I had read this novel back in 2003, and with Martin Scorsese’s film based on the novel now in select theatres, I felt the need to reread the book. It is a powerful novel, written in 1966, and I do think I understood it better this time around.
In the mid 1630s, word filters back to the Society of Jesus in Rome that Father Cristóvão Ferreira, a theologian of note, who had been in Japan as a missionary for thirty-three years and had held the post of Provincial in the Order, had apostatized under torture during the current extreme persecution of Christians. A group of four priests gains permission from the Order in Rome to go to Japan and to secretly minister to Christians to atone for Father Ferreira’s apostasy (we hear nothing more of these men). But three Portuguese priests, who had been students under Ferreira, gain permission to go to Japan, both to minister to the Christians and to ascertain just what occurred.
One of the priests fell ill, and was left in Macao; the other two, Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garrpe arrive in Japan in 1639, with their guide being a Japanese man named Kichijiro, who denies that he is a Christian, and who soon reveals himself to be deeply unreliable. The two priests minister to the secret Christians in the village of Tomogi, but eventually separate. The story then follows Father Rodrigues, who is eventually captured by the authorities once he is betrayed by Kichijiro.
Father Rodrigues thinks he is ready for whatever physical torture is applied to him; however, he did not account for the torture of being told that Christians are being tortured to death because of him and his refusal to apostatize. He is also told that Japanese culture cannot accept Christianity, and that what those who call themselves Christians in Japan worship is not the same God he worships, and can never be the same God. But most of all Father Rodrigues is tortured by the silence of God in the face of the torture and horrid deaths of the Japanese Christians.
This is a very powerful book, and I am very glad to have re-read it.