Thursday, 30 June 2011

Information and the Eucharist

Yesterday at a meeting of the Society & Information Research Group, I said that I was wary of sharing this blog with work colleagues because I tended to write about non-work topics, especially religion, on it. So I was pleased this morning to hear a podcast of In Our Time from BBC Radio 4 making a clear link between my religious concerns and my research on the nature of information.

Apparently John Wyclif, 14th century church reformer (Master of Balliol College and friend of John of Gaunt, so not exactly a wild radical) argued thus about the Eucharist. He didn't hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation, that when the priest blesses the bread and wine during the Mass, they are literally transformed into the body & blood of Christ. Rather, he argued that the bread (say) remains bread, but simultaneously also becomes the body of Christ. This is the same view that Martin Luther came to hold two centuries later.

His argument was to draw a contrast with the written Bible. It's written on parchment with ink (this is pre-Gutenberg). The thing that matters are the words on the page, but that doesn't stop the parchment and ink from existing. In other words, Wyclif drew a contrast between the information in a book (and the Eucharist) and the medium within which that information exists. And that's a story all about information, and the changing understanding of information - in fact it's a lot like the argument Juanita Foster-Jones makes about books and libraries in Perspectives on Information.

So from the Eucharist to the nature of information in one jump!

1 comment:

  1. Think semiotics? I was going to say that the bread and wine become signs, but they are always signs (as well as sustenance) of some sort. (Wine, for example, for me, signifies pleasure and relaxation, holidays and comfort.)

    In the Eucharist they change their signification, or maybe take on additional signification. The new signification is captured by the descriptions 'the blood and body of Christ'.