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By Philip Yancey

Japan's Faithful Judas, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

Critics regard the other novel set in this historical period, "Silence," as Endo's masterpiece. Its prose is spare and clean, the plot marches inexorably toward a tragic conclusion, the characterizations achieve a depth rare in Endo's fiction, and these qualities all work together to create an atmosphere suffused with the power of myth.

"Silence" follows a Portuguese priest, Rodrigues, on a dangerous mission to Japan. Word has filtered back to Jesuit headquarters that the most famous missionary in Japan, Father Ferreira, has apostatized. Rodrigues, who studied under Father Ferreira in seminary, cannot believe it possible that the great man would have renounced the faith after 20 years of courageous service. He sets sail to find Ferreira, knowing that he will likely not return alive.

Rodrigues survives extreme hardship to reach Japan, and upon arrival he hears the confessions of secret Christians (members of the fledgling Kakure church) who have not seen a priest in years. One of these Christians, Kichijiro, a despicable, cunning fisherman, turns in Rodrigues to the shogun for a reward.

Rodrigues holds fast to his faith under personal torture. He even refuses to recant when faced with an unbearable moral situation. Groups of Christians are led to him. If he steps on the fumie, he is told, they will be set free. He refuses, and they are taken away and killed before his eyes. "He had come to this country to lay down his life for other men, but instead of that the Japanese were laying down their lives one by one for him." Still, no matter what barbarous methods of torture the shoguns use, Rodrigues will not renounce his faith.

As the title intimates, the theme of silence pervades the novel. Over 100 times Rodrigues sees the haunting face of Jesus, a face he loves and serves; but the face never speaks. It remains silent when the priest is chained to a tree to watch the Christians die, silent when he asks for guidance on whether to commit the fumie to set ...

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