Endo, Scorsese, and the Early Globalists

As cinema lovers everywhere well know, Martin Scorsese has been shooting a film here in Taiwan based on Silence, the acclaimed novel by Shusaku Endo. In the film Taiwan will play the role of Japan, Macau and other world locales. In this post we will take a look at one one interesting facet of the historical situation described in the story.

The Society of Jesus was the youngest Catholic religious order as the 1500s gave way to the 1600s. Born not in medieval times but in an age of booming exploration and discovery, the order promoted missionary service. Its members didn’t take rooted posts as local parish priests. Not all of them were even priests. Brothers in this society trained themselves to provide any kind of Christian service anywhere, at any time, and if necessary to die as martyrs in foreign lands.

Catedral de São Paulo (Saint Paul’s Cathedral) in Macau illustrates the ideals of its builders. Built 1582-1602 with this façade added 1620-1627, the cathedral adjoined Asia
’s first comprehensive university. The architects were Jesuits from Portugal; the sculptors were their fellow Christians from Japan. The images include motifs imported from Europe, such as this Christogram, as well as motifs familiar in traditional Asian art.
2014 © Alton Thompson 唐博敦

These Jesuits, as they came to be called, moved in the vanguard of trends we today describe with the catch-all term globalism. The brothers valued learning, as they needed knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, navigation, agriculture, and engineering if they were to live successfully in far, unknown locales. The Jesuits wore no special uniforms, preferring instead clothes that reflected the culture in which they worked. They recognised a sharp distinction between the conversion of others to Christianity on the one hand and to European ways on the other, and they wanted nothing to do with the latter. All these things set them apart from older orders, whose members viewed with disapproval this modern fellowship’s tolerant approach to science, to secular scholarship, and to foreign practices such as ancestor reverence, ‘nature worship’ and polygamy.

Endo based his missionaries in Silence on actual historical figures. They leave their native lands far behind in a quest that eventually brings them up against the bleakest realities of suffering. They now face troubling questions about the universality of any religion and about the nature and meaning of sacrifice. Prepared to lay down their lives for what what they love, they findunder the enormous, cunningly devised pressures placed upon them in Japanthat ‘laying down one’s life’ can take many forms.




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