Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Francis Xavier Day and Green Sake

I was out tonight with a a friend from Japan having our mandatory, terrible green beer, and I wondered aloud: "If Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, who was the patron saint of Japan?" My friend perhaps not surprisingly didn't know this off the top of his head.

This might seem a strange thing for an atheist to wonder about, especially one who is ethnically Lutheran and has no Catholics anywhere in his family tree (well, since I'm mostly German-Austrian, at least since the 30 Years War). But as I've mentioned before, the workings of the Catholic Church's management fascinate me.

When I looked it up, turns out the patron saint of Japan was a Basque from the Navarre province of Spain named Francis Xavier. When I mentioned the name, my friend recognized it - he was a major figure in the early history of Japan's contact with the West, arriving a century before the Tokugawa Shoguns closed the country to outside contact. One passage from the Wikipedia article jumped out at me:

"The Japanese people were not easily converted; many of the people were already Buddhist. Francis had difficulty convincing them that God had created everything. In their eyes then, God was responsible for evil and sin; they had a difficult time grasping how a kind God would act in such a way."

Good question! And impressive - completely Abrahamic-naive subjects cut right to the insoluble conundrum of theodicy in no time flat!

Two other interesting points. When Francis Xavier asked his translator if the Japanese would convert, he was cautioned "they would not do so immediately". It's been four-and-a-half centuries and still no dice; "not immediately" may have been understated. Also, this particular Spaniard was smart enough to try to dress up Christianity in familiar robes like the best marketing consultant of all time, Paul, and he used the same name for his own deity that Shingon monks did (this is the Buddhist sect my friend's family comes from). But when old F.X. changed the name, the benefits of familiar terminology evaporated.

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