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Abstract

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence takes up the anguished experience of God’s silence in the face of human suffering. The main character, the Jesuit priest Sabastião Rodrigues, finds his faith gutted by the appalling silence of God as he witnesses the horrific persecution of Christians in seventeenth century Japan. Yujin Nagasawa calls the particularly intense combination of the problems of divine hiddenness and evil the problem of divine absence that resists resolution through explanations that have typically characterized the theodicies offered by philosophers. Drawing on the thought of Ignatius of Loyola, this essay explores the way Scorsese’s Silence raises the problem of divine absence for Rodrigues and, through his experience, suggests a way of living with it. This mode of response, I contend, makes what Nagasawa calls cosmic optimism—a hopeful attitude that all is good on a cosmic scale—accessible to devout believers like Rodrigues by grounding it in identification with the god-forsakenness experienced by Christ upon the cross in an experience akin to catharsis that delivers a clarifying emotional consonance. Viewed through an Ignatian lens, the film does more than illustrate a way of responding, it actively engages the imagination in a way that enables viewers to encounter the problem of divine absence and gain the intimate knowledge needed to live with it themselves. In this sense, I argue, Silence can itself be a practical theodicy.