Column: History lessons

Published on May 20, 2014.

The great chronicler of the Propaganda Movement died last Wednesday. That Fr. John Schumacher, SJ, was also the foremost authority on the history of the Philippine Church helps explain his appeal to generations of Filipino Catholics. As the man who succeeded him as Church historian at the Loyola School of Theology, Fr. Tony de Castro, SJ, said in his moving homily at the funeral Mass last Saturday, it was Father Jack who made him realize it was possible to be “faithful to both the Church and the nation.”

To my mind, Father Jack’s “Revolutionary Clergy” was the epitome of that integrated faith. In this underappreciated work, he used the documentary evidence to restore the Filipino clergy to their crucial role as nationalists and revolutionaries: mobilizing support, collecting war donations, advising rebels in the field during the Philippine Revolution.

One does not need to see the Filipino clergy in the same exact way as he did to follow or indeed accept his argument. That the book came out in the early 1980s, at the exact time the Philippine Church was not only hiding dissidents but active in the antidictatorship struggle itself, did not fail to make an impression on me.

I was one of the many whose lives he improved; he played a key part in the research and the publication of my book on Rizal. The other night I reread the letters we exchanged, and was moved all over again by his spirit of generosity. He was unfailingly fair in his scholarship (which is not to say that he minced words; when he had to, he called a spade a pseudo-Marxist, economically deterministic spade). He was also very helpful: thorough in his answers, prompt in his replies. What more could a mere journalist dabbling in history ask for?

I learned very many things from Father Jack (who elected Filipino citizenship in 1976). He was the most learned, most lucid explainer of 19th-century Filipino nationalism I ever met. Herewith, some of the most important lessons I took to heart:

Rizal, Del Pilar were leading a separatist movement. In his preface to the revised edition (1997) of his incomparable “The Propaganda Movement” (published in 1972 by his great friend F. Sionil Jose), Father Jack wrote: “There was a reform movement—not only that of [Fr. Jose] Burgos and his colleagues, but that which lasted from about 1880 to 1885, and a good number of Filipinos in Europe never moved or dared to express themselves beyond that stage. But after 1885, at least, there was also a separatist movement, led chiefly by Rizal, but not confined to him … It is true that the professed goal was assimilation—extension of Spanish laws and government to the Philippines. As the readiness of many later to collaborate with the Americans would show, this was undoubtedly all that some wanted, but for men like Rizal, Del Pilar, Antonio Luna and others, it was the only front behind which they could operate in pursuit of their real goal, independence of the Philippines from Spain.”

Lopez Jaena doesn’t make the cut. In the same preface, he also noted:  “I trust that it is obvious from this book how mistaken is the effort to put Graciano Lopez Jaena on the same plane as Rizal and Del Pilar as the ‘political trinity’ of the nationalist movement. The part Lopez Jaena played was small, and he contributed nothing of permanent value to the vision of a future Philippines. In the end he would renounce the Filipino cause completely in favor of Spanish politics.” [In my view, Mariano Ponce is the true third person of that trinity.]

Our heroes fought for a secular national civic ethic. In 1995, Father Jack called for a deeper study of “The Civil and Religious Ethic of Emilio Jacinto.” He began with some ground-clearing: “Some may question why a Catholic should look to a source of this type for moral values undergirding Philippine society, since the Katipunan was at least harshly anti-friar, if not anti-clerical and anti-Catholic. The simple answer is that, without fully granting that somewhat oversimplistic categorization of the religious attitudes of the Katipunan, the Katipunan was in fact the moving force behind the national revolution in which Filipinos as a people came to participate, and which they have accepted as the beginning of their national existence. Moreover, what the Philippines as a nation, and the Philippine Roman Catholic Church itself, are precisely in need of at this time, is a secular national civic ethic—that is, one not imposing on Filipinos of different beliefs Catholic moral doctrine, but at the same time taking into account the Catholic tradition which underlies so much of the national culture.”

Historians go where the evidence leads them … Footnote No. 30 of the Jacinto paper recorded for the first time a change in his viewpoint. “In the light of a more careful study of Jacinto, as well as of the early labor movement, I feel compelled to revise my criticism of [Reynaldo] Ileto’s inclusion of the Katipunan in his interpretation. Though the ramifications of the subject are too complex to be tested here, I would certainly have to concede that I have insisted too much on the fundamentally secular orientation of the Katipunan in my essay ‘Recent Perspectives on the Revolution,’ ‘The Making of a Nation,’ 186-189.”

… Even if the evidence is against them. In an e-mail exchange over the meaning of the initials Rd. L. M., Father Jack reiterated the Masonic interpretation found in “Propaganda Movement.” I pursued the Malay angle, and when I finally reported to him that I had tracked down the original source, he replied: “If you can find the reference in Leoncio Lopez, that has good prospects of being reliable.”

Truly, as eminent scholar Jojo Abinales wrote after the news of his death spread on Facebook,

Fr. Jack Schumacher was “an exceptional historian.”

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