Philippine Church History: “Hispanized clergy in an Americanized country”

May 28, 2011 by  
Filed under article, features

baseychurch-img-150x150(Book Review by Gloria Esguerra Melencio)

Growth and Decline: Essays on Philippine Church History

By John N. Schumacher, S.J.

Ateneo de Manila Press, 2009. 291 pages

The book traces the history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines from the 16th up to 20th centuries as it weaves through the conflicts and challenges besetting the clergy – internally and externally – with the religious-cultural evolution of the Filipino laity as a backdrop.

The meticulous historian in Jesuit priest John Schumacher succeeds in clarifying in his two-decade work how the Catholic Church, founded on the sweat and blood of Spanish friars, has been at loggerheads with the conquistadores whether to colonize the Philippines with the sword or the cross – that actually resulted in both.

His book has brought to light the growing nationalism of the Filipino priests with direct proportion to the growing influence of Catholicism to the ordinary churchgoers and eventually to those who can hear the tolling of the bells from afar and outside of the reduccion.

Schumacher’s passion and commitment in digging and unearthing historical bases are beyond question. He takes the readers by the hand as he expounds how the Catholic orders waded through various Governor Generals’ political stance, with incidents of violence and suspected murder, to make Catholicism a “liberating force rather than an instrument for subjection to Spanish rule” (p. viii). He gives a human face to his thesis.

One proof of this sublime evangelization was the use of the native languages in celebrating church masses, quite differently from South America where a Royal Decree ordered the use of the Spanish language in 1555. He explains, however, that the Spanish language remained to be the exclusive use of the religious orders; use of the Tagalog language was forbidden in convents, religious schools and beatas.

The historian priest also exposes the exploitation and thievery of Spanish officials and encomenderos as they enforce forced labor and exacted tributes beyond the requirement of Spain’s law. Representing the Filipino elite, the principalia had not only been blind to the injustices committed against the Indios but even aided the Spanish officials in maintaining the status quo.

Trying to rise from these visible flaws, however, the Catholic hierarchy obtained a decree from King Philip II to return the unjust tributes to the pagans; punish Governor Francisco de Sande for waging an “unjust war” against a Muslim sultan; and also found Governor Diego Ronquillo also guilty for not punishing the erring alcaldes and government officials.

Slowly from 1700 up to 1768, Schumacher sees the Philippine Church in its “Golden Age” (p. 23) extending its evangelization to far-flung areas of the country as it called on the remontados, infieles, cimarrones and monteses to return to lowlands and church centers, be baptized and memorize the Doctrina Christiana. He admits, however, that Spanish priests were horrified to discover that people remain practicing paganism secretly.

Women of Spanish blood and later a Chinese mestiza spearheaded the beaterio movement with the help of educated Indias. While the women are slowly inching their way through Catholic religiosity, the racial divide between Spanish and the Filipino was likewise dissolving, leading to the rise of the Filipino clergy.

Strong opposition to the entry of native priests to the religious orders failed not only because the Crown and the Holy See would want “to curb the independence of the religious orders” (p. 55) but also because Filipino priests like Father Jose Burgos has started defending the rights of the Filipino clergy.

Schumacher likewise investigates thoroughly – by making use of the primary sources – the authenticity of the Burgos Manifesto (p. 125) and follows the paper trail to find out who was its genuine author. He includes in this book the Spanish version with the English translation on its opposite pages for the readers to see.

Describing the period roughly from 1770 up to 1830 as the ‘decline of the Church” (p. 111), the author narrates how the native population, particularly in the Visayan region, slid back to their paganistic, animistic beliefs or at best, “syncretic folk Catholicism” (p. 116) when the religious orders, particularly the Jesuits, were recalled and expelled from the Spanish dominion. From where he stands, Schumacher sees the Filipino laity as mere recipients and benefactors of the Catholic faith.

Also for the author, anyone who was not as educated as Jose Rizal or Emilio Jacinto is bound to fail as what happened to Andres Bonifacio who was not ready to lead the Filipino people toward independence because he has “defects in his personality and education” (p. 221). This claim has been the subject of debate going on for years in the Philippines.

He succeeds in describing the Filipino priest as “Hispanized clergy in an Americanized country” (p. 247) in the 20th century posing to the Filipino diocesan clergy the challenge as to the direction where they are heading now.

Schumacher establishes his niche in this book that is a must-read for those interested in Church history and Philippine society.

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Volume 42, Issue 02, May 2011

Published by the National University of Singapore



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