reading time 3.5 minutes
As we close out our Catholic Schools Week celebrations, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the relationship of technology to Catholic church over time. So, hop into the way-back machine with me and set the controls for c. 560 AD. Welcome to Seville, Spain where we encounter Isidore of Seville. Later canonized (by JPII) St Isidore, produced a 20 volume body of work known as the Etymologies, or Origins. The print version of the Internet for the Middle Ages, the Etymologies was translated and widely published for over 1000 years and was considered to be the resource for all knowledge great and small of the time. The next time you take a foray into the wide world of Google, pause a moment to pray for the intercession of St Isidore, the patron saint of the Internet, in your digital quest for knowledge.
Next stop, the mid 20th c. Enter Fr Roberto Busa, S.J. Fr Busa is credited (among other intellectual accomplishments) as being the catalyst for creating hyperlinks and searchable online text. Engaged in work to build a reference catalog of all of Thomas of Aquinas’ written works, he met with Thomas J Watson (founder of IBM) in 1949 and gave him this design challenge: Create a computerized way to search text by word. His innovative request was the genesis of the ‘hypertext’ function invented by Ted Nelson in 1965. (National Catholic Register, 2017) Fr Busa died in 2011, but you can interact with his tech legacy to this day on a multilingual public Facebook group. His innovations also led to the development of Digital Humanities in higher education; a field gaining in popularity and importance with the continuing evolution of data analysis. There’s even a Busa Prize awarded to leaders in the field of humanities computing.
A few year later, the Vatican saw fit to address the growing sphere of the influence of social media. Vatican 2 documents published in 1963 include a special Decree on the Media of Social Communications aka, the Inter Mirifica. This two-page document answers two driving questions. “The first question has to do with “information,” as it is called, or the search for and reporting of the news.” (Intermirifica 1.5) “The second question deals with the relationship between the rights, as they are called, of art and the norms of morality.”(Intermirifica 1.6) As you skim the Inter Mirifica, it will draw you in with its shockingly relevant guidelines for dealing with news and media today. In fact, it’s difficult to comprehend that it was indeed written in 1963.
Of course, all innovation carries with it some risk. In combining so many classical works, St Isidore preserved a large part of history. But because his work alone was so highly regarded and widely copied, some of those original texts were lost. The Inter Mirifica starts with this caveat, “The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God. The Church recognizes, too, that men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss.” (Inter Mirifica I.2)
Jumping now to the 21st century, and the ubiquitous nature of technology, it is truly a gift from God to have voices like Sr Carolyn Cerveny, SSJ-TOSF to provide guidance. Sr. Carolyn maintains a blog and Twitter account under the pseudonym of ‘Cyberpilgrim.’ In late 2016 she published a three-part series on Digital Discipleship.
In Part 1 she calls us to action with this statement: “We are now called to integrate the apostolic opportunityof the digital world, so that we may use it effectively in our everyday efforts to incarnate the Gospel message.” She goes on to connect the concept of intentional discipleship with evangelization and how the Internet can be used to serve that purpose.
In Part 2 she describes why and how to use Facebook effectively. She suggests a balance of posts between ‘other’ (work, fun, family, etc.) and faith. (i.e. 70/30, 60/40, 50/50) Your faith ministry can be as simple as a photo from a parish activity or a re-post from a Catholic site such as bustedhalo which I discovered while researching this post. Their #dailyjolt is a welcome addition to my Twitter feed.
Part 3 of Digital Discipleship advises how to get started with various social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Linked-In and more. In this section, you’ll also find links to teen-focused accounts on these platforms and suggestions for finding your own faith-based content.
The Office of Catholic Schools’ mission states that we are “an alliance of Catholic schools where Christ illuminates learning and life.” It’s clear that over the history of the church, technology has been a tool used to do just that. I invite you to take up the mantle and continue the tradition of embracing innovation as a means for expanding Catholic educational ministry. Following are a few tips to get started.
Carol Glanville, M.Ed.
Organizational Design Consultant