PMGenesis: Chapter 13

Peter Milward's Autobiography: Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


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Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  




 S. J. House Garden







Rocks, Sengenkyo
















Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan








  A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward










     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward










Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 









 Mystical Journey, the autobiography of William Johnston, S.J., author of Mystical Theology and many other works on mysticism








 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.











All About Francis Xavier (Articles on Japanese Catholic History and Jesuits) 












13. Missionary in Japan


   The reason why I was sent to Japan in the first place had been primarily academic.  I was to teach at Sophia University, and to this I added the further specification of Shakespearian drama within the general field of English.  This wasn’t, however, my only reason, or the reason of my Jesuit superiors in sending me to Japan.  The very presence of the Jesuits in Japan from the time of St Francis Xavier onwards was both apostolic and missionary – two words with much the same meaning in view of their respectively Greek and Latin etymology.  So while teaching Shakespeare and other English authors – who included GM Hopkins, TS Eliot, GK Chesterton, JH Newman, as well as the three John’s of the seventeenth century, Donne, Milton and Dryden – I was only too happy to give classes in Christianity.  Only, these had to be voluntary and not part of the school curriculum, according to the long standing idea of separation between Church and State.  In any case, it would, I considered, be contrary to the spirit of such classes to associate them with examinations or grading of any kind or even the taking of attendance.  Nor, of course, should a fee be charged for volunteers – as St Ignatius instructed his followers, according to the advice of Christ himself, “Freely have you received, freely give.”  Only, my problem was how to form such voluntary classes without seeming to impose them on my students?  I felt a certain reluctance to the idea of using the classroom for the purpose of “proselytism”, even in the form of announcing the time and place for the classes I had in mind.  This feeling, however, was obviated by a German father who had already established a flourishing catechetical group named the Katsuragikai – from the name of a sacred mountain in Nara prefecture to which he had taken a fancy.  He had organized this group into several branches, each under a Jesuit father, for every evening of the week, and he now invited me to take one such branch in English.  Thus my first classes in Christianity were given in the English language in 1963, and I have been giving them ever since, though I soon changed the language from English to Japanese.  That April, when the classes began, such was the success of German method and organizing genius, we attracted a total of over a thousand students (not all of them from Sophia) during the first week, and my share was well over a hundred.  It was incredible!  This number, however, didn’t last for long.  Many had come just out of curiosity, and when their curiosity was satisfied, they simply dropped out – like the seeds that fell on rocky ground in Jesus’ parable.  For my opening talk the German father even brought the Vatican nuncio, as mine was the only language he could understand.  As I was speaking about the existence of God, I would say afterwards that I was doing my best to convince the good archbishop of the existence of God.  No doubt, he was able to spot the defects in my logic better than any of my Japanese listeners.


   In the outcome that first attempt of mine at preaching the Gospel to the Japanese was a failure.  It had begun with such promise, but I don’t remember if any of that preliminary number stayed the course till baptism.  Then the following year, no sooner had I begun the course than I fell ill, and that was the end of that.  Then I had my sabbatical in England.  When I came back to Japan from my sabbatical in 1966, I had to begin all over again, as well with my ordinary classes for Sophia as with my course on Christianity for the Katsuragikai.  From now on the course began to be attended with better success, as I now decided to teach in Japanese rather than English.  I didn’t want my course to be taken for one on English conversation, but I hoped the students would come to me with a more disinterested motive, to learn about the teaching of Christ.  As such, my course has had moderate success from then till now, carrying on from year to year with a modest average attendance of some twenty persons – even if their identity varies from week to week.  For me it is enough if I can claim as many as five baptisms in one year.  What I need, as I always say, are the two virtues of patience and humour – including my stupid jokes or puns, which the Japanese seem to relish far more than foreigners.


   Another, related proposal made by that German father to me was for a summer course on “Christianity and English Literature”.  I was, needless to say, happy to give such a course, drawing as it would not only on my study of Shakespeare but also on the whole extent of my studies at Oxford on English literature.  It didn’t have to be particularly academic or specialized, though it was directed to teachers of English language and literature in the Tokyo area and to any others who might be interested.  An academic approach would probably have put them off.  It was enough for me to show how far the main themes of Christianity – God and man, sin, suffering and salvation, Christ and the Church, the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture, the seven sacraments, devotion to Our Lady and the saints, the four last things (death, judgment, hell and heaven) – have entered into and may be abundantly illustrated in the pages of English literature, especially the poetry and drama to which I had paid particular attention at Oxford.  On these themes I offered a course of twelve lectures, which were attended by some 120 persons, and they were well received.  Each lecture provided me with material for one chapter of a book which I subsequently published from Kenkyusha in 1967 under the title of Christian Themes in English Literature.  The following year I went over the same ground again, but as I didn’t like to repeat myself, I varied the subject and the number of lectures, since twelve seemed to be rather too many.  Then I found each series supplying me with material for another book.


   To return to my main course on Christianity, which I now offered in Japanese, I followed the traditional division of catechetical instruction under the main headings of God, Christ and the Church.  I based my course on the published talks of the great Ronald Knox, which I had heard him deliver to the Catholic students at Oxford, under the title of The Hidden Stream.  This was an admirable textbook for my purpose as I was familiar with its contents and it was originally intended for university students.  Only, I added my own thoughts and illustrations derived from my experience in Japan.  I also made hand-outs for my students, and out of them, as I had done with my hand-outs on Shakespeare, I produced my own textbook entitled An Introduction to Christianity.  This was brought out in 1968 by another publisher who was willing to publish anything of mine, the Hokuseido Press, with acknowledgements to Ronald Knox.  Then, as my course was now in Japanese, I persuaded a former student of mine to translate it and a Catholic bookseller named Enderle to publish it under the altered title of Christokyo e no Michi, or “The Way to Christianity”, in 1970.  This had a jacket of my own design, of which I was rather proud.  It showed a curved path leading to a small hut or stable (where Jesus was born) at the foot of Mount Fuji under the light of a star in the shape of an elongated cross.  It was thus full of a hidden symbolism which provided me with ample material for my opening lecture.  Such is an approach that I thought would appeal to the hearts of the Japanese, no less than my occasional jokes.


   Already, however, my approach to the teaching of catechism was becoming outmoded in these years after Vatican II.  Knox himself belonged to the pre-Vatican era and, like his friend the Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, he never really accommodated himself to the far-reaching changes introduced into the Church by that Council.  I, too, received my spiritual and theological formation before the Council, nor could I readily accept many of the changes made in its name, though often without its authorization.  Anyhow, with the encouragement of my helpers, who had stayed on after baptism for the double purpose of helping me and deepening their grasp of what they had already learnt, I now came to lay more emphasis on the Bible as a whole.  I still observed the old division – as of Caesar’s Gaul – into three parts.  Only now, instead of speaking about God and the proofs for his existence, I paid more attention to the Old Testament and its presentation without proof of the living God – not, as Pascal put it in a famous statement of his, the God of the philosophers but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It also occurred to me that the very attempt to prove the existence of God by reason, however skillfully this might have been done by St Thomas Aquinas and other scholastic theologians, only tended to raise doubts in Japanese minds where there hadn’t been any before.  After all, it is so much easier to doubt than to acquiesce in rational proof, whereas once the existence of God is taken for granted, as it is almost everywhere in the Bible, no more proof is needed.  The truth becomes self-evident, and one can well agree with the Psalmist, who returns twice to the same point, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.”  Secondly, in speaking of Christ, I turned more carefully to the pages of the New Testament, or what St Mark calls “The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, beginning with his baptism in the river Jordan.  In this order and manner, I aimed at showing how the Old Testament is patent in the New, as the New is latent in the Old, according to a famous saying of St Augustine.  Such an approach, instead of relying on my scholastic formation in philosophy and theology, drew more fully on my spiritual formation as a Jesuit, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  It made its appeal not so much to reason or logic as to prayerful meditation.


   For these first two stages of Biblical study I soon produced two more textbooks of my own in Japanese, a small book published by Kodansha on the Old Testament entitled The Wisdom of the Old Testament, and another on the New Testament from the same publisher under the title Jesus and His Disciples.  These textbooks were published much later, the former not till 1990 and the latter in 1978, but they show the way my mind was moving from pre-Vatican to post-Vatican with a greater emphasis on Holy Scripture.  The two stages were divided by the summer vacation, with the first beginning in April, in accordance with the academic year in Japan, and going on till mid-July, and the second beginning in September and going on till Christmas.  After the New Year came the third stage, for which I replaced my discussion on the Church with what I regarded as the two additional “gospels” according to Our Lady and St Paul.  For the latter my inspiration again came from Ronald Knox, who had published a book entitled The Gospel According to St Paul, and so I also published a book with this title in Japanese.  For the former my inspiration came from books on Mariology which had attracted me in my theological studies, and so I also published a book in Japanese entitled The Gospel According to Mary – in which I discussed the place of Mary both in the Bible and in the tradition of the Church, according to the teaching of John Henry Newman.


   In particular, I gave this course of mine – as I still give it – once a week all through the year every Monday evening (except when it coincided with a national holiday).  I gave my talk for one hour, and then I allowed time for meditation and putting one’s thoughts and notes together, and finally we had a “discussion”, for which I invited different members by name to offer their reflections.  (That, I find, is important in dealing with Japanese, who are usually shy and unwilling to stand out from their group unless asked to do so.  Often it seems to me that these reflections are the best part of the meeting, or at least it is they that provide me with most food for thought.  They serve to disprove what many foreigners say about the Japanese, and even what many Japanese say about themselves, that they all react to Christianity or the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the same way.  That is not so!  Each Japanese, in my experience, responds in his or her own way, and no two Japanese react in the same way.  They are after all human beings, no less than Westerners, and it is a characteristic of human beings to think for themselves.  Though, I must add, it is more characteristic of the Japanese to give the impression of preferring to remain in their group and to echo what they imagine to be the thoughts of their group.)  Finally, of course, we finished with a cup of tea and biscuits, or maybe with a glass of wine, before we dispersed.


   These evening meetings, however, weren’t enough to bring my Japanese students (of both sexes and all ages) to a deeply personal understanding of the teaching of Christ.  For that purpose it wasn’t enough to listen to a series of lectures and to express one’s reactions to them afterwards, but it was also necessary to meditate on them while spending a few days together in a house set apart as a “retreat house” or a “house of prayer”.  In my early years as teacher within the framework of the Katsuragikai we used to have summer camps near Nikko on the shores of the lovely Lake Chuzenji.  Then all the groups would come together once a year for common discussion, while in the afternoons we would go for strolls round the lake, especially up a famous cascade named “The Dragon’s Palace”.  Such “mass production”, however, seemed to me more suited to the German than to my English mentality, and so, with the approval of my helpers, we withdrew from a unity which was already in process of breaking up and went ahead on our own.  This move, which may have originally savoured of “schism”, was blessed by divine providence.  Instead of one summer camp, we arranged three retreats on our own for the end of each stage, in July, December and March.  At first, we spent three days and two nights at a retreat house, but later it proved to be more practical, given the needs and desires of the members, to spend only two days and one night of the week-end there.  Though they were called “retreats”, there was no rule of silence, but we could talk freely with each other, apart from the times of meditation, and in this way we could get to know each other better in an informal, leisurely atmosphere.  Then, in addition to these three retreats, we would have two special gatherings for Christmas and Easter, at which we might hold a baptismal ceremony.  First, there was the Christmas or Easter Mass, and that would be followed by the feast, or what was called agape in the early Church.  For the retreats we usually filled the retreat house, which in any case would usually only hold some twenty members, and so we had the whole house to ourselves.  For the special gatherings we might have as many as ninety for Christmas, including many former members who cherished their allegiance to the Katsuragikai, and some fifty for Easter.  (For Japanese Christians Easter isn’t as important as Christmas, which is after all a family feast to which they can relate more easily than Easter, and this feeling notoriously extends to non-Christians.  Indeed, in the eyes of most Japanese the two great saints in the Christian year are Santa Claus (for children) and Saint Valentine (for lovers).)


   In my account of the Katsuragikai, I have been speaking somewhat generally, while referring to some change over the years between the group as a whole during the early period under the rule of the German father and the subsequent tendency for different groups to drift apart from each other, even for our celebration of Christmas and Easter.  I have also mentioned a change in my own teaching method from the pre-Vatican to the post-Vatican era.  But in the history of the Katsuragikai itself two important events took place around the year 1970 that had a deep impact on all of us.  The first was the radical student movement, which began in 1968 and went on more or less till 1972, and which had an effect on almost all universities in Japan as well as Sophia.  It had the immediate effect of discouraging many students from attending our classes, by making them disaffected with teachers and teaching methods in general.  When the university itself was taken over for a time by those students, and a lock-out was proclaimed by the authorities, the classrooms were no longer available for our use, and we had to resort to other means of dealing with the situation.  Then, it wasn’t so long after the movement had spent its force, disintegrating with in-fighting among its various groups, that the powerful German father who had brought us all together by the force of his personality had to return to Germany.  Then it was that our different groups were left more to themselves and the “schism” became more or less inevitable – till I have even come to look back on it as a good thing, in the benign plans of divine providence.

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