Re-reading Silence Part 4: Concerning Shepherds

Re-reading Silence Part 4: Concerning Shepherds

In Part 1, I looked briefly at the way Endo highlights Rodrigues’ failure to be a shepherd. I want to look more closely at that theme of the negligent shepherd because I think Endo develops it quite intentionally and with great subtlety. Endo never intends Rodrigues to be taken for a model priest. Rather, he clearly fails in his mission again and again. And it’s not that Endo is unaware of that mission. The artistry of the novel is how it calls attention to Rodrigues’ failures even while he is the narrator of the story.

Woe to you Shepherds

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. —Ezekiel 34: 2-4


It’s funny how sometimes the Liturgy of the Hours is so on point. Recently, about the time I was writing my first post, in fact, the Office of Readings paired readings from St Augustine’s sermon On Pastors with Ezekiel 34, both of which have some choice words about negligent shepherds. Augustine writes:

You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured, that is, what was broken. You did not call back the straying sheep, nor seek out the lost. What was strong you have destroyed. Yes, you have cut it down and killed it. The sheep is weak, that is to say, its heart is weak, and so, incautious and unprepared, it may give in to temptations.

The negligent shepherd fails to say to the believer: My son, come to the service of God, stand fast in fear and in righteousness, and prepare your soul for temptation. A shepherd who does say this strengthens the one who is weak and makes him strong. Such a believer will then not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if he has been taught to hope for worldly gain, he will be corrupted by prosperity. When adversity comes, he will be wounded or perhaps destroyed.

The builder who builds in such manner is not building the believer on a rock but upon sand. But the rock was Christ. Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. He who is weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him. For it was to strengthen your heart that he came to suffer and die, came to be spit upon and crowned with thorns, came to be accused of shameful things, yes, came to be fastened to the wood of the cross. All these things he did for you, and you did nothing. He did them not for himself, but for you.

The relationship between Rodrigues and Kichijiro could well be a further meditation on Augustine as Rodrigues acts the part of the negligent shepherd and Kichijiro the part of the lost sheep. Rodrigues fails over and over and over again to strengthen Kichijiro, his lost sheep. Kichijiro is weak in his will to withstand temptation but strong in his faith in Christ’s mercy extended to him in the sacrament of reconciliation. But perhaps, had Kichijiro received encouragement and exhortation from Rodrigues, he could have become strong. Certainly Rodrigues fails to try to encourage him, to exhort him, or even to have patience with his weakness. (Perhaps because Kichijiro is too much a mirror of Rodrigues’ own weakness?)


Like a Flock of Sheep without a Shepherd

Near the beginning of the first chapter Juan de Santa Marta, Rodrigues’ companion priest who is too ill to travel on to Japan, points us to the mission of the priests to be shepherds:

“In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Someone must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out.”

At these words a shadow passed over Valignano’s face, and he remained silent. No doubt to this very day he was deeply troubled by the dilemma of his duty as a Superior and the fate of the unfortunate, persecuted Christians. And so the old man said no word, resting his forehead on his hands.

This silence of the superior, Father Valignano, is telling, I think. And not only his silence but also that of the other two priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe. It’s easy to overlook the fact that they say nothing. Surely they must be in agreement with Santa Marta, right? Or are they? What does their silence signify? What is the pain Valignano experiences? What exactly is Valignano’s “dilemma”? Is it the desire to protect his priests warring with the sense of duty to the Japanese? Why does he feel conflicted exactly?

Does the priests’ silence signify acceptance of their duty to seek out the lost sheep and to encourage them? Or a refusal to accept? Rodrigues, like Valignano, says no words about the plight of the Japanese Christians or their suffering. Instead he presses on, insisting on his “added duty” to find out the truth about Ferreira. Am I reading too much into this silence? I didn’t notice it at all on the first two readings, but given the importance of the image of the shepherd, it now seems like an important clue to understanding his subsequent actions and attitude. In retrospect, it almost seems as if Rodrigues wants to skip right on past the duty of the shepherd. As if finding the truth about Ferreira is the only mission that he cares about.

You have failed to strengthen what was weak

Rodrigues and Kichijiro. From the beginning Rodrigues seems almost proud of his contempt for the drunken, weak Kichijiro.

Rodrigues describes how Kichijiro shirks work, putting on a show for the overseer and idling when he is gone, and how the sailors take their revenge by beating him. Rodrigues is not phased by the beating, but by what happens when Kichijiro kneels and pleads for pardon:

At first the other sailors said nothing, but at length they were able to put up with it no longer and beat him soundly. That in itself is not too important, but what astonished us was that when he was struck down and severely kicked by three sailors he grew deadly pale and, kneeling on the sand where he had fallen, pleaded for pardon in the most ugly way you could imagine.

Such conduct is pretty far from anything you could call Christian patience, but this weaking’s cowardice is just like that.

Rodrigues himself demonstrates an amazing lack of patience for Kichijiro’s weakness. He does not at all see it as his duty to strengthen Kichijiro or to admonish him or the sailors. He stands by and watches a man beaten and is disgusted by his begging for pardon. And this is the pattern he will continue to follow. From here on out his attitude towards Kichijiro’s penitence is one of disdain and disgust.

In the second chapter he characterizes his attitude towards Kichijiro, awash in his own vomit, as one of contempt. Perhaps Kichijiro is vomiting because he is drunk, perhaps he is seasick. Rodrigues has already speculated that perhaps Kichijiro drinks because he is wounded in some way. In any case, he has no pity for Kichijiro in his illness and wretchedness:

Splashed all around him was white vomit; and he kept muttering something in Japanese.

With the sailors we looked at the fellow with contempt. We were too exhausted to be interested in his stammering Japanese. But quite by accident jumbled in with his sentences I caught the words ‘gratia’ and ‘Santa Maria’. This fellow who was just like a pig that buried its face in its own vomit had without a doubt uttered twice the words, ‘Santa Maria.’

. . . Was it possible that he was of our faith— this wretch who through all our journey not only failed to help but was even a positive nuisance. No. It was impossible. Faith could not turn a man into such a coward.

Raising up his face filthy with his own vomit, Kichijiro turned on us a glance of pain. And then with his usual cunning he made a pretense of not understanding the questioning looks we fixed on him. He smiled his cowardly smile. He has the most fawning obsequious laugh you could possibly imagine. It always leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

This is the way Rodrigues treats the first member he meets of his scattered flock: contempt and revulsion. It’s interesting that Kichijiro utters the words “gratia” grace and “Santa Maria”. Possibly he’s reciting the Hail Mary in Latin? But I think we can see that symbolically he’s pointing us towards Rodrigues’ failure. First, by showing us how Rodrigues lacks grace towards Kichijiro. How he lacks the mercy that Holy Mary might have shown to this miserable lowly wretch. But it also points back to the words uttered by Juan de Santa Maria in the first chapter, the words about the sheep who need a shepherd. Yet Kichijiro’s pleas and admonitions fall on deaf ears. Rodrigues is too tired to try to understand what he is saying, too full of himself and his own exhaustion to be able to rouse in himself any interest much less to take pity on Kichijiro. He refuses to see in Kichijiro a fellow Christian, a weak sheep, a member of his “lonely and abandoned flock”. He refuses to see in him the face of the suffering Christ. Perhaps because he cannot bear the sight or thought of Christ’s humility and suffering. Rodrigues has a very sanitized and sanctimonious view of mercy.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:45

Hardship upon Hardship

But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world. — Augustine On Pastors

When the Japanese officials demand that three men from the village present themselves for questioning the villagers pick Kichijiro and then two of them volunteer, Mokichi and Ichizo. Before they go, they come to Rodrigues asking for counsel:

’Father, if we are ordered to trample on the fumie. . . It’s not only a matter that concerns us. If we don’t trample, everyone in the village will be cross-examined. What are we to do?

This is Rodrigues’ first test and he fails. As their shepherd he should prepare his sheep for the trial they are facing, he should remind them that God promises hardship and suffering to his followers. He should encourage them to take up their cross. But instead he indulges in a false pity that fears bodily suffering and takes no thought for the words of Christ or his example:

At this, such a feeling of pity welled up within my breast that without thinking I gave an answer that I know you would never give. I thrust from my mind the memory of how Father Gabriel. . . had cried out: ‘I had rather this foot were cut off than that I should trample on this image. . . .’ I know that many Japanese Christians and fathers have manifested such feelings when the holy picture was brought before their feet. But was it possible to demand that from these three unfortunate men?

‘Trample! Trample! I shouted. But immediately I realized that I had uttered words that should never have been on my lips.

Why is it that Rodrigues fails here? I’m still not sure I understand what it is. Pride? Fear of suffering? Fear of humility? Reluctance to let go of his false image of martyrdom as something heroic and tragic? In any case, you see that long before he himself trampled, he had already encouraged others to do the same. He was already acting like Ferreira long before they meet face to face. He has conformed himself not to Christ, but to his teacher. Possibly there was some poison in Ferreira’s teaching that infected Rodrigues?

The Silence of God?

When Kichijiro asks why God has given them this trial, “Why has Deus Sama imposed this suffering upon us?. . . What evil have we done?” Rodrigues is silent. But later he cannot stop thinking about Kichijiro’s words:

I suppose I should simply have cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet whey does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lords imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijiro was trying to say something even more sickening. 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. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijiro

Why does Rodrigues find that God is silence? Is it because he refuses to hear what he doesn’t want to hear? That the blood of the martyrs is the voice of the Church? That in fact it speaks most eloquently. But Rodrigues is too full of himself to hear.


Part 1: Re-reading Shusaku Endo’s Silence

Part 2: Apostasy and Despair

Part 3: On Mercy

Part 5: Rodrigues’ False God

Part 6: A Tale of Two Jesuits

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