St. Jerome in Japan (archive)
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From: Davide Mana []
Date: January 1, 2001

>At your leisure, of course, a nice write-up would be WONDERFUL.

Here it goes.

I did this as if it was a small sidebar somewhere.
We can expand it including current St. Jerome activities in Japan, and I'm 
thinking about a tie with the Cthonian handouts (something De Souza could 
have mentioned in an old letter touching upon the Burrowers - after all, 
Northwestern Kyushu is pretty hot in terms of volcanic activity).
Input and opinions welcome.


Father Augusto Colon de Souza, Company of Jesus (1568-1631).

Biographical overview.

Third son of Eduardo De Souza, at one time commander of the Oporto garrison, Augusto Colon De Souza entered the seminary at the age of twelve, and joined the Jesuit order in 1584, being posted to the Manila Jesuit mission as a way to "distance him from distractions", as his father put it in a letter to his brother Manoel (quoted by Bellagamba, 1951).

Father De Souza belonged to the second generation of missionaries, which built on the work of Francis Xavier while sidestepping the increasingly strict regulations against Christian diffusion by posing as diplomats. He was 21 when he first arrived in Japan (1589) as part of a diplomatic mission from Manila, and sort of did "Lafcadio Hearn", soon learning the language and befriending a number of individuals from various walks of life, and building a network for the gathering of information (see his only available biography - two full chapters in Lorenzo Bellagamba's general but monumental "Martiri d'Oriente", Edizioni Paoline, 1951). Originally based in the Portuguese Jesuit Convent in Osaka, he weathered the early clashes between Japanese and Portuguese Jesuits, acting as teacher in the Osaka Catholic School and entertaining a close friendship with number of Hideyoshi cohorts - most notably Manase Dousan, Hideyoshi's personal doctor, and generals Konishi Yukinaga and Kuroda Yoshitaka. He was also on friendly terms with Takayama Nagafusa, also known as Ukon or don Justo to his Christian allies.

After Hideyoshi's death, De Souza astutely distanced himself from the political scene in time to avoid the worst hardships of the Ieyasu years. His involvement with political intrigue was never spelled out clearly (and is not covered by the biographer), but his participation in an intelligence-gathering operation was always considered a given (for him as for most of his colleagues at the time, in fact).

De Souza was a witness to the Osaka siege during the "Summer Campaign" of 1615, but fled the premises before the fall of the castle, and later moved south, reaching the relative haven of Kyushu. Here he lived in relative anonymity, contacts with his western masters granted through the free port of Dejima, in Nagasaki Bay. According to some sources he entrusted prostitutes commuting between the town and the island with encrypted dispatches (Gavassi & McCraken, "St. Peter's Intelligence", in "Proc. of RMGS", volume IV, 1889).

He was an older and wiser man when the Hidetada edicts launched the oppression of the Christians, but he decided to remain in Japan when the final 1624 edict expelled all missionaries and outlawed all Japanese of Christian faith. He was captured and crucified on May 29th 1631 in Shimabara.

Given the place and time, ties with the Masuda Shiro rebel forces can be postulated (DeVries & Bjorlikke, "Peasant Revolts in Feudal Japan - a Historical Materialistic Perspective", Springer Verlag, 1984, lists him among the conspirators) but no direct connection was ever demonstrated.

De Souza and St.Jerome

On the fifth of February 1597, 26 Christians, including six Spanish Jesuits, were crucified in Nagasaki; officially, the bragging of the captain of the "San Felipe" had led to an accusation of conspiracy against the Emperor. The true reasons behind the "incident" have long been debated; for sure, it left the Order of the Sword of St. Jerome in need of a new, more discreet contact in the archipelago, their foothold on the islands having been cancelled. Augusto Colon de Souza was the right man in the right place.

Between 1589 and 1597, De Souza had penned a number of learned studies, in the form of letters or reports to his superiors, covering various aspects of Japanese history, politics and society. His was the first unbiased (relatively at least) overview of the Shinto belief system by a westerner (the report is still held in the Vatican Library in Rome). A long document covering "The Ancient Legend of the Witch Queen Himika" is mentioned in one of the surviving letters but reported as lost.

His proven knowledge of the land and the people caused him to be headhunted by the Jeromites (at the time organized as Minorite Order of the Hermits of St. Jerome of the Fiesole Congregation); it is also likely that some element close to St. Jerome (possibly Takayama Ukon?) spoke for him at a critical moment. In brief, Father De Souza was tested and found suitable, and given a responsible position soon after the Nagasaki Incident. He was barely 30 at the time.

His duties as local head of the St. Jerome network included first- and second-hand data collection (what today would be called "HUMINT") and the compilation of regular reports to the St. Jerome Chapter House in Manila.

Showing an innate attitude for the job, in his new position De Souza traveled extensively, collecting data about minor factions and local cults, while cultivating stronger contacts in the political and military circles.

With hindsight, it is easy to see in his attitude towards Japanese politics the hard-learned lesson of the Nagasaki Incident; while moving freely among a number of powerful circles, De Souza was careful never to compromise himself too much - the only openly hostile party in his respect was general Kato Kiyomasa, a strict Nichiren Buddhist and veteran of the Korean campaigns of the 1590s - and only the turn of the screw represented by the Hidetada edicts and the following merciless oppression finally forced him to take a definite (and definitive) stand. The modern depiction of De Souza as a classical Counter-Reformation figure (see De Chevignac, 1997), more versed in courtly intrigue and intelligence-gathering than in Christian piety, while hard to deny, does not explain completely his choices and his stance.

Further Developments

According to the fourth "Syncretic Spirituality Survey Report" (De Chevignac et al., CESNUR, 1997), Father De Souza, under the Japanese dub of Souzen, was venerated as a Bodhisattva by a small Buddhist sect in the Unzen area till the late 19th century.

Started out as a post-mortem cult of De Souza's personality on the part of local peasants, the "Christian" sect - lacking instruction or even access to a Bible - compiled the teachings of the Jesuit as they were remembered, incorporating local folklore, Buddhist and Shinto doctrine, to finally produce a weird unorthodox mix of beliefs. Never a high-profile cult due to the strict anti-Christian policies of the Tokugawa shogunate, the group moved progressively towards a Buddhist interpretation of its ancient corpus of doctrines, and finally died out in the second half of the 1800s.

A copy of "Souzen's Bible" - a compilation of the aforementioned mix of beliefs by one of the cult's priests - was supposedly part of the rare books collection of Count Kozue Otani in Kyoto, but was reported lost after the Second World War.

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