This panel aims to exemplify the various ways in which soteriological preoccupations affected the early modern mission of the Society of Jesus in Japan, by considering its missionary policies, financial management, and printed propaganda.
Recent studies have identified salvation as a central preoccupation of early modern Catholicism. For this reason, it is possible to trace back to soteriology various issues arising in the enterprises that comprised the sixteenth-century global outreach of the Church. This panel aims to exemplify the different ways in which matters related to salvation affected the mission of the Society of Jesus in Japan, and its depiction in Jesuit documents. The beginning of the early modern period was characterised by an exponential growth of contacts between Europe and Asia, built on the trade networks that composed the European seaborne empires. After arriving in India in the wake of the Portuguese, in 1549 Francis Xavier established, in southern Japan, one of the most prolific Jesuit enterprises of the early modern period. According to the published reports of the missionaries themselves, this success was due to the exceptional "rationality" that distinguished the local culture. As Christianity was considered the most rational faith of all, many Japanese were depicted as converting quickly and effortlessly. A perusal of the private correspondence of the order, however, reveals a different situation, characterised by struggles to identify the best strategies for gaining converts, internal tensions on missionary policies, a challenging isolation of the mission from the Asian Jesuit network, and a dependence on Portuguese trade to attract the patronage and protection of the local authorities. This panel approaches the problem of salvation in the Jesuit mission from different points of view, aiming to provide a portrayal of the wide-ranging implications of this preoccupation: it considers the conflicting theological assumptions behind the policies of conversion and accommodation of the Japanese mission; the material and economic struggles in the organization of the mission, and how they clashed with its spiritual aspirations; and finally, the depictions of Japanese martyrs, in printed epistolary collections, as models of salvation, and as an powerful tool of evangelization in Europe.