“The Catholic Church, since it was founded by Christ our Lord to bear salvation to all men and thus is obliged to preach the Gospel, considers it one of its duties to announce the Good News of salvation also with the help of the media of social communication…” – Second Vatican Council, Inter Mirifica, 3

Today, we take it for granted that we can instantly communicate across the globe. But, of course, this is a fairly recent phenomenon. For most of human history, most messages couldn’t be sent faster than a horse could carry a messenger.

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But all of that changed with the advent of electrical communication, one of the first implementations of which was the telegraph system. Developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the telegraph changed long-distance communication forever, making instant communication of lengthy messages possible across long distances.

Its enormous value for governmental, commercial, and personal use was understood pretty quickly, and people started to wonder if the technology could even be used to overcome an age-old barrier: the ocean. After multiple failed attempts to lay an undersea trans-Atlantic cable in the mid-19th century, a company finally had success in the summer of 1858, connecting Ireland to Newfoundland.

And on August 16, 1858, the first official message was sent from Europe to North America: “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.” The second sentence is what the shepherds outside Bethlehem heard the angelic hosts proclaim after the birth of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 2.14.

That’s right: the first trans-Atlantic telegraph message praised God with a quote from the Bible!

Next, the Queen of England sent a message to U.S. president James Buchanan saying she hoped the new communication system would strengthen their countries’ friendship. In response, President Buchanan agreed and offered the new technology to God for his uses: “May the Atlantic telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world.

Wow! Can you imagine a politician saying the same thing today?

So at the dawn of the age of electric media, the technology was offered up for God’s uses and glory. Unfortunately, as we all know, media today is often used for sinful purposes.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Christians can and should continue to make use of these incredible technologies for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel.

Here is a monument in Ireland commemorating these first messages:

Andy Stephenson, Wikipedia
Andy Stephenson, Wikipedia

And here’s a map showing the location of the history-making cable:

Public Domain, via atlantic-cable.com
Public Domain, via atlantic-cable.com

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