Imagine this: you’re captured by those hostile to Christianity and given a choice. If you step on the picture of Jesus, the authorities will release the other prisoners. If you don’t, they’ll continue torturing them to death, although you yourself will be spared. What would you do?
This is the central question in Silence by Shusaku Endo, and certainly elicits many different responses. Some of my cousins and I think that it’s better not to let the other suffer, since God knows our motives, while one of my Church School classmates reasons that this is a good opportunity for the ones being tortured to ‘test their faith’.
Silence is based on the true story of the Portuguese Father Roderigues. Set in the 1600s, Christianity is banned and all believers are persecuted and tortured beyond belief. It is within this context that Father Roderigues arrives to Japan, trying to keep the Faith alive. In a manner that is sort of parallels our Lord, he is persecuted, betrayed and finally captured and the scenario in the first paragraph is posed to him.
Father Roderigues faces two forms of ‘torture’. One is the torture from the secular authorities, and the other, is what he sees as the silence of God. It is interesting to see that Endo does not take the conventional answer to the question of the silence of God, but has a unique answer to it.
The narrative is easy to read. It jumps between diary entries, letters and a conventional narrative style, although it is the conventional narrative that takes up most of the book. As a translated text, I’m happy with the translation by William Johnston, although reading it in English omits some of the more subtle Japanese meanings.
Before I end, I should attempt to describe the author a little: Shusaku Endo is a very rare Japanese – he is a Catholic. He’s also a superb novelist whose books with obvious Christian themes, such as this one, have become famous within Japan. He tried to portray the “mother love” of God through his books, because he feels that the Japanese understand the “Father love” of God, but not His maternal aspect. That’s why, in this book, he explores the nature of sacrifice at a great personal cost. However, this does not mean that what he writes reflects the conventional thinking of the Japanese Church, in fact, his books are seen as controversial and Silence, in particular, is seen as less than fair to the Japanese martyrs.
I do, however, heartily recommend this book. It’s a rare gem of a novel that vividly brings forth the suffering of the Japanese Christians, a group of people that I think tend to be overlooked. At the same time, it gives us the chance to consider, if we were in this position, could we also say:
“But our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.”
Published on 22 November, 2011. Last updated on