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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

But the shogun extended his protection to Vilela


Vilela

does not seem to have allowed himself to be influenced in any degree by the aid that he received on this occasion from his Buddhist friend, who is described as "one of the most respected men in the city." The Jesuit father seized the first opportunity to denounce Buddhism and its followers in unmeasured terms, and soon the bonzes began to intrigue with corresponding vehemence for the expulsion of the foreign propagandists. But the shogun extended his protection to Vilela, by issuing a decree which made it a capital punishment to injure the missionaries or obstruct their work. The times, however, were very troublous, so that Vilela and his fellow workers had to encounter much difficulty and no little danger. Nothing, however, damped their ardour, and five years after their arrival in Kyoto they had not only obtained many converts but had organized churches in five towns within a radius of fifty miles from the capital. Two incidents may be specially mentioned illustrating the loyal spirit with which the Japanese of that time approached controversy. Among Vilela's converts were two Buddhist priests who had been nominated officially to investigate and report upon the novel doctrines, and who, in the sequel of their investigation, openly embraced Christianity though they had originally been vehemently opposed to it. The second incident was the conversion of a petty feudatory, Takayama, whose fief lay at Takatsuki in the vicinity of the capital. He challenged Vilela to a public discussion
of the merits of the two creeds, and being vanquished, he frankly acknowledged his defeat, adopted Christianity, and invited his vassals as well as his family to follow his example. His son, Yusho, became one of the most loyal supporters of Christianity in all Japan. He is the "Don Justo Ukondono" of the Jesuits' annals.

NOBUNAGA AND CHRISTIANITY

At the time of Vilela's visit to Kyoto civil war was raging. It led to the death of the shogun, Yoshiteru, and to the issue of an Imperial decree proscribing Christianity, Vilela and his two comrades were obliged to take refuge in the town of Sakai, and they remained there during three years, when they were invited to an interview with Oda Nobunaga, who, at this time, had risen almost to the pinnacle of his immense power. Had Nobunaga shown himself hostile to Christianity, the latter's fate in Japan would have been quickly sealed; but not only was he a man of wide and liberal views, but also he harboured a strong antipathy against the Buddhists, whose armed interference in politics had caused him much embarrassment. He welcomed Christianity largely as an opponent of Buddhism, and when Takayama conducted Froez from Sakai to Nobunaga's presence, the Jesuit received a cordial welcome. Thenceforth, during the fourteen remaining years of his life, Nobunaga steadily befriended the missionaries in particular and foreign visitors to Japan in general. He stood between the Jesuits and the Throne when, in reply to an appeal from Buddhist priests, the Emperor Okimachi, for the second time, issued an anti-Christian decree (1568); he granted a site for a church and a residence at Azuchi on Lake Biwa, where his new castle stood; he addressed to various powerful feudatories letters signifying a desire for the spread of Christianity; he frequently made handsome presents to the fathers, and whenever they visited him he showed himself accessible and gracious. The Jesuits said of him: "This man seems to have been chosen by God to open and prepare the way for our faith. In proportion to the intensity of his enmity to the bonzes and their sects is his good-will towards our fathers who preach the law of God, whence he has shown them so many favours that his subjects are amazed and unable to divine what he is aiming at in this. I will only say that, humanly speaking, what has above all given great credit and reputation to the fathers is the great favour Nobunaga has shown for the Company." It is not to be supposed, however, that Nobunaga's attitude towards the Jesuits signified any belief in their doctrines. In 1579, he took a step which showed plainly that policy as a statesman ranked much higher in his estimation than duty towards religion. For, in order to ensure the armed assistance of a certain feudatory, a professing Christian, Nobunaga seized the Jesuits in Kyoto, and threatened to ban their religion altogether unless they persuaded the feudatory to adopt Nobunaga's side. Nevertheless, that Christianity benefited much by his patronage there can be no dissentient opinion.


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