Silence by Shusaku Endo is one of the most compelling and powerful books I’ve ever read. I wrote about it in this way on my website as part of a blog post about an exhibition at the British Museum, Living With the Gods.
When I first read the book, several years ago, I think one of the most remarkable things about it is that the reader can see both sides and even have some understanding both of the Japanese and the Jesuit priest, despite the extreme cruelty of the torture to which the Christian converts are subjected.
I personally thought the priest Roderigues should apostatise and that it wouldn’t detract from the integrity of his faith at all, because how can we ever eradicate what is in the heart of another, especially in the face of words and actions forced out of them under torture?
But I admired the priest’s determination to stay true to his faith, as he understood it. I also felt I could make sense of the position of the Japanese, utterly determined to stop a foreign religion from adultering and diluting their own culture, from stealing hearts and minds in their own country devoted to their own religions. I saw both sides.
And in the film directed by Martin Scorsese which was released in 2010, I felt the same. Basically the Jesuit priest played by Andrew Garfield would be wisest, I considered, to recognise that the Japanese culture and mindset was utterly alien from his own cultural formulations of religion and utterly set on protecting their own cultural and religious identity.
I feel the same when I read about the Jesuit priests who came to England clandestinely in the sixteenth century to try and turn England back to Catholicism again: God’s Secret Agents, an excellent book by Alice Hogge. And also when I visit historical properties which were once strong Catholic houses whose occupants practised their faith against the direct orders of their government, and where persecution of priests is part of the house’s history.
No matter the rightness or the wrongness of their position, when viewed in hindsight, I still admire the priests’ passionate conviction in the face of fierce persecution and the prospect of being hanged drawn and quartered.
England ultimately became Protestant, and I don’t myself believe that the spiritual stakes as they saw them ever existed; or that the fate of anyone’s eternal soul ever stood in jeopardy according to whether they were Catholic or Protestant.
But they believed it. And that’s all that matters.
Were they wrong? This is the big question that hangs over all these heartrending, dramatic stories. And the same question hangs over all our lives, as we struggle for whatever cause or goal or dream we passionately believe in. We’re probably wrong, too. Or at least there’s a high probability we are.
But does that invalidate our passion, conviction, courage and persistence and fierce unrelenting resilience?
No. Because if it does invalidate it, then shall we all just give up now?
I know as a writer I will never give up, whatever the outcome may be.
Psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction
Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path
Coming soon: Spirit of Warwickshire