PCs are the perfect platform for teaching the Faith, says Fr Andrew Pinsent 4 s urely, we must be grateful for the new technology which enables us to store information in vast man-made artificial memories, thus providing wide and instant access to the knowledge which is our human heritage, to the Church's teaching and tradition, the words of Sacred Scripture, the counsels of the great masters of spirituality."
Pope John Paul II's words on World Communications Day in 1989 were prescient in recognising the power of new technologies to serve the Gospel. In the 18 years since this speech there has been vast expansion in our abilities to store, process, transmit and display information. Much more significantly, the use of such technology is now interwoven with the daily lives of many people. How can these developments be put to use in understanding and teaching the Catholic Faith?
The most obvious use of information technology is simply to store and access information. Even this straightforward application represents a great opportunity to learn about the Faith, given the longstanding practical challenge of accessing a literary patrimony spanning 20 centuries. Catholic researchers have been at the forefront of such work since the 1950s, when Fr Roberto Busa SJ collaborated with IBM to digitise and index the entire works of Aquinas. Today, the whole Thomistic corpus can be stored on a single CD, and many similar products are now widely available on CDs or the intemet. These include the Holy Bible and many of its translations, Magisterial documents, works of the Church Fathers, Catholic philosophers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and much else besides. Complementary data analysis tools have also made it far easier to find and connect ideas enabling us find reference material for virtually any subject connected with the Faith.
Nevertheless, the greatest opportunity for the Church may be more profound and far-reaching than just making information available. As with the invention of the printing press, information technology is doing more than merely enabling the same tasks to be performed more efficiently. It is profoundly changing the very medium of communication. A computer screen can display images as easily as text, and the cost differential between printing black text and a full spectrum of colours is fast diminishing.
Furthermore, such technology has freed us from the linear text sequences of Gutenberg's movable type printing press. Text can now be broken up into distinct, thematic blocks with visual cues to show how these are connected. Strangely enough, we have almost regained the kind of freedom of form once enjoyed by the medieval manuscript writers, who could make a page beautiful as well as functional.
In my view, this has given rise to two extraordinary opportunities for catechesis. First, we are now able to integrate text and images very easi ly. Images are important because of the kinds of intellects that we have and because of the nature of the Catholic Faith. It is very hard to think about anything without an associated image, and the central teaching of the Catholic Faith is that the Word became flesh. that is, something tangible and visible to the senses. Recognising these truths, much of the western artistic tradition developed to give visual expression to Catholic theology. Contemporary technology enables us to represent this artistic patrimony anew, to give a rich visual experience of Revelation. We can, for example, take the works of a great artist such as Fra Angelico and use technological cues to show how theological truths are represented in these paintings. Such images are retained in the mind more easily than words alone, and can sometimes express much more than can he said in words.
Second, contemporary information technology is especially powerful for drawing connections between distinct ideas. Besides fast cross-referencing, in catechesis such techniques can help to convey a sense of the oiganic unity of the Faith. In particular they can show how Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium are connected so that "one of them cannot stand without the others", as Vatican II stated.
Over the past three years, I have been working with Fr Marcus Holden of the Archdiocese of Southwark to put some of this theory into practice. Thanks to the support of the Catholic Truth Society, this work has recently been published in the form of a new catechetical resource entitled Evangelium. The main teaching tool is a series of 25 PowerPoint presentations to animate and link truths of the Faith with great works of the Christian art tradition. These presentations display the pictures and then draw attention to some of the key features to illustrate and explain theological truths. All text is divided into short thematic units to make it easy to absorb the key points. Above all, information technology is used to combine doctrinal content with an experience of the beauty and richness of the Catholic Faith.
Inall likelihood, Evangeliumis only the first of a series of new catechetical tools that will take advantage of these technological developments. I believe that these will enable us to do far more than carry out traditional teaching more efficiently. Rather, we are witnessing the development of new media that are in many respects more intrinsically appropriate for teaching the Catholic Faith than the printing press. May God help us to use the great opportunities we have been given.
Fr Andrew Pinsent is a priest for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. He is an author of the Evangelium catechetical resource published by the Catholic Truth Society (tel: 020 7640 0042; e-mail: bookshop@ cts-online.org.uk)