“BBC Interview with Malcolm Muggeridge,” Pedro Arrupe (1970)

On January 25, 1970, the BBC aired Malcolm Muggeridge’s interview with Pedro Arrupe as part of the program “All Things Considered.” The brief exchange between the two men, appearing below, addresses issues of politics, missions, education, recruiting, and atheism.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



Introduction: In “All Things Considered” this week Malcolm Muggeridge talks to the man they call the “Black Pope.” Last week, for the first time this century, the Black Pope was in Britain. The nickname comes from the color of his vestments not his skin and it is applied to the most powerful religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, the Jesuits. They were founded in the sixteenth century by the crippled Spanish soldier Saint Ignatius Loyola as an almost military body. Intellectually brilliant and aggressive, they have always been controversial, sometimes they have been ridiculed, often they have been hated. Sometimes they have been expelled for their political as well as for their religious activities. Well, today the Father General of these intellectual shock-troops of the Catholic Church is Father Pedro Arrupe who is a former doctor and missionary in Japan. He came to Britain to review his 600 troops in the English Jesuit Province. Before he left, Malcolm Muggeridge took the opportunity of asking him some questions why.



Muggeridge: As I understand it, Jesuits traditionally have mixed themselves up in politics, in the struggle for power that’s going on. For instance, they used to hear the confessions of important people. Well, I don’t suppose you will be able to hear Harold Wilson’s confession, though it might be rather interesting and take quite a long time.


Arrupe: We never go into politics, never; politics as such. It is true we try for instance today, in the whole question of international justice, to help the underdeveloped countries and so forth. We are for truth, for justice. If you call politics this high idea of justice, fine. But if you speak of politics in the sense of parties, or working for governments, we are completely out of this. We are evangelically universal.




Muggeridge: Well, Father, of course, a lot of the work of the Society has been missionary work, hasn’t it?


Arrupe: Very much so.


Muggeridge: From Saint Francis Xavier onwards.


Arrupe: Yes, you see one of the goals of the Society is Defensio et Propagatio Fidei, therefore one of the essential points of the Society is the propagation of the Faith, the missionary work, to go to people who have no faith. Therefore Saint Ignatius sent the best man he had, Francis Xavier, just to India, to Japan, to the East.


Muggeridge: Now you’ve been to Japan yourself of course.


Arrupe: For twenty-seven years.


Muggeridge: As a missionary. Now how do you feel about that? Do you feel that today it presents itself in a different way to you in Japan, than it did to Saint Francis Xavier?


Arrupe: Oh yes, very much so, because the Japanese people have changed very much also in mentality. The best thing we can give the Japanese people is the Christian faith. But the way of giving will be different. We are convinced that we cannot go directly. We have to present the truth, as I told you before, just to present the truth—present our mentality from the human point of view. We don’t start with talks about faith, we start with the human point of view and because the faith is the truth, naturally we speak with all sincerity in our, I say, detachment from every human element. The Japanese and other people in the East are very intuitive. Therefore they know right away if you are sincere, and that is a great, tremendous consolation for us—even if they are not converted, they will say, Father, we know you have the truth.


Muggeridge: So you feel that in your twenty-seven years you left them at any rate with some truth.


Arrupe: Oh yes, sure.




Muggeridge: Then, of course, another terrific part of the Society’s work has been from the beginning education, hasn’t it?


Arrupe: Yes. We are still very much in this, because we are convinced that is one of the great contributions we can make, you see. We try to help humanity to form men and today more than ever. Because we have many machines and we have computers, we have all kind of jets, jumbos and everything. But we have no men of character, of principles, of energy, of involvement. Our schools are supposed to be “factories for producing men.”


Muggeridge: But do you consider that purpose can be achieved by conducting your schools on the terms offered in a secular society?


Arrupe: By all means. That is our problem, How we can adapt ourselves, our values, to modern conditions. Therefore we are sure that the merchandise, the product that we are selling, that is education, character, human beings well formed…


Muggeridge: Love of Christ?


Arrupe: Yes, surely. But I would distinguish that again. Love of Christ, that is the last goal for us, but in Japan or in India, we cannot start with love of Christ. We have to start from human values, with what is called today “pre-evangelization.”


Muggeridge: Hoping that they’ll lead up to love of Christ.


Arrupe: Yes. Because of course that is the preparation. We are so sure that the truth always leads to Christ that if we are presenting the truth we know, we are sure, this will indirectly or implicitly lead them to Christ. That is our conviction.




Muggeridge: I’ll tell you another thing that I wanted to ask you Father General. Do you think that, making the religious life easier encourages vocations? Or the reverse?


Arrupe: You have to present the ideal, the tough ideal … “sine glossa.”


Muggeridge: Ask a lot?


Arrupe: Yes. But in the right way. If we ask young men to undertake this life of sacrifice in the old-fashioned way, it won’t attract many; and that is the point. Sometimes we have the impression that religious life is going to be easier: perhaps this is an error in our appreciation. Religious life is changing, adapting itself to the mentality of today and therefore some of the old fashioned structures are gradually falling down.


But the sacrifice is more demanding today than before, you ought to realize. Therefore I would answer your question by saying: if you want vocations, you have to demand very much of youth, but for a great, clear ideal, the right ideal and in the right situation.




Muggeridge: I read somewhere that you were given special orders from the Pope to combat atheism.


Arrupe: Yes.


Muggeridge: A heavy assignment Father!


Arrupe: Oh yes! something tough and very complicated!


That was in ‘65 at the beginning of our General Congregation.


The Holy Father asked us to face atheism. At that time I made a tremendous mistake. Afterwards, speaking on the Council, I said: “we will fight atheism.” Which was not a good expression due to my lack of experience in the West.


Our task is not to fight, it is to confront, to face, to try to study atheism. You say very well that it’s complicated, because when the Holy Father asked us to do this task, he was thinking of atheism in a very broad sense, not only the militant atheism, not only the philosophical, even the actual secularism, all these problems connected with the modern :God is dead.”


Therefore it would take practically the whole Society of Jesus with activity in this line; we try now to study how to approach the problem of unbelief. And we are always making the distinction between the ideology, atheism (in which we have to present the arguments philosophical, anthropological, scientific, etc.), and the atheist as a person. As I told you before, we have to present it in a very human way, try to persuade him to see the argument in order to see that God is not dead. And God exists and is living, is very much a living person today, and present in all the events of the world. We have arguments good enough for every sincere man to recognize today more than ever that God is living.




Conclusion: Malcolm Muggeridge was talking to the General of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, who incidentally was leading a mission in Hiroshima at the time the first atomic bomb was dropped.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Questions on Politics, Missions, Education, Recruiting, Atheism,” pg. 9–14.