The musicologists discovered that this dates back to the late 16th century, when the Jesuits and the Franciscans came to southern Japan and Christianized (the region).
...there's a strong mathematical element in Bach's music, so the beauty of God is reflected in the universe, it's reflected in your surroundings...and it's reflected of course in the music by which faith is brought to man.
About a third of the population of the entire nobility of southern Japan became Christian. It was fashionable for southern Japanese to wear crucifixes on their chest and go to bible study and all that sort of thing.
The Franciscans introduced organ builders and they built organs in Japan, especially in Nagasaki, (which) was considered the Vatican of Christianity in Japan in the late 16th century. They trained princes and nobility to play the organ. They were so brilliant that they were flown to Portugal and to Madrid and to the Vatican and played before the Pope and kings.
Then the Shoguns squashed Christianity in the early 17th century through martyrdoms: they burned (Christians) hanging upside down with their mouths hanging over cesspools...crucified them upside down.
Christianity was annihilated in southern Japan with the exception of some outer fishing islands – there you have Christian fishing communities. But the only thing that evidently remained of Christianity until the new wave of missionaries arrived was the sense of music, the Western music, and in this case, Gregorian chant resonated with the Japanese sense of music.
What does this phenomenon say about the hope that Christianity could return to Japan?
It's very evident to me as a Christian theologian that this is the work of the Spirit. As scripture says, God's days are like a thousand years, he obviously handles history, gets involved in history for the benefit of His church. And this is to me absolutely is so exciting, the thought that in the 16th century a bunch of missionaries come to Japan, and then Christianity gets wiped out, but what remains and has an impact on the religiosity of the Japanese is the musical part of it.
I am not saying that music triggers the faith, but the music triggers curiosity about the faith...and of course Bach, being very Lutheran, if he were asked, would say: "What I am doing is setting the word of God to music."
(The Japanese people today) are not entirely resistant to Christianity, quite to the contrary, they are open to it. As I said in Tokyo, they were asking Suzuki to explain to them the Christian concepts, the meaning of hope and love and peace and all these things, and so it's there.
The Holy Spirit works over centuries and over generations, so I wouldn't be surprised if say in 200 years from now, you suddenly have a Christian awakening in Japan.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Why is it that beauty, such as in Bach's music, opens the mind and heart to God?
Of the members of the hard sciences, mathematicians tend to be the ones more inclined to be believers, and that is because of the beauty of mathematics.
Which leads us to Bach, because there's a strong mathematical element in Bach's music, so the beauty of God is reflected in the universe, it's reflected in your surroundings...and it's reflected of course in the music by which faith is brought to man.
One of the reasons that I am so ardently opposed to contemporary liturgies, or non-liturgical worship, is because in contemporary liturgies, you have these nonsense, asinine noises being made, and you have the altar replaced by a drum set, and people screaming about and shouting the same garbage, just repeating the same thing, that is not beauty, and I think it is counterproductive theologically to do that – this is my personal prejudice.
I am fervently in favor of a full liturgy that has been brought to us through the ancient Church. It's the vehicle by which God might make himself known. To me it's incomprehensible how anyone could say that the creation of the universe was a random operation when it's so beautifully organized and structured, that's just crap, it makes you sound so ridiculous, but it is not that saves the world, it is a vehicle. Christ's work at the cross for us has and is saving the world.
Photo credit: Ms. Octopus via www.shutterstock.com.
This article originally ran on CNA March 18, 2016.