The interrelationship between theology and communications need to be explored in detail. It requires placing theology and communication face-to-face. This article on ‘Interfaces between theology  and communication’ is, thus, a search for common areas between theologising and communication when the two are placed face to face with each other in a transparent fashion. Interface means the point of interaction or communication between two entities, groups or subjects. An honest investigation necessitates that we look at theology and communication  from both sides before we go to conclusions. However, being theologians and church communicators we will lay more stress on the implications of the communication revolution for theology and examine how communication insights can significantly challenge theologising.

(originally published : “Interfaces between Theology and Communications” in Michael Traber (ed.), Communication in Theological Education. New Directions, ISPCK, Delhi, 2005, 38-60.)



Interfaces between Theology and Communication

Joseph Palakeel

(originally published : “Interfaces between Theology and Communications” in Michael Traber (ed.), Communication in Theological Education. New Directions, ISPCK, Delhi, 2005, 38-60.)

 

 The statements like “Christianity is communication” clearly indicate that there is so much in common between theology and communication. Requirements of the Christian life and ministry in the 21st century suggest that a  purely instrumentalist view of communication no more suffice to proclaim the Good News today.  Integration of a few courses in communication or training in a new homiletics or a few audiovisual skills and techniques, would not make the Gospel the leaven in the multimedia culture. Theology and communication can no more be considered as rivals or competitors, nor is communication a mere handmaid of theology. Instead, both need to be seen as dialogue partners par excellence. The partnership between theology and communication, should go beyond any ‘theology of communication’ or ‘communicative theology’ to a ‘communication theology’, in order to develop a theology which is conversant with the communication culture and a communication with a theological content. For this the interrelation between theology and communication has to progress to an advanced stage, where communication is at the heart of the Church and her life and ministry and communication is the core activity in theologising.

The interrelationship between theology and communications need to be explored in detail. It requires placing theology and communication face-to-face. This article on ‘Interfaces between theology  and communication’ is, thus, a search for common areas between theologising and communication when the two are placed face to face with each other in a transparent fashion. Interface means the point of interaction or communication between two entities, groups or subjects. An honest investigation necessitates that we look at theology and communication  from both sides before we go to conclusions. However, being theologians and church communicators we will lay more stress on the implications of the communication revolution for theology and examine how communication insights can significantly challenge theologising.

Hence, we begin with a survey of the growing partnership between Church and communication and proceed to elaborate the challenges raised by communication to theology and questions posed by theology to communication. Next, we would highlight the major points of common interest and benefit. This calls for a further look at theology, because today’s communication culture challenges theology to renew itself, both content and method. Rethinking theology with insights from communication points towards a communication theology.

1. Theology and Communication

1.1. The Progressive Engagement between Church and Communication

            Church was the leading communicator in all centuries, as she has always used the best available means of communication to teach and preach. Church was the first one to use the mass media of printing and radio. But today, the emergence of the electronic media has left church limping behind. The initial response of the church was one of suspicion, seclusion and censorship. As the awareness grew that these are “wonderful means” for the propagation of the Gospel, segregation soon turned into imitation and collaboration,  through critical understanding and discriminating service. This movement from the outside to the periphery, led to further appreciation and a subsequent realization that communication is an integral dimension of Christian life and mission. This attitudinal change has led to a behavioural change from isolation and critique to appreciation and immersion. [1]

Communication today is considered as an essential dimension of Christian life and ministry. Pope John Paul II describes communication as the “modern Areopagus” and “the house-tops” from which Gospel has to be proclaimed today.[2] Different Episcopal Conferences in various parts of the world are seriously discussing the impact of communication on the Church.[3] WCC and, especially WACC, have highlighted the importance of communication in today’s Christian life and ministry. Today all are aware that Church should not only ‘use’ communication and make herself more ‘communicative’, but also enter into a serious dialogue with the communication sciences to draw insights for the life and ministry, teaching  and theology because, in the present circumstances,  “faith and culture are called to meet and interact precisely in the area of communication...” [4]

1.2. Theology and Communication

The growing engagement of the Church with communication realities has its effects on theology too. Today revelation is described as God’s self-communication through the Son and Spirit both within the interiority of man and in and through the world and history[5] and faith as man’s personal-existential response (self-communication) to God’s self-communication. So also, theology as faith seeking understanding, (meaning and  expression) is recognised as a communication activity, both as interiorization (making sense) of the foundational experience of God-man communication and as an exteriorization of the meaning with, within and for the community of believers. Thus, we can say that communication is an integral dimension of theologising or, better still, theologising is communication.

            Before we analyse the implications of such a view for theologising today, we shall briefly discuss how communication challenges theologising and theology faces up to communication. A fresh look at theologising in the light of these mutual challenge will be done in an attempt to redefine the nature and functions of theology on the basis of the common grounds (interfaces) between communication and theology.

2. Communication Challenges to Theologising

We will first look at certain concrete challenges posed by communication to theology.  For brevity, we shall discuss primarily certain epistemological and semantic shifts brought about by communication, which are of significance to the method and content of theology. Today the way of gathering, storing, retrieving and processing information has changed, so much so that the mental habits of knowing and making sense have evolved. Modern communication has a new grammar, syntax, logic and semantics adapted to the multi-media and multi-sensorial approach. The integration of images, sound and text with random (multi-sequential) access makes it possible different levels and ways of knowing.

2.1. Word to Image

            The evolving multimedia and digital revolution challenge first and foremost the methodological assumptions of theology (and other sciences too). It has ushered in a new era in literacy, where text and image not just co-exist (as in illustrated book) but collaborate to produce meaning.[6] In this communication often images dominate and such a communication is understood by even the ‘illiterate’, which means that the whole process of making meaning is reconstituted.

            The multimedia and multisensorial communication marks a definitive move from word (reading and writing, saying-hearing) to image (seeing and experiencing). Communication is more visual than verbal. Knowing today is almost equated to seeing. (Eg. TV news). Although word is still used, pride of place goes to image. We are surrounded by a universe of images: photos, films, television, advertisements, billboards, road signs, illustrations and images are the components of  our sensory experience, our thought processes, our feelings, and even ideology. We find such an invasion of images, that we can say that visuals are substituting language. Previously images were mere illustrations of a dominant  text. Today, on the contrary, it is the function of the text to  explain the images. This is because of the progressive realisation that image teaches faster, more easily and efficiently, allowing a quick grasp in a single glance, often without analysis and explanation. Hence the transference of knowledge, be it theology or science, is done predominantly  through images. In other words, we can say that the hegemony of the word is ended and a visual culture has emerged. The most demanding challenge which the practice of visual culture places before the Church is to go beyond the ‘word.’[7]

2.21. Head to Heart

            The above shift from verbal to visual has certain major epistemological implications. There are predominantly two ways of knowing classified as the mythical way or primordial knowing and the rational way or conceptual knowing. The period of myths and epics, characterised by the synthetic and intuitive ways of knowing were superseded by the Socratic method, the Platonic ‘myth-ology’ and the Aristotelian science. This move was crowned by the Scholastic dialectics and the Cartesian quest for clear and distinct ideas. Ever since, the main stream education and progress is marked by the triumph of the rational, analytical and conceptual knowing and thinking. However, the primordial way of thinking survived in the oral culture and traditional arts and music. The audio-visual and multimedia communication has initiated a ‘rediscovery’ (not exactly a return) of the primordial ways of making sense. The audio-visual media discount the linear, analytical and clear speech and have recourse to myths, stories and narrative. Meanings and values are transmitted through feelings and relationships rather than theories and direct statements. Linguistic signs no longer have priority in communication, you can now write by stringing together images, sounds and text. It is a new language with its own grammar and syntax, logic and semantics, which is often contrary to the familiar logic.

            Modern psychology and pedagogy have found that simultaneous presentation of verbal and visual stimuli which occupy more than one sense at a time enables better understanding. Although there are multiple intelligences, and different strong channels in different people, there is more and more evidence that two predominant channels of the mind are the verbal and the visual (seemingly corresponding to the left and right hemisphere). The successful ‘wiring’ of both (known as dual coding) produces best results in learning and thinking. (Hence the shift in emphasis from IQ, to EQ and SQ). Modern audiovisual communication is really based on the insight into the synergetic functioning of the many channels of mind.

            Meaning construction and value formation is done through feelings and emotions, relations and associations, as is exemplified best in the various advertisements. Theology today, however, understood as a science and sacred doctrine or as a heuristic study or hermeneutics, is undoubtedly rational and verbal, (logocentric) or conceptual and theoretical. The quest for maximum monosemy and clear and distinct ideas, produce dogmatic statements and faith formulas, whereas religion itself or Bible in particular are stories and narratives of primordial experiences, memories and witness. This necessitates a re-examination of the method and content of theology.

2.3. Mechanistic to a Ritual Sacramental Perspective

            The logocentric world view was also mechanistic, where everything happened according to fixed laws and patterns only. The above shifts from word to image and head to heart does not mean just an illustrated book or a substitution of images and diagrams in the place of word. It is true that images are replacing words, but these are not exactly any picture or diagram, but highly symbolic images, which are loaded with meanings. Thus we can see here the emergence of a new symbolic representation of reality where a highly complex syntax and semantics are at work. The visual thinking and representation of realities are more symbolic than the verbal communication, and it appears more natural to the homo symbolicus.

            The visual thinking is founded on a sacramental perception of the world. Man as spirit in the world or as body-soul or physical and spiritual being perceive and understand everything in sensible and tangible ways. He experiences the Ultimate or the Transcendent too through the secular and the tangible. Man experiences the Ultimate in liminal situations created by ritual-sacramental celebration. This makes the role of symbols, sacraments and rituals very obvious. Anthropologists testify to the existence of rituals and symbols, sacraments and ceremonies in all religions. Christianity too has this dimension, although it is somewhat lost primarily through the focus on pure word and the fear of multiplicity and plurality.

            When sacraments and celebrations of faith were much discredited or became obsolete in the Christian churches man started drawing his liminal experience from secular events like mega shows, sports events, talk-shows. Today TV and sports events are all increasingly recognised as modern man’s rituals.  It suggests that we need to rediscover the Christian symbols, myths, narratives and stories, parables and metaphors. Together with it, poetry and music,  arts and architecture, rituals and celebrations, demand our attention.

2.4. Monolithic and Hierarchical to Popular, Plural, and Global

            The multi-sensorial and multimedia communication, which is essentially symbolic, makes it possible to see reality from various levels and angles. In the  audiovisual culture, the ground has assumed more importance than the figure. For example, in a book the figure (printed characters, letters, words, sentences) are more important while in a film the visual, and audio ambient also assume importance as it also contributes to meaning and understanding. That means the atmosphere, ambient, manner and medium of presentation becomes relevant to the content. It thus presents a synthetic and global view which is interpreted by each beholder in his way.

This leads to an inevitable pluralism and ambivalence. Traditional and hierarchical values and systems are often questioned and discarded and a more participatory production of meanings which are significant  and relevant to specific groups are accepted and promoted. This gives a boost to the popular culture, religion and ways of life as opposed to the high culture and mainline religious practices. Naturally, theology and Christian tradition get challenged. This is felt especially in theology which depends primarily on long established dogmas, theories and categories.

            These are  some of the  major challenges of communication culture to theology. They are not new lessons to Christian theology; yet these and other developments points the way towards a new and different approach in theologising in order to make sense to the people of the media culture. Christianity has ample resources to counter these challenges of communications to meaningful human existence.

3. Theological Challenges to Communications

            The colossal growth of communications naturally casts its shadows too. There is an inherent danger of godlessness or ungodliness in any purely human project as exemplified by the Babel. Modern man is getting lost in the Promethean quest for self -transcendence and a new age gnosticism, in which man loses sight of the truly transcendent realities. Often the worldly gods like consumerism, individualism, incommunication and fragmentation have upper hand in the human project. Christian faith and theology should play a prophetic role here. Faith should bring in the miracle of Pentecost to the modern Babel.

3.1. The Inherent Immanentism

            The over emphasis on symbolic and ritual experiences and celebrations risks the hidden danger of a pseudo-religion or pseudo-transcendence, which is nothing but a disguised immanentism in the garb of transcendence, which fail to put man in contact with the mystery of the divine. As most of the new age tendencies reveal, this ends up in a sort of pantheism or Gnostic self-redemption. Theology can help communication in this situation by articulating the minimal moments of liminality in the light of revelation-faith to make the experience of the Transcendent tangible and possible, by awakening the interiority of the people and setting in motion a quest for God.

3.2. Worship of False Gods

            The above immanentism results from a ‘failure to go beyond the apparent’ or from ‘stopping with what is seen and heard because the things that are seen are beautiful’ (Wis 13:7). The beautiful images and enticing sounds  and pleasurable sensations of the communication world are so attractive that man is enslaved by pleasure seeking and consuming. This is idolatry in the strictly biblical sense. This calls for a prophetic intervention, to awaken in them the ability to ‘go beyond’ the beautiful things to the author of beauty. The theologians and pastors in future should be able to use creative and innovative ways to stimulate the religious imagination of the people towards the transforming power of the Gospel. This is not possible through the abstract doctrines or perfect statement of faith, but by fashioning stories of faith in parables and metaphors, art and music, rituals and celebration. Reclaiming the ritual-sacramental dimension of Christianity in a new way can be helpful here. A symbolic-sacramental perception of world and human life as the sacred manifesting itself in the secular is capable of cultivating a habit of going beyond the beautiful and the pleasurable. It always involves an aesthetic approach to faith and practice, theology and life.

3.3. Fragmentation and Individualism

            Although communication by its very nature is oriented to community and communion often it promotes individualism and egoism. In spite of its global and plural approaches to reality it can also cause fragmentation resulting from individualism. We find too many small islands in the global village. The proclamation of the Good News, however,  is to gather all nations into one. 

Theology and communication thus challenge each other. It is mutually enriching  and highly fecund. Communication challenges theology to explore anew the dynamism and enthusiasm of the Gospel.

4. Rethinking Theology

            Thus it becomes clear that when we speak of interfaces between theology and communication, it is not enough merely to highlight the essential communication dimension of theology or list a few areas of collaboration or dialogue between theology and communication. Rather, the content and the method of theology need updating -revision and renewal. Such an investigation at profound levels necessitates a multifaceted discussion of theologising at the level of principles.

            An analysis of the origin and growth of theology indicates that the shift from the simple faith of the Bible to the learned faith (Origen) of the Alexandrians was further stabilised by Augustine and finally crowned by St. Thomas, by raising theology into a science. The rational and anthropological method in modern times, with the quest for clear and distinct ideas, completed this rationalistic turn of Christian theology. In this system doctrines and dogmas became the canons of faith with utmost univocity and uniform confession. To this was added the preoccupation with orthodoxy (initially opposed to heterodoxy or heresy), which led to a mistaken notion of unity as uniformity and Catholicity as conformity.

            Even the reformers’ quest for liberating Christianity from philosophy through the ideals of sola fides  and sola scriptura did not help much as they too fell prey to either rationalism or fideism of the time and  the tyranny of the text through printing, which made them to understand the “Word” as purely conceptual and rational. The creeds and catechisms, the instructions and manuals are based on the culture of word and text. Pauline assertion that “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2Cor 5:7) , was taken literally, because we presume that we just ‘hear’ God speak and abide by his Word and do not ‘see’ God. Consequently word and text became predominant in Christianity and theology became notional and rational.

However, the communication revolution with its characteristic shift from verbal to visual challenges Christianity (more than other religions) to move from a ‘proclaimed and heard’ to a ‘witnessed or seen and touched’ faith in order to make sense of God today. Christian theologising should move away from the dominantly logocentric to a iconocentric perspective of God and world. It is, however, not anything strange or new to Christianity. The Bible is full of stories and narratives, poems and picturesque language. It does not contain theories and statements but witness and confessions. Especially, the preaching and teaching of Jesus was this way. Above all, the ‘Word became flesh’, which is interpreted today in a logocentric fashion is in fact the best form of iconocentric communication  and, hence, the most pertinent model for theologising today.

It is exactly in this area that theology is most vulnerable today vis-à-vis communication. In this context it must be said emphatically that more than depending on lessons from communication, theology has to draw from the inherent resources of theology itself in synergy with communications. Since it is difficult to elaborate all the aspects of such a theology within this short paper, we shall try to outline the main thrust of such a theology, which could be called  ‘communication theology’ for lack of  a better term.

4.1. Theologising as Faith Seeking Understanding

            One of the best definitions of theology is Faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) by Anslem of Canterburry, because it assigns faith and reason their proper places and theologising is given a dynamism by placing “seeking” at centre. This leaves theology ever rooted in faith and Christian tradition, while ample space is allowed for intellectus in a dynamic sense. Theology is, hence, an ongoing process of self understanding by faith. The many theologies we know originate from this.

However, because of the preponderance of the Thomistic emphasis on the intellectus, theology as intellectus fidei as well as fides intellectus, “has become a logo-centric science. The preferred, if not chosen, medium is verbal expression. The tools are concepts. The focus is on truth. The handmaid is philosophy. .... Somehow we have tended to privilege abstract statements over narratives and to see revelation as a creed or a series of clear statements”. [8] Bible is considered as the written word and tradition seen as the handed down word and reading, preaching-hearing (verbal expression) became the privileged way of understanding and assent and all other forms of expressions are discredited as less worthy or unworthy of being theology. Where revelation is seen as a creed or set of doctrines, assent to certain statement of truth came to be considered as the only way of believing. Consequence is uniformity of expressions, endless chase for clear and distinct concepts, dogmatic formulae and definitive statement of truth.

In this conception of theology, word is considered as the most refined expression of man even as God’s word comes to man in human words. So revelation is understood as Word of God and faith is described as assent to the word. Since logos meant word and reason, it became so easy to go rational, to “give reasons for the hope that is in you” (1Pet 3:15). Theology, consequently, is words about God or discourse on God. The Word-theology of Protestants, based on the doctrine of sola scriptura, is the most refined form of a religion of the word or book. Most of western Catholic theology is notional and rational, although Catholics have retained the sacramental dimension of Christianity and role of tradition. However, it must be said that understanding is understood in purely notional and rational sense. But today, more than ever, there is a strong feeling that “understanding” itself needs  a new understanding. The emerging communication revolution challenges theology to revision its self-understanding.

4.2. Theology as Faith Seeking Meaning

            The entire exercise of theology (habitus theologicus) is under question. The verbal and the conceptual expressions, taking pride in unanimity and uniformity and the faith as rational assent and verbal confession have left the modern man untouched: “The greatest danger threatening faith today ... is not the absence of information and firm instruction, but the lack of interest in Jesus Christ and the failure of our hearts to be converted. We have knowledge, and sometimes we even practise. But our hearts remain untouched.”[9] Theology is not meaningful or relevant. It calls for redefining theology as faith seeking meaning and relevance in the given life-situation of every believer. As a meaning making process, theology is “a continuous and renewed process of interpretation, systematic reflection, articulation and praxis after encountering a God who communicates himself with humans and their world.”[10]

4.3. Theologising as  Faith Seeking Communication

Theologising by its very nature and methodology is  communication through and through. We can identify three sets of communications at three different stages of theologising, each with an ad intra and an ad extra dimension. The eternal ad intra communication among the persons of Trinity overflows ad extra in time as God’s self-communication to man (creation-revelation-salvation), constituting the principium  (source and foundation) of all theology. The faith response of individual Christian  (rather, theologian) involves an ad intra communication (reflection) and an ad extra communication, vertically towards God and horizontally towards the community of believers. Theologising is, thus an intensely personal (experience of the foundational communication) and a communitarian act (communitarian response and reflection on God’s self-communication) of rediscovering the meaning of Christian revelation-faith experience. This communitarian faith-experience and reflection is to be shared, through dialogue and proclamation (mission), with the entire humanity. The communitarian communication of faith seeks expression ad extra to the entire humanity and world as encounter and dialogue with all religions, cultures and social systems. In this perspective, theology extends much beyond an academic exercise into an intimate dialogue (exchange, communication, communion) of a Christian ad intra with himself and the community and ad extra with God and world.

                                       

            Revelation and incarnation were/are always considered as acts of communication, although it was only recently that revelation is defined as God’s self-communication. Many theologians both ancient and modern have highlighted the integral communication dimension of theology too. The learned faith (as opposed to the simple faith) proposed by Origen and the subsequent Alexandrian theology implicitly point to the communication dimension of theology. Other important theologians of the early church like Ireneus of Lyons, the Cappadocean Fathers and St. Augustine also were well aware of the communication dimension of theology. It is observed that we can find 2350 references to theme of communication in St. Thomas. Even the interpretations of trinity in terms of personal properties (Cappadoceans), relation (St. Augustine) and perichoresis (John Damascene) too consider Father, Son and Spirit as persons in communication (communion).

We are also familiar with many recent efforts to rethink theological method from communication perspective. Years back Rahner pointed out that theology is all about communication. Lonergan considers communication as the eighth functional speciality of theological method, ‘in which theological reflection bears fruit and without which the first seven are in vain’. For Dulles, “communication dimension is inherent in theology” and, thus, “theology at every point is concerned with realities of communication”.[11]  However, it must be added that they are all concerned with the method of doing theology that is communicative in a rational-cognitive perspective, whereas, recent developments in communication challenge any genitive (theology of communication) or adjective (communicative) theology.

The emerging multi-media culture  demands a new interpretation of the Christian revelation (content) and necessitates new way of doing theology (method), which  appropriates the multi-faceted richness of human communication as the core of theology. Today theology is invited to theologise from the communication perspective, as opposed to the philosophical and linguistic-hermeneutical point of view.  Communication challenges the method and content of theology.

5. Theologising to Communicate

            Communication theology should take into consideration all the factors we have discussed above. It should emphasise visual rather than verbal thinking, primordial and experiential knowing than notional and conceptual; it should also take into consideration feelings and relationships as well as thinking and theories; it should give due importance to ritual and sacramental dimensions and should be global and plural. At the same time, such a theology should be capable of leading people beyond the immanent and apparent to the transcendent and give people a taste for the ultimate values  and meanings. It should thus be a global and plural (ecological) theology, which should be appealing and attractive (aesthetic) yet leading man beyond the secular to the transcendent (sacramental). These descriptions fit a new form of a natural theology in a profoundly Christian (not general religious) sense. We call it a ‘superbly natural’ theology or a super-natural theology.

5.1. Super-Natural Theology

            The communication theology has to be a natural theology.  By saying this we do not want to revive the old debate on natural theology vs. revealed theology. Nor is it the forecourt theology or preparatio evangelica, that is intended.  It is not because the reformers like Calvin, Brunner and Barth have vehemently opposed it nor because Catholics themselves have discredited the two ways of knowing God. When we speak of a natural theology in the context of communication what we mean is a theology that is natur-al to man, because, the world of communications dare us to redefine theology itself in terms of a ‘natural’ methodology.

            When revelation is considered as God’s self-communication, any ad extra communication of God is revelation, be it in creation or in history of salvation. We have to concede that the God who spoke to our fathers in many and varied ways, continue to do so, using multiple ways and means. This is not to rule out or reduce the importance of the unique self-communication of God in Jesus Christ. It is unique not because it is a different type of revelation but because it is qualitatively the culmination or crowning moment of all other revelations. In fact, incarnation is unique because of its utmost natural-ity. Becoming man was the best or most suited way for God to communicate to man; pitching tent among man and talking to man in a man-to-man or friend-to-friend dialogue is the best way God could find to communicate to man[12]. Thus the word-become-flesh is a communication technique so adapted to divine and human nature. We can call it a super-natural – in the sense of a superbly natural – communication.

This view can be validated from various theological perspectives. This is the theology found in the Gospels, especially in John. The Antiochean logos-sarx theology vis a vis the Alexandrian Word theology is the oldest instance of such a theology. In our own times, Catholic theologians like Schillebeeckx, Rahner  and  Protestant thinkers like Barth and Juengel speak of the realism of incarnation as a theological paradigm. Barth’s booklet The Humanity of God[13] and Juengel’s great work God as the Mystery of the World[14] show how God keeps communicating to the world using all human resources. God is acting in history, not as an alien power but as part of it, using the natural and the secular. Thus we are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that there is no purely natural phenomenon, there is only graced nature. When the supernatural is infused into natural, the natural becomes super-natural, because it is able to mediate to us the supernatural without losing its own naturality (E.g. the humanity of Jesus).

5.2. Symbolic-Sacramental Theology

            The realism of the incarnation is that the sacred manifests itself in and through the secular. It means that God’s communication is symbolic and sacramental. Modern philosophy and linguistics testify that every communication is symbolic; every communication is mediated. We know, learn and understand by moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Thus knowing is metaphorical and analogical. From this modern understanding of man as homo symbolicus and world and all that is in it as symbolic and sacramental, we are in  a better position to understand anew the natural theology.

            To discern the sacred in the secular, we should necessarily have a symbolic/sacramental understanding of reality (and theology). In the formal ontological view: “A symbol is the supreme and primal representation, in which one reality renders another present”[15]. In this sense all beings are by their nature symbolic, because  every being realises itself by expressing itself in an “other”. The “other” which is constituted as the expression of the original being is its symbol. Thus all realities have a symbolic structure and meaning.

The dynamics of symbol or sacrament is that we move from/through the familiar to the unfamiliar, from visible to the invisible. Here what is seen and heard or experienced is just a visible, tangible medium through which we experience the invisible, intangible and incomprehensible. It is true that God is invisible, incomprehensible, veiled. But we can think and speak of God in his visibility through the self-communication. The invisible God became visible in the humanity of God (Jesus); Word became visible in the flesh. The sacred became present and manifest in the secular. This is the menaing of a sacramental-symbolic perspective. Parables and metaphors are the  linguistic parallels of sacramental symbolic structure. The modern communication media make ample use of them. When Jesus wanted to present the invisible Kingdom, he said, “it is like ....”. Thus parables, metaphors, stories and narratives of faith make God transparent. The so called infinite qualitative distance/difference between God and man is overcome in this way. This was the realisation Barth came to, when he moved from his Church Dogmatics days when he asserted that ‘God is God and man is man’ to The Humanity of God. Luther’s problem with the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) also betrays a failure to understand the sacramental structure of revelation.

            Luther or Barth opposed natural theology, because they feared that a natural theology would strip God of his transcendence and absoluteness and images would end up in idolatry. Naturally the symbolic sacramental or parabolic metaphorical approach to God has its inherent danger of getting stuck with the medium, or stopping with what is seen and heard. It is described as idolatry in the Bible. But with incarnation God has demolished this fear. We have to go beyond the humanity of Jesus to see his divinity, which, however, is even today experienced through his humanity. He who sees the man Jesus of Nazareth sees the Son of God. Jesus told he who sees me sees the Father. This was the witness of the Apostolic Church. Hence the feared danger becomes reality only if we hold on to what is seen, if we stop with the symbol and fail to transcend.

            It is here that theology should exercise its prophetic role of facilitating the process of ‘going beyond’ the threshold of the visible-tangible. This is what is actually happening in all symbolic, ritual and sacramental situations and celebrations. Even language has this dimension, viz. meanings are beyond the written/spoken signs. Parables and metaphors and stories and narratives are then the best forms of expressing the faith, because they function purely on this pattern of transcending the symbols. In fact such a theology is the only answer to the immanentism and idolatry of the media culture.

5.3. “Imaginal” and Aesthetic Theology

            The above discussion makes clear that theology has to reclaim the “imaginal effect”, “symbolic expression” and “artistic conception” of revelation-faith experience and the reflection on it.[16] The rejection of beauty in theology in favour of truth and goodness was/is the beginning of the rationalisation of theology. But today’s communications has shown that truth and goodness cannot communicate itself convincingly and attractively without being in the company of beauty. And beauty without the connection to truth and goodness becomes ephemeral and meaningless. The modern communication operates basically in the realm of beauty and pleasure often without proper roots in truth and goodness. For a  meaningful and relevant living and experience, however, a harmonious coexistence of the three is essential. Theology has to step in here. But the traditional theology operates in the realm of truth (orthodoxy) and traditional religion is more concerned with goodness (orthopraxy). The third transcendental, beauty, is very much ignored in theology, although the Bible and revelation are full of the manifestation of the glory (beauty) of God, as Hans Urs von Balthasar has amply demonstrated.[17] Theology of the third millennium is invited to operate in the realm of beauty (orthokalia). A theology which integrates truth, goodness and beauty will be a (super)natural theology, founded on a new way of looking at God’s presence in this world.

5.4. Global and Plural (Ecological) Theology

            Such a natural theology which is symbolic and aesthetic has to be a global and comprehensive method of experiencing the divine manifesting itself through the Word and Spirit. Here cosmological and anthropological vision of reality fuse into a theological perspective. The natural theology in the traditional sense was very much a part of the cosmological method (unmoved mover), and the rational  turn to the subject marked the shift to the anthropological method. And, unfortunately, the Reformers’ quest to move away from the cosmological and the anthropological method to a purely theological method did not really succeed. The new efforts like the transcendental method or the more recent linguistic-hermeneutical methods too have turned up as just forms of the anthropological. Today we need to integrate all the three -  cosmological, anthropological and theological - methods, because in reality, the one to the exclusion of the other/s does not seem to be the  right way. Such a method is comprehensive including God, world and man. Considering man, world or God in isolation is like removing the figure from the ground, it affects the whole picture. So we need a holistic or an ecological approach.

            Thus the  challenge of communication to renew both the content and method of theology points the way towards a superbly natural theology which is global and ecological, aesthetic and symbolic. Modern communication, with its thrust on the ambient or atmosphere (ground) together with the figure, is proposing this way for theology for a holistic and global perception of man. Once again the cosmo-theandric vision of the incarnation as found in Maximus confessor (and in Raimundo Panikkar in a slightly different sense) assumes greater importance in this perspective. This realisation is manifest in the proliferation of ecological approach in different fields of life from medicine to lifestyle.  Integrating this dimension into theologising, man can effectively resist the increasing fragmentation and alienation. This also assigns man his original role as the steward of the Garden in which God used to come for evening walk. Such a global and plural approach in theology has a lot of benefits (dangers too) which I am not elaborating here. First of all, it will be a dialogical and  ecumenical theology, which is all embracing and inclusive.

Conclusion

            In conclusion we can say that interfaces between theology and communication means, what communication can contribute to theology and what theology can do to communication. Only that it should not be within the instrumentalist or genitive perspective, but in a true spirit of collaboration or synergy. The outcome will be a communication theology that is ecological, aesthetic, symbolic and natural. In this transition, theology’s nature and functions are radically challenged, while the immanentist and idolatrous (adulterous) adventurism of communications receives a transcendental orientation and dynamism.

This kind of a rethinking in theology is a must to make theology relevant and meaningful in the present circumstances. Naturally, there is a danger of losing identity. However, the Christian identity and specificity have to be safeguarded without sacrificing relevance. Otherwise Christian faith and practice will cease to attract people. Walter Kasper suggests a way out of this dilemma: “if Church worries about identity, it risks loss of relevance, if on the other hand, it struggles for relevance, it may forfeit its identity.”[18] Balancing identity and relevance has been the task of theology at all times; the theological task of the millennium is not different. Yet we need to lay stress on relevance as theology today appears to be too much preoccupied with identity. Our analysis of the interfaces between theology and communication shows that modern communications offer many insights to make theology authentic and relevant, without losing the Christian identity and specificity.

            The learned faith and wisdom of the wise have once again become a block in the path to God. The head-path got so refined that it bifurcated the way of theological knowing into supernatural and natural to the extent of obliterating each other. Today’s communication, however, is weaning people away from the dominance of the word and reason and opening way to experience the world through the senses - all the senses in that matter. Through the multimedia combination of sights, sounds and words, myths and stories, parables and  metaphors, analogies and narratives are making a return, without, however, eradicating the role of word and reason. The image carries the meaning,  sound gives depth and word gives interpretation. Thus we find that the much discredited natural theology must make a return in a refined form to make theology conversant with the communication culture.

 



[1] This is observed by many writers: See Angela Zukowski, “Enriching Priestly Ministry Formation”, in Eilers, Social Communication Formation , 65-93, here 72-74. Such a change is very well reflected in the recent documents of the church and the increasing number of studies, conferences, courses and workshops organised by the Church in various parts of the world.

[2] Redemptoris Missio, 34c. The Catholic Church has dedicated several documents to communication, among which, Inter Mirifica (1965), Aetatis Novae,(1992) and World Communication Day messages are prominent. For a full list see: Franz-Josef Eilers (Ed.), Church and Social Communication. Basic Documents (1997) and Church and Social Communication. Basic Documents 1998-2002 (2002), both by Logos, Manila.

[3] The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference has several documents on Church and Communication: Franz-Josef Eilers (Ed.), Church and Social Communication in Asia. Documents, Analysis, Experiences, FABC-OSC Book 1; Social Communication in Priestly Ministry,  FABC-OSC Book 2. both published by Logos, Manila, 2002. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is discussing Church and Social Communication in its meeting at Trissur, Kerala,  Jan 7-14 , 2004.

[4] Pope’s message to the participants of a congress on the Church and Information Technology (IT) in Monterrey, Mexico, April 1-5, 2003. see ZE03040302, Zenith news, Apil 3, 2003. www.Zenith. org

[5] Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, 2-4.

[6] Joseph Palakeel, “Theologising with Insights from Communication”, in Joseph Palakeel, Towards a Communication Theology, ATC, Bangalore, 2003, 35-59, here37-43.

[7] See Antony Kalliath, Communication Theology, Intercultural or Inculturational”, in Palakeel, Towards a Communication Theology, 83-103.

[8]  Michael Amaladoss, “Theology’s Response the Challenges of Comunication” in Palakeel, Towards a Communication Theology, 63.

[9] Pierre Babin, New Era in Religious Communication, 32.

[10] Jacob Parappally, “Theologising as Communication”, in Palakeel, Towards a Communication Theology, 72-82. He goes on to elaborate how theologising involves intra-communication, inter-communication, extra-communication and ex-communication.

[11] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology Seabury Press, New York, 1979, 355ff; Avery Dulles, The Craft of Theology. From Symbol to System, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1992, 22.

[12] Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbumi, No. 2.

[13]  Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, (trans. from Menschlichkeit Gottes, Zollikon 1956) London 1967.

[14] Eberhard Juengel, God as the Mystery of the World. On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism, (trans. by D.L. Gudder from Gott als Geheimnis der Welt. Zur Begründung der Theologie des Gekreuzigten im Streit zwischen Theismus und Atheismus, Tübingen 1977, 19783) Grand Rapids 1983.

[15]  K. Rahner, “The Theology of the Symbol”, Theological Investigations (TI), vol. 4 (Baltimore, 1966), 221-52, here 224.

[16] Sebastian Elavuthingal, “Art and Theological Communication”, in Palakeel, Towards a Communication Theology, 121-140.

[17] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord. A Theological Aesthetics (7 vols.) edited by J. Fessio and J. Riches, (trans. from Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Ästhetik I-III, Einsiedeln 1961-1969) Edinburgh 1982-1991.

[18] Kasper, Walter, Jesus  the Christ, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 1976, 15-17.

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THEOLOGICON Project


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Christian theology originated in the oral culture and has matured in the print (text) culture. Today’s predominant mode of multimedia communications integrate sounds, images and texts to construct and express meanings. It calls for an aggiornamento of the content and method of theology and pastoral communication.

Theologicon is a digital threshold of communication theology.

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