On my previous post regarding inculturation, Guy Power left a comment mentioning a couple of particularly interesting examples. When the Jesuits first began training (truly excellent) Japanese seminarians, they were wearing black kimono and hakama while living in recently abandoned Buddhist monasteries. The kimono/hakama were chosen as culturally acceptable modifications of the former Jesuit cassock and the abandoned monasteries were simply there, cheap, and suitable to community life. They were studying philosophy and theology in Japanese and Latin simultaneously, as well as undergoing the exercises. What became troublesome was the attitude of noble families to the asceticism and rigour of Jesuit life. Apparently, it was common for the sons of the upper ranks to spend some time as temple novices before returning to their families and worldly affairs. While the Jesuits (as in Europe) attracted the upper-class men as scholastics, the old buddhist surrounds and native dress may well have lent the impression of a similar arrangement, which was soured by the strict rule of life and expectation of a perpetual commitment.

Needless to say, it became a point of (non-theological) scandal for many Japanese, both new converts and non-Christians who saw these young men enter the perfectly normal novice period of this “new way” only to be told that they must remain forever (celibate at that!).

But that’s not what really caught my eye. It was actually the use of a pine branch for the Asperges and the 「カトリックの神棚」(Catholic God-shelf) which made me chuckle. If the Japanese priests were to adopt the sprinkling of holy water with branches as an act of (pseudo-shinto) inculturation, they would actually be taking a giant leap towards the ideal traditions of the Roman Rite (the psalm “asperges me” explicitly refers to the use of hyssop branches, though it is more than common to use even a bundle of dry twigs to sprinkle the people with holy water in the extraordinary form). Secondly, I’m almost tempted to try that kamidana idea myself as a means of evangelisation… of course one would have to wonder whether any curious Japanese would be interested enough to stand there and be catechised/evangelised, or whether they would assume that the souls of St Dominic and Our Lord were enshrined in my little shelf, for me to pray to and offer boiled eggs.

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