE NEED, THE HUNGER, THE EMPTINESS, THE LONGING, THE ABANDONMENT, EXPERIENCED IN OUR HUMAN CONDITION AS LONG AS WE ARE SEPARATED FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE FATHER IN OUR WORLD.