John Paul II's Theology of Communication
Interview With Theologian Christine Anne Mugridge
By Carrie Gress
ROME, JUNE 3, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The theology of communication is not merely Christianizing media-technology or scientific techniques, but rather an encounter with the living Christ, says theologian Christine Anne Mugridge.
Mugridge, a lay member of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity, is an author of "John Paul II: Development of a Theology of Communication." Salesian Sister Marie Gannon, professor at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Faculty of the Sciences of Education "Auxilium," provided research for the book.
The text was published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana in honor of the third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.
In this interview with ZENIT, Mugridge discusses the seminal work of a theology of communication found in John Paul II's pontificate.
Q: In your book, you focused on teasing out John Paul II's theology of communication. Did he speak of this theology explicitly, or is this something you were able to discover among his many homilies, letters, audiences, etc?
Mugridge: John Paul II spoke in terms that were explicitly theological in nature regarding the topic of human-social communications and the media of communications, offering us through his almost 27-year-long pontificate a great wealth of commentary and texts addressing the topic.
While he himself did not state the goal to develop a specific theology, from a compilation of John Paul II's theological work it became evident from both the organic development and strategic employment of a theology of communication that a new theology has emerged -- that is, formulated, actuated and lived -- through his efforts.
This advancement is the focus of the curriculum text wherein we site these findings and highlight the theological touchstones that reveal a working theology of communication.
Q: Is a theology of communication merely using social communication techniques to spread the Christian message, or is there more to it?
Mugridge: There is quite a bit more to experience that is provided through the understanding and application of John Paul II's theology of communication; this is not a mere Christianizing of the media-technology or scientific technique.
First, John Paul recognized that the ethical conscience of people today is disoriented. The theology of communication recovers social communications, if you will, precisely at the point where the understanding and activity of communications is linked with the moral life of believers.
John Paul II teaches us through a theology of communication that we must first encounter the living Jesus Christ in order to enter into the mission of Christ. God revealed himself through communicative terminology -- "the Living Word" -- to not only describe what he is doing in his Revelation, but more importantly who he, God is.
As we encounter Jesus Christ -- we are illumined in our understanding of not only what we are doing, but who we are as communicating persons, that is, as human persons in communication with one another and with our Triune God. The foundational structure of this theology of communication begins with the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ, and "The Encounter with the Incarnate Word." This encounter is most personally fulfilled in the Eucharistic Presence.
As a result, the theology of communication is a tool formulated in a truly interdisciplinary manner that will assist the Church/Christian communicator in dialogue with the culture of the media and the mediated cultures of the world today. Likewise, it is not strictly an academic study; but rather according to the method in theology evidenced, we may experience it as an organic theological instrument to better understand both interpersonal and social communications specifically in relationship to the communication of Christ both inside and outside the Christian community.
This important development allows for the technological use of the media to be enhanced as well as provide for a key link/bridge to be strengthened between the moral and ethical perspectives of social communications from both the theological and secular sciences; thus granting the Church the opportunity to communicate her message in a more meaningful manner in her mission.
All of us in the Church by virtue of our baptism are called to live the mission of the communication of the Gospel; that is the mission to communicate Christ. Truthfully, this is not a matter of application of technique so much as it is a matter of first contemplating God's Revelation in the Incarnate Word.
Q: You cite "Ecclesia in America" as a significant document to understand this new theology. What was John Paul II trying to teach the world, and in particular, America, meaning a united South and North America, through this particular apostolic exhortation?
Mugridge: "Ecclesia in America" is cited as a sample text for its demonstration of the presence of a working theology of communication that is a hallmark of the pontificate of John Paul II.
"Ecclesia in America" is likewise exciting because in it John Paul both expands and concretizes our understanding of how all can live more deeply the Church's nature and mission through his communicative strategy for the New Evangelization defined as "The Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ."
John Paul II is trying to teach the world that in its nature, we may see the Church as the lived communion of man with the Most Holy Trinity, and in its mission, we see this communion being brought to the whole of humanity in and through the Church.
This missionary mandate is given a new impetus in our age through the Holy Father's teaching on the mission to communicate Christ as expressed in the New Evangelization. In particular, John Paul speaks of all America as being one united people both North and South. He places this people under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Star of the New Evangelization, Mother of Hope.
Finally, in "Ecclesia in America," John Paul II asks the people of America to embrace the call to the New Evangelization with open hearts. Pope Benedict providentially inspired America to live more profoundly this reality in his recent apostolic voyage wherein he encouraged Catholics to live their faith in union with one another in and through "Christ Our Hope."
Q: How should understanding the theology of communication change the way those involved with social media think about their work and/or themselves with regard to Christ and the Church's mission?
Mugridge: The understanding a theology of communication offers the transformative gift like any applied theological study. Specifically, it more fully reveals to man his providentially ordained communicative potential and the profound truth and nature of man's communicative reality.
The simple key of "The Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ" that John Paul developed in his communicative strategy for this mission of the Church is a gift that is easily comprehended and applied to personal and social, secular and ecclesial communication experiences -- thus transforming the members of the Church personally and corporately.
Understanding this theology gives both those involved with social media and those involved in the Church's mission the opportunity to experience personal, ongoing conversion wherein Christ becomes the living presence who reveals a model par excellence for all human communication activities.
The knowledge and application of this theological perspective of being necessarily impacts our daily lives. This theological awareness provides the foundational platform into which we then incorporate excellence in communications science principles, methodology, theory and management in all our communicative activities.
Q: Practically speaking, how can the "theology of communication" be applied to diocesan communication offices, seminaries, media outlets, etc.?
Mugridge: The Church, as noted, has a keen interest in the science of communication. So crucial is the role of public relations and communications that the Church requested formally that an office be established in each diocese for such an operation as well as the development of a diocesan plan of communications and for the development of a theology of communication.
From this interdisciplinary study, there emerge new horizons of convergent platforms for personal formation, interdisciplinary dialogue and pastoral initiatives providing for a meeting ground between the Church and the media, what Pope Benedict has urged -- a new type of "info-ethics."
The practical applications of a theology of communication within the Church are numerous and rich; in the formation of priests for their own personal/pastoral growth, for use in all diocesan offices regarding the development of communications planning, in media outlets for ongoing maturing of personnel to obtain a more profound and integrated understanding of their own communicative potential and so on. We offer ongoing education seminars to assist leaders in the Church to understand this theological development and to better use the textbook in their own particular milieu.
Q: Finally, why do you think this new theology is coming now, at the beginning of the third millennium?
Mugridge: In actuality, the foundational structure of this theology is not new, but is integral to the existing patrimony within the Church.
What is occurring now is the new awareness of both the need for and the presence of this theology of communication as well as the integral role that the media plays as a fundamental piece of the answer to the "anthropological question that is emerging as part of the key challenge of the third millennium" which Pope Benedict refers to in his World Communications Day message of 2008.
"Humanity today," Benedict explained, "is at a crossroads. [...] [S]o too in the sector of social communications there are essential dimensions of the human person and the truth concerning the human person coming into play. [...] For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity. […] The new media […] are changing the very face of communication; perhaps this is a valuable opportunity to reshape it, to make more visible, as my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II said, the essential and indispensable elements of the truth about the human person."
According to John Paul II, the means of social communications must become a way of communicating the fullness of the truth of man as revealed in Christ, for this is the only authentic foundation for solidarity and the realization of the integral development of all humanity according to the divinely ordained potential and dignity of the human person.
The application of this theology as a communicative strategy for the Mission of the Church is a crucial bridge to the "info-ethics" so needed in our day.
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On the Net:
"John Paul II: Development of a Theology of Communication": www.sacredartscommunications.org