As the Scorsese movie comes out, it’s interesting to see many fresh commentators return to ground I last started to work when a good friend opened a discussion that led us to planning a panel at the Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature together in 2012. This is the paper I gave at that conference (I’m going to make more than one post of it). I have notes for a larger article based on this, and plans for how this can fit into a book with my existing article, another I have planned on the character Garrpe, and some other points I think worth examining.
One result of the discussions I had with my friend and others after this conference was that I’m now quite a bit more open to the possibility that Silence depicts Rodrigues moving from bad faith to better faith; I still maintain that this requires our finding evidence that the narrative pushes Rodrigues away from the delusions and self-justifications that he wants to cling to all the way to the end of his last reported conversation with Inoue. This is the territory I’d like to explore more once I’ve worked out these notes, assuming the discussion remains interesting that long.
Enjoy, critique, respond. Please don’t hand-wave away the serious problems Endo makes his characters pose for living faith! Whether you think Silence is ultimately a net benefit to faith or a net danger, you must decide having taken the full measure of those challenges.
Here, then, Part One of the article:
Summary Judgment: Kichijiro’s Identification as Judas Tested Against Other Biblical Betrayers
Peter G. Epps, Oklahoma State University
From shockingly early in their acquaintance, Endo’s priestly protagonist Rodrigues reads Kichijiro as a potential and actual Judas. Unlike the Judas described by the Evangelists, however, Kichijiro displays real penitence; he is therefore very far from the embodiment of despair that the suicidal Judas was to become. It is, in fact, Rodrigues who appears to take counsel of despair, like his former mentor Ferreira; and it is Rodrigues whose accusations and inability to forgive most resemble the Judas role he attributes to Kichijiro.
In order to evaluate which of Rodrigues and Kichijiro most resembles Judas Iscariot, though, we need a clearer picture of Judas and the ways in which each character comes to be comparable to him. Let us begin by assembling the portrait of Judas in the text of Silence, a portrait that resembles Rodrigues at least as much as Kichijiro
Several key scenes paint this portrait. There is a hint, though not very explicit, in Rodrigues’ comments about Kichijiro when he and Garrpe are preparing to leave for Japan (33). Rodrigues claims to be moved to laughter by the notion that “I have entrusted my future to a fellow like Kichijiro,” reflecting that “Our Lord himself entrusted his destiny to unworthy people.” That Rodrigues can recognize Kichijiro as “unworthy” simply by noting Kichijiro’s alcoholism and lack of physical courage foreshadows the development of both characters, but it also suggests what will become a major theme of Silence: the betrayer’s intrinsic weakness.
A much more significant mention of Judas comes right when Rodrigues and Garrpe reach Japan. Kichijiro, whom they have engaged as their guide, immediately runs off to scout out the area, as they are not even sure they have landed in the right country (41). Garrpe leaps to the conclusion that Kichijiro has just fled, but Rodrigues says, “I was thinking of a more terrible fate. He had not fled. Like Judas he had gone to betray us. Soon he would appear again, and with him would be the guards” (42). Both of the priests are far gone in imagining themselves betrayed when Kichijiro returns with some Christians from a nearby village. The portrait of Judas in Silence, then is not only of a weak betrayer, but of one who actively arranges the capture of a passive and trusting victim.
Of course, some of the difficulty in drawing any conclusions from Silence derives from its extremely subjective I-novel conventions. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rodrigues’ description of his capture and the events leading up to it. Rodrigues keeps trying to outpace Kichijiro, who begs him to slow down, telling him that “the magistrate says that the man who finds a father will get three hundred pieces of silver” (112). Rodrigues then says his “first words to Kichijiro,” accompanied by a “bitter laugh”; he says, “So my price is three hundred pieces of silver” while inwardly noting the that “Judas had sold Our Lord for thirty pieces of silver; I was worth ten times as much.” While the passage tells us more about Rodrigues’ spiritual exhaustion and fearfulness than about Judas, it does suggest that pecuniary advantage—or perhaps just a weakness for money, or for addictive consumables like alcohol—was the motive behind Judas’ betrayal.
These three elements—the intrinsic weakness of the betrayer, his active betrayal of a passive victim, and his specifically economic motives—are all overshadowed by the portrait that emerges from the two most central reflections on Judas in the plot of Silence. In a reverie on Christ’s last words to Judas, Rodrigues admits that he has never been satisfied with the explanations offered for Christ’s instructions to “do quickly” what Judas was “going to do” (115). Rodrigues struggles to imagine the tone of that instruction, and what that would tell him about Judas. “If it was anger, then at this instant Christ excluded from salvation this man alone of all the men in the world,” he reflects, before rapidly drawing a series of unorthodox conclusions from his imaginary scenario: “It could not be so. Christ wanted to save even Judas. If not, he would never have made him one of his disciples.” From this conclusion that Judas was not the subject of Christ’s anger, and that Judas’ being among the disciples implied Christ’s belief that Judas could be salvaged, Rodrigues proceeds to wonder, “Why did Christ not stop him when he began to slip from the path of righteousness?” Having gone thus far, Rodrigues proceeds to recapitulate a Gnostic interpretation of Judas’s relationship to Jesus: “I have the feeling that Judas was no more than the unfortunate puppet for the glory of that drama which was the life and death of Christ.” This necessitarian view of Judas’ acts is not only incoherent with regard to Rodrigues’ prior speculation that “Christ wanted to save even Judas,” but introduces an element of fatalism which impugns Divine Providence, treating God as either impotent or callous. In any case, the portrait of Judas now receives several touches: in addition to being intrinsically weak, though active in betraying a passive victim, and motivated by money, Judas is now to be seen as someone Jesus thought he could save, but who was not rescued because his actions were fatalistically necessary.
The incoherence in Rodrigues’ speculations at this point is addressed by the gradual breaking of Rodrigues described in the rest of the novel (his capture takes place just past halfway through the book). When confronted in the denouement by Kichijiro, who again begs to confess and receive absolution for his sins, Rodrigues revisists his last reverie on Jesus’ words to Judas (285). This time, Rodrigues casts himself as Judas, while speaking to that imaginary inward voice of Jesus which has replaced the imaginary inward face of Jesus that Rodrigues idolizes. Rodrigues, trying to decide how to respond to Kichijiro’s betrayal and apostasy now that Rodrigues has become an apostate and betrayed his coreligionists as well as the faith entrusted to him, says to his personal Jesus, “You told Judas to go away.” The voice in his head then answers that he intended no such thing, but that “just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do. For Judas was in anguish as you are now.” Not only does this tend to suggest that Rodrigues has realized that he is a closer fit to Judas than to Jesus in the scenario, but it confirms the portrayal of Judas as fated to betray Jesus—so much so that Jesus is now represented as complicit in this betrayal. (Those familiar with the Gospel of Judas described by Irenaeus and periodically rediscovered by Gnostic sympathizers will recognize elements of this depiction.) It also curiously conflates the anguish Rodrigues feels after committing apostasy and sacrilege, giving scandal to the faithful, and becoming complicit in their persecution, with an anguish Judas felt before actually betraying Jesus; the suggestion is that Judas was torn between his desires and his fate, and in choosing his fated betrayal did so with Jesus’ permission.
The picture which we form of Judas from Silence, and it must be said principally from Rodrigues’ own reflections and imaginings, is thus one of an intrinsically weak person, who nonetheless actively betrays a passive victim, doing it for money; this betrayer is someone Jesus saw as salvageable, but whose betrayal was fatalistically necessary, so that he was torn between fate and desire, with Jesus resolving this by permitting the betrayal. And as it is a major theme of Silence to portray Rodrigues’ own transformation into an apostate and betrayer of others, it is perhaps no great accomplishment to assert that Rodrigues fits this portrayal very well. Before moving on, though, it is well to note that Kichijiro does not always fit this portrait so well as Rodrigues thinks.