Literacy, Commerce, and Catholicity: Two Contexts of Change and Invention
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The pioneering work on orality and literacy by Walter Ong invites revisionist thinking about a great many things. Thus, a new "meta-discipline" is emerging which not only poses new questions but calls for re-exploring territories of learning that have seemed pretty well mapped out. Taking some leads from Ong, I would like to offer some preliminary reflections on an aspect of this re-exploration which seems to me to be especially timely: the relationship of Christianity to the world of commerce. While the chief concern of this paper can be so simply put, an adequate response to it cannot be. Nor can a paper of this sort do anything but begin to explore such a vast topic. Yet the current debate surrounding the U.S. Catholic bishops' attempt to address the pastoral implications of the contemporary economic environment warrants a start. Shifts on the scale of orality and literacy have shaped radically both Christian and commercial history in the past. Today we still live out the heritage of that past, but new dynamics in this process raise perennial issues in new forms. My present interest in this topic is essentially theological, and the leitmotif of the discussion which follows will be the theological concept of "catholicity."
Oral Tradition, 2/1 (1987): 337-56.