Accepted paper:

The economics of salvation and the Japanese mission to Japan (16th- 17th centuries)

Authors:

Helene Vu Thanh (University of South Brittany)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation intends to link two notions that are generally seen as antinomic in a Catholic context by examining some of the ways the Society of Jesus managed to reconcile its spiritual and material objectives in the particular case of the Japanese mission

Paper long abstract:

This presentation intends to link two notions that are generally seen as antinomic in a Catholic context by examining some of the ways the Society of Jesus managed to reconcile its spiritual and material objectives in the particular case of the Japanese mission. The historiography of the Jesuits has generally payed little attention to this kind of question, focusing instead on the evangelical methods devised by the missionaries overseas. It is true that the mission was defined by its members as an undertaking with strictly spiritual foundations: a missionary sought his salvation by securing it for the people he worked to convert. However, the texts produced by the mission's personnel in Japan, and in particular by the Visitor to the East Indies, Alessandro Valignano, display a constant concern for material questions. This presentation demonstrates that the Jesuits' involvement in commercial and financial activities should in no way be understood independently from their spiritual objectives, as it was indeed an integral part of their evangelical strategy. This involvement became an essential condition for the salvation of the Japanese, but it was a source of unease among the missionaries, who wondered whether the mission was not departing from the order's spiritual foundations. Three main points will be dealt with, starting with the way the missionaries developed close relationships with Portuguese merchants to facilitate conversions in particular in the South, as local lords competed for the access to Western merchants. The second point that will be examined is the implication of lay Japanese men and women in the mission and the methods used by the Jesuits to foster that implication. By making monetary and in-kind donations, converts tried to secure their salvation while contributing to the survival of the Jesuit mission in Japan. Finally, the tensions resulting from the inseparably material and spiritual strategy will be examined, through a focus on the heated debates that rocked the mission on the issue of evangelical poverty. How could the missionaries secure their own salvation if they found themselves breaching a fundamental oath, yet one that could prove incompatible with their evangelical project?

panel S8a_01
Early Modern Jesuit Roads to Salvation in Japan