God will exalt the lowly and humble the proud….
I would advise that throughout the viewing of this film, one keep clearly in mind the Jesuit battle cry, “AMGD”….
Scorcese’s movie Silence is an amazing movie. On every technical level Scorcese scored a home run. But the story is also an incredibly insightful cautionary tale of the danger of pride-the king of the deadly sins.
The story opens with two Jesuit priests,Sebation Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe, being sent on a mission to Japan to find their lost Jesuit mentor, Christovao Ferreira. The two young priests are filled with zeal for their mission at least and ostensibly for the Lord.
Early on, they meet a wretch named Kichijiro. It is Kichijiro that takes them to Japan. Once on the island, they are greeted by an amazing group of Christians who have managed to keep the faith for years and years without priests to minister to them. The faith of the villagers is deeply moving.
Early on in the film, we learn that Kichijiro’s misery is the result of terrible guilt from having apostatized many years before. Fr. Rodrigues- the main character-gently and lovingly administers the sacrament of penance to Kichijiro and reminds him of God’s infinite mercy.
Soon, the priests are discovered by the law and the martyrdoms begin. The brave, virtuous and holy leaders of the village are awarded the great honor of being martyred like Our Lord. They are long suffering, singing God’s praises. Their sensitive nature obviously in pain, but their higher nature soaring with joy.
The Japanese authorities finally capture and detain the priests, separated, and begin an ingenious process of psychological torture. It’s at this point that the loci of the story moves to Rodrigues. Rodrigues is told he alone will be to blame for the villagers being tortured and gruesomely martyred. He is also told that his mentor, Christovao Ferreira, the man for whom the mission was granted, has himself denied the faith and adopted the Japanese ideology and way of life even unto being an apologist against Christianity by writing anti Christian propaganda.
Soon Rodrigues meets Ferreira. It is all true. Ferreira then becomes the main diabolic weapon to be used against Rodrigues in his torture. Will Rodrigues trust in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith given to mankind by Christ and protected from error by the Holy Ghost- or will he trust a man? Tension mounts. However, one is taken aback by Rodrigues harsh words to Fereira: “You are a disgrace” rather than words of mercy and pity- “You are lost and I will pray and do penance for you”.
In fact, Rodrigues is frequently doing and saying things that betray a weakness in faith: he repeatedly scarfs down food before giving thanks. He boasts proudly to his persecutors that he “will never fall”, he screams like a madman when thrown in prison and rebukes the faithful for being ‘calm’ in the face of death. Now all these qualities would be normal and natural in someone WITHOUT FAITH. However, with the faith- we know that the Holy Ghost infuses the four cardinal virtues as well as the gifts. So where is meekness, gentleness, piety, and mercy in Rodrigues? Where was longsuffering and wisdom in his predecessor? Wisdom would surely show them that nothing is more important than being a witness to the truth; Council would instruct them to close their ears to pagan “reasoning” and keep faith and hope in the Church, fortitude would give them the strength to witness martyrdom with joy and strength. However, what becomes increasingly obvious as the poor wretch Kichijiro keeps returning to the confessional for the same offense (apostatizing) – is that Rodrigues DESPISES THE LOWLY AND THE WRETCHED. But how can someone be a true child of God and despise the weak? For this would mean they despise Christ before all men since He became “sin” (ie wretchedness) for us.
Kichijiro was weak – he was like you and I (and all people) who continue offending God even though we love Him. After we sin, we get the grace to cooperate with consequent conscience and return to God (via the confessional) begging for mercy. And BECAUSE of God’s mercy these ‘little ones’ are the dearest to Him. In the new creation it is through the wretched that God will be glorified. The one scene where the viewer (with supernatural eyes) could absolutely bank on a future fall for Rodrigues was when(during confession!) he despised Kichijiro rather than have mercy on him and pity him. How many priests have committed this crime ? Take heed.
As the film progresses, we see Rodrigues tortured by witnessing more human suffering than he can handle (especially because he is receiving on a natural level)- and therefore sees only pain and suffering but not the supernatural reality of the glory of the Beatific Vision on the other side. And predictably, when the devil whispers in his ear to deny God (“Go on! Do it!” the voice diabolically urges)- he complies. In the moment immediately following we see the icon of the REAL Jesus flash before him-along with a cock crows and instantaneously the reality of what he’s done makes him crumble to the ground in spiritual agony. He has fallen. Hard. This scene is so powerful and chilling. The demon who has masterminded Rodrigues’ fall is shown motioning with his hand “Rise” with a back drop of flames rising slowly. Shudder.
Rodrigues lives out his life in his “mentor’s” footsteps-repeatedly denying the faith and being used as a propaganda machine against further conversions.
However, not all is lost. There are still visible movements of grace in the works. In one of the final scenes, Rodrigues is having tea with Kichijiro. He looks kindly on him and admires him for being a true FAITHFUL friend. Rodrigues is learning humility! Rodrigues has manfully taken his rightful place in the order of grace: He is far more wretched and has fallen much further than Kichijiro.
Did Rodrigues actually give up his faith? No, not completely. I submit that he is a Judas character but with redemption shadowed in his future. Proud and too strong-willed in the beginning, working with Christ and His Holy Catholic Church for vain glory-his fall from grace was inevitable according to the designs of God to humble the proud and exalt the meek. Immediately after his fall sees himself as utterly despicable. The evidence is that during the above mentioned tea scene, Kichijiro AGAIN (the repetition of fall/mercy that he embodies is actually very humorous and endearing at this point) begs confession. And again, Kichijiro is truly penitent. But Rodrigues says something odd for a non believer. He says, “NO, I’m a FALLEN priest”. He doesn’t say, “the priesthood is a fictitious Catholic invention to control people”. Nope. He is a priest. And that is a supernatural reality. And he is fallen and through his fall he is learning mercy and humility. And THAT is the Glory of God.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!