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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Part 2

You can read Part 1 in this series, here.

It occurs to me that some people may have different introductions.  My edition, first published in 1980 by Taplinger Publishing Company, is the thirteenth printing and has a good size Preface written by the translator William Johnston.  If people have picked up the current edition that highlights the movie, you may not have the Translator’s Preface.  Does everyone’s edition have the Translator’s Preface? 

What I’ve seen is that some editions list a Forward by Martin Scorsese.  What I don’t know is if Scorsese’s Forward is in addition to the Translator’s Forward or in lieu of the Translator’s Forward.  I don’t know what Scorsese’s Forward says, but if you’re missing the Translator’s Forward, then you’re missing some information. 

The Translator’s Forward walks you through some of the history (which I’ve provided and gone beyond with my background post) but it also provides some context of Christianity in Endo’s life and in Japan.  For instance there is this statement Endo made in an interview:

“I received baptism when I was a child ..... in other words, my Catholicism was a kind of readymade suit ..... I had to decide either to make this ready-made suit fit my body or get rid of it and find another suit that fitted ..... There were many times when I felt I wanted to get rid of my Catholicism, but I was finally unable to do so. It is not just that I did not throw it off, but that I was unable to throw it off. The reason for this must be that it had become a part of me after all. The fact that it had penetrated me so deeply in my youth was a sign, I thought, that it had, in part at least, become coextensive with me. Still, there was always that feeling in my heart that it was something borrowed, and I began to wonder what my real self was like. This I think is the 'mud swamp' Japanese in me. From the time I first began to write novels even to the present day, this confrontation of my Catholic self with the self that lies underneath has, like an idiot's constant refrain, echoed and reechoed in my work. I felt that I had to find some way to reconcile the two. “

Johnston, the translator, goes on to explain:

'The mud swamp Japanese in me'.....Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process. It is the spider's web that destroys the butterfly, leaving only the ugly skeleton.

Besides Johnston’s point of how Japan transforms ideologies (which culture doesn’t?) the point I think is noteworthy in Endo’s comment is that Catholicism felt “in my heart that it was something borrowed,” that there was a real self “underneath.”  Well, that would be quite understandable, and I think it hints on understanding one of the themes in the novel.  That is, how does a religion from the other side of the world, take root in a vastly foreign culture? 

Johnston takes that theme and sets it beside another Shusaku Endo comment:

For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood ... has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility. Even this attempt is the occasion of much resistance and anguish and pain, still it is impossible to counter by closing one's eyes to the difficulties. No doubt this is the peculiar cross that God has given to the Japanese.

One of the themes in the novel is whether Japan is ready to receive Christianity, and how would it do so?  Was seventeenth century Japan ready for Christianity?  Well it was amazing how many converted in such a short order.  But obviously as will see in the end, the answer has to be no. 

Johnston also has a third quote which I think projects Endo’s thoughts on the future of Japan and Christianity:

 But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony ..... If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan's mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is-that is what I want to find out.

What I think Endo is saying there is that Japan will one day have the grace of accepting Christianity—when it is ready—because whatever worldview it relies on now, is not the fullness of theology and humanity.  Only Catholicism can provide that.  As a Catholic, I find that the highest honor.  How wonderful. 

The Prologue formally starts the novel, and Endo starts with journeys in search of the Jesuit Christovao Ferreira, the leading evangelist in Japan, who if rumors are correct has apostatized.  There is the 1635 journey from Rome of five priests led by a Father Rubino (p. 7), and then the more central to the novel journey of 1637 of the three Portuguese Jesuits, Francisco Garpe, Juan de Santa Marta, and the protagonist of the novel, Sabastian Rodrigues (pp. 7-8).  These three had studied under Ferreira and could not believe their mentor had not chosen “glorious martyrdom” over apostatizing.  I don’t recall if the five Roman priests have any significance in the rest of the novel, but it’s interesting to note the different and contrasting rationales for their journeys.  While the Jesuits embark to investigate the Ferreira matter, the Roman priests go “to carry on an underground missionary apostolate and to atone for the apostasy.”  The priests go to atone while the Jesuits go for self-satisfaction.  I think it’s subtle, but there is a sense of egotism in the motivations of the Jesuits.

In broad strokes Endo outlines the Jesuits’ journey in the Prologue as they go from Europe to the Canary Islands then around the Cape of Good Hope to Gao in India and finally to Macau in China.  From Macau they will sneak into Japan (pp. 9-11).  But Juan de Santa Marta prematurely dies and while both Garpa and Rodrigues both make it onto Japanese soil, Garpa is soon split off, and so we have the journey of Rodrigues in search of Ferreira.  This journey constitutes the form of the novel, and it starkly—and I believe intentionally—recalls the form of the great early twentieth century novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness too has a journey of a European into a far different cultural world in search of, if not a spiritual leader, a man of incredible wisdom (“a very remarkable man”) who has deteriorated into depravity.  Charles Marlow goes up the Congo and into the heart of the African jungle to find the dissolute Mr. Kutz.  Sabastian Rodrigues goes into Japan to find the apostate Christovao Ferreira. 

And Heart of Darkness itself was modeled on a prior great work, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno section of his Divine Comedy.  In Dante’s Inferno, Dante the character travels into the heart of Hell, not to find a leader—though perhaps one could make the case he’s symbolically in search of his beloved Beatrice—but to find his way out of his midlife crises.  At the end of their journeys Marlow and Dante gain wisdom, and so too will Rodrigues.  It is interesting to note that in the Inferno hell is shaped in the form of a spiraling pit in which Satan is at the bottom.  Rodrigues too will come to a pit, though a very different type of pit, at the climax of his journey. 

But Endo doesn’t begin the Prologue with the journeys per se, but with Christovao Ferreira and his character before his apostasy.  

News reached the Church in Rome. Christovao Ferreira, sent to Japan by the Society of Jesus in Portugal, after undergoing the torture of 'the pit' at Nagasaki had apostatized. An experienced missionary held in the highest respect, he had spent thirty-three years in Japan, had occupied the high position of provincial and had been a source of inspiration to priests and faithful alike.

He was a theologian, too, of considerable ability, and in the time of persecution he had secretly made his way into the Kamigata region to pursue his apostolic work. From here the letters he sent to Rome overflowed with a spirit of indomitable courage. It was unthinkable that such a man would betray the faith, however terrible the circumstances in which he was placed. In the Society of Jesus as well as the Church at large, people asked themselves if the whole thing were not just a fictitious report invented by the Dutch or the Japanese.  (p. 3)

Endo needs to make clear up front what the goal of the journey is and why it is so startling that Ferreira has apostatized.  He was a man “of indomitable courage.”  The word courage and its antonym, cowardice, are important themes—or perhaps more accurately they are motifs—in the story.  The Jesuit’s courage to face “glorious martyrdom” is constantly contrasted with drunkard Kichijiro’s cowardice.  Apostatizing then is a failure to uphold one’s courage in the face of adversity, usually life risking adversity, and give into humiliating cowardice.  Here is probably a good point to understand why the central characters are Jesuits.  The Society of Jesus, started by St. Ignatius of Loyola, are the soldiers of the religious orders, soldiers not in the sense of martial arts, but of spiritual warfare.  Here are the opening two sentences of their rule:

Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments.

Notice the military analogies: “soldier of God,” “serve,” “defense,” “propagate, ‘”retreat.”  Their prayers are referred to as “exercises,” and their particular charism is to go out into hostile environment and preach and serve, knowing that they may be martyred.  And so Jesuits were sent out across the world to bring the Good News to places that had never heard it, such as Japan.  They were (and still are) tough men who were trained to go into inhospitable places.  They are the Navy Seals of the religious orders.  When I think of the Jesuit ethos, I’m reminded of the English Jesuit martyrs, who were trained on the Continent but inserted into anti-Catholic England to minister to the remaining Catholics.  I remember reading that when a particular group of Jesuits were ordained prior to entering England, those attending the ordination fell to their knees because they knew they were in the midst of sure martyrs and therefore future saints.  Many of the Jesuits expected martyrdom.  And so we hear Rodrigues refer to it as “glorious martyrdom.” 

We should also keep in mind that Ferreira and Rodrigues are based on actual historical figures.  Any changes from the historical facts that Endo makes in the novel is probably for some significant reason.  The details in the novel surrounding Ferreira seem to coincide with the historical facts.  The only possible change is the length of time Ferreira has spent in Japan.  In that opening paragraph of the Prologue I quoted above, it says he had been in Japan for thirty-three years.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Ferreira had been sent to Asia in 1609, which would make the year the Narrator is speaking 1642.  The novel is supposedly set in 1643, but I think that’s close enough for historical accuracy. 

Now with Rodrigues, Endo makes a significant change.  The character Rodrigues is based on is the person Giuseppe Chiara, an Italian Jesuit.  What is the significance of switching the central character’s nationality from Italian to Portuguese?  I can think of two.  One, the Jesuit Order was started by Spaniards and Portuguese, and so I think the switch emphasizes the Jesuit ethos of spiritual toughness.  I’m sure Italian Jesuits were just as tough, but Endo is trying to associate Rodrigues with the Order’s ideal.  Second, and perhaps more important, making the central character Portuguese links in the colonization context of the back story.  The Portuguese and Spaniards (and Dutch and English) were colonizers, while Italy not being unified until the nineteenth century, did not have colonies.  The fear the Japanese rulers had of being colonized is accentuated with Rodrigues being Portuguese.

There were a couple of other interesting tidbits I picked up in the Prologue.  One was repeated use of the number thirty-three.  As I mentioned Ferreira had spent thirty-three years in Japan, and two pages later in Ferreira’s letter to Rome he mentions six priests “remaining in the mountains for thirty-three days” (p. 6).  That’s hardly a coincidence.  Endo then mentions that Rodrigues was born in 1610 (p. 9), and if the novel is set in 1643 that would make him thirty-three years old when the events unfold.  Thirty-three is Christ’s age at the time of His passion, so to give Rodrigues the same age is to interconnect them.  In what way is Rodrigues Christ-like?  That’s something to explore, but it could also be to highlight a contrast.  In what way is Rodriguez not Christ-like might be as pertinent a question.  As to the repeated use of thirty-three, I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to suggest.  It does give the story a Christian aura.

The other tidbit comes at the end of the Prologue.

Today we can read some of the letters of Sebastian Rodrigues in the library of the Portuguese 'Institute for the Historical Study of Foreign Lands'. The first of these begins at the time when he and his companions heard from Valignano about the situation in Japan.  (p. 12)

This transitions into the novel’s first chapters which are epistles back home from Rodrigues.  But the narrator says “Today we can read…”  When is today?  And who is “we”?  Who is speaking there?  This leads to the question of the novel’s narrative perspective, which is complicated and for another discussion.  

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