Last Tuesday we celebrated the restoration of democracy in the Philippines by recalling the Edsa Revolution. The Jesuits, meanwhile, during this year have been celebrating the 200th year since the restoration of the Society of Jesus.
Why restoration? Because the history of the Jesuits in the Philippines is linked with the history of the Jesuit Order, which was born in 1540 when Pope Paul III approved the new religious order founded by Ignatius of Loyola. Immediately after the approval the order rapidly grew in number and influence. Two centuries later it was caught in the middle of the controversy among the Bourbon monarchs and was accused of being part of the royal controversy. The outcome of this was the brief Dominus ac Redemptor decreed by Clement XIV in 1773, suppressing the Jesuit Order.
Before that, Spain’s Carlos III in 1767 had ordered the expulsion of Jesuits from his realm. This included the Jesuits who first arrived in the Philippines in 1565 in the company of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. But because of the distance from Spain, the order of Carlos III reached the Philippines only on May 19, 1768.
The decree was read to the Jesuits assembled at the Colegio de San Ignacio. Immediately, the systematic expulsion of the Jesuits began. They were shipped from the Philippines in four different vessels—San Carlos, Santa Rosa, Venus, Astrea—to various European destinations.
But there was something providential about the brief Dominus ac Redemptor . It seemed that Clement XIV was not happy with what he had done. He said later: Compulsus feci. I did it under compulsion. Thus, under the terms of the pope’s decree, it could not take effect unless promulgated by the local monarch.
Empress Catherine of Russia never promulgated it in her domain. There the Jesuit Order continued to exist even after the suppression. Thus, former Jesuits began to rejoin the order in Catherine’s domain.
The suppression was a difficult period for the Society of Jesus. But Clement XIV and his successors never tried to suppress the society in Russia. There is, for instance, a presumptive letter of Clement XIV to Catherine of Russia in which the pope had approved the decision of the empress to conserve in her territories Jesuits suppressed elsewhere.
The history of what happened from the suppression to the restoration is complicated. The long and the short of it is that on
Aug. 7, 1814, Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus with the papal bull Solicitudo ominium ecclesiarum. That is the restoration we Jesuits have been celebrating this year.
As archivist and historian, Fr. Rene Javellana wrote in an earlier piece that the Jesuits had been in the Philippines for 187 years (beginning in 1581 the year Antonio Sedeño, a veteran of the Florida mission, arrived with two other Jesuits) when they were expelled in 1768; the Jesuits left behind numerous parishes and mission stations organized under central residences.
But more than these apostolates, the Jesuit contribution to the Christianization of the Philippines was considerable. More importantly, they left a strategy of evangelization. While the schools educated the elite, the missions and parishes reached out to the frontiers. In the
villages, a routine of prayer, study and work was introduced, and agriculture and livelihood were improved by introducing useful plants and new methods of agriculture, by raising cattle and by building brick factories.
The Jesuits prepared for mission work by learning the vernaculars, which meant compiling grammars and dictionaries, preparing books and pamphlets in these languages, printing, and disseminating them. Seeing the value of the printing press as a means of mass communication, the
Jesuits established a press in the Colegio de San Ignacio in Manila which churned out, for instance, a vernacular translation of Bellarmine’s catechism.
So deeply did the Jesuits affect the people’s lives that when news came suddenly and unexpectedly to the Samareños that the Jesuits were being expelled, the people were ready to defend them and even take up arms. So cherished were these Jesuits.
In 1859, the Jesuits returned to Manila but could not lay claim to any property owned before the expulsion. Starting financially from zero, their only sources of income were government subsidy and gifts from benefactors from Spain and Manila.
The City of Manila asked Fr. José Fernandez Cuevas, the mission superior, that the Jesuits take charge of a public elementary school, the Escuela Pia, although such was not in their mandate. This was the seed that would become the Ateneo de Manila University.
Most of the Jesuits were sent to the Mindanao frontier where they used strategies that their predecessors had found effective, like learning the native languages and preaching in them, working closely with the people, organizing them into orderly settlements, and uplifting their livelihood.
We Jesuits have much to be thankful for and to celebrate. Deo gratias!
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