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Bad Priests and the Valor of Pity: Shusaku Endo and Graham Greeneon the Paradoxes of Christian Virtue
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Bad Priests and the Valor of Pity
Shusaku Endo and Graham Greeneon the Paradoxes of Christian Virtue

Introduction: Endo, Greene, and the Figure of the “Bad Priest”

Shusaku Endo has frequently been described—and not least of all by his own publishers and publicists—as “the Japanese Graham Greene.”1 In private correspondence with Greene, Endo once referred to himself as the British author’s “faithful Japanese disciple.” 2 Greene, for his part, warmly replied that he was Endo’s “faithful English admirer.”3 In the summer of 1969, Endo had sent Greene an inscribed copy of his novel Silence in an English translation that, at the time, had been published only in Japan. The French inscription in the book, now in the Graham Greene Collection at Boston College, reads: “A mon maître G. Green [sic] avec mes grands respects, Shusaku Endo.”4 Here Endo explicitly, albeit privately, admitted the direct influence of Greene—his “teacher” or “master” (maître)—upon his own work and offered Silence as evidence of this mentorship. This initial gift by Endo prompted a very friendly, lifelong correspondence between the two Catholic authors that was based, above all, on tremendous mutual respect. Indeed, upon reading Silence, Greene proclaimed it “far better than all the Japanese novels I have read” and thought it “a much better book” than his own [End Page 75] thematically similar novel, The Power and the Glory, published almost thirty years earlier.5

Both novels—each considered a central masterpiece among the works of its respective author—feature hunted, outlaw priests, struggling with matters of faith in the midst of bloody, politically motivated religious persecution. The priestly protagonists of Endo’s Silence and Greene’s The Power and the Glory, however, both fall woefully short of their spiritual duties, even as they risk, evade, and otherwise confront the terrifying demands of Christian martyrdom. As these two novels demonstrate, Endo and Greene shared remarkably similar theological and literary views, despite significant differences in cultural background and personal experience.

Underlying their great affection and admiration for each other was not only their common religious faith—both minority Catholics living in countries with histories of severe Catholic persecution—but also a shared seriousness of purpose with regard to the aims and stakes of fiction. Both authors, for example, seem to suggest in their works that, at its best, fiction can supplement and perhaps even surpass Church doctrine in getting to the heart of many fundamental theological matters, including especially the reality of sin, the difficulty of redemption and forgiveness, and the inscrutable mystery of divine mercy. Without a doubt, the two authors regularly explored rather difficult questions of faith in their controversial fictions—novels and short stories grounded, more often than not, in the grim realities of human existence at its squalid worst. For all the genuine despair and darkness of their works, however, both Greene and Endo repeatedly succeeded in rendering spiritually compelling tales of woe and ethical failure that ultimately lead the reader toward a kind of hope, however hidden or unlikely, for a saving grace beyond the ugliness and frailty of the human condition.

The various landscapes of Greene’s fiction have long been subsumed by critics under the flag of what has been dubbed “Greeneland”—a continent well known to his readers as a murky territory of vice and corruption, shot through with an insurmountable [End Page 76] guilt owing, it is always reckoned, to the author’s conflicted Catholicism. Much of the same could be said of what might be called “Endoland,” which, for its part, is best characterized through the author’s persistently recurring metaphor of the “mudswamp called Japan”6—that country where “Christianity simply cannot put down roots.”7

As the rather diabolical, anti-Christian inquisitor from Silence, Inoue, says in Endo’s play The Golden Country (a dramatized prequel to Silence featuring several of the same characters), “Sometimes I get to dislike this country of ours. Or, more than dislike, to fear it. It’s a mudswamp much more frightening than what the Christians call hell—this Japan. No matter what shoots one tries to transplant here from another...