Accepted paper:

Jesuit soteriological preoccupations in the early modern mission in Japan


Linda Zampol D'Ortia

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to exemplify different paths that were envisioned by Catholic missionaries to reach salvation in the sixteenth-century Jesuit enterprise in Japan, and how they related to the wider context of global early modern Catholicism.

Paper long abstract:

The mission of the Society of Jesus in Japan has traditionally been considered exceptional, among other early modern Catholic enterprises, thanks to its "modern" preoccupations and attitudes towards proselytization. A closer look at manuscript Jesuit correspondence, however, helps to identify some characterising elements that the mission had in common with the global early modern Catholic movement; more specifically, preoccupations with soteriology emerge as more important than what is generally believed. Matters of salvation reveal themselves as underlying some key policies adopted by the missionaries for the conversion of Japan, while assumptions on the specific work of divine grace emerge as characterising of stances taken towards the conversion of the Japanese. This paper will strive to contextualise the understanding of soteriology of the missionaries in Japan in early modern Catholicism. It will give an overview of the theological assumptions of the period, and their connection with divine intervention in the form of grace. It will then consider how these beliefs were integrated in the missionary effort, behind the initial policies of conversion and accommodation (and lack-thereof) of the Jesuit Japanese mission. The paper will especially focus on the figures of Jesuits Francisco Xavier (1506-1552) and Francisco Cabral (1528/30-1609): it will analyze the connection that these two missionaries believed existing between the salvation of the native converts to Christianity, and that of the missionaries who were preaching to them, and how these notions influenced their missionary policies. Finally, it will also look at how these expectations evolved when interacting with the specificities of Japanese culture, by giving particular attention to the matter of mass conversion and its legitimacy.

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Early Modern Jesuit Roads to Salvation in Japan