A Letter from a Jesuit

This is a letter from a Jesuit named Christovao Ferreira, who served in Japan when the most violent persecutions were inflicted upon the Christians in the country. This post includes some of the lead-up context in the prologue of a book called Silence by Endo Shuusaku, from whence I derived the quote.

The Shogun Tokugawa…order[ed] the expulsion of all the missionaries from Japan in the year 1614… Flaunting this sever decree of exile, however, thirty-seven priests refused to abandon their flock and secretly remained hiding in Japan. And Ferreira was one of these underground priests…Today there is still extant a letter he wrote from Nagasaki on March 22nd 1632 to the Visitor Andrew Palmeiro…

“In my former letter I informed Your Reverence of the situation of Christianity in this country. And now, I will go on to tell you of what has happened since then. Everything has ended up in new persecution, new repression, new suffering. Let me begin my account with the story of five religious who from the year 1629 were apprehended for their faith. Their names are Bartholomew Gutierrez, Francisco de Jesus, Vincente de San Antonio of the Order of Saint Augustine, Antonio Ishida of our own Society, and a Franciscan, Gabriel de Santa Magdalena.
The magistrate of Nagasaki, Takenaka Uneme, tried to make them apostasize and to ridicule our holy faith and its adherents, for he hoped in this way to destroy the courage of the faithful. But he quickly realized that words alone would never shake the resolution of these priests; so he was forced to adopt a different course of action; namely, immersion in the hell of boiling water at Unzen.
He gave orders that the five priests be brought to Unzen and tortured until such time as they should renounce their faith. But on no account were they to be put to death. In addition to the five priests, Beatrice da Costa, wife of Antonio da Silva, and her daughter Maria were to be tortured, since they, too, in spite of all attempts at persuasion, had refused to give up their faith.
On December 3rd the party left Nagasaki for Unzen. The two women were carried in litters, while the five men were mounted on horses. And so they hade farewell. Arrive at the port some distance away, their arms and hands were bound, their feet were shackled, and they were put on board a ship and tightly tied to its side.
That evening they reached the harbor of Obama at the foot of Unzen; and the next day they climbed the mountain where the seven, one by one, were thrust into a tiny hut. Day and night they remained there in confinement, their feet shackled and their arms bound, while around them guards kept watch. The road to the mountain, too, was lined with guards; and without formal permission from the officials no one was permitted to pass that way.
The next day the torture began in the following way. One by one the seven were taken apart from the surrounding people, brought to the edge of the seething lake and shown the boiling water casting its spray high into the air–and then they were urged to abandon the teaching of Christ or else they would experience in their very bodies the terrible pain of the boiling water which lay before them. The cold weather made the stream arising from the bubbling lake look terrible indeed, and the very sight of it would make a strong man faint, were it not for the grace of God. but everyone of them, strengthened by God’s grace, showed remarkable courage and even asked to be tortured, firmly declaring that they would never abandon their holy faith. Hearing this dauntless reply, the officials tore off the prisoners’ clothes, bound them hand and foot to posts, and scooping up the boiling water in ladles, poured it over their naked bodies. These ladles were perforated and full of holes so that this process took a considerable time and the suffering was prolonged.
The heroes of Christ bore this terrible torment without flinching. Only the young Maria, overcome with the excess of her suffering, fell to the ground in agony. ‘She has apostatized! She has apostatized!’ they cried; and carrying her to the hut they promptly sent her back to Nagasaki. Maria denied that she had wished to apostatize. Indeed, she even pleaded to be tortured with her mother and the rest. But they paid no attention to her prayers.
The other six remained on the mountain for thirty three days. During that time the priests Antonio and Francisco, as well as Beatrice, were each tortured six times in the boiling water. Father Vincente was tortured four times; Fathers Palmeiro and Gabriel twice. Yet in all this not one of them so much as breathed a groan or a sigh.
Fathers Antonio and Francisco as well as Beatrice da Costa, in particular, undainted by tortures, threats and pleadings of all kind, displayed a courage worthy of a man. In addition to the torture of the boiling water, she was subjected to the further ignominy of being obliged to stand for hours upon a small rock, exposed to the jeering insults of the crowd. But even when the frenzy of her persecutors reached its zenith, she did not flinch.
The others, being weak in health, could not be punished too severely since the wish of the magistrate was not to put them to death but to make them apostatize. Indeed, for this reason he went so far as to bring a doctor to the mountain to tend their wounds.
At last, however, Uneme realized that he would never win On the contrary his followers, seeing the courage of the priests, told him that all the springs in Unzen would run dry before men of such power could be persuaded to change their minds. So he decided to bring them back to Nagasaki. On January 5th he confined Beatrice to a house of ill fame, while the priests he lodged in the local prison. And there they still are.
This whole struggle has had the effect of spreading our doctrine among the multitude and of strengthening the faith of our Christians. All has turned out contrary to the intentions of the tyrant.”

Do you ever think of this sort of thing, as a believer? We are quite safe in America, so this thought rarely crosses my mind. But it is reading something like this that reminds me of Jesus’ letter to the Church at Smyrna:

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:9-11 ESV)

Pray for those tested unto death.


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