Silence (Review of Martin Scorsese’s movie by Hansie Wolmarans)
One of Christianity’s favourite maxims is the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, said by 2nd/3rd century theologian, Tertullian. This maxim is put to the extreme test by Silence, Martin Scorsese’s movie of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel.
Catholic missionaries were relatively successful in seventeenth century Japan. It is estimated that there were around 250,000 converts. Against the background of an exploitative feudal system, many peasants were attracted to the Catholic Christianity. However, those in power suspected the Church of having ulterior political motives, specifically to turn Japan into a colony. So Christianity was banned and converts persecuted. This intensified after Christian peasants rebelled against the Tokugawa Shogunate. The uprising was violently suppressed and Christians cruelly and relentlessly persecuted until the 19th century.
Two Jesuit portuguese priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe, hear rumours that their mentor, Father Ferreira, had recanted his faith, took a Japanese name, and married a local wife. In order to ascertain the facts for themselves, in great secrecy and undercover the two priests go off to Japan.
There they experience the horrific realities of a violent persecution. The believers are prepared to die for their faith, but how would the priests and missionaries react to this?
In the end, the viewer is left with serious questions: Why was God silent during these atrocities? Is there only one true religion? Why didn’t Christianity gain a sigfnicant foothold in Japan? Is the blood of martyrs really the seed of the Church?
This film is highly recommended. It is probably one of Scorsese’s best films, if not his masterpiece.