Benedict XVI's Address to Social Council

«It Is Urgent to Reflect on the Languages Developed by New Technologies»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today upon addressing the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to receive you on the occasion of the dicastery’s plenary assembly. I greet the president, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, whom I thank for his courteous words, the secretaries, the officials and all the staff.

In this year’s message for the World Day of Social Communications, I invited all to reflect on the fact that new technologies have not only changed the way of communicating, but are carrying out a vast cultural transformation. A new way of learning and thinking is being carried out, with unheard of opportunities to establish relationships and to build communion. I would now like to reflect on the fact that thought and relationship always occur in the form of language, understood of course in a general sense, not just verbal. Language is not a simple interchangeable and provisional coating of concepts, but the living and palpitating context in which the thoughts, concerns and projects of men are born to the conscience and are molded in gestures, symbols and words. Hence, man not only «uses,» but in a certain way «inhabits» the language. In particular today, what the Second Vatican Council described as the marvelous technical inventions» («Inter Mirifica,» No. 1) are transforming the cultural environment, and this requires specific attention to the languages being developed in it. The new technologies «have the capacity to weigh not only on the forms, but also on the contents of thought» («Aetatis Novae,» No. 4).

The new languages being developed in digital communication determine, on the other hand, a more intuitive and emotive than analytical capacity, they orient toward a logical organization of thought and of the relationship with reality, often privileging the image and hyper-textual connections. Moreover, the clear traditional distinction between the written and oral language seems to vanish in favor of a written communication that takes the form and immediacy of oral communication. The dynamics proper to the «participatory networks» require, moreover, that the person be involved in what he communicates. When persons exchange information, they are already sharing themselves and their vision of the world: they become «witnesses» of what gives meaning to their existence. The risks that are run are certainly far from everyone’s eyes: the loss of interiority, superficiality in living relationships, the flight to the emotive nature, the prevalence of the most convincing opinion in regard to the desire for truth. And with all this is the incapacity to live with fullness and authentically the meaning of the motivations. That is why it is urgent to reflect on the languages developed by new technologies. The point of departure is Revelation itself, which gives us testimony of how God communicated his wonders precisely in the language and the real experience of men, «according to the culture proper to each epoch» («Gaudium et Spes,» No. 58), up to the full manifestation of himself in the Incarnate Son. Faith always penetrates, enriches, exalts and vivifies culture and the latter, in turn, becomes a vehicle of faith, to which it offers the language to think and express itself. Hence, it is necessary to become attentive listeners of the languages of the men of our time, to be attentive to the work of God in the world.

In this context, important is the work carried out by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to deepen the «digital culture,» stimulating and supporting reflection for a greater awareness of the challenges that await the ecclesial and civil community. It is not just about expressing the evangelical message in today’s language, but of having the courage to think in a more profound way, as happened in other times, the relationship between faith, the life of the Church and the changes man is experiencing. It is a commitment to help those who have the responsibility in the Church to be able to understand, interpret and speak the «new language» of the media in their pastoral endeavor (cf. «Aetatis Novae,» No. 2), in dialogue with the contemporary world, asking oneself: what challenges does so-called «digital thought» pose to faith and theology? What are the questions and requirements?

The world of communication is of interest to the whole cultural, social and spiritual universe of the human person. If the new languages have an impact on the way of thinking and living, they also affect, in some way, the world of faith, its intelligence and its expression. According to a classic definition, theology, understood as reflective and critical knowledge, is not foreign to cultural changes underway. The digital culture poses new challenges to our capacity to speak and to listen to a symbolic language that speaks of transcendence. In the proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus himself was able to use the elements of the culture and the environment of his time: the flock, the fields, the banquet, the seeds, etc. Today we are called to discover, also in the digital culture, significant symbols and metaphors for persons, which can be of help when speaking of the Kingdom of God to contemporary man.

We must consider also that communication in the times of the «new means of communication» entails an ever narrower and ordinary relationship between man and machines, from computers to mobile telephones, to mention only the most common. What will be the effects of this constant relationship? Referring to the first projects of automation of the linguistic analysis of the biblical text, Pope Paul VI already indicated a path of reflection when he asked: is not this effort to infuse in mechanical instruments the reflection of spiritual functions, how a service is ennobled and elevated which touches the sacred? Is it the spirit that is made a prisoner of matter, or is it not, perhaps, matter, now tamed and obliged to follow laws of the spirit, the one that offers to the spirit itself a sublime homage?» (Address to the Automation Center of the Aloisianum of Gallarate, June 19, 1964). Intuited in these words is the profound bond with the spirit to which technology is called by vocation (cf. «Caritas in Veritate,» No. 69).

It is precisely the appeal to spiritual values which will make it possible to promote a truly human communication: beyond all enthusiasm or easy skepticism, we know that this is an answer to the call imprinted on our nature of beings created in the image and likeness of God in communion. Because of this, biblical communication according to the will of God is always linked to dialogue and responsibility, as attested, for example, by the figures of Abraham, Moses, Job and the Prophets, and never to linguistic seduction, as is, instead, the case of the serpent, or of incommunicability and of violence, as in the case of Cain. Hence the contribution of believers could be of help for the world of the media itself, opening horizons of meaning and value that the digital culture is not capable to perceive and represent on its own.

In conclusion, I wish to recall, together with many other figures of communicators, that of Father Matteo Ricci, protagonist of the proclamation of the Gospel in China in the modern era, the fourth centenary of whose death we have observed. In his work of spreading the message of Christ he always considered the person, his cultural and philosophic context, his values, his language, taking up all that was positive that was found in his tradition, and offering to encourage and elevate him with the wisdom and truth of Christ.

Dear friends, I thank you for your service. I entrust it to the protection of the Virgin Mary and, assuring you of my prayer, I impart to you the Apostolic Blessing.

[Translated by ZENIT]
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