christ culture

Silent Themes in "Silence"

6:00:00 AMTruth from the Heart

This post is written by one of our past bloggers, Joe Anderson. We are so glad to have him back for a guest post. Enjoy!

A lot of buzz was made earlier this year when Martin Scorsese's film, Silence, was released. The film, like the novel, is beautiful. Especially beautiful are the scenes involving the faithful, Japanese martyrs who die in place of giving up their priests to the authorities, and denouncing their faith. 

For any religious person, their witness and steadfastness in the face of trials is inspiring and moving. 

And yet, no one can stop talking about the ending. 

*Warning, the following contains spoilers.*

An English professor of mine once said that you can only really know the truth about an author by how he or she ends a novel. 

Some novels end in total darkness, illuminated by just a thin trace of light. They show hope in the face of spiritual eclipse. 

Scorsese added this to the ending of Silence. To him, the ray of light, the ray of hope, was in the Crucifix that Rodriguez holds in his hands as he is given a Buddhist burial. To Scorcese, no doubt, this was a form of the greatest “White Martyrdom” one can give –laying down all of one's pride, all of one's attachments even to the thing he loves most, the Catholic Church, for the good of the Japanese people who were being put to death because of him. 

However, that little ray of hope was not present in the final scenes of Endo’s book. Scorsese also emphasises Rodriguez’s deteriorating mental state at the expense of Rodriguez’s own self realization. At the climax of the movie, we see a confused, torchered, and saddened Rodriguez who succumbs to the horrors of the pit, and the suffering of the Japanese apostates, and even the urging of the voice of his own God, to publicly renounce his faith. 

In Endo’s book, the original tale, this climax looks somewhat different. Though Rodriguez certainly has been through a great deal of emotional turmoil, at this point in the novel, he has reconciled with himself to give up his life. He imagines himself to be Christ like (being ridden in on on a donkey to face his death). And no doubt he is thinking about the glories to be his once he enters the kingdom of heaven. 

He is resolute in his decision to die –even to die such a terrible death as being hungover the pit, slowly bleeding dry. 

What changes his mind? 

The suffering of the people, and his love for humanity, shakes him from his religious zeal. And, after a book-long silence, he finally hears the voice of Christ, urging him to apostatize. 

So he does. 

Everyone I talked to about the film, and most of the articles I’ve read online, seem to be entirely hung up on this last point. “Was it wrong for the priest to turn his back on the Church, to deny Christ, when Christ clearly says in the Bible, “don’t deny me’?” (I’m paraphrasing).

That’s not really the point. Whether it was good or bad for Rodriguez to apostatize is not the question the book is asking. In fact, Endo himself pretty clearly says that it was wrong for Rodriguez to deny Christ. He does this by the Cock crowing after the betrayal (did you catch it? It crowed three times). This is of course is meant to bring to mind the betrayal of Christ by Peter. 

Some Christians will even go as far as to say that this movie is blasphemy because it shows the renunciation of Christ by a priest. And yet, we read the passion of Christ every year in Church (I assume some of us more than that), where Christ is shown to be renounced by pretty much everyone he knows besides his favorite apostle, John, and a few of those brave Christian women who were apparently less afraid of being seen with him than the original bishops. 

Peter himself was our first pope. And he rejects Christ THREE TIMES. 

So why are we hung up on this last point? 

You might be thinking, “Well, you’re missing the point! What made it blasphemous is that Christ himself asked the priest to betray him!”

There perhaps, lies the greatest point of contention. Of course, people also come to the table with preconceived notions about Scorsese's Catholicism. 

However, to really understand this movie, we don’t need to understand Scorsese as much as we need to know Endo. We need to understand the real question the movie is meaning to pose: where is God in suffering? Where is God in the Silence of Japan?

In Endo’s “Life of Jesus”, Endo paints a different picture of Christ than what orthodox Christians might be accustomed to. He draws heavily from the Dead Sea Scrolls for inspiration, mentioning the essenes. Though we might not agree with the overall depiction of Christ portrayed in “Life of Jesus”, it does at least help us understand the Christ that Endo knew, who was the same Christ that spoke through the silence to Father Rodriguez. 

The most important point in Endo’s “Life of Jesus” for our understanding of Silence, is Endo’s belief in Judas’s ultimate forgiveness. 

To Endo, Judas was no different than the the rest of the Apostles, those who would go on to become saints. To Endo, all the apostles, besides John, betrayed and abandoned Christ. 

This belief then clarifies how Rodriguez can both be wrong in betraying Christ, and yet justified. To Endo, Judas had a role to play in Christ’s Passion. But being a loving God, Christ forgives all. The nurturing Christ that Endo wished to bring to Japan was so loving that he would even forgive Judas.

Ultimately, the greater question being asked in Endo’s novel, and in the film itself, is not one of a moral dilemma. It is voiced in the words of Rodriguez before his torture begins. If a truth is not as true in Japan as it is for the rest of the world, then how can that truth be universal, be Catholic? 

Endo spent his life at odds with his surroundings. In Japan, he was at odds with himself being a Catholic –in France, at odds with himself for being Japanese.

Why then did Catholicism not grow in Japan? Was it because the roots were cut out, or was it because the Japanese people themselves could not accept the foreign God? 

Either way, Endo hopes to provide something of an answer not only to his personal dilemma, but an answer to the dilemma of the Church, especially when working with cultures so vastly different from those in the West. 

The truth of the Catholic faith can be just as true for the Japanese as for the rest of the world. But that truth must be inculturated into the people’s belief. Much as in the way Our Lady of Guadalupe is depicted in a way that the Mexican culture could understand, Endo depicts a view of Christ that he thinks might best relate to the Japanese people. 

1)Image One
2) Image Two. 
3) Image Three.
4) Image Four
5) Image Five

Endo, Shusaku. A Life of Jesus. Trans. Richard A. Schuchert. NY: Paulist P, 1978 (1973)
Endo, Shusaku. Silence. Japan, 1966

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