Fides ex auditu: The Christian Imperative of Communicating the Truth That Saves

Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo | PASS Chancellor

Fides ex auditu: The Christian Imperative of Communicating the Truth That Saves

Fides principaliter est ex infusione; et quantum ad hoc per baptismum datur; sed quantum ad determinationem suam est ex auditu; et sic homo ad fidem per catechismum instruitur

In IV Sent., d. 4, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 3 ad 1, Moos, p. 175


The sacred duty of transmitting the doctrine that saves

We have come here to listen to one another: what could be kinder, nobler and more brotherly on our part; and what could be more desirable, more fortunate, more necessary in our world characterised by communication, especially in these pandemic times? Our first mission as Christians is to speak, to proclaim the message of Christ, to which we are witnesses and for whose teaching we are responsible. What can please a teacher more than to be surrounded by disciples and friends eager to hear his voice and learn his lesson? Dear friends and colleagues, let us consider ourselves, for a moment at least, all disciples of the one Master, Jesus Christ, and I would like to thank you for the pleasure of discussing this key topic together.

You must know that we Christians and academics, and those who are with us, Bishops, Priests, Teachers, and Parents, who have the duty of transmitting to others the doctrine of the faith and the Gospel – the truth that saves – feel great sorrow at seeing how little attention the people of our time pay to the word of the Gospel, how little they care about Christian education, so little, in fact, that at times we seem to be talking to the wind.

The turmoil of modern life so attracts and overwhelms the people of today, so impresses them, fills them with images, thoughts, passions, desires, pleasures and stresses that they do not have the time or even the means, it seems, to listen to the proclamation of Christ. And if they have ever heard of the Gospel at school, in church or on the web, especially now, during the pandemic, it is for them a subject so difficult, so disconnected, and apparently so useless that they often report more boredom than joy, and consider it strange, rather than a guiding light for their souls and lives.

The Grace of the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium of the Church

Dear friends and colleagues, this is the first obstacle to the Christian faith, which I wish above all to teach and spread. This is therefore what I am going to say to you in this short meeting as a reminder and a warning: faith needs a teacher. It requires teaching and studying. If a normal, sufficient relationship is not established between the teacher of faith and the disciple, faith is either not born or does not endure in the heart, soul and life of the disciple. Fides ex auditu, ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ – says the Apostle.[1] Religious education is indispensable; this principle is repeated many times and must be taken seriously.

And here it is good to remember the double meaning of the word “faith”. It can indicate a subjective, inner religious feeling, that is, the attitude of the spirit to accept religious thoughts, principles and truths; and for us, this is the virtue of faith, which we initially receive through baptism. Secondly, faith can indicate religious doctrines, the content of faith, the articles of the ‘Creed’, for example. There is in fact a personal faith, ‘believing’, and there is an objective faith, ‘believed’. St Thomas says it well, with his usual incisive clarity: ‘Faith comes chiefly from infusion, and in this regard is given by baptism; but as to its determination, it comes through hearing; and thus man is instructed for faith by catechism’.[2] Two very different factors contribute to faith. They operate differently, but both are necessary: the Holy Spirit, i.e. the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul, the action of grace with the infused virtues, among which is faith; and the magisterium authorised by Christ, and entrusted to the Apostles, the teachers of the faith – the Pope and the Bishops – as reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, and, as I said, to the teaching Church, which is echoed, as an inspired witness, by the entire People of God.[3] This is why St Tomas insists and clarifies: ‘“Science” says more than “illumination”. For it implies comprehension of those things toward which illumination directed one’s vision; and therefore science pertains to perfection. Hence Dionysius calls the learned ‘‘perfected’’, and teachers ‘‘perfecters’’: and in this way holy orders is established against ignorance, so that those ordained may be learned, and also the teachers of others’.[4]

It is easy to meet people who say they believe because they have some good spiritual feeling, or because they themselves (like other Christian denominations) search the Holy Scriptures for the Word of God. However, their often free and arbitrary personal interpretation, with different and contrasting meanings, is no longer the una fides[5] the one faith desired by Christ and preached by the Apostles.

And it is unfortunately easy to meet learned people, always eager to profess their Catholic faith, who, while taking the indispensable magisterial function of the Church less into account, unwisely try to adapt the doctrines of the faith to the mentality of the modern world, not only with the praiseworthy effort to have these doctrines accepted and in some way understood, but also with reticence, alteration, and even denial of these same doctrines, according to the theories or tastes of current opinions. Faith is free in the act that expresses it; but it is not free in the formulation of the doctrine it expresses, when this has been authoritatively defined.

That is why I would like to take advantage of this meeting to repeat the recommendation that you have often heard from others: love the religious instruction of the Catholic Church, in its dogmas, in its liturgical expressions, in its books of authoritative teaching. We must not think we can have faith without adhering to the content of the faith, the ‘Creed’, the symbol of the faith (that is, the schematic synthesis of the truths of faith). We must not think we can revive religious life, or approach our faraway brothers and sisters, by minimising or distorting the precise teaching of the Church. Do not believe that docile adherence to such a teaching mortifies thought, paralyses research, closes off the paths of knowledge and Christian progress!

Inseparable link between the announcement of truths and the catechism

There is much talk today of the Kérygma (from the Greek Κήρυγμα), that is, the annunciation of the Gospel’s truths that bring Christian salvation. We must be able to see the kinship between this proclamation and the catechism approved by Pope Benedict XVI, between divine revelation and the symbol of faith. We must be jealously and joyfully attached to this didactic and liturgical formulation of the Church’s doctrine. In the Casina Pio IV, which for various reasons is very closely linked to the Bishop of Milan, I would like to repeat this message with the words that a Milanese Saint, Ambrose, an incomparable Bishop, Doctor and Pastor, pronounced like any good catechist when he was explaining the “Creed” to his neophytes: “We must take nothing away and add nothing. For this is the symbol which the Roman Church holds, where the first of the Apostles sat and where he transmitted the common thought”.[6]

Online social media

With these premises in mind, I would now like to address the issue of social networks in general. We are in fact confronting critical challenges that threaten the future of the human family due to the astonishing development of technology in the information and communications media. Doubtless, the development of new technologies in the digital world provides great opportunities for everyone, especially for the new generations, for their human and religious education and for their personal growth. It allows for a wider sharing of knowledge, promotes economic development and offers new possibilities in a number of areas, including, in particular, health care at the time of the pandemic, and also for a new evangelisation. However, since the early 2000s, the increased reach of the internet, the dawn of Web 2.0 and the increasingly influential impact of social media, as well as the maturation of strategic uses of online platforms to influence audiences for economic, social, behavioural, religious and political purposes, have altered the discussion. In recent years, Pope Francis, some bishops, leading internet analysts, as well as the general public, have expressed growing concern that the content, tone and intent of online interactions have undergone an involution that generates a “culture of contempt” and threatens their human and Christian future. The events and debates that have unfolded over the past year highlight the struggles that lie ahead.

Thus, I want to analyse very briefly this culture of contempt that is being created by the internet, its causes and possible solutions, not only in the world at large but also in the Catholic world.

What is the culture of contempt?

We all have a certain experience with the web. If I may, I would like to give you an example from my experience. To be honest with you, often Catholics are some of the meanest people, and it doesn’t depend on the ideological spectrum, since both the left and the right are responsible for this culture of contempt. I would first like to talk about my experience with the left when I gave an interview four years ago to La Nación, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Argentina. The correspondent asked me about a certain Minister’s critical statements about Pope Francis. I took the liberty of affirming that ‘Pope Francis was Peter’ and therefore a Catholic and a person who took daily communion such as the Minister should respect, venerate and love him as the vicar of Christ. The least they said about me (and my family) on the web was that I was a fascist, and other things that I do not have the courage to repeat. My point is that it was a bizarre overreaction and not just people disagreeing with me, but also people attacking me personally and anonymously with lies and fake news about my life. The Catholic right is not much better. I’ll give you an example. On my way back from China, a Mexican journalist asked me about the outcome of the trip, which was to eradicate organ trafficking. In passing, I mentioned to him that I had the impression that the Chinese were following the Encyclical Laudato Si’ better than other countries, also in terms of measures to curb climate change. Well, the right falsely accused me – and still do – of claiming that China is the best example of the application of the social doctrine of the Church.

I could give many more examples after many years in my position as Chancellor. Many people who deal with social media talk about a combat experience, meaning that reading what people say about you on social media such as Twitter almost causes post-traumatic stress.

But let us turn to more serious matters. Tragically, the use of digital technologies to organize, commission and engage remotely in child abuse, cutting across national borders, is outstripping the efforts and resources of the institutions and security agencies charged with combating such abuse; as a result, it becomes quite difficult to fight these horrific crimes effectively. The spread of images of abuse or exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children. Most scientific studies highlight the profound impact of pornography on the mind and behaviour of children. It will surely have lifelong effects on them, in the form of grave addiction, violent behaviour and deeply troubled emotional and sexual relationships.

What can we say about the Gospel? Arguably, the power of the web extends to influencing not only ways of thinking, but also its content, or what people think. For many, the virtual world is the real world. Reality, for these people, is what the media recognises as reality; what the media does not recognise seems to be of little relevance. Thus, one often gets the impression that mainstream thought (la pensée unique) tends to silence those individuals and groups that the powers that control social media wish to ignore; and even the voice of the Gospel can be silenced in this way, although not entirely.

Where does this all stem from?

Let me make a few simple observations, first of all on the impersonality of the internet and the ease with which we can communicate through it. Before the internet, if you wanted to say something uncivil and odious publicly, you sat down and wrote a letter, found an envelope and a stamp and sent it to the editor of the paper. If your letter was published, people of common sense would say “that guy is crazy” and throw the paper in the trash. Now, none of that stands between your opinion and total publicity. Anyone can sit in their basement and write a comment, with no filter, no editor and no one to get in the way; such a comment immediately appears all over the world with the ease of the aforementioned communication and, moreover, the impersonality and anonymity of it. Often one cannot even know the name and identity of the person who has just fired off some crazy, malicious or just plain false comment, doing so perhaps under a pseudonym or a nickname of some kind. No doubt this has contributed – I think – to the intensity and virulence of these attacks that I have read about, called the fake spine phenomenon. Someone says: “I’m angry about this, I’m going to confront that person”, so they feel very brave, they’ve done something brave and strong, but they haven’t actually confronted the person, they haven’t exposed their name, they haven’t opened themselves up to criticism, they’ve just thrown out a comment anonymously, that’s not a spine, that’s a fake spine”.

The manipulation by the so-called strong powers

Many people think that behind this culture of contempt there is also a kind of manipulation by the so-called strong powers. Companies and governments are becoming increasingly aware that they can influence people’s opinions in this way. And these entities certainly know how to circumvent any existing protections. The Russian troll armies are a good example of something that will become increasingly common in the future.

Another observation is the way these machines are designed. Think, for example, of the smartphones we all carry. Their email and other notifications, the dings and pings when a message arrives, were designed to be addictive, that is, to trigger a sort of chemical reaction in the brain: look, I have got a reply, or somebody liked what I posted. It is clear, as evidenced by the social media designers in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, that these machines are programmed to be addictive. Also, we are all familiar with the so-called algorithms, these impersonal formulas by which we are manipulated to look at things from a certain point of view. For example, the algorithms can determine what you like on the basis of the websites you visit and they can direct you to more of the same kind of content. The result of this manipulation is economic gain, which is for the sake of money. They get our eyes on the screen so that advertising money flows in the right places. In reality, what it is doing with us is locking us into these websites with a hidden persuasion that directs us almost unconsciously.

The sex abuse scandals

There is something else here, and I say this to our shame: the sex abuse scandals that have rocked us in recent decades have certainly contributed to the intensity, the violence and the suspicion that can be found on social media. Such suspicion about the institutional Church is especially in the Anglo-Saxon and German world and to some extent I understand it. The suspicion of the pre-understanding that authority covers crime has exacerbated many of these tensions, leading to trigger-happy reactions and a media presence where scandalous reporting about the Church always prevails.

And with regard to our specific obligation to communicate the ‘word that saves’ according to the truth expressed in the Catechism, the last reason why it is difficult to sow in the soil of the culture of contempt is, frankly, the presence of some unprepared and uncivilized people, as St Thomas points out. More to the point, there are some pretty nasty people on social media and especially on Catholic social media. These people instead of evangelising with the Gospel and proper training, often empower themselves by stirring up hatred, and not really educating or enlightening, but drawing their power from conflict, stirring up trouble and verbal violence, putting everything negative on the table. Obviously, this has contributed greatly to the current situation.

A Change of Mentality and Pastoral Renewal

The question that I ask myself is the following. What can the Church do in this throwaway culture of contempt to use social networks to help spread the Gospel and religious values, to promote the dialogue desired by Pope Francis, the interreligious and intercultural encounter, as well as to defend those essential principles to build a society based on dignity of the human person and fraternity, attentive to the common good, social justice and the safeguarding of the planet? The Church and all of us who belong to it are obliged to spread the Gospel and the Apostolic Creed, the truth and the grace of Christ who saves, in response to the Lord’s command: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature”.[7]

It is certainly not an easy mission in an age like ours, which is convinced that the time of Christian certainties has irremediably passed. Mainstream thought believes that humanity must live in a world governed by the absence of transcendent meaning, trusting only in itself and in science, in an intra-worldly, provisional and fleeting horizon. In this context, the media can serve “to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence in people’s hearts”.[8] This poses a serious challenge for believers, especially for parents, families and all those responsible for the education of children and young people. Those in the ecclesial community who are particularly gifted to work in the media should be encouraged with prudence and pastoral wisdom to become professionals capable of entering into dialogue with the vast world of communication networks.

What is the way forward for all of us who are social media users, but are also members and lovers of the Catholic Church? What is the way forward for those of us who want to participate in the community and, at the same time, fulfil the imperative of evangelism? How can those of us who want to engage in teaching and use social media not fall into its traps?

Practicing moderation and discipline in the use of the web

Let me make a couple of practical suggestions. Firstly, I would recommend fasting from social media from time to time. Even though it is difficult to do without social media – and we have a service to perform on it – we should be careful and mindful of the time we spend on it. Many researchers have shown the close correlation between screen time and depression. Let us apply the traditional practices of fasting and abstinence to social networking, following the indication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘One should practice moderation and discipline in the use of the social communications media’.[9]

The distinction between fighting and arguing

The second recommendation that we should keep in mind is the distinction between fighting and arguing. Here we can draw inspiration from St Thomas’ way of reasoning not only in his systematic works but also in his polemical writings, and from Pope Francis’ notion of dialogue. There is a clear distinction between discussion, dialogue and quarrelling. Fighting is falling into animosity, mutual dislike, ad hominem attacks, aggression, personal remarks, contempt for the other. We must recover the importance of argument, of arguing, which means observing ideas correctly, suggesting hypotheses, thinking clearly and logically, drawing conclusions, reasonably admitting when we do not know something, accepting criticism with elegance. We must recover for the web the method of disputed questions that St Thomas has left us. I remember Paul Ricoeur telling me shortly before he died, ‘I miss the debate of my generation in France, there is no more discussion in the media, positions are taken as a starting point and there are only monologues and no dialogue’. If you like dialogue use the internet all you want. If you are monologuing or complaining, forget it. I have long agreed with the Spanish philosopher Julian Marías, who said that the great need of our time was to relearn how to have a dialogue about the Gospel in public. Between violence and soft tolerance lies the space for the argumentation of dialogue. Thomas Aquinas lived in that space: recovering it is really important to move forward.

The moral significance of calumny

Another piece of advice: we must reclaim the moral significance of calumny. I know it is a word that might seem a little outdated, but it actually indicates something that – I think – is of real importance in our internet age. For Aquinas, truthfulness is the virtue attached to justice, which inclines us to truthfully manifest the knowledge we possess.[10] Without truthfulness, the preservation of society is impossible: ‘Since man is a social animal, one man naturally owes another whatever is necessary for the preservation of human society. Now it would be impossible for men to live together, unless they believed one another, as declaring the truth one to another. Hence the virtue of truth does, in a manner, regard something as being due’.[11] It can therefore be said that the most important of the virtues attached to justice is truthfulness, the practice of which consists in conforming our inner thoughts to our words and outward behaviour. The term veracity means truthfulness, sincerity, openness, transparency, avoiding duplicity, simulation and hypocrisy. If truth builds society, lies in all their forms destroy it. A statement that is contrary to the truth acquires particular gravity when it is uttered publicly, because it undermines human coexistence. Calumny means damaging the reputation of others by statements or judgements that are contrary to the truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns calumny, in the context of the presentation on the eighth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”. It may not be the commandment that comes to mind, but I think commandment number eight is really important today, especially in social networks. Here is the key quote from the Catechism ‘when made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth acquires a particular gravity’.[12] Again, when you write on the internet, remember that you are spreading all over the world something you know – or suspect – to be false about someone. You are spreading slander, calumny, which ‘destroy the reputation and honour of one’s neighbour’.[13] You are destroying someone’s reputation by bearing false witness against your neighbour in a very serious way. You are committing a grave sin against the love of your neighbour[14] and destroying social coexistence. I really appreciate how much Pope Francis insists on the destructiveness of calumny, especially in his homilies at Mass in Santa Marta. In one of them he talks about the dark joy of gossip. There is a kind of joy in gossip and slander, but it is a dark and demonic joy. It is a dysfunctional joy that will eventually turn against us and become something akin to depression. Recall the dictum of Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher: “when I am labelled I am denied”. It is true, now you can join a crowd on Twitter and attack someone because they have said something that is not what you think. It is true that when I am attacked I am denied my dignity as a person.

The decisive importance of the virtue of studiousness (studiositate)

Let me make another recommendation: the importance of preparation is always necessary, but particularly so when we go online to teach the Gospel. Let us remember in this regard what St Thomas says about the ‘faith that comes by hearing’ (fides ex audito): ‘Faith comes chiefly from infusion, and in this regard is given by baptism; but as to its determination, it comes through hearing; and thus man is instructed for faith by catechism’.[15] It is true that Christ promises the gift of wisdom, ‘for it will be given you in that hour what to speak’, and even the author of the gift, ‘for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you’. So ‘take no thought’[16] about this. Thus it seems to exclude two things, both with regard to what is said, and with regard to the manner of speaking. The first pertains to wisdom, the second to eloquence or elegance. But what the Apostle Peter says in his first letter seems contrary to this: ‘always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you’.[17] St John Chrysostom resolves it, saying that when someone has the need to respond, and has the time to deliberate, prepare and study, he should not expect divine help alone; when the apostles were afflicted, they did not have time, which is why they could only entrust themselves to the Son of God. Therefore, when someone has the ability, he should do what he can to prepare himself; but certainly, if he does not have time, he should entrust himself to the Son of God, but what he should never do is to tempt God if he has time to think, study and prepare himself. For this reason Christ did not say only, ‘take no thought’, but he says, ‘when they will deliver you up, take no thought’. This is why St Thomas considers studiousness (studiositate) to be an important virtue whose ‘merit consists in stimulating us with vehemence to participate in the knowledge of things, and this is what gives it its name, since the desire to know refers, essentially, to knowledge, to which studiousness is ordered’.[18] But since learning involves a lot of work, the very trouble of learning is part of virtue, insofar as it removes the obstacles that stand in the way of knowledge.[19] Thus, the ‘strenuous toil of the concept [conceptualization]’ (Anstrengungen des Begriffs) of which Hegel speaks in the Preface to The Phenomenology of Mind, is advisable and necessary for evangelisation on the web. This conceptual effort of studiousness stands for innovation and creativity and is the opposite of laziness, repetitiveness, superficiality and lightness with which even many Catholics on the web generally present themselves when speaking about the evangelical word.

Prayer must precede and accompany all our internet use

Here is one last recommendation for the way forward. Prayer must precede and accompany all our internet use. I know that when one talks about prayer it may sound pious and unrelated to the web. I don’t mean this as a pious comment. I mean that this is the most important observation I have made and that is why I put it at the end. Intense prayer must be added to the effort of study and work. Ora et labora is the motto of St Benedict on which Europe was built. We must follow St Benedict when we use the net. Pray when you sit down at the keyboard. Pray before you go online. In this pandemic time in which we are forced to distance ourselves from personal contacts, an elderly and saintly nun (Sister Eugenia Bonetti) told me that for her the net was like her personal tabernacle. If social media is not connected to God and the things of God, its use will probably end badly.

With prayer we ask the Holy Spirit to give us his holy gifts and to put the virtues into practice in order to use the net with Christ’s programme of the beatitudes. The gift of fear and the virtue of temperance make us truly “poor in spirit”, poor in self-centred pride in our own greatness and the desire for earthly goods,[20] and thus capable of generosity and solidarity with our brothers and sisters; they obtain for us the kingdom of God, with its greatness and fullness, already now.[21] Through the gift of mercy and the virtue of justice, we exercise true “gentleness and tenderness”, by which we sympathise with the misery of others and live in peace with one another,[22] thus deserving to possess the earth and our working environment in peace.[23] Through the gift of knowledge and the virtue of prudence we acquire the holy “sadness and weeping”,[24] recognising the importance of accompanying our neighbour especially in his pain, or the nothingness of the goods of the earth, or finally the vanity of human means; thus we can seek and find in God and in the healing of our brothers and sisters our consolation and our peace.[25] The gift of fortitude creates in us an ever-increasing “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, which must characterise the Christian above all: just as in early Greece those who studied were called ‘sophi’, i.e. wise men, and Pythagoras did not want to be called wise, but a philosopher, i.e. a lover of wisdom, so Jesus Christ wanted his own to be and to be called “lovers of righteousness”.[26] One day such lovers of righteousness will be satisfied by God with all the good things of heaven, but even now they are satisfied with spiritual goods or by quenching the false satiety of the transitory goods characteristic of the unrighteous.[27]

The gift of counsel urges us above all to exercise “mercy” towards the double human misery, whether of temporal or spiritual realities of our neighbour, in order to obtain mercy before God.[28] And while this gift exercises the direction of virtuous acts, it exercises such direction especially in the “works of mercy”.[29] Divine mercy begins for our good already in the present life: first of all with the relief of forgiveness of sins, but also by removing temporal defects. However, it will be complete in the future when all misery, guilt and sorrow will be removed. This is why the virtue of hope is enhanced and affirmed by the gift of counsel.

Through the gift of understanding and the virtue of faith, we open our hearts to the divine light, and our hearts are purified more and more from attachment to sensible objects; thus we acquire the “purity of heart” which will make us worthy to contemplate God face to face one day. It is a natural desire for people, seeing the effects, to inquire into the cause. Thus the admiration of the lovers of truth gave birth to philosophy, but such a desire will not be stilled until it reaches the first cause, which is God, that is, until we see God in his essence.[30] However, in this life “purity of heart”, the moral virtues, and above all chastity, help towards the contemplation of God and the exercise of works of charity: the saints whose hearts are full of justice and charity see in a more excellent way than those who see through bodily effects, for the more the effects are close to God, the more He is known through them.[31]

Finally, through the gift of wisdom and the virtue of charity we tend towards the most intimate union with God and with our neighbour, in the possession of the supreme good, in which is contained the “peace” that makes us full children of God and participants in the divine nature.

The “fruits of the Holy Spirit”

According to the teaching of St Thomas, already in this life and in our activities we will partially enjoy these beatitudes, which the solicitous exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the individual and social virtues and the works of mercy promise us fully for the next life.

In St Thomas’ view, this is why the Apostle speaks of the “fruits of the Holy Spirit”, whose sweetness and gentleness we can already taste in this life and in our activity, and not of flowers which only bloom at harvest time and whose fruit can only be gathered later. For it is one thing to hope that the tree will bear fruit, when the leaves begin to appear, and another, when we see the first signs of the fruit.[32]

So, what are the “fruits of the Holy Spirit”? They are the signs that the Holy Spirit with his holy gifts is present and at work in you or someone else. What are they? Put these in your mind and next to your computer screen: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.[33] Now, if you visit a website, even a Catholic website: do you see someone who is exhibiting these qualities? Can you look at that person and say yes, I am feeling love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Well if you find one or more people with these qualities it means that the Holy Spirit is present and operative, because ‘by their fruits you will know them’.[34] This is not a conjecture or a biological science where you need special tests to discover the presence of a virus. In reality the fruits of the Spirit are seen and felt in these qualities.

The “works of the flesh”
Now, in that same fifth chapter of Galatians, Paul sets forth what he calls “the works of the flesh”, that is, those actions or attitudes which arise with the lack of prayer and which are contrary to the Spirit or, rather, those works which, through lack of elevation to God, indicate that dark spirits are at work: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, contentions, dissensions and factions. Let me quote Paul: ‘the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these’.[35] These are the marks of the dark spirit, these are the works of the flesh. Now go into any setting, go on the internet, especially the Catholic internet and tell me if you see these “works of the flesh”, these ‘un-qualities’ in someone. I would recommend that you stay away from that person. I strongly suggest that you are dealing with a manifestation of the dark spirit.

With prayer, you can judge every scenario, including the internet, according to these behaviours, according to the “fruits of the spirit” or the “works of the flesh”. It will help you make a decision about what you should see and do. Keep in mind also that while the fruits of the spirit are gifts of the Holy Spirit, the works of the flesh have a very different principle. The devil has two big names in the New Testament. He is called διά-βολος (in Greek meaning ‘the one who divides’) which means the scatterer and Σατανᾶς (Satanâs) which means the accuser. The devil is someone who does everything in his power to separate us from the vertical link uniting true believers with God, and which alone saves them from solitude and death. These movements of the dark spirit divide, accuse, isolate and kill. If you see a website that is doing a lot of dividing, accusing and killing, I think you know which spirits are behind it. These works of the flesh, as described by St Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, might seem a rhetorical exaggeration but when we see the attacks on children’s dignity happening in the dark web – as Pope Francis denounced it in our Summit on Child Dignity –,[36] we reach the conclusion that there is nothing rhetorical about them and that they have no other principle but the “prince of this world”.[37]

Motives for hope

I just want to conclude by showing signs of hope. I would like to assume that PAS and PASS are known as some of the most enthusiastic users of social media such as Twitter, websites, webinars, etc. in the Catholic space or at least in the Holy See. Personally, I firmly believe in the evangelical efficacy of the web, and this first specific meeting on this subject also serves to plan subsequent ones to study ever more adequately the great theme of communication in our time. It is a positive sign of hope that is encouraging the Pope, Bishops and priests more and more to get involved in social media, because they are aware of its enormous evangelical potential not only for sharing information, but for the proclamation of the Gospel. Witnessing the Pope’s presence on the internet with his Masses, homilies and ceremonies during the pandemic, we can only confirm the idea that social media is decisive for the communication of the Gospel in the new global world. Do not interpret anything written here as a one-sided rejection of social media. We are betting on the web and we are playing in its favour, but we want to do so with studiousness and a critical spirit that brings to the table how dysfunctional it can be if it is not used rationally, virtuously and prayerfully. We would like to use the net, but with caution, with ‘discernment of spirits’, seeking the good of our neighbour and the common good, making sure that the word of the Gospel is heard without misrepresentation. As St Thomas says in the text that has inspired these lines, Christian faith derives principally from the infusion of grace and its teaching ex audito.[38] Pope Francis did both of these things online during the Easter Sunday Mass 2021 and the final blessing Urbe et Orbe streamed live and on TV. Regarding the former, I am very happy to know that perhaps for the first time Francis has given “the grace and counsel of the Holy Spirit” – as part of the text of the blessing says – to the whole audience willing to receive it. And with regard to the teaching of the faith, the Pope has explained the central theme of our creed and catechesis, which is the Resurrection of Christ. The grace of Christ and the word of the Gospel is communicated on the web by the successor of Peter: what greater sign of hope can we ask for! It is a clear, premonitory message that announces a new mode of evangelisation with the grace offered and the word heard through the web.



[1] ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος Χριστοῦ (Rom., X:17).
[2] ‘Fides principaliter est ex infusione; et quantum ad hoc per baptismum datur; sed quantum ad determinationem suam est ex auditu; et sic homo ad fidem per catechismum instruitur’ (In IV Sent., d. 4, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 3 ad 1, Moos, p. 175).
[3] cfr. Lumen Gentium,§§ 12; 25.
[4] ‘Scientia plus dicit quam illuminationem [illuminatio]. Importat enim comprehensionem eorum ad quorum visionem illuminatio dirigebat; et ideo scientia ad perfectionem pertinet; unde Dionysius doctos perfectos nominat, et doctores perfectores: et sic contra ignorantiam ordo datur, ut scilicet ordinati sint docti, et etiam doctores aliorum’ (In IV Sent., d. 4, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 3 ad 2, Moos, p. 175).
[5] εἷς κύριος, μία πίστις, ἓν βάπτισμα: εἷς θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ πάντων (Ephesians, IV:5).
[6] Explanatio Symboli, p. 10.
[7] καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Πορευθέντες εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἅπαντα κηρύξατε τὸ εὐαγγέλιον πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει (Mark, XVI:15).

[8] Cfr. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction Aetatis Novae (February 22, 1992), § 4; AAS 84 (1992), 450.
[9] Cfr. § 2512.
[10] ‘Truth can be taken in two ways. First, for that by reason of which a thing is said to be true, and thus truth is not a virtue, but the object or end of a virtue: because, taken in this way, truth is not a habit, which is the genus containing virtue, but a certain equality between the understanding or sign and the thing understood or signified, or again between a thing and its rule, as stated in the First Part (q. 16, a. 1; q. 21, a. 2). Second, truth may stand for that by which a person says what is true, in which sense one is said to be truthful. This truth or truthfulness must needs be a virtue, because to say what is true is a good act: and virtue is that which makes its possessor good, and renders his action good’ (S. Th., II-II, q. 109, a. 1 c.).
[11] S. Th., II-II, q. 109, a. 3 ad 1.
[12] Cfr. § 2476.
[13] Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2479.
[14] ‘If, however, the false signification be about something the knowledge of which affects a man’s good, for instance if it pertain to the perfection of science or to moral conduct, a lie of this description inflicts an injury on one’s neighbour, since it causes him to have a false opinion, wherefore it is contrary to charity, as regards the love of our neighbour, and consequently is a mortal sin’ (S. Th., II-II, q. 110, a. 4 c.).
[15] ‘Fides principaliter est ex infusione; et quantum ad hoc per baptismum datur; sed quantum ad determinationem suam est ex auditu; et sic homo ad fidem per catechismum instruitur’ (In IV Sent., d. 4, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 3 ad 1, Moos, p. 175).
[16] Matthew, X:19-20.
[17] ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου (I Peter, III:15).
[18] ‘laus huius virtutis consistit in quadam vehementia intentionis ad scientiam rerum percipiendam, et ex hoc nominatur. Nam appetitus cognoscendi per se respicit cognitionem, ad quam ordinatur studiositas’ (S. Th., II-II, q. 166, a. 2 ad 3).
[19] Loc. cit.
[20] “[Divitiae] aliqui nec habent, nec affectant, et istud securius est, quia mens trahitur a spiritualibus ex divitiis: et isti dicuntur proprie pauperes spiritu, quia actus donorum, qui sunt supra humanum modum, sunt hominis beati: et quod homo omnes divitias abiiciat, ut nec aliquo etiam modo appetat, hoc est supra humanum modum” (In Mat., c. V, v. 3, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 67 a, no 416).
[21] “[Pauperes spiritu] autem repromittitur regnum caelorum, in quo notatur non solum altitudo honoris, sed affluentia divitiarum; Iac. II, 5: ‘nonne Deus eligit pauperes in hoc mundo, divites in fide?’ Et nota quod Moyses primo promisit divitias; Deut. XXVIII, 1: ‘faciet te dominus Deus tuus excelsiorem cunctis gentibus, quae versantur in terra’; et infra: ‘benedictus tu in civitate, et benedictus in agro’. Et ideo ut distinguat dominus legem veterem a nova, primo ponit beatitudinem in contemptu divitiarum temporalium. Item, secundum Augustinum nota, quod ista beatitudo pertinet ad donum timoris: quia timor, maxime filialis, facit habere reverentiam ad Deum; et ex hoc contemnit homo divitias” (Loc. cit.).
[22] “[Pietas] etiam ex consequenti subvenit in miseria constitutis. Et quamvis iste actus non habeat locum in patria, praecipue post diem iudicii, habebit tamen locum praecipuus actus eius, qui est revereri Deum affectu filiali, quod praecipue tunc erit, secundum illud Sap. V, 5 ‘ecce quomodo computati sunt inter filios Dei’. Erit etiam mutua honoratio sanctorum ad invicem. Nunc autem, ante diem iudicii, miserentur sancti etiam eorum qui in statu huius miseriae vivunt” (S. Th., II-II, q. 121, a. 1 ad 2).
[23] “Chrysostomus dicit: ‘inter multas promissiones aeternas ponit unam terrenam’. Unde, ad litteram, terram istam possident mites. Multi enim litigant, ut possessiones acquirant, sed frequenter vitam et omnia perdunt; sed frequenter mansueti totum habent; Ps. XXXVI, 11: mansueti haereditabunt terram” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 4, lect 2, ed. R. Cai, Marietti, Taurini – Romae, 1951, p. 67 b, no 420).
[24] “Ista beatitudo appropriatur dono scientiae, quia illi lugent qui miserias aliorum cognoscunt: unde de quibusdam talem scientiam non habentibus dicitur Sap. XIV, 22: ‘in magno viventes inscientiae bello, et tot et tam magna mala pacem appellant’; e converso Eccle. I, 18: ‘qui addit scientiam, addit et laborem’ ” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 5, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 68 b, no 424). Also: “Dono autem scientiae respondet quidem primo luctus de praeteritis erratis; et consequenter consolatio, dum homo per rectum iudicium scientiae creaturas ordinat in bonum divinum. Et ideo in hac beatitudine ponitur luctus pro merito, et consolatio consequens pro praemio. Quae quidem inchoatur in hac vita, perficitur autem in futura” (S. Th., II-II, q. 9, a. 4 ad 1).
[25] “Quando enim aliquis dolet de amissione rei dilectae, consolationem recipit si aliam rem magis dilectam acquirit. Unde homines consolantur, quando pro temporalibus rebus recipiunt spirituales et aeternas, quod est spiritum sanctum recipere; quare dicitur Paraclitus Io. XV, 26. Per spiritum sanctum enim, qui est amor divinus, homines gaudebunt; Io. XVI, 20: ‘tristitia vestra convertetur in gaudium’” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 5, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 68 a, no 423).
[26] “Tempore enim Pythagorae illi qui studebant, vocabantur sophi, idest sapientes; Pythagoras autem noluit vocari sophos, idest sapiens, sed philosophus, hoc est sapientiae amator: ita vult dominus quod sui sint, et vocentur amatores iustitiae” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 6, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 68 b y 69 a, no 427).
[27] “Conveniens praemium ponitur, et primum in aeterna visione, videbunt enim Deum per essentiam [...]; secundo in praesenti. Et haec est duplex. Una est in bonis spiritualibus, hoc est in impletione mandatorum Dei; Io. IV, 34: ‘meus cibus est ut faciam voluntatem eius qui misit me, ut perficiam opus eius’: et de isto exponit Augustinus. Alio modo accipitur de saturitate rerum temporalium. Homines iniusti numquam saturantur, sed homines qui habent terminum suum ipsam iustitiam, ultra non procedunt” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 6, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 69 a, no 428).
[28] St. Thomas affirms that this beatitude follows the previous one because Jesus Christ intended to unite mercy and justice: “quia iustitia sine misericordia crudelitas est, misericordia sine iustitia mater est dissolutionis” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 6, lect. 2, ed. cit., p, 69 a, no 429).
[29] “Etsi consilium dirigat in omnibus actibus virtutum, specialiter tamen dirigit in operibus misericordiae” (S. Th., II-II, q. 52, a. 4 ad 1).
[30] “Naturale autem desiderium est, quod homo videns effectus inquirat de causa: unde etiam admiratio philosophorum fuit origo philosophiae, quia videntes effectus admirabantur, et quaerebant causam. Istud ergo desiderium non quietabitur, donec perveniat ad primam causam, quae Deus est, scilicet ad ipsam divinam essentiam. Videbitur ergo per essentiam” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 8, lect. 2, ed. cit., p. 70 a, no 434).
[31] “Sancti enim qui habent cor repletum iustitia, vident excellentius quam alii qui vident per effectus corporales: quanto enim effectus sunt propinquiores, tanto Deus magis cognoscitur per illos. Unde sancti qui habent iustitiam, caritatem, et huiusmodi effectus, qui sunt simillimi Deo, cognoscunt magis quam alii” (In Matth. Ev., c. V, v. 8, lect. 3, ed. cit., p. 70 b, no 435).
[32] “Aliter enim habetur spes fructificationis arboris cum virescit frondibus, et aliter cum iam primordia fructuum incipiunt apparere” (S. Th., I-II, q. 69, a. 2 c.).
[33] ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη, χαρά, εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία, χρηστότης, ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις, πραΰτης, ἐγκράτεια, i.e. ‘fructus autem Spiritus est caritas, gaudium, pax, longanimitas, bonitas, benignitas, fides, modestia, continentia’ (Galatians, 5:22 f.)
[34] ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ ἰδίου καρποῦ γινώσκεται (Luke, 6:43).
[35] φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθίαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, φθόνοι, μέθαι, κῶμοι, καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις (Galatians, 5:19-21).
[36] Http://
[37] ὁ τοῦ κόσμου ἄρχων (John, XIV:30).
[38] Cfr. In IV Sent., d. 4, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 3 ad 1, Moos, p. 175.