Silence: the Catholic Edition

The Stoning of St. Stephen; photo courtesy of www.giottodibondone.org
The Stoning of St. Stephen; photo courtesy of www.giottodibondone.org

Silence: the Catholic Edition

A review of Shusaku Endo’s book, Silence
By Todd Burud

To a Christian, and particularly to a Catholic, Shusaku Endo’s book, Silence, is troubling. To Endo, who writes problematic, controversial, and deeply psychological (1) stories, troubling…is good. That’s the nature of his genre, and Endo is good at it. A troubled reader is a motivated reader.

But Silence is troubling, both for what it reveals and for what it doesn’t. Endo’s power to generate empathy also renders the reader vulnerable to error. So, I offer the following review in order to give the story a framework of truth. You might call it a Catholic Appendix. But first, to understand the Appendix, you’ll need some historical background and a short summary.

A 17th century story of persecution

Endo masterfully moves us into the introspective thoughts and self-doubts of a Jesuit missionary to Japan in the mid-1600s. The missionary, Sebastian Rodrigues, is one of three Portuguese Jesuits intent upon finding their former and beloved teacher, Ferreira, in order to investigate his reported apostasy. They hope “to carry on an underground missionary apostolate and to atone for the apostasy of Ferreira which had so wounded the honor of the Church” (2).

Mark Williams, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Leeds, explains what motivated Endo to write Silence:

[H]e happened to see a fumie [image of Christ, the object of apostasy]…in a Nagasaki museum. … His heart went out to all those he could imagine trampling on the fumie under duress with a heavy heart. Endo acknowledged that even he, as a committed Catholic, would doubtless have done the same in those circumstances” (3).

In his subsequent research, Endo discovered “the historical figure of Cristovao Ferreira” (4). But the history of Ferreira’s life mysteriously stopped at about the year, 1630. So, he created Ferreira’s apostasy as a possible explanation. Through Ferreira and Chiara (Rodrigues), Endo wrote a troubling story of a man who gradually questioned his faith and finally apostatized under duress (5). Endo empathized with the apostates and resigned himself to doing “the same in those circumstances” (6).

Grounded in history

Endo grounded his fiction in history. Beginning with the Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier, in 1549, the Catholic faith entered Japan. From 1570-1614, missionaries enjoyed “a privileged position at the court of the Bakufu [Shogun]” (7). By 1587, Christians totaled over 200,000 (8). But persecutions broke out intermittently. Accordingly, the Catholic Church honors the crucifixion of 26 martyrs in 1597, known as St. Paul Miki and His Companions. Finally, in 1614, the Tokugawa Shogunate under Ieyasu, ordered all Christians—numbering 300,000—to leave Japan (9). Ieyasu’s successors hunted down Christians for execution (10).

Eventually, persecutors practiced torture in order to force the Christian to apostatize. They demanded each suspected Christian to place a foot upon an image of Christ called, the fumie. If the Christian refused, he died. In Endo’s story, the primary persecutor is a magistrate named, Inoue. Rodrigues is patterned after a real Jesuit missionary, Guiseppe Chiara. Apparently, Chiara’s apostasy is true. Endo, however, embellishes it with his own perception of Chiara’s introspection, one that is deeply destructive and despairing.

Now, back to our story…

We take up the thread of Endo’s story as Rodrigues and his fellow Jesuit missionary, Francisco Garrpe, secretly gain access to the Japanese coast. They immediately find protection and shelter with an extant but underground Christian community. But fearing detection by the magistrates, they soon separate, flee from their mountainside hut, and are eventually captured. The story now centers upon Rodrigues’ introspection.

Doubt

In his isolation and before capture, Rodrigues questioned how God could allow the persecution of innocent people. He prayed for them and for himself, but seemingly, to a God who remained silent, impassive. Writing to his Superior, Valignano, he said:

“Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? … The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent” (11).

Accusation

Eventually, he grew more accusatory of God: “And you avert your face as though indifferent. This…this I cannot bear. … [W]hen I speak to you it seems as though I only blaspheme” (12). His self-doubt overwhelmed him. Would he apostatize? If God is silent, does He exist?

Supposing God does not exist… This was a frightening fancy. … [Me] wandering here over the desolate mountains—what an absurd situation! (13)

“Were I an ordinary Christian, not a priest, would I have fled in the same way [as another apostate]? What kept me going now might be my self-respect and my priestly sense of duty” (14).

Dilemma

With his capture, Rodrigues faced a dilemma. The magistrate, Inoue, hoped to force Rodrigues to apostatize, and so, to break the faith and will of Japanese Catholics. So, sounding like the devil tempting Jesus in the desert, Inoue softly and reassuringly tried to persuade Rodrigues of the acceptability of apostasy: “I’m not telling you to trample out of conviction. If you just go through with the formality, it won’t hurt your beliefs” (15).

And the devil said to Jesus: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me”—Matt 4:9).

Later, Inoue enlisted Ferreira, an apostate, to help in the persuasion. Ferreira repeated the doubts that Rodriques already held, saying, “I prayed with all my strength; but God did nothing” (16).

Calling evil, good

Ferreira continued to push Rodrigues toward apostasy with two more arguments, one illogical, the other, contradictory, even demonic. First, he argued on behalf of self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ. In other words, he based his appeal upon a God he essentially denies: “You are pre-occupied 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. … A priest ought to live in imitation of Christ” (17).

In a second argument, Ferreira grows more assertive, drawing a monstrous contradiction. Again, he appeals to the God he denied, saying, “Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them. … For love, Christ would have apostatized” (18). With that argument, Ferreira rested his case: You will save the lives of others in imitation of Christ when you apostatize. To be faithful to God would be selfish; but to apostatize would be selfless and Christ-like. Here, Ferreira reached the height of contradiction: calling evil good; God denying Himself.

The ultimate delusion

Finally, Endo places the most tragic delusion into Rodrigues’ mind. Christ, himself, speaks to Rodrigues from the fumie: “Trample! 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” (19). Weakened, manipulated by his former mentor, tempted by the devil, and now delusional, Rodrigues is led to the breaking point and apostatized.

Both Ferreira and Rodrigues lived out their lives as puppets for the magistrates. They acquired new Japanese names and adopted the Japanese culture. Their lives as priests, or even as Catholics, effectively ended. At the story’s end, Endo philosophizes through Rodrigues but without a clear resolution.

It begins with empathy, but it potentially ends in error

The value of Silence rests in its power to generate our empathy for someone placed in a life-and-death, moral dilemma. Our empathy projects us into the thoughts and soul of Rodrigues in order to understand how he might commit apostasy. We should feel compassion for Rodrigues’ moral struggle. But in the process, we’re in danger of elevating empathy and compassion above truth. We begin to see how we too could apostatize. In fact, if we value the life of others, it might be wrong to be faithful. No, here, apostasy is good. Here, God wants us to apostatize. So, it begins with empathy, but it potentially leads to error.

If apostasy can be noble, then what is the value of martyrdom? Do we measure the outcome of persecution by its object—faith in, and fidelity to, God—or by the experience of the victim and by circumstances? Should we give up our faith and jeopardize our own soul for others? In many respects, Endo’s novel, written in 1969, is a reflection of our contemporary, relativistic culture. We’re good at raising questions but inept at finding and honoring truth.

The gravity of apostasy

To clear our heads, maybe we should pause our questioning in order to confront the gravity of apostasy. Man is made for God. God is the cause and core of man’s being. But in his denial, the apostate effectively cut the core out of his soul, leaving only the shell intact. He perpetuated the persecutor’s torture, trading the temporary pain of the body for the enduring pain of the conscience and for a darkness of soul. And worst of all, he sinned against a God who, out of divine love, faced His own tortures in order to save the apostate himself. Judas couldn’t live with it; he despaired and hung himself.

Suicide is no solution to apostasy. Judas despaired of forgiveness. Silence, however, could offer a clear and certain hope for man’s redemption, for his reunion with the Father through the Son. In other words, there is a clear and firm road back for Rodriques and Ferreira (or any of us); their apostasy does not shut the door on God’s forgiveness.

And, they knew it. In the third century, the Church extended forgiveness to the lapsi, those who apostatized during the Decian persecution by offering sacrifices to the Roman gods (20). But except for an ambiguous and weak effort to philosophize at the end of the story, Silence failed to direct the reader down that clear, hopeful road. The sense of loss overwhelms the sense of hope.

Struggle toward…what?

According to the translator, Johnston, Endo “often protested that he was writing literature, not theology” (21). But a book written by a Catholic author and centered on apostasy no longer enjoys the luxury of being an indifferent psychological study, another piece of generic, conflict literature. It now shoulders obligations to the faith, a broader, more complete vision. Otherwise, the author could unintentionally lead the reader away from truth.

Adding an appendix

So, without any signposts to temper empathy, the reader plunges headlong into the moral dilemma. By degrees, Endo leads him through the tortured pathways of Rodrigues’ mind. And at the end, the reader is left asking himself several moral questions. We’ll focus on three:

  • Could I endure torture and death for God, or would I apostatize?
  • Why does God seem silent during suffering?
  • Is it possible that Christ would ask me to do something intrinsically evil in order to save the life of others? Can I deny God to save lives?

To temper the imbalance between empathy and truth, I propose the following commentary, a kind of Catholic Appendix. It responds to the three questions above and comments on the thoughts and actions of the character, Rodrigues, at face value.

1. Could I endure torture and death for God or would I apostatize?

“Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: ‘So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’” (CCC1816)

In the United States, we suffer no life-threatening persecution. Apparently, we’re not called to be martyrs. But the key word is, called. We don’t pursue martyrdom; we are led to it. We don’t presume our capacity to die a martyr; we are given the strength and the grace to die for God if He calls us.

Don’t tempt martyrdom

St. Thomas More exemplifies someone who did not pursue or tempt martyrdom, yet he responded to God’s call. While in the Tower of London awaiting his execution, he wrote his classic testimony of faith, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.

“Let us…conform our will to his, not desiring to be brought into the perils of persecution—for that seems a proud, presumptuous attitude, to desire martyrdom—but desiring help and strength from God if he should allow us to come into that ordeal…” (22)

“When we feel ourselves too bold, let us remember our own feebleness, and when we feel ourselves too faint, let us remember Christ’s strength. In fear, let us remember Christ’s painful agony…suffered before his Passion, [so] that no fear should make us despair… Then we need never doubt but that either he will keep us from that painful death, or else he will…strengthen us [and] joyously bring us to heaven by it—in which case he does much more for us than if he kept us from it.” (23)

Author, Robert Bolt, illustrated More’s balance between docility and courage in the play, A Man for All Seasons. More initially did everything in his intellectual and legal powers to escape death. This wasn’t cowardice or a lack of faith; it was humility and docility to God’s will. In the following excerpt, More returned home after discovering the deadly impact of the King’s bill upon devoted Catholics like himself. He immediately discussed his course of action with his daughter, Meg, and her fiancée, Will:

“[God made man] to served him wittily, in the tangle of his mind! If he suffers us to fall to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and yes, Will, then we may clamor like champions…if we have the spittle for it. And no doubt it delights God to see splendor where He only looked for complexity. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to that extremity! Our natural business lies in escaping~ so let’s get home and study this Bill.” (24)

Now, contrast More’s docile approach to that of Endo’s band of Jesuit missionaries. They hatched their own plan (an underground apostolate to atone for Ferreira’s apostasy, an investigation of Ferreira) and brought it to their Superiors. Initially, “their wild scheme did not win the [Superior’s] consent… … Church authorities felt reluctant to send any more priests to such a country and to a mission fraught with such peril” (25). The Superiors eventually acquiesced.

True Jesuit formation

Typically, a Jesuit Superior fits the missionary to the mission. And the missionary “would go as directed…with one thing in mind, the saving of souls” (26). In fact, Fr. Louis Lalemant, the spiritual director for several of the North American Martyrs—contemporaries to the character, Rodriques—specifically instructed novices to wait:

“It is not for us to choose our own employments. … From obedience must come the movement which leads us to external action for the good of others. So long as it leaves us at rest, let us willingly remain so. God will know very well how to find us when He wishes to make use of us to His glory” (27).

As the novices waited, the Superior trained them “to meet privation, hardship and occasional opposition or humiliation…heroically and in a Christian-like manner…” (28). They conducted the Spiritual Exercises to “form not militant Christians…but genuine athletes of Christ” (29). And they judged an authentic calling to the missions, not a calling to “the romance of adventure, but to the task of preparation, the slow, dull, relentless effort to qualify for fields which needed the spirit of martyrs” (30).

With these standards in mind, was Rodrigues qualified to undertake this mission? Would his Superior choose Rodrigues over others? Would the Superior initiate this mission of his own accord? Was the attraction of mission more important to Rodrigues than the desire to save souls?

Again, in contrast, More didn’t tempt martyrdom. He humbly preserved his life as long as possible without forfeiting the integrity of his faith. But when God called him and when he reached a red-line he could not cross, he was ready to make a final sacrifice through the gift of grace.

Could we be martyrs?

It’s time to bring this question home. Could we be martyrs in the same circumstance as Rodrigues? If we depend exclusively upon our own effort and will, no. But if our faith is grounded in the reality of a prayerful and sacramental relationship with God and if we cooperate with God’s grace, then, yes, we could be martyrs: “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).

It’s difficult to see how a persecution similar to that of Rodrigues would happen in our secular, relative culture. We’ve never experienced physical persecution to test or to anneal our faith. And, unlike the Jesuits of the seventeenth-century, we lack the training to become “athletes of Christ”. So, we don’t know how we would respond. Even so, although we might be afraid of our shadow in our daily lives, by the grace of God, we can stand with the lions in the coliseum. Endo believed that he would apostatize if presented with the same circumstances as Rodrigues. Accordingly, he wrote his story with that same inevitability. Apostasy is not inevitable; too many martyrs proved it otherwise.

2. Why does God seem silent to suffering?

“Faith is the eye of the soul; to believe is really to see.” (31)

In Silence’s preface, Johnston related the insights of Professor Yanaibara of the Protestant Doshisha University. Yanaibara attributes Rodrigues’ apostasy to a “sociological faith, nourished in Christian Portugal, [that] evaporated beneath the impact of a pagan culture.” He wrote, “The martyrs heard the voice of Christ…but for Ferreira and Rodrigues, God was silent. Does this not mean that from the beginning those priests had no faith? And for this reason, Rodrigue’s struggle with God is not depicted” (32).

“Many a man will live and die upon a dogma; no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” (33)

Yanaibara’s argument makes sense. Rodrigues and his fellow missionaries initiated their own mission for reasons other than the saving of souls. Was Rodrigues’ faith profoundly united to a love of Christ and directed to the saving of souls, or was it, as Yanaibara suggests, a sociological faith, more concerned with serving the human needs of the people? A faith based on ideals might serve activism well. But only a faith rooted in the reality of truth and in a profound relationship with Christ will suffer martyrdom.

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, [meeting God as a loving] person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” … “Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.” (34)

Rodrigues seemed happy when he was active (35). But, in isolation, either in hiding or in captivity, he lacked the fortitude he needed to persevere in faith. According to Fr. Lalemant, “fortitude is much more conspicuous in suffering than in action. In action, nature finds relief…; but suffering is entirely opposed to nature, and [so], more difficult and more heroic” (36).

An overwhelming sense of desolation and silence serve Endo’s storyline, so he rarely allows Rodrigues any consolation. But he allowed a sliver of it when Rodrigues meditated upon Christ carrying the Cross. This mediation gave Rodrigues “a sense of suffering shared” that “eased his mind and heart more than the sweetest water” (37). That’s closer to reality. A true martyr, St. Jean de Brebeuf wrote, “[I]f we have found Jesus Christ in his Cross, we have found the roses among the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing” (38). God’s failure to respond to someone who Asks, Seeks, and Knocks, runs counter to His love, mercy, and promise.

The meaning of suffering

St. John Paul II explained how we share in the suffering’s of Christ: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (39).

He interpreted St. Paul’s beautiful but enigmatic passage in Colossians 1:24 as the key: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” Are Christ’s sufferings inadequate? If they are adequate, how can we add to them for the work of Redemption?

“No man can add anything to it. … [T]he Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. … Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limit; but at the same time He did not bring it to a close.” (40).

Unfortunately, Rodrigues found solace in suffering, only briefly. (Keep in mind, his suffering is predominantly moral; he was not physically tortured). He quickly despaired over God’s seeming silence. God was speaking, but Rodrigues failed to perceive it. Recall Yanaibara’s comment, “The martyrs heard the voice of Christ…but for Ferreira and Rodrigues, God was silent” (41). Martyrs heard God, but Rodrigues and Ferreira didn’t. So, in reality, the silence of God is attributable, not to God, but to the apostates’ weak faith.

Listening in faith

How did God speak to Rodrigues? First, it appears that God called Rodrigues and his fellow captives to suffer, and so, to join in on “His own redemptive suffering” (42). Second, God answered Rodrigues’ lament over the meaning of his suffering, but not directly (43). Third, “man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ” (44). Dietrich Von Hildebrand, author of Transformation in Christ, reminds us to have faith when we hear no answer from God:

“[W]e must never say that God has ‘rejected our prayer’… Rather, we must assume that God knows better than we do what furthers our salvation… He who has the right confidence in God knows that his prayer is never condemned by God, Whose merciful glance is always turned towards us…” (45).

Silence draws us deeper

There is a divine wisdom in God’s silence. When God seems silent, when He “withdraws the sensible devotion” (Difficulties, 99), He draws us into a more profound union with Him. It’s a union based upon faith, not emotion. We know this through our own prayer experience. And the faithful who are called to suffer, know it best.

“He begins to withdraw this sensible devotion, and our prayer runs ‘dry.’ … [But] if we are generous and try to co-operate with His grace, we shall soon see that what He wants from us is complete and generous submission to His will. … That calls for courage; it calls for faith; it calls for grace. … [U]ntil we have learned to live by faith, we are but novices in the spiritual life…” (46).

At the story’s end, Endo created an empty, interior conversation between Rodrigues and Christ as a half-hearted attempt at setting the record straight: Christ was present and active after all. Interiorly, Rodrigues said, “Lord, I resented your silence.” Christ replied, “I was not silent. I suffered beside you.” (47)

On the one hand, we honor the merit of Rodriques’ moral suffering. On the other hand, we reject the implication that, if Christ was his supportive, co-sufferer, then He either helped him toward the apostasy itself or offered no grace or strength to remain faithful. Mounting a struggle is good; ending that struggle in apostasy is not; and suggesting that Christ supported apostasy under any circumstance, is abhorrent.

3. Is it possible that Christ would ask me to do something intrinsically evil in order to save the lives of others? Can I deny God to save lives?

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

Christ set down the conditions for discipleship in his emphatic teaching:

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? … For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8: 34-38)

[The footnote for this passage elaborates: Discipleship includes “self-renunciation and acceptance of the cross of suffering, even to the sacrifice of life itself. … Life seen as mere self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction, but when lived in loyalty to Christ, despite earthly death, it arrives at fullness of life” (New American Bible)

A hierarchy of existence

In the above scripture passage, Christ helps us to understand a hierarchy of existence: Love and serve God above self; seek the City of God above the Earthly City; and place the salvation of the soul above the preservation of the body. Monsignor James Bartylla, Vicar General, Madison Diocese, explained a similar logic of salvation in a homily at the Bishop O’Connor Center. He reminded us that each person must seek, first, the salvation of his own soul, then, the soul of others, followed by the preservation of his own body and that of others.  And St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), summed up the preeminence of the soul in one sentence: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul” (48). Our first priority, then, in the hierarchy of existence–the logic of salvation–is the salvation of our soul.

If that sounds less-than self-sacrificing, then let’s take a look at two Scripture passages:  the Greatest Commandment, and the mother and her seven sons (Maccabees).  First, Christ showed the relationship between God, our soul, and our neighbor in his explanation of the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt:2237-39).

In The teachings of the Catholic Church, Fr. Flynn interpreted the Greatest Commandment in a way that confirms Bartylla’s logic of salvation.  He wrote,

Not only must a man love himself [‘supernaturally for God’s sake’], but in the matter of his eternal salvation, at least, he must love himself more than any created person.  God is to be loved above all things; then myself; then my neighbor for God’s sake.  …  The love of self is the norm of the love of one’s neighbor” (49).

In other words, our self-sacrifice is rooted first, in our love and service to God.  We see the face of God in those we try to help.  In turn, our love of God irresistibly shines on them as a testament of faith.  But we’re not merely empty conduits between God and neighbor.  It’s only because we cherish our own soul first–its salvation, and its union with Christ–that we can extend our concern to other souls as well.

The second Scripture passage teaches the same lesson in the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons (2 Maccabees 7). It is every bit as intense and filled with heart-rending suffering as that witnessed by Rodrigues. How did they respond? Each son died for his refusal to disobey God’s law forbidding the eating of pork. Even more, their mother encouraged them to remain faithful, in other words, to cherish their souls. She said, “[God], in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law” (v. 23). She recognized the existence of the soul, and so, its preeminence over the body in fidelity to God.

Calling evil good

But as Rodrigues grew more despondent, he focused increasingly upon physical suffering—both his and others—and its apparent injustice. He essentially rejected the preeminence of the soul over the body, and failed to understand the meaning of Christ’s redemptive suffering for himself and for others. He listened to several lies: that Christ would deny himself, that Christ would order Rodrigues to compromise the soul in order to save the body, that Christ would order an evil act for a good end.

We know that a moral act is judged by three elements: the object (act itself), the intention (purpose), and the circumstances (means). “If all three moral elements…are good, the act is good. If any one element is evil, the act is evil” (50). So, apostasy is always an evil act, making the entire act evil as well. Circumstances can mitigate the evil. For example, Rodrigues’ apostasy was coerced by deprivation and the threat of death to others. But circumstances do not remove the evil entirely. Christ does not encourage us to commit evil acts.

Discernment of Spirits

Finally, what voice did Rodrigues really hear when Christ told him to “Trample!”? Was it irrational delusion caused by fatigue and stress, or was it something else? How do we discern what is of God and what isn’t? St. Ignatius is known for his teaching on the Discernment of Spirits. He guides us to discern the difference between desolation (of the enemy) and consolation (of God):

  • Desolation is of the enemy. It is “darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind, inclination to low and earthly things, restlessness resulting from many disturbances and temptations which lead to loss of faith, loss of hope, and loss of love.” The “soul finds itself completely apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated…from its Creator and Lord” .(51)
  • Consolation is of God. It arouses “an interior movement…inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord”. On the one hand, it expresses “sorrow for sins” or for “the Passion of Christ our Lord”. But it also increases “faith, hope, and charity and any interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things, and to the salvation of one’s soul, inspiring it with peace and quiet in Christ our Lord” (52).

If the voice of Christ heard by Rodrigues was not caused by irrationality or delusion, than it must have been caused by the enemy.

The real thing

Fr. Bressani, a Jesuit priest who worked with the North American Martyrs and was a captive himself, suffered desolation too. Even so, because he also experienced consolation, he paints a more complete picture of how God silently strengthens the faithful during persecution. Tortured and without the use of his hands, he escaped his persecutors to reveal the movements within his soul when he was near death. His testimony speaks to discernment of spirits as he undulated between desolation and consolation. He experienced the same temptations against faith as Rodrigues experienced, but with a trust in God and a reliance upon His grace that brought light.

“I was consoled in my desolation, but do not imagine I did not feel the torments. I felt them keenly, but I had such strength to suffer them that I was astonished at myself, or, rather, at the grace that was given me. I account this favor greater than the deliverance from pain.

I did not lack, however, some interior distress, but not at the time of torments, which I feared more before experiencing them than when I actually suffered them…. Other troubles which I underwent were temptations against faith; which, I think, must be common enough at the hour of death. I judge so, because of my own personal experience and because the desolation that comes upon the soul when all human consolation is lost is naturally an excellent opportunity for the evil spirit to suggest doubts of divine truth. But the goodness of God, who leads man down to hell and leads him back again, did not abandon me” (53).

Truth and compassion go together

Endo’s discovery of a fumie in a Nagasaki museum (54) motivated him to create a moving, empathic novel portraying a person forced to apostatize. He placed the reader into the mind and soul of this person in order to empathize with his moral suffering. So, Endo’s primary purpose is to relate the empathy he experienced during and after his museum visit. He moved us to sympathize with Rodrigues’ suffering. The result is powerful and effective.

But what about truth? In Rodrigues, we see a man who jeopardized the salvation of his own soul in order to save, not the souls, but the lives, or rather, bodies (55) of others. In so doing, he scandalized the faith of the very people he came to save.

As it relates to compassion, empathy is good. But if it’s not tempered by truth, it can lead to error. Endo’s book needs the counterweight of truth to complete his novel and to guide his fellow Catholics. In an article for his diocesan newspaper, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia summed up the close relationship between compassion (empathy) and truth, an appropriate way to bring this Appendix to an end, and a guide for reading Silence: “Truth without compassion wounds and repels; mercy without truth is a comfortable form of lying” (56).

 

Notes:

1. Silence, Shusaku Endo, preface, William Johnston, VIII
2. Ibid, 5
3. Silence: the history behind Martin Scorsese’s new film, , Ellie Cawthorne, historyextra.com
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. Ibid
7. Silence, XI
8. The Martyrs of Japan: Feast: February 6, ewtn.com
9. Silence, XIII
10. Ibid, XIII
11. Silence, 57
12. Ibid, 128
13. Ibid, 72
14. Ibid, 65
15. Ibid, 127
16. Ibid, 179
17. Ibid, 181
18. Ibid, 181
19. Ibid, 183
20. Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present, 67-69
21. Ibid, XVII-XVIII
22. A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, St. Thomas More, 302
23. Ibid, 304
24. A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt, 126
25. Silence, 5
26. The Jesuit Martyrs of North America, John Wynne, S.J., 138
27. The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallemant, of the Company of Jesus, Preceded by Some Account of His life, Louis Lallemant and Frederick William Faber, 294-5
28. The Jesuit, 20
29. Ibid, 24
30. Ibid, 22
31. The Real Presence, St. Peter Julian Eymard, 293
32. Silence, XXI
33. An Essay of a Grammar of Assent, John Henry Newman, 71
34. Deus et Caritas, Pope Benedict XVI, #1
35. Trevor Knapp, in conversation
36. The Spiritual, 240
37. Silence, 106
38. Jesuit Missionaries to North America: Spiritual Writings and Biographical Sketches, Francois Roustang, S.J., 156
39. Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II, #19)
40. Ibid, #24
41. Silence, XXI
42. Salvifici, #24
43. Ibid, #26
44. Ibid, #26
45. Transformation in Christ, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, 164
46. Difficulties, Arnold Lunn and Monsignor Ronald Knox, 99
47. Silence, 203
48. Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, 47
49. The Teachings of the Catholic Church, ed. George Smith. 649
50. Catholicism and Ethics, Hayes, 27
51. Spiritual Exercises, 130
52. Ibid, 129-30
53. Pioneer Priests of North America: Among the Iroquois, Campbell, 60
54. Historyextra.com
55. Trevor Knapp in conversation
56. Mercy, truth, and belonging to Jesus Christ, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Catholicphilly.com, Oct. 16, 2015

Silence: the Catholic Edition
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