A sympathetic review

CHURCH HISTORIAN

Fr. John N. Schumacher, S. J., a naturalized Filipino in 1977, once gave notice to his review of a book titled A History of Christianity in the Philippines. Vol. I. The Initial Encounter. By T. Valentino Sitoy Jr. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, Quezon City, 1985. Pp. x. 384.

The book review appeared in International Bulletin of Missionary Research (1986). We reproduce the reviewer’s comments:

“When completed, the projected three volumes, of which this is the first, will be the first modern multivolumed history of Philippine Christianity. The author has aimed at writing a history of Christianity’s impact on Filipinos rather than a history of the institutionalized church (p. iii), though his sources are necessarily Spanish accounts.”

“After a chapter on pre-Hispanic religion, three chapters narrate in detail early contacts between Spaniards and Filipinos, and a concluding one discusses Filipino responses to colonization and evangelization. The terminal date of 1590, the author estimates, saw about 250,000 baptized Christians.”

“The book is solidly based on primary, if published, sources, as bibliography and notes indicate. Sitoy has worked diligently to reconstruct the story not only of Christianization but of the Spanish conquest in whose context it took place. His analysis of the documentation is generally careful and sound.”

“The missionary effort is treated with critical sympathy, with particular attention to the forthright negative judgments of the missionaries on the justice of the conquest.”

“Some historians may interpret differently the nature of pre-Hispanic belief in a Supreme Being or the extent of acceptance of Islam. The statement that the power of the Filipino upper classes was broken by the Spaniards (p. 262) needs nuance.”

“Moreover, in his efforts to put evangelization in its context, the author has given such detail on the early voyages and settlement that he has indeed written the best general history of that period. But in consideration of a projected three volumes, it seems disproportionate to devote a whole volume to background and what were only the beginnings of Christianization.”

“Even so one still misses any extended discussion of methods of evangelization and their effectiveness, or of the positions taken by the Synod of 1582 on Filipino rights and on the respect due to indigenous social structure. Both of these arguably influenced conversions and molded the shape of the future Christian community.”

“Perhaps the subsequent volumes will deal with these topics, since the terminal date of this seems more determined by its being the end of the first phase of the conquest than of a stage in Christianization, which had still to begin in large sections of the country.”

“These observations should not obscure the sound factual foundation that has been laid for the story of Filipino Christianity. The sympathy with which this Protestant historian has written an essentially Catholic story promises well for the subsequent volumes.”