It is the 20th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1634.
Today we direct our attention to the Far East as we examine Japan's parallel history to Europe's early modern era. In the past, we've looked at various Christian activities in the Land of the Rising Sun. Traditionally the story of Christianity begins with Francis Xavier in the mid-16th century, but the story goes back to centuries earlier.
It is thought that the first Christians in Japan date back to the first centuries of the Christian Church, perhaps as early as 200 AD. Unfortunately, the far eastern church was disconnected from the West as early as the 5th century by the Nestorian schism. Those Christians who emphasized the two natures of Christ as separate entities were condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Many Christians would find themselves historically cut off from the West and forced to survive in small enclaves. Furthermore, outside of Christendom, rulers, hostile to a faith that seemed essentially western, cracked down on those isolated Christians.
We will jump forward in the history of Christianity in Japan up to 2018. it was only two years ago that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered two new sites in Japan to recognize these so-called "Hidden Christians." Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had asked Pope Francis to come to Nagasaki to commemorate those who lived and worshipped for almost a century from the Oura church, baptizing and teaching in secret.
As early as the 16th century, the prospect of Christianity flourishing in Japan was promising. The Daimyo Oda Nobunaga began to patronize and unite Christians. It is not known what he believed. But he was frustrated with what he thought was a corrupt system of Buddhist officials. Hoping to infuse new blood and possibly an alliance with the Europeans, Nobunaga promoted Christians' work. However, a group of militant Buddhist traitors killed the ruler, and soon Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power.
The next ruler, Tokugawa Ieyasu, would usher in the Edo period, and one of the harshest crackdowns on Christianity in Japanese history. Ieyasu was not opposed to contacting foreigners. He encouraged trade with the English and the Dutch. But his view of Christianity had become so tangled up with his view of the West that he believed Christianity to be antithetical to the Japanese way of life as well as against his ambition to rule a unified Japan.
In 1620, one such persecution led to one small girl, 9-year-old Margaret, becoming an orphan. The daughter of two Japanese Christians, Margaret, would see her parents' faith and commit the rest of her life to serve the persecuted church. In 1623 the first Augustinians came to Japan, and Margaret found herself welcomed into their community. Augustinians were on friendly terms with other religious houses but at a distinct disadvantage with regards to numbers. Margaret rose through the ranks, albeit due to those ranks being decimated by persecution. She would officially join the Augustinians as a member of their lay community. Her role is called a "tertiary" proved promising to religious orders in a foreign country. As a tertiary, Margaret was able to join the mission without taking the standard monastic vow. This model, which would also prove popular in Europe, allowed for a commitment to serving the church and a commitment to service in the world.
Margaret of Nagasaki, as she was known, lived her faith during this time of intense persecution. At least 4 of her superiors were arrested and killed. She spent time in the forests and amongst the "hidden Christians," baptizing and feeding them. Feeling the guilt for not being a martyr, as her parents and confessors were, Margaret eventually turned herself into Japanese officials, dressed in her full Augustinian habit. She was publicly tortured, hung upside down over a pit of animal entrails, and then killed. The story of these martyrs would encourage the "secret Christians," who lived and worshipped in Nagasaki and elsewhere for the next few centuries. About 350 years after her death in 1987, Pope John Paul II canonized Margaret of Nagasaki on World Missions Day.
In Japan, the story of Christianity has been murky, has evolved, and today some 3 million Japanese worship across all major denominations. The church in Japan and the world remembers one of its martyrs on this, the 20th of October. Margaret of Nagasaki was killed in 1634.
The reading for today comes from an Almanac's favorite, Brennan Manning. This a quote from his "The Furious Longing For God."
"The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who enjoys his pizza with mayonnaise and squid, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.