As we continue our look into Shusaku Endo’s 1969 classic novel, Silence, we take a look into the novel’s foil-turned-everyman, Kichijiro, and the disaster that had to take place to get him there. To read Part One, click here.
At this Kichijiro groveled like a whipped dog and struck his forehead with his hand in token of repentance. This fellow is by nature utterly cowardly and seems quite unable to have the slightest courage. He has good will, however; and I told him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to overcome his weakness of will and this cowardice that made him tremble in the face of the slightest violence, the remedy was not in the sake he kept drinking but in a strong faith (43).
One of the intriguing things about how Endo’s Silence is how the book is laid out. The story begins as a series of documents—letters sent from the priest, Father Sebastian Rodrigues, on his journey from Portugal to Japan. Rather than being narrated into the godless “swamp” that is Endo’s Japan, we are brought into the interior landscape of Rodrigues’ faith. As he travels away from the Christianity he has known and the Christ he is soon to encounter, we are first given Rodrigues’ (mis)conceptions about his part as a believing man, and even more so God’s inclinations toward man.
From the beginning of Father Rodrigues’ mission to Japan, his self-described foil is drawn out to be his Japanese Judas Kichijiro. Kichijiro represents for Rodrigues all that Judas was for a Jesus—an apostate of apostates. One who snivels and grovels to more than one master. One who, for love of his own life, would vend his own convictions and cut himself off. One who parades the faith when it’s convenient and self-promoting, and denies it when it calls him to death. Kichijiro is the modern coward—an aimless promoter, a pawn. And what’s worse, Rodrigues’ Judas-bias is confirmed when Kichijiro sells him off to the Japanese magistrate for silver coins. As Rodrigues is taken to prison for interrogation, he can look back to see “that face with its fearful eyes like a spider.”
And yet it is Kichijiro’s ugliness, his treachery, that brings Rodrigues into an examination of his own faith. He is forced to think about Christ’s boundless love and the problems it presents for the wayward and faithless Judas. This examination leads him to wonder at his own inner-Judas, whether he too would, if given the opportunity choose to trample on the icon of Christ, the fumie, rather than lose his life:
Men are born into two categories: the strong and the weak, the saints and the commonplace, the heroes and those who respect them. In time of persecution the strong are burnt in the flames and drowned in the sea; but the weak, like Kichijiro, lead a vagabond life in the mountains. As for you (I now spoke to myself) which category do you belong to? Were it not for consciousness of your priesthood and your pride, perhaps you like Kichijiro would trample on the fumie (77-78).
In prison, to the very end, Father Rodrigues’ bolstered faith in his own heroism begins to slip into insecurity at whether or not he is any different from the traitor Kichijiro. Rodrigues wants to distinguish himself. He is a priest, he has traveled thousands of miles to certain death, to martyrdom—surely there is an preferential distinction between the believer and the unbeliever, the righteous and unrighteous, the strong- and weak-willed. Rodrigues is repulsed by the idea of communion with Kichijiro, or with his apostate mentor Fereirra. Martyrdom is the hope, the only hope, of distinguishing the faithful from the faithless—Rodrigues decides that dying for the cause is his proof.
How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross!’
The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew (171).
From the fumie, in the moment of faith, Christ speaks to the faithful as the faithless. His grace is unilateral, completely undeterred by an indistinguishable faith, an indistinguishable island, a terrible people, a magistrate. Christ offers himself up to be killed—and finally the Priest Rodrigues meets Jesus Christ, in his confrontation and acceptance of his weakness, in his own crux of agony. It is here, in communion with the faithless tramplers, Rodrigues meets the gospel of grace, the upside-down reality of faith-as-need. In the final scene of the book, Kichijiro finds Father Rodrigues again, and asks him if he can hear his confession. Rodrigues, now an apostate forced to leave the priesthood, wonders whether the office of his priesthood remains. He speaks to God, wondering if God has abandoned them, the everyman Judases:
‘But you told Judas to go away: What thou dost do quickly. What happened to Judas?’
‘I did not say that. Just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do. For Judas was in anguish as you are now.’
… ‘There are neither strong nor weak. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?’ The priest spoke rapidly, facing the entrance. ‘Since in this country there is now no one else to hear your confession, I will do it… Say the prayers after confession… Go in peace!’ (191).