Catholic Thought discussion

Silence by Shūsaku Endō > Week 1: 22 – 28 October: Translator’s Preface, Prologue, and Chapters 1 and 2

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
It occurs to me that some people may have different introductions. My edition, first published in 1980 by Taplinger Publishing Company, is the thirteenth printing and has a good size Preface written by the translator William Johnston. If people have picked up the current edition that highlights the movie, you may not have the Translator’s Preface. Does everyone’s edition have the Translator’s Preface?

What I’ve seen is that some editions list a Forward by Martin Scorsese. What I don’t know is if Scorsese’s Forward is in addition to the Translator’s Forward or in lieu of the Translator’s Forward. I don’t know what Scorsese’s Forward says, but if you’re missing the Translator’s Forward, then you’re missing some information.

The Translator’s Forward walks you through some of the history (which I’ve provided and gone beyond with my background post) but it also provides some context of Christianity in Endo’s life and in Japan. For instance there is this statement Endo made in an interview:

“I received baptism when I was a child ..... in other words, my Catholicism was a kind of readymade suit ..... I had to decide either to make this ready-made suit fit my body or get rid of it and find another suit that fitted ..... There were many times when I felt I wanted to get rid of my Catholicism, but I was finally unable to do so. It is not just that I did not throw it off, but that I was unable to throw it off. The reason for this must be that it had become a part of me after all. The fact that it had penetrated me so deeply in my youth was a sign, I thought, that it had, in part at least, become coextensive with me. Still, there was always that feeling in my heart that it was something borrowed, and I began to wonder what my real self was like. This I think is the 'mud swamp' Japanese in me. From the time I first began to write novels even to the present day, this confrontation of my Catholic self with the self that lies underneath has, like an idiot's constant refrain, echoed and reechoed in my work. I felt that I had to find some way to reconcile the two. “

Johnston, the translator, goes on to explain:

"'The mud swamp Japanese in me'.....Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process. It is the spider's web that destroys the butterfly, leaving only the ugly skeleton."

Besides Johnston’s point of how Japan transforms ideologies (which culture doesn’t?) the point I think is noteworthy in Endo’s comment is that Catholicism felt “in my heart that it was something borrowed,” that there was a real self “underneath.” Well, that would be quite understandable, and I think it hints on understanding one of the themes in the novel. That is, how does a religion from the other side of the world, take root in a vastly foreign culture?

Johnston takes that theme and sets it beside another Shusaku Endo comment:

"For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood ... has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility. Even this attempt is the occasion of much resistance and anguish and pain, still it is impossible to counter by closing one's eyes to the difficulties. No doubt this is the peculiar cross that God has given to the Japanese."

One of the themes in the novel is whether Japan is ready to receive Christianity, and how would it do so? Was seventeenth century Japan ready for Christianity? Well it was amazing how many converted in such a short order. But obviously as will see in the end, the answer has to be no.

Johnston also has a third quote which I think projects Endo’s thoughts on the future of Japan and Christianity:

" But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony ..... If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan's mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is-that is what I want to find out."

What I think Endo is saying there is that Japan will one day have the grace of accepting Christianity—when it is ready—because whatever worldview it relies on now, is not the fullness of theology and humanity. Only Catholicism can provide that. As a Catholic, I find that the highest honor. How wonderful.

message 2: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I have the translater's introduction.

message 3: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments I think Endō's analogy of Catholicism being a symphony is beautiful! When we are all together celebrating Mass it is a symphony. When we are sharing our faith, giving to the poor, visiting the sick, and speaking out against injustice, etc., we are instruments within the orchestra of the Church. And the most important "instruments" which give the fullness that Endō speaks about are the seven sacraments.

message 4: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 359 comments I read this for my Catholic book club a few years ago and we loved it! There was a movie of it in the works, but I haven't seen it released anywhere.

message 5: by Manny (last edited Oct 19, 2016 07:03PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Leslie wrote: "I read this for my Catholic book club a few years ago and we loved it! There was a movie of it in the works, but I haven't seen it released anywhere."

Leslie, that's why we are reading it now. The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, is due out around Christmas.

message 6: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Susan Margaret wrote: "I think Endō's analogy of Catholicism being a symphony is beautiful! When we are all together celebrating Mass it is a symphony. When we are sharing our faith, giving to the poor, visiting the sick..."

Yes, I agree. In addition to what you mention, add the communion of saints, their lives and writings, the writings of the Church Fathers, the devotions, the chaplets, the beautiful churches and the art and music, yes it is a symphony!

message 7: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I also thought the image of the symphony was striking. Loved it. I found the image of Japan as a swamp to be jarring and insulting. I thought his explanation softened that negative image a bit, but wonder what a Japanese would make of it.

message 8: by Manny (last edited Oct 20, 2016 10:45AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "I also thought the image of the symphony was striking. Loved it. I found the image of Japan as a swamp to be jarring and insulting. I thought his explanation softened that negative image a bit, but..."
The swamp image is insulting, but Endo is Japanese. Those are the type of comments a person can make of his own group that someone from the outside can't. It also appears to be taken out of context, so we may not know the entire context of which it was said.

message 9: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments From the preface, the translator writes, “Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process.”

message 10: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Yes, swamp has a negative connotation for me. But, when I read his explanation of the swamp image, sucking up bits from other cultures and distorting them, it was less negative. Most cultures absorb elements from other cultures and shape them into something different in the process. Swamp might not have the strong negative associations in Japanese culture as it has for me.

message 11: by Susan Margaret (last edited Oct 20, 2016 12:24PM) (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Irene wrote: "Yes, swamp has a negative connotation for me. But, when I read his explanation of the swamp image, sucking up bits from other cultures and distorting them, it was less negative. Most cultures absor..."

I agree. A swamp is also a negative image for me. I picture all sorts of horrible, ugly things inside a swamp.

message 12: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
The Prologue formally starts the novel, and Endo starts with journeys in search of the Jesuit Christovao Ferreira, the leading evangelist in Japan, who if rumors are correct has apostatized. There is the 1635 journey from Rome of five priests led by a Father Rubino, and then the more central to the novel journey of 1637 of the three Portuguese Jesuits, Francisco Garpe, Juan de Santa Marta, and the protagonist of the novel, Sabastian Rodrigues. These three had studied under Ferreira and could not believe their mentor had not chosen “glorious martyrdom” over apostatizing. I don’t recall if the five Roman priests have any significance in the rest of the novel, but it’s interesting to note the different and contrasting rationales for their journeys. While the Jesuits embark to investigate the Ferreira matter, the Roman priests go “to carry on an underground missionary apostolate and to atone for the apostasy.” The priests go to atone while the Jesuits go for self-satisfaction. I think it’s subtle, but there is a sense of egotism in the motivations of the Jesuits.

In broad strokes Endo outlines the Jesuits’ journey in the Prologue as they go from Europe to the Canary Islands then around the Cape of Good Hope to Gao in India and finally to Macau in China. From Macau they will sneak into Japan. But Juan de Santa Marta prematurely dies and while both Garpa and Rodrigues both make it onto Japanese soil, Garpa is soon split off, and so we have the journey of Rodrigues in search of Ferreira. This journey constitutes the form of the novel, and it starkly—and I believe intentionally—recalls the form of the great early twentieth century novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness too has a journey of a European into a far different cultural world in search of, if not a spiritual leader, a man of incredible wisdom (“a very remarkable man”) who has deteriorated into depravity. Charles Marlow goes up the Congo and into the heart of the African jungle to find the dissolute Mr. Kutz. Sabastian Rodrigues goes into Japan to find the apostate Christovao Ferreira.

And Heart of Darkness itself was modeled on a prior great work, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno section of his Divine Comedy. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante the character travels into the heart of Hell, not to find a leader—though perhaps one could make the case he’s symbolically in search of his beloved Beatrice—but to find his way out of his midlife crises. At the end of their journeys Marlow and Dante gain wisdom, and so too will Rodrigues. It is interesting to note that in the Inferno hell is shaped in the form of a spiraling pit in which Satan is at the bottom. Rodrigues too will come to a pit, though a very different type of pit, at the climax of his journey.

But Endo doesn’t begin the Prologue with the journeys per se, but with Christovao Ferreira and his character before his apostasy.

"News reached the Church in Rome. Christovao Ferreira, sent to Japan by the Society of Jesus in Portugal, after undergoing the torture of 'the pit' at Nagasaki had apostatized. An experienced missionary held in the highest respect, he had spent thirty-three years in Japan, had occupied the high position of provincial and had been a source of inspiration to priests and faithful alike.

He was a theologian, too, of considerable ability, and in the time of persecution he had secretly made his way into the Kamigata region to pursue his apostolic work. From here the letters he sent to Rome overflowed with a spirit of indomitable courage. It was unthinkable that such a man would betray the faith, however terrible the circumstances in which he was placed. In the Society of Jesus as well as the Church at large, people asked themselves if the whole thing were not just a fictitious report invented by the Dutch or the Japanese."

Endo needs to make clear up front what the goal of the journey is and why it is so startling that Ferreira has apostatized. He was a man “of indomitable courage.” The word courage and its antonym, cowardice, are important themes—or perhaps more accurately they are motifs—in the story. The Jesuit’s courage to face “glorious martyrdom” is constantly contrasted with drunkard Kichijiro’s cowardice. Apostatizing then is a failure to uphold one’s courage in the face of adversity, usually life risking adversity, and give into humiliating cowardice. Here is probably a good point to understand why the central characters are Jesuits. The Society of Jesus, started by St. Ignatius of Loyola, are the soldiers of the religious orders, soldiers not in the sense of martial arts, but of spiritual warfare. Here are the opening two sentences of their rule:

"Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments."

Notice the military analogies: “soldier of God,” “serve,” “defense,” “propagate, ‘”retreat.” Their prayers are referred to as “exercises,” and their particular charism is to go out into hostile environment and preach and serve, knowing that they may be martyred. And so Jesuits were sent out across the world to bring the Good News to places that had never heard it, such as Japan. They were (and still are) tough men who were trained to go into inhospitable places. They are the Navy Seals of the religious orders. When I think of the Jesuit ethos, I’m reminded of the English Jesuit martyrs, who were trained on the Continent but inserted into anti-Catholic England to minister to the remaining Catholics. I remember reading that when a particular group of Jesuits were ordained prior to entering England, those attending the ordination fell to their knees because they knew they were in the midst of sure martyrs and therefore future saints. Many of the Jesuits expected martyrdom. And so we hear Rodrigues refer to it as “glorious martyrdom.”

We should also keep in mind that Ferreira and Rodrigues are based on actual historical figures. Any changes from the historical facts that Endo makes in the novel is probably for some significant reason. The details in the novel surrounding Ferreira seem to coincide with the historical facts. The only possible change is the length of time Ferreira has spent in Japan. In that opening paragraph of the Prologue I quoted above, it says he had been in Japan for thirty-three years. According to his Wikipedia entry, Ferreira had been sent to Asia in 1609, which would make the year the Narrator is speaking 1642. The novel is supposedly set in 1643, but I think that’s close enough for historical accuracy.

Now with Rodrigues, Endo makes a significant change. The character Rodrigues is based on is the person Giuseppe Chiara, an Italian Jesuit. What is the significance of switching the central character’s nationality from Italian to Portuguese? I can think of two. One, the Jesuit Order was started by Spaniards and Portuguese, and so I think the switch emphasizes the Jesuit ethos of spiritual toughness. I’m sure Italian Jesuits were just as tough, but Endo is trying to associate Rodrigues with the Order’s ideal. Second, and perhaps more important, making the central character Portuguese links in the colonization context of the back story. The Portuguese and Spaniards (and Dutch and English) were colonizers, while Italy not being unified until the nineteenth century, did not have colonies. The fear the Japanese rulers had of being colonized is accentuated with Rodrigues being Portuguese.

There were a couple of other interesting tidbits I picked up in the Prologue. One was repeated use of the number thirty-three. As I mentioned Ferreira had spent thirty-three years in Japan, and two pages later in Ferreira’s letter to Rome he mentions six priests “remaining in the mountains for thirty-three days.” That’s hardly a coincidence. Endo then mentions that Rodrigues was born in 1610, and if the novel is set in 1643 that would make him thirty-three years old when the events unfold. Thirty-three is Christ’s age at the time of His passion, so to give Rodrigues the same age is to interconnect them. In what way is Rodrigues Christ-like? That’s something to explore, but it could also be to highlight a contrast. In what way is Rodriguez not Christ-like might be as pertinent a question. As to the repeated use of thirty-three, I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to suggest. It does give the story a Christian aura.

The other tidbit comes at the end of the Prologue.

"Today we can read some of the letters of Sebastian Rodrigues in the library of the Portuguese 'Institute for the Historical Study of Foreign Lands'. The first of these begins at the time when he and his companions heard from Valignano about the situation in Japan."

This transitions into the novel’s first chapters which are epistles back home from Rodrigues. But the narrator says “Today we can read…” When is today? And who is “we”? Who is speaking there? This leads to the question of the novel’s narrative perspective, which is complicated and for another discussion.

message 13: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Manny, you have pointed out some interesting facts. I had not noticed the repetition of the number thirty-three. I also like your description of the Jesuits being the navy seals of religious orders. I picture them as slipping off the boat with a bible in one hand and a crucifix in the other.

Thanks again for leading this book discussion, I am enjoying your comments.

message 14: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments I just finished reading chapter two. I am anxious to learn the story behind the character, Kichijiro. When the priests first land on Japanese soil, Father Rodrigues suspects that Kichijiro may have betrayed them. He compares Kichijiro to Judas. He appears to be weak, lazy, and deceptive, possibly even hiding his Christian status from the priests. Kichijiro is an interesting character and I am wondering if he does turn out to be a Judas.

Also, I was not familiar with the painting that Endō described in chapter one. Father Rodrigues describes the painting as Christ having one foot on the sepulchre and holding a crucifix in his right hand. He says he saw the picture in Borgo San Sepulchro. I looked it up and it is a painting of The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca. I don't know if Endō made an error or I was looking at the wrong picture, but Christ is holding a flag, not a crucifix.

message 15: by Manny (last edited Oct 25, 2016 05:45AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Susan Margaret wrote: "I just finished reading chapter two. I am anxious to learn the story behind the character, Kichijiro. When the priests first land on Japanese soil, Father Rodrigues suspects that Kichijiro may have..."

Susan, what page is that painting mentioned? I passed completely over it, and I now can't seem to find it. This book is so tightly packed that everything has significance. I'll look up the painting.

message 16: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Manny, I think I am reading a different edition than you are. The painting is mentioned in the second to the last paragraph in Chapter one. The paintings of Christ as a shepherd, Christ as a King, and other descriptions of the face of Christ are mentioned in this paragraph.

message 17: by Manny (last edited Oct 25, 2016 06:25PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Susan Margaret wrote: "Manny, I think I am reading a different edition than you are. The painting is mentioned in the second to the last paragraph in Chapter one. The paintings of Christ as a shepherd, Christ as a King, ..."

Susan, you are absolutely right. That is the painting. I even had the paragraph highlighted in my book. I don't know if I highlighted in this current read or when I first read it five years ago. Here’s what I have highlighted:
(1) "What did the face of Christ look like? This point the Bible passes over in silence."
(2) "his face bears the expression of encouragement it had when he commanded his disciples three times, 'Feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my lambs ... ' It is a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face.”

The first note was over the word “silence.” That’s the name of the novel, so it carries significance. You’ll find that the word “silence” comes up frequently as we read. I’ll get to that in a later chapter when it’s more important to the story. But you can see how the sentence is worded intentionally tries to emphasize the word “silence.”

The second note focused on the commandment to feed Christ’s lambs. That is Rodrigues’ mission in going to Japan, to pastor (etymology: pasture) the lambs, the innocent new Christians of Japan.

But I glossed over the painting completely. And that is the painting, and here it is the Wikipedia entry:

I have to say that is a magnificent painting. I’ve seen it before but I never really thought about it until now. And you’re right, he holds a banner, not a crucifix. Is it an error by Endo or does Endo have Rodrigues make a mistake, and if so for what reason? It is Christ triumphant. My only hunch (on the painting, not the error) has to do with the ending, and I don’t want to spoil that yet for anyone. Just a hunch, though, not sure.

Rodrigues’ says that the face in the painting “is a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face.” That is a magnificent face. If you Google Image “The Resurrection Piero della Francesca” you can get large details of the painting, especially the face. Look here: It does have vigor and strength.

Kudos to you Susan for picking up on the painting.

message 18: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
There’s a couple of more things I wanted to point out in these early chapters. Sorry for being long winded in this first week, but I think the opening parts of a book are important to understand since it sets up reading the rest. I shouldn’t be so intrusive in the other weeks.

In my first comment above, I highlighted that last paragraph in the prologue where the narrator says, “Today we can read…” I asked, when is today? And who is “we”? Who is speaking there?

This brings us to identifying the narrative perspective, or more commonly referred to as the point of view. No question, this is a modernist novel, and Endo using shifting perspective to achieve several objectives. Chapters one through four are clearly in the epistolary form, that is letters home written by Sabastian Rodrigues. Chapters five through nine, the point of view shifts to third person. Chapter ten is in the form of a diary, written by a character who I think doesn’t even show up in the novel before this. And the Epilogue is in the form of another diary of another character who also doesn’t show up before. And then we have that authorial intrusion in the Prologue, “Today we can read…” Discussing why the shifts and how they create a unified aesthetic is a discussion best held after completing the work. But I do want to point out these shifts so you can see it as you read.

Another element in these early chapters that should be noted is irony. Irony plays an important part of the ending. It’s subtly throughout the novel. Here are three examples from Chapter 1.

First, Rodrigues repeats in his letter back home about the openness of the Japanese to Christianity: “On this point Japan is undoubtedly, as Saint Francis Xavier said, 'the country in the Orient most suited to Christianity'.” (p. 16). Further then he expresses his joy of meeting his first Japanese. “Today I have wonderful news for you. Yesterday we at last succeeded in meeting a Japanese.” So who does this Japanese who is open to Christianity turn out to be?

"What am I to say about this man, this first Japanese I ever met in my life? Reeling from excess of alcohol, a drunken man staggered into the room. About twenty-eight or nine years of age, he was dressed in rags. His name was Kichijiro."

The first Japanese turns out to be a drunken slob, hardly an ideal Christian.

Second, while the three Jesuits are stuck in Macau waiting for a ship that will take them to Japan, they finally get a Junk, a Chinese sailing ship, to take them.

"Anyhow, thanks to Father Valignano it looks as if we are going to get hold of a big junk. Yet how frail and passing are the plans of men! Today we got news that the ship is eaten up by white ants. And here it is terribly difficult to get hold of iron and pitch." (p. 18)

“Frail and passing the plans of men” ironically will foreshadow the Jesuit’s plans.

Third, after Father Valignano expresses his belief that the situation in Japan has changed and that their mission should be aborted. Juan de Santa Marta expresses his optimism:

"'And yet our secret mission could with God's help turn out successful,' said Juan de Santa Marta, blinking his eyes fervently. 'In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Some one must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out.' " (p. 13)

That’s how the chapter opens. But the chapter ends with the very person who expressed such optimism to die and not be able to make the trip at all.

"At last our departure is only five days away. We have absolutely no luggage to bring to Japan except our own hearts. We are preoccupied with spiritual preparation only. Alas, I feel no inclination to write about Santa Marta. God did not grant to our poor companion the joy of being restored to health. But everything that God does is for the best. No doubt God is secretly preparing the mission that some day will be his." (p. 22)

In all three cases the optimism is undercut with a harsh reality. These subtle situational ironies set a rhythm and tone within the novel and foreshadow the ironic ending.

message 19: by Caterina (new)

Caterina (blueladycaterina) Manny, I so appreciate the time and effort you put into enriching our understanding of the novel, the author Endo in his own words, the novel's literary history in its relationship to Dante's Inferno by way of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the Jesuits, and all the subtleties we should look for. What an impressive introduction!

Despite the difference in cultures, Endo's experience was amazingly sympathetic, wasn't it? It's interesting to consider (as I think you implied) that perhaps all Christianity everywhere, including European Christianity, is inculturated or syncretic, even back to the beginning when the Gospels and Paul's letters were heavily steeped in Greek and Roman cultural, religious, and philosophical references -- there is not, and never was, a "pure" Christianity untransformed by the influences of existing cultures.

message 20: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3726 comments Mod
Hi Catertina. Thank you for the very nice words. Endo was sympathetic because he was Catholic. His mother was not one of the original Catholics that had survived the 250 years, but was a convert. So Endo grew up Catholic and after some skepticism and regress, ultimately returned to his faith.

As to Christianity's absorption of Roman and Greek culture, there was some early dispute within the church as to how much to absorb. Whatever did not dispute divine revelation they ultimately kept and built upon. So the Christian west was an evolution of the classical world. Christianity ultimately came to the position that all cultures have some intuition of of the divine nature. (That is still a Catholic notion; I don't know if Protestants reject that.) Even pagans believe in the supernatural, and that is some form of innate knowledge that all humanity has. What other cultures lack is divine revelation through the events of the Old and New Testaments, and so while other cultures have innate knowledge, they were not privy to revealed knowledge. They were limited and could not fully develop knowledge of the Trinity as one God. So aspects of all cultures that do not express some sinful act are worthy of study and embracing. For instance, the Celtic pagans had a ritual of celebrating with evergreen trees. This became absorbed into our Christmas tree. Similarly Endo I think suggests that Christianity had to ultimately embrace Japanese cultures into its expression. I hope that helps.

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