February 7: The Martyrs of Japan, 1597


And he (Jesus) called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.


Christianity was brought to Japan by Francis Xavier and spread with remarkable success. The rapid advance, however, led to resentment and opposition on the part of the native Buddhists and Shintoists. There was suspicion of the methods of the missionaries which involved mass conversions, and there was rivalry between the several religious orders. These suspicions, coupled with a fear of foreign invaders, resulted in increased persecution of Christians. In 1597, twenty-six Christians — six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits, and seventeen Japanese laymen, three of whom were young boys — were killed by a kind of crucifixion at Nagasaki. They were raised on crosses and then stabbed with spears. Within a year, more than one hundred thirty churches were burned. After this time, the persecution subsided, but in 1613 it broke out again, and by 1630 what was left of Christianity in Japan was driven underground. Nonetheless, the faith was preserved, although the church in Japan was without clergy until the missionaries returned at the end of the nineteenth century.

The first victims of the persecution, the twenty-six martyrs of 1597, were canonized in 1862. Paul Miki, a Japanese Jesuit priest is the most celebrated of the martyrs. This day is included on the church calendars of the Roman, Episcopalian, and Lutheran expressions of the church catholic.

— from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip Pfatteicher

A Reading

“Be assured of this, that you must live a dying life. And the more completely one dies to self, the more one begins to live to God. . . Nothing is more acceptable to God, and nothing more salutary for yourself, than to suffer gladly for Christ’s sake. . . You should choose rather to suffer hardships for Christ’s sake, than to be refreshed by many consolations; for thus you will more closely resemble Christ and all His Saints.

“Had there been a better way, more profitable to the salvation of mankind than suffering, then Christ would have revealed it in His word and life. But He clearly urges both His own disciples and all who wish to follow Him to carry the cross.”

— from Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis


Gracious Lord, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of your love. Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the gospel in Japan whose faithfulness led them in the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son’s victory over sin and death; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

— Pastor Stickley