Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J.: The Priests Who Brought Christianity to the Philippines Belonged to the Church of the Counter-Reformation

The lowland peoples of the Philippines were converted to Roman Catholic Christianity by priests and brothers of the missionary religious orders which had establishments in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  They were, in the order of their first arrival in the islands, the Augustinians (1565), the Franciscans (1578), the Jesuits (1581), the Dominicans (1587), and the Augustinian Recollects (1606).

Very few secular priests came to the Philippines during the period of Spanish rule.  Those that did serve mostly as cathedral clergy in Manila and Cebu.

In the beginning, the Philippine missonaries were almost all Spaniards born in Spain itself (peninsulares).  In the course o the Seventeenth Century they were joined by Spaniard[s] born in the colonies (criollos), andlater still by other Europeans, mostly from the Hapsburg dominions.  However, penisular Spaniards constituted the preponderant majority of the Philippine clergy until the very end of Spanish rule.

Thus, the priest who brought Christianity to the Philippines were men who belonged, spiritually, to the church of the Counter-Reformation, intellectually, to the Age of the Baroque.

They were men of the Counter-Reformation Church, the Church that was closing ranks against the novatores, the innovating Protestants of the northern European countries who were challenging the traditional beliefs of Catholics.  They were deeply concerned about preserving the ”purity of faith,” by which they meant scripture and tradition as interpreted by medieval scholastics, of whom Saint Thomas Aquinas was prince; the faith as most recently defined by the Council of Trent, and as authoritatively regulated and enforced by the Holy See and the Spanish Inquisition. This was the faith that they meant to preserve intact, and to transmit to those who did not yet have it.

This faith was not only the truth, but the whole truth regarding man’s condition and his ordination to God his Creator.  All men are to be persuaded to accept this truth in its totality.  If they cannot be persuaded, they they must be compelled—the ”compelle intrare” of the gospel—for otherwise they cannot be saved.  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—there is no salvation outside the church.

This may serve to explain the extreme caution—one might almost say the intransigence—with which the Spanish missionaries who founded our Philippine Christinaity regarded any departure from the religous practices they were used to.  Nil innoventur nisi quod traditum est—let there be no innovations, except those handed down by tradition.  We may consider this an impracticable, even an inconsisten principle.  We must nevertheless try to understand, and to symphatize with it as a principle sincerely held.

The adaptation of Christianity to anon-European culture was not antecedently and entirely excluded.  But it was a very limited form of adaptation, whose object seemed to be simply to make Christian belief and practice more palatable to the people being evangelized.  There was no real attempt to learn from the alien culture; to seek elements in it which might possibly enrich Christian belief or make Christian worship more meaningful.  This was not possible to men of the Counter-Reformation.  How could it be?  Their reaction to the Protestant revolt was to defend the Roman Catholic tradition in its entirety; to preserve it intact and to transmit it intact, because it was the whole truth about man and God.  Any departure from it by a Christian was simply heresy, and whatever pagans believed in was simply error, the vain imaginings of people who ”sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Source:

Horacio de la Costa, “The priest in the Philippine life and society: an historical view,” in Church and Sacraments, ed. by Ma. Victoria B. Parco, (Department of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University), pp.  192-200.  The posted excerpt is pp. 192-193.  The original article is from Loyola Papers no. 12 (Manila: Ateneo, CBI, 1980), pp. 4-15.

About the Author:

Reverend Father Horacio de la Costa, S.J. (1916-1970) was the first Filipino Provincial General of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, and a recognized authority in Philippine and Asian culture and history. (Wikipedia)

The Ateneo de Manila Website has his picture, early writings, and biography).

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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