Myths, Missions, and Mistrust: The Fate Research Paper

Pages: 4 (1245 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … Myths, Missions, and Mistrust: The Fate of Christianity in 16th and 17th Century Japan" by John Nelson looks at the more accepted ideas pertaining to the persecution and demise of Christian/Catholic missions in 16th and 17th century Japan. A Mediterranean-based Christianity failed in Japan and Christianity came to be seen as a rather "disruptive" religion that had very strong bonds with colonialism and military opportunism -- both of which were very threatening to Japan as a political order at that time. It's rather difficult to believe that Christian Europeans in the 16th century thought that they could travel so far to Japan and convert the people there to follow their tenets laid out by the Catholic Church. Yet, the "Jesuits, Franciscans, Augustinians, and the Dominicans counted some 150,000 converts by conservative estimates and 450,000 by more liberal ones" by the year 1606 (Nelson 2002: 96).

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In Andrew C. Ross's book, A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China 1542-1742, Ross (2003: 98) notes when Xavier (together with Anjiro) went to Japan, it was an opportune time because it coincided with the rise to power of Oda Nobunaga, a warlord who had little tolerance for the influence of Buddhism. Nelson notes that for the early Jesuit missionaries, "the political chaos in Japan meant that if they lost favor with one daimyo or his power base shifted radically they could simply move to another's realm" (98). Xavier wrote that, "Japan…is always revolving like a wheel; for he who today is a great lord, may be a penniless nobody tomorrow" (Boxer 1951: 74; 98). Yet, when Xavier leaves Japan a little more than a year later, he had converted 1,000 Japanese to Christianity. His success was huge, according to Ross, and this would be only the beginning.

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The Jesuits, as Xavier was, were more used to moving among people who had more influence while the Franciscans were trained to live among the people -- particularly the poor. There were major tensions between the two groups of Christians in Japan as the Jesuits converted more of the nobles while the Franciscans believed that their responsibility as Christians lay with the poor. Many Japanese, however, were shocked that there could be such a feud going on between groups who were supposedly of the same religion and thus they became enraged with the whole religion.

Indeed, Ross (2003: 24) notes that when Xavier first went to Japan, he had the idea that it was a united 'Empire' and that his primary duty was to obtain an audience with the Emperor and get his permission to preach the Gospel throughout his dominions. Japan was very far from being united, however, and was in the midst of the Sengoku Jidai (24). This time was similar to what had happened in Europe at various times during the medieval period; kings looked on helplessly as great feudatories battled with each other for land and power. While the Emperor lived in the capital of Kyoto with associations with nobility, he really did not have any political, administrative or military authority except that any formal title gave him.

Nelson (99) notes that even with the rapid growth in the number of missionaries, it is doubtful that they ever really trusted their converts' religious beliefs. An interesting element to the story, told by Nelson (99) is that Xavier, who spoke little Japanese, relied very heavily upon a former "pirate-turned-translator (Yajiro) who rendered Christian terms and concepts via the vocabulary of Buddhism. For the first two years, Christianity was seen as just another Buddhist sect" (99).

Ross's book shows the ambitious mission of the Jesuits in Japan, however, they were never able to get quite the results that the wanted. Most problematic for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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