Project Canterbury

Tales Illustrative of the Apostles' Creed

By John Mason Neale

London: Masters, 1885.

II. The Crater of Daybut
"Maker of Heaven and earth."

THE evening of a summer day. A wild scene it is among mountains: we are standing on the edge of a huge crater, the bed of an extinct volcano. Yet not so wholly extinct but that far below us, a mile away, down in the very centre of the gorge, there is a jet of smoke, which, as evening darkens into night, will, like the pillar of cloud that went before the Israelites, kindle into fire. See how the peaks, all round, toss themselves up in the wildest confusion; those two sharp, needle-like points to the left, that bluff, stern-looking precipice,--in the centre of which one little white cloud has anchored itself,--straight before us, and then to the right, and towering far above us, that conical mountain, over the shoulder of which winds a narrow mule-path, cut out by years of labour through the solid rock. And notice how beyond it, where it falls back from its neighbour mountain, and gives a vista of the horizon, a building of white marble has caught the now almost level rays of the sun, and lights up the hill which it crowns.

That is the temple of the god Daybut, for we are in Japan: and a great day to-morrow will be (so they think) for the worshippers of the idol. Then these mountains, now so lonely, then all the edge or rim of the crater,--and it must measure four or five miles across,--will be thronged, will be alive with worshippers. For this volcano is sacred to Daybut; and it is held that whoever should be foolhardy enough to descend into it and to cross it, would pay for his sacrilege, not only with his own life, but with the destruction of the whole empire. For the Priests of Daybut affirm that then the foun-tains of fire which lurk beneath it would be broken up, the chain of mountains, as far as the eye can reach, would be shattered in pieces, and the whole kingdom of Meaco be overwhelmed with a deluge of flame. So they preach, and so their hearers believe. To-morrow then, there will be a concourse of people from all parts of the empire: not only from great Niphon, the chief of the Japanese Islands, but from the out-lying portions of the empire, from Sitkof, from Kiousiou, yes, and from those distant rocks against which the waves of the Pacific are waging continual war, Firando, and Timoura, and Osima. They say the Emperor will not be here himself: he is so busied with his new erections in the Capital, that he will be content with an embassy to the god. But I do hear that the Christians,--for there have been Christians in Japan for these forty years,--are in expectation of some great event. Father Frocs, the Missionary of Meaco (he will be a martyr at a future time, being frozen to death for the Name of CHRIST,) will be here: and the report goes, that this prerogative of Daybut will not pass alto-gether unquestioned. For more than one valiant heart among those who follow--as the common expression goes--the "Law of the Portuguese," are determined to vindicate for themselves the honour of the GOD of the Christians, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and to teach the whole Em-pire that the strength of the hills is His also.

Now let the sun set behind the western range. You may catch--so high is the ground on which we are standing,--a narrow strip of silver: it is the inland sea between Niphon and Sitkof. On those shores the standard of the Cross was first planted; they have already sent multitudes of martyrs to glory: before the conflict is ended, and the Church crushed out in Japan, they will send thousands more. And, as the night thickens, we may catch to the north a great glare, as from a mighty city. That shows where, in Meaco, the Emperor Taycosama is entertaining half the priests of his empire, at a banquet in honour of Daybut: and every one of the six thousand temples in the Capital is illuminated in honour of the festival. That glare will last all through the night, and then in the morning, by thousands and tens of thousands, the pilgrims to this vol-cano will pour forth.

Let the night have passed. Let the sun have just risen over the eastern mountains: and see how the whole scene is changed. Multitudes thronging and pressing on all sides, .and girding in the crater with a living chain. From this knoll we shall have the best view of the whole. Here they have set up the standard of the Green Dragon, which shows that the principal men of the day have chosen this for their own position. Here, too, is a pulpit of sandal wood, from whence the most celebrated and most learned Bonze of the Empire--his name is Morindono,--will preach of the greatness and glory of Day-but. Here he can best be heard, perhaps by some two or three thousand spectators: but at intervals, through the whole circle of the multi-tude, other pulpits are reared up, from which other Bonzes of inferior name will each address his own congregation. Crowded as they are through such a vast, extent, it is not wonderful that the numbers should be variously reckoned; but he that rates them at the fewest sets them down at a hundred and fifty thousand, and there are not wanting those who are ready to wager that they amount to more than double that sum. I see that Father Froes has kept his word. Like a brave general, he will take up his own position where the enemy is strongest. He is standing near the pulpit, and those about him are the principal Christians whom he has led to the scene of action. A little aloof, and mingling with the worshippers of the idol, are the three or four hundred who have accompanied him hither; most of them men, but some women and children, ready, they say, to die with him, or to die for him; eager to give glory to their own GOD, and to make manifest that, as for all the gods of the heathen, they are but idols, the work of men's hands.

Now there is a flourish of trumpets; one of the princes, the son of Taycosama, takes his seat under the canopy of cloth of gold; the Bonze, a venerable looking old man of seventy, in his rich robes as a doctor of his religion, ascends the pulpit: a great silence falls on the crowd: the standard, which has been hitherto only half mast high, is run up to the top of the pole: six cannon prepared near this knoll are fired at once, and all round the crater, at the given signal, the crowd fall down and do homage to Daybut. Now you may count the Christians. Like the army of Israel in olden time, they seem indeed a little flock of kids, while the Syrians fill the country. One or two of the fainter hearts among them had proposed that,--not to give (as they said, and as weak people always will say) unnecessary offence--at the moment when the multitude fell down and worshipped Daybut, they also should kneel and adore the GOD of Heaven. But Father Froes was firm. "If I stand up alone," he said, "among the whole assembly, I will not bow my knee, when I may be thought to bow it to an idol. On this fashion it had been easy for the three holy Chil-dren to deliver themselves from the burning fiery furnace. And though I read of Naaman, that for a while he had leave to bow down himself in the house of Rimmon, I know of the same Naaman that, after a brief space, he disdained to use that licence, and so died a martyr to the GOD of Israel."

But we must listen to what the Bonze is say-ing. He is magnifying the power of Daybut, he is showing the mercy and bounty of that god towards his clients, more especially at the hour of their death. He goes on, almost in the words of Holy Scripture, (for the Japanese religion is perhaps the masterpiece of Satan,) to show how he will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth: and then he di-lates on the history of the crater below him, and the impenetrable fence with which it is walled about. "You know," such are his words, "that from the beginning of time, no mortal feet have ever dared to cross this most holy place; that to the end of time none will ever be sacrilegious enough to risk the venture. You know that, according to our law, if any man will attempt it, free licence must he have, that he must not be let nor hindered in any way; that cither our god will strike him dead before he reaches the fountain of fire, or if the fatal time of the earth shall have come, he will be the occasion of its return to chaos, and will be tormented with torments beyond all imagination, for ever and ever. Just indeed is our god, and wonderful are his works! He might have commanded us to hinder any miserable wretch from that sacrilegious at-tempt. But he chose rather to leave the way open, to the end that the greatness of his own power might be made manifest. You know, furthermore,--we all know,--it is to our shame and confusion that I speak, that not so many years ago, the Law of the Portuguese was first preached in this land. You know how that, instead of adoring the true and immortal gods, they worship One Whom they affirm to have been crucified hundreds of years ago. Where-upon it pleased former emperors of their great clemency to crucify many of them. But this pestilential sect still increasing, it seemed good to our great and glorious Taycosama, whom the gods long preserve! rather to turn them over to that contempt and ridicule which they merit, than to expose them either to the fire or to frozen tanks, or to wild bulls, as hath in times past been done. But observe this: of all those hundreds of Christians who profess that the power of our gods is as nothing, not one has ever dared, often as they have been challenged, to descend into this volcano. For they know that however they may ridicule our worship with their lips, they believe it in their hearts. Yes," he continued, perceiving that Father Froes was anxious to address him, "I know what their teacher would say: that he himself or any of the Portuguese are ready to make the attempt. But this I have told them, and I tell you, that the law laid down for our own country applies not to strangers. They have free leave to go down into the crater: if they do, their punish-ment is reserved for the other world. But I challenge now, as I have heretofore challenged, any Japanese who calls himself by the Name of CHRIST, to descend into the volcano if he dare. We shall not oppose him; and if he believes that in his heart which he professes with his lips, now is the time to overthrow our superstition,--superstition, forsooth!--and to prove that the power is in the hand of his GOD, and not of ours."

He ended, and great terror fell on all the mul-titude.--Father Froes turns round and speaks to a young man that is standing close behind him. The conversation grows more and more animated. Shall I tell you what it is about?

The truth is that the Bonze had advanced nothing beyond the very fact. The Christians had been unwilling to descend into the enchanted ground. They spoke of the certainty of their own death from an infuriated crowd; they talked of the necessity of time to abolish an inveterate superstition; but in very deed so ingrained, even in them, was the belief, that the faith which had led many to martyrdom was not sufficient to face the possible dissolution of the earth. So this great argument of the worshippers of Daybut remained unanswered: for as soon as the Bonzes were persuaded that these terrors were no terrors to the Portuguese, they gave out, as we have seen, that the law of their god applied only to natives, and that foreigners were, at least in this world, exempt. This time, however, twenty or thirty of the younger Christians, some few of them sprung from the principal families in Meaco, had determined that the challenge should be accepted: and, truth to say, Father Froes, who knew their weakness better than they did themselves, was more alarmed than edified by the boastfulness of their talk; how they would do that which none had hitherto dared to achieve in Japan; how they would show the worthless-ness of the great idol; how they would win for themselves an everlasting name in the Christian annals of the empire. The good priest, though his more abundant labours had left him but com-paratively little time for the study of Church history, could not but remember how, when the temple of Serapis was destroyed at Alexandria, and that in a Christian reign, and (as we should now speak) under a Christian establishment, and when there was a similar prophecy that, should the idol itself be destroyed, earth would return to its original chaos,--but one Christian out of many thousands ventured to take hatchet in hand, and smiting the idol in pieces, to give exit to that swarm of rats which was afterwards the ridicule of Paganism throughout Egypt.

"I accept the challenge," said Father Froes. "Here is a company of those who believe in CHRIST, born Japanese, who will descend into the valley, and set your idol and all its worship-pers at nought."

"Not so," said Morindono, after a moment's pause. "It is expressly written that but one may have licence to pass at a time. Go, any one of you that will; Daybut commands that we should give him passage; but more than one shall not go; and the multitude is on my side. Said I not well?" and he looked around on that part of the crowd nearest to him.

A low murmur of applause ran through the auditory. "Well," said the good Father, "it matters very little. That which all are prepared to do together, each is ready to do separately. You, my son,--will you go?"

He spoke to the young man with whom he had been conversing. His Christian name was Joaquim; and he was descended from one of the first families in Meaco.

"I will go, my Father," said the young man in a trembling voice, "if you judge it to be neces-sary. But are there not others here better qualified both by age and rank, to face the danger?"

"The danger!" repeated Father Froes, in a half contemptuous voice, (for he was naturally of a quick temper.) But then correcting him-self he said, "If from any reason you had rather not go, there are enough, I doubt not, who will thankfully run the risk. You, Manoel, what say you?"

"What if my own faith should fail?" asked the young nobleman addressed.

Father Froes felt that he had trusted too much to the faith of the converts. He looked round on those who stood nearest to him, and there was the same hesitation in all. He him self, as you have just heard, could do nothing; and among all those for whom he had laboured, among all those who had promised to stand by him, who was there that did not now desert him?

"You see how it is," said Morindono, who observed the hesitation. "The Portuguese,--they are governed by different laws from ours, and may safely despise the danger in this world. But if I counted them right when they but now refused to bow their knees to the god of the emperor, there must be at the very least three or four hundred Christians present, and not one has courage by so easy a proof to show that his faith is the true faith. We have challenged them be-fore; I challenge them now: and you see what is the result."

"I will go down," said a low voice from among the outermost of the Christians.

"Who spoke?" asked Father Froes.

"I heard nothing," said the Bonze. "It is time to dismiss this assembly, giving glory to him who has made this world and the heavens above it."

"I will go down," said the voice again. And the crowd opening, right and left, to permit a passage, a girl came forward,--for she could not be more than eighteen or nineteen,--and stood in the midst of the assembled princes and nobles.

"You, Agatha!" said Father Froes, in astonish-ment. "Why, it was but last week that you were made our LORD'S by baptism!"

"Even so," she replied, very modestly, and yet very firmly. "But I have no fear. I trust in no merit of my own, but only in the grace of GOD; and as you told me of the young shepherd in old time, so I say now, All this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not by human strength: for the battle is the LORD'S, and He will give them into our hands."

"You hear, Morindono," said the good Father; "your challenge is accepted. And now I claim a fair trial for our faith."

The Bonze seemed perplexed. "I do not know," he said, "that a woman has any right to come forward as your champion. It may be that our books speak only of men."

"It may not be so at all," returned the Father, who was an excellent Japanese scholar. "Your challenge, by the very words of your books, is open to man, woman, or child. I defy you to prove it otherwise. It is true, and I own it with all shame, that, partly no doubt through my fault, the worshippers of the true GOD have been content to leave the honour of this day with your wretched idol. But now--all praise be to Him! it is so no longer; and I demand, according to your own law, free passage for this woman, who is minded to take the risk upon herself."

Morindono might perhaps have hesitated longer, but there was a kind of suppressed mur-mur in the crowd which showed him that the Christian challenge could not be suppressed, and must not be trifled with. However he tried one last appeal to the multitude.

"Are you content," he said, "men of Meaco, that we should risk the annihilation of all that we hold most dear, because one silly girl is minded to provoke the indignation of our god?"

"It is not so," interrupted Father Froes. "You said yourself but now, that there was an alternative. Let him--or, rather let the power whom you all serve, Satan, slay her, if he can, before she can pass the valley. I defy your god and your master, equally. And let all this multitude be assured that the meanest and un-worthiest Christian among us, and I myself may be he, has more than power to put to flight all the host of evil spirits who are with you, in the Name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and by the virtue of His Cross. Be of good cheer, Agatha," he continued, (for the poor child was very pale, not from fear but from excitement,) "and rest assured that our LORD will, by your means, win Himself great glory this day."

Morindono perceived from the increasing murmur that ran through the crowd, that it would not be possible to avoid accepting the challenge. "At all events," said he, "time shall be given on both sides. An hour before sunset you shall make the attempt. But remember, that as surely as we are here assembled this day in the presence of our god, so surely if you yourself do not fall a sacrifice to his indignation, you will bring about the end of all things." And he proceeded to dilate on this return to chaos, hoping that the lapse of some hours and time for thought might put a stop to a momentary enthusiasm. Nor had he chosen that precise period without good reason. For as the sun declined behind the mountains the jets of fire assumed a more formidable appearance: and the gloominess gathering in over the scene might well be thought sufficient to strike terror into a firmer heart than that of Agatha.

Proclamation was accordingly made; and the news spread like wildfire through the vast multitude. All through that day,--and a long day it seemed to the spectators, the subject was discussed in larger or smaller knots; the usual games failed to excite their accustomed interest, the wonted ceremonies went on as a matter of form, and without spirit. The appointed time began to draw near. A general move was made to every point which seemed to command a better view of the descent from the knoll on which floated the standard of the Green Dragon.

The sun wants an hour to his setting. The Bonze has already ascended the pulpit. The prince has again taken his place under the royal canopy. Father Froes has encouraged and comforted to the best of his ability, (and he was no untried champion in this kind of warfare,) her who had thus come forward as the champion of the faith. The little band of Christians drew up close to the knoll, some with looks of shame, some of terror, all with the deepest interest.

"Now, then," said Morindono, who had been informed that Agatha's resolution had not been shaken, "now, then, foolhardy and miserable girl, there is the path to your destruction. Now, then, men of Japan, take your last look of her who thus goes deliberately to tempt the fury of our god, and to prepare for herself a place compared to which those fountains of fire would be but cooling streams."

"Now, then," said Father Froes, on the other side, "you are called upon to do such honour to our LORD as no Japanese maiden has been able to win for Him before. Go forth, my child, with a good courage, and the GOD in Whose hand is the strength of the hills, be with you."

She knelt for one moment before him, received his blessing, and then with a reverence after the Japanese fashion to the prince, advanced to the edge of the crater. The crowd by one simultaneous movement pressed close to the very verge. It was not so steep but that with careful footing you might descend without using your hands. No track was there to point out the way to the adventurer; no foot of man had ever trodden that valley: and Agatha might have thought, and perhaps did think, of that saying of old, Ye have not passed this way heretofore.

She came to the very edge, turned once round, and gave one hurried glance at the sea of heads which circled in the declivity, and then steadily and carefully began to descend. Great rocks lay here and there scattered about on its steep sides; the vegetation was scant and thin, and the volcanic fragments crunched and ground beneath her feet. Among the crowd above, such was the intensity of their suspense, you might have heard a pin fall; and still she descended lower and lower, and still every glance among the multitude was fixed on her progress. Long before she had finished the descent the sun dipped behind the western mountains. A purple gloominess settled in over the crater; the wreaths of smoke began to assume a red terrible glow; it needed a good sight now clearly to distinguish Agatha herself; and so for the first time voices began to be heard, here and there, demanding from those that had the quick-est eyes how she proceeded.

"She is all but at the bottom,--she is close to the smoke,--she has passed it,--she is in the very centre of the crater,--she is beginning the ascent." Such were some of the sentences that passed here and there through the multitude. Darkness gathered in thicker and thicker, but still, patiently and unweariedly, the crowd waited for the event. An hour passed,--an hour and a half passed. Judge how the spirits of darkness must have longed to burst their chains, and to wreak their vengeance on her who was thus destroying their empire!

"I see her,--I see her," shouted a man who was standing near the prince's canopy. "There she is, by yonder rock,--there, now just between it and the withered tree."

And a few more moments sufficed to bring Agatha to the foot of the knoll.

It seemed for one instant as if amazement had swallowed up every other emotion. But when she approached Father Froes, and said, "I thank GOD, and I thank you too, my Father:" and when the priest exclaimed, "Now, men of Japan, who has proved Himself the true GOD this day?" there burst from that part of the crowd a shout so loud, so long, and so wild, that you might hear it echoing from peak to peak before it was taken up by the more distant parts of the multitude, and so ran round the arena of this strife between the true faith and the worship of devils.

"The LORD," said Father Froes, turning to the people who stood by him, "The LORD hath sold Sisera into the hand of a woman!"

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