Silence by Shusaku Endo (Part 2)

Interpretation and Review

SILENCE: A PICTURE OF CHRIST AND HUMANITY

The first part of this reflective book review dealt with apostasy and forgiveness in Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Endo’s view of apostasy and forgiveness inevitably brings up questions of what Christ did in the atonement. When Rodrigues is about to trample on the fumie, the image of Christ speaks to him and says, “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! 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.”[1] And later, the face of Christ says to Rodrigues, “Just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do. For Judas was in anguish as you are now.”[2] Rodrigues then realizes that, “Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love [of Christ].”[3] Here, Endo's idea of the atonement seems to be presented as a Catholic satisfaction view that does not consider man’s sin to have been credited to Christ when he was crucified. For example, Catholic writer Bryan Cross characterizes the atonement in this way:

“The Catholic conception of Christ’s Passion and Atonement is that Christ offered Himself up in self-sacrificial love to the Father, obedient even unto death, for the sins of all men. In His human will He offered to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him, and thus made satisfaction for our sins. The Father was never angry with Christ. Nor did the Father pour out His wrath on the Son. The Passion is Christ’s greatest act of love, the greatest revelation of the heart of God, and the glory of Christ.”[4]

It should be noted here that this view of the atonement does not necessitate that the idea of Christ as our substitute be rejected. Catholics favor this view because they believe the significance of the sacrificial love of Christ is what substitutes our sin. Thomas Aquinas said, “Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up; but as man He gave Himself up by a will inspired of the Father. Consequently, there is no contrariety in the Father delivering Him up and in Christ delivering Himself up.”[5] The Reformed view affirms both the union of the Trinity and the reality of the Father’s justice towards his sin-bearing Son. However, Catholic theologians view the external acts of the Trinity as undivided, and, rightly so, from this they conclude that Christ’s death on the cross must be one of complete union with the Father, rather than the Father essentially condemning the Son and pouring out his wrath on him.

This is the kind of surpassing sacrificial love that the image of Christ on the fumie shows to Rodrigues, allowing him to follow Christ’s example when he sacrifices his Christian reputation before the Portuguese and his appearance before the Japanese government. Both the church government and the Japanese government only care about the outward appearance of faith or apostasy. The interpreter tells Rodrigues, “It is only a formality. What do formalities matter? . . . Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.”[6] Likewise, Rodrigues says this about the Portuguese priests in their homeland after he absolves Kichijiro, “No doubt his fellow priests would condemn his act as sacrilege; but even if he was betraying them, he was not betraying his Lord. He loved him now in a different way than before.”[7]

The main point of the narrative’s climax, when Rodrigues steps on the fumie, is not that apostasy is a good choice to avoid persecution. Rather, Endo uses this point in the plot to demonstrate man’s need for the substitutionary work of Christ and to demonstrate how God’s grace is given to us, whether we are a Peter or a Judas.

The story of Silence is an excellently crafted work of faith. Endo is not willing to allow missionaries to think of their work as simple or easy. He strips away the golden veneer of Rome and shows how even the mightiest Christian is, at heart, a wretched man in need of Christ. And although there may be wisdom in bringing some challenges to his view of the atonement, Reformed readers can applaud his emphasis of our total dependency on Christ, his perspective on how missions should be undertaken, his proper view of man as depraved, and his concern with forgiveness and internal faith rather than works.


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[1] Shusaku Endo, Silence (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1969), 171.

[2] Ibid, 190.

[3] Ibid, 191.

[4] Cross, retrieved March 5, 2014, from 

 http://www.calledtocommunion.com

[5] Aquinas, ST III Q.47 a.3

[6] Endo, Silence, 171.

[7] Ibid, 191.