Postgraduate students

Linda Zampol D'Ortia BA MA, PhD

The Cape of the Devil: Salvation in the Japanese Jesuit Mission under Francisco Cabral (1570–1579)

This dissertation sheds new light on the missionary policies implemented by the Portuguese Jesuit Francisco Cabral (1533-1609) during his time as Superior of the Japanese mission (1570-79), by contextualising his actions and decisions within the framework of early-modern Catholicism and its extra-European missions. In this way, it refutes the image, produced by previous literature, of Cabral as the villain in the story of the Japanese Jesuit mission and a deviation from the norm of the missionary spirit of the Society of Jesus. At the same time, this research disrupts the uniformity of the narrative that surrounds the Jesuit missions to Asia, which depicts them in a continuous evolution towards accommodation and repudiates the elements that do not easily fit into that narrative.

Just as soteriology has been identified as one of the central preoccupations of early-modern Catholicism, behind Cabral’s policies for the Japanese mission it is possible to identify his own beliefs and apprehensions regard salvation. He refused any justification, whether based on the Jesuit Constitutions or on Japanese customs, that supported the missionaries’ use of silk garments, and had the black cassock reinstated. In Cabral’s interpretation, these colourful garments were a “cape” used by the devil to hide his infiltration into the enterprise. By banning them, he gave precedence to the upholding of the vow of poverty and faith in God. Facing the missionaries’ refusal to obey, Cabral then attempted to implement some solutions that would allow the restoration of what he identified as the correct Jesuit way of proceeding. In his intentions, the respect of the vows of poverty and obedience would attract God’s favour and therefore cause plenty of conversions among the Japanese.

However, the lack of funds and the isolation of the mission aggravated this unsatisfactory situation. Cut off from the Jesuit chain of obedience, and reading negative signs in the progress of the conversions, Cabral assumed that God had abandoned the mission because of the sins of its members. If this were the case, no amount of good works would help the missionaries to save their souls. Overworked, demoralised, and burnt-out, by 1576 Cabral was beseeching the General to let him return to Europe, to illustrate to the Curia the situation of Japan in a more efficient manner than lettered governance.

Cabral identified a source of personal disedification in the post of Superior of Japan itself. The impossibility of exercising holy obedience prevented him from using one of the most powerful tools of self-denial available to early-modern Jesuits. Fearing for his soul, and foreseeing a disastrous future for the mission, in 1580 Cabral was finally allowed to leave the enterprise and its corrupting influence behind. By refusing to follow the way of proceeding and its vows, the missionaries had irremediably compromised their salvation; for Cabral, missionary work, instead of being a way to work towards salvation, had become a veritable disguise for losing one’s way to temptation.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Will Sweetman, Professor Takashi Shogimen and Dr Erica Baffelli

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme