“I’ve told you. This country of Japan is not suited to the teaching of Christianity. Christianity simply cannot put down roots here…Father, you were not defeated by me…You were defeated by this swamp of Japan.”
These are the magistrate Inoue’s words to Father Rodrigues after his apostasy–kind words with the most tragically violent edges. In these words, Inoue has taken the Gospel to be a gospel, the Word a word sown and silent in this swamp of Japan. With a consolation, Inoue has denounced the priest’s faith with a soft pat of relativism.
What if this Gospel, this message of the grace of God in Jesus, is really just not suited for certain places of the world? Have you wondered if maybe it doesn’t have the same kind of impact on certain communities in certain corners of the world, that there are certain corners of the world that do not seem prone to receive it, in fact maybe should not receive it? Have you wondered if maybe there are different gospels for different communities, and that what works for you may not work for others? These are questions Endo personally confronts with his native Japan, not just in Silence, but in the mass of his life’s work.
Writing from the perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic, Endo’s literary work has always played upon the foreignness and alienated otherness of the message of the Gospel. He was confronted with a Japan mostly opposed to the Western conceptions of sacrament, church, and so forth–but more significantly, and more relevantly, he was confronted with the effects of post-modern perennialism–the conviction that religions are vastly saying the same things anyways. In a post-modern perspective, Eastern faiths can be saying the same things as Christian truth, and the only thing you need to delete is the utter ultimacy with which Jesus talks about the Way, the Truth…
In his essay “Endo’s Reading of the Passion,” William Cavanaugh says it brilliantly, that “Endo is misunderstood if this struggle is limited to the Japanese context. What Endo was really after, I think, was nothing less than a glimpse of a homeless God.” Cavanaugh makes note that this homeslessness means that God dwells in heart of the wound, where he seems most silent, and that “this wound is not one created by the writer, but belongs to the one who returned to his disciples after the Resurrection, asking his disciples to probe his unhealed wounds. It is God who refuses to close the wound.”
This makes a lot of sense out of why the magistrate Inoue will believe that he has successfully quelled the Christian message from Japan, or that Japan itself had quelled it; and it also makes a lot of sense out of why Father Rodrigues is able to retain hope in the invisible faith of the invisible seed of the Word. He is not satisfied with Inoue’s description of the faith, because it describes a foreign faith of strength not the faith of the suffering and the weakness of the foreigner:
“You may deceive other people, but not me,” answered Inoue in a cold voice. “Previously I have asked the question to other fathers: What is the difference between the mercy of the Christian God and that of the Buddha? For in Japan salvation is from the mercy of the Buddha upon whom people depend out of their hopeless weakness. And one father gave a clear answer: the salvation that Christianity speaks of is different; for Christian salvation is not just a question of relying on God–in addition the believe must retain with all his might a strength of heart. But it is precisely in this point that the teaching has slowly been twisted and changed in this swamp called Japan.”
Christianity is not what you take it to be…! The priest wanted to shout this out; but the words stuck in his throat with the realization that no matter what he said no one would ever understand his present feelings–no one, not Inoue, not the interpreter. Hands on knees, his eyes blinking, he sat listening to the words of the magistrate in silence.
“You probably don’t know,” went on Inoue, “but in Goto and Ikitsuki, large numbers of Christian farmers still remain. But we have no desire to apprehend them…Because the roots have been cut. If from the four corners of the world men like this father were to come once more, we would have to apprehend the Christians again…But we no longer have any fear of that. If the root is cut, the sapling withers and the leaves die…
It seems as though Inoue has read the parable of the mustard seed, but without a proper exegesis–at least not Endo’s exegesis. He seems to have taken from it that Japan is the thicket, and the Word of the Lord cannot survive. What he does not understand is as Robert Farrar Capon has described it, that Jesus is the seed sown, that in “the plain terms of the parable, Jesus has already, and literally, been sown everywhere in the world–and quite without a single bit of earthly cooperation or even consent.” Inoue cannot keep Jesus out of Japan any more than he can keep a man’s heart from beating–and an apostate’s heart at that. It is for this reason that Father Rodrigues knows the radical foolishness of the grace of God, an apostate priest for an apostate nation. It is for this reason that Endo ends it so:
The priest had administered that sacrament that only the priest can administer. No doubt his fellow priests would condemn his act as sacrilege; but even if he was betraying them, he was not betraying his Lord. He loved him now in a different way from before. Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love. “Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.”