Reading 18th-century Filipino pastoral letters – The Manila Times
In the many years I spent studying book production in the colonial Philippines, I deliberately failed to read pastoral letters and sermons. I thought they were empty or boring Bible commentaries with little literary value and no history of ideas. My bias against them was, again, a consequence of my ignorance of what these genres really are. But curiosity and patience help, and while working in a catalog for the University of Sto Archives. Tomas, I forced myself to browse and read sermons and pastoral letters to make a correct description of the objects.
This is how I got to know a very interesting character named Pedro José Manuel Martínez de Arizala. Born in Madrid in 1690, he studied law and held several positions – even professor – until he was appointed oidor (judge) in Quito in 1720. From 1730 – he was already 40 years old – he applied to several times that the king was authorized to leave his civil functions and to become a priest. His requests were rejected each time until he joined the Franciscan order in 1739 without royal authorization. This news was unwelcome in Madrid, and Martínez de Arizala was subjected to a juicio de residencia, a legal process in which a civil servant’s performance is put under scrutiny to produce a final judgment. It seems that nothing came of it, since, in 1743, Martinez de Arizala had been appointed Archbishop of Manila and had adopted the name of Fr. Pedro de la Santísima Trinidad. The fact that only three years had passed between taking a vow and being appointed makes it clear that he was a very connected person. He held this high ecclesiastical post until his death in May 1755.
Although many writings come from his hands, according to the archival records, he sent to the printing press only two pastoral letters, the contents of which were completely stunned. In the first, published in 1751, he began to blame himself for having accomplished little to improve the spiritual life of the Christian community of the archipelago since his arrival, but then he began to point out concrete problems: many straps were made. pass for Christians, even attend Masses, while the priests in charge do not teach doctrine; with regard to the provinces, it attests with great sadness the persistence of indigenous beliefs and practices, in particular healers and fortune tellers; the natives also lent each other money at a very high interest, called usury, which led the poor to go to jail or lose their modest properties; usury was a practice condemned by the Church.
He also severely criticized certain priests and brothers who did not go to confession, did not preach, did not visit hospitals and the sick, did not take care of the poor, etc. He even wondered if they entered religious life to live the high life, just to spend the time in pleasure and comfort, when their life should in fact be an example for the whole Catholic community. He even promised to severely punish some priests who overcharged parishioners. While suggesting the construction of houses next to convents to care for the dying, sick and women in labor, he also berated communities for celebrating religious holidays with “obscene” dances and too much alcohol.
This first letter was only a modest introduction to his second, published a few months before his death. He justifies the publication of the letter by acknowledging that his illness prevented him from preaching in the church, but at the same time prepares the reader – the believer – for a very harsh accusation: “It seems you don’t want to be corrected. , and there is nothing I can do but keep trying to correct you all. “He even lamented that his previous letter produced little results in people’s behavior.
“Generally, the corruption of morals,” he wrote, “the total abandonment of the law of God increases violently. You are inconsistent, you have no discipline, you are lazy, your faith is superficial and materialistic, a faith that is completely insufficient to heal souls. He has not forgiven any social group in the archipelago: the traders are corrupt, the Spanish community is greedy, the natives have a superficial faith, the brothers are far from having a model behavior, the high officials do not care than of themselves, all at the same time. they all continue to attend masses and pretend to be good Christians. This level of hypocrisy is something the Archbishop could not stand. He accused them all of being ungrateful and foolish. He ended the letter in a very desperate tone, calling on God to allow him to cry tears of blood and die peacefully, while asking him to forgive the behavior of the ignorant.
I’m not sure if this second letter influenced readers as much as he wanted, but at least I can imagine he felt very satisfied telling the Manillans what he really thought of them. Made for fun reading, without a doubt.