Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Silence" by Shusaku Endo Review, Part 3

In a novel based on the experiences of missionaries to a pre-Christian land (indeed, to a land that remains pre-Christian even in the 21st century), obviously the missionary theme will be front-and-center. For a book that mentions Christ’s face so often, it is disturbing to note the dearth of Jesus in references to missionary work. At the beginning of the book, Rodrigues seems quite optimistic about the success and attraction of mission work.
“The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. For the 1st time they have met men who treated them like human beings. It was the human kindness and charity of the fathers that touched their hearts” (p. 31).
No mention of the Holy Spirit or of the person of Jesus Christ in this endeavor. Rod later mentions fulfillment and happiness at being a missionary priest in a foreign land but wonders, “What are the Japanese peasants looking for in me?... a path in which they can cast away the fetters that bind them.” These same peasants later strongly request a relic to venerate from the priest himself. Being bereft of any personal possessions by this time, Rodrigues gives each a rosary bead and wonders if there were not a problem with their outlook. Later, we hear that “this Inoue, who had at one time received baptism to get advancement in the world, knew well that these poor peasants honored the Virgin above all.” This makes Rodrigues mildly uncomfortable, and the reader might reasonably expect him to do something about it. Yet that is exactly the frustrating aspect – with this group of Kakures one might expect a new priest to educate his flock on important things like WHO they are worshiping, at the very least. Yet we never read of any such education, leaving Rodrigues, during his imprisonment and temptation, at the mercy of others who know the Japanese situation better. He can offer no rebuttal to the assertion that the Japanese have transformed Roman Catholic doctrine to a highly syncretistic, uniquely Japanese, pidgin religion where Dainichi, the Great Sun that Japanese had worshiped for generations before, was the object of their reverence but the Virgin Mary was added along with Catholic liturgy.
Such ideas lead us into an estimation of another great lacking in the history of the book. Much is made of the fact that the priests had come to Japan to “lay down their lives” for the people of Japan, yet in the end the Japanese common people lay down their lives for the priests. Rodrigues, after reflecting on this, wonders what in the world he has to offer to the people, given that they are suffering and being martyred for him. Jesus answers: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Where is Rodrigues’ faith and message? Many times he mentions that only his self-respect and consciousness of his status as a priest was what kept him going during his misery of imprisonment, as opposed to the grace of the Lord. Jesus is silent, indeed. What chance do those who come “in His name” give Him to speak? What, when Rodrigues’ thoughts are consumed by doubts about whether God actually exists and things like “The only thing he (Rodrigues) had to offer was his (own) life and his death”?


Anonymous said...

I certainly don't think that Endo meant to portray Rodrigues as a "hero." It's not a didactic novel presenting anyone (but Christ) as a model for our actions. Rather, it's a novel about human, broken people struggling in their relationship with God. I find the novel beautiful because we can identify with their brokenness and reflect on our brokenness and imperfect relationships with God.

I read somewhere that one way to read Silence is to read it as a story of what it is like to pray -- the ebb and flow of humans' imperfect prayer to God.

Rhology said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for dropping by!

Agreed, Rodrigues is no hero. He is not portrayed as the shining moral example, either, in fact. As I said elsewhere in the review, Endo was clearly writing from a position of pity for the weak of the story - the wretched peasants, who trampled the fumie.
Part of my point in this review has been to point out that the peasants were unjustified in trampling, as was Rod. The main problem I had w/ the novel was, however, w/ its portrayal of Jesus Christ, Who in the end contradicts His own inspired Word by commanding Rod to trample the fumie.

When you said "imperfect," you were right on the money. We agree on that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying! I confess I've only read 3 parts of your review. I'll look up the other parts.

I've actually read a commentary on the book that says that the English translation is a little bit weak in that part. The commentary said that the statement "Trample! Trample!" does not capture the nuance in Japanese, where the words are more of an invitation or a permission than a command: Christ is saying, "You may trample; you may trample."

Thanks for your thoughts!

- Rowie

Rhology said...

Hi Rowie,

"Trample!" or "you may trample", same thing. Christ wouldn't've said it.