Vatican Apostolic ‘Breve’ to Lord Justo Takayama, April 24, 1590

Vatican Archives

►In 1587, the Imperial Regent (“Kampaku), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉, 1537-1598) banished Christian missionaries from Kyūshū to exert greater control over the Kirishitan Daimyōs. Christianity was repressed as a threat to a newly-reunified Japan.

At the same time, Hideyoshi ordered all Daimyōs who were Christian converts to renounce their fealty to a foreign God – or lose their fiefs: castles, armed forces, rice income (in “koku”) – and be reduced to “ronin” — masterless samurai.

However, since Hideyoshi made much of trade with Europeans, individual Christians were overlooked unofficially. (It was only after the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in 1620, that Christianity ceased to exist publicly.)

Hideyoshi’s “Edict of expulsion of the Christian Padres” (吉利支丹伴天連追放令), 1587.

►Hideyoshi’s move against Lord Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近,1552-1615) was personal and calculated. The demand was made in the middle of military campaign that Ukon was leading for Hideyoshi in Kyushu.

Ukon’s answer to the emissary sent by Hideyoshi – the renowned Teamaster Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522–1591), friend of both Hideyoshi and Ukon — was firm and measured: “My loyalty is to the hegemon, but my God comes first.”

[Note that Ukon’s banishment from Akashi in 1587 was fully ten years BEFORE the first gory martyrdoms – by crucifixion — at Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaki, which were ordered by the same Toyotomi Hideyoshi, now ruling as “Taiko” or Retired Regent. Ukon was on top of the original list of Japanese Christians to be executed — until Lord Maeda intervened to remove Ukon from that execution list.]

The “confrontation” between Hideyoshi and Ukon did not happen — though it is famously illustrated in historical accounts. The ultimatum was sent through Sen no Rikyū (千利休), the Grand Teamaster

Having declared his defiant decision, Lord Ukon Takayama, now 35, sent runners to warn his family in Funage Castle in Akashi of the dire events and they escaped to the protection of a fellow Christian, Lord Agostinho Yukinaga Konishi (小西 行長, 1555–1600) who – though a committed Christian like Ukon — was secure in the affection of Hideyoshi because he was needed to command  Hideyoshi’s two military invasions of Korea — First Invasion [1592–1593]; Second Invasion [1596-1598].

Pope Sixtus V Sends Papal ‘Breve’ to ‘Dom Justo Ucondono’ in Japan

Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590)

►On April 24, 1590 – in the fifth year of his papacy and four months before he died, Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-Aug. 27, 1590) issued a “Papal Breve” exhorting Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近,1552-1615) to hold fast to his Catholic Faithand “be an inspiration to other oppressed Christians.”

[A papal brief (“breve”) was used for the popes’ private or even secret correspondence. Written not in the chancery but, instead, by papal secretaries (an office dating from about 1338), the briefs were sealed on wax with the imprint of the papal signet ring.]

The Pope said he was aware of the flare-up of persecutions mounted against followers of Jesus Christ. As one who was baptized in the Faith, the celebrated “Kirishitan Samurai” was urged to endure with fortitude all the trials that came his way. The prayers of the Pope were with him. The saints revered by the Church were those who were forged in the fire of adversity, and they emerged stronger for their steadfastness.

The Pope appreciated the difficult circumstances of the Christian community in Japan and, with the former Daimyō Takayama as its major pillar, the Pope wanted to shore up his courage. But there was no necessity for that, as Pope Sixtus himself acknowledged. Ukon was a committed Christian who understood and appreciated his duties derived from his Baptism.

In Domestic Exile in Kanazawa

►In 1590, the year the Papal Breve was written, Dom Justo Ucondono was already in domestic exile in Kanazawa – where he found sanctuary in the service of Lord Toshiie Maeda (前田 利家, 1538–1599) as a guest general (“Kyakusho”) of Maeda’s troops since 1588.

Over 200 Daimyōs — in Ukon’s Era

►In Takayama’s time (1552-1615), there were some 215 Daimyōs who ruled parts of Japan.  Only landlords [sometimes rendered as “warlords”] heading “han” assessed at 10,000 “koku” (50,000 bushels) or more were considered Daimyōs. [The term, “dai” (大) means “large”, and “myō” stands for “myōden” (名田), meaning private land.]

Of some 86 Daimyōs. who had converted to Christianity between 1563 to 1600 – only Ukon and former Daimyō Joan Tocuan Naitō (内藤 如安), did not abandon their faith. Lord Ōtomo Sōrin (1530-June 11, 1587), also known as Fujiwara no Yoshishige (藤原 義鎮), of the Funai Domain on Kyūshū, wavered but a scion joined Ukon in the exile of the first 350 Japanese Christians to Manila on Nov. 8, 1614.

Lord Toshiie Maeda

►Lord Maeda was the richest Daimyō in Japan – and relatively secure in the affections of Hideyoshi. In time, Hideyoshi would appoint Maeda to be a member of the Council of Five Elders (五大老 Go-Tairō), a group of five powerful feudal lords formed in 1598 by the Regent (太閤 TaikōToyotomi Hideyoshi, shortly before his death in the same year. His son, Toyotomi Hideyori, was still only 5 years old and as such Hideyoshi needed to create the Council to ensure his heir would be able to succeed him after coming of age.

►During his service to Lord Maeda for the next 26 years, Ukon was rewarded with an estate in Noto Peninsula, with generous revenues to support his family. While functioning in Kanazawa, Ukon invited some 600 masterless Christian samurai – “ronin” – who had lost their privileges for staunchly remaining Christian despite the government’s prohibition — to live as a truly Christian community in Noto Peninsula. Ukon built two churches in his estate in Shio-machi and Shika-machi, Hakui-Gun, Ishikawa Prefecture — with one Jesuit chaplain and one Jesuit Brother serving in both places. This was the first dedicated community of Christians ever in Japan.

Ukon Went to Battle With Vanguard of 600 Christian Samurai

Ukon and his army fought under the banner of the Cross

►It should be noted that during the 12 years he was Daimyō of Takatsuki (becoming castle-lord of Takatsuki Castle at age 21), Takayama’s vanguard was composed of 600 men – all Christians, all ready to die at the battlefield with Ukon. Theoretically he could support a 20,000-man army, with his revenue of 20,000 “koku” of rice.

James Murdoch writes in “A History of Japan” (1903) that, at the Battle of Yamazaki (山崎の戦い Yamazaki no tatakai, fought in 1582 in Yamazaki), Lord Takayama led the first detachment of “less than 1,000 troops” but “they were so fired with the ardor of battle, and so confident with the help of God that on seeing the enemy, Justo did not hesitate to lead them to battle. And they so bore themselves that in a twinkling, they [accounted for] more than 200 nobles of Akechi.”

This led Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa (徳川 家康, 1543–June 1, 1616), who would become the first of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan till 1868 — to remark: “In Ukon’s hands 1,000 soldiers would be worth more than 10,000 in the hands of whosoever else.”

Takayama Archival Research

►The Takayama Historical Committee that researched on Ukon Takayama was headed by ● Fr. Hubert Cieslik, SJ, Vice-Moderator, “Kirishitan-bunka-kenkyukai” and editor of the Sacred Heart Magazine in Tokyo, ● Peter Yakichi Kataoka, professor in Collegio Junshin Joshi-Tanki-Daigaku in Nagasaki, and ● Fr. P. Diego Pacheco, SJ, director of the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki. Fr. Pacheco researched on European sources.

Jesuit researchers — compiling historical documents to support the Cause of Canonization of Justo Ukon Takayama (which had been a Cause of the Manila Archdiocese since 1630, up to 1963 when Manila Cardinal Rufino J. Santos (1908-1973) seconded the “Cause of Takayama” to the Church of Japan –– chanced on the document in the Vatican Archives.

Print-out of Papal Breve sent to Dom Justo Ucondono on April 24, 1590 (Arch. Vat., Ann. 44, v. 29 ff. 437va-438v. Nr. 42). 

The Papal Breve Was Written in “Cursus Curiae Romanae” Style

►The “Breve” was written in Latin, the root of Europe’s Romanic languages, but now considered a “dead language” – although, in 1590, it was taught at all levels of education in Europe. Even today, Latin is still commonly used in science, medicine, and law. It was the Catholic Church which largely kept it alive – until Vatican II (1962-1965) abandoned the Latin Mass.

The Vatican parchment was written in the “Cursus Curiae Romanae” style – which is some 16 centuries removed from the classical Latin of Julius Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” (‎58–49 BC). Its use was promoted by Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099). His papal chancery standardized the “Cursus Curiae Romanae” as a rhythmical style for the official documents issued by the Vatican. By the 12th century, the template for all future papal correspondence had emerged. The task, which began under Pope Urban II (1088-1099), was completed under Pope Gelasius II (1118-1119). The system established a set of rules governing the balance and cadence of epistolary periods.

The affairs of the Holy See were handled primarily by the Apostolic Chancery through which the Pope conducts his business – his secretarial office. The Breve to Ukon was penned by Msgr. Marcellus Vestrius Barbianus, the Papal Secretary who served several successive Popes.

Breve Was Printed in First Takayama ‘Positio’

►There is no account that the “Breve” ever reached Ukon — but a copy of the Latin text exists in the Vatican Archives. (Arch. Vat., Ann. 44, v. 29 ff. 437va-438v. Nr. 42). The text was first reproduced in the first Takayama “Positio”: “Servus Dei, Justus Takayama Ukon: Materia Praeparata Pro Propositione Super Virtutibus Servi Dei Justi Takayama Ukon” (Manila: Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation, 1994).

Text ‘Tweaked’ by Prof. Jenkins

►Prof. Anthony Philip Jenkins (1949- ), Oxford-educated Professor Emeritus of History, Archive Science and Latin at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, in Naha, Okinawa, teased out the correct Latin text from the Vatican parchment.

Prof. Anthony Philip Jenkins (left), who edited the Latin text, was presented by Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro (right), Takayama Trustee, with a framed copy of the Vatican Parchment that was sent to Dom Justo Ucondono in 1590

First English Translation

►After Prof. Jenkins had “tweaked” the Breve for misprints and typographical errors ● made when an amanuensis created a file copy for the Vatican Archives, ● during the transcription of the archival copy by Jesuit researchers, and ● during its digitization by Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, Takayama Trustee, for inclusion in the first “Takayama Positio,” he made a provisional English translation and left it to Dr. de Pedro to edit out the “curlicues of language” that characterized the “Cursus Curiae Romanae” style.

Apostolic Blessing

►Addressed to “Beloved Son and Noble Sir: Greetings and Apostolic Blessings,” the “Papal Breve” was dated April 24, 1590 – exactly 125 days before the Pope died. The message exhorted Ukon – and “others suffering Persecution”: “Hold fast to your Christian Faith!”

The apostolic blessing was addressed – NOT to Lord Justus Ukon Takayama – but to “Nobilis Vir, Justi Ucodono” – “Nobleman Justo Ucondono,” which is how the Jesuits referred to Ukon in their accounts.

What Did Pope Sixtus V Write?

Beloved Son and Noble Sir: Greetings and Apostolic Blessings!

>>>Since you have revealed yourself by readily abandoning honors, by disdaining wealth and, under adverse circumstances, accepting this outcome as the Will of God, you have shown that you are a good Christian who, though accustomed to receive just treatment, yet you have readily accepted the Reality of Exile, suffering the loss of all your worldly possessions with constancy of mind.

>>>Furthermore, you have demonstrated how the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are lived out in the midst of trouble and misfortunes. As you have also disdained Death, the Christian religion has advanced and increased by the example of your own life put to the test of Peril.

>>>We have rejoiced that you have displayed the mindfulness of a man of Faith awaiting the heavenly reward of an outstanding Christian, worthy to be emulated by other men. In the causes of Divine Glory and the salvation of your people, much praise be yours.

>>>Wherefore, since you know those who defend and stand up for Jesus, regardless of the consequences, will be blessed and belong to Heaven, We freely impart our apostolic blessings to a singular promoter of God’s Kingdom and an undaunted witness to the Catholic Faith

>>>You know from the Word of God that the Blessed will find themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven, and well as those who raise up the Cross according to His Example and follow Christ — just as you perceive that Christian adherents are bound to grieve when their Leader is put to the test for the sake of our holy Catholic Faith.

>>>In this regard, you do not need to receive our Counsel as you are endowed with Outstanding Courage. We do not consider that you need our Encouragement to face a firestorm of your own free will. Indeed, that is because you have confronted tests by yourself.

>>>But we endeavor to draw attention to the Cause of others suffering Persecution — rather than to your Cause. The pursuit of Heaven needs to be carried forward as far as possible with the Shield of your Unshakable Faith.

>>>Dated Rome, at St. Peter’s, under the Ring of the Fisherman, April 24. 1590, in the 5th year of our Pontificate.

Vatican Parchment

Vatican Parchment

►What did a Vatican parchment look like? Here’s a sample “Breve” – NOT Ukon’s – from the Vatican Archives.#

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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