Sunday 13 March 2011

Shusaku Endo: Christ and Japan

The Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo – described by Graham Greene as one of the century's greatest writers – was always wrestling with the relation between Christianity and Japan. In an interview, he said:

"But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony. It fits, of course, man's sinless side, but unless a religion can find a place for man's sinful side in the ensemble, it is a false religion. If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan's mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is – that is what I want to find out" (cited in Emi Mase-Hasegawa, Christ in Japanese Culture: Theological Themes in Shusaku Endo's Literary Works, 72).

Endo's 1966 novel Silence portrays the visit of a Portuguese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined village, and prays: "The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? ... Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence."

1 Comment:

David said...

The Scottish composer James Macmillan's Symphony No. 3, "Silence" is based off of Endo's novel. It's an incredibly powerful piece of music--a jarring yet hopeful musical exploration of the "silence of God in the face of terrible events." Here is an excerpt from Macmillan's program notes:

"Endo's 'silence' is the silence of God in the face of terrible events springing from the merciless nature of man: torture, genocide, holocaust. After experiencing one of these events, one of Endo's characters writes: 'I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God… the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent.'

For Endo, though, this silence is not absence but presence. It is the silence of accompaniment rather than "nihil". This is a notion that has many musical analogies. Music itself grows out of silence. The emptiness and solitude of a composer's silence is nevertheless pregnant with the promise of possibility and potency. The immateriality of music points to the reality of different types of existence. Music is not a physical reality in the sense that we are, or any other thing is. You cannot see, touch or taste music, but its powerful presence always makes itself felt."

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