Fate Apocrypha: Gno-ing Better and Actually Doing It

The two Christian characters of Fate Apocrypha are our final subject in this series. Amakusa Shiro Tokisada and Jeanne d’Arc are keystone examples of the recurring “first rule of Fate club:” every character in the series is wrong on some level. But while those characters may meet or fall short of the standard from moment to moment, it’s clear that both righteousness and truth exist in the Fate universe in a way which makes Fate believably human and complex. If Jeanne was simply the devout Christian smiling benevolently and shimmering as she hovers a little off the ground, while Amakusa Shirou was the mustache-twirling villain, cackling as he ties orthodoxy to the train tracks, we could compare their Christian beliefs in a nice neat little article, restating a bunch of stuff which probably would’ve been clear to you already. Thankfully, Fate is quite a bit more complex than that. And so, I’m going to give Amakusa Shirou Tokisada and Jeanne d’Arc their own separate articles, starting this week with Amakusa Shirou.

There are two key points to understanding the historically Christian character Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. The first is that, as the chief villain of the story, he embodies most if not all of the villainous traits mentioned in the preceding articles. Second, you must understand that Shirou’s “christianity” isn’t an orthodox Christianity but a form of Christian Gnosticism. So, naturally, we must ask: what is gnosticism? For the context of this article, it’s relevant to know that the gnostics are a heretical sect of Christianity. Christian Gnosticism arose soon after the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection, if not earlier in a less established, more mystical, form. It is generally believed that gnosticism acted like a kind of ideological leech, latching onto popular movements like Greek Platonism and the rich and complex Judeo-Christian tradition from which it could spin it’s own philosophies and mythologies.

For this reason, it can be difficult to nail down a proper list of what all gnostics believe. Gnostics often thrived on the momentum of their host movement and being able to claim that while Plato or the apostle Paul (etc.) had the right idea, only they, the Gnostics, had the true gnosis, the complete knowledge of spiritual mysteries. However, one belief underlying most if not all of gnosticism and to which people often refer when they describe something as “gnostic” is the esteem of the spiritual and the belief that matter is evil and irredeemable. It is from this position that Christian Gnostics denounce the incarnation of Jesus and the physical, bodily resurrection. Their belief regarding the absolute purity of spirit does not allow for God’s perfection to inhabit evil human flesh. There are various gnostic explanatory contortions used to get around the idea of a bodily resurrection, but the principle denial remains the same.

 In the Fate universe, we find both “heroic” spirits and fleshly human beings, but there is another category of existence somewhere in between. Homunculi are basically an organization of magical circuits synthesized by mages to bear a human resemblance. They are able to act as servants and even soldiers, but are not considered human since they lack a human spirit, do not require food or sleep, and have muted emotional capacity. Being so existentially neutral, there are varying opinions about homunculi, from Avicebron’s belief that they are little more than batteries of magical energy to Amakusa Shirou’s belief that they are effectually the perfect existence. Now, someone like Amakusa Shirou doesn’t think homunculi are any more human than Avicebron does, but that inhumanity is precisely the quality he desires most. Amakusa Shirou even imitates homunculi as far as he is able, claiming to have “discarded hate and all other emotions” (1.24 “The Holy Grail War”).

But unfortunately for Shirou, he is incorrect to think he has rid himself of hate since there is one person in particular whom he hates very much. As he watches Sieg uses a command seal to assume the spiritual essence of the hero Siegfried, Shirou cannot contain his spite: “How foolish. Even with an ephemeral life span, a perfect existence is more sacred. […] That useless being will self-destruct if we wait long enough (1.10 “Like Scattered Petals”). Why is it that Sieg gets underneath the skin of a man who swore he had rid himself of emotion? Sieg is the antithesis of Shirou’s desires: Sieg is a homunculus who was not only given a heart that made him human, but has gladly accepted it and allows that human, heroic spirit to dwell within and subsume his own. Sieg is willfully tainting the perfect essence Shirou so values by embracing human flesh. To put it another way, Shirou has the same problem with Sieg that Gnostics have with the incarnate Christ Jesus.

These are some very gnostic-sounding convictions, but how did he come by them? In life, Shirou believed that his Christian faith would grant him success in battle because his rebellion against religious persecution and oppressive taxation was just. However, his contingent of Roman Catholic rebels lost to the shogunate and were massacred after a member of his army betrayed the rebellion for selfish gain. Shirou’s faith was shaken and, wracked with the guilt of having led people who trusted him into a failed rebellion, he is summoned onto the scene of Great Holy Grail War with the wish to not only eliminate death but the conviction that it is human flesh which compels us toward fatally selfish desires like those of his betrayer and enemies.

His only problem is the haunting truths of his previously-biblical faith. He acknowledges that the Holy Grail for which the heroic spirits have been summoned to fight is not the actual grail of their faith, from which Jesus instituted the first Holy Communion (2.13 “The Last Master”). His wish for the grail, to remove the physical element of existence so as to remove the instinct for self-preservation and thereby the occurrence of physical death, only serves to show his belief in how the theocentric world works: “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). His actions testify that he has abandoned God’s biblical plan for man’s salvation, and yet every attempt requires him to try navigating around biblical truth in order to accomplish his wish.

And if you aren’t convinced by the biblical case for Shirou’s foolishness, Fate Apocrypha’s established character tropes testify in kind. His belief that he acts altruistically out of a love for humanity while he nurses a hatred for Sieg who slowly comes to resemble humanity only proves that Amakusa Shirou has more in common with Avicebron’s selfish hatred of humanity than he realizes. He also reflects Berserker’s madness in that neither his 60 years of ingeniously detailed planning nor his extreme suffering prevented him from pursuing an impossible goal with ineffectual means. And, in his refusal to acknowledge the reality of the world around him and of his own desires, he becomes as lawless as Jack and as bitter as Mordred.

Ultimately we see in Amakusa Shirou’s wish the same issue at play in the gnostic faith as it sought to use the truth of God’s Word to formulate its own special knowledge:

So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” 

– Romans 1:18-32

featured art by 械依ゆう (reprinted w/permission)

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