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Reading Shusaku Endo's silence with an eschatological imagination.

FIRST published in 1966, Japanese author Shusaku Endo's Silence and its story of a Portuguese Catholic priest's experience with persecution in Edo-era Japan has generated a variety of critical conversations and artistic responses. Most notably, Martin Scorcese's film adaptation of the novel, released earlier this year, has prompted a new opportunity to re-examine the novel, attending not only to the themes of nationalism and identity which make it conversant with the concerns of postmodern and transnational literatures, but also to the power of its religious aesthetic, one which has reinvigorated the Catholic imagination of one of America's great directors.

Approaching these latter themes with an eye to how they inflect the former, this essay uses Michael Patrick Murphy's A Theology of Criticism, and his engagement with Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, as a starting point for reading Endo's Silence and its relevance for contemporary discussions between Christian aesthetics and postmodernism. In particular, I will track the ways in which both Endo and Balthasar bring postmodern hermeneutics into conversation with Christian eschatology to address questions of knowledge and identity, examining not only how themes of the resurrection appear aesthetically in the novel but also how reading the novel from within this thematic framework speaks to its central concerns.

In his recent essay on Silence, "Endo and [Graham] Greene's Literary Theology" (2015), Darren J. N. Middleton draws on the imagery of George Steiner to describe his own encounter with Endo's work:
The literary critic's function... is to behave like 'pilot fish, those
strange tiny creatures, which go out in front of the real thing, the
great shark or the great whale, warning, saying to people, "it's
coming.'" I find this imagery intriguing. What is the 'real thing' in
Endo's... work? What signifies the 'it' that is 'coming'? I am not
sure.... But I suspect that reading defies stasis, and reading... has
prepared me for whatever is on its way, is coming, and therein lies no
small virtue. (72)

The first pages of this essay are, in many ways, a direct response to Middleton. While I cannot hope to provide the "real thing in Endo's art," I wish to begin by discussing the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Michael Patrick Murphy in order argue that there is, in fact, conjoined to the aesthetic and the literary, a theological precedent for reading and interpreting with the sense of anticipation which Middleton describes. In short, the first part of this essay describes in theological terms how there is real critical work to be done in "saying to people, it's coming.'"

In his significant work Mysterium Paschale, Hans Urs von Balthasar claims that "the whole New Testament is unanimous on this point: the Cross and burial of Christ reveal their significance only in the light of the event of Easter, without which there is no Christian faith" (189). Beginning with Balthasar's words about the centrality of the resurrection to the Christian narrative, the first thing to examine is how the resurrection influences and reconfigures the larger Christian literary aesthetic explored by Murphy. Murphy's primary goal in A Theology of Criticism is to present an interdisciplinary hermeneutic which combines literary criticism with the insights of a theological imagination. Murphy approaches religious faith not merely as a cultural lens, but as primarily a way of figuring the world, capable of navigating the aporias of epistemology revealed by the postmodern turn. To this end, Murphy utilizes Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological aesthetics, as primarily put forth in his Theo-Drama (1973-83), to tease out ways in which a theological imagination might work itself out within literary texts. For Murphy, this frequently involves beginning at the level of literary form and then locating dramatic action as it operates within a larger theological framework, demonstrating "how a judicious methodology that emphasizes analogical relationships can reveal much about the... mysteries of God" (156). Specifically, Murphy attends to the dimensions of divine hierarchy, the Incarnation, Christ's kenosis (self-emptying and death), and human relationships as understood through the doctrine of the Trinity. All this considered, it can be appropriately said that Murphy's theology of criticism is a "hermeneutic of situation" which locates dramatic action within its analogical correspondences to Christian theology (1)

Introducing the resurrection of Christ into this dynamic has a similar situating purpose, presenting the whole Christian drama as a possible location for dramatic action which ultimately overcodes all instances of analogous action: it asserts itself as a logic within which all other logics are to be understood and derive their explanatory power, or, as Balthasar says, "this event... includes everything in its embrace at once" (Mysterium Paschale 189). (2) However, the resurrection's power to overcode also lies in its status as a transcendent and irretrievable action (Christ, of course, ultimately returns to the Father) which cannot itself be encompassed by narrative strategies: "In the event of the resurrection all previous schemata come to their fulfillment and suffer their breakdown at one and the same time" (Balthasar 198). It is for this reason that Balthasar argues that the resurrection must be understood as meta-historical, for at the same time as the resurrection over-codes and envelopes history, the understanding of that event cannot itself be retrieved by the same historical or meaning-making processes. Rather, the meaning of the resurrection must coalesce out of multiple and varied attempts to work out its implications.

Thus, within a Christian literary framework, the resurrection draws all prior narratives into its own hermeneutic--"The books of the entire New Testament," says Balthasar, "have been made to deliver a transcendent synthesis which could not have been constructed on their basis alone" (222)--and likewise conditions all future narratives by its meta-historicity. Further, Christ's resurrection affirms him as the "superabundant consequence of the event of God himself" (204). Indeed, the resurrection affirms Christ as the final revelation of God: in the thought of theologian Karl Rahner, "Jesus Christ is the end of revelation, not because God arbitrarily set an end point, but because, although he in fact might have said much more, everything has been said in Jesus Christ" (Weger 164). As such, the resurrection is the ultimate situating event because it directs all prior narratives towards itself, and also requires all future narratives to gesture (inadequately) towards it as well, and to do so in reciprocity with the finality of divine revelation. Balthasar sees the archetypal example of this process within the four-fold Gospels:
All the other colours of the prism can further reflect the aboriginal
Easter light in different refractions. None of these enable one to
seize in a direct way the incomprehensible event... That would
contradict its very essence. And yet there is in the very brokenness of
divine revelation in the Bible an adequacy or harmony... arising from
within the reciprocal relationship between the self-revealing Lord and
the believing and meditating community. (235-36)

Thus literary action, as it operates within the Christian imagination, takes place not only within the hierarchical, analogical, or relational dynamics that Murphy explores, but also within the more explicitly narrative elements of Christian logic: the journey of creation, fall, and redemption. Dramatic action can thus be situated along this continuum of operations, and can be seen as embedded within and gesturing, in all its plurality, towards the overarching plot of which the resurrection is in many ways the climax.

This plurality and inadequacy of representations is also a reminder that the resurrection is a transcendent event, and necessarily a tense space of presence-absence: the risen Christ is re-absented in his return to the Father, but in the service of asserting his presence within the Church (Balthasar 214-15). Similarly, the resurrection's status as the inaugural moment of the Kingdom of God, and thus a trans- or meta-historical event, places it outside the realms of rational or historical retrieval, making it a shaky apologetic and a "precarious foundation" for the witness of the Church (254). Balthasar cites the theme of resurrection, operating as it did within the Jewish sensibilities of first-century Palestine, as inaugurating a new aeon, a fundamental "breakthrough of the Kingdom" which signaled its reign in Christ, simultaneously signaling the ending of the old aeon without, however, erasing it (196, 204). The narrative event of resurrection, then, presents itself as the meta-historical event of a new era, while the old era still bears the responsibility of making sense of that action. In this way, resurrection as dramatic action is not merely situational but also teleological, being both climactic action and a gesture towards future action in which the new aeon does completely overcode the old and the witness of the Church is vindicated, just as the mission of Christ is vindicated by his resurrection. In fact, Balthasar believes such gestures are indeed imperative, that there is a necessity in transposing the action into a multiplicity of images (246ff). In this way, the eschatological or forward-reaching imagination borne from considerations of the resurrection contains its own imaginative momentum, and any action situated within it must also be considered as part of this dynamic gesture towards something else. This anticipatory dimension to the Christian literary imagination is unique in that it proposes a trajectory of revelation and history beginning with Christ's resurrection and looking forward to the fully present Kingdom of God.

These implications do not merely work themselves out within artifacts of artistic production, however. This eschatological imagination is also unique insofar as its momentum must also implicate the reader and all interpretive practices. According to Balthasar, all activity, both artistic and hermeneutic, faces in the resurrection its own sense of inadequacy, yet is spurred by an obligation to continue on in the name of things yet to come:
Through the victory of the Jesus of history, and his exaltation as Lord
of the world, the Christian remains all the more ineluctably obliged to
take up the historical Cross of Christ, torn between the anticipated
possession of the heavenly polity... and the excessive demand to
initiate what is realised there above into a world essentially lacking
the prior conditions for such a real transformation and resistant, with
all its instincts of self-preservation, to the inbreaking
eschatological Kingdom of God. (264)

In practical terms, this demand obligates the Christian, in particular the Catholic reader to participate in this teleological aesthetic which not only situates dramatic action within the Christian narrative, but also sees it as gesturing towards a yet-to-be-realized, final, and eternal manifestation of divine presence. This demand is itself "resisted" by the fact that a transcendent reality must be gestured to from within an immanent frame, and yet the Christian hermeneutic is obligated to make such a gesture despite its inadequacy. If a Christian aesthetics, as examined by Murphy, can be considered a hermeneutic of situation, then I believe that this dimension of the Christian imagination can rightly be called a hermeneutic of anticipation. In this regard, a hermeneutic of anticipation also obligates a set of hermeneutic practices which take the reader outside the dramatic bounds of the text itself, not to interpret texts based on non-present information, but rather to consider them analogically within the larger developments anticipated by the Christian religious framework, including the eschatological dimensions of the resurrection.

One implication of this practice, however, is that a Christian hermeneutic is obligated to the difficult and perhaps unpopular task of eschewing purely deconstructive or nihilistic readings which tend to avoid, or even discourage, gesturing towards such transcendentals. Again returning the Murphy's Theology of Criticism, this is a further element which places a contemporary Christian imagination in tension with a strictly postmodern approach skeptical of the transcendent and the totalizing. (3) Early in his book, Murphy juxtaposes the thought processes of Balthasar and Jacques Derrida, examining how they each approach questions of locating difference and ultimate truth in the postmodern moment (20ff). (4) Derrida is also worth considering in this discussion of Christian eschatology. Derrida summarizes his postmodern eschatology as an "event of justice" in an "Enlightenment to come":
"This im-possible is not private. It is not the inaccessible, and it is
not what I can indefinitely defer... every time something happens, even
in the most banal, everyday experience, there is something of an event
and of singular unforseeability about it: each instant marks an event,
everything that is 'other' as well." (qtd. in Smith, Jacques Derrida
91) (5)

Justice for Derrida, then, is an unconditional future with an ethics and politics founded on the reality of undecidability and resulting in a "universalizable culture of singularities," where the other is received as other, with no attempts at predication or conceptualization. Thus, if the other is to be received as such, it cannot be reduced or anticipated beforehand: according to philosopher James K. A. Smith's reading of Derrida, "it is necessary to . .. divest ourselves of horizons of expectation that would condition what could arrive from this future.... [In] order to make room for its arrival, we must renounce any attempt to divine its advent" (Smith, JD 90). In this way, every other and every moment can be received in a just way, as an "event of justice."

There are ways in which Derrida's "event of justice" dovetails with what I have described as a Christian eschatological imagination. Balthasar is clear about the fact that the transcendent event of the resurrection is one which cannot be represented by immanent categories: "Words, like (scenic) images remain of necessity limit-expressions' for a reality which--since it has absorbed in itself in a transcendent way the entire reality of the old aeon--overflows on all side the latter's receptive capacities" (246). Because of this overflowing, it is necessary to admit that the resurrection, including the importance of Christ's suffering and death to the idea of justice itself, can only be represented through a plurality of narratives and images, a superabundance of representations, and that "decisive access" to its meaning, if such a thing exists, must arise out of a coalescence of such representations, accepted on their own terms. However, contra Derrida, it is this transcendent truth, the reality of Christ as the "superabundant consequence of the event of God himself," which is the necessary object of a Christian imagination. Thus, Derrida's reception of every "other" as a sort of messianic moment of meaning and justice is precluded by a Christian imagination insofar as humanity cannot look to itself as the fulfilment of its own need for meaning but requires the idea of Christ as the bringer of salvation, both the archetypal human and the definitive self-disclosure of God (Weger 156). Further still, all future revelatory events which might be anticipated within a Derridian framework (by not anticipating them) must be received as contributions to the superabundance of narratives and images which all gesture towards Christ as the final revelation of the divine, confirmed by and subsumed into the meta-historical event of the resurrection.

So, far from having no horizons of expectation, the Christian literary imagination roots its hermeneutic in the meta-historical drama of the life of Christ, whose resurrection validates him as the final, definitive self-disclosure of God. Thus, a Christian hermeneutic of anticipation is not permitted to undertake a purely subversive or deconstructive way of reading, but is obligated to anticipate a particular dramatic trajectory along which meaning is made. In order to examine how such an imagination operates in practice, we now move on to an examination of how these dynamics work themselves out within Shusaku Endo's Silence, as well as a consideration of what sort of hermeneutic the eschatologically-minded reader is obligated to bring to bear on the novel.

ENDO'S Silence is set during the seventeenth-century persecution of Catholics in post-feudal Japan, under the shoguns of the Edo period. The narrative follows the journey of Portuguese priest Sebastio Rodrigues as he works to maintain the population of the faithful in Japan while investigating the fate of his former mentor, Father Ferreira, who is rumored to have apostasized under torture. While Rodrigues's own hopes for the mission are high, he quickly has his faith tested, discovering a version of Catholicism alien to his own and navigating the horrifying martyrdoms of his friends, the betrayals of the Judas-like peasant Kichijiro, conflicts with his former mentor, and ultimately his own apostasy which he performs to save the Christian peasants from torture and death. Unsurprisingly, the novel's reception history has been extremely controversial, with several reviewers denouncing it as heretical and atheistic (Endo xxii-xxiii). But is it possible that such readings of the novel are hyper-situating, what Balthasar calls "unilateral" spiritualizings, demanding that the narrative align perfectly with an a priori conception of Christian theology rather than permitting it to be one of the many inadequate images which Balthasar says must contribute to figuring the transcendence of the Christian narrative (254)? With this in mind, this reading of Silence will use the eschatological hermeneutic outlined above to examine how the resurrection figures within the novel, and how it obligates a more generous reading from the critical perspective of a Christian imagination.

In many ways, Silence operates somewhere between the hermeneutic of situation demonstrated by Murphy, and the hermeneutic of anticipation. For critic Jacqueline Bussie, the novel sits squarely within considerations of Christ's kenosis, or self-emptying, but operates not in a dialectical way with the resurrection but rather in dialogue with it, as both historical reality and hoped-for event. In fact, it is Rodrigues's temptation to place death and resurrection within a dialectical relationship that the text addresses as a central error: "Rodrigues becomes preoccupied with persisting in his belief that Christ's kenosis cannot be separated from his omnipotence and redemptive power," and yet the Christ which Rodrigues ultimately encounters exists in the paradox of "God's own God-forsakenness" (Bussie 121). As Balthasar would say, Rodrigues is still living within the "old aeon" a world in which attempts at making sense of divine mystery will be eternally inadequate.

This tension between dialectic and dialogue follows Rodrigues throughout the novel as an ongoing epistemological crisis as his ways of sorting out the world are constantly put under pressure, and he must ultimately realize that it is his belief in Christ which itself causes that pressure. In many ways, the beautiful, exalted, resurrected Christ has replaced the suffering, self-emptying Christ as the chief image in Rodrigues's mind. But Bussie, turning to theologian J. L. Martyn, demonstrates that this cannot be allowed: "The cross is and remains the epistemological crisis ... for the simple reason that while it is in the one sense followed by the resurrection it is not replaced by the resurrection" (qtd. in Bussie 121). Rodrigues's experiences throughout the narrative, then, largely center around the evolution of his faith as it must overcome this temptation to dichotomize the reality of Christ, and accept the categorical ruptures in his own way of thinking which Balthasar says are caused by the reality of the resurrection.

One critical rupture for Rodrigues does not involve his way of seeing God, but seeing his fellow human beings. "Men are born in two categories," Rodrigues muses. "The strong and the weak, the saints and the commonplace, the heroes and those who respect them" (119). Rodrigues mentally relegates apostates such as Kichijiro into the latter category, while pondering whether it is simply his own position as a priest which makes him immune to the lure of apostasy and keeps him in the former category. However, this central aspect of Rodrigues's worldview is exploded by his encounter with Ferreira, who urges Rodrigues to apostasize in order to spare the peasants from torture. "Certainly Christ would have apostasized for them," says Ferreira, and ultimately such is the fate of Rodrigues as well (256).

At this point, Rodrigues's own life becomes a walking paradox such as those made possible by the logic of the resurrection. Bussie explains that, "In the act of apostasy... Rodrigues himself becomes kenotic, self-emptying like Christ. Here Rodrigues encounters... the possibility of a salvific, even kenotic, apostasy" (110). Van C. Gessel states, even more simply, that "Rodrigues, in debasing himself and making of himself a sacrifice because of his intense love for others, is performing the most Christ-like of the options... placed before him" (33). Rodrigues's kenosis involves the rupture of the categories by which he maintains distinctions between weak and strong, saint and sinner, faith and doubt. However, Ferreira's words make it clear that the idea of Christ troubles such binaries. It is not enough to say, however, that Christ merely identifies with the suffering of the weak in his death; in his resurrection he also affirms "a collision of narratives--the narrative of the resurrection and the crucifixion, the narrative of divine omnipotence with the narrative of divine kenosis, the narrative of suffering with the narrative of redemption" (Bussie 120). Ferreira, then, does not so much argue that Christ is on the other end of the binary from where we could expect to find him, but that he destroys the binary altogether, making it possible for an act of apostasy to be simultaneously an act of piety. Thus locating himself on the side of the "weak," Rodrigues is ultimately able to identify with such "believing apostates" as Kichijiro, as he now finds himself among their number, which gives him greater insight into and appreciation for the mystery of Christ: "He loved him now in a different way from before" (Endo 286). This change in Rodrigues, locating itself within Christ's kenosis, remains overcoded by the resurrection in its breakdown of "old-aeon" schematics, an overcoming of the "unilateral" spirituality which Balthasar says is no longer possible in the wake of the resurrection. Again, while the novel situates itself within the paradoxes of kenosis, it assumes the resurrection at every turn because it is the resurrection which ultimately makes such aporias livable, even necessary.

ONE such aporia that is perhaps more difficult to navigate, however, is that of evil and violence. From the beginning of the novel, questions of death and martyrdom are front and center. Rodrigues himself imagines the possibilities of a glorious martyrdom in the name of Christ, and witnesses the ultimate sacrifice of several Japanese Christians. Rodrigues, meanwhile, works to stay alive so that he can minister to the people, while at the same time enduring "a kind of disillusionment that he was not privileged to be a tragic hero like so many martyrs and like Christ himself" (Endo 123). Within his binary outlook, Rodrigues numbers such martyrs among the "strong," while apostates such as Kichijiro are cowardly and "weak." And yet, very quickly, the way in which Rodrigues separates the world is pressured when he witnesses the martyrdom of Mokichi and Ichizo, two peasants who have protected him. It is not the glorious act he has anticipated but rather a "miserable and painful business" (92), one which threatens to swallow up the lives of these two men in meaninglessness and absurdity (105). (6)

According to Bussie, "When Endo began to study the Catholic Church's history of Christian missions in Japan, he quickly realized that this history was a litany of courageous martyrdoms" (79). Such a history, in Endo's eyes, was rooted in that same division between the "weak" and the "strong" which Rodrigues initially embodies, and in the affirmation of the latter with the marginalizing of the voice of the former. Silence, then, is a work which intends to give voice to those who were not strong or courageous, and this must necessarily contribute to our reading. While Rodrigues initially desires to be numbered among the martyrs, the "tragic heroes," his companion, Kichijiro, represents a "tragic theology" which holds fast to faith and is yet deeply affected by suffering (Bussie 103). Contrasted against Rodrigues's "theology of glory" which seeks a deep, transcendent meaning in suffering and death for the cause of Christ, Kichijiro is not able to locate any such meaning, and instead responds with an anxious "Why"--"Why has Desus Sama given us this trial? We have done no wrong" (Endo 83).

According to Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, the event of the resurrection demonstrates that it is actually Kichijiro's attitude which is closest to the true Christian response, as opposed to Rodrigues's. In Hart's estimation, one of the most important schema which is burst apart by the resurrection is the motif of tragic heroism: "If tragedy seeks to recuperate what is lost in death by making the particular instance of death an occasion for the disclosure of the good," says Hart, "then the Christian story stands starkly opposed to tragedy precisely because it views the death of the beloved with far greater gravity and cannot rest content with tragedy's economic optimism, its certainty regarding credit stored up in the absolute" (The Beauty of the Infinite 390). Under Hart's reading of the resurrection, Rodrigues's confidence in the tragic heroism of martyrdom itself stands in opposition to the reality of the resurrection and instead locates meaning in death in a way that "eternalizes the cross." This way of thinking assumes a continuing economics between life and death which the resurrection erases, replacing it with a very different picture of divine justice:
The resurrection, then, shows the way to no truth within us... but
declares anew, with the newest inflection, the glory of God in the
beauty of his creatures, and in such a way as to leave us no
self-knowledge at all; our story has been interrupted, our tragic
narrative of self-recovery overturned. Christ was raised, and so the
cross (every cross) is shown to be meaningless in itself; God is not
there, and goes there only as the one who violates its boundaries....
Rather than seeing the resurrection as a speculative (that is,
dialectical) tension that eternalizes the cross, theology must
recognize it as a reversal of the narrative of violence that makes the
crucifixion seem meaningful. In the self-oblation of Christ... God
indeed comprehends suffering and death, but only as a finite darkness
exceeded--and conquered--by an infinite light; God's infinity embraces
death by passing it by as though it is nothing at all and by making it
henceforth a place of broken limits. Again, to insist upon a nontragic
reading of the cross and of resurrection is to remain faithful to
Israel's cry for justice. (391)

From this vantage, situating violence and evil within the death of Christ in order to give it meaning, as Rodrigues does, is ultimately a backwards approach. Rather, the resurrection demonstrates the vacuity of violence and anticipates the justice of God promised within the resurrection, and derives itself not from the Cross alone but from the "weight of glory beyond all comparison" which St. Paul says suffering promises when considered in light of the resurrection. Balthasar takes these implications further:
And if it is true that the suffering of the Crucified One can transform
even worldly pain, unintelligible to itself, into co-redemptive
suffering, then the most unbelievable, most cruel tortures... can be
seen in close proximity to the Cross, to that utter night [which is
itself ultimately caught up into the exaltation of the resurrection],
interrupted only by the unfathomable cry of "Why?" (Theo-Drama 501)

This "Why" is Kichijiro's "why," and must ultimately become Rodrigues's "why" as he learns what it properly means to desire justice.

While Rodrigues participates in Christ's kenosis by emptying himself of all sense of pride or heroism when he apostasizes, he also likewise realizes that "It is not a question of glorifying earthly suffering... but of whether we are open or closed to the fundamental values of the kingdom of God" (Balthasar, Theo-Drama 500-01). Again, Rodrigues must navigate the fact that apostasizing for the benefit of the Japanese Christians actually places him more in line with the values of the Kingdom than a continued insistence that martyrdom is somehow tragically meaningful. Indeed, Christ directly accepts Rodrigues's actions when, after being silent throughout the novel, Christ speaks from the icon which Rodrigues is to desecrate and says, "You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share in your pain that I carried my cross" (Endo 259). (7)

This invitation to Rodrigues to apostasize rather than permit the peasants to be martyred draws attention to Christ's weakness and the importance of his co-suffering with humanity, but it also of necessity calls attention to Christ's resurrection, in which, as Hart says, he leaves suffering as a "place of broken limits." Again, "God's infinity embraces death by passing it by as though it is nothing at all," and so Christ's invitation for Rodrigues to trample the icon is also borne out of Christ's infinite capacity to bear suffering on behalf of humanity. Christ's statement to Rodrigues produces yet another "collision of narrative" in which divine weakness and omnipotence are co-operative, affirming that meaning is not located in the Cross alone, but that the resurrection makes the Cross meaningful by obviating its injustice and promising to overcome it. (8) In this moment, Rodrigues's apostasy ceases to be a statement about his own faith and rather serves to indict the injustice of his oppressors, just as Christ's resurrection does, and his act is itself caught up into Christ's infinite capacity to enact the justice which Kichijiro calls for in his cry of "Why?"

IN the end, Silence is not primarily about questions of marginalized voices or the response to injustice, as it is a novel which examines Christianity's place in Japan, and the apparent irreconcilability of the religion with the nation. Endo calls Japan a "mud swamp" which "sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process" (xix). Such is the circumstance which Rodrigues experiences when he slowly observes that the religion of the Japanese peasants is ultimately not recognizable to him as the Catholicism he knows, and yet he still, in the end, sacrifices his dignity for their sake through his apostasy.

Much of the controversy surrounding Endo's novel has involved this very issue. As Mark B. Williams says, "To many of these critics, the novel Silence came to be viewed as a misguided attempt by the author to posit an irreconcilable gap, both spiritual and cultural, between East and West" (108). Endo himself, however, did not hold such a pessimistic view of the relationship between Catholicism and Japan: "If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity.... And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan's mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is--that is what I want to find out" (xxi).

Endo's hermeneutic of his own project, then, corresponds with the hermeneutic of anticipation which I have argued that the resurrection engenders in the Christian imagination. Meanwhile, criticisms of the novel are guilty of what Balthasar calls a unilateral spiritualizing, maintaining a view rooted in old ways of figuring the world which the resurrection dismantles. Endo's desire to discover Japan's "part" in the "symphony" of Catholicism is, ultimately, another way of agreeing with Balthasar that the central concepts of Christianity can only be figured through a superabundance of narratives and images which inadequately gesture towards its transcendence. Accordingly, Endo was unsurprised by such criticisms of his novel: "Such criticism... was evidence, both of a continuing reluctance on the part of the church to address the tension he had come to perceive between literature and religion and also of a tendency to view the scene in which Rodrigues is finally persuaded to defile the fumie with his foot as the culmination of the novel" (Williams 109). In fact, the novel continues for another twenty-six pages in which Rodrigues is excommunicated from the Church, takes on his former betrayer Kichijiro as a servant, and demonstrates that "for all his outward capitulation, inwardly [he] is now possessed of a faith more real and more profound than that which had inspired him to risk all in embarking on his mission to Japan in the first place" (Williams 108).

Silence, then, does not end with the death of Christianity in Japan but its survival with a self-aware need to adapt. Rodrigues has had his old way of figuring the world completely dismantled--"There are neither the strong nor the weak. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?"--and yet is left with a narrative of Christianity in which weakness and even apostasy can still figure the resurrected Christ and the justice of the Kingdom of God (Endo 285-86). For Endo, this is not merely a reconfiguration of Rodrigues's faith, but an anticipation that the same thing might happen in Japan as well, and that the remaining schema which separate Japan from Christ might likewise be dismantled. (9)

This eschatological hope for Japan is analogically figured through the novel's dramatic action: the reconciliation between the Rodrigues and Kichijiro figures as a microcosmic hope for the worlds of the East and West. Even the pervasive violence and injustice throughout the novel plays its part in this eschatological figuring, insofar as Endo's characters participate in a uniquely Christian response to such evil, to the point that even apostasy becomes a mode of Christian resistance and a way of figuring the resurrection, as Hart describes:
As futile as it may seem to affect so defiant and rebellious a tone
against death itself--indeed, to revolt against death--this is the
burden of the Christian narrative; that such revolution is not
hopeless, though, has been shown within time, at the empty tomb, and
its ultimate vindication is the only promise upon which Christian hope
may feed. (394)

Likewise, for Balthasar, evil and injustice merely call attention to the beauty of the infinite and the need for a superabundance of figurations: "It is not evil that makes the world more interesting but the multiplicity of the good, freely brought into being.... This finds its highest development in the kingdom of God" (Theo-Drama 504). Thus, an eschatological reading of Endo's novel sees even violence and injustice as gesturing towards the "multiplicity of the good," and the need to see Japan as a part of that multiplicity.

Shusaku Endo's Silence operates by imagining Christ as co-sufferer with humanity in a very extreme way, to the point that even a priest's apostasy on behalf of his flock can gesture towards a greater hope in the Kingdom of God. I have sought to demonstrate that such a generous reading of the novel's action and its larger cultural project is possible because it is informed by the aesthetics of a Christian imagination whose central hermeneutic is the resurrection of Christ. As Balthasar says, the resurrection is an event that overcodes all of history in a supra-historical way, doing away with the systems that once separated weak from strong or sinner from saint, instead requiring a plurality of narratives to do justice to its reality. A hermeneutic of anticipation, founded in Christ's resurrection, obligates the Christian reader to attend to these hopeful dimensions of Endo's novel, to join him in mourning evil, anticipating justice, and ultimately welcoming Japan into the "full symphony of humanity" in the face of overwhelming resistance.


(1) "Hermeneutic of situation" is a phrase I borrow from theorist Jeffrey T. Nealon, who uses the term to describe the process of mapping out the interrelated dynamics and codes of cultural moments. Insofar as Murphy presents Christian theology as being a supra-cultural meta-narrative which itself overcodes reality, I feel a "hermeneutic of situation" is an apt descriptor of his project as well. Nealon's own deployment of the term can be found in his book, Post-Postmodernism: or, the Cultural Logic of Just-In-Time Capitalism (2012).

(2) "Overcoding" is another term which I borrow from and employ similarly to Nealon. In Post-Postmodernism, Nealon asserts economics as the overcoding logic of the 21st Century: "It's one logic, smeared across a bunch of discourses, and after the transcoding dialectical demonstration... you can't unproblematically say that the logic of one of those things... somehow subverts or resists the logic of the other" (23-24). A comparable dynamic, as I demonstrate, is presented by the resurrection within a Christian religious hermeneutic.

(3) Murphy views "postmodernism's suspicion of metanarrative and its aversion to theological (i.e., absolutist) structuralism" as a direct challenge to the idea of "Christ as supracultural" or "Christ as center" (18). However, Murphy also argues that the sort of "openness" encouraged by postmodernism, and in many ways mirrored by Balthasar's approach to the resurrection as outlined above, can actually be beneficial to theology without compromising tradition or orthodoxy.

(4) Murphy draws attention to the "apophatic" trend in the later Derrida which involves proposing truth by way of negating or unsaying it. Derrida opposes an "apophatic" reading of deconstruction in his essay "How to Avoid Speaking" (1986) (Murphy's translation: "How Not to Speak"), and resurrects the Platonic notion of khora to draw attention to "difference at the origin." Murphy then demonstrates that the only real difference between Derrida and Balthasar is that Derrida ultimately eschews the power of analogy in his call for "intertextuality," whereas Balthasar "will not dispense with supporting the theological implications inherently proposed by intertextuality," instead viewing intertextuality analogically as a sort of "cosmological model" (Murphy 21-23).

(5) Related to the above, "justice" is one of the concepts which, according to Murphy, Derrida comes to accept as "undeconstructible," requiring a more concrete ontology than that provided by the infinite "play" of the linguistic "trace" (Murphy 20).

(6) Jacqueline Bussie's larger project in her chapter on Endo in The Laughter of the Oppressed (2007) involves examining how laughter functions within the novel both to gesture towards and navigate aporias and absurdities, carving out a space to live within them, which agrees strongly with Balthasar's thought as well: "When everything is blocked off, one must live in the interstices" (qtd. in Murphy 17).

(7) While the translation of the text used throughout this essay is William Johnston's, which renders the line as a command--"Trample! Trample!"--I here defer to Emi Mase-Hasegawa's translation: "I am opposed to 'Trample!' in the imperative form. In the original Japanese text it... shows a more passive aspect of Jesus, emphasizing his weakness. It should rather be translated in a more motherly way.... This is important, and shows how Endo's Christology involves the feminine aspect of Jesus" (Christ in Japanese Culture 99n6).

(8) Consider alongside von Balthasar's own statement in Mysterium Paschale: "What is at stake, at least in a perspective of depth, is an altogether decisive turn-about in the way of seeing God. God is not, in the first place, 'absolute power', but 'absolute love', and his sovereignty manifests itself not in holding on to what is its own but in its abandonment--all this in such a way that this sovereignty displays itself in transcending the opposition, known to us from the world, between power and impotence" (28).

(9) One such binary which is frequently discussed regarding Endo's cultural project is the patriarchal quality of Japanese culture which is contrasted by Endo's more maternal representation of Christianity (Williams 123). Consider also Note 7 and Mase-Hasegawa's more "feminine" translation of Christ's words to Rodrigues.


Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Mysterium Paschale. Trans. Aidan Nichols, OR .Edinburgh: T&T Clark. 1990.

--. Theo-Drama V: The Last Act. Trans. Graham Harrison. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983.

Bussie, Jacqueline. The Laughter of the Oppressed. New York: T&T Clark, 2007.

Endo, Shusaku. Silence. Trans. William Johnston. New York: Taplinger. 1980.

Gessel, Van C. "Silence on Opposite Shores: Critical Reactions to the Novel in Japan and the West." Approaching Silence: New Perspectives on Shusaku Endo's Classic Novel. Ed. Mark W. Dennis and Darren J. N. Middleton. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.25-42.

Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2003.

Mase-Hasegawa, Emi. Christ in Japanese Culture: Theological Themes in Shusaku Endo's Literary Work. Boston: Brill, 2008.

Middleton, Darren J. N. "Endo and Greene's Literary Theology" in Approaching Silence: New Perspectives on Shusaku Endo's Classic Novel. Ed. Mark W Dennis and Darren J. N. Middleton. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 61-76.

Murphy, Michael Patrick. A Theology of Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press. 2008.

Smith, James K. A. Jacques Derrida: Live Theory. New York: Continuum, 2005.

Weger, Karl-Heinz. Karl Rahner. New York: Seabury, 1980.

Williams, Mark B. Endo Shusaku: A Literature of Reconciliation. New York: Routledge, 1999.


Maurice Hunt (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley), Research Professor of English at Baylor University, was Director of Freshman Composition from 1982 to 1996 and Department Chair from 1996 to 2007. In 1996, he was Class of 1945 Centennial Professor of English. He is an Associate Editor of English Studies and Papers on Language & Literature. Currently, he is editing the MLA New Shakespeare Variorum edition of Cymbeline. He has edited "The Winter's Tale": Critical Essays (Garland, 1995), Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Other Late Romances (MLA, 1992), and Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (MLA, 2000), while co-editing Approaches to Teaching "Othello" (MLA, 2005). His books include Shakespeare's Romance of the Word (Bucknell, 1990), Shakespeare's Religious Allusiveness: Its Play and Tolerance (Ashgate, 2004), Shakespeare's "As You Like It": Late Elizabethan Culture and Literary Representation (Pal-grave Macmillan, 2008), Shakespeare's Speculative Art (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and The Divine Face in Four Writers: Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Hesse, and C. S. Lewis (Bloomsbury, 2015). He has published over 100 articles on Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Milton. Lodge & Greene, James Fenimore Cooper, and Anthony Trollope.

Carla A. Arnell (Ph.D., Northwestern University), Associate Professor and Chair of English, teaches courses in history of the novel and medieval literature at Lake Forest College. Her essays have appeared in Christianity and Literature, Studies in Medievalism, Modern Language Review, Pedagogy, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other places.

William B. Ness (Ph.D. in American Literature, University of Iowa) is an adjunct English instructor at Johnson County Community College in Olathe, Kansas. He has a previous publication in the 2002 Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies titled, '"Bathed in War's Perfume': Whitman and the Flag."

Lyle Enright is a Doctoral Candidate in the English department at Loyola University Chicago, where he teaches composition as well as religion and literature. He has presented and published on a number of topics, exploring the intersections of critical theory, contemporary literature, and historic Christian thought. His dissertation research focuses on the relationship between divine power and political sovereignty, and the role of the literary imagination in providing alternative associations. In addition to his academic work, Lyle has written for journals such as Relief, Rock & Sling, and Homebrewed Christianity, among others.
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Author:Enright, Lyle
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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