500 Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 5



“The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real state they own.” Frank Zappa


In the immortal words of Italian Julius Caesar, “Veni, Vidi, Vici!” The Spaniards came, saw, and conquered but not as fast as Caesar didof Pontus at the Battle of Zela. The Spaniards ruled their prized possessions for over 300 years while they cavorted on the spoils of war. And in the process, bright Filipino minds like Jose Rizal and the brave souls of the three beheaded priests (GOMBURZA) perished on their bloody hands.


Why were the friars, who came holding the Cross to preach about Christianity, came with such disdain and contempt for the locals even those who already converted to Roman Catholicism? Why did the likes of Padre Damaso display such unchristian behaviors and immorality despite vows of poverty, chastity, obedience? The contempt for the very religion they tried to spread was palpable and their actions so offensive. Clearly, the friars learned it in Spain, perfected their trade in New Spain and certainly in the Philippines!


What exactly happened in Spain and Europe over the centuries they dominated the Philippine scene that transcended time and distance? Perhaps, a journey back in time will shed some light as to what made the Spanish gift of Christianity to the Filipinos so lasting?


In the beginning, Christianity in Medieval Europe was one big religion – Roman Catholicism based in Rome. But in 1054, grown up men could not agree on the substance, whether to add baking powder on the dough that would leavened the bread used for communion. It turned out, the culinary fight between Pope Leo III and Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople (Turkey), was really about power and not powder.


Rome believed that the pope had authority over the patriarchs but Constantinople disagreed. Cerularius and the rest of Eastern Orthodox Church were excommunicated. In return, Cerularius returned the favor and did his own excommunication of the Roman Catholic Church and its faithful. Thus, the great schism between the West (Rome) and the East (Byzantine/Eastern Orthodox) that persisted for the next millennium.


In the midst of the Renaissance (1378-1417), another split occurred within the Western Roman Catholics. The Italian cardinals with the blessing of the Roman Emperor feuded over lordship in Italy. Pope Clement V found the local scene nauseating and moved his papacy to Avignon, France. The quarrel between Italy and France continued resulting in having two popes (Urban VI in Rome and Clement in France).


The division of the papacy discredited the Church and was criticized by those demanding reform, including an English theologian John Wycliffe who published the first English translation of the bible.


Wycliffe’s Bible opened many eyes and became one of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.


The feud was so bad they decided to first hold a controversial council in Pisa, Italy to end the split in the church. The solution was to depose two existing popes (Benedict XIII, France; and Gregory XII, Rome) and elected a third pope (Alexander V). This didn’t go well as treachery followed. Before being elected pope, Gregory XII promised to keep the composition of the College of Cardinal evenly split between Rome and France. Two years later, he added four more cardinals that included two of his nephews. A mutiny among the cardinals ensued that eventually led to the election of Alexander V.


The controversial Council in Pisa did not resolve the Schism. Four years later, Pope John XXIII as requested by King Sigismund (Hungary), convened the Council of Constance in Germany (1417) to take another stab at it and to address the insurrection of Czech Catholic Jan Hus. The conclave agreed to hold an election where the Roman candidate, Martin V was elected pope. He then deposed his French pope rival and they were bestie no more.


As for Jan Hus, a college professor who was exiled for his audacity to criticize Pope John XIII’s selling of indulgences, was invited to Constance to explain his side. Trusting, Hus went but was immediately arrested upon arrival and asked to recant his views but he refused. He was then burned to the stake for heresy.


The widespread corruption and abuse in the church resulted in another split that led to the Protestant revolt called the Protestant Reformation. The reformers’ beef was that the Bible was printed in Latin and not in the local language in England, Germany, France, Spain, among others. Printing was controlled by the church as a form of censorship.


Consequently, the Catholic Mass was in Latin whereby the faithful had no way of fact-checking the priest. Many priests then were not well-trained theologians because religious posts were offered for sale to the highest bidder. The priests then sold indulgence tickets for sin forgiveness.


In 1515, Pope Leo X got in the act of selling more indulgences to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican. The pope was a renaissance man who turned Rome into a cultural center and center of political power. His projects depleted Rome’s treasury thus the new campaign. Whereas, the regular indulgences sold where tickets to trek the stairway to heaven, the new indulgences will rescue one’s soul from purgatory.


The new purgatory invention was clearly too much for the likes of Martin Luther, a German Catholic monk who studied Hus’ philosophies. Luther’s dramatic move to nail a piece of paper with a long list of complaints to a door church in Wittenberg got him excommunicated. He then joined the Protestants and created his own Lutheran following.


Luther’s beef on indulgences was really just a cover because it was more doctrinal. While Luther trained his sight on many local priests who were engaged in corruption and immorality, their sins really was that they were not good theologians, did not know enough about Christianity and were telling people many different things that were not biblical or doctrinal. Followers had no way of fact-checking if the priest was spreading fake news because they did not know Latin.


Hus’, Wycliffe’s, John Calvin and Luther’s fight with the Catholic Church was a microcosm of the series of religious wars in Europe in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries that saw loyalties shift among combatants. The longest war lasted for a century waged between England and France. Although religion was not the main driver of these battles, religion played important roles that saw Catholic France alliance with the Protestant forces against the Catholic Habsburg (German) Monarchy that included the Holy Roman Empire that Spain was part of.


This was the period that Ferdinand Magellan had left Spain for the Moluccas Islands along with the “battle-tested” Spanish friars but he got stranded in the Philippines in 1521, erected his cross in Limasawa before Lapu-Lapu killed him in Mactan. He failed to return to Spain to witness a new political order in Europe that followed after the Council of Trent. (To be continued…)