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Copper medal mounted on wooden board and used asjiimie, treading picture. Attributed toYuza, 1669. National Museum of Tokyo.* E-Jumi, picture treading ceremony. From Philipp Franz von Siebold's Nippon. After an original drawing by Kawahara Keiga between 1823—1829. *Both images reproduced from Joseph Jennes, CICM, A History ofthe Catholic Church 1 Japan (Tokyo: The Committee of the Apostolate, 19.59). William T. Cavanaugh Absolute Moral Norms and Human Suffering: An Apocalyptic Reading of Endo's Silence Can one person's sin be the salvation of another? To grapple with such questions is the price of admission to the murky moral world of Shusaku Endo's Silence. Endo is a deft practitioner of the art of ambiguity, perhaps as a result of his own conflicted identity as both Japanese and Catholic. He pulls the reader in different directions at once, so that the reader feels torn, torn open, torn apart. The novel leaves one wounded, but the wounds are not entirely of Endo's making. He lays them at the pierced feet of the God who chose to suffer with humanity rather than simply wipe the suffering away. It is this paradox of a suffering God thathaunts Fr. Rodrigues's and our attempts to make sense of a suffering world. The plot of the novel is harrowingly simple. The Portuguese Jesuit Sebastian Rodrigues makes a clandestine journey to Japan, eager to atone for the apostasy of his mentor, Fr. Ferreira. It is the seventeenth century, a time of fierce persecution of Christians in Japan. Rodrigues bravely faces martyrdom. When he is captured, however, the magistrate does not torture him, but substitutes three peasants in his place, telling Rodrigues that they will undergo terrilogos 2:3 summer 1999 98LOGOS ble suffering until he renounces the Christian faith for which he was willing to die. He must signal his apostasy by publicly treading on the fumie, a representation of the face of Christ, the face that has haunted his thoughts and inspired his embrace of martyrdom. There are many passageways through which we could enter this novel, many readings we could give. I want to enter by asking a question of a theological and moral sort: "Can Fr. Rodrigues's apostasy be seen as an imitation of Christ?"To explore this question I will raise the issue of absolute moral norms. Are there some acts that are always and everywhere wrong, regardless of the circumstances, or might compassion sometimes allow or demand that sins be committed for the sake of others? I will approach it in four steps. First, I will explore Rodrigues's actions as an imitation of the compassion of God. Second, I will examine Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis Splendor on the question of absolute moral norms. Third, I will ask if it is possible to give up one's salvation for the sake of others. Fourth and finally, I will make some suggestions of how an apocalyptic reading of history mighthelp Christians to think about the suffering of others in the light of Christ. /. Rodrigues's Faith and God's Silence Fr. Rodrigues believes he knows what kind of a God he is dealing with. The face of Jesus that haunts his thoughts is not that of the mawkish Laughing Jesus of Warner Sallmann portraits, the huggable figure surrounded by lambs and little children. Rodrigues's Jesus is a man acquainted with sorrows, and Rodrigues goes to Japan in conscious imitation of him. Rodrigues knows that he faces possible martyrdom in Japan, but far from a deterrent, this fact becomes something of an incentive. He bravely comes to Japan to atone for his mentor Ferreira's apostasy, and to attend to the remaining Christians in Japan who, he is sure, desperately need what only he as a priest can give. Rodrigues is far from a coward. He is willing to die, an apocalyptic reading of endo s silence and though he fears capture, the touches of pride which Endo brushes into the portrait of Rodrigues intimate that the priest seeks martyrdom as a crown. When he comes to Japan, however, he finds his definition of martyrdom being altered. I had long read about martyrdom in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 96-116
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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