top of page

Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 7

“Whatever you are doing that makes you feel the most alive… that is where God is.” – Ignatius of Loyola

Long before the Council of Trent was convened, many Christian religious orders already existed in Europe. Monastic orders were distinguished from other orders based on their religious vows of either solemn or simple. A solemn vow (poverty, chastity and obedience) is absolute and irrevocable. Any other vow, public or private, individual or as a group, to act or abstain from an action, is a simple vow (i.e. can have property but cedes their administration).

Religious orders had four general categories: Canons regular, monastic, mendicants, or clerics. As religious orders in Europe and the New World accumulated power and wealth, the vows were clearly broken. Thus, the call for new religious orders by the Council of Trent. First to respond was Ignatius of Loyola who co-founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) along with six others.

They were created to serve the pope and the church charged with teaching Catholic education to boys (presumably to serve God). As members of the Society of Jesus, they were expected to accept orders to go anywhere in the world where they could live in extreme situations or conditions.

The Jesuits missions in China in the 16th and 17th centuries introduced Western science and astronomy. The Jesuit-led scientific revolution in China marked the emergence of modern science in that country that complemented China’s own advances in Chinese culture and sciences. Perhaps one of their marquee accomplishments was merging Confucian morality with Catholicism through their Latin works.

Among the Jesuits, two co-founders made notable albeit significant contributions to the spread of Catholicism. Ignatius of Loyola created Spiritual Exercises, a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices to help people deepen their faith and relationship with God. The Exercises were initially tailored for monks who lived in monasteries who engaged in a 30 days retreat of solitude and silence.

The other Jesuit was Francis Xavier who is credited with having the most number of baptized of the millions of converts to Catholicism in the New World. A Catholic private school in Cagayan de Oro founded by a Jesuit missionary was named after him – Xavier University- Ateneo de Cagayan in 1933.

The Council of Trent’s clarion call for Catholic Reformation to counter Protestantism attracted many adherents who became missionaries. Rather than changing the church, they decided to dedicate their lives to helping it grow. Many of them (Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Jesuits, etc. collectively as friars), joined Spanish and Portuguese explorations to evangelize the New World and hoped to win back Protestants to the Catholic fold. Most of them were Jesuits.

The Jesuits started off with key activities such as founding schools in Europe and sending missionaries to diverse locations in Asia, North and Latin America, Africa, and China. Jesuits were the first religious order to operate colleges and universities as a distinct and main ministry. They taught theology and classical studies (Latin, Greek literature, liberal arts, medicine).

One of the key thrusts of the early Spanish colonization of the Philippines was to educate the natives how to read and write in Spanish language along with the Catholic catechisms. It was a difficult undertaking so the friars learned how to speak the local dialects to facilitate teaching. The Augustinians opened a school in Cebu in 1565. The Franciscans followed over a decade later and also got into teaching the locals. They, however, came with their own specialties in industrial (vocational) and agricultural (farming) techniques.

The Jesuits would come four years later and educate the young. Of the 74 networks of colleges and universities in the Old and New World, several were established in the Philippines: the Ateneo de Manila (1859), Universidad de San Ignacio (1590), then the Colegio de San Jose in Manila (1601). Another was established in Iloilo, a school for Visayan boys that later became the first Jesuit boarding school. In addition to teaching how to read and write, catechism, and Spanish language; the Jesuits also taught liturgical music in Iloilo. They also established the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Cebu (later claimed to have become the University of San Carlos).

The Dominican missionaries arrived in 1587. They were noted for teaching Latin, a mandatory requirement to study philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence in schools like the Colegio/University of Santo Tomas that they ran. The friars opened several medical and pharmaceutical schools throughout the archipelago.

The Jesuits through their schools clearly played an important part in winning back to Catholicism several European countries that were previously dominated by Protestants like Poland and Lithuania. Their long reach and dominance in missionary and apostolic work had their downsides. As a pseudo-military run organization led by a Superior General, the Jesuits followed secret instructions written by Loyola’s successors on how to acquire power and influence for the Society and for the Catholic Church. Properties.

Although the Catholic Church disavow such “fabrications,” charges of complicity with attempted political assassinations, acquisition of large properties in the New World through Inquisitions (Religious Courts) for non-Christians, exclusion of Jews and Muslims from joining the Society, and using a process called casuistry (justifying the unjustifiable action) led to the Jesuits losing grace with the Royal Crowns in Spain and Portugal. Despite support from Pope Clement XIII, his successor, XIV through his Dominus ac Redemptor decree, stripped the Jesuits of power, property, and privilege with the dissolution of the Society of Jesus in 1773.

Their accumulated power and wealth clearly became a threat to the royals and to the clergy in Spanish territories. They earned enemies among the Catholic Church hierarchy for exempting themselves from tithes (church contribution), non-payment of tax on their properties, and most notably, bad timing (wrong pope), led to their expulsions in several countries (Mexico including Baja California, Italy, Paraguay, New France (Canada), China, India (Portuguese territory), Philippines and Switzerland.

The Jesuits provided Catholic education in the Philippines for would-be secular priests through the elite schools as pseudo seminaries (Santo Tomas and San Jose Colleges), but were clearly not at par with sacerdotal instruction envisioned by the Council of Trent. King Philip II ordered the use of the Tridentine (Latin) decrees on seminaries on the “Indies” where seminaries fall under diocesan control.

Vatican II convened by Pope John Paul II opened the door for the Jesuits’ return to good graces of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI in particular, paved the way for the ascension to the papacy of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio now Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope.

One of the biggest Jesuit contributions in Latin American is liberation theology that emphasizes social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples. The theology, advanced by a Roman Catholic theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru in the 1960’s, is a critical reflection and deliberate defense of human dignity, and defining Christian faith in the political context in poor countries in South America. (To be continued…)


bottom of page