Accepted paper:

Keepers of the Christian Faith: A Reconsideration of the Christian brotherhood's role in Japan after 1614


Jose Blanco-Perales (Universidad de Oviedo)

Paper short abstract:

The proposed paper challenges the assumption that Christianity rapidly deteriorated after 1614, and stresses the importance of the Christian brotherhoods arguing that they allowed the Christian devotees to continue with their practices since the expulsion of the missionaries until around 1625.

Paper long abstract:

In 1614 the Japanese authorities put in practice an edict that commanded the exile of all missionaries and their assistants. After the expulsion, the authorities started to execute the missionaries and their companions who began to return to Japan in spite of the edict. In regard of the severity of this persecution, some aspects of the Japanese Christian culture after 1614 have been ignored in the field of Japanese History, such as the circulation of Christian works of art in Japan in that period. The proposed paper challenges the assumption that the Christian community in Japan began to disintegrate rapidly after the expulsion of the missionaries in 1614. On the contrary, the Christian brotherhoods proved to be very effective in organizing and managing the needs of the Christian community until around 1625. For instance, the Christian brotherhood of the Assumption of Virgin Mary was divided and newly founded in 1622 into the brotherhoods of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola to commemorate their canonization. The leaders of the brotherhoods enjoyed enough political influence to ensure a tolerant attitude from the Japanese authorities towards the members of their community. Therefore, these Christians could continue with their practices and rites as long as they did not perform them in public and they did not support or help any missionary. These leaders even managed to save several Christians right before their execution as several sources from the Jesuit reports assure. Since the brotherhoods continued the labor initiated by the missionaries effectively, the religious orders competed for the control of these groups. The interests of each order began to overlap increasing the tension specially between Jesuits and Dominicans. This would lead to several conflicts that would eventually attract the attention of the curia in Rome. The situation deteriorated in 1622 when the Dominicans and Jesuits began to compete for the number of martyrs each order had in a series of executions performed during that summer. The knowledge of the Christian brotherhoods is fundamental in order to understand the history of Christianity in Japan, especially after the expulsion of 1614.

panel S7_30
Christian Histories: Space, Organisation and Global Comparison