"As Different as Night and Day": The Ignatian Praesuppositio and Intercultural Conversation


     The concern of this essay is to promote and extend the practice of "civilized discourse" within the Church, the Society of Jesus, and the world within which we minister. The phrase itself seems to be a clinical, rather stilted phrase, at least in ordinary usage. But understood in the way in which I shall attempt to describe it, it also represents an absolutely essential mode of human relating. When interchange descends to uncivilized behavior -- to what is unfitting for communal life -- major priority is given to gaining the upper hand, winning an argument, subduing an opponent. Without civilized discourse, it is impossible to maintain peace among nations or among any diverse cultural or religious groups. Wherever bias controls relationships, communication is impossible because listening is impossible. The phenomenon of uncivilized confrontation appears daily on the television screen, in conflicts -- shouting matches or worse -- between abortionists and antiabortionists, between groups advocating causes that conflict, between regional groupings, and so on. Since Vatican II the problem has been of deep concern within religious communities, and the last two general congregations of the Society of Jesus have often been the occasions of failure in conversation - a wound that General Congregation Thirty-four gives hope of healing.

     But civilized discourse can also die of more subtle disorders like religious zeal or paternalistic and maternalistic altruism. Evangelical fervor to rescue sinners from their plight has been ever ready to install its banners in the prows of colonial warships. Missionaries have been all to willing to accuse opponents, such as tribal shamans in "power encounters", of insincerity or even satanic possession. Missionary courage has been fueled by the thought of the thousands of pagan souls descending daily into hell.

     Even so, at the height of Roman Catholic colonial and missionary activity, there were the Riccis, the DiNobilis, and others who realized that God has given us the faculties of sight, hearing, and understanding as well as of speech. It is this more "passive" aspect of human discourse that is the subject of my discussion. I intend to lift up that brief statement in Ignatian literature called Praesuppositio. This easily overlooked admonition at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises represents a value and a process indispensible in all conversations, from the one-on-one of the Ignatian retreat to much wider social encounters. At the outset of contemporary translations of the Exercises the instruction appears thus:



22. To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant and more beneficial  results to both it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another's statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If  he is in error he should be corrected with all kindness.  If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should  be used to  bring him to a correct interpretation and so defend the proposition from error.


     The instruction is a product of Renaissance literary and theological language; the terminology, and no doubt even the mentality, need contemporary interpretation. But this is getting ahead of my discussion. As a prologue to this topic, I ask the reader to retrace a journey with me. The journey began about thirty years ago when I was a scholastic just beginning regency. The mission I received was to teach and work among North American Indian people on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. This assignment turned out to be a basic direction from which I have never really departed. Of course, I had virtually no background for the work, save some study of "natural religion" as a personal interest during philosophical studies, and some historical investigation of American policies towards its native peoples. I am sure that some native people were at times inclined to regret my presence among them, for the ignorance it manifested.

   No doubt the most mysterious aspect of native culture for us missionaries, especially at that time, was the traditional or "primal" religion and spirituality of these people. Anthropologists had been exploring it already for over a century, and explorers and adventurers even longer than that. But with a few exceptions, Christian missionaries,  Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, had generally sought ways to extirpate all "pagan practices," by way of confrontation and power encounters (as with St. Boniface and the sacred oak in early medieval Germany). Some did choose to practice a form of benign neglect with the hope that the practices might simply wither away.

     Among the rituals of the United States Plains tribes is the Peyote Religion, a practice introduced from Mexico into North American tribes beginning n the late nineteenth century. Eventually the Peyote Religion acquired the name of The Native American Church.  My first knowledge of the Peyote Religion came only from vague conversations with other missionaries, and from standing outside the mission residence on chill autumn nights and hearing the rapid heartbeat of the water drum coming from a mile down the road. I also experienced that the Peyote Religion was a great problem to some of the priests, who felt it their duty to wage open warfare against this "false worship."

     My own busy time of regency diverted my attention from the Peyote Religion almost completly, until later, when, serving as a chaplain at Haskell American Indian College in Lawrence, Kansas, I again overheard students talking about it. But they, having experienced previous missionary reactions, were never willing to share information on the topic. By this time my theological studies (undertaken during the period of Vatican Council II) had included some opportunities to probe more deeply into the theological mysteries of religious experience. Thus, after some agreement with my Jesuit fellow-chaplains, I made bold one Sunday evening to suggest to some hundred or so students a discussion on peyote.  Not surprisingly, the response from this otherwise friendly group of young people was stony silence. Nonetheless, further conversations with classmate Anthony Dagelen (like myself by that time a grizzled -- but wiser veteran of two or three years of mission work) were opening my mind more deeply to the immensity of the problem of religious and cultural conflict.

    In the summer of 1969, ten years after my first encounters, when I was doing youth work on the Wind River Reservation, a conversation with a young Arapaho university student left me with the question, as he put it, "Why has the Church always condemned the Peyote Religion [and  all forms of native religion]?" My response was to alter my life quite deeply. I simply said, "I don't really know. Why don't I come back next summer and try to understand this?" This began my own praxis, unarticulated and unreflectively, of the Ignatian Praesuppositio.

     Over the subsequent five summers, I strove to dialogue with tribal spiritual leaders. One sympathetic elder even planned for me to participate in a peyote meeting (or service), but the plan  was aborted when he was unable to convince the other leaders that admitting me would be helpful to anyone. I had thus to settle for a reading of historical and anthropological materials, as well as for attendance at the annual Sun Dances of the Arapahos and Shoshones, and at some "painting" ceremonies. But even  this limited experience, and my reading, were familiarizing me with the "diachronic phenomenon" -- a picture of a people across the centuries -- of a religious movement that Lanternari has included among the "religions of the oppressed".  I learned gradually to appreciate the powerful phrase of Paulo Freire, "cultural invasion," as a term designating the humiliation of a conquered culture by a conqueror. I learned to appreciate the response of the violated cultures in the form of religious phenomena, called "revitalization movements" by Anthony Wallace.  Thus far, however, my knowledge was superficial and largely academic, a point that renders me a "case study" of the very point I am making; that is, the importance of bringing forward the practice of the Presupposition from propositional to experiential interpersonal dialogue. No matter how much I sat and talked with native leaders, as long as we just talked, the problem remained. As my good Arapaho friend and admonitor, the late Ernest Sun Rhodes, once reminded me with a wry smile, "The Indian and the white man are as different as night and day." That is, I could strive with all good will to "save the propositions" of the peyote people, but I could not come close to understanding them, let alone "savor" them "internally", as Ignatius counsels in the Exercises, in his introductory observation #3.

     The breakthrough came with my return to full-time reservation work between 1975 and 1981. Gradually, native people came to accept me more fully and even to assist me to experience aspects of their spirituality. Among these experiences was my first peyote meeting on one crisp autumn night in 1977, when an elder friend invited me to share in a meeting being "put up" to assist his grandson. Such meetings take place between sunset and sunrise, generally in a large tipi that can accomodate some thirty persons comfortably. The ceremony consists of constant singing to the beat of the water-filled drum, public prayers for personal needs, "doctoring" of the sick by medicine persons, confession of sins and problems, admonition of the youth present, ceremonial smoking, and of course, the ingesting of peyote in the form either of ground powder or in its cruder state as dried cactus "buttons," as well as a form of tea. It is a mild hallucinogen (not a narcotic!), containing a small amount of mescaline, taken by all at the begining, with further dosages repeated according to personal choice as the rite progresses. Its effects begin with some nausea, and participants are allowed to leave the tipi when necessary. Eventually, it mildly affects other senses and feelings according to differing temperaments.

     The total immersion of the participant in this ceremony carries one far beyond the "propositional" stage of dialogue and alters the senses so as to permit new understandings. One very clear memory of the ceremony is that of listening all night long to one of the leaders, the late John C'Hair (sic), who instructed me as a novice in the experience. From him I learned that the ceremony was not a form of idol worship, but rather of the taking of a "medicine" given by the one Creator, to heal the body as well as the spirit; that the peyote movement is a source of strength for native people against outside rejection; that it helps strengthen traditional values, especially family life, and that it helps to reinforce sobriety. It is also a very significant memory to recall John's kindly attention to me that entire night!

     So, I was indeed a novice once again. I had even less power than I had had in my novitiate to set my own terms and boundaries. I simply had to be deeply attentive to an experience that was exercising a powerful authority over me. However, I was to become even less than a novice: I was to become like a child. This happened because I violated one of the basic rubrics: in my experience of mild nausea, I lay down for a short period, when I should have been sitting up attentively. I realized later that this was to ceremonial leaders much what the annoying scampering about of a two-year-old would be to me when I presided at the Eucharist. Even so, nothing was said to me about this, although I thought I caught one reference to it in the Arapaho tongue during the morning prayers. It was only over the coming months that I, in a very "Indian" way, picked up reports that I had committed a bit of a faux pas. It was nearly two years later, at the start of my second meeting, that the grandfather of the sponsoring family, a deeply spiritual man named Frank Tyler, spoke very gently and privately to me, in the third person, about how "a fella always sits straight up and pays attention" at meetings. Without indicating that I saw this as addressed to me, I nodded in agreement that this was indeed the only way to behave!

     In subsequent years, although I have shared in other native rites, I have not returned to a peyote meeting, though I would be willing to do so upon invitation. But the experience deepened my understanding and helped me to relate more empathetically to the ongoing dialogue between native and non-native leaders about religion, as well as to the disagreements even among Indian people about what native ceremonies are authentic for the Arapahos. What I have come to understand especially is that this rite is part of the configuration of experiences in which a marginalized people mediates its condition and seeks deeper spiritual identity by means of secret rites. I am sure that there are problems of "syncretism" and "nativism." I am aware that some colleagues within the non-native community and even the native community disagree with me about involvement in and support of such rituals. But the point of this lengthy personal testimony is that I have indeed, thanks be to God, striven to practice my founder's admonition about what is supposed to be proper to every good Christian. I have been enabled, that is, to discourse with many native persons in a more meaningful way. I have to some extent been able to do this propositionally, but even more, I have done it experientially in prayer ceremony and in discussing problems. I know that I -- and I make bold to speak for all "mainstream" Christians here -- have yet to know how to further the truth and to challenge whatever may be in need of challenge. But all of that must come only at the opportune time. It is for all of us, in due time, to "seek all suitable means" to bring one another to a "correct interpretation" of human and Christian truth.




       The Significance of "Retrieving"  the Praesuppositio


    "Retrieval" is the act by which we reach into personal or collective history to bring forward into the present a foundational principle that has been lost or neglected, one that might serve in the present to strengthen and creatively challenge the community. Retrieval thus differs essentially from "restoration" in that it represents the upholding of a perennial value, whereas restoration simply resurrects a period piece that has more nostalgia than relevance. The purpose of this paper is to serve as an authentic retrieval of an enduring value contained in the Spiritual Exercises. For many years I have been drawn into the provocative and encouraging power of this small initial instruction, named by someone (probably Ignatius himself) "Presupposition," and have often asked myself why this arresting statement has not received more commentary from spiritual writers. It has always seemed to offer a model of communication and conversation for all parties in an exchange, and not simply in the context of retreats. I propose to take this instruction as exemplifying a process for intercultural "conversation," or discoursing together.

    The Presupposition calls for a foundational attitude that might be described as follows: (1) It is un-Christian to place a foreclosure on the possibility of discovering authentic and practical truth. This point not only favors both charity and justice, but every kind of inquiry as well; it is also a matter of prudence and enlightened self-interest to remain open to the possibility of discovering  truth. (2) The second sentence of the paragraph is  a powerful principle of communication, which demands that one risk entering into the mind and heart of one's conversation partner. I wish here to develop an understanding that is not explicit in the second point, but would seem to have been clear to Ignatius, with his profound self-knowledge: that is, I as listener should not only try to make certain that the other has neither erred in intention nor misstated the point; I must likewise examine myself on my ability to comprehend the point. (3) Finally, and equally demanding, especially to members of modern liberal society,is the requirement that I must, with charity and prudence as well as courage, venture to challenge the other to see better into the truth being sought "to save the truth" in the other's position.

    The present essay seeks to situate this Ignatian medium of conversation within two dimensions of the contemporary context. The first dimension is that of inculturation of Ignatian spirituality within the intellectual mainstream of North American society, especially as coming to us from William James, Josiah Royce, John Courtney Murray, H. Richard Niebuhr, Northrop Frye, and Walter Ong. The second dimension of inculturation is that "underside of history" described by liberationists.  Within this dimension, the minister of the gospel and the follower of Ignatian spirituality find themselves facing the cross-cultural implications of the Presupposition in relation to aboriginal subcultures. This context is highlighted by Robert Bellah, who charges our early Puritan forebears with leaving aboriginal peoples completely out of their covenant with God to extend the Kingdom of God on earth.


            Commentary on the Praesuppositio


     Although recent commentators have not made extensive use of the Presupposition, its significance did not go unnoticed in earlier literature. However, the first striking fact about the Presupposition is its absence in a 1548 publication, reproduced photographically in 1910, and called Editio Princeps.  Four versions of the Presupposition are given in the Monumenta Ignatiana: the Spanish autograph, the Vulgate, the "First Version," and the version of Father Roothan. (MI, 251-252) While all versions agree in using either the Spanish presupponer, or the Latin supponendum est, or praesupponendum, the actual title does not appear. While this is not the place to enter into intricate text comparison, we may note that the texts do not differ substantially among themselves. One commentary worth noting, however, illustrates a point in my comments on the second part of the text. W.H. Longridge seems to have taken considerable license with the text when he places the possibility of error only in the one making a statement. That is, he writes, perhaps "the other has simply expressed himself badly, so that the tongue rather than the mind has erred."  In other words, there is no possibility indicated here that the one listening might be misunderstanding or misinterpreting!

     The Monumenta Ignatiana commentary offers some interpretation of the importance of the text. First of all, it points out that Ignatius himself called it "Prosupuesto."(MI, 169) The commentator states further that Ignatius' words in Spanish speak of making the effort to save the proposition itself, while an unknown corrector omitted the Latin pronoun eam and substituted the passive salvetur. This indicates that it is the salvation of the neighbor personally with which the instruction is concerned. But the Monumenta commentator believes that Ignatius himself simply wished to salvage the truth of the proposition, thus rendering a more benign understanding of the dynamic here, in refusing to impute possible damnation to the person uttering a proposition.

     Roothan's discussion goes on to comment that Ignatius' own experience of "less fair judgments" was instrumental in his writing of this instruction. They were times full of "suspicions of the serpents of heresy," and there was danger of incurring the unhappy epithet "innovator" whenever giving the Exercises. The Monumenta cites Roothan as seeming to agree with Ejidio Gonzales that the Presupposition was more necessary in the early years of the Society than in later times when the Society had proven its orthodoxy. Once again, the entire error is in the mind of the speaker of a proposition! In any case, the commentator does go on to paraphrase Ignatius: if you find someone uttering something "new" or offensive, "do not, I beg you, rush to condemn the point." Rather, "question the one who is explaining it; you will see to it that each and every point be rightly understood and explained."(MI,170)

     The Directory of 1599 says of the Presupposition, perhaps significantly, that in the context of a directed retreat, it will be better not to address it directly at the begining of the Exercises, but rather that if any difficulty should arise, it might be discussed in order to give more confidence to the exercitant. This very subtle usage symbolizes the spirit of the text itself, which is to discern where the truth lies rather than to provoke unnecessary argument.    

     Certainly too, the same restraint in communication is thematic in other writings of St. Ignatius: the Fifteenth Annotation instructs the director to respect the exercitant's personal discourse with the Creator, as well as to avoid seeking to know the hidden sins of the exercitant. Moreover, Ignatius' instructions to Jesuits in sensitive positions also counsels prudence in speech. Thus did he advise Broet and Salmeron, in sending them to Trent, to discipline themselves to listen long and speak briefly.(CJ,1-3)   And to the fathers attending the Council of Trent, he said: "Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent"(CJ, 10).

     A rare modern article on the Praesuppositio appears in a 1935 edition of Manresa, signed simply by "E.D."  This commentary offers several valuable suggestions as to Ignatius' thinking about the Presupposition, its history, and about its contemporary application. The author calls the Presupposition "a precious piece of instruction or advice."(EP,327)   E.D. cites a previous commentary of 1885 by Father Ferrusola, who had noted, "How many sins would be avoided, if everyone acted according to this document!"  (EP,327)  He also cites Father Ponlevoy, who considered the advice an important means for living in peace and unity.

    E.D. follows the testimony of the Monumenta, that Ignatius' early history after his conversion figured profoundly in his thinking here, since he had endured extensive harassment over the early practices of giving the Exercises. His critics seem to have assumed that Ignatius, as "an unlettered man," must therefore have been one of the illuminati, claiming secret and forbidden sources of learning. Thus, Ignatius came early to understand how disposed the human will is to condemn rather than to defend, and the human tongue to speak evil of others. Clearly, Ignatius' sense of sin developed further as he became conscious of this tendency.

     Walter Ong has suggested an important insight into this problem. The basically adversarial nature of oral traditions (which were still strong in Ignatius' time) would have affected this struggle to have new views accepted in a collaborative rather than an "agonistic" attitude. Not only was the Church not inclined to bend over backwards to "save" people's propositions, but its deep attachment to the agonistic methods of the medieval universities made it all the more contest-oriented.  This important point would seem to argue for the countercultural value of Ignatius' instructions around human conversations.

     But the true value of the Presupposition is that it creates a dynamic of trust between persons, whether in retreats or in any other form of discourse. The antithesis to such trust, according to E.D., is the sin of rash judgment, and the intrusion into the "holy of holies" of the person's inner life. (EP 332) In other words, the basic value of the Presupposition lies in what phenomenological method calls "intentionality," not only in the knower but in the person known. This can never be presumed but must be described only after careful inquiry. Both charity and justice demand no less. Charity is the virtue that prefers to "indulge" the intentions of others rather than to treat them with severity, and justice always refuses to usurp jurisdiction over the inner life of another. (EP,334) This is why one must always ask how the other understands the proposition.

     E.D. points out that this sensitive dealing with another is not to be equated with moral indifference or credulity. (EP, 339) The practice of mutual correction is thus lifted up as the third part of the admonition. It is a correction that is always done with love, as manifesting compassion and great sensitivity in the act of correction: "A most beautiful teaching, but difficult to raise up to practice."(EP, 338.) Ignatius, says the author, was an example of this value, which "he raised up to practice with rare perfection in his life as well as in his theory." (EP, 338)

     It is worth noting that this author, writing in 1935, still possesses unflinching certitude about what he can call "manifest errors" -- such as those of the modernists! -- thus placing limits on any possibility of reassessment of historical positions. All the more reason, then, for the principle of retrieving that for which the Presupposition seems to stand:  the importance of the person and of the truth. Thus, we are called to make a "second effort" of again questioning apparent adversaries to discover deeper meanings in their positions. However, the author's ease in detecting error here is understandable, and does not detract from his deep concern for respect and charity. Perhaps his problem is analogous to the failures of our North American predecessors, who, even in the love of liberty and tolerance, could not bring themselves to grant this same mercy to aboriginal and other minority cultures not well understood by the American mainstream.

     The value of the Presupposition can be summed up by one contemporary use of the Presupposition: that of Pedro Arrupe, who writes that the characteristic Ignatian features of the Presupposition in any exchange of ideas are:

        A broad understanding, which seeks to evaluate the   statement itself and the spirit in which it is intended.

        A complete objectivity, which knows how to consider   the positive values and put aside one-sided exaggerations   or purely emotional reactions.

        Utter respect for the legitimate freedom of others,      without seeking to lead all by the same road, but allowing    the Spirit to guide each one according to His will. 


Father Arrupe is advocating what North American scholars now call "civilized discourse." I will now attempt to set   the North American intellectual context for this phrase.


          The Presupposition and North American Freedom                         The Propositional Dimension


     At the first level of discourse with North American philosophy and world views, the propositional one to which I have alluded, the Presupposition establishes its rightful place within those statements defending individual freedom properly understood, as well as within the more "pragmatic" philosophy (also properly understood) of North American philosophical tradition. I suggest that it is quite appropriate to place Ignatius's thought in this matter alongside that of William James, however different their metaphysics might have been, for James was always concerned with the practical consequences of notions.(POE, 26)   He saw pragmatism, not so much as a solution to such problems as a priori reason, fixed principles, closed systems, pretended absolutes and origins and so on, but as "a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed." (POE, 26) 

     James asked, "In what respect would the world be different if this alternative or that were true?" (POE, 24) In this light, theories would become instruments, rather than a secure answer to enigmas in which we might take our rest.(POE, 26) On this point, he wrote:

     Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses and to count the humblest and most personal experiences. She will count mystical experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact -- if  that should seem a likely place to find him. (POE, 38)


     The spirituality of the Ignatian Exercises, and of Ignatius generally, repeatedly applies this pragmatic norm towards highlighting human spiritual values in the search for truth. The norm is also expressed in the concept of contemplation in action. Even more specific is the Presupposition: it defends the value of any position until it is clearly seen as a disvalue. It thus calls for  understanding, mutuality, collaboration, trusting fraternal/sororal correction and personal dialogue as working values.

     The three steps of the Presupposition serve as an effective cure for James's "a certain blindness in human beings", which afflicts us in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves. (POE, 251)  For James, the pragma, the action -- our present use of praxis seems about the same -- is the social test of our truths. (POE, 268)  We are thus forbidden "to be forward in pronouncing on the meaninglessness of forms of existence other than our own," and must therefore "tolerate, respect and indulge those whom we see harmlessly interested and happy in their own ways, however unintelligible these may be to us". (POE, 269)  While Ignatius had a different understanding of how one arrives at the truth, he supports the principle of respecting the truth of the other. Also like James, he carries the process further, and engages the other in a profound dialogue of challenge and response. The point for Ignatius is not simply to tolerate, but to save the truth in each instance.

     One thinks here of another philosopher who has shaped twentieth century thought in North America; James's Harvard colleague, Josiah Royce. In his famous 1913 essay that we would today call an effort to "inculturate" Christianity into American life, Royce emphasized the communal nature of thought as it develops through "mediating ideas" rather than through solitary intuition.(PC, 29)   In this way, Royce builds the image of the Church as a "beloved comunity" (PC, 404) that grows and thrives through shared works of interpretation. Such interpretation must occur on a deeply human, caring and dialogical level, and if it does so occur, it becomes the basic work of charity, or agape.(PC, 362)

      This last point was carried forward through the profound influence of John Courtney Murray on the American scene. Murray's contribution in this case consists in his measured passion against that "barbarism" that prohibits persons from living and talking together, that  is, from holding authentic  "conversation".(WHT, 11)   Murray's search for public consensus was based on premises that are analogous to the Presupposition: the call for reasonable discourse to seek out the truth in any proposition. This in turn makes religious freedom not merely an act of tolerance, but of the quest to discover the genuine values in religious positions. As Murray pointed out, regarding the then well-known dictum in Roman Catholicism, that error has no rights: "True enough, but persons do!"(TPRF, 10)   In the spirit of Murray, I will extend the logic of this great architect of Vatican Council II. In his quest for "civility" and his assault on "savagery," Murray did not provide us with the means for carrying on another dimension of civilized  discourse: I mean conversing with those who perhaps Murray himself would still consider "savage."

     The American theologian who represents for us the value of the Ignatian Presupposition within a North American context, perhaps more even than Murray, is H. Richard Niebuhr. Niebuhr's Christ and Culture is justly admired for its discerning typology of cultural attitudes among Christians. But in The Responsible Self, we see the deeper spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of social discourse based on the capacity to respond. Niebuhr acknowledged his own debt here to George Herbert Mead's social philosophy, which places its emphasis on the individual's process of learning in dependence on interaction with another observer who shares his or her attention to a given object of knowing.

     From Mead, Niebuhr draws his position on the essential sociality of knowing, which Mead saw in the act of perception as a social process. Thus Mead's description of reflection upon perception is pertinent: "Reflection, then, is a type of action in which the individual in conversing with others is conversing also with himself and is able to call out in himself the same sort of response which he calls out in another."(PA, 222)   This constant reference in Mead to the knower as a responder is at the basis of Niebuhr's docrine of "the responsible self." It also serves as an analogy in North American thought to Ignatius Loyola's fundamental position on the interchange among persons.

     Niebuhr's basic symbolism for ethical praxis, then, is responsibility on both cultural and political levels. The schema of human interaction derives from Mead's thesis that all of our actions depend on to our interpretation of other actions taken upon us. If we are truly responsible, we will recognize that we are accountable for a solidarity with our partners in a conversation and in dialectical interaction. That is, I as subject respond to an object given in experience, but I am aware that there is always another partner who likewise has his or her response to the same object. In every dialogue around the experience, there is a new shared exchange of opinions as well as mutual correction.(RS, 82)   In other words, every conversation that is genuinely responsible is a process of self-transcendence.

     Especially pertinent to the point of this essay is Niebuhr's question to Christians: "How can they become free from being dominated by inherited images?" (RS, 103)  The thrust of the question is directed toward rendering dialogue partners capable of reinterpreting the actions of others, socially and individually. The context here is, first, Roman Catholics and Protestants reinterpreting the Reformation, but finally it involves the great religions in general, as they challenge our "ultimate historical myths". (RS, 106-107) In this same vein, we can move into the realm of interchange between Christians and the followers of "primal" or "primitive" spiritualities, most of whom now find themselves dwelling on "the underside of history",   often because of the failure of civilized discourse by mainstream Christians.

     In this interpretation of responsibility Niebuhr  seems to be applying a principle analogous to the Presupposition, as well as to the Fifteenth Annotation to the Exercises. He calls us to try to respect the ways in which God deals with others, and to avoid interposing ourselves between God and the responding person, but rather to place ourselves alongside that person and before God. This spiritual basis of ethics is especially important for the dialogue I shall propose between mainstream Christians and aboriginal peoples. No contemporary theological commentators on the North American scene have entered this ethical implication of dialogue, although many historians have called our attention to the problem, and Bellah has seen it as the problem of "the broken covenant."

     Niebuhr's imagery and argument offer contemporary theological terminology for the Ignatian application of the inner freedom needed for practice of the Presupposition. Niebuhr lifts up Jesus Christ as the "symbolic form" or "Gestalt" of responsibility (RS, 149-178) and in so doing sets before us, like Ignatius, the project of contemplating  the life, words and actions of Jesus. With Ignatius, Niebuhr seeks to free ethical action from a severe "law" context (monistic deontology) and to place it in the context of response to the love of God. Ignatius, even given the neuralgic ecclestiastical atmosphere of the Counter-Reformation in which he lived and worked, would welcome this imagery. In fact, although he dispenses counsel to Peter Canisius, in the agonistic style typical of his time, on how to oppose heresy (CJ, 99-100)  he also gives a different kind of advice to the Jesuits at Trent: rather than dwelling on Catholic-Protestant differences, in their preaching they should encourage true virtue and approved devotions. For Ignatius as well as for Niebuhr Jesus is the basic symbol for a dialogical and agapaic relationship with persons and cultures.


     The Nonpropositional Dimension of Civilized Discourse


     It follows from the above that any missionary who offers Jesus as symbolic form to another culture must study, learn and acquire insight into that culture, its values, gifts, and needs. Thus, the Presupposition, in the spirit of the Directory becomes a kind of vade mecum throughout all personal interchange.

    Mainstream North American theology and missiology until   recently have not attended to conversation with persons and cultures that express themselves in differing idioms. As Bellah, and more recently, William Johnson Everett have maintained, Christian seekers for freedom in the "New World," while believing that they were honoring a covenant struck with them by God, ignored or violated the inclusive character of that covenant in its relation to indigenous  cultures and especially aboriginal peoples (BC, 87-111)   In fact, even John Courtney Murray, in his courageous and then ecclesiastically unpopular struggle to establish the rights of conscience, ignored this dimension, save for several references to the rights of black people. It is thus central to the present argument to establish a basis for what Everett calls "publicity," or the capacity to express oneself and to participate in a society according to one's own free choice, for North America's aboriginal minorities (GFR, 95). 

     Nonetheless, our work here is deeply indebted to Murray. For example, it was he who persistently laid before his readers the threat of "barbarism" that lurks in our society, referring to the conditions that prevail when people refuse to talk together according to reasonable laws. (WHT, 11) Barbarians are dominated by prejudice, solipsism, inability to share, and monologue. They hear only what they want to hear, and see the other's argument only through the screen of their own categories.  Barbarism defies the basic ontological principle of all ordered discourse, that reality is an analogical structure "within which there are variant modes of reality, to each of which there corresponds a distinctive method of thought that imposes on argument its own special rules" (WHT, 14).

     If we are to rehallow the original covenant of freedom for this continent, we must extend the principles of all the foregoing writers to include people who have no means of entry into the conversation, save through dramatic acts of resistance or revolution. Until recently, neither church nor state has considered tribal traditions to have anything to contribute to the evolution of a contemporary commonwealth or a contemporary spiritual community. Even Murray's "barbarian" argument fails in this, because, although his barbarian is a person of any culture who refuses to engage in civilized discourse, the argument presupposes a literary context for all discourse. A barbarian, according to one suggested etymology of the word, is one who babbles incoherently from the perspective of the subject speaking, and thus the term lays down rules based on an ethnocentric worldview. Tribal cultures cannot at this point share the propositional exchanges of the elite literary world of the dominant culture. If we are to converse with these marginalized cultures, we must be prepared to listen to another form of discourse.


       Practicing the Presupposition Across Cultures


     Our discourse with the North American mainstream culture has been and seems to remain entirely grounded in a literate and literary mode. To reach the second level of discourse I have described, it seems that we must turn to other sources than contemporary North American philosophy. This idea, of course, is hardly original. L. Levy-Bruhl, E. Durkheim, and C. Levi-Strauss have tried to probe the primitive mind and to understand it. Whether what emerged from these efforts was indeed deeper understanding or simply more projection is perhaps debatable. At least they tried. For my part, I do not intend here to elaborate a new theory about primal experience but rather to argue for a method of extending the practice of conversation across  the boundaries of worldviews.

     Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, who persistently admonishes readers against the naive evolutionism that denigrates myth and symbol into inferior forms of discourse, has written with great wisdom on this point(NF, 23,38).   In his critical review essay of Cassirer's  The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, ("Myth as Information"), Frye makes the point that no mere "bilingual dictionary" can ever close the gap between two different cultures, especially if one is a modern technological one and the other a primal one. The modern mainstream North American cannot expect to translate his or her own concepts easily into the language of, say, a Polynesian or an Iroquois, nor could they easily translate theirs into ours. Only "patient and sympathetic study" can help to discover what is happening in the other's mind in such cases. Still, one must, according to Frye, seek to discern "communicable inner structures," and thus to "disentangle one's own mental proceses from the swaddling clothes of their native syntax" (NF, 72). 

    A contemporary method for understanding other cultures in the light of the Presupposition is that of phenomenology, which, as Van Der Leeuw maintains, teaches philosophers and theologians to restrain themselves.  It is not that the practice of phenomenology is without passion; quite the contrary. But the method strives to gain ever deeper insight into the object without letting bias cloud one's investigation. Or, since in phenomenology the knowing subject too becomes part of his or her intuitive operation, one's own involvement is studied and analyzed. The point is to let the known object become a subject that acts upon me as I strive to know it. The second stage of the Presupposition is one way, and an essential way, of carrying this out.

     Let us take an example from my own encounter with aboriginal spirituality. I have hardly finished with my task as a theologian or pastor when I have merely described a peyote ceremony. I have opened myself up to the "object-as-subject," that is, to the living, believing and acting practitioner of the rite. Thus, when one elder explains to me that peyote is not a divinity but a "medicine," or power-filled reality, I am being exposed to a challenging proposition. However, my appreciation of this point can deepen only by observing the ceremony and by actually participating in it myself. More, when I enter into such "participant observation," I also learn about the hopes and fears of those involved, especially about the devastation and oppression that has occasioned such a "revitalization religion." I then come to know myself as challenged by the testimonies shared in the ritual. A question put to me by a young native participant in a ceremony goes farther than any theory toward placing missionary work in perspective: "Do you have anything like this in your church?"

     Of course, anyone observing the phenomena of aboriginal religion, in order to discuss them, will have to name them, at least for the sake of discussion. But the naming should be descriptive rather than judgmental, and as far as possible assisted by native persons and by an understanding of their language for the experience. While Van Der Leeuw and Mircea Eliade in their own assigning of categories have not usually consulted native sources, they do seem to have hit upon helpful terms. One can at least use such terms as sacred space, sacred time, sacred persons, rites of passage, and the like in conversation with native persons, rather than idol worship, superstition, or paganism. One learns to "probe" into the meaning by employing categories that seem to apply to all religious experience.

     But the practice of the Presupposition is not one simply of phenomenology, as the third step in the dynamic indicates. Since there is in question here the matter of a dialogue around values, all parties in the discussion are also open to challenging and to being challenged -- in the case of the contemporary Christian, to be challenged not only as a "missionary" but as a person who needs to attend to the "primal" elements in one's own self.

     This is where the practice of inculturation enters into the dialogue. As Marcello Azevedo has written, when we practice inculturation, we employ the phenomenological method to understand the phenomenon as well as the  cognition of one with whom we converse, and this goes further toward establishing a way of exchanging values. The implications of such interchange were made even more explicit by Pedro Arrupe in his introduction to the published edition of the papers on inculturation given at the Jerusalem Interdisciplinary Seminar on Inculturation:           The church -- that is, ourselves -- all of us, must   exhibit a model, or many models, not just of peaceful co-  existence, but, as  has been said, of peaceful pro-existence, where each one has something to contribute to   the well-being of the other,  and where diffferences  make   for mutual enrichment.  (IWP, xi-xii).


     Azevedo, in his article from this conference, argues that the passage into deeper cognitive exchange demands an "epistemological affinity" between the discourse that unveils the meanings and values and the capacity to apprehend them as such (IWP, Part 1, 10-11). This dense expression seems to mean that our affective readiness to dialogue must match our words: we must be prepared to make ourselves transparent to the other. Inculturation therefore continues as an elaboration of the Presupposition, since it is "an ongoing process of reciprocal and critical interaction and assimilation" between the Christian message and cultures (IWP,Part 1,11).

     The Ignatian imperative for spiritual freedom becomes especially meaningful here, because freedom is a precondition for any real interaction between the missionary and a culture. It also demands that the Church attain internal freedom in relationship to its own history, that it prudently and firmly disengage, that it learn how:

         to extricate the original Christian message from     the overwhelming and over-detailed set of meanings, symbols   and names that accumulated over the centuries and that     that church tried and still tries to retain sometimes  in    a quite absolute manner.  (IWP,Part 1, 26).


This implies a complex process: the Church must pick its way through the jungle of ideologies and world views in order to develop a critical consciousness about itself and its mission, if it is to be "a transparent milieu for the constant action of God in humanity." (IWP , Part 1, 49)

     The theme of spiritual freedom appears again and again in the Jerusalem papers. Theoneste Nkeramihigo, for example, hopes that the Church can surmount the "cultural dogmatism" that is part of the Cartesian heritage of anxiety for clarity and distinctness. Nkeramihigo sees here the reason for the incapacity to appreciate a foreign culture because one is convinced that one's own culture has been called to direct others (IWP Part 2, 50).  This is not a denial of mission, but an affirmation of it, since with this spiritual freedom, one can assist a culture to arrive at its own "ethico-mythical kernel" and thus appropriate the Christian message (IWP, Part 2, 50).

     At the level of cultural interchange, the problems of practicing the Presupposition literally dwarf those existing in the interchange between individuals of the same culture. But this is precisely the point: the Exercises cannot touch the domain of social ethics and spirituality unless we live and give them within the life contexts of our brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ, as our symbolic form, has modeled this in the Incarnation, and his early followers soon learned that they had to relate this incarnational principle to their own mission.


     Inculturating the Principle of Inculturation


     It has been my purpose here to suggest how we might "inculturate" the Ignatian Presupposition -- that great principle itself of inculturation -- within North American culture, both within the mainstream among those marginalized in our society. The more I meditate on this rather laconic instruction, the more I see it (in spite of its unassuming position outside the annotations) as a dramatically practical expression of the spiritual freedom desired for all people passing through the Exercises. It would be difficult, if not impossible, then, to restrict such an instruction to the confines of retreats or one-on-one spiritual direction. Rather, all Christians, certainly all Jesuits and others who espouse an Ignatian spirituality, must fervently pray for the freedom to be open to other views and positions and to other worldviews and cultural gestalts. Any of us who realize how easily we become annoyed by the apparent recalcitrance of others, and thus how easily we descend to shouting matches or to subtle forms of manipulation, will realize the significance of the Presupposition.

     The praxis of the Presupposition demands the kind of kenotic attitude that will free us to live a truly incarnate existence, not simply as missionaries "going out" to foreign cultures, but as ministers relating across the increasingly complex network of cultures that exists in such North American cities as New York, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, or Los Angeles. No minister of the gospel can render an authentic service without transcending his or her biases in order to appreciate ways of entering into the ideas, cultures and lives of those being "served". This kind of entry may be modest enough, entailing an easing of restrictive boundaries in a given city parish,   or it may be the heroism demanded of so many serving in Third World countries and identifying with the oppressed.

     One way or another, the growth of social and cultural awareness that is gained by persons taking such kenotic risks will further call for more generous sharing of resources, be they material, intellectual, or spiritual. Since the communication advocated by the Presupposition is mutual, it renders theological education a praxis reality. Just as no spiritual direction relationship can remain one of cool detachment after the Presupposition has been applied, neither can education be predominantly academically oriented once it has entered into the fuller meaning of the cultures and of students. More than one "paradigm shift," or radical alteration of a cultural configuration, must be inevitable if cross-cultural communication proceeds along the lines of the Presupposition.


     To end where I began, we see that the fullest meaning of the Presupposition means a sharing of power, on all the levels of that word. For example, to stay with Ignatius's context, spiritual directors cannot conduct themselves toward directees in a monological or peremptory manner once they have risked such a relationship of mutuality. Nor can the directee remain in a state of passive, submissive aloofness, retaining the power to be detached from challenges. The cultural analogy follows upon this: we can only speculate how different the relationships between missionaries and native peoples in so many places might now be had the Presupposition been practiced.

     When my young Arapaho friend asked me twenty years ago why the church had been so hard on native religion," and I responded with the suggestion that I investigate the matter, I was on the brink of a profound surrender. I would have to surrender the power, at least in my own mind, to make someone else like myself. I would, in the course of time, surrender even more power, including the power to remain independent. I would have to become the childlike learner and even at times the object of sharp reproach and recriminations. Yet, "Whoever loses one's life shall save it." In this modest and unheroic way, I acquired the greater power of grace, to be a lifelong learner of another culture.

     The title of this article was chosen in memory of an incident that occurred in the autumn of 1975, during a period of drastic change in mission policy. The "bottom line" of this change, largely forced on us by circumstances rather than any discernment on our part, was that we would be surrendering most of our power over educational theory and practice into the control of tribal leaders. The implications were becoming dramatically evident as we (the non-Indians) found ourselves listening hour after hour to native persons "telling their stories" to us, in many cases for the first time. It was to offer a helping hand to me in this process that that truly wise man, Ernest Sun Rhodes, spoke to me those words I have already quoted, "The Indian and the white man are as different as night and day."

    But Ernest had a way of heightening his rhetoric for dramatic effect. He always insisted with equal vigor that we are all children of the one Creator. The problem had been that hitherto the native people had been required by cultural and historical forces to remain the "children," and the missionaries had become the "parents." Now, the roles are often reversed. But the purpose of such a role change is surely that we may all reach full spiritual adulthood before God. To enrich our "civilized discourse," then, we must be ready to "interpret favorably", to inquire more deeply, and finally to risk calling and being called, to better self-understanding.


Carl F. Starkloff, S.J.









[1].The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, Louis J. Puhl,S.J. trans. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Pg.11.

[1]. For details, see the bibliography in Carl F. Starkloff, S.J., "Religious Renewal in Native North America: A Contemporary Challenge to the Churches," Missiology, 13, January, 1985: 81-101.

[1]. See Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed, trans. Lisa Sergio (New York:, 1963).

[1]. See Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Seabury, 1978), 152.

[1]. See Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, trans. Robert R. Barr, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983) 169-221. Allan Figueroa Deck's article in this volume treats a similar concern.

 Robert N. Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial, (New York: Seabury, 1975).

Cited in text as BC.

[1].S. Ignatii de Loyola Exercitiorum Spiritualium Editio Princeps, ed. P. Lethielus (Paris, 1910). But it should be noted that already in 1555, a year before the death of Ignatius, his young confidant and interpreter, Pedro Ribadeneira, wrote in a marginal gloss to the work of Luis Gonzalez, that Ignatius himself always kept this rule of the Presupposition. It was "as it were proverbial of him to excuse the faults of others." See Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu, A Patribus Ejusdem Societatis Edita, in Monumenta Ignatiana, Series Quarta, 1, 1, (Rome, 1943), 581. (This is a different set of documents from the one indicated in the following note.) Note also that "excusing faults" is not really the point of my article. I include the reference as demonstrating the magnanimity of Ignatius Loyola.

[1].Monumenta Ignatiana ex Autographis vel Antiquioribus Exemplis, Series Secunda, Exercitia Spiritualia Sancti Ignatii de Loyola et Eorum Directoria, (Matritii: Typis Successorum Rivadeneyre, 1919), Pp.251-252. Cited in text as MI.

[1]. W.H.Longridge,MA, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, (London: Robert Scott, Second Edition, 1922), 25.

[1]. Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J., Counsels for Jesuits: Selected Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius Loyola, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985),1-3. Cited in text as CJ.

[1]. E.D. was F.J. Morell,S.J., according to John J. Padberg, S.J., to whom I am indebted for this reference.

[1]. E.D., "El Prosupuesto", Manresa: Revista Trimestral de Ejercicios, 11, (April, 1935): 42, 327-342.  Cited in text as EP.

[1]. Walter J. Ong, Fighting For Life: Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 126.

[1]. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., A Planet to Heal (Rome: International Centre for Jesuit Education, 1977),   138.

[1]. See William James, Pragmatism and Other Essays, (New York: Washington Square Press, 1963,) 26. The essays of interest here are James' essay on pragmatism (1908) and "A Certain Blindness in Human Beings" (1896). references to Pragmatism and Other Essays are cited in text as POE.

[1]. Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. Cited in text as PC.

[1].John Courtney Murray, S.J., We Hold These Truths: Reflections on the American Proposition (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960). Cited in text as WHT.

[1]. John Courtney Murray S.J. and Walter Burghardt,S.J., The Problem of Religious Freedom (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1965). Cited in text  as TPRF.

[1]. George Herbert Mead, The Philosophy of the Act (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938). Cited in  text as PA.

[1]. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self: An Essay in Christian Social Philosophy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978). Cited in text as RS.

[1].See also William Johnson Everett, God's Federal Republic: Reconstructing Our Governing Symbol, (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 117-118. Cited in text as GFR.

[1].Robert D. Denham, ed., Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). Cited in text as NF.

[1]. G. Van Der Leeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation trans. J.E. Turner (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 685.

[1].An excellent example of such participant observation and deep dialogue has been described by William Stolzman, S.J., in The Pipe and Christ: A Christian-Sioux Dialogue (Chamberlain, SD: St. Joseph's Indian School, 1986). Close association with Stolzman leads me to praise his many years of constant interchange with native spiritual leaders as a form of cross-cultural praxis of the Ignatian Presupposition in all of its stages.

[1]. Marcello Azevedo, S.J., "Inculturation and Challenges of Modernity," ed. Ary Roest Crollius, S.J., Inculturation: Working Papers on Living Faith and Cultures, (Rome: Centre -- Cultures and Religion, Pontifical Gregorian University, 1982). Part 1, 9-10. Subsequent references to this collection will be cited as IWP.


 Nkeramihigo's essay is entitled "Inculturation and the Specificity of Christian Faith."

[1]. An example of cross-cultural ministry within a city parish is the work of John Duggan, S.J. in incorporating groups of immigrants into the parish life of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Toronto. See John Duggan, S.J., "Religious Experience and the Multicultural Community", Doctor of Ministry thesis, Toronto School of Theology, 1987.