This child also would grow up like its parents and grandparents to eke out a miserable existence face to face with the black sea in this cramped and desolate land; it, too, would live like a beast, and like a beast it would die. But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt - this is the realization that came home to me acutely at that time.
This quote reveals the two sides of Rodrigues's battle with his life as a missionary amidst great suffering. If God exists, then the missionaries are doing the most important work in the world. They are saving the very souls that Christ died for. But if God remains silent - if God does not care, or does not exist - then these peasants are living a hard life that will lead to nothing but the void of death. In this quote, Rodrigues has not yet lost hope in God's existence, so he sees his baptism of a small Japanese peasant baby as the kind of difficult work that Christ would have wanted his followers to pursue.
I do not believe that God has given us this trial to no purpose. I know that the day will come when we will clearly understand why this persecution with all it sufferings has been bestowed upon us - for everything that Our Lord does is for our good. And yet, even as I write these words I feel the oppressive weight in my heart of those last stammering words of Kichijiro on the morning of his departure: 'Why has Deus Sama imposed this suffering upon us?' And then the resentment in those eyes that he turned upon me. 'Father', he has said, 'what even have we done?'
I supposed I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijiro was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijiro.
This quote heralds the beginning of Rodrigues's questioning the existence of God. He has seen so much suffering and heard of even more, since the Christians in Japan began to be persecuted and forced to apostatize under pain of death. Rodrigues has not yet seen so much suffering that he is convinced of God's silence. This is revealed in the beginning of the second paragraph: he feels he should just be able to "cast from my mind" Kichijiro's sentiments. Yet his words have affected the young missionary because they speak to an issue he has been slowly coming to terms with. As the novel progresses, the theme of silence of God will become all-consuming.
They were martyred. But what a martyrdom! I had long read about martyrdom in the lives of the saints - how the souls of the martyrs had gone home to Heaven, how they had been filled with glory in Paradise, how the angels had blown trumpets. This was the splendid martyrdom I had often seen in my dreams. But the martyrdom of the Japanese Christians I now describe to you was no such glorious thing. What a miserable and painful business it was! The rain falls unceasingly on the sea. And the sea which killed them surges on uncannily - in silence.
Rodrigues has these thoughts after witnessing the deaths of Mokichi and Ichizo by being tied to stakes and left in the ocean, to die of exhaustion after a few days. Rodrigues cannot believe that God gave no sign and that the world continued on without changing when two loyal Christians died for their beliefs. The birds fly over the sea, the waves break, and all is the same. Rodrigues soon tries to convince himself that the two martyrs are happily in heaven with God, something he believes to be true. Yet he cannot shake from his mind a deep grief at their unacknowledged deaths.
What do I want to say? I myself do not quite understand. Only that today, when for the glory of God Mokichi and Ichizo moaned, suffered and died, I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God... the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.
Though Rodrigues strongly believes that in heaven all martyrs have gained everlasting happiness by the side of God, he cannot reconcile this otherworldly reward with the terrible suffering of the martyrs he has seen before his eyes. He is beginning to exhibit the split in his mind of what the meaning of sin and religion are: is it better to follow the word of God without regard to life on Earth, trusting in a heavenly reward, or is it better to live one's life for the betterment of those who inhabit the earth now? If God truly exists then the former is preferred, but if God does not exist, it would be ludicrous not to live one's life according to the latter. Rodrigues is stunned at the callous silence of God in the face of human suffering, and finds it hard to reconcile with the idea that the martyrs are now being rewarded in a place no living human can see.
If God does not exist, how can man endure the monotony of the sea and its cruel lack of emotion? (But supposing... of course, supposing, I mean.) From the deepest core of my being yet another voice made itself heard in a whisper. Supposing God does not exist...
This was a frightening fancy. If he does not exist, how absurd the whole thing becomes. What an absurd drama become the lives of Mokichi and Ichizo, bound to the stake and washed by the waves. And the missionaries who spent three years crossing the sea to arrive at this country - what an illusion was theirs. Myself, too, wandering here over the desolate mountains - what an absurd situation!
Rodrigues begins to entertain hypotheticals about God's lack of existence. Though he still believes in God, he allows himself to consider how ridiculous all their lives and sufferings would be if there is no God. His realizations are revelatory and profound. Thousands will have suffered and died for nothing, and around the world, people are pursuing something that does not exist.
When I slowed down, the ugly thought would come bubbling up into consciousness bringing an awful dread. If I consented to this thought, then my whole past to this very day was washed away in silence.
The "ugly thought" that Rodrigues refers to here is the possibility that God does not exist, discussed in the previous quote (page 117). Like a weed, this thought has taken root in his mind, and in his despair and loneliness, he cannot shake it. Interestingly, the idea of "silence" is transferred here away from God's silence toward the erasure of Rodrigues's past. To deny God, he realizes, would be to invalidate the entire purpose of his existence up to this point.
Sin, he thought, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind. And then for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart.
Rodrigues thinks this as he sits in a dark jail cell and hears the guards laughing outside, indifferent to his fate and those of other captives. For his whole life, Rodrigues has learned that sins are those that are against commandments set down by God, like stealing and lying. Rather sins are more apparent in everyday interactions that have little bearing on heavenly salvation. Rodrigues is beginning to leave the morality of religion and think about life on earth as more important than that in heaven.
There had been a time when the missionaries had frequently been invited to meals at the houses of feudal lords and samurai... They had sat at clean tables, said their grace and leisurely eaten their repast. And here he was, forgetting even to pray, and pounding upon this food for dogs. His prayer was not one of thanksgiving to God; it was a prayer of petition for help; it was even an excuse for voicing his complaint and resentment. It was disgraceful for a priest to feel like this. Well he knew that his life was supposed to be devoted to the praise of God not to the expression of resentment. Yet in this day of trial, when he felt himself like Job in his leprosy, how difficult it was to raise his voice in praise of God!
This quote reveals a central conflict that Rodrigues witnesses in Christian-persecuting Japan. Weak-willed men like Kichijiro betray time and time again, but as both Kichijiro and Rodrigues say, in another time without persecution, Kichijiro might have been a good God-fearing Christian who lived a life wholly in tune with Godly principles. Similarly, in this quote, Rodrigues feels ashamed for only complaining to God, rather than praising him. Yet he is a missionary in Japan in a very different time than in the past, a time at which the missionaries were received well and lived in comfort. This quote shows the conflict of living in according with Christianity when everyday life is a struggle.
'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 interpreter translates these words from Inoue to Rodrigues as the two engage in a debate about the merits of Christianity in Japan. Using nature imagery, the magistrate tries to convince the priest that Christianity may be well, good and true in Europe, but its teachings have little value for Japan. It cannot flourish in a land so fundamentally inhospitable to its teachings. This is not just because of persecution: the Japanese also do not practice the same Christianity proscribed by the missionaries.
What he could not understand was the stillness of the courtyard, the voice of the cicada, the whirling wings of the flies. A man had died. Yet the outside world went on as if nothing had happened. Could anything be more crazy? Was this martyrdom? Why are you silent? Here this one-eyed man has died - and for you. You ought to know. Why does this stillness continue? This noon-day stillness. The sound of the flies - this crazy thing, this cruel business. And you avert your face as though indifferent. This... this I cannot bear.
This is another quote where Rodrigues battles with the silence of the world and God as Christians are martyred all around. Chokichi, the one-eyed Christian captive, has been executed, and his black blood stains the ground of the prison. But all around them, nature goes on without a disturbance. As Rodrigues's trials increase, he is more and more unable to bear the silence of the world and God as Christians die in the name of their religion.
The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.
When Rodrigues finally apostatizes, the world is just as silent and unchanged as when he has witnessed other people die for their Christian convictions. It is the ultimate irony and a fitting end to his attempts to not apostatize.
Silence Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Silence is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.