(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Shsaku End’s Silence, when the rumor of Christovao Ferreira’s public renunciation of his faith reaches his former students, they refuse to believe it and determine to travel to Japan as missionaries to discover the truth for themselves.

The first part of the novel consists of letters written by Sebastian Rodrigues, one of the missionaries. Rodrigues tells of the immense difficulty he and his companion, Father Garrpe, face in attempting to travel to a Japan that is hostile to Christianity and has closed its doors to nearly all Westerners. They manage to find a guide named Kichijiro, whom Rodrigues instantly mistrusts.

Kichijiro’s story, which is gradually revealed in the course of the journey, is one of continual wavering in the face of persecution. Like Judas (or like Peter), Kichijiro is presented as having betrayed Christ and apostatized. However, he does agree to put the Jesuit missionaries in touch with underground Christians; after doing so, he becomes enormously proud of his role in bringing the priests to Japan.

The Japanese Christians have been without priests for six years, but they have managed to create a system for maintaining, as best they can, the structure of the Church and its sacraments. Rodrigues’s pride begins to grow as he speculates about his own importance to the continuation of Christianity in Japan.

At this point, government officials arrive in the village where the Christians live and demand that they send three representatives to Nagasaki for questioning. The usual means for determining whether villagers are secret Christians is to ask them to step on a fumie, an image of Christ, usually made of bronze and designed to be stepped on. By desecrating the image of Christ in this way, the people prove that they are not Christians or are rejecting their Christian faith. The representatives (one of whom is Kichijiro) ask the priests whether they should step on the fumie. Surprisingly, Rodrigues immediately tells them that they should trample on it. They do so, but the officials demand that they also spit on an image of the Virgin Mary. Kichijiro is the only one able to do so—he has, once again, apostatized.

The other two Christians are brought back to the sea near the village and are martyred there. Rodrigues likens the horrible silence of the sea to the horrible silence of...

(The entire section is 978 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

By the time End wrote Silence, he had become interested in studying the history of Christian missions in Japan, particularly during the period between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, when missionaries tried fervently to establish Christianity, only to be repelled by Japanese rulers. As End studied accounts of persecution and martyrdom, he noticed that little was said about those who were tortured and eventually succumbed to apostasy by the act of efumi, stepping on an image of the crucifix. End empathized most with these so-called weaklings who would live out their days suffering from guilt and loneliness. He was further fascinated by the Kakure (hidden) Christians, who ostensibly apostatized, but then persisted sacrificially in trying to keep their faith alive. Questions about how he would have reacted in the same circumstance led him to conclude that he, too, would have been among the weak.

This theological debate with himself gave birth to Silence. End concluded that all mention in the archives of the Christian missionary Christovao Ferreira ended when he apostatized; hence, it is not unreasonable for the protagonist of the novel, the Portuguese missionary Rodrigues, to do the same. However, many critics and Japanese pastors viewed End’s decision as heresy and questioned his claim to be a Christian. They questioned how a novel focusing on the silence of God when the faithful were facing torture and death could be justified. End was not surprised, seeing the criticism as evidence that the church was as yet unwilling to address his perceived tension between literature and religion, as well as evidence that readers...

(The entire section is 687 words.)