Today’s installment concludes Christianity Introduced Into Japan,
our selection from Review of the Introduction of Christianity into China and Japan in Asiatic Society Transactions, Volume VI by John H. Gubbins published in 1878.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Christianity Introduced Into Japan.
We have no wish to enter upon a defense either of our countrymen or of the Dutch, and fully admit the possibility of such intrigues having occurred. Indeed, considering in what relations both Spanish and Portuguese stood at that time to both of the other nations, and how high religious feeling ran in the seventeenth century, it would be strange if some intrigue had not taken place. Still we should like to point out that there were, we think, causes, other than those to which the Jesuit writers confine themselves, quite sufficient in themselves to account for the extreme measures taken against Christianity at this date.
There was the predetermination against Christianity already shown by Iyeyasu; there were the new avenues of trade opened up by the arrival of the English and Dutch; there was the increased activity displayed by the missionaries at a time when Christianity was in a weak state, and lastly there was the influence of the Buddhist priesthood.
That this edict of expulsion issued by Iyeyasu was the effect of no sudden caprice on his part, is clear from the general view which we have of his whole policy, which was similar to that of his predecessor. His early tolerance of Christianity is susceptible of the same explanation as that shown by Hideyoshi. His mind was evidently made up, and he was only biding his time.
It is also highly probable that the new facilities for trade offered by the advent of the Dutch and English may have had some influence upon the action of Iyeyasu. It is impossible that he can have been altogether blind to the fact that the teaching of Christianity had not been unattended with certain evils, dangerous, to say the least, to the tranquillity of the country; and it cannot have escaped his notice that, whereas the respective admissions of Portuguese and Spaniards had been followed by the introduction of Christian missionaries, who in numbers far exceeded the traders, the same feature was not a part of the policy of the two other nations, whose proceedings had no connection whatsoever with religion. Possibly, too, reports may have reached his ears of the growing supremacy of the Dutch in the East, and have induced him to transfer his favor from the Portuguese and Spaniards to the new arrivals.
As regards the condition of Christianity at this time, the Jesuit accounts supply us with facts which show that, numerically speaking, the Christian cause was never so strong as at this period. There were some two millions of converts, whose spiritual concerns were administered by no fewer than two hundred missionaries, three-fourths of whom were Jesuits. According to the Kerisuto-Ki, a native work, there were Christian churches in every province of Kiushiu except Hiuga and Osumi, and also in Kioto, Osaka, Sendai, and Kanagawa in Kaga; and it was only in eight provinces of Japan that Christianity had gained no footing. An increased activity in the operations of the missionaries is discernible about this time. The Dominicans in Satsuma, the Franciscans in Yedo (Tokio), and the Jesuits in the capital and southern provinces, seem to have been vying with each other which should gain most converts; and the circuit made by Cerqueyra, in which he visited all the Jesuit establishments throughout the country, was probably not without effect in exciting fresh enthusiasm among the converts everywhere, which, again, would naturally draw attention to the progress of Christianity. But, strong as the position of the Christians was numerically, we must not judge of the strength of their cause merely by the number of converts, or by the number of missionaries resident in Japan. If we consider the facts before us, we find that Christianity lacked the best of all strength — influence in the state. All its principal supporters among the aristocracy were either dead, had renounced their new faith, or were in exile; and here we have the real weakness of the Christian cause. While, therefore, circumstances combined to draw attention to its progress, it was in a state which could ill resist any renewed activity of persecution which might be the result of the increased interest which it excited. Without influence at the court and without influence in the country, beyond what slight influence the mass of common people scattered through various provinces, who were Christians, might be said to possess, Christianity presented itself assailable with impunity.
The last cause we have mentioned, as being probably connected with the decisive measures adopted by Iyeyasu, is the influence of the Buddhist priesthood. Japanese history mentions the great power attained by the priesthood prior to Nobunaga’s administration. Although that power was broken by Nobunaga, Hideyoshi did not inherit the former’s animosity toward the priests, and Iyeyasu from the first came forward as their patron. And, again, we must not lose sight of the fact that a deep-rooted suspicion of foreigners was ever present in the minds of the Japanese Government; a suspicion which the course of events in China, of which we may presume the Japanese were not altogether ignorant — the jealousy of the native priests; the control of their converts exercised by the missionaries, which doubtless extended to secular matters; the connection of Christianity with trade; and the astounding progress made by it in the space of half a century — all tended to confirm. Enough has been said to show that we need not go so far as the intrigues, real or imaginary, of the English and Dutch, to look for causes for the renewed stimulus given at this date to the measures against Christianity.
In 1614 the edict was carried into effect, and the missionaries, accompanied by the Japanese princes who had been in exile in Kaga, and a number of native Christians, were made to embark from Nagasaki. Several missionaries remained concealed in the country, and in subsequent years not a few contrived to elude the vigilance of the authorities and to reenter Japan. But they were all detected sooner or later, and suffered for their temerity by their deaths.
Persecution did not stop with the expulsion of the missionaries, nor at the death of Iyeyasu was any respite given to the native Christians. And this brings us to the closing scene of this history — the tragedy of Shimabara. In the autumn of 1637 the peasantry of a convert district in Hizen, driven past endurance by the fierce ferocity of the persecution, assembled to the number of thirty thousand, and, fortifying the castle of Shimabara, declared open defiance to the Government; their opposition was soon overborne; troops were sent against them, and after a short but desperate resistance all the Christians were put to the sword. With the rising of Shimabara, and its sanguinary suppression by the Government, the curtain falls on the early history of Christianity in Japan.
This ends our series of passages on Christianity Introduced Into Japan by John H. Gubbins from Review of the Introduction of Christianity into China and Japan in Asiatic Society Transactions, Volume VI published in 1878. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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