The Christian Ministry of Apostatizing (Endo’s Silence)

trample-fumieShusaku Endo's Silence is a historical fiction novel about Jesuit priests in 16th century Japan who apostatize for the sake of other Christians. Is it possible to deny Jesus Christ for the ministry of the gospel and is there a ministry of apostatizing? There are examples in the bible, such as Paul expressed, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3) and Moses as well, "But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written." (Ex 32:32). There is also the example in the Gospel of Judas, where Judas is described as the greatest apostle and his betrayal is commissioned by Jesus: "Jesus answered and said, 'You [Judas] will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them'".

In a personal letter to the Moltmanniac, Jürgen Moltmann said that Endo's Silence is "important" in the same way as Elie Weisel's Night. In The Crucified God, Moltmann discusses a section from Night, where a young boy is hanged in a concentration camp before a crowd of Jewish prisoners. The boy dies slowly from strangulation before the crowd, because his body weight was not substantial enough to break his neck during the initial fall. A man in the crowd cries out "Where is God?"

A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God's humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wisel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

"The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half and hour. 'Where is God? Where is he?' someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice in myself answer: 'Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows...'"

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Trans. R. A. Wilson and J. Bowden. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 273-74. Print.

In Endo's Silence, a similar "Where is God" scene happens at the end of this book. Japanese Christians are suspended in torture pits, and their prayers for deliverance remain unheard. A priest is imprisoned in a cell next to them, and is forced to listen to their cries of torment. The Christians had already apostatized, but the captors refuse to release the prisoners unless the priest apostatizes by trampling on a fumie (or fumi-e). The fumi-e is a small icon of Jesus or of the Virgin Mary, that Christians were forced to step on as an act of rejecting their Christianity and publicly apostatizing. The header image of his post contains two fumie examples. The priest apostatizing by tramping on the fumie, and remains an apostate for the rest of his life for the sake of the advancement of Christianity in 16th century Japan. He rejects Jesus Christ in order to follow Jesus Christ, and for others. He is Rejected for the Rejected, in the same Theology of the Cross that Moltmann described in The Crucified God. Jesus is the rejected one, and has been rejected for us all.

Silence is historical fiction, but is based on true events that occured in 16th century Japan. The following is a quotation from the end of Endo's Silence when the priest apostatizes:

Yes, and that on this, the most important night of his whole life, he should be disturbed by such a vile and discordant noise-this realization suddenly filled him with rage. He felt that his life was simply being trifled with; and when the groaning ceased for a moment, he began to beat on the wall. But the guards, like those disciples who in Gethsemane slept in utter indifference to the torment of that man, did not get up. Again he began to beat wildly on the wall. Then there came the noise of the door being opened, and from the distance the sound of feet hastening rapidly toward the place where he was.

'Father, what is wrong? What is wrong?' It was the interpreter who spoke; and his voice was that of the cat playing with its prey. 'It's terrible, terrible! Isn't it better for you not to be so stubborn? If you simply say, "I apostatize," all will be well. Then you will be able to let your strained mind relax and be at ease.'

'It's only that snoring,' answered the priest through the darkness.

Suddenly the interpreter became silent as if in astonishment. 'You think that is snoring. . . that is. . . Sawano, did you hear what he said? He thought that sound was snoring!'

The priest had not known that Ferreira was standing beside the interpreter. 'Sawano, tell him what it is !' The priest heard the voice of Ferreira, that voice he had heard every day long ago-it was low and pitiful. 'That's not snoring. That is the moaning of Christians hanging in the pit.'

Ferreira stood there motionless, his head hanging down like an old animal. The interpreter, true to type, put his head down to the barely opened door and for a long time peered in at the scene. Waiting and waiting, he heard no sound, and uneasily whispered in a hoarse voice: 'I suppose you're not dead. Oh no! no! It's not lawful for a Christian to put an end to that life given him by God. Sawano! The rest is up to you.'With these words he turned around and disappeared from sight, his foot­ steps echoing in the darkness.

When the footsteps had completely died out, Ferreira; silent, his head hanging down, made no movement. His body seemed to be floating in air like a ghost; it looked thin like a piece of paper, small like that of a child. One would think that it was impossible even to Clasp his hand.

'Eh !' he said putting his face in at the door. 'Eh! Can you hear me?'

There was no answer and Ferreira repeated the same  words. 'Somewhere on that wall,' he went on, 'you should be able to find the lettering that I engraved there. 'laudate eum.' Unless they have been cut away, the letters are on the right-hand wall . . . Yes, in the middle. . . Won't you touch them with your fingers?'

But from inside the cell there came not the faintest sound. Only the pitch darkness where the priest lay huddled up in the cell and through which it seemed impossible to penetrate.

'I was here just like you.' Ferreira uttered the words distinctly, separating the syllables one from another. 'I was imprisoned here, and that night was darker and colder than any night in my life.'

The priest leaned his head heavily against the wooden wall and listened vaguely to the old man's words. Even without the old man's saying so, he knew that that night had been blacker than any before. Indeed, he knew it only too well. The problem was not this; the problem was that he must not be defeated by Ferreira's tempt­ings - the tempting of a Ferreira who had been shut up in the darkness just like himself and was now enticing him to follow the same path.

'I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men hanging in the pit.' And even as Ferreira finished speak­ing, the voices like snoring, now high, now low, were carried to their ears. But now the priest was aware of the truth. It was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit. 

While he had been squatting here in the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this ; he had uttered no prayer; he had laughed. The very thought bewildered him completely. He had thought the sound of that voice ludicrous, and he had laughed aloud. He had believed in his pride that he alone in this night was sharing in the suffering of that man. But here just beside him were people who were sharing in that suffering much more than he. Why this craziness, mur­mured a voice that was not his own. And you call your­self a priest! A priest who takes upon himself the sufferings of others! 'Lord, until this moment have you been mocking me?', he cried aloud.

'laudate eum ! I engraved those letters on the wall,' Ferreira repeated. 'Can't you find them? Look again!'

'I know!' The priest, carried away by anger, shouted louder than ever before. 'Keep quiet!' he said. 'You have no right to speak like this.'

'I have no right? That is certain. I have no right. Listening to those groans all night I was no longer able to give praise to the Lord. I did not apostatize because I was suspended in the pit. For three days, I who stand before you was hung in a pit of foul excrement, but I did not say a single word that might betray my God.' Ferreira raised a voice that was like a growl as he shouted : 'The reason I apostatized. . . are you ready? Listen! I was put in here and heard the voices of those people for whom God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength ; but God did nothing.'

'Be quiet!'

'Alright. Pray! But those Christians are partaking of a terrible suffering such as you cannot even understand. From yesterday-in the future-now at this very mo­ment. Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them . And God-he does nothing either.'

The priest shook his head wildly, putting both fingers into his ears. But the voice of Ferreira together with the groaning of the Christians broke mercilessly in. Stop ! Stop ! Lord, it is now that you should break the silence. You must not remain silent. Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.

A great shadow passed over his soul like that of the wings of a bird flying over the mast of a ship. The wings of the bird now brought to his mind the memory of the various ways in which the Christians had died. At that time, too, God had been silent. When the misty rain floated over the sea, he was silent. When the one-eyed man had been killed beneath the blazing rays of the sun, he had said nothing. But at that time, the priest had been able to stand it; or, rather than stand it, he had been able to thrust the terrible doubt far from the thresh­old of his mind. But now it was different. Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?

'Now they are in that courtyard.' (It was the sorrowful voice of Ferreira that whispered to him.) 'Three unfortunate Christians are hanging. They have been hanging there since you came here.

'The old man was telling no lie. As he strained his ears the groaning that had seemed to be that of a single voice suddenly revealed itself as a double one-one groaning was high (it never became low) : the high voice and the low voice were mingled with one another, coming from different persons.

'When I spent that night here five people were sus­pended in the pit. Five voices were carried to my ears on the wind. The official said : "If you apostatize, those people will immediately be taken out of the pit, their bonds will be loosed, and we will put medicine on their wounds." I answered : "Why do these people not apostatize?" And the official laughed as he answered me : "They have already apostatized many times. But as long as you don't apostatize these peasants cannot be saved." '

'And you. . .' The priest spoke through his tears. 'You should have prayed. . . .'

'I did pray. I kept on praying. But prayer did nothing to alleviate their suffering. Behind their ears a small incision has been made; the blood drips slowly through this incision and through the nose and mouth. I know it well, because I have experienced that same suffering in my own body. Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering.' 

The priest remembered how at Saishoji when first he met Ferreira he had noticed a scar like a burn on his temples. He even remembered the brown color of the wound, and now the whole scene rose up behind his eyelids. To chase away the imagination he kept banging his head against the wall. 'In return for these earthly sufferings, those people will receive a reward of eternal joy,' he said.

'Don't deceive yourself!' said Ferreira. 'Don't disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words.'

'My weakness ?' The priest shook his head ; yet he had no self-confidence. 'What do you mean? It's because I believe in the salvation of these people. . .'

'You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refuse to do so. It's because you dread to betray the Church. You dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.' Until now Ferreira's words had burst out as a single breath of anger, but now his voice gradually weakened as he said : 'Yet I was the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest ought to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here. . .'

For a moment Ferreira remained silent; then he suddenly broke out in a strong voice: 'Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.' 

Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light. '

Christ would certainly have apostatized to help men.'

'No, no!' said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. 'No, no!'

'For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.'

'Stop tormenting me! Go away, away!' shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened-and the white light of the morning flooded into the room.

'You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,' said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.

Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains-and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentle light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls.

'Sawano, is it over? Shall we get out the fumie?' As he spoke the interpreter put on the ground the box he was carrying and, opening it, he took out a large wooden plaque.

'Now you are going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed.' Ferreira repeated his former words gently. 'Your brethren in the Church will judge you as they have judged me. But there is something more important than the Church, more important than missionary work: what you are now about to do.'

The fumie is now at his feet.

A simple copper medal is fixed on to a grey plank of dirty wood on which the grains run like little waves. Before him is the ugly face of Christ, crowned with thorns and the thin, outstretched arms. Eyes dimmed and confused the priest silently looks down at the face which he now meets for the first time since coming to this country.

'Ah,' says Ferreira. 'Courage !'

'Lord, since long, long ago, innumerable times I have thought of your face. Especially since coming to this country have I done so tens of times. When I was in hiding in the mountains of Tomogi; when I crossed over in the little ship; when I wandered in the mountains; when I lay in prison at night. . . Whenever I prayed your face appeared before me ; when I was alone I thought of your face imparting a blessing; when I was captured your face as it appeared when you carried your cross gave me life. This face is deeply ingrained in my soul­ the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world has been living in my heart. And now with this foot I am going to trample on it.' 

The first rays of the dawn appear. The light shines on his long neck stretched out like a chicken and upon the bony shoulders. The priest grasps the fumie with both hands bringing it close to his eyes. He would like to press to his own face that fumie trampled on by so many feet. With saddened glance he stares intently at the man in the center of the fumie, worn down and hollow with the constant trampling. A tear is about to fall from his eye. 'Ah,' he says trembling, 'the pain !'

'It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?' The interpreter urges him on excitedly. 'Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.'

The priest raises his foot. In it he feels a dull, heavy pain. This is no mere formality. He will now trample on what he has considered the.most beautiful thing in his life, on what he has believed most pure, on what is filled with the ideals and the dreams of man. 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.

Endō, Shusaku. Silence. New York: Taplinger Pub., 1979. 250-59. Print.

Image Header Sources:

Related: , , , , , , , , ,
Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I find the section talking about Christ apostitizing most intriguing.I have often thought,”what kind of a good would prefer martyrs than apostates who save lives?”

    I doubt I’ll ever find myself in a situation like the priest did. Honestly, I don’t think I would sacrifice the lives of other people to preserve the integrity of my confession of faith in Jesus’ lordship.

  2. I read “Silence” many years ago. It made a deep impression on me that has stayed with me. I think that the novel rejects the idea that martyrdom is primarily a spectacular public event that exhibits to the world the kind of contempt and defiance of death that often seems to be the main theme of our traditional accounts of martyrdom, as if the martyrs one-upped the pagan world by exhibiting a kind of supernatural strength that the pagan world ultimately could only envy and want for itself. The defiance of death of this strength often seems like it also can only be a contempt for life, and the first martyrs are often depicted as being avid for martyrdom, to the point of colluding and participating in their own deaths. Think of Perpetua putting the sword on her own neck when the soldier balked. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” has often meant this, and nothing more, and there is something of hate in this, the hate of life.

    But Endo in this novel shows how the true heart of martyrdom is not spectacular triumph by way of defiance of death and contempt for life; rather, the heart of martyrdom is love: love of Christ, and love of his people, including love of their lives. This love leads Father Ferreira to a martyrdom that is silent and obscure, and lasts for decades of house arrest as a stranger in a strange land, and to the long loneliness of a solitary Christian’s struggle with doubt and fear in a landscape of uncertainty and twilight. “Father, why hast thou abandoned me?”, encompasses the nature of the good Father’s suffering. Father Ferreira’s solitary, unspectacular, obscure and silent suffering is Endo’s way of shifting our attention to the true heart of martyrdom: love. We should be thankful to Endo for his efforts to provide this corrective.

    • The seed of the Church is….love.

    • I’m sorry. The priest who apostasizes at the end of the quoted passage is named Rodrigues; Ferreira is another priest who has already apostasized to save Japanese Christian lives, and is asking Father Rodrigues throughout the passage to do the same.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.