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)
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
The second theme appears frequently in Father Crowe’s work. It is that teaching presupposes learning. Any individual or group that aims to teach must first learn. This requirement seems obvious enough when put in general terms, but we Catholics are prone to overlook the fact that it applies within the Church just as anywhere else. Even the magisterium must learn before it can teach. Neglecting that truth and its implications gives rise to distorted theories and deformed practices about teaching and learning in the Church. Hear what Crowe says in an article entitled “The Church as Learner,” written in 1987 and republished in 1989 in the volume Appropriating the Lonergan Idea:
… we have laid so much stress on the teaching Church … as an office belonging to certain people … that we have not attended to the learning function, though it is primary in regard to the Church as a whole … Thus, we are like a bird that has one wing hugely overdeveloped, while the other, through lack of exercise, has been allowed to atrophy: we can hardly take flight on wings of eagles in that condition. (373-74)
In my judgment, the third theme is one of Father Crowe’s most original theological ideas. Perhaps its clearest expression occurs in “Rethinking God-with-us,” a article first appearing in 1987 and republished in 2010 in the volume Lonergan and the Level of Our Time. An utterly familiar Christian claim is that God the Son is present to us in history. Further developing a contention made by Bernard Lonergan, Crowe argues in many of his writings that the Spirit is present to us in our interiority. But how is the Father present to us in this life? Crowe’s striking reply: in his absence. Listen:
… even more neglected than the role of the Spirit is the role of the Father in the divine threefold entry into our world. What needs to be thought out in the context of the presence of Son and Spirit, and our double experience of their presence, is the absence of the third element of God-with-us and the way to relate this to our experience of the presence of Son and Spirit. Like the long obscurity of the Spirit while the focus was on the Son, there has been an obscuring of the personal role of the Father, both in the final state of eternal life and in the present temporary state of the Father’s absence. This third area is that of the not-yet, but not merely of the not-yet; there is also the to-be, and a consciousness of the lack of what is to-be. 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. (343)
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.
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)
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.
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.