Two Edicts against the Practice of Christianity (1587)
Excerpt from Limitation on the Propagation of Christianity, 1587
1. Whether one desires to become a follower of the padre is up to that person’s own conscience.
2. If one receives a province, a district, or a village as his fief, and forces farmers in his domain who are properly registered under certain temples to become followers of the padre against their wishes, then he has committed a most unreasonable illegal act.
3. When a vassal (kyūnin) receives a grant of a province or a district, he must consider it as property entrusted to him on a temporary basis. A vassal may be moved from one place to another, but farmers remain in the same place. Thus if an unreasonable illegal act is committed [as described above], the vassal will be called upon to account for his culpable offense. The intent of this provision must be observed.
4. Anyone whose fief is over 200 chō and who can expect two to three thousand kan of rice harvest each year must receive permission from the authorities before becoming a follower of the padre.
5. Anyone whose fief is smaller than the one described above may, as his conscience dictates, select for himself from between eight or nine religions
8. If a daimyō who has a fief over a province, a district, or a village, forces his retainers to become followers of the padre, he is committing a crime worse than the followers of Honganji who assembled in their temple [to engage in the Ikkō riot]. This will have an adverse effect on [the welfare of] the nation. Anyone who cannot use good judgment in this matter will be punished. …
Fifteenth year of Tenshō , sixth month, 18th day Vermilion Seal
Excerpts from Expulsion of Missionaries, 1587
1. Japan is the country of gods, but has been receiving false teachings from Christian countries. This cannot be tolerated any further.
2. The [missionaries] approach people in provinces and districts to make them their followers, and let them destroy shrines and temples. This is an unheard of outrage. When a vassal receives a province, a district, a village, or another form of a fief, he must consider it as a property entrusted to him on a temporary basis. He must follow the laws of this country, and abide by their intent. However, some vassals illegally [commend part of their fiefs to the church]. This is a culpable offense.
3. The padres, by their special knowledge [in the sciences and medicine], feel that they can at will entice people to become their believers. In doing so they commit the illegal act of destroying the teachings of Buddha prevailing in Japan. These padres cannot be permitted to remain in Japan. They must prepare to leave the country within twenty days of the issuance of this notice.
4. The black [Portuguese and Spanish] ships come to Japan to engage in trade. Thus the matter is a separate one. They can continue to engage in trade.
5. Hereafter, anyone who does not hinder the teachings of the Buddha, whether he be a merchant or not, may come and go freely from Christian countries to Japan. Fifteenth year of Tenshō , sixth month, 19th day
These sources are excerpts from decrees issued by the Japanese government; they are attempting to reduce the effect and influence of Catholicism in Japan. The Japanese Emperor Hideyoshi issued them both in the year 1587. They aim to minimize the spread of Christianity in Japan and thus expel the Christian missionaries, who were spreading it. Also, limiting some aspects of Christian practice for the Japanese was done in hopes to discourage the religion in Japan.
These edicts were issued before the events of the film Silencebut they explain why the Japanese in the film were forced to practice Christianity in secrecy. With all the missionaries expelled, Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garupe in the film become very important figures for the Japanese Christians because they are their only avenue to receiving the sacraments and thus securing their salvation. The “padres” that can be seen in the film represented Christianity and thus a threat to the Japanese government, who wanted to uphold Buddhism as the practiced religion. In the film, the price for giving up one of the priests is 300 silver coins, a reference to the 30 silver coins Judas received for betraying Jesus. The Christian faith also represented Western values and attempts to colonize, which according to Hideyoshi would have harmed Japanese culture—thus he wanted to prevent its spread before it was too late. As is seen in the film, the villagers were afraid to discuss Christianity to those in other villages, and kept to themselves and worshipped in secret, which reflects how firm these regulations were.
Another aspect of these edicts, which also appears in the film in some form, is the extensive investigation of Christian merchants’ goods to ensure that they were not smuggling in Christian materials. This can be seen in the film, when Fr. Ferreira and Fr. Rodrigues are engaging in this forbidden practice. Martin Scorsese seemed to have intended to be faithful to the history of this period, focusing on a fictional character’s perspective, to portray the struggle that many underwent for their faith.