With this post I finally come to look at the end of the novel, and to the heart of the novel’s problem. (There are more themes in the earlier parts of the novel that I thought I was going to write about, but now they seem less important than tackling the final pieces of the story. Maybe I’ll get back to them and maybe I won’t.)
One thing that makes the ending of the novel so ambiguous is that as it goes we get further and further away from Father Rodrigues. The prologue which frames the story, is told from the point of view of a third person narrator, reporting on the facts, presenting letters and other evidence to tell a story, giving some background about the missionary mission of Ferreira and and introduces the letters of Rodrigues as historical documents. The first four chapters are Rodrigues’ letters. Then after that we switch back to a third person narrator, but one who is limited to Rodrigues’ point of view so that it almost feels like a continuation of the letters. But this narrative ends at the end of chapter 9 with the two apostate priests, Rodrigues and Ferreira both working for the Japanese officials, each hating the other. Then in Chapter 10 we have a new narrative device.
Chapter 10, which is titled ‘Extracts From the Diary of Jonassen, a Clerk at the Dutch Firm, Dejima, Nagasaki,’ switches to yet another narrator, this time a Dutch clerk for Japan has been closed to all other Europeans except the Dtuch. And the Dutch clerk doesn’t know much. He gleans bits and pieces here and there. He is, in fact, in something of a similar position in regard to Rodrigues as Rodrigues himself was in respect to Ferreira at the beginning of the novel. He is curious to know what happened to those priests who apostatized. As is the reader, of course. Very, very curious.
He died, however, with faith in his heart
Two sections of his narrative in particular caught my eye:
5th December. . . . I have tried to obtain information about the apostate priest ever since I arrived in Japan. A Japanese called Thomas Araki is said to have stayed in Rome for a long time, serving at one time as chamberlain to the Pope. He confessed himself a Christian several times to the authorities, but the Governor took him as insane because of old age and left him as he was. Later he was hung in the pit for a whole day and night and apostatized. He died, however, with faith in his heart.
Did you catch that? Thomas Araki apostatized after hanging in the pit, but died with faith in his heart. How does our Dutch clerk know that he died with faith in his heart? Certainly with this Endo is pointing us to a question: how do we know whether an apostate still has faith in his heart?
January 4th. The fumie exercise is performed by the people. On this day, from Edo, from Imazakara, from Funatsu and from Fukuro, the otona and the leading citizens go to receive the fumie plaque and to check each house’s observance of the practice of trampling on the fumie. Every household has joined in cleaning the road, and quietly they are now all awaiting the arrival of the otona and the leading citizens. . . . The first to trample is the master of the house, then his wife and the children. The mother, clasping the baby in her arms, must trample too. If there are any sick in the house, they also, in the presence of the officials, are made to touch the fumie with their feet from their position in bed.
I think Endo wants us to contemplate this ritual. The citizens clean the road and everyone awaits the procession quietly. There is something about this terrible ritual of apostasy. The curious thing is these Christians continued to both trample on the fumie and to pass on the faith to their children and their children’s children. When, after Japan had been closed to Western missionaries for more than 200 years, Westerners were once more allowed to enter Japan and even to build a chapel, the French priest, Bernard Thadee Petitjean, was approached by their descendants, those families who had kept the ‘Kirishitan’ faith. Pettijean investigated the underground organizations and discovered that they had kept the rite of baptism and the liturgical years without European priests for nearly 250 years. How is it that they kept the rites and passed them down in secret while publicly trampling on the fumie?
My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart
But, confusingly, not all of Chapter 10 is narrated by the Dutch clerk. The section of Chapter 10 that begins “On January 4th” switches back to the third person narrator who once again gives us a glimpse of Rodrigues’ point of view. This little tease doesn’t give nearly all the information we want about Rodrigues’ fate, it doesn’t tell us whether he persists in his apostasy until death, but it does offer some clues about his spiritual disposition if we read it carefully.
The Lord of Chikugo tells Rodrigues, “Father, you were not defeated by me. . . . You were defeated by this swamp of Japan.” but Rodrigues replies, “No, no. . . . My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart.” Here is seems is a clue that points to a shift in Rodrigues way of thinking. He understands his struggle to have been one of wrestling not with external forces but as something that happened within his own heart. When Inoue challenges him as to what he told Ferreira about the Christ of the fumie telling him to trample, saying that it was self-deception and a cloak of Rodrigues’ weakness, Rodrigues doesn’t attempt to argue with him, he lowers his eyes and says that it doesn’t matter what Inoue thinks. Does this point to a new humility? Is this a sign that Rodrigues no longer cares about the judgment of men, but only that of God? Is this humilty or defeat? Do they look different from the outside? Are they different? St Paul says the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The cross looks like defeat and humiliation. It is defeat and humiliation, but it is Christ’s triumph, God’s wisdom. So perhaps the most we can say is that this defeated Rodrigues is a Rodrigues who is closer to Christ than the man who thinks that Christ is a tragic hero or than the man who is disgusted by Kichijiro’s weakness.
Previously I have asked the question to other fathers: What is the difference between the mercy of the Christian God and that of the Buddha? For in Japan salvation is from the mercy of the Buddha upon whom people depend out of their hopeless weakness. And one father gave a clear answer: the salvation that Christianity speaks of is different; for Christian salvation is not just a question of relying on God— in addition the believer must retain with all his might a strength of heart. But it is precisely in this point that the teaching has slowly been twisted ad changed? in this swamp called Japan.
Christianity is not what you take it to be. . . .! The priest wanted to shout this out; but the words stuck in his throat with the realization that no matter what he said no one would ever understand his present feelings…
Rodrigues is correct here, Christianity is not at all what Inoue takes it for. Rather, the opposite. The Christian does rely on God alone for his salvation and it is not at all about being strong. For St Paul says, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” If the Christian has any strength of heart, it is not his own strength, but his weakness that allows Christ to be strong in him.
The magistrate insists that Christianity has changed. And yet… he doesn’t really understand Christianity at all. Has it really changed its form in Japan? Certainly the externals have changed, certainly Christians who trample yearly on the fumie do not at all look like Christians who kneel in adoration before images of Christ and his mother. And yet… I think Endo is calling us to see the fumie as a symbol of Christianity’s endurance, of the paradoxical strength in weakness. The magistrate thinks he has won because the Christianity that the priests brought to Japan has changed and “become a strange thing” and I think many readers agree with him. This Christianity could not posibly be the real deal. It’s too strange. But what if the magistrate is wrong?
To lead the same life as the Japanese Christians
After the magistrate leaves Rodrigues muses on his exile: “Never again would he cross the leaden sea to return to his native land. When in Portugal he had thought that to become a missionary was to come to belong to that country. He had intended to go to Japan and to lead the same life as the Japanese Christians. Whatever about that, now it was indeed so. . . . Fate had given him everything he could have wished for, had given it to him in this cynical way. He, a celibate priest would take a wife. (I bear no grudge against you! I am only laughing at man’s fate. My faith in you is different from what it was; but I love you still.)”
Here again I see echoes of Father Ciszek who during his time in Russia living in the camps as just another prisoner, lives under an assumed name that he adopted at the time he first went to Russia. Like Rodrigues, Ciszek is a prisoner, his freedom curtailed, his life is not his own. Even his name is not his own. The Russians deny his priesthood and see him as just another prisoner. And Rodrigues’ acceptance does rather echo Fr Ciszek’s acceptance of his current situation as God’s will for him.
Not the will of God as we might wish it, or as we might have envisioned it, or as we thought in out poor human wisdom it ought to be. But rather the will of God as God envisioned it and revealed it to us each day in the created situations with which he presented us. His will for us was the twenty-four hours of each day the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time. Those were the things God knew were important to him and to us at that moment, and those were the things on which he wanted us to act, not out of any abstract principle or out of any subjective desire to ‘do the will of God.’ No, these things, the twenty-four hours were his will; we had to learn to recognize his will in the reality of the situation and to act accordingly.
For Ciszek the act of discerning God’s will is not about looking at the big picture, it’s not about abstract principles or grand missions, not about wrestling with whether or not he is called to be a hero or a martyr. Rather it is radical self-abandonment and acceptance of the current situation. God’s will is revealed in the ordinary everyday here and now.
Is Rodrigues, like Ciszek, abandoning himself to the present situation as God’s will for him in the present moment? Is this moment at which he realizes his prayers and hopes have been answered, not as he envisioned it or thought it ought to be, but revealed in the circumstances immediately before him? Is he accepting that this is indeed God’s call, his way to live in true solidarity with the peasants who trample every year, to truly lead the same life as his flock, to truly belong to the country?
If Rodrigues had an experience similar to Ciszek’s and like Ciszek came to embrace a radical abandonment of self (as the magistrate ironically suggests is antithetical to Christianity) what would it look like? Mightn’t it look exactly like what in fact happens in the novel? Wouldn’t he merely continue on in the role that the Japanese officials carve out for him, just as Ferreira does, but with the radical difference of loving God and looking to do God’s will in every daily action and interaction. How could an outsider tell if Rodrigues was following the path of Ferreira or the path of Ciszek’s radical abandonment?
Rodrigues’ final parenthetical remark suggests perhaps we can see something approximating a new understanding. Certainly, we know that there has been some kind of shift in Rodrigues’ faith. But he says he still loves God. Dare we take him at his word? Does he indeed continue to love God as those who trample on the fumie and yet pass on the faith continue to love him?
My faith in you is different from what it was; but I love you still
What does Rodrigues mean when he says that his faith is different? What can it be, this faith that tramples, that accepts the humiliation of public apostasy? Does it mean that he has abandoned God? Or is it possible to still cling to God and love him while performing this ritual trampling? This is the myster Endo presents us with, and the novel demands that we ask oursleves: is this act of trampling a severe humiliation that allows those who trample to draw near to the humility of Christ on the cross? Is there mercy for those who trample and is the trampling itself a severe mercy drawing those who fall into union with Christ?
God was certainly with those Japanese Christians who died as martyrs. But did he abandon those to whom he did not give the grace of martyrdom? Did he remain silent to those who were not strong? Or does he truly speak from the fumie, saying, “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”? Whose voice is it that Rodrigues hears? Is it his own self delusion, is it really Christ, or is it somehow, mysteriously, both? Is it possible that he is deluding himself about hearing Christ asking him to trample and yet also at the same time speaking a greater truth than he knows?
When Rodrigues tramples it is the death of his false image of God, “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.” It is the death of his illusions. And those illusiong needed to be shattered. The cock crows after he tramples, signifying his betrayal. But before that dawn breaks. And the dawn is the symbol of resurrection; more than that, Christ is Oriens, the rising dawn.
Is this the death of Rodrigues’ faith or it’s birth?
At the end of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, the speaker is confused. Has he witnessed a birth or a death:
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
Likewise, as I read the scene of Rodrigues’ apostasy I am not sure whether I am seeing a spiritual death or a rebirth. With Eliot’s narrator, I could say that I thought they were different. But this moment of apostasy, of spiritual death, has a strange feeling of hope to it as I re-read this novel more carefully, looking at patterns, looking at Endo’s artistry, picking up all his breadcrumb clues. I find that there is something more than failure here. There is also love. There is an encounter with the crucified Christ, the first time that Rodrigues has looked on that face since he came to Japan, he says. The first time he has honestly confronted the cross, the first time he does not shy away from pain. This trampling looks like a type of crucifixion to me, a death of pride, a death of the self.
I was going to also look at Rodrigues’ final meeting with Kichijiro, but I think that will have to be another post for this one is already getting too long.
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Part 2: Apostasy and Despair
Part 3: On Mercy
Part 4: Concerning Shepherds
Part 5: Rodrigues’ False God.
Part 6: A Tale of Two Jesuits