Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shusaku Endo's "Silence"

The Film

  • Some thoughts on Silence Opus Publicum 01/17/17:
    ... Silence is not a movie for the immature, nor is it a work that can be comprehended by modern sensibilities. The Tridentine Catholicism that not only animates the plot but supplies the movie’s richest symbolisms is thoroughly alien to an era shot through with religious indifferentism and cultural relativism. Protestants, no less than secularists, are apt to misunderstand the film’s fusion of sign and substance, particularly the torment that surrounds the mere possibility of trampling upon an image of Christ. Moreover, by quietly pointing to the kenotic Christ, that is, the Savior who suffers not just for us but with us, Silence taps into a rich tradition of authentically Catholic spirituality, one that is infused not just with the history of Japanese Catholicism, but Eastern Slavic piety as well.
  • Some thoughts on the movie Silence by Dr. Philip Blosser 01/29/17:
    ... I think that not only the temptations but the consequences of apostasy were shown by both novel and film in a faithful light: the temptations were beyond ingenious, with the voice of Jesus seeming to come from His image on the fumie itself ("Step on me.") as if Christ Himself were counseling the mercy of apostasy as the path to redemption; and both apostate priests ended their lives by faded into oblivion, morphing into gollum-like shadows of themselves; and the Japanese Catholics (not all, but many) who witnessed their apostasy were significantly demoralized by it.

    Remarkably, however, when Catholic priests returned to Japan after the Meiji Restoration of the mid-nineteenth century, they encountered Kakure Kurishitan (hidden Christians) who came out of hiding once again to present rosaries and crucifixes and statues of Maria Kanon that doubled as secret images of the Madonna, showing that the Faith had not been entirely wiped out. The price of persecution as well as apostasy was high. Only something like one tenth of 1% of Japanese people are Christians, and of these, half (about 509,000) are Catholic.

  • Scorsese's 'Silence' is his most Catholic film, by Sr. Rose Pacatte. National Catholic Reporter 12/21/16:
    At the top of the thematic list are faith and doubt as partners in a dangerous dance from the moment the priests first find out about Ferriera's apostasy. They leave Portugal and Rome, their gaze focused on a land far away, bolstered by a faith yet untested. Rodrigues especially carries in his heart the image of Jesus so dear to him as a child and in the seminary. Once imprisoned it comes to him in the suffering of the people and in the night. It is this Jesus with whom he converses about his doubts, his questions and the choice he faces.

    The high-pitched whine of the highly intelligent and informed inquisitor Inoue, with his polite manners and saccharine but sinister smile, do not mask his intent to break the resolve of the Christians. He challenges Rodrigues, as does Ferriera when he and Rodrigues finally meet, saying that Christianity is too Western and cannot adapt to Japan. Rodrigues says that the church is the source of truth and is unable to move off the script he learned growing up in Catholic Portugal. His responses to Inoue are noble perhaps, but ineffective. The inculturation of the Gospel and adaptation, even today, remains a challenge to those who evangelize, at home or afar.

    Kichijiro, absolved again and again for his apostasy, is emblematic of sinners who are self-aware of their sin and just as cognizant of God's mercy. Kichijiro disgusts Rodrigues, and it takes the priest a long time to realize that he, too, is a weak human not so different from this dirty beggar of a sinner who cannot help himself.

The Novel

  • Reading Silence for the first time, by Amy Welborn. Catholic World Report 12/14/16:
    ... Endo was inspired to write Silence, not only by his own life experience of living as a Japanese Catholic, but specifically by visiting the shrine to the Twenty-Six Martyrs in Nagasaki. This memorial commemorates men, women, and children killed in 1597, and includes an exhibit of fumi—the images of Christ, and sometimes of Mary, upon which Japanese Catholics were ordered to trample and spit, not only once, but annually, an obligation that persisted until the mid-19th century.

    Endo based his novel on historical documents, including a 17th-century diary written by a clerk in a residence in which apostate Catholics, including Giuseppe Chiara, lived. This is especially important for the final chapter of the novel. ...

    Endo is posing that question, in a way, to all Japanese Christians, and even all Japanese people, who live today in a culture shaped by martyrdom and apostasy, of oppressor and victim. What does it mean to contemplate the well-worn fumie in the museum and know that your faith in the present day exists, not only because of the seeds sown by the martyrs’ blood, but also because it was passed down by those who for years trampled and betrayed in public, while preserving what they could in private?

    The dilemma of trampling on the fumie can be brought home in more universal terms, as Endo himself noted, and perhaps this is one reason why this novel about Catholic missionaries who lived and died centuries ago plants a persistent pebble in the shoe of so many readers’ consciences. As Fujimoro beautifully puts it,

    Endo saw fumi-e as emblems of a greater, universal impact. When in lectures he spoke of “having a personal fumi-e,” he was not speaking of a literal religious icon, but was acknowledging that each of us steps on and betrays the “face of ones that [we] love, even the ideals [we] cherish.” To step on one’s own fumi-e, in that sense, is to betray oneself out of desperation due to public or cultural pressure. … Silence is not a triumphant pilgrimage with clear outcomes, but a meandering pilgrimage of one wounded by life and confounded by faith, whose experience of faith has been punctuated by betrayals, his own and those of others. Endo notes repeatedly in his memoirs and through his characters that through his own struggles of faith God never let him go. Endo himself is like the fumi-e, a historical marker birthed of a traumatic time, finally worn smooth through many disappointments, failures, and betrayals, but whose surface reveals the indelible visage of a Savior.


  • Kirishitan - Excellent site summarizing the history of Catholicism in Japan (HT: Amy Welborn).

  • Italian priest imprisoned in 18th century may have been influential in Japan’s development :
    Historians say [Jesuit missionary Giovanni Battista] Sidotti helped shape Japan’s view of the Western world with his knowledge after he won over the nation’s leading scholar of the day. But he fell from grace after refusing to give up his faith and his final days and death have been shrouded in mystery. . .

    As part of his interrogations, Sidotti was questioned by Japan’s top Confucian scholar, who developed a deep respect for the Roman Catholic priest for his knowledge of geography, languages and global affairs, experts said.

    The scholar, the renowned Hakuseki Arai, is said to have tried to help Sidotti but the priest was later sent to the dungeon amid allegations he baptized the Japanese couple tending to his daily needs.

    The Italian died there, but it is not clear how, researchers said.

    Historical accounts, including those written by Japanese scholar Kotonobu Mamiya about a century later, however, mention that Sidotti was accorded a certain respect and treated far better than other prisoners — even in death.

    The buried remains of what archeologists believe to be those of Sidotti were recently discovered. Evidence indicates he was given a burial "in the Christian way" out of respect.

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