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Pristine, majestic, and breathtaking. These are the adjectives used to describe Pasig River. But that was before people started dumping their wastes into the river. Today, the water is so dirty that one bucket from it would have been enough to wipe out the dinosaurs.

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René B. Javellana, S.J.

Last modified: December 2016

For a number of decades now, Jesuit studies have passed from being dominated by Jesuit scholars and writers to non-Jesuit specialists in history, anthropology, the arts, religion, and other fields. There is a noticeable shift from writing addressed primarily ad intra, i.e. to Jesuits, especially those in formation, and students in Jesuit schools, to being addressed ad extra to a wider audience of academics and the general public. Writing has thus shifted from what might be described as hagiographical and in the manner of ecclesiastical history toward an exploration of the Jesuits’ role and contribution in the early modern era and beyond.

Such a shift was barely visible in post-World War II writing about the Jesuits in the Philippines. Even though  the Jesuits had arrived in the Philippines in 1581, a year after the death of the superior general who had approved the mission, Everard Mercurian (1514–80, in office 1573–80), becoming a province under Claudio Acquaviva (1543–1615, in office 1581–1615), and despite the fact that in the late sixteenth century the Philippines were a staging point for the evangelization of China, and Manila an entrepôt for Asia, Mexico, and Europe, little had been written specifically about Jesuit involvement in the development of the Philippines as a Spanish colony and lynchpin in the transpacific trade.

Post-World War II Writing about Jesuits

There were a number of reasons for the lack of coverage. First, few Philippine scholars and writers focused on the Society of Jesus.  A premier Jesuit historian Horacio V. de la Costa (1916–77) published Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581–1768 in 1961.1 This covered the pre-suppression era or the “Old” Society.

His work on a volume about the restoration period, which began in the Philippines in 1859, was interrupted by his appointment as provincial in 1964 and then as an assistant to Superior General Pedro Arrupe (1907–91, in office 1965–83) in 1971. He did, however, write Light Cavalry, a romantic and novelistic history of the Jesuits from 1859 to the 1930s, but the book was not circulated because World War II intervened. Few copies of the book survived.2 De la Costa was apparently not too keen to have the book reprinted, probably because he deemed it a sophomoric work written by an enthusiastic scholastic, twenty-four years of age.

Other Jesuit writers Miguel A. Bernad (1917–2009) and John N. Schumacher (1927–2014) did not specifically focus on the Jesuits. Bernad, trained as a Shakespeare scholar, was assigned to the English Department of the Ateneo de Manila University [hereafter ADMU]. His interest in history developed during his time there when he was assigned as the editor-in-chief of the university’s journal, Philippine Studies. But his interest was broader than the Society of Jesus, as his work, The Christianization of the Philippines (1972), shows.3 Schumacher specialized in church history and taught at the San Jose Seminary and later at the Loyola School of Theology. His interest was also in the general history of the Catholic Church, particularly the nineteenth century. His works in this area centered on the activity of the clergy and the rising nationalist movement that erupted in the Philippine revolution of independence from Spain in 1896. Nicholas P. Cushner (1932–2013), who retired as a professor in upstate New York, wrote about the friar estates in the Philippines, among them the Jesuit haciendas of Luzon. He became known as an expert in Latin America writing about, among other things, the development of agrarian capitalism in Quito, Ecuador, from 1600 to 1767, and the Jesuits and the evangelization of the native Americans in Why Have You Come Here?4

To the paucity of writers that focused on the Society of Jesus there must be added a second reason: the state of historiography in the Philippines during the post-war era. Although a world war intervened, the role and place of the Catholic Church in the independent Philippines was still hotly debated. The debate began with revolution of independence from Spain in 1896, which fed to a great extent on a nationalist discourse that denigrated the church and painted it as a corrupt institution responsible for the oppression of the Filipino people. The close collaboration of church and state, which had characterized the Spanish colonial era, ended in the twentieth century when the Philippines became an American colony.

Under the Americans, a public school system was organized. Following the principle of the separation of church and state, a secular system of education allowed academics at the tertiary level, in particular in the University of the Philippines, to foster anti-clerical and anti-church positions. Historical writing about the church in the Philippines fell within a framework of the opposition between defensive church promoters and an influential group of scholars pushing a secular interpretation of Philippine history. The church was secularized and interpreted as a social and cultural institution, powerful and wealthy no doubt, but lacking any divine mandate. Typical of the defensive writing of church history is Pablo Fernandez’s History of the Church in the Philippines.5 Chapters 34 to 37, on the Philippine Revolution, its causes and the role of the church, did not analyze the church’s role in civil society but, following a trope of church apologists, laid the church’s shortcoming on individuals. It was the bad ecclesiastical authority-figures, not the church as an institution, that gave the church a bad name.

As a secular and nationalist interpretations of Philippine history gained popularity, University of the Philippines’ [hereafter UP] historian Teodoro Agoncillo (1912–85) adopted a Marxist perspective. Agoncillo’s Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan had already employed a Marxist optic: Andres Bonifacio, founder of the revolutionary Katipunan, which led the first armed attack against Spain in August 1896, was interpreted by Agoncillo as an organic leader sprung from the masses—even though Bonifacio was middle class, educated by the Dominicans, and employed in a position of trust by a British company in Manila.6 But it was Agoncillo’s History of the Filipino People, first published in 1960 and published in  eight editions (the latest in 1990), that was most influential.7 It was a widely used textbook at the tertiary level in public schools. Among Catholic circles, however, it was criticized. The preferred historian for Catholic schools was Gregorio Zaide (1907–88), who had studied at the Dominican University of Santo Tomas [hereafter UST] where he obtained his doctorate in 1934. Unlike Agoncillo, Zaide painted the Catholic Church in a favorable light. In 1949, Zaide published The Philippines since Pre-Spanish Times, which became the core for a series of textbooks he wrote. His textbooks for the secondary level gave a bare-bones picture of the Spanish era, assuming a veneer of neutrality while not emphasizing the shortcomings of the church as Agoncillo did.8

In the 1970s, the student movement, much influenced by Marxist ideas, made any writing about the Catholic Church a taboo topic or at least a provocative one. The church was characterized as a “clerico-fascist” organization with ties to “bourgeois capitalists.” Unless they were church people or members of a religious order or congregation, historians tended to shy away from topics relating to church that would confront the caricature of the oppressive church that was being projected in the politics of the street, where the students’ battle cry included “Down with clerico-fascism!” Such slogans were shouted side by side with a denunciation of President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1917–89) as a tyrant under the protection of American imperialists.

Jesuits, who did work in the area of church history and church matters, kept a delicate balance. Working with archival documents, they painted a church that was human and flawed yet had contributed to the growth of the Philippines. While it was a more nuanced and sober picture, and while the scholarship was recognized among academics, it did little to change the mood of the 1970s student movement, which fed more directly on propaganda and slogans. Schumacher’s study of Jose Burgos and the nationalist movement and his more extensive work Revolutionary Clergy showed that nationalism and church-membership were not mutually exclusive.9

Writing about Jesuit history in the Philippines faced the challenge of access to documentary sources. This was the third reason for the lack of vibrant Jesuit historical studies.  The documentary holdings of the Archives of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus [hereafter APP-SJ] consisted mostly of nineteenth- and twentieth-century documents, representing the period of the restoration of the Society. Documents from the previous centuries were few.

Like other archives in the Philippines, many of the historical documents were lost or damaged because of war and natural causes. The Spanish-era records of the National Archives of the Philippines, damaged and disarranged during World War II, were virtually inaccessible until the 1970s when effort was made to organize and systematize the archives. The National Archives were part of the Record Management and Archival Office of the Philippine government, which spent much of its resources assisting those who needed birth certificates and other documents.

To make Jesuit documents more accessible and to fill the gaps in the holdings of the Jesuit archives in the Philippines, de la Costa, while working on Jesuits in the Philippines, had the holdings of the Philippine section of Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu [hereafter ARSI Philipp] microfilmed. He also copied documents from the Spanish Jesuit archives then in Sant Cugat, documents microfilmed by St. Louis University, which included documents from the Vatican, and he had them deposited in the microfilm section of ADMU’s Rizal Library.

From October 15, 1961 to March 31, 1962, de la Costa went on a research tour to Taipei, Hong Kong, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Lisbon, London, and Cambridge (Massachusetts) to survey the archives and repositories “in which [there could be found] the most significant concentrations of historical and social science materials pertaining to the Philippines, for the purpose of determining the nature of the collection and the conditions of research at these repositories.” He visited these places also to establish contacts for future researchers and to secure microfilm copies of a sampling of such documents. The microfilmed material were also deposited in the ADMU.10 While de la Costa had done much to make archival material from outside the Philippines accessible, very few have in fact taken advantage of the trove of documents that he had brought back.

The inaccessibility of documents was recognized earlier in the century by Alexander Robertson (1873–1939), director of the National Library in Manila, and his collaborator and translator Emma Helen Blair (1851–1911). Together they put together a compendium of documents, fifty-five volumes in all, the last two being an analytical index. Blair and Robertson [hereafter BR] compiled, selected, translated, and abridged documents from Europe, especially from the Spanish archives. Each volume began with an overview of the documents and each document or cluster of related documents was introduced and its context described. Entitled The Philippine Islands, the series was published over a decade, 1903–13. Despite its shortcomings, like faulty translation and unclear editorial policy to explain the choice of documents and decisions on which documents to abridge, BR (as the series is commonly cited) had served to bring primary documents to scholars who would otherwise not have access to them.

Likewise, to remedy lack of access, the Filipiniana Book Guild [hereafter FBG] was established in the 1960s. It continued to publish into the 1970s transcriptions and English translations of Spanish works, among them Pedro Chirino’s Relación de las Islas Filipinas, which first appeared in Rome in 1604. Unlike BR, FBG published entire works issuing them as independent volumes with the transcription of the originals and the translations bound together.11 Jesuits were members of FBG.

To familiarize college students with documentary sources, de la Costa put together a single-volume compilation and translation, Readings in Philippine History, as a textbook. In it, he wove a history of the Philippines told through a selection of translated primary manuscript texts and published materials, linked by a narrative. Schumacher did something similar, producing Readings in Philippine Church History as a textbook for his classes in church history.12

The last extant work written at the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines in 1768 in the manner of a relación was the journal of Francisco Puig (1720–98) on the expulsion. It remained unpublished until it was transcribed and translated by Nicholas P. Cushner and published in 1964 as Philippine Jesuits in Exile: The Journals of Francisco Puig, S.J., 1768–1770.13

Access to sources has greatly improved with European and American repositories making their holding accessible online, but Philippine institutions have still to begin assiduously digitizing to make their holdings available.

A fourth reason. After the Second Vatican Council, there emerged among church circles a very strong interest in socio-political involvement. Inspired by the council’s document Church in the Modern World and the Bishops’ Synod of 1971’s Justice in the World, which stated that “action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel,” priests, seminarians, and women and men religious were drawn to confront socio-political problems by orienting their apostolates toward the urban poor, farmers, and laborers. Many participated in rallies organized by students and civil and advocacy groups. In the 1970s, many church people preferred to be making rather than writing history, all the more so when President Marcos declared martial law (September 11, 1972) and the church took the cautious position of “critical collaboration,” as articulated by Archbishop Cardinal of Manila, Jaime Sin (1928–2005).

Among the Jesuits, the impetus to address socio-political-economic issues was further strengthened when General Congregation 32 issued Decree 4: Our Mission Today. Paragraph 28 stated that “the promotion of justice is indispensable to [evangelization].” Many younger Jesuits, priests and scholastics, were attracted toward what had been popularly called “FnJ” (faith and justice) rather than toward academic research. There was a discernible anti-intellectual strain running through the scholasticate. The pioneering work of de la Costa was not aggressively and actively taken up by a younger generation of Jesuits. Ironically, de la Costa’s masterful work, which showed a firm command of the breadth and depth of archival sources in the Philippines and abroad, with its limpid prose that made reading his work a pleasant or even entertaining activity, served to dampen interest in following in his footsteps. The sentiment that de la Costa had already said everything so elegantly so that there was nothing to add, discouraged any serious research into Jesuit history. But the academic world was not asleep as we shall see later.

A Legacy of Documenting and Writing

Writing by Jesuits and about Jesuits in the Philippines has a long history bringing us back to the beginning of the Jesuit missions in the Philippines. In September 1581, Jesuits arrived there in response to a plea addressed to the Spanish crown by Guido Lavezaris (in office 1572–75), the successor of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (c.1510–72), the first governor general of the Philippines (in office 1565–72).14 The advance party of four Jesuits, Antonio Sedeño (1535–95), mission superior and Alonso Sanchez (1565–93) both priests; coadjutor brother Nicolás Gallardo (d.1614) and scholastic Gaspar Suárez de Toledo (1554–81), who died on board, were already in Mexico in 1579. They were recruited to sail to Manila, leaving Acapulco on March 29, 1581 on board the San Martín. They entered Manila on September 17 in the company of Bishop Domingo de Salazar, O.P. (1512–1594; in office 1579–94), appointed bishop of Manila.

Almost as soon as the Jesuits arrived in Manila, Sedeño wrote to Rome. The earliest extant letter of Sedeño in ARSI is dated June 12, 1582, addressed to Acquaviva, on the religious situation in Manila and the Jesuits.15 This impetus for documenting, recording, and writing was partially due to the Jesuits’ modo de proceder (manner of proceeding). Following the example of Ignatius Loyola (c.1491–1556) and the common practice in the Society, Jesuits built channels of communication between superiors and subjects, among Jesuits, ecclesiastical and civil authorities, families and friends and others so that there existed a vibrant communicational network.

More formal reports, the litterae annuae (annual letters), were sent by the provincial superior to the central house in Rome. In turn, the annual letters were based on compiled reports that came from the houses, colleges, missions, and other places. Usually, the rector of house or the superior of an area was responsible for sending information to the provincial. Although called annual letters, by the second half of the seventeenth century, the reports from the Philippines were sent triennially, even every six years, because of the length and difficulty to travel from Manila to Rome.16

But the impetus to write and communicate was further bolstered by instructions from the Spanish monarchs seeking information about the Indies. Philip II (1527–98, r.1556–98) had asked Spanish officials, civil and ecclesiastical, to send detailed reports of the lands they had passed through or colonized. These were to be addressed to the Consejo de las Indias, the bureaucratic arm in charge of all the Spanish colonies in the Indies. Included in the information gathered for the king were the topography and geology of the land, the waters and seas and sea routes, the mineral deposits, flora and fauna, the seasons and weather, and the indigenous inhabitants, their culture and organization, whether they had kings, writing systems, methods of warfare, and so forth. Philip’s list was a virtual checklist for a natural history. The more formal reports, which included maps were known as relaciones geográficas.17

Examples of early reports sent to the monarch, not strictly relaciones geográficas were Alonso Sánchez’s 1586 report presented to the Spanish court and cited in Pedro Chirino’s unpublished history18 and Bishop Salazar’s 1595 letter to the king describing living conditions in Manila, especially the Chinese enclave, called Parian, where all sorts of goods and foodstuffs could be procured.19

Relación y historia

Longer reports were known as relación y historia (narrative and history). A relación was a more informal report, sometimes written in the first person. De la Costa describes the relaciones as “newsletters written by the Philippine Jesuits to their brethren in Spain, in which they reported not only of domestic but of general interest.”20 The historia was a longer descriptive and narrative work covering a period of time. It was more formal, generally written in the third person.21

Authors and Their Works

Three Jesuits stand out as the authors of the official histories of the Philippine Jesuits; they are Pedro Chirino (1558–1635) who arrived in the Philippines in 1590; Francisco Colin (1592–1660) who was provincial (in office 1639–44); and Pedro Murillo Velarde (1696–1753), canonist, historian and cartographer, best known for his map of the Philippines.22 They wrote what Eduardo Descalzo Yuste calls “official” histories initiated by, sanctioned or even commanded under obedience by superiors, in contrast to unofficial histories like Francisco Combes’s (1620–65) Historia de Mindanao, Jolo y sus adyacentes (1667) and Ignacio Alzina’s (1610–74) “Historia de las islas e indios de Visayas,” written at the individual’s initiative.23 To these may be added: Successos felices, que por mar, y tierra ha dado N.S. en las Islas Filipinas contra el Mindanao (1637), which is cited by Murillo. Successos, an account of Governor General Sebastian Hurtado Corcuera’s Maguindanao campaign, may have been written by the Jesuit Juan López (1584–1659).24

Simply because they were not official, one could not say that Combes’s, Alzina’s, and Lopez’s works were not valuable. On the contrary, all three were valuable because Combes and Alzina worked in the areas that they wrote about and were for the most part reporting firsthand knowledge. Combes’s work was printed and published but Alzina’s remained in manuscript until the late twentieth century. Another unpublished historia is by Diego de Oña (1655–1721). Juan José Delgado (1697–1755) wrote a more general history of the Philippines, Historia general, written in the eighteenth century but that was not published until 1892. The reason why Alzina and Oña remained unpublished is uncertain.

The first published account, Chirino’s Relación de las Islas Filipinas (Rome, 1604) was probably written or completed by the author when he was sent there as procurator for the Philippine vice-province. Relación has eighty-two short chapters and an introduction. Encouraged by a letter from Acquaviva, December 12, 1605, Chirino went on to write a more formal history, Primera parte de la historia de la provincia de Philipinas de la Compañía de Jesús (First part of the history of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus). “Historia” had four books divided into chapters. Chirino completed the manuscript in 1610 but it was not published in his lifetime or even long after.25

Published posthumously in Madrid in 1663, Colin’s Labor evangélica, ministerios apostólicos de los obreros de la Compañia de Jesus was an official history in which Colin expanded Chirino’s unpublished history and brought the narrative to 1616. Called “parte primera,” Colin’s history would have to wait another century before its continuation would be written. In his preface, Colin outlined the plan for Labor evangélica, which followed the stages or eras that the Society has spent in the Philippine Islands. The work is divided into four books, the first covers the era of the mission, 1581–95; the second the vice-province, 1595–1605; the third and fourth the Province, 1605 to the second decade of the 1600.

In the eighteenth century appeared Pedro Murillo Velarde’s Historia de la provincia de Philipinas de la Compañía de Jesús, segunda parte. Printed by the Jesuit press La Compañía, in Manila in 1749, it brought the history to the year 1716. It was called “segunda parte [second part]” because it was planned as a continuation of Colin. Murillo’s historia has four books divided into chapters.

Shared Characteristics

Chirino’s Relación was a seminal work that set a pattern of writing which remained when historical writing turned more formal and took the form of the historia in Francisco Colin and Pedro Murillo-Velarde.26

There are four shared characteristics of Jesuit historical writing of this era. First is the intended audience. The edification of these particular individuals (through hagiography and the representation of the miraculous) is what constitutes the fourth shared characteristic. The second shared feature lies in the content, namely the information on the location, geography, geology, and ethnography of the Philippines.  This appeals to the intended audience’s taste for the exotic; it is influenced by the relación geográfica. The third is a common narrative thread, strengthened by the literary dependence of the histories, which all share a presupposition about how to write about the frontier missions and its histories.27

These characteristics are by no means peculiar to the Philippine writing; in fact, they fall into a genre of Jesuit writing about peoples and places encountered in the missions. Alexandre Coello and Teodoro Hampe have analyzed the writings about New Spain (Mexico) and Brazil composed as the Society built its corporate identity in the face of a new geographical, political, and cultural situation. They studied how this identity was fashioned by relating it to hagiographical, educative, eschatological, and political works.28

Intended Audience

An introduction, addressed to Acquaviva, states Chirino’s objective in writing. After accomplishing his work as procurator to Rome, Chirino complemented his official deposition with a freely composed narrative account of Society’s work in the Philippines “in the propagation of our holy faith,” recounting “the progress it has achieved in fruition of its efforts on behalf of the Holy Church.”29

Chirino reveals the first shared characteristics of writing: intended audience. Since all works were written in Spanish, they were not addressed to the indigenous peoples being converted by the Jesuits but to the Spanish-speaking population of the Philippines, Mexico and Spain, where the printed works were disseminated or the manuscripts sent. Specifically, they were addressed to Jesuits, in particular superiors. Because they might also be read by non-Jesuits like civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and friends and benefactors of the Society, the objective of gaining support for the mission in the Philippines, including material support, is likely present.

Colin and Murillo-Velarde were to follow. Colin’s preface to Labor, “Al Lector [To the reader],” indicates the direction of his historical writing. Colin aimed not for a comprehensive history, but for the inspiration of the reader, who need not look for other books to learn about the Jesuit mission and ministry. His style was simple, without affectation. Like ecclesiastical and religious histories, he wrote not to satisfy curiosity but to teach spiritually, to console, and edify the readers—particularly the religious ones. He painted with great enthusiasm the abundance of the harvest in contrast with small number of the laborers in the Indies.30 Murillo Velarde hinted at the reader he had in mind when he declared his intention in writing a historia:

The reader will see the marvelous deeds done by [the Society’s] ministers, admire their heroic virtues, which they showed in the difficult enterprises which they pursued; the arduous challenges that surrounded them and the outstanding men who cultivated the distant vineyard, following St. Francis Xavier, the pioneer of this province [translation mine].31

The remark suggests Jesuits and benefactors as the intended audience. The Jesuits would be inspired to follow St. Francis and benefactors seeing “marvelous deeds” would continue to support the work of the Jesuits.

Federico Palomo wrote that in Spain and Portugal among the Jesuits it was customary to read letters from the mission long before they were put to print. The letters served to inform and inspire the Jesuits. The letters were the basis for treatises on the ideal missionary, like Martín de la Naja’s El misionero perfecto, published in 1678 and dedicated to his confrère, Jerónimo López (1589–1658). Letters were subsequently compiled, selected, anthologized, and disseminated through print for the edification of Jesuit friends and benefactors.32 From the letters, it was a small step to the relación and historia, which would have read during the quiet moments in the daily schedule of a Jesuit community.33

Pedro de León (1545–1632), a Jesuit, wrote a compendium of his experiences as a missionary over three decades among prostitutes, shipyard personnel, and prisoners; plus his forays to the inland villages. In the prologue and dedication, he states that the work was intended for Jesuits (hence, it was not published but remained as a three-volume MS of which two copies exist). He also states that his narrative hopes to be a “mirror” where others might see the many tasks undertaken, that have value only because of the grace of vocation.34

These manuscripts were instruments of communication and memory. “In this sense, it appears clearly that texts like the compendium of Pedro de León, as well as the letters from the mission were primarily motivated by the desire for edification but secondarily by an interest in propaganda regarding letters from Asia or America.”35


Edification as an important objective of the historical writing explains the emphasis placed on the miraculous and hagiographical.

Chirino’s narrative recalls the style of the Acts of the Apostles, where the divine is accessible and where direct intervention by God in daily affairs is patent. In the second chapter “Of the Discovery of a Child Jesus That Gave Its Name to the City of Sebú, and of the Patron Saints of Sebú and Manila” is narrated the attack on Cebu by Legazpi’s soldiers and the discovery of the image of the Child Jesus or Santo Niño, which Chirino reads as a sign of divine guidance—“buen pronóstico” (good omen).36

This was not the only time Chirino looked for divine signs. This good omen was fulfilled in the rapid conversion of the villages within the encomienda of Taytay, as reported in 1597 by Francisco Almerique (1557–1601), who baptized one thousand and then five hundred more, between 1594 and 1595. The inhabitants in the surrounding areas came of their own volition.37 This success at conversion, rapid, peaceful, and easy, is nothing short of miraculous.

Descalzo notes that in Murillo-Velarde’s historia there are 230 hagiographic eulogies of Jesuits and others; some just a few lines in length, others much more extended.  Repeated themes of the eulogies are the exemplar virtues of the Jesuits: humility, obedience, outstanding apostolic fervor, penitence, devotion, zeal for souls, internal and external mortification, continuous prayer, etc. All told, a hagiographic thread links the narrative and expressed collective history of the order.38

Natural History

In the geographic, geological, and biological sections of Chirino’s writings, Descalzo demonstrates that when organizing observed data Chirino was influenced by José de Acosta (1540–1600), who documented the natural history of the Americas. Acosta and Jesuits who followed after him were shaped by “Jesuit humanism,” an eclectic mix of Renaissance humanism, Scholasticism, and Ignatian spirituality. Following an Aristotelian emphasis on empirical knowledge, the Jesuit relaciones made frequent use of the first person: “I did this,” “I saw this,” and so forth. Such experiential accounts were placed squarely against scripture and tradition, and where these were insufficient, Aristotle and other classical writers like Pliny the Elder filled the gaps.39 This empiricism is evident in a seemingly trivial experience in Chirino’s Relación, where he described how the Chinese reduce the ficus tree in size by planting them in rocks. It was a description of a bonsai (Chapter Ten).

In Labor evangélica’s preface, Colin described the geography of the Philippines and its history as the background and theater of Jesuit evangelical labor. Likewise, in conformity to the royal decree, he provided information about the crops and harvests of the land, and about the size, number, and quality of the lands and the farms. Although such information had already been written and Colin was presenting information culled from other relaciones and official data recorded by the alcaldes mayores or governors of the provinces in compliance with government orders, his account was much more orderly and clearer than Chirino’s. Colin clearly acknowledged indebtedness to older sources.

Murillo did not say much of the natural history of the Philippines, presuming that this had been adequately treated by earlier authors; but in Book 4, Chapter 2, he described the Ladrones and Palao islands because the Jesuits had just established an outpost through the work of Diego Luis de Sanvitores (1627–72), who had died a martyr in the islands in 1672. Rather than make observations on natural history, Murillo dealt with the political history that gave context and framed the eulogies.40

Assignment to the Indies was perceived in Europe as a hardship post at the western boundary of the empire. Colin located the Philippines “extra Gangem,” beyond the Ganges, hence on the extreme frontier.41 Interest in the exotic and bizarre filled the histories, but it was accompanied by a prevailing critique of the cultures and peoples of the Indies as primitive, barbarous, pagan, and idolatrous. Eurocentrism colored the reading of other cultures and strengthened the impetus for missionary work to save the Indios from their uncivilized ignorance. European culture, Christianity’s sponsor, was the measure against which other cultures were evaluated. Philippine tribal culture fell miserably short.

Common Narrative and Literary Dependence

Chirino established a narrative line in the Relación, which subsequent writers would adapt. After surveying the Philippines and locating its position on the world map, Chirino narrated Magellan’s arrival in 1521, next the settlement by Legazpi in 1565, and then the arrival of the first Jesuits in 1581. From that point he followed the expansion of the mission territory under the Jesuits, following roughly a chronological order. The account ended in 1601 with the visitation of Diego García (1552–1604). Chirino’s unpublished Historia ended in 1606, the year after the Philippines was raised to a province. Colin’s subsequent history, Labor evangélica, would draw heavily from Chirino’s unpublished history as indicated in the title page, “sacada de los manuscritos del Padre Pedro Chirino [taken from the manuscripts of Fr. Pedro Chirino],” not just by following the form and narrative flow created by Chirino but by paraphrasing or quoting generously from the unpublished history.42 Colin brought the narrative to 1616 and Murillo from 1616 to 1716.

The formal and literary continuity of the histories can be explained by the strong dependence on previous works. Murillo openly admits his own dependency by citing his sources, referring to Chirino, Colin, Combés, Ignacio Alzina on the Visayas, Francisco García on the Marianas, Diego de Oña, and works published in Europe by Juan Eusebio Nieremberg (1595–1658), Alonso de Andrade (1590–1672), Johannes Nadasi (1614–79), Matthias Tanner (1630–92), Charles le Gobien (1653–1708) and José Casani or Cassani (1673–1750) who wrote biographies of outstanding men of the Philippine province. Furthermore, he consulted various documents, in particular “cartas de edificación [edifying letters]” in the archives.

Thus Jesuit relations and histories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though they do contain straight narrative along with ethnological and anthropological observations of the peoples the Jesuits encountered, are characterized by a hagiographic slant, whereby Jesuit virtues are celebrated and the providential hand of God is seen in historic events. Writing history came to an abrupt end in May 1768, when the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines. After Murillo, no history of the Jesuits in the Philippines was written for more than five decades.

Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Jesuit Historiography

The Spanish Jesuits returned to the Philippines in 1859 after they had been restored by Pius VII (r.1800–23) in 1814. It took four decades and a half for the Jesuits to sail to Manila because the Society was suppressed in Spain in 1820 and again in 1834. While the returning Jesuits were destined for assignment to Mindanao, at the request of the city council of Manila and upon representation with authorities in Spain, the Jesuits were given charge of a primary school, Escuela Municipal de Manila, in September 1859. Six years later a secondary school was added and the school renamed Ateneo Municipal. The school would unexpectedly become the lynchpin of the Jesuit educational apostolate in the Philippines. But that was in the future.

The missions in Mindanao began with a tour made by José Fernández Cuevas (1816–64), the mission superior in 1860. The following year, missions began in Mindanao, with the first post in Cotabato. By the century’s end, Jesuit mission territory would encompass almost the whole island and the adjacent islands of Basilan and Sulu archipelago, southwest of Zamboanga. Except for Cagayan de Oro, which the Recollects held until the twentieth century, all other parishes and missions of Mindanao were turned over to the Jesuits as stipulated in the royal instructions.

A veteran of the Mindanao missions, Pablo Pastells (1846–1932) contributed to the accounts about Jesuit history. Initially assigned to the Ateneo Municipal in 1868, he was posted to the Surigao and Davao missions of Mindanao from 1876 to 1887. There, he founded the towns of Baganga and Cateel. He was recalled to Manila to be mission superior in 1887, then made acting superior of the Escuela Normal de San Francisco Xavier in 1893; but on October 5 of that year he had to return to Spain because of failing health.

Pastells was an intellectual known for his lively debate with the Philippine national hero José Rizal (1861–96) about religion. In Spain, Pastells spent his retirement by working on the history of the Jesuits in the Philippines. Cooperating with bibliographer and librarian of the Tabacalera corporation, Wenceslao E. Retana (1862–1924), Pastells annotated Colin’s Labor evangélica with references to archival documents. With Retana, he also annotated Combes’s Historia de Mindanao.43 Retana is best known for Aparato bibliográfico de la historia general de Filipinas, a comprehensive and annotated bibliography of Philippine imprints, the bulk of which belonged to the Tabacalera library and Archivo del bibliófilo filipino.44

Pastells was strongly influenced by critical history, which stressed the importance of supporting documentation in service of von Ranke’s ideal, telling “how it actually happened.” With the two-volume work, published in 1900 for the first and in 1902 for the second, Pastells brought modern methods of historical research to bear on an older text by reading critically and downplaying Colin’s hagiographic and edifying slant. Pastells also wrote Misión de la Compañía de Jesús de Filipinas en el siglo XIX, bringing Jesuit history up to the end of the Spanish era. Here Pastells shows his adherence to documentary evidence and by and large avoids hagiography, although there are still traces of Jesuit self-congratulation in his work.45

Because the Jesuits’ apostolic work in the Ateneo was the education of youth, research and writing was not the primary focus of school work; these fell to another institution, the Manila Observatory, established by mathematician Francisco Colina (1837–93) and two Jesuit scholastics Jaime Nonell (1844–1922) and Juan Ricart (1838–1915) in 1865. It specialized in meteorology. Upon acquiring a Secchi universal meteorograph in 1869, it began issuing regular weather reports that benefited shipping and business in Manila. It opened a seismology section in 1887 and an astronomy section in 1899.

With the United States’ assumption of rule over the Philippines as a newly acquired Pacific colony, American bureaucrats recognized the importance of the Jesuit scholars in Manila for a better understanding of the Philippines. The Jesuits were commissioned by the colonial government to gather a fact-book about the Philippines. Published in 1900 at the US government press in Washington DC as two volumes, El Archipielago Filipino, provided the Americans a one-stop reference for knowing about the geography, natural history, social, political, and religious institutions of the Philippines, history, and other topics. Also published was Atlas de Filipinas by José Algue. The authorship of both were attributed to the Jesuits of the Manila Observatory.46

Because of its strong research slant, interest in historical research came not surprisingly from the observatory’s scientists, notably Miguel Saderra Maso (1865–1939) and William Charles Repetti (1884–1966). Their foray into history was a serious hobby, almost a second career. Saderra Maso, a seismologist of the Manila Observatory, known for his documentation of earthquakes in the Philippines, wrote an outline history of the Philippine Province from 1581 to the end of the nineteenth century.47 His was a bare-bones narrative, with hardly any trace of the hagiographical and the homilizing tendency of older histories. Published in 1914 by the University of Santo Tomas Press, it was translated into English by Leo Cullum (1902–88), who brought the narrative up to the year 1946. Cullum’s work had a limited circulation.48

By 1927, the Philippines had passed from the Spanish Jesuits to the Americans of the New York–Maryland province. In 1928, Repetti, who had been the director of the seismological station of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, in 1910 and of the seismological observatory of Fordham University from 1914 to 1926, arrived in the Philippines to head the seismological section of the Manila Observatory. He developed an interest in the history of the Jesuits in the Philippines, publishing articles on the College of Manila, on the first Jesuit residence in the Philippines, on the University of San Ignacio, and on the oldest Jesuit book in the Philippines, a manuscript of Angel Armano (1572–1612) on the lives of saints whose relics had been entrusted to the Society in Manila in 1597. A number of articles published in 1940 appeared in Cultura social, a Jesuit magazine, or in publications sponsored by the Manila Observatory. In 1938, he published Pictorial Records and Traces of the Society of Jesus in the Philippine Islands and Guam prior to 1768.49 Thus, when the Jesuits, in preparation for the 1940 quadricentennial celebration of the order’s founding, were looking for someone who could write a history in English of the Society in the Philippines the task fell on Repetti as the most obvious if not the only choice. But as Repetti narrates in the preface to volume 6 of his manuscript, “The Society of Jesus in the Philippine Islands: The Philippine Mission, 1859–1938”:

The work was undertaken by Father Repetti, by order of Father Superior, for the 400th anniversary of the Society, a few sections being contributed by other fathers. Owing to lack of time it was put together too hurriedly to give attention to style. It was remoulded by another father of the Philippine mission in the form, for most part, as presented here, but this was not sufficiently suited to the occasion, and hence not published. Father de la Costa then wrote a more popular work, but it was not completed in time for the anniversary year, and the recent war prevented its publication.50

Except for volume 6, which is written out as a narrative, the rest of the eight volumes of Repetti is not properly speaking a narrative but a compilation of documents transcribed from European archives, notably ARSI, that could serve as source material for a history. That same preface mentions Horacio de la Costa who at that time was a scholastic.

As mentioned above, de la Costa wrote a popular history of Society, Light Cavalry, covering the same years as Repetti, intended for a young audience of senior high school students, who would be the best recruits for the Society.51 The book would be printed in 1941 but before it could be released, World War II started in the Pacific, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and of military installations near Manila on December 8. Light Cavalry survived as a few rare copies, hardly read except by Jesuit scholastics.


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