|Interview With Theologian Christine Anne Mugridge
By Carrie Gress
ROME, 3 JUNE 2008 (ZENIT)
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, 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,
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
"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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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":