Martyrs, not Saints: Thomas McKenzie on Endo’s Silence



  1. Chinwe Edeani


    “If Michael Bay were directing this…”

    That made me burst out laughing…at work 🙂

    LOVE this conversation, especially the thoughts about martyrs vs. saints. Thanks!

  2. Roy Friend

    I was a bit disappointed by this one. I enjoyed the witty banter, but I thought that there were a large number of historical and doctrinal errors in this podcast, and that the Catholic perspective on/of the novel was largely ignored. I hope you understand that I rather enjoy your podcasts, but didn’t feel like this one was of the quality I expect from your average offerings.

  3. Roy Friend



    @pete Would you like it here, or would you prefer me to submit it as an article? It’s long enough, but in part that’s because I studied this in college and am putting in a lot of context.

  4. Michael Gowin

    I read “Silence” this fall and am working my through Makoto Fujimura’s “Silence and Beauty” now. Looking forward to the film like you’all, but with a certain hesitation as well. The book has a depth that may be better captured in a mini-series than in a feature film—but we’ll see. This review from CT is encouraging.

  5. Laure Hittle


    It has been two years since i read The Sparrow and Silence back-to-back and even now just hearing the title The Sparrow makes my belly clench. Reading Silence afterward was almost a relief, as insane as that sounds. i wonder if i should read it again before the film comes out, if nothing else to divorce it from The Sparrow, or whether that will make it harder to receive the adaptation on its own terms. Because i do want to see it. Adaptation and difficulty aside.

    i keep wondering what if anything Lewis knew about Japan’s Christian Century. That Hideous Strength also includes a fumie.

  6. Roy Friend


    @pete The following reply was started shortly after your comment was made, but family life required my attention until now. Please forgive me if the second half is not as detailed as the first, and for not getting back to you sooner.

    I’ll try and be complete, so I’ll note timestamps as I go.

    Starting at 3:25, you have a couple of mispronounciations that come up. Minor stuff really, like “Takagawa” instead of “Tokugawa”, and “Endo Period” instead of “Edo Period”. The Edo Period is the period in which the Tokugawa Shogun ruled over Japan from Edo, which is called Tokyo nowadays. It ended the Sengoku Period, which was the period when all the Daimyo (regional lords) were trying to take over Japan and establish themselves as Shogun.

    Another minor error was about 3:45 when you mentioned the timeline of the Christian Century, it was given as ~1530 A.D.-1630 A.D. According to C.R. Boxer, the authority on this topic, it’s 1549 A.D. (when St. Francis Xavier first landed in Japan)-1650 A.D.

    At that time, a larger issue was that it was said that the “Portuguese sent missionaries”, suggesting that “that was how they worked”. In a sense that’s true, but in a larger sense it wasn’t. Portugal as a nation certainly couldn’t order the Jesuits to come with them, as the Jesuit order was beholden only and directly to the Pope. The exploration of the Portuguese and their trade activities gave the Church opportunity to send their Jesuits on missions, which opportunities it took. It may seem splitting hairs, but it’s important to remember for later that the Jesuit mission in Japan was an action of the Catholic Church, not of the Portuguese Crown.

    Next, at 4:35, the argument is made that Christianity became a political force in the “underclass”, by which I assume are meant the artists and peasants. Correct me if I mistake who’s talking but I believe it’s Thomas who’s saying that because of Christianity the people rose against the samurai lords, “which led to a rebellion” (I assume he means the Shimabara rebellion), which led to “them” (by which I think he means the Christians of Japan) being suppressed, which led to the persecutions in Silence. Assuming I followed that correctly, this would be a bit of an oversimplification and a false view of the situation. The situation is much more dependent on the Catholic views of the missionaries and the Shinto-Buddhist views of the lords who gained control at the end of the Christian Century.

    On the Japanese side there was the inherited idea of a “Mandate of Heaven” from China, which acted in much the same way as the “Divine Right of Kings”, at least in that it legitimized the Emperor of Japan by the idea that “Heaven” gave him a right to rule. The Shogun and Daimyo, then, have always (at least in name) considered themselves to be serving the Emperor or ruling as a sort of steward for him. For this reason they assume both political and religious assent to their rule from the people. Japan has always had a syncretic view of religion as well, in which religions are welcome to their country as long as they’re willing to blend in with and support the natural religion. This is why some forms of Buddhism (i.e. the Ikko-Ikki sect) were ruthlessly stamped out when they wouldn’t conform, but others like Zen Buddhism were embraced.

    The three Japanese lords who most influenced the Christian Century were called the Great Unifiers of Japan. They were Oda Nobunaga (1535-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). Oda Nobunaga was the Daimyo who laid the groundwork to conquer Japan. With his clever use of western arms and political acumen he crushed his enemies and brought Eastern Japan into a unified coalition. This includes some of the Catholic Daimyo, the most notable of whom was Venerable Takeyama Ukon (1552-1615). It’s also notable that Nobunaga’s grandson and successor, Oda Nobutada (1557-1582), was Catholic. True to the Japanese use of religion for political purposes, Nobunaga was known to kidnap priests and use them as hostages to manipulate Catholic Daimyo like Takeyama. When Nobunaga was killed in a coup the second great Unifier, Hideyoshi, was sort of like Nobunaga’s quartermaster in a sense. He was the one who made sure that the logistics of each military action were taken care of. It was under him that active persecution of the Catholics started, but this was in part because of a drunken whim. It wasn’t entirely serious, and the declared banishment and executions where sporadically applied at best.  Most importantly he finished the unification of Japan started by Nobunaga, he martyred St. Paul Miki and his companions at Nagasaki, and sent the majority of the Christian Daimyo to the failed invasion of Korea in the Imjin War (1592-1598) where they suffered quite a bit. Hideyoshi was capricious, and his extremely harsh dictatorial penalties (including the execution of the entire family line of one of his own nephews) alienated him from many of his retainers. When Hideyoshi died his son inherited Japan, but was usurped by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Shogunate with recognition from the Emperor in 1603, which would last until the Boshin War (1868-69) when the Emperor regained direct control over Japan. He disliked Catholicism because the missionaries were actively combating syncretism, refusing to allow Christianity to be blended into the national religion. Ieyasu considered this to be a potential threat to the state, as it wrested some of the religious authority from him, but waffled on how to handle it because of his desire for trade from Portugal and the Philippines.
    The Catholic Church, on the other hand, certainly knew there was the tendency to syncretize religion in the Japanese and combated it from early on. The Jesuits were masters at carefully presenting the Catholic Faith in terms which could be understood by native populations, but I’ll grant they sometimes made mistakes, and had to work hard to make up for them. Apart from that, though, the Jesuits focused most of their attention on trying to get the Daimyo to convert, and then allowing the natural tendency among the Japanese (that of following their leader in religious and political matters loyally) to work out the rest. They made very good progress in the west of Japan, especially among the Omura and Otomo families.
    Catholicism itself clashed with the Zen-Shinto syncretism very strongly, however, in the fact that it wouldn’t syncretize. Because Catholics believe that the Church was given the fullness of the faith directly from the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, who passed it on through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and guided by the Magisterium in union with the Pope, this meant that the missionaries would not allow essentially Buddhist or Shinto doctrines to penetrate and corrupt the Faith. Additionally, the religious and secular authority of the Pope which he claimed over the whole world (called the Doctrine of the Two Swords) directly conflicted with the religious and political authority of the Emperor and the Shogun inasmuch as the teachings and policies of the Japanese regents conflicted with the teachings and discipline of the Church. It was because of this that Japanese Christians would refuse to commit seppuku when ordered to do so, or to commit atrocities when ordered to do so. This may be what Johnathan was referring to when he said the Japanese regents didn’t want the Catholics ‘tainting’ their culture.
    The Church didn’t state that the Japanese Regents had no right to rule, it actually supported their secular authority inasmuch as they didn’t claim religious authority or force Christians to do evil. In this way the Japanese regents actually found the Christian daimyo, samurai, and populace more obedient and dependable than non-Christian ones. The only Christian revolt that I know of, the Shimabara Rebellion, was caused by the Tokugawa Shogunate’s persecutions of Christians. It was not the cause of said persecutions, like Thomas suggests, except possibly in the sense that because Christians resisted the persecutions the Tokugawa regime doubled down on their previous persecutions.
    Thomas also seems to have conflated the taking of Osaka Castle by Ieyasu (in which Musashi fought on the losing side) and the Shimabara Rebellion. The Shimabara Rebellion was the only castle that ever had the sorts of banners he describes around 5:50, so far as I’m aware.
    The Christians who were mentioned in minute six were called Kakure Kirishitan, which means Hidden Christians. As a neat aside, one of the sects of Kakure Kirishitan created something called Beginning of Heaven and Earth, which was a blend of Catholic and Shinto-Buddhist religion.
    Now regarding the issue noted in the title of this podcast, the idea that someone can be Martyrs and not saints. In order to talk about that we need to define the terms here. Endo being a Roman Catholic, we should talk about the terms specifically as they’re meant by Catholics.
    To be a Martyr means in Greek to be a “witness”. Specifically, to be a Martyr has come to mean to be a witness by dying for the love of God. To suffer for the Faith but not die is to be a “Confessor”, but only if you remain true to the Faith.
    To be a Saint has several meanings. The most obvious one in a Catholic context is that the Saints are those who have lived lives of heroic virtue and fidelity to God, and are with Him in Heaven. These Saints may or may not be officially recognized by the Church. In a broader sense the Saints are those who, whether on Earth, in Purgatory, or in Heaven, are united with God. Once you receive baptism you become a saint in the broader sense, and if you commit mortal sin (such as apostasy) you lose the state of grace and are no longer considered a saint. Under normal circumstances, Confession must be then sought in order to reestablish your relationship with God and be restored to sanctity, which is to say friendship with God.
    In the older traditions of Christianity, chief among them Catholicism, the Martyr is considered to be a Saint due to the fact that he laid his life down for God. There are technically no Martyrs who are not Saints. For example, recently there was a group of martyrs beheaded off the Barbary Coast, one of them who lived as an atheist. After the witness of the Christians who died for Jesus, he then chose to die for Jesus as well. He is considered a Saint.
    Lastly, there seems to be this idea that a man can apostatize from Christianity, can dishonor Jesus in word and deed, and do such for ‘love’. We’ll go back to Lewis’ Four Loves and ask you to clarify what you mean by ‘love’. If you mean Storge, Eros, or Philia, then these are lesser loves. To deny God for these things, even ‘as a formality’, is to deny God for something less than God. If we’re talking about Agape, in Latin Caritas, or English Charity, then we have to define that. Charity is Biblically understood to be “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt 22:37-39, Douay-Rheims) In the Catholic intellectual tradition this is understood to mean that Charity is the love of God above all things, and love of your fellow men for the sake of God.
    Can apostasy then be understood as Charity? It cannot. It cannot because if one loves God will all your heart, mind, soul, and strength then no suffering can turn you from it, not even the suffering of others. If you love others for the sake of God, then to spurn God, even in feigning, for the sake of others exactly reverses the relationship between your love for God’s people and your love for God. It makes your love of God serve the love you have for God’s people.

  7. Thomas McKenzie

    Hi Roy,

    Thank you for this post. Very thorough.

    First, I certainly agree with you concerning the historical timeline you present. As you might have guessed, the podcast wasn’t really meant to be about the history of Japan, and I was going without notes or any recent reading on the topic. I’m glad that we had you to come along and clean up my several mistakes!

    As far as the use of the word “saint” in this conversation, it seems that we were using that term to mean “particularly holy/good person.” And so we were talking about what it means to be a martyr for Christ, even when you aren’t necessarily a good person. As you point out, the word “saint” also has other meanings, but that was the one we seemed to have been going with. I’m sorry if that use of the word threw you, or any other listeners.

    Concerning your thoughts about apostasy and whether or not that can be a form of love, I think we’ll just have to disagree. The novel is, of course, in large measure about this. I found myself convinced by Endo’s narrative, though you seem not to have been. I think of Romans 9:3 in which, as you know, St. Paul writes “for I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” Paul seems to be saying that, if such a thing were possible, he would accept damnation if it mean the salvation of others. I think that’s what we are talking about here. If, by apostatizing, that action leads to the salvation of others, but to your own damnation, isn’t that an act of love? Isn’t that loving God, even while supposedly denying him? While it’s a denial with the lips, it’s a deeply Christian action of the heart.  I feel that Endo is challenging us to look beyond our expectations and into a mysterious grace. After reading him, I’m a believer.


  8. Donn Herring

    At the risk of over-simplifying such a complex and thought-provoking piece of literature, the story arc that jumps out at me is Father Rodrigues’ confrontation with and eventual acceptance of the idea that salvation is, in fact, a gift given to us by God through his grace, not a reward earned by us through our works.  Although this idea does not visibly appear until late in the book, like Jesus in the Old Testament I think it is always present lurking just beneath the surface.

    I think the idea first becomes clearly visible in Rodrigues confrontation with Ferreira in the prison when Ferreira points out:

    “You make yourself more important than them.  You are preoccupied with your own salvation.  If you say that you apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit.  They will be saved from suffering.  And you refuse to do so.  It’s because you dread to betray the Church.  You dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.”

    Through these words Ferreira challenges Rodrigues’ preoccupation with attaining his own salvation through his actions as opposed to using his actions to save others.  In a way, Endo seems to be pointing out that Rodrigues is acting just like he (Rodrigues) believes God to be acting, i.e., he is remaining silent in the face of the suffering of those he could help.

    This idea seems to take fuller hold of Rodrigues a couple of pages later when he studies the face of Jesus on the fumie. As Rodrigues studies Jesus’ face on the fumie, Jesus proclaims:

    “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.”

    Through these words, Jesus reminds Rodrigues that salvation is the gift that he alone came to give.  He also reminds Rodrigues of the price of this gift and the fact that this is a price man is unable to pay.

    Immediately following these words, Endo concludes: “The priest placed his foot on the fumie.  Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.” Through these words, Endo draws the clear link between Peter and Rodrigues and there inability to truly pick-up their cross and follow Jesus.

    Finally, Endo brings the idea to its full conclusion in the closing words of the book:

    “The priest had administered that sacrament that only the priest can administer.  No doubt his fellow priests would condemn his act of sacrilege: but even if he was betraying them, he was not betraying his Lord.  He loved him now in a different way from before.  Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love. ‘Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent.  Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.'”

    Through these words, Rodrigues seems to accept that God’s love through Christ is greater than his failures.  More importantly, he seems to realize that his failures have not severed his relationship with God through Christ.  Given the ultimate nature of Rodrigues’ failure (at least in his own mind and his understanding of God prior to this point), these words seem to reflect a clear acceptance of the fact that his salvation is secure through Christ regardless of his failures.

    Maybe all of this is just my efforts, as a Protestant, to find Grace in a book so focused on a believer’s works or his failure at works.  Nonetheless, this is the story arc that most struck me and the clear message that I take from this book.

    God’s Blessings        

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