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Endo: Silence is not a novel about the silence of God

′Silence is not a novel about the silence of God,′ said Endô, the Japanese Catholic writer, whose book Scorsese just brought to the cinema. ′It′s a novel about how God speaks in silence and trauma.′ Who thinks this is a story for Catholics, does not know who Scorsese is. Endô himself says in the appendix of the second edition of the book, that his ′faith is closer to Protestant Christians′, since for him, it is something personal, between God and him, that only explains Grace.

Article by José de Segovia from Madrid on Sunday, January 12th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 12 minutes or 2326 words.

Almost thirty years have cost to bring this story to the screen, to a director whose life confesses ′it′s movies and religion, that′s all, nothing more!′. Born in an Italian-American family, the life of Martin Scorsese is marked by church and cinema. Sick of asthma, he couldn′t play sports or play in the streets of Little Italy in New York, but he liked being an altar boy and watching movies. He knew both things by a young priest who came to the parish, Francis Prince. He went to the movies with him, while in the minor seminary of the cathedral, he thought of being a missionary in the Philippines.

Unable to enter the Jesuit University of Fordham, Scorsese enrolls to study film at the New York University, with the idea of ​​returning later to the seminary. Enter the culture of ′rock′ and after going to England and Holland, start in the world of cinema. He says he is ′a frustrated Catholic′, because from his youth he lived a continuous tension between his faith and the fascination with violence and sex.

The year 78 was about to die, due to drug abuse. Scorsese believes that God answered his prayers in the hospital, saving his life. Hence the quote from the Gospel of John (9: 24-26) at the end of ′Wild Bull′ (1980), about the blind man who regained his sight. The sign was not part of Schrader′s script, which did not understand why he had put it there. He was then 35 years old, but now at 74, he has had another new experience, for which he presents himself as ′a believer with some doubts.′

There is so much theological depth in this story, that compared to the products that are now promoted in the Christian world as ′cinema of values′, there is less doctrinal content in all of them, than in one of the dialogues of this film. Even for those of us who know the book, there is no way to assimilate once, the amount of ideas that each scene suggests. It is not strange the stupor that produces in many spectators who expect a colorful film like ′The Mission′ (1986) and find a dark reflection on grace and apostasy.


Published in 1966, ′Silence′ is translated into English years later, being praised by Graham Greene - another writer converted to Catholicism, which his church does not like to remember, for his dubious morality - whose book ′The power and Glory ′has a lot to do with it. The fascinating interview that the New York Times has published with Scorsese, about the nature of his faith, begins with the reading of ′Silence′ on a Japanese bullet train. He had just made ′The Last Temptation of Christ′ (1988), when he gave him the book, the archbishop of the episcopal church - that is, Anglican - American.

The reading of the book of Kazantzakis, adapted by Schrader, united three authors of different theological formation - one Greek Orthodox and another reformed, along with the Catholic Scorsese -, to show their struggles between the Spirit and the flesh, while the Christians They protested against the movie. Not only with megaphones and pickets, but they set a movie theater in Paris on fire. In Greece, a fine was imposed for each screening, but in Milan an attempt was made to kidnap his lawyer, while offering ten million dollars to the Universal, for destroying the film′s negative with his copies.

The accusation of blasphemy Christians leads Scorsese to identify with the dilemma of apostasy for the Jesuits of the novel ′Silence′, in 17th-century Japan. Impressed, he acquires the rights to the book, which was already taken to the cinema in 1971 by Masahiro Shinoda. What happens is that nobody in Hollywood wanted to make the movie. Rights lawsuits, the bankruptcy of the producer and a fatal accident in the shooting made the project seem cursed. He managed to save the benefits of ′The Wolf of Wall Street′ and a young Mexican Catholic producer, named Gastón Pavlovich. It has been launched modestly. It has not been released in fact, more than in some rooms in New York and Los Angeles, at the end of the year, to enter the Oscars.

It is such a personal film that one could say that it is the sense with which Scorsese wants to see all his work, in the light of his first religious vocation. When promoting the film in the churches, the impression has been given that we are facing a testimony of the persecuted Church, when what is here is the problem of faith and apostasy, an issue that has divided Christians during centuries. No wonder a movie like this, arouses passions even among believers. Like all great stories, it has many readings ...


When Father Valignano sends two Jesuits from Portugal in 1633 to look for Father Ferreira in Japan, when it is rumored that he has abandoned the mission that led him to ′The Heart of Darkness,′ echoes of another come to mind. Journey and Mission, the 19th-century colonizer in Conrad′s novel that inspired Coppola′s movie, ′Apocalypse Now.′ We know that we are facing a journey that will show not only the darkness of that world that rejects the light of Christianity, but that which is in the heart of these envoys, which will soon be prey to doubt and terror.

Another story that finds an echo in the Scorsese movie is another of the obsessions of the ′new Hollywood′ generation, the story we know in Spanish as ′Desert Centaurs′ -which bears the original title of ′The Seekers ′-. The legend of a daughter of some settlers, kidnapped by the Indians, who is looking for John Wayne on a surprise trip in the John Ford film, repeated over and over again in a contemporary context by the directors of the 70s. It is what Scorsese still does in ′Silence,′ as New Yorker critic Richard Brady observes. The journey of this generation continues to lead to the same place, the search for salvation, when they do not want to be saved ...

The surprising thing is that for once, the cruelty of the inquisitor is not in the name of the Church, nor in defense of Islam, but of something as respected in the West as is Buddhism, which many naively believe is free from all form of intolerance and repression, when there is no religion that does not have a history of violence and oppression. The first part of the film, the viewer is moved by the suffering of persecuted Christianity, but we soon see disturbing elements. If all that is required is to step on an image of Jesus or Mary - the so-called ′fumi-e′, which have passed into the history of art in Japan -, how important is what we do with these symbols? Is it so serious, put the foot on them?

In one of the most revealing phrases of the missionaries interpreting Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, one of them observes that these persecuted Christians ′value the signs of faith more than faith itself.′ To understand the problem, we have to understand the role of physical reality for a religion as sacramentalist as Roman Catholicism, whose literal transformation in the Eucharist was one of the great discussions even among reformers. Its basis is of course in the fact of the Incarnation, a doctrine alien to both Judaism and Islam, as well as the rest of the Eastern religions, who do not know what that is.


Garfield account - a Jewish actor who has had to incarnate several Christian characters lately, such as the Adventist of the last Mel Gibson film - who had to make a thirty-day retreat from spiritual exercises with Jesuit James to play his role Martin. He had to realize that ′he was walking, talking, praying, suffering with him.′ Image that is displayed every time a representation of the Christ of El Greco appears who observes him in his moments of doubt and loneliness, hope and fear. The interesting thing is that we see her in the water as a reflection of her own face. This is how the protagonist perceives Jesus′ deep love for him, who looks at him and tells him that he will not abandon him.

What the Catholic Endô proposes as ′close to Protestantism′ is not only the personal of his faith and the supremacy of grace, but the questioning of the need for those ′signs that are valued more than faith itself′ . One of the artists that has helped us to understand the meaning of the work of Endô, is Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese painter who was baptized in an evangelical church in 1988, when he was 27 -Endô was baptized at 12, when after her mother′s divorce, she becomes Kobo in 1932-. Fujimura has written several books in English, published by the publisher of the University Bible Groups in the United States, Inter-Varsity Press. The one who dedicated to the book of Endô is prologued by Philip Yancey.

Obviously, there is a Catholic background in this story, by which even the act of apostasy is compared to the sacrifice of Christ. It is not a unique and unrepeatable work, but the perspective is also that of theology that was born in the sixties, for which the suffering of the persecuted Church is even attributed to the foreign mission. A certain reading of this work can take us even to the reasoning that allows us to speak of ′anonymous Christians.′ Something similar to what defends a certain immersion missiology in Islam, or a secular theology that involves the disappearance of the Church as we know it now. I doubt however, that this is what Endô wanted to say with this book ...


Como católico japonés, el autor se pregunta como los protestantes en España, cuál es el sentido de una minoría que apenas llega al 1%, en un país cuya cultura está tan definida por el catolicismo, como la sociedad nipona por el budismo. Una de las frases más repetidas de esta obra, es cuando el inquisidor dice que no es culpa de los misioneros que el cristianismo no haya arraigado el país del sol naciente, sino del pantano que conforma esta tierra. En países donde la fuerza de la Iglesia se mide por su arraigo social e histórico, ¿cuál es el papel de ésta, cuando es una minoría?

El problema del cristianismo en Occidente no es tan diferente al de aquellos católicos en Japón. En esta parte del mundo, la Iglesia no está acostumbrada a ser una minoría perseguida. Sigue actuando con sus sueños de grandeza, como si pudiera determinar la moralidad de naciones para las que ya no hay más valores que los que la sociedad secular reconoce. Cuando tiene tanta fuerza como en Estados Unidos, emprende una ′guerra cultural′ como la que vivió Scorsese en los años 80 con ′La última tentación de Cristo′, que tuvo su película como símbolo. Lo que no sabe hacer es cómo soportar la marginación y el desprecio que sufre la religión en Europa. Endô dice que es en ese sufrimiento que Dios habla al mundo.

Al despojarse de su gloria, Dios vino a este mundo para mostrar su poder en su debilidad. Tomando forma de siervo, se humilló hasta la cruz (Filipenses 2:7-8), pero lo que es locura para el mundo, es poder de salvación para Dios (1 Corintios 1:18). ′Porque cuando soy débil, entonces soy fuerte′, dice Pablo (2 Corintios 12:10).

El cristiano se conmueve ante la tortura y el martirio de los cristianos de esta historia, que ′perdiendo su vida, la encuentran′ (Mateo 16:25), pero Endô nos muestra también que Dios habla en el silencio y la sutilidad de una película como esta, más poderosa que el llamado ′cine de valores′. Su apologética no es el razonamiento aplastante de ′Dios no ha muerto′, sino la fuerza de que Dios está con nosotros, en medio de la debilidad, la duda y el sufrimiento.

No es el dolor, el que nos aleja de Dios, sino el que nos lleva a Él. Seguir a Jesús se muestra en debilidad, entrega y amor. No debemos buscar la persecución, pero si llega, no debe ser recibida con orgullo o violencia, sino con el silencio del que ′no abrió su boca′ (Isaías 53:7). De hecho, no podemos salvar el mundo, ya que aunque busquemos ser como Cristo, sólo Él puede hacerlo. Como ′Silencio′ nos recuerda, somos como Pedro y Judas, necesitados de la salvación de Dios. Y esa sólo viene por su Gracia.

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Endo: Silencio no es una novela sobre el silencio de Dios

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