Awhile back, I fell down the rabbit hole of the Kakure Kirishitans, aka, Japan’s Hidden Christians. While a simple blog post can not begin to go into detail about this group, I will give a brief run down. In 1549, the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier introduced Catholicism to Japan. Over the next half century, Christianity would spread in Japan. However, due to VARIOUS reasons (mainly political), Christianity would be outlawed in Japan in the early 1600s. Thousands would be executed. Those who survived took their practice underground.
The above painting is from the 1597 execution of priests and common folk. See the link I provided below the painting for more info.
To protect themselves, Japanese Christians would integrate Christianity with Shinto and Buddhism. This created an interesting mish mash of beliefs. Since there were no “Catholic” priests in the country, the people had to go off their memories of what previous priests had preached of. These would not be written down because if these writings were found, it mean death. Below are two items of that time period that mixed Buddhism with the Christian faith.
Above is the Maria Kannon with child. Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, takes the place of the Virgin Mary. The child in her arm is detachable, thus if the authorities were inspecting a home with this statue on display, the said Christian could remove the child and just state this is a statue of Kannon. But in prayer, the child would be reattached and the statue be viewed as Mary and Jesus.
Above is a Christian Cross, but it has the Buddha attached to it. It was not until around 1865-ish that Christianity became legal in Japan. Once it did, these hidden Christians would come out of hiding and integrate with the Catholic Church. However, some decided to remain hidden. The tradition still exists to this day, though the practice is almost extinct. It is believed less than 100 still practice this tradition. If you want to know more, just google / youtube search on the subject and you’ll find all kinds of fascinating information.
What brings me to post about this group is their text, the “Tenchi”. This text is the only known scripture from this group. An English translation of this can be found in the book “The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan’s Hidden Christians” by Christal Whelan. The book features a history of the text, how it was viewed by the KK, and a commentary / notes section after the scripture. The Tenchi itself is about 30 pages long. It is a very interesting retelling of the Christian Mythology. It covers the creation story, Adam & Even, the Flood, Mary’s life leading up to the birth of Jesus, then follows Jesus until death and after that, it features an “end of the world” story and another story that seems out of place (most likely added later on). What is great is that there are 10 known copies of this text, which is awesome for someone who is translating it. If we could only be so lucky with gnostic texts!
The “Tenchi” is gnostic in how it retells these stories. The stories also like to recount tales that would explain various sayings. Here is an example.
From Book 1: The Beginning of Heaven and Earth .... When Adan (Adam) came home, Ewa (Eve) told him the story and showed him the fruit she had set aside for him. When she handed it to Adan, he had some doubts but took it in his hands anyway and ate it. At that moment, how eerie it was, for a voice as if from nowhere spoke out: "Adan...whhhy? That is the evil fruit." It was the voice of Deusu (God), and Adan, shaken, stood transfixed in amazement, but no matter how hard he tried to vomit up the fruit it remained lodged deep in his throat. What a pitiful sight it was, for Ewa and Adan too lost the glory of heaven and were transformed on the spot. They offered the Salve Regina, cried out to heaven, and bowed to the ground. Tears of blood flowed from their eyes, and although they had a thousand regrets it was no use. This incident is the origin of the Contrition orassho.
As you can see, it sort of stays with the canon, though a bit of a difference. Book 1 starts with the creation, which kind of reads like a Buddhist style scripture. Below is the first paragraph of Book 1:
In the beginning, Deusu was worshiped as Lord of Heaven and Earth, and Parent of humankind and all creation. Deusu has two hundred ranks and forty-two forms, and divided the light that was originally one, and made the Sun Heaven, and twelve other heavens. The names of these heavens are Benbo or Hell, Manbo, Oribeten, Shidai, Godai, Pappa, Oroha, Konsutanchi, Hora, Koroteru, and a hundred thousand Paraiso and Gokuraku.
Book 2, titled The Evil Fruit Cast to Middle Heaven, is about the children of Adam and Eve going to “Middle Earth” (i.e. outside of Paradise) and the flood. The flood retailing is quite interesting. It involves lion dogs outside a temple. Once the eyes of these statues become red, a great tsunami will destroy the world. Some kids thought this prophecy was ridiculous and painted the eyes red and once Pappa Maruji (the Noah archetype) saw this, he got his children into a canoe he prepared and was saved when this wave of water came and destroyed the world. No animals on board, nor would there be room! lol This flood was brought to the earth because of three beings that had came to the world: Ambition, Covetousness, and Selfishness.
Book 3, The Division of Deusu’s Body for the Salvation of Humankind, is about Maruya (the Virgin Mary). This is an interesting backstory for her as it states when she was twelve, she was given an oracle that would shape her life. The story later speaks of a King who wants to marry Maruya and even tempts her with various worldly treasures. She explains why she does not care and I really like how this plays out. Here is some of the scripture:
Without so much as a glance at the king's treasures Maruya responded, "Your treasures are temporary and pertain to an ephemeral present. Once you have used them up, they are useless. But now I will show you my secret arts." Turning her face to the heavens above, pressing her palms together and gathering all her force to the center of her being in prayer, the girl Maruya worshiped and invoked while these words flooded from her: "Reveal to us your mystery and power this instant."
This causes food to suddenly appear in front of the king and then Maruya does another miracle that brings snow to the area, which is in their hottest month of the year. At the end of the story, Maruya ascends to heaven.
Book 4, The King’s Death, starts with Maruya in heaven speaking to Deusu and it involves the plan of Deusu descending to Earth and using Maruya as a vessel.
Kneeling before the Biruzen Santa Maruya, the anjo said, "The Lord of Heaven is due to descend to earth, so please let us use your young and fresh body for the purpose." Maruya answered, "How marvelous indeed. Just as I was sitting here wondering where he might come, you have come to tell me that it is to me he will come." She was exceedingly glad and assured the anjo, saying, "Your wish is my command." The anjo added, "In the middle of the second month the Lord will come to earth, so please comply with this favor we have asked you." With those words the anjo disappeared into the heavens.
Later in the book, it mentions the origins of the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father.” Here is the explanation provided:
Izaberuna, greatly surprised when she saw her friend, leaped backwards and then bowed with her head to the ground, and uttered the words: "Maruya, full of grace, to you I bow. The Lord is with you and blessed are you among all other women. Precious is the Jisusu who is in your womb." Maruya listened and said, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed is your name. He will come and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. From heaven give us our daily nourishment."
Very interesting stuff! I have decided to split my thoughts on the Tenchi to 3 blog posts, so I will end here for now.