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Growth and decline: Essays on Philippine church history.

Growth and decline: Essays on Philippine church history


Manila: Ateneo de Manila Press, 2009. Pp. 291. Abbreviations, References, Index.

doi: 10.1017/S0022463411000221

The book traces the history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines from the sixteenth up to the twentieth century 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 and Jesuit, 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 colonise 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 evangelisation 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 implemented forced labour 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' (p. 8) against a Muslim sultan; and also found Governor Diego Ronquillo 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 evangelisation to far-flung areas of the country as it called on the remontados, infieles, cimarrones and monteses to return to lowlands and church centres, be baptised and memorise the Doctrina Christiana. He admits, however, that Spanish priests were horrified to discover that people remained practising paganism secretly.

Women of Spanish blood and later a Chinese mestiza spearheaded the beaterio movement with the help of educated Indias. While the women were 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 had 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 pagan, 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 was bound to fail; this happened to Andres Bonifacio who was not ready to lead the Filipino people toward independence because he had 'defects in his personality and education' (p. 221). This claim has been the subject of ongoing debate for years.

Schumacher succeeds in describing the Filipino priest as 'Hispanized clergy in an Americanized country' (p. 247) in the twentieth 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.


University of the Philippines
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Author:Melencio, Gloria Esguerra
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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