Mmm…Marshall McLuhan Mondays! Get your CathMedia geek fix.

New, exclusive series on the blog! Tune in each Monday for a mind-meltingly mesmerizing memo from one of CathMedia’s modern forefathers, Marshall McLuhan…ergo, Marshall McLuhan Mondays!

Who’s Marshall McLuhan?

Were you a communications student, you’d never ask; you’d know he was a genius. In his own time, The New York Times described him as, “one of the most acclaimed, most controversial and certainly most talked-about of contemporary intellectuals.”

Born 1911 and raised in a Protestant Canadian home, Herbert Marshall McLuhan discovered Catholicism as a Cambridge university student thanks to G.K. Chesterton. He converted in 1937, enraptured with the Catholic connection between art, beauty, and the intellect. He prayed unceasingly and was a daily communicant.

Professor McLuhan was a literature expert-turned-media & communications theorist. He taught only at Catholic institutions. Somewhat of a prophet, McLuhan predicted the direction of modern media—even the birth and rise of the Internet and social media! (Detractors thought he was a radical / nutcase.) His most popular terms are “global village” and “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan died on my birthdate, and I’m quite the fan.

TODAY: The Electric World & The Communion of Saints

McLuhan’s reflection on our electric bonds & the communion of saints:

We live in an electric, simultaneous world, where most of the relationships between men are now invisible. The human bond—the electric, instant bond around the planet—is invisible! Which is not unlike the things we were talking about in relation to the Mystical Body [of Christ], which is entirely around us and entirely invisible—or, at least, mostly invisible.

(TV Interview with Father Patrick Peyton, 1971)

Tune in each Monday for more delicious doses of McLuhan CathMedia musings!



  1. Angela, by “CathMedia”, I assume you mean Catholic Media, judging by the rest of your blog. Perhaps you might explain what you think that is, other than media propagated by Catholics. However, you should know that Marshall McLuhan never pushed his Catholic faith on others, especially those of other faith or even non-faith traditions. And though he was devout, he did not have a high opinion of the sagacity of the Catholic Church in matters relating to media:

    “I am a Roman Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church is just as befuddled as it was by the Gutenberg age. More so! They are still attempting to look for lines and blueprints, which no longer exist. They are not there. So what do you do? Well we have not discovered the strategies of behaviour or response for a situation in which there are no boundaries. It is like being in total space”. – Marshall McLuhan

    • Alex, thanks for your comment. “CathMedia” is a phrase well known by my general readership as a hashtag on Twitter short for any media related to Roman Catholicism. Yes, I am very aware that Marshall McLuhan was not public about his faith (minus a few occasions), and believed that the Catholic Church was (is) slow and “befuddled” in media matters. Thank you for pointing out these items to my readers!

      In fact, the reasons you give are reasons why I believe that Catholics – like myself – who are involved in media should be familiar with McLuhan (and his son). If, as Pope Benedict XVI and other recent popes, truly wish for the Catholic faithful to smartly utilize media, we should pay great attention to this great mind – a son of the Church – who clearly ‘thought like a Catholic’ and whose ideas involved the whole human person.

      As to the quotation you shared: When I first read it, I remember agreeing so much with it. Rather than believe that the Catholic Church is beyond finding a solution for today’s “boundary-less” world, I think McLuhan’s observations arouse in Catholics like me a great sense of awe, curiosity and motivation to contribute toward more effective modern means of communicating our faith which is “ever-ancient, ever-new.”

      Peace to you, and again thanks for chiming in.

  2. Angela:

    Actually, McLuhan was quite public about his faith and, alas, contrary to what Alex says, fundamentally makes no sense without it — *particularly* in what he says about media. Indeed, the myriad of efforts (mostly unsuccessful) to “understand” McLuhan, typically fail for just this reason. You just can’t “get” him at all without deeply considering his faith.

    For instance, the ill-considered effort now underway to equate “formal cause” with what is popularly known as “emergence” immediately falls down on this account. Formal cause, which Eric McLuhan correctly notes was the *only* topic his father worked on, is senseless without its Thomist (and Augustinian) context — which is why those who ignore McLuhan’s faith can’t seem to make any sense of it.

    Since I spent much of last year discussing this with McLuhan scholars, I came to the conclusion that many are simply hostile to “religion” and have taken no time to try to sort this out and that most of the few who have seriously grappled with these issues have decided that bringing faith into the story will eliminate their chance to “spin” McLuhan in the direction they want to.

    So, what was already a difficult matter for scholars with less scope than McLuhan (i.e. 99% of those who have written about him), becomes a departure from scholarship altogether and an effort to “ransack” his work for other purposes, which, of course, turn out to be for mostly personal benefit.

    In particular, from the early 50s into the 60s, McLuhan spoke consistently to a Catholic audience in the magazine Renascence, which is still published at Marquette. He joined the editorial board and delivered 36 essays and reviews, as well as at least two speeches at Renascence conferences. This is the most concentrated trove of McLuhan material in any one publication and is crucial for understanding the foundation for the connections in his later works.

    Last year, I guest edited a Special Centennial issue on McLuhan for the magazine, which reprinted 10 of his contributions along with the very important 1954 speech, “Eliot and the Manichean Myth as Poetry.” Copies are for sale by Marquette for $18. There are also five original essays in the issue, including my own and an important one by Eric McLuhan “On Renaissances” (plural.)

    All of thsi will hopefully open up many interesting topics for readers, since the “official” accounts of McLuhan have nearly completely ignored what he said — in public — about these matters. As best I can tell, his biographers and many of the most prominent McLuhan scholars, in including one who recently wrote an entire book on McLuhan literary criticism, have never read the Renascence material.


    Mark Stahlman
    Brooklyn NY

    • Mark, thank you for contributing your delightful insights! It’s no surprise to me that McLuhan’s faith has been largely ignored, but it is a darn shame. Scholars unwilling to dive into and discover the rich ground (Catholicism) from which McLuhan’s thoughts sprang are missing some terribly good stuff.

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