Study Guide

Silence Sacrifice

By Shusaku Endo


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! (4.87)

Rodrigues is like that kid who's obsessed with action movies only to realize that violence isn't quite as fun in real life. It's one thing to romanticize the deaths of others when you're on the other side of the planet, but it's a whole different deal when you witness it yourself.

That night the priest thought earnestly about a man who had been dragged from the Garden of Gethsemane to the palace of Caiaphas. (5.2)

Unsurprisingly, Jesus is Rodrigues's number one inspiration. In many ways, Rodrigues wishes that he could sacrifice himself for others as Jesus did. Yet for whatever reason—whether fear or selfishness or doubt—Rodrigues is unable to be make that sacrifice.

He also felt an inexpressible dissatisfaction—a kind of disillusionment that he was not privileged to be a tragic hero like so many martyrs and like Christ himself. (5.4)

Seriously, we'd imagine that most martyrs would gladly trade places with Rodrigues. If Rodrigues really wanted to sacrifice himself for the good of others, he's had a million opportunities to do so—heck, he could have turned himself over the first time a samurai visited the village. But he doesn't.

A man had died. Yet the outside world went on as if nothing had happened. Could anything be more crazy? Was this martyrdom? (6.131)

What does Rodrigues expect to happen? Does he expect a lightning bolt to strike down the executioners? A plague of locusts to rain down over the countryside? Maybe at least a burning bush or something? Instead, the man's sacrifice seems to be for nothing.

"At least Garrpe was clean. But you... you... you are the most weak-willed. You don't deserve the name of 'father."' (7.112)

Garrpe does what Rodrigues can't: sacrifice himself for the sake of others. This shakes Rodrigues to his core, forcing him to reckon with his own failures as a priest. After all, what has he really accomplished so far?

A tingling sensation of joy welled up within his breast. This was the joy of the Christian who relishes the truth that he is united to the Son of God. (7.31)

Rodrigues has the right idea, but we can't help but look a bit closer at his words. Rodrigues should want to sacrifice himself out of love for the Japanese Christians he claims to serve; instead, he only craves martyrdom in order that he might feel like a savior. We're not priests ourselves, but we're pretty sure that's not the point of sacrifice.

"At last the time has come," [...] This emotion was accompanied by a freshness and sense of elation such as he had never before experienced. (8.10)

His moment drawing near, Rodrigues finally seems comfortable with the possibility of death. Although his faith has been wounded—beaten to a pulp, even—the priest believes that a noble death will atone for his mistakes. Once again, however, Rodrigues fails to think about anyone but himself.

"I was born weak. One who is weak at heart cannot die a martyr. What am I to do?" (8.58)

Rodrigues should be asking himself this question.Although he despises Kichijiro for his constant betrayals, these two men are more alike than they might realize.

In the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this; he had uttered no prayer. (8.79)

This is the last straw for Rodrigues. He has already witnessed the martyrdom of countless Japanese Christians, but this is something far more excruciating. What's worse, he wasn't even able to give the man the prayers that would have eased his passage—instead, he had simply sat on his hands and laughed.

"For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had." (8.100)

In the end, we realize that Rodrigues had it wrong the whole time. He thought that he needed to sacrifice his life when he actually needed to sacrifice his faith—or, more specifically, his unevolved faith, which had been too mixed up in his own selfish concerns. Only then is Rodrigues able to find peace.