What the New Evangelization Must Learn from the Renaissance to Flourish
Freely have you received, freely give.
Call me crazy, but I’m a huge fan of the word free. In the last few months, I’ve made my love of religious and political freedom pretty well known. I’d like to turn my attention for a moment to evangelization.
Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to perform their miracles and preach the Gospel freely with the maxim “freely have you received, freely give.” I’m not going to bore you with my thoughts on financial stewardship. That topic has been done to death.
Another form of stewardship remains. I remember sitting in a classroom at Franciscan University of Steubenville pondering the application of St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Tim 6:20: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to your trust!” It was suggested with no little emphasis that, far from sealing the Gospel away safely in a vault, the real way to guard the Sacred Deposit of Faith was to spread it far and wide, to let it be known publicly so well that even laymen could spot a heresy from a mile away. To guard the Deposit, by paradoxically giving it away, is an invaluable form of Christian stewardship. We must ask ourselves seriously as Catholics: have we done this? Have we sowed the seed in every field? Have we made every effort to accomplish that goal?
We live in an increasingly amazing technological age. While the apostles of the early Church stood in the Areopagus and medieval friars in the alleys of plateaued Umbrian villages, today’s evangelists stand upon the rostra at the intersections of the information superhighway. Effective online evangelization takes many forms, from the formal instruction at Catholic Answers to the enculturation of Phatmass to the coming dynamism of FOCUS’ new Digital Campus to the abundant resources of New Advent, not to mention the countless Catholic blogs among which Truth & Charity is humbled to have membership. Among perhaps the least formal, but still extremely important, is the work of independent online apologists, who depend heavily on resources provided to them by the more formal groups, which brings me back to the earlier questions: Have we made every effort to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel far and wide?
Historians say the Renaissance, that great revolution of knowledge, art, and culture throughout Christendom, was 1) spurred by the sudden flow of information salvaged from Constantinople, and 2) brought to full speed by the invention of the printing press. What can we in the New Evangelization learn from the Renaissance? What must we learn if we want to flourish?
Any evangelist who’s tried to produce a sizeable online commentary on some Scripture passage has probably seen the USCCB’s restrictive permissions guidelines for use of the NABRE (limited 5000 words without permission or 40% of any book or 40% of the user’s publication, whichever is smallest) or for use of the Catechism (1000 words without permission). While this is hardly the sole restriction, it has come to symbolize to many online evangelists the reason the New Evangelization has been so often stymied and why we celebrate great accomplishments like the USCCB’s fancy, new, searchable Catechism 5-10 years after our Protestant brothers came out with their own comparable resources.
Don’t get me wrong. The USCCB has done a lot for use lately. I’m overall pretty pleased with the New Translation of the Roman Missal and I couldn’t be much prouder of the courageous resolve and unity of our bishops against the HHS Contraception Mandate. It’s just, with all the money they pull in from dioceses and independent donors, surely they can afford to release all their documents into the Public Domain? I realize that may involve special permissions from the Vatican, but the process has to start somewhere, right?
Nor do I mean to give the impression that this is merely a USCCB difficulty. Independent producers of online evangelization tools also run into problems that keep them from mass-marketing their products at affordable prices for online evangelists. The great investment of time, money, and patience involved in a project can be draining. The Bible maps I recently released took me at least 50 hours to produce amidst intermittent interruption from toddlers and the quality reflects my budget of $0.00. Those who have more talents and financial backing than I still need to pay their bills, explaining the high ticket price of a recent great-looking, high-tech Bible product that is well outside my price range, even with the 15% discount I was offered. It will remain outside my price range no matter how much I, my students, and my readers might benefit from it. That is the nature of privately and independently developed products.
Just as the Renaissance was brought about by a massive release of information and the technological vehicles to disseminate that information effectively, so the Church must employ such methods if she wishes to bring about effectively the New Evangelization. To that end, there are two parallels we may draw immediately without reservation, each of which reflects a type of freedom, the first a freedom of access, the second a freedom of cost.
- The free flow of information. In my humble opinion, it is imperative that the Church release all doctrinal works into the Public Domain.
- Financial patronage. Do you think Michelangelo financed his own work on the Sistine Chapel? We need financially-blessed Catholics to sit down with idea-men and techies to invent new, innovative ways of evangelizing the masses through the new media.
If we want to be good stewards, if we want the New Evangelization to flourish, we need make serious advances in the production of materials and Gospel-communication methods that will spread the Gospel far and wide. We have received freely. We must freely give. That instruction of Christ is the heart of the Renaissance, let’s make it the heart of the New Evangelization.
What do you think? Tell me in the combox.
If anyone wants to work with me on making this a reality, contact me at micah.murphy AT truthandcharity.net.