Silence – Shusaku Endo
When I was in seminary my favorite classes were preaching classes. After “Introduction to Preaching” or whatever it was called I took “Seminar in Preaching.” I took both of those classes from the legendary Rev. Dr. Zahn Holmes. There is no way I was going to attend seminary at Southern Methodist University and NOT take Dr. Holmes at least once. I had heard him preach many times. I could not take a pass on the possibility of perhaps learning something from one of the great preachers of the 20th Century. I never regretted that decision, either time. He was one of my favorite professors at SMU.
I took one more preaching class at SMU. I would have taken more if they would have let me. Something about having many more students that wanted to take two and if not two at least the one their degree plan required. I can’t understand there attitude.
Though I loved Dr. Holmes classes, it turned out that his classes were not either my favorite of my seminary days. My favorite ended up being that third preaching class. It was “Preaching and Contemporary Literature,” with Dr. John Holbert. The best part of that class, besides listening to some really good sermons by my classmates, all our textbooks for the class were novels or short story anthologies.
Two of the assigned readings I had actually read before when I was in high school, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton and a short story by Flannery O’Connor.
Most of the readings for the class were new to me and would never have bought to read. I was in the middle of reading Cry the Beloved Country when I realized that I really enjoyed these books and I didn’t need Tom Clancy’s greatest spy Jack Ryan chasing down enemies of the United States all over the world.
One of those books turned out to be my favorite novel. They turned it in to a movie a year or so ago. Because the movie wasn’t playing anywhere around where I lived. So I didn’t see it until could watch it on cable. Not only would I not have read the book if it wasn’t required, I also would not have watched the movie had I not read the book.
The title of the book is, Silence. It was written by a Japaneses Christian, the late Shusaku Endo. Endo wrote from a intriguing and rare perspective. Japan is a secular society with major influences from Shintoism and Buddhism. Christians are the third largest religion in the country. It consists of one percent of the total population and a half of a percent by itself.
Silence is the story of the persecution of Christians in the 1600s. He traces the life of Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese missionary and Jesuit priest, trying to covertly convert Japanese peasants to Christianity. The principle reason for their mission was to find their former teacher, Christovao Ferreira. Ferreira has been working in Japan for over thirty years now China when his letters stopped. A report come to them saying he had turned his back on his faith.
Rodrigues, Francisco Garrpe, and Juan de Santa Marta gain permission from their Superiors in Portugal to make the journey from Lisbon to Macao. However, once the three priests land in China, they are informed that all Portuguese ships from Macao to Japan have been prohibited. Valignano, the administrator for the Society of Jesus working in Macao, forbids the priests from continuing their journey. After much discussion the priests obtain Valignano’s permission to secure a Chinese ship and continue on to Japan. Santa Marta is deemed too ill to travel, and so only Rodrigues and Garrpe arrive in Tomogi, Japan. Their contact, Kichijiro, locates a group of Christian peasants willing to hide the priests in a charcoal hut just outside their village.
The priests have little contact with other villages and learn nothing about the fate of Ferreira. To attempt to stop the missionary work, the village had a search party looking for hidden Christian icons and items. Garrpe and Rodrigues decide its time to get out of Dodge so leave the village so the village can remain safe. Rodrigues sails across the sea but fails to find another village to hide in. As he struggles across the mountains he encounters Kichijiro, who has been trailing the priest for some time. Every time Kichijiro shows up, it is about to be really good news for ROdrigues or really bad news. Kichijiro promises to take Rodrigues to another safe village; but after several days of walking the priest is captured by officials. It is probably safe to say that this went beyond bad news.
Rodrigues is shifted between various holding huts before landing in a prison cell outside of Nagasaki, Japan. Nagasaki is the traditional seat of the magistrate, Inoue, who is responsible for the interrogation and torture of all captured Christians. Rodrigues knows of several priests who have apostatized following being suspended in “the pit” and figures that it is only a matter of time before he too is subjected to severe torture. The time in prison and the treatment of other prisoners forces Rodrigues to reflect on his own faith.
He draws parallels between himself and Christ as he is betrayed by Judas, persecuted by the Jews, and finally nailed to a cross. For most of the book Rodrigues feels that God has chosen to be silent about the suffering of His people. It is not until the very final chapter that Rodrigues comes to terms with God and all the events that have happened to him in Japan.
For Rodrigues, after his capture, he keeps wondering when the torture would begin. In really never does. Then one day he walks out of his hut and is taken, but not far. The show him the Japanese Christians who came to know Jesus Christ through his ministry. They are the victims of long-term systematic torture. Only Rodrigues cab stop the torture. There is also one thing he can do to make it stop, deny Jesus.
To deny Jesus, for a Roman Catholic priest is a big deal.To deny Jesus meant losing everything he cared about. It meant ending his life as he knew it. The second he did it, he would no longer be a priest. The second he did, he would no longer be a Christian. In that instant he knew how his mentor, Ferreira could lose his faith. The second he denied Jesus, the torture would stop.
What would happen? Quite a bit actually, buy you will need to buy and read the book. Oh, and don’t think you can learn by watching the movie. As far as I can remember, they don’t end the same.
Have a Great Day in the Lord,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved