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On Silence, forgiveness, faith and reason

1.  Forgiveness, Faith and Reason: Introduction

Silence deserves close attention for a number of reasons: Scorsese has not so much translated Endo’s unforgettable novel to the screen, but rather transformed the narrative into a deep visceral meditation on the nature of faith, the nature of reason, the nature of the relationship between the two, and the ways in the relationship between the two informs our understanding of apostasy, forgiveness, and unification (or reunification).

In this paper, it will be argued that Scorsese is particularly interested not so much in Japan’s struggle to integrate Christianity, and not so much with Endo’s struggle with the seeds of Christianity and the “swamp” of Japan, but more fundamentally and more recognizably, given films like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ and Gangs of New York, with an individual’s struggle against himself and others; against temptation, evil and corruption; the struggle with and against God; the struggle with the question of betrayal and apostasy, especially in Silence; and ultimately, with the search for redemption, forgiveness, love and communion or unification.1

As Scorsese writes in his introduction to the most recent edition in English of Endo’s Silence: “it’s this painful, paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion – that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully and beautifully” (2015, p.viii). One might add that Scorsese’s film also represents this passage vividly with particular emphasis – which calls for further reflection, certainly – on silence (and sound or voice); faith and reason, and the quest, finally, of a kind of communion that carries the protagonist beyond apostasy as backsliding (as St. Thomas Aquinas would have it), towards forgiveness, love and affinity.

2. Two Prologues

The novel begins in the third person, in a descriptive way:

News reached the Church in Rome. Christovao Ferreira, sent to Japan by the Society of Jesus in Portugal, after undergoing the torture of ‘the pit’ at Nagasaki had apostatized. An experienced missionary held in the highest respect, he had spent thirty-three years in Japan, had occupied the high position of provincial and had been a source of inspiration to priests and faithful alike.

He was a theologian, too, of considerable ability, and in the time of persecution he had secretly made his way into the Kamigata region to pursue his apostolic work. From here the letters he sent to Rome overflowed with a spirit of indomitable courage. It was unthinkable that such a man would betray the faith, however terrible the circumstances in which he was placed. In the Society of Jesus as well as the Church at large, people asked themselves if the whole thing were not just a fictitious report invented by the Dutch or the Japanese. (1)

In the novel, we read of a letter from Nagasaki from March 22 1632, from Father Ferreira addressing “the conditions of that time” (2). The letter describes the torture of seven Christians in Japan: in particular, their “immersion in the hell of boiling water” at Unzen (3). Endo’s prologue makes it clear that five priests, Beatrice da Costa and her daughter, Maria, were tortured also for refusing to apostatize.

On Silence, forgiveness, faith and reason, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1: the torture of Christians in Japan, by crucifixion and drowning.

The number seven is important in Endo, and indeed in Christian theology; but Scorsese does not preserve it, choosing instead to place the visual focus on the harshness and wildness of the place, which mirror the wildness and harshness of the Japanese torturers: we see not a letter in the film but two heads on spikes, without the bodies; as the camera pans to the right, the two heads can be seen at the top left of the frame; five poles can be seen on the hill, and a procession with Ferreira among the group, climbs the hill from bottom left. The careful placement of the two heads at top left and the approach of the Christian prisoners from bottom left, provides a vivid visual correlative: the prisoners’ fate seems to be the same as the two decapitated victims. Certainly the shot as the camera draws back to reveal the top of the hill, the middle ground with a roughhewn path, and the lower sections reminds one of a little of Golgotha, with its three levels, Christ on the cross, looking down on the grieving followers, and the view from below of the whole cataclysmic scene. And certainly, in this light, and in the light of the harsh setting in the film, Scorsese suggests the terrible ordeal that the priests are going to be subjected to.

As the film begins, we hear loud bird noises against a blank, black screen; it is as if we are in a wild place not known to us and not seen by us; a place where nature is flourishing and where the human presence has not yet pushed back the wilderness; not tamed its wildness. Endo notes in the novel, though Scorsese does not note this in the film, that when Rodrigues listens to and focusses on the sound of turtle doves, this experience makes him feel “the face of Christ looking intently at him” and an answer comes to him out of the silence: “I will not abandon you” (142). He strains his ears in the novel to hear the sound of the birds singing more than once because he seeks to hear the voice and its answer again, in darkness that is “thick and black.” It is striking, to say the least that the first notes one hears in the film before the title appears, are the sounds of countless birds singing, against a background that is entirely black. Already Scorsese raises a question that the novel raises, but makes it the film’s own: we hear the birds but we do not hear the answer (that is, the response of the voice to the title). We, and the narrator, in the film hear only birdsong and silence in the darkness. Clearly, Scorsese wishes to place the initial emphasis on the birdsong but not yet on the sound of a human or divine voice. Silence, then, refers to God’s silence at this early stage, which both novel and film highlight, but the way has been opened, to an extent, in the film, given the novels’ use of birdsong as a preparation for, or a way of opening up the possibility of, hearing the voice that constitutes the response to the silence that torments Father Rodrigues.

As noted earlier, the first shot shows a hill, rough and wild, with steam wafting across the frame; then we see two decapitated heads resting on spikes (to the left), both Japanese – a sign of things to come, in relation to the treatment meted out to Japanese Christians who refuse to renounce their faith (see Figure 1). We see Ferreira, emaciated and gaunt, being lead up the hill from left to right; his face tells the story of his agony; his body (a much thinner Liam Neeson than we are accustomed to seeing) records the suffering that he has been through in the name of his faith. He falls to his knees and weeps at his Japanese captors’ feet (see Figure 2 below).

On Silence, forgiveness, faith and reason, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2: the suffering of Ferreira in Japan: “He falls to his knees and weeps at his Japanese captors’ feet.” (4)

Endo begins by emphasizing the magnitude of the threat in Japan to Christians and the magnitude of the threat to Japan of nascent Christianity. He suggests clearly that Ferreira is a man of considerable intellect and talent; a man of some sophistication, and great moral and intellectual courage, who understands what it takes to reach the faithful in the Kamigata region. The number “33” brings the life of Jesus into view, and Ferreira has tried to follow in his footsteps; when the novel begins, Ferreira’s’ agony is in the distant past. Endo also begins with the “news” that this indomitably courageous and talented man had fallen. The note of disbelief captured by Endo is also important: it will be preserved in vivid terms by Scorsese’s film, as we shall see.

3. The Tree of Christianity, the Voice of Faith and the Manifold Voices of Reason

In the film and the novel, the momentous encounter of Rodriguez with Inoue, the “Inquisitor,” is crucial. Once again Scorsese is largely faithful to Endo’s narrative but adds several significant variations and transformations with particular reference to a broadly western, post-humanist understanding of faith, reason and the relationship between them.

Endo’s account of the questioning of Rodrigues is striking:

The samurai on the extreme right said in a voice charged with emotion. “Father, we are deeply moved by the strength of your determination, in coming here from thousands of miles away through all kinds of hardships. Undoubtedly you have suffered deeply.”

There was a gentle tone in his words, and this very gentleness pierced the priest’s heart, giving him pain.

“Precisely because we know this, our duty of investigation is painful for us”….

“Father we are not disputing about the right and wrong of your doctrine. In Spain and Portugal and such countries it may be true. The reason we have outlawed Christianity in Japan is that, after deep and earnest consideration, we find its teaching of no value for the Japan of today.”

The interpreter immediately came to the heart of the discussion. The old man in front with the big ears kept looking down on the priest sympathetically.

“According to our way of thinking, truth is universal,” said the priest, at last returning the smile of the old man. “A moment ago you officials expressed sympathy for the suffering I have passed through. One of you spoke words of warm consolation for my travelling thousands of miles of sea over such a long period to come to your country. If we did not believe that truth is universal, why should so many missionaries endure these hardships? It is precisely because truth is common to all countries and all times that we call it truth. If a true doctrine were not true alike in Portugal and Japan we could not call it ‘true’…”

“All the fathers keep saying the same thing. And yet…” The interpreter slowly translated the words of yet another samurai. “A tree which flourishes in one kind of soil may wither if the soil is changed. As for the tree of Christianity, in a foreign country its leaves may grow thick and the buds may be rich, while in Japan the leaves wither and no bud appears. Father, have you never thought of the difference in the soil, the difference in the water?”

“The leaves should not wither; the buds should appear,” said the priest raising his voice. “Do you think I know nothing? In Europe, to say nothing of Macao where I resided for some time, people are familiar with the work of the missionaries; and it well known that when many landowners gave permission for evangelization the number of Christians reached three hundred thousand…. If the leaves do not grow and the flowers do not blossom, that is only when no fertilizer is applied” (145-147).

Endo emphasises, simply and memorably, the compassion of the samurai, as Scorsese does in the film. Endo also emphasises the sympathy that exists between the priest and the samurai without diminishing the serious nature of the investigation and the fundamental differences between the two sides, as Scorsese also does in the film. The figures of the samurai, Inoue and Rodrigues are largely similar in novel and film. But what is particularly striking in the film is that Scorsese pares back the dialogue and shows Rodrigues in close up, to focus on his emotional state, whereas the samurai is shown next to the priest and Inoue is often shown at a distance from Rodrigues and therefore at a distance from the viewer- that is on a horizontal plane further back in the frame, when Rodrigues is in the foreground, as he often is (see Figure 3). This allows Scorsese to emphasise something visually that the novel cannot emphasise in this way: Rodrigues is front and center of the space of the frame, and in this way, is closest to us not just in spatial (cinematographic) terms but also in terms of sympathy and humanity.

On Silence, forgiveness, faith and reason, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3: The use of horizontal planes in “Silence:” the questioning of Fr. Rodrigues: “Inoue is often shown at a distance from Rodrigues and therefore at a distance from the viewer- that is on a horizontal plane further back in the frame, when Rodrigues is in the foreground, as he often is” (6)

Inoue’s voice in the film and the novel is a reasoned voice: he argues, and the film preserves this argument faithfully, that the teaching of Christianity is “of no value for the Japan of today” because it cannot take root in the “swamp” of Japan, and therefore cannot be allowed to continue. Rodrigues’ response in the film and the novel is a powerful one and a reasoned one also. In this way Scorsese emphasises reason’s Socratic role as elenchus, as a dialogue involving thesis and counter thesis, argument and counter-argument, refutation and re-engagement. Scorsese realises the dramatic potential, visually and intellectually, in such material, and the exchange in the film is compelling, especially with the close ups of Rodrigues, which at once convey his strength (as a defender of the faith) and his vulnerability (as a prisoner); Inoue’s power (as an inquisitor), distance (both physical and symbolic) and sympathy (as one who admires, respects and sympathises with, his antagonist). Scorsese underscores something else that is momentous in the novel: the confrontation between a kind of cultural or nationalistic relativism and an affirmation of truth which is universal, in the sense of being applicable to, or being accessible to all rational, reflective human beings.

So, Inoue argues that Christianity is “of no value” in part because the “swamp” of Japan is alien to the soil which such “doctrines” need in order to take root and flourish. Rodrigues answers reasonably and strongly, with three important counter-arguments: first, the universal nature of the truth of the Christian “doctrine” is the very reason why missionaries endure the very hardships that the samurai and Inoue have themselves acknowledged and respect; second, the truth of the Christian doctrine is not just accepted in Portugal and Spain, Rodrigues argues, but also in Japan, as well as many other countries; third, he argues, reasonably, that if doctrines are accepted as true by Portuguese and (some) Japanese, it would not follow that such doctrines are not accepted as true in Japan. These counterarguments not surprisingly silence the inquisitor for a while. Endo’s description of what happens next is not captured in the film: “the afternoon sun became more severe” (147) - but Scorsese does capture the expression of frustration on the samurai’s face and his increasing severity.

The dialectical (elenchic) tension here between the two voices of reason, one reached “after deep and earnest consideration,” affirming a fundamental dichotomy, one reached after many years of meditation and devotion, experience and suffering, affirming a deep affinity that needs to be nourished and cultivated, is surmounted in the film (as well as in the novel, though to a lesser degree there) by the voice of faith and reason. Many have examined the relationship between faith and reason in general terms: many have argued that faith and reason are compatible, commensurable or complementary (in the sense that both are required for a full picture to emerge) or ought to exist in respectful dialogue.2 Many have also focussed on Thomistic ways of understanding faith and reason.3

Yet Scorsese’s approach is striking. The voice of reason, in an important sense, not just of deep faith, in the film is the voice of Rodrigues, in three important ways: his faith entails a robust, even unshakable belief, in the universal truth of Christianity; it highlights a belief, which is defended vigorously in the novel and the film, in the ultimate meaningfulness and value of hardship and endurance and their proper end (which is communion and redemption); and it is, Scorsese suggests quite thought-provokingly and incisively, an existentially charged, ontologically directed mode of being, or a way of life, in which the ethical mode of being encompassing reverence and piety is subordinated to the existential ontological imperative: namely commitment to and pursuit of the love and forgiveness of God, as an end. This existential ontological imperative, especially in terms of its relationship to apostasy, is generally under-represented in the literature cited above, and, yet, Scorsese suggests that it turns, critically and crucially, on sacred presences, artifacts, relics and other objects, whose meaning and significance can take root, so to speak, and flourish, in foreign soil, even in a swamp. This existential ontological imperative is vividly illustrated in the next scene to be explored, the stamping on the image of Christ on the fumie.

4. Faith, Reason and the “Most Painful Act of Love That Has Ever Been Performed”

In one of the most memorable episodes in the novel, and one of the most unforgettable scenes in the film, Rodrigues is asked to commit the “most painful act of love that has ever been performed” (229), Endo writes:

Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light.

“Christ would certainly have apostatized to help men”

“No, no!” said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. “No, no!”

“For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.”

“Stop tormenting me! Go away, away!” shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened – and the white light of the morning flooded into the room.

“You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,” said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.

Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains – and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentle light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls.

“Sawano, is it over? Shall we get out the fumie?” As he spoke, the interpreter put on the ground the box he was carrying and, opening it, he took out a large wooden plaque.

“Now you are going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed.” Ferreira repeated his former words gently. “Your brethren in the Church will judge you as they have judged me. But there is something more important than the Church, more important than missionary work: what you are now about to do.”

The fumie is now at his feet.

A simple copper meal is fixed onto a grey plank of dirty wood on which the grains run like little waves. Before him is the ugly face of Christ, crowned with thorns and the thin outstretched arms. Eyes dimmed and confused the priest silently looks down at the face which he now meets for the first time since coming to this country.

‘Ah,” says Ferreira. “Courage!” (229-230).

On Silence, forgiveness, faith and reason, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 4: the temptation of Fr Rodrigues

What is striking in the novel is that the whole scene is in the present tense: “The fumie is now at his feet.” It is as if the fumie remains at his feet, always; as if the burden of performing “the most painful act of love that has ever been performed” is continuous, as an act of faith or as an act of reasoned and passionate commitment, and also an act demanded by reason, which calls upon an imitation of Christ, and by logical extension, upon extraordinary courage, resolve, sacrifice and forgiveness. The repetition in the novel (but not in the film) of “the most painful act of love” is noteworthy too, as if the act has become unavoidable.

Scorsese instead allows the phrase to resonate visually: the priest is pained greatly, but cannot turn away from the injunction, at once a testament to his faith and the rationally binding (ana)logical structure of similitude that links his life immanently to the life of Christ: so, practical reason urges him to save the believers from torture and suffering (and so, Ferreira tells him that it is what Christ himself would have done, invoking the analogical structure of similitude once again to remind Rodrigues and the reader or viewer of the existential and teleological horizon, in the novel and film, of forgiveness and communion); the voice of faith, so to speak, tells him, then, that stamping on the image of Christ can be forgiven, since Peter himself, according to the New Testament, betrayed Christ three times before the cock crowed, and was forgiven. These are rich and resonant themes in the literature on forgiveness, to be sure. For example, many have noted the connection between forgiveness, sin and transgression;4 many have explored the relation between forgiveness, sorrow, love and death;5 many have written on the ethics of forgiveness, in particular the role of virtues and/or duties, on violence, memory and restitution;6 some have explored the relation between forgiveness, wisdom and atonement;7 and some have explored the range and limits of forgiveness.8 What is remarkable about the film however is Scorsese’s exploration of the link between apostasy, faith, reason and communion.

The imagery is striking in the novel too: just before Ferreira utters those unforgettable words, night gives way to dawn; the darkness of the cell now has a “tiny flicker of whitish light;” as Rodrigues hears these words and begins to embrace the task, the “white light of the morning” floods “into the room.” All of this is crucial in the novel since it suggests the transformation of Rodrigues (for example, into a kind of Judas) even as it hints at the forgiveness or communion to come (see Figure 4). In the film, Scorsese has Rodrigues stamp on the fumie in the light of day: it is clearly difficult and he is clearly pained, but the image of Christ he sees in the mud is not “ugly”, and the arms are not outstretched (to invite as it were, the “formality” of his apostasy).

Endo continues:

The first rays of the dawn appear. The light shines on his long neck stretched out like a chicken and upon the bony shoulders. The priest grabs the fumie with both hands, bringing it close to his eyes. He would like to press it to his own face that face trampled on by so many feet. With saddened glance he stares intently at the man in the centre of the fumie, worn down and hollow with the constant trampling. A tear is about to fall from his eye. “Ah,” he says trembling, “the pain!”

“It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?” The interpreter urges him on excitedly. “Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.”

The priest raises his foot. In it he feels a dull, heavy pain. This is no mere formality. He will now trample on what he has considered the most beautiful thing in his life, on what he has believed most pure, on what is filled with the ideals and dreams of man. How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to betrampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And in the distance the cock crew (230-231).

Endo emphasises the “formality” in the eyes of the interpreter and his supporters for it is clear that they do not understand fully the seriousness of the act and the problem it constitutes for the devout priest. Yet it is dawn and light falls on the priest’s neck and shoulders, indicating the possibility of forgiveness and communion (and unsurprisingly captured by the priest’s deep faith). In the film, the priest walks slowly towards the fumie, hesitates in anguish, and then plants his dirty foot on the image in the sand, after hearing the voice: “trample, trample!... It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.” There is no dawn breaking; there is no cock crowing in the distance (it is important to remember that Peter betrayed Jesus three times before the cock crowed). What Scorsese emphasises, starkly and powerfully, is the priest’s attraction to, and love of, the image of Christ on the fumie; and the anguish of the betrayal embodied in his stamping on the image in the sand. The vision in the film is darker and more protracted, with emphasis on his agony (which links him again by analogy to the agony in the garden of Gethsemane and perhaps also to Peter’s anguish after the betrayal of Christ) and more focussed on the terrible nature of the ordeal.

5. Faith, Reason, Apostasy and Forgiveness

Scorsese’s film is remarkable also because it recalls and preserves much of Aquinas’ understanding of apostasy. Aquinas explains apostasy and apostatization in the following way:

On the contrary, It is written (John 6:67): "Many of his disciples went back," i.e. apostatized, of whom Our Lord had said previously (John 6:65): "There are some of you that believe not." Therefore, apostasy pertains to unbelief.

I answer that, Apostasy denotes a backsliding from God. This may happen in various ways according to the different kinds of union between man and God. For, in the first place, man is united to God by faith; secondly, by having his will duly submissive in obeying His commandments; thirdly, by certain special things pertaining to supererogation such as the religious life, the clerical state, or Holy Orders. Now if that which follows be removed, that which precedes, remains, but the converse does not hold. Accordingly a man may apostatize from God, by withdrawing from the religious life to which he was bound by profession, or from the Holy Order which he had received: and this is called "apostasy from religious life" or "Orders." A man may also apostatize from God, by rebelling in his mind against the Divine commandments: and though man may apostatize in both the above ways, he may still remain united to God by faith.

But if he gives up the faith, then he seems to turn away from God altogether: and consequently, apostasy simply and absolutely is that whereby a man withdraws from the faith, and is called "apostasy of perfidy." In this way apostasy, simply so called, pertains to unbelief. (Summa Theologiae, Part II-II Secunda, Question 12, First Article).

In these terms, apostasy has at least five important dimensions: first, it “pertains to unbelief”, that is, it is understood as an expression of a failure or surrender of one’s religious belief, or a lapse in belief; second it denotes a “backsliding” (and interestingly we have a visual analogue of this in the film when Rodrigues’ foot stamps on the fumie and then slides back), an important image since sliding also denotes a downward motion which may be difficult or impossible to stop; third, it amounts to a withdrawal from “the religious life to which he [the apostate] was bound by profession;” fourth, it amounts to a rejection of the “Holy Order which he had received;” fifth, the apostate’s act is an act of rebellion not just in physical terms but more importantly, according to Aquinas (and indeed according to Scorsese) “in his mind against the Divine commandments.” So in the film, it is clear that the apostasy is an expression of a surrender of belief, a backsliding from God, and though it does signal a withdrawal in some respects, it does not amount, in the end, as Scorsese makes clear later, to a rejection of faith or of reason.

Like Aquinas, Scorsese suggests that “though man may apostatize in both the above ways, he may still remain united to God by faith” and indeed this is what we see in the film: though Rodrigues stamps on the fumie, it is an expression of his conscious act of obedience to the voice of Christ which he hears emanating from the image; and second, it is quite clear that he shares the translator’s view that stamping on the image is, or can be, a (mere) “formality,” or in other words, an outward sign that does not necessarily turn one’s mind and deeper orientation away from God.

Aquinas also adds:

For since faith is the first foundation of things to be hoped for, and since, without faith it is "impossible to please God"; when once faith is removed, man retains nothing that may be useful for the obtaining of eternal salvation, for which reason it is written (Prov. 6:12): "A man that is an apostate, an unprofitable man": because faith is the life of the soul, according to Rom. 1:17: "The just man liveth by faith." Therefore, just as when the life of the body is taken away, man's every member and part loses its due disposition, so when the life of justice, which is by faith, is done away, disorder appears in all his members. First, in his mouth, whereby chiefly his mind stands revealed; secondly, in his eyes; thirdly, in the instrument of movement; fourthly, in his will, which tends to evil. The result is that "he sows discord," endeavoring to sever others from the faith even as he severed himself. ( Summa Theologiae, Part II-II Secunda, Question 12, First Article)

In this context the “just man” lives by faith, not by observing formalities, and observing formalities, as the translator would have it in the film, does not negate the “life of justice, which is by faith:” Scorsese does suggest that Rodrigues, though he has stamped on the image, does not negate his love of God; it does not turn his mind and eyes away from God (on the contrary the stamping can be seen, in part, as an act of obedience and even of love); it does not impel him in his physical movements away from God; and finally it does not dispose his will differently in an essential sense: he still seeks to serve God and the life of faith in the film. But it also disposes his will towards an existential ontological horizon in the film: it is not just the “life of the body” and the “life of justice” which are crucial here, but also a rationally (coherently) articulated, existentially charged mode of becoming that looks forward to, and freely embraces, Scorsese suggests (in the figure of Rodrigues), the beauty and love of God and its full expression in and through forgiveness, in and through repentance, atonement and an enduring desire for communion or accord.


This much is clear in the final shot, which distances the film from the novel in a striking and altogether unforgettable way. In the novel, we do not see Rodrigues again at the end; we hear of his death in an appendix which records excerpts from the diary of an officer, so we are at a second remove from his life at the end and importantly, his death; his final years are a mystery to us largely, as a consequence of the narrative’s doubly distancing strategy (the view of the narrator of the novel and the view of the narrator of the diary in the novel)- it is as if Endo wished to push Rodrigues almost entirely out of our view perhaps because of his new Japanese mode of existence, perhaps because the narrative structure is intended to perpetuate the illusion that he has become an apostate, and therefore a total stranger to the Portuguese (and by extension, to the European in the novel), or perhaps because, in this mode, he has become a kind of stranger, or a kind of emblem of strangerness, to us, that is, as readers who sympathize with Rodrigues in his suffering and in his defence of the faith and reason by which he had lived.

We glimpse him for the last time, so to speak, in the novel after he sends Kichijiro away in peace and after hearing the confession, and after rediscovering forgiveness and a greater love for Kichijiro, the betrayer (by analogical extension, for Judas figures in the novel, and further, the possibility of love for himself, as an apostate, at least in a formal sense). We hear his voice for the last time in the novel speaking about suffering, betrayal, love, and about silence, compassion and by implication, forgiveness and communion, as well as the extent to which his life has been dedicated to the expression of his love for Christ, and presumably, of Christ’s love for him.

Endo’s ending is beautiful, subtle, doubly distancing but very effective; the enhanced distancing narrative structure has the effect, arguably, of making us even sadder when we hear about Rodrigues’ death (under his Japanese name, another distancing narrative device), precisely because it is so unexpected and seemingly sudden; it comes out of nowhere, in a sense, because we have not been given direct access to this last period of his life as San’emon. It is as if this life is concealed from, withheld from, the perspective of the Christian believers and more broadly, obscured from the Christian habitus in the novel. If Scorsese affirms the sense of, and the achievement of, communion in the novel, the novel problematizes this sense by pushing Rodrigues almost entirely out of the reader’s view, so to speak, in the closing sections of the novel.

6. Some Concluding Thoughts on Faith, Reason and Forgiveness

The ending of the film is at once radically different, and more affirmative, in terms of Father Rodrigues’ last decades in Japan, his life and death, and its inscription within Scorsese’s narrative structure and perspective. So, as San’emon’s body burns, it is not the Japanese context that is affirmed at the end. The film brings us nearer to San’emon, who is then revealed to us as Rodrigues, in contradistinction to the novel, in an extraordinary and unforgettable last shot: the camera zooms in, as the flames consume the vessel and the body of San’emon; it zooms in on his head, his beard and hair (as if to remind us of the young hirsute and somewhat unkempt Fr Rodrigues and his first appearance on the islands), and then closer in, upon his cupped hands. We then see, clearly, cradled in the palms of his hands, a small wooden cross, placed there as he was being transported to the scene of his incineration, like the crosses that connected him earlier in the film to the small beleaguered communities of Christians on the islands.

It is a breathtaking, beautifully shot, revelatory moment, that draws us nearer again to Rodrigues in the film (and returns us by an act of memory and fidelity, to the beginning of the film), not just the memory of Rodrigues - even as Endo’s ending draws us further away from him. In the film then, San’emon is, and remains, recognisably Rodrigues, notwithstanding the Inquisitor’s repeated attempts to obscure, efface and even, obliterate the appearance as well as the essence of Rodrigues’ faith, reason and commitment, his existential and ontological horizons as voluntary, rational defender of the faith and as a believer who gives, and therefore seeks, forgiveness, love and communion; perhaps he always was Fr Rodrigues, at least inwardly, in the last period of his (Japanese) life.

Scorsese may have learned this from Aquinas, but at this moment in the film it is clear, in the shot with the small cross cradled in his hands, almost at the center of the frame, that Rodrigues never really withdrew from his religious life as a Christian (“to which he was bound by profession,” in Aquinas’ words quoted earlier); even when he apostatised, he did not withdraw from the Holy Order and its symbols, which he had received, and which in one sense is returned to him, by an act of faith, reason and love, at the end; he did not turn his back, inwardly, it would seem, from the Christian religious life by which he had lived (as Fr Rodrigues); he remained, it seems, even after apostatising, within the framework of the existential and ontological modes of being described earlier, and in the words of Aquinas, “united to God by faith”-  but one might add, also, by reason (analogically), to Peter, and indeed, in some respects, given that he makes a sacrifice in order to save others from terrible torture and suffering, to Christ.

In this way, his deeper faith is performatively inscribed and even vindicated by the film’s narraturgical trajectory (in a way that it is not, and perhaps cannot be, in the novel); and his reason, especially in terms of his coherent defence of the faith, as well as the planting of the seeds of his faith in foreign soil, in this case, Japanese soil, is cinematographically reaffirmed - reason allows him, so to speak, to argue that the elements of the faith are not meant for one country alone, that the seeds of that faith can be planted successfully even in the Japanese “swamp,” and that his deeper religious life and its symbols, rituals and order, could not be erased or effaced by the cruelty, the intolerance and violence of the Japanese inquisition – all of which are recalled, invoked and performatively reinscribed in the final image of him in the film, burning, with the wooden cross cupped securely in his hands. 

His faith would have reassured him presumably that his devotion, suffering and death would not diminish either the force of that reason or the commitment to the genesis and development of Christianity in Japan (which in time, would come to grow significantly). In light of this kind of affirmation of enduring, indomitable faith, and this kind of implicit reinforcement of a reasoned commitment to the religious life, love and forgiveness (in particular, the forgiveness of the Peter figure, and therefore the possibility of forgiveness also, of Fr Rodrigues, the formal apostate), the film stands apart then, as a reflective, meticulously framed and shot, poignant meditation on faith, reason, betrayal, separation, or apparent separation, forgiveness and ultimate communion.  Scorsese, quoted at the outset, praises Endo for his skill and understanding of “this painful, paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion” (Endo, 2015, viii); one might add that Scorsese also understands this well, and also, “renders [it]… clearly, carefully and beautifully.”


1 For studies on other Scorsese films in this, and analogous, keys, so to speak, see especially Conrad (2009) who includes an essay on Scorcese’s interest in the transcendental  by R. Barton Palmer; Miliora (2004) who highlights Scorcese’s ethico-religious attitudes; Nicholls (2004) highlights the central position of masculinity and conflict in Scorcese’s films; Nyce 2004  writes incisively on Scorcese’s art as agonistic; Bliss (1995 and 1985), highlights  Catholicism, humanism and Scorcese’s ethics; Stern (1995 and 1994) focusses on Scorcese’s interest in inter-textuality; among many others.

2 See for example, Cahn 2017, Priest 2016, Bergman and Brower 2015, Dodson 2015, Donaldson 2015, Schonecker 2015, Bauerschmidt 2013, Croakley 2012, Audi 2011, Smith 2011, Hick 2010, Swinburne 2005, Turner 2004, Helm 2003 and 1999, Fiero 1998, Moreno 1997, Mulhall 1994, Roberts 1986, Kemmler 1975, King-Farlow 1972, Frankel 1948, Collingwood 1928, among many others.

3 For example, Eberl 2016 focusses on the moral aspects of the “journey” of faith and reason; O’Grady (2014) highlights the connections between faith and reason and Aquina’s philosophy of religion; Davies and Stump (2011), include a fine essay on the relationship between reason and faith, by Bruno Niederbacher; Stump (2003) focusses on the role of argument in Aquinas’ account of faith and reason; Farrell (1975) considers the place of faith and reason in the Summa;  Miller (1970) includes important material by Aquinas on revelation;  Kretzmann and Stump (1993) include an important essay on Aristotle’s influence on Aquinas’ understanding of faith and reason; among many others. Others such as Eagleton 2009, Dawkins 2003 and Grayling 2013 have focussed on the “God Debate”, and on the emergence of atheism, though a critical consideration of these kinds of approaches are outside the immediate scope of this paper.

4 For more on forgiveness and atonement see Carter 2016; on forgiveness and mercy see Danaher 2016; on forgiveness and reconciliation see , Mosher and Marshall 2016; on forgiveness, crime violence and revenge see Cantacuzino 2015, on forgiveness in classical antiquity, Judaism and Christianity, see Griswold and Konstan 2012; on forgiveness and sin, see Carmichael 2003, among many others;

5 For more on forgiveness, sorrow, love and death see Lewis 2016, de Vries and Schott 2015, Pettigrove 2012, among others.

6 For more on the ethics of forgiveness in relation to the virtues, deontology, violence and restitution see Irvin-Erickson 2016, Kim 2016, Simmons 2016, Umbreit 2015, van Hooft 2014, Holmgren 2012, Fricke 2011, Worthington 2006, Jankélévitch 2005, Woltersdorff 2005, Peterson and Seligman 2004, Schweiker 2004, Helmick and Petersen 2002, Marshall 2001, Appleby 2000, Soyinka 1999 and Tutu 1999, among many others.

7 For more on forgiveness and morality, law and politics see Radzik 2009; , Dalai Lama and Chan 2004; on forgiveness, the power of repentance and responsibility see Schimmel 2002 and Swinburne 1989, among many others.

8 For more on the scope or range and limits of forgiveness see Mayo (2015) who writes on forgiveness and forms of reparation; Direk and Lawlor (2014) include an essay on forgiveness and reconciliation by Ann V. Murphy; Garrard and McNaughton (2014) focus on the case for and against forgiveness; Gobodo-Madikizela and Merwe (2012) explore forgiveness and narrative, as well as forgiveness and history, culture and  socio-economic development, among other topics:, Griswold (2007) explores atonement and unconditional forgiveness, and related topics; Malcolm, DeCourville and Belicki 2008  highlight women's reflections on the complexities of forgiveness; Derrida (2001) writes on forgiveness and impossibility; Caputo, Dooley and Scanlon (2001) include an extended reflection on the unforgivable, forgiveness and “the imprescriptible”; Okada (1999) writes on  Laurens van der Post and the virtue of forgiveness;  Hare (1996) who reflects on the similarities and differences between God's forgiveness and our own; among many others.

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