Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Endo's Silence

Silence (1969), a novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), confronts several issues: the desperation of man's call to God, the goals of a missionary (noble or self-glorifying), and the ability of Christianity to take root in another culture (in this book, Japan).

It is the story of a Portuguese missionary, Sebastien Rodrigues, idealistic and glory-searching, who goes to Japan in 1640, a time when Christianity has gone underground and Christians are being persecuted. He has the typical visions of glory when administering to the Japanese Christians who are eager to receive the sacraments again, though this begins to fade with the reality of life, and running for his life.

[Note: I'm not well-read on Japanese history but in the preface William Johnston, the translator of Endo's novel, provides a brief history of Christianity's introduction and growth in Japan. St Francis Xavier arrived there in 1549 and would call the Japanese 'the joy of my heart.' By 1614, there were 300,000 Japanese Christians including local clergy. The lack of a strong centralized government had been operative in the spread of Christianity in Japan, and as strong leadership from the shoguns again exerted itself, the Christians began to be persecuted. Initially immediately executing Christians who had been rounded-up, the shoguns realized that making martyrs only strengthened the convictions of the remainder. Thus, they began to precede execution with torture to make the martyrs apostatize, typically by stamping their foot on a picture of Christ. The most famous of these tortures was to hang them down upside in a filthy pit. In 1632, after six hours in the pit, the first missionary apostatized (Christovao Ferreira) and began collaborating with local rulers. The Shimabara Rebellion, originally against policies of local government, became a pro-Christian insurgency that led rulers to suspect aid from outside governments (like Portugal) was involved, and Japan was shut off from Christian missionaries. Nevertheless, as Johnston writes:

"The faith was handed down; baptism was administered; catechism was taught. They gave their names, of course, to the Buddhist temple; they complied with the order to trample on the sacred image; and today at Ueno Museum in Tokyo one can still see those fumie rubbed flat and shining by the hundreds of feet that ached with pain (if I may borrow Mr. Endo’s phrase) while they trampled on someone whom their hearts loved. Handed down, too, was that tradition that the fathers would return; and in 1865, [these crypto-Christians] came out of their hiding, asking for the statue of the Santa Maria, speaking about Christmas and Lent, recalling the celibacy of the priests….In their prayers remain smatterings of old Portuguese and Latin; they preserve pieces of the soutanes and rosaries and disciplines that belong to the fathers whom they loved."
Johnston's comments on history are themselves taken from CR Boxer, The Christian Century in Japan (1951). Whew, long note. It's like writing a book report.]

Rodrigues is eventually captured, and thus begins his spiritual journey to be able to see the face of Christ and hear His voice. His love for the face of Christ: “from childhood I have clasped that face to my breast just like the person who romantically idealizes the countenance of one he loves” sustains him early on, but when he calls out to God, he hears no response:

"‘Exaudi nos, Pater omnipotens, et mittere digneris Sanctum qui custodiat, foveat, protegat, visitet, atque defendat omnes habitantes…’ Repeating the prayer again and again he tried wildly to distract his attention; but the prayer could not tranquilize his agonized heart. ‘Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent…?’"...

The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us completely?, he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? Even when the people are cast out of their homes have you not given them courage? Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why?...So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence. All that could be heard was the monotonous dull sound of the oars again and again...

‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani!’ It is three o’clock on that Friday; and from the cross this voice rings out to a sky covered with darkness. The priest had always thought that these words were that man’s prayer, not that they issued from terror at the silence of God.

In truth, it is not that God is not speaking to him, but that he does not have the ears to listen. The silence is an internal one, and only by seeing the face of Christ, not the face of the Sermon on the Mount or of the Child Jesus, but of the suffering Christ, the Christ Who is dying for humanity, can he hear the voice of God.

"Anyone can be attracted by the beautiful and the charming. But could such attraction be called love? True love was to accept humanity when wasted like rags and tatters."

To be continued....


Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

De profundis clamavi ad te. Domine...

AG said...

"Is that in Spanglish?"

-classic Novus Ordo Catholic response; and yes, I've heard it asked.