Four Jesuit priests in Jose Rizal’s life: Faura, Pastells, Balaguer, and Sanchez

Horacio de la Costa, SJ

Homily delivered at the Ateneo Alumni Mass on Rizal’s birthday, June 19, 1952


Alumnus Jose Rizal kept in touch with the Ateneo mainly through four men. There was Father Faura, who prophesied that he would end up on a scaffold. There was Father Pastells, who sought to restore his Catholic Faith by patient argument.  There was Father Balaguer, who reconciled him to the Church before he died.  And there was Father Sanchez, who was his friend.

I think it can be said that these four men, each in his own fashion,
express what the Ateneo should mean, and would like to mean, to all its alumni.  The Ateneo is a school; first and foremost, it is a body of teachers; and the essential duty of a teacher is to speak the truth.  The truth is often unpleasant, often unpopular; but the teacher, if he wishes to be faithful to his profession, cannot afford to dilute or debase it.  He must speak the truth as he sees it, no matter how much it hurts.

Rizal had worked out during his sojourn in Spain a thoroughgoing plan ofcolonial reform.  Whatever Father Faura thought of that plan, he saw at least one thing clearly – that the Spanish government would never stand for it.  Sooner or later it would try to crush both the plan and its author. That was what he meant when he said that Rizal would end up on a scaffold.

We could wish that Father Faura could have put it a little less bluntly, a little more diplomatically.  He might have spared Rizal’s feelings.  But there are times when to spare a man’s feelings is to betray his friendship. What Father Faura said was shocking; he meant it to be.  He wanted to shock Rizal into seeing that he was faced with a choice, and that his very life depended upon what he chose.  He did not tell him what to choose. Rizal was not a boy any longer but a man, and it was a man’s privilege to choose; but it was also a man’s privilege to be told the consequences of his choice.

Rizal saw and chose; and the fact that he chose with his eyes open, with the scaffold at the end of the road having been pointed out to him, is his claim to be our greatest alumnus.

All of us, at some time or other in our lives, will be faced with the
necessity of making a similar decision. Beset by fears and forebodings, we shall go to seek strength and comfort from those we miss.  I do not think we shall ever lack friends who will try to soothe us with ambiguities, who will blur alternatives, dull the horns of a dilemma on the mistaken principle that what we don’t know won’t burn us, on the childish principle that medicine doesn’t taste half as bad if taken with eyes shut.

But rare indeed is the friend who will tell us the truth; who will pay us the supreme compliment of assuming that we are not afraid to act on our principles.  It is our hope as alumni that we shall always find such a friend where Rizal found him – at the Ateneo.

However, it is equally important to remember that respect for the truth must go hand in hand with respect for the individual conscience.  To force the truth on the people’s minds, to ram the truth down people’s throats, is not only unjust: it is unwise.  Nothing breeds error so quickly as truth accepted under constraint.  It was to be regretted that Rizal lost the priceless heritage of the Faith; but granted the fact that he lost it, there was only one way of restoring it to him: by convincing him, by convincing his mind, that he had erred.  There were easier ways; threats, cajolery, flattery, the emotional argument; but Father Pastells used none of these. He chose the hard way; he appealed to that in Rizal which was hardest, diamond-hard–his mind.  For he knew that a faith based on anything else but conviction would be of no use to this man who lived solely by his convictions, and who would not hesitate to die for them.

Jesuits believe that their system of education is fashioned to produce men of this calibre, rational men, men whose faith, while fully supernatural, is based on reason.  Whether that system actually does so or not, is not for them to say.  But this certainly can be said: that if the schools of the free world do not produce such men in greater numbers than hitherto, that world is doomed.

We must have men of conviction, but they must also be men of faith.  Reason can go far, but there is a point beyond which it cannot go; the deepest questions that reason can ask, only faith can answer.  It was Father Pastells who raised these questions in the mind of Rizal, but it was Father Balaguer who answered them.  To the death cell in Fort Santiago came this simple man, came, not with subtle argument, not with the persuasive words of human wisdom, but with the word of God, sharp as a drawn sword, cutting deep, even to the marrow of the spirit, cutting and healing, slaying and giving life.  And the work that the learned Father Pastells began, this simple priest finished.  Yet not he, for what are these but men?  Poor, brittle instruments, of what avail are they, of themselves, in the titanic struggle of good and evil for the immortal soul?

No, not they, but God, in that lonely hour between dusk and dawn, between life and death, when Rizal sank to his knees at last with a strong cry and tears, in that lonely hour he was alone with the Alone, the man about to die with the God who died, and lives.

What folly even to think that such a man, at such an hour, could have been tricked into repentance!  If there was trickery in the business, God was the trickster; let them complain to God.  If there was trickery in the business, it was prayer that did the trick.

There was one man at least whose prayers were with Rizal continually,
through all the years of doubt, all the years of agony, all the years of exile; that man was Father Sanchez.  Perhaps he was to blame for Rizal’s conversion.  At any rate, he was the most subtle Jesuit of them all, for he used against Rizal’s infidelity the one irresistible weapon; the power against which nothing is proof; the power of prayer.

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of”; and we like to think that among these good things is that fellowship of Ateneans with the Ateneo and of Ateneans among themselves, which not even death can break. For even in maturity, even when we are old, the mother of our youth yet has something to offer us; yes, four things, to all her alumni as to her greatest alumnus:  the plain truth, the path of reason, the light of faith, the love of friends.

(Text of the homily courtesy of Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J.)


Liberal education vs liberal Faith: What is the true essence of Ateneo education?

There is a distinction between liberal education and liberal Faith. Liberal education of Ateneo simply means that students become well rounded individuals: they study languages, humanities, arts, and sciences, regardless of their chosen course. The core curriculum is the essence of Ateneo’s liberal education.

On the other hand, to have a liberal Faith is antithesis of being Catholic. To be liberal in Faith is to choose only the doctrines and teachings that you feel like obeying and discard the rest. Pope Benedict XVI calls this the Cafeteria Catholicism. The words of Dr. Clamor are only partly true. There are things in Catholicism that if one does not believe them, you do not cease to be Catholic. An example would be some Marian apparitions and other private revelations to the saints. But there are things called dogmas that are non-negotiables: if you don’t believe them, you cease to be Catholic. You become a heretic. An example would be the Dogma of the Trinity.

Membership in the Church is not a subjective feeling or being conscious about it. If you are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, you become the member of the Catholic Church. Outside the Church there is no salvation. If you are cut off from the Church, you wither and die, because the Church is the Body of Christ (c.f parable of the vine and branches).

One cannot support the Reproductive Health Bill in good conscience, because a good conscience is formed by obedience to the teachings of the Church. Support for the Reproductive Health Bill can only be a result of malformed conscience. Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae has explicitly condemned the use of contraceptives in married life as instrinsically wrong. Your Th 121 can have his/her opinions on what should the Catholic Church do regarding homosexual couples, but he does not have the Magisterium (Teaching Authority) of Bishops and Popes. Your teacher can say his opinions and we can debate forever. But when the Pope speaks ex Cathedra as successor of Peter, the case is closed.

In the time of Jose Rizal, to be an Atenean is to have a liberal education. Jose Rizal studied Latin and Greek and learned the arts and sciences. A true Atenean is a devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jose Rizal carved the Statue of the Sacred Heart in wood with a penknife. A true Atenean is a devotee of Our Lady. Jose Rizal prays the rosary. This is the reason why the Ateneo Basketball Team was once known as the Hail Mary Squad because they always pray the rosary before each game. And this is also why we sing our Alma Mater Song:

“Mary for you! For your white and blue! We pray you’ll keep us, Mary, constantly true! We pray you’ll keep us, Mary, faithful to you!”

As an agnostic, you have to be careful when you sing this song. Mama Mary can convert even the most hardened sinners. The Campus Ministry in Ateneo never cease to give the Miraculous Medal every year. It is not called Miraculous Medal for nothing. If you receive that medal and pray a Hail Mary a day devoutly for a month, you will be converted. If you are incredulous, try it.

When Rizal gone astray into masonry, did his Jesuit teachers approve of his views? No. This led to the series of letters between Rizal and Fr. Pastells, SJ. Rizal’s physics teacher, Fr. Federico Faura, SJ, the man who first forcasted Philippine storms, rebuked Rizal for his insolence. But when Rizal was shown the statue of the Sacred Heart that He carved in his youth, Rizal converted. Fr. Faura heard his confession and he died in Luneta as a true Atenean and Catholic.

Book Review: “The Rizal-Pastells Correspondence” by Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, S.J.

The Hitherto Unpublished Letters of Jose Rizal and Portions of Fr. Pablo Pastell’s Fourth Letter and Translation of the Correspondence, together with a Historical Background and Theological Critique (Ateneo de Manila University Press, Bellarmine Hall, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, P.O. Box 154, 1099 Manila, Philippines)

This book tells the story of two brilliant men.

The first is the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.  He was the distinguished poet in the Spanish tongue, the master of Philippine dialects and European languages, the humble devotee of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who later became a leader of the Propaganda Movement, the writer of the subversive novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and a member of Freemasonry in London.  In short, Jose Rizal was the Spanish poet who became anti-Spain,  the Catholic who became anti-Catholic, the student of the Jesuits who made a “shipwreck of Faith.”  In 1896 in Bagumbayan in Manila, Jose Rizal was executed for treason against Spain by firing squad.  He was thirty-five.

The second is Fr. Pablo Pastells, S.J.  He was  the student in the Jesuit-run Seminario Conciliar in Barcelona, a refugee in France after the fourth suppression of Jesuits in Spain in 1868, a man in lay clothes running from anticlerical elements after the defeat of Napoleon in the Franco-Prussian war, the priest who organized circulos or worker groups in Europe to the anger of Anarchists.  Pastells arrived in the Philippines in 1875.  In the middle of the following year he was sent to Ateneo de Manila and became the director of the Sodality of Our Lady.  In this capacity and as a prefect of the boarders, he came to know the fourteen year old Rizal.  He travelled as a missionary in the Visayan and Mindanao Islands to study the language of the natives.  He was  appointed Superior of the of the Philippine Mission in 1888, and it was at the end of his term of office that his correspondence with Rizal began.  Pastells was sent back again to Spain in 1893 to write about the Spanish Jesuit’s overseas work, resulting to a three-volume history book (1916-1917), and another nine-volume work on the History of the Philippines (1925-1934).  In 1932, he died at the age of eighty-six.

* * *

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part is an Introduction by Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, S.J., which consists of a historical background and a theological critique.

The historical background is well written and researched, with long footnotes.  When Rizal was exiled in Dapitan in Mindanao, Rizal told Fr. Sanchez who tried to bring him back to the Catholic Faith:

It is useless, Father, you do not convince me.  I do not believe in the Eucharist or in the rites of the Catholic religion.

But to his mother Rizal wrote (which Fr. Sanchez confirmed):

We heard mass at midnight, for you ought to know that here I hear Mass every Sunday.  (Underlining by Rizal.)

I expected these things.  But for a physicist, here is a surprising trivia: From Rizal’s friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt, Fr. Federico Faura, S.J., the founder of the Manila Observatory, learned of Blumentritt’s fear that Rizal became a Mason.  And Fr. Bonoan continues:

When Fr. Ramon, the rector, and Faura in conversation with their guest raised the question of his religious beliefs, Rizal made protestations of loyalty to Spain but said it was useless to discuss religious matters inasmuch as he had long lost the faith.  Whereupon, Faura sternly warned him never again to step into the corridors of the Ateneo if he should persist in his erroneous beliefs, for the Jesuit fathers were breaking all contact with him, and advised him to leave the Philippines for good lest he end up on the scaffold.  Rizal remained unmoved.

Fr. Faura correctly predicted the last storm: Rizal was executed, and his death ushered the Philippine Revolution.

Fr. Bonoan’s theological critique of Rizal and Fr. Pastells is also well-written.  But reading through his critique, Fr. Bonoan showed more sympathy for Rizal than for Pastells:  He upheld Rizal’s primacy of conscience and contrasted Pastell’s Vatican I mindset with the teachings of Vatican II.  If you want to know the details, read the book.

But my sympathies are for Pastells.  And to him we can quote Fr. Horacio de la Costa’s words:

But look at it another way.   Look at it through the eyes of a Spanish friar who found himself a prisoner of the Army of the Revolution.  He was the last of a long line of missionaries, stretching back to that great defender of Rights, Fray Domingo de Salazar.  They had brought this whole people from primitive tribalism to civilization.  They had raised from stones children of Abraham.  And in the end, the children had turned on their fathers.

It was not only tragic; it was the very essence of tragedy

–Fr. 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 (Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 1990), pp. 192-200.


References to the Correspondence

Part 1. Introduction

Preliminary Notes

Two Separate Paths: Historical Background

  1. The Young Rizal and the Jesuits
  2. The European Experiment
  3. The Shipwreck of Faith
  4. Pastells and the Spanish Jesuits
  5. Arrest and Exile

The Clash of Cultures: Theological Critique

  1. The Enlightenment and the Catholic Response
  2. Private Judgment
  3. The Problem of God
  4. Revelation
  5. Conclusion

Part 2.  The Spanish Text of Rizal’s Letters and the Missing Portions of Pastell’s Fourth Letter

The First Letter of Rizal
The Second Letter of Rizal
The Third Letter of Rizal
The Fourth Letter of Rizal
The Fifth Letter of Rizal
Portions of the Pastell’s Fourth Letter Missing in the Epislorio Rizalino

Part 3.  Translations of the Correspondence

The First Letter of Rizal
The First Letter of Pastells
The Second Letter of Rizal
The Second Letter of Pastells
The Third Letter of Rizal
The Third Letter of Pastells
The Fourth Letter of Rizal
The Fourth Letter of Pastells
The Fifth Letter of Rizal