THE JESUIT PERIL
The second half of the sixteenth century is the most interesting period in Japanese history - for three reasons. First, because it witnessed the apparition of those mighty captains, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Iyeyasu, - types of men that a race seems to evolve for supreme emergencies only, - types requiring for their production not merely the highest aptitudes of numberless generations, but likewise an extraordinary combination of circumstances. Secondly, this period is all-important because it saw the first complete integration of the ancient social system, - the definitive union of all the clan-lordships under a central military government. And lastly, the period is of special interest because the incident of the first attempt to christianize Japan - the story of the rise and fall of the Jesuit power - properly belongs to it.
The sociological significance of this episode is instructive. Excepting, perhaps, the division of the imperial house against itself in the twelfth century, the greatest danger that ever threatened Japanese national integrity was the introduction of Christianity by the Portuguese Jesuits. The nation saved itself only by ruthless measures, at the cost of incalculable suffering and of myriads of lives.
It was during the period of great disorder preceding Nobunaga's effort to centralize authority, that this unfamiliar disturbing factor was introduced by Xavier and his followers. Xavier landed at Kagoshima in 1549; and by 1581 the Jesuits had upwards of two hundred churches in the country. This fact alone sufficiently indicates the rapidity with which the new religion spread; and it seemed destined to extend over the entire empire. In 1585 a Japanese religious embassy was received at Rome; and by that date no less than eleven daimyo, - or "kings," as the Jesuits not inaptly termed them - had become converted. Among these were several very powerful lords. The new creed had made rapid way among the common people also: it was becoming "popular," in the strict meaning of the word.
When Nobunaga rose to power, he favoured the Jesuits in many ways - not because of any sympathy with their creed, for he never dreamed of becoming a Christian, but because he thought that their influence would be of service to him in his campaign against Buddhism. Like the Jesuits themselves, Nobunaga had no scruple about means in his pursuit of ends. More ruthless than William the Conqueror, he did not hesitate to put to death his own brother and his own father-in-law, when they dared to oppose his will. The aid and protection which he extended to the foreign priests, for merely political reasons, enabled them to develop their power to a degree which soon gave him cause for repentance. Mr. Gubbins, in his "Review of the Introduction of Christianity into China and Japan," quotes from a Japanese work, called Ibuki Mogusa, an interesting extract on the subject: -
"Nobunaga now began to regret his previous policy in permitting the introduction of Christianity. He accordingly assembled his retainers, and said to them: - 'The conduct of these missionaries in persuading people to join them by giving money, does not please me. How would it be, think you, if we were to demolish Nambanji [The "Temple of the Southern Savages" - so the Portuguese church was called]?' To this Mayeda Tokuzenin replied. 'It is now too late to demolish the Temple of the Namban. To endeavour to arrest the power of this religion now is like trying to arrest the current of the ocean. Nobles, both great and small, have become adherents of it. If you would exterminate this religion now, there is fear that disturbance should be created among your own retainers. I am therefore of opinion that you should abandon your intention of destroying Nambanji.' Nobunaga in consequence regretted exceedingly his previous action in regard to the Christian religion, and set about thinking how he could root it out."