Thomas Jihyoe of Saint Augustine (c. 1600 -1637) was a Japanese member of the Order of Saint Augustine. He gave his life for Christ during the suffering of Christians in Japan during the seventeenth century. Thomas was born around the year 1600 in Omura, Japan, near Nagasaki. His parents, who were teachers of the Christian religion, were both killed for the Faith.
As a youth Thomas studied under the Jesuits in Arima. When the school was forced to close, Thomas, along with his teachers, was expelled from his native land. He went to Macao, where he continued his studies. In 1622 he went to Manila, Philippines. There he entered the Augustinian Order, taking his vows in 1624. He was then sent to Cebu City, Philippines, where he completed his study of theology and became a priest.
As the policy of stopping the Christian religion in Japan continued, more and more foreign Catholic teachers were executed. Thomas, seeing that the Christians there were in great need of pastoral care and guidance, felt a call to return to the land of his birth. He tried several times to obtain the permission of his superiors to return to Japan before he was successful. Finally, in 1631, he went back to the land of his birth.
Since he was Japanese, it was fairly easy for him to conceal from the authorities that he was a priest. He obtained a position in the administration of the Governor of Nagasaki under the name Kintsuba ("golden sword"). Fearless, and motivated by faith, Thomas was able to offer support to the imprisoned Augustinian Bartholomew Gutiérrez O.S.A.. When Bartholomew was killed, Thomas continued to encourage and help the other Christian prisoners.
Soon the Governor began to suspect that there was a priest ministering to the captives in jail. Thomas had to flee the city. He took refuge in a nearby cave. He became the object of a famous search by the soldiers of the Governor. Thomas would go out under cover of night to minister to the faithful Catholics.He constantly changed his appearance, wearing disguises and never following the same route twice. Finally, in 1637 a group of soldiers detained him as a simple Christian fugitive. Thomas revealed to them his identity as a priest. He then underwent many kinds of cruel torture. Remaining steadfast in his Christian faith, Thomas was condemned to death. On 6th November 1637 he was hung by his feet with his head inserted into a pit of rotting garbage until he died.
Father Arnulf Hartmann, O.S.A. describes this type of torture in the following way in his major work The Augustinians in Seventeenth Century Japan.
“The death in the pit was the ultimate refinement of the fiendish technique to break the human spirit introduced by Takaneka Uneme-no-sho. Some writers call it the torment of the fosse, in Japanese it was called ana-tsurushi. The victim was hung from the cross beam of a gallows, head downward, into a pit five or six feet deep. The body was tightly bound in order to slow down the circulation of the blood. The holes were sealed off with planks about the victim’s loins. The pits were often partly filled with offal. There in those black holes many hung for as long as a week, exuding blood from mouth and nostrils, maddened by the fearful pressure on the brain, until death released them from almost unsupportable anguish. In order to prevent a speedy death by congestion, to prolong the torture and give more chance to recant, – Takenaka wanted apostates rather than martyrs – often the victim’s temples were pierced. Some who had recanted under this torture later declared that neither the pain caused by burning with fire nor that of any other torture, deserved to be compared with the agony produced in this way.” (pp. 140-141)
He was initially listed along with the three Jesuits and 184 lay Catholics whose process to be officially listed as a Blessed (beati) or saint of the church was begun in 1996 by the Bishops of Japan. Subsequently, the cause of Thomas was entrusted to the Augustinians. Fernando Rojo Martínez, O.S.A., the Augustinian Postulator of Causes, forwarded the completed positio (final documentation) to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
On 7th December 2004 a favourable reaction to the positio was announced. The Church in Japan hopes that the lengthy process will now accelerate. Thomas and another 180 Japanese martyrs were officially declared to be Blessed to be of the Church on 24th November 2008. The ceremony was conducted by the papal representative, Cardinal Jose Martins, at a large open-air ceremony in Nagasaki's baseball stadium.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian history of Japan (including images of Thomas Jihyoe OSA), click here.
PDF file. Special article. 3,530 words of biography about Thomas Jihyoe O.S.A. were written in February 2006 by the regional superior of the Augustinian Vicariate of the Japanese Martyrs at that time. Click here to see this article (PDF file).
Blessed Thomas “Kintsuba” Jihyoe O.S.A. From the Midwest Augustinian Province, Chicago. http://midwestaugustinians.org/bl-thomas-kintsuba-jihyoe-of-saint-augustine
Japanese martyr-priest still inspires. Recently beatified together with 187 other Japanese martyrs, Jihyoe had strong ties with the Philippines, where he lived from 1622 to 1631. UCAN news item. http://directory.ucanews.com/news/japanese-martyr-priest-still-inspires/1231
The Augustinians in Seventeenth Century Japan. By Arnulf Hartmann O.S.A., (Marylake, King City, Ontario: New York: Augustinian Historical Institute, 1965)