Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rizal's Concept of God

Cesar Montano, portraying Rizal in Marilou Diaz-Abaya's film "Jose Rizal" produced by GMA Films. Here, Rizal uttered his last words (which were one of Christ's last words): Consummatum est! (It is done!)

Since today is Rizal Day, I would share to you a letter that somehow proves that Jose Rizal, one of the most talked-about Filipinos of the Spanish era, is a Theist--and a Catholic one when he was executed. Wanna see the link? Click here and judge for yourself.

Rizal, Dapitan, 9 January 1893 || To Fr. Pablo Pastells
Rizal explains his concept of God.  Note: This letter is a composite of the English translation of the Epistolario Rizalino by the National Heroes Commission / National Historical Institute (which is incomplete) and that of Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, S.J., The Rizal Pastells Correspondence(Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994), pp. 161-165  
Dapitan, 9 January 1893
Very Reverend Father Pablo Pastells, S.J.
My very Reverend Father,
I have read attentively your precious as well as profound letter of the 8th ultimo [= December, the last or ultimate month - rly] and I remain very grateful to you for the interest you continue showing me.
These days I have examined my beliefs and their foundations; I have reviewed what little has been left to me by the shipwreck of faith,as my dear Professor Fr. Sanchez would say, or the solid bases that have remained firm despite so many tempests. I should like to be most sincere, the most accurate possible in the definition and exposition of my ideas because I esteemed Your Reverence very much not only for what you are, not only for what you have been to me in my adolescent years (to me always a loved and sacred memory)[Bonoan speculates that Pastells may have been Rizal’s spiritual director or confessor in past years. - rly] but also because Your Reverence is one of the few persons who, far from forgetting me in adversity, has extended his hand to me with so much benevolence.
I reply then with pleasure to your question and I shall un-bosom myself sincerely so that Your Reverence may see if everything has been lost or if there is still something left that may be useful.
I believe firmly in the existence of a Creator more than by faith, by reasoning and by necessity. Who is He? What human sounds, what syllables of language can enshrine the name of that Being whose works overwhelm the mind that thinks of them? Who can give Him an adequate name when a little creature hereabouts with an ephemeral power has two or three names, three or four surnames and numerous titles and epithets? We call Him God, but this only recalls the Latin Deus, the Greek Zeus at most. What is He? I would attribute to him all the beautiful and holy qualities that my mind can conceive in infinite degree, if the fear of my ignorance did not restrain me. Someone has said that each man forms his God according to his image and likeness, and if my memory does not fail me, Anacreon [It was Xenophanes – rly (from note found in the Bonoan translation] said that if a bull could imagine a god, he would imagine a horned bull bellowing in a superlative degree. Notwithstanding, I dare to believe Him infinitely wise, powerful, good. My idea of the infinite is imperfect and confused on seeing His wonderful works, the order that prevails among them, their magnificence and overwhelming extent, and the goodness that shines in everything. The lucubration [laborious work - rly] of a poor worm, the last creature on the little ball of the earth, however crazy they may be, can never offend His inconceivable majesty. His thought humbles me, and makes me giddy. How many times my reason tries to raise my eyes towards that Being as many times it falls stunned, dazzled, crushed. I am overtaken by fear and I prefer to keep silent to being the bull of Anacreon.
Permeated with this vague but irresistible sentiment before the inconceivable, the superhuman, the infinite, I leave its study to brighter minds. I listen in suspense to what the religions say and incapable of judging what exceed my strength, I content myself with studying Him in his creatures, my fellow creatures, and in the voice of my conscience which can only proceed from Him. I try to read, to divine His will in what surrounds me and in the mysterious inner sentiment that I feel within myself whose purity above all things I try to maintain in order to act according to it. Many religions pretend to have that Will condensed and written down in their books and dogmas but aside from numerous contradictions, from the varied interpretation with respect to the words, from many obscure points.  [The older English translation of the Epistolario ends at this point as they had an incomplete manuscript.  What follows is from the Bonoan translation. (Note: the paragraph numbering system of Bonoan is not used.) - rly] Is it possible that he who makes the sun rise for all and the air to blow everywhere to give life, he who has endowed everyone with intelligence and reason for life here on earth, has also hidden from us what is most necessary for our eternal life? What shall we say of a father who heaps candies and toys on his children, but gives food only to one of them, educates and rears him alone? And what if it so happens that this chosen one refuses to eat while the others die looking for food?
But I do not mean by this that I completely disregard what the sacred books, religious precepts, and religious dogmas have to say. On the contrary, these books are, in the final analysis, the insights of men and whole generations put down in writing, the knowledge of the past on which the future is built. Most of these religious precepts are condensations or formulations of the precepts of the natural law; as such, they are for me God's word.
When there arises a conflict among them, I decide in favor of that which is most in conformity with nature's law; because for me nature is the only divine book of unquestionable legitimacy, the sole manifestation of the Creator that we have here in this life clear, perennial, living, powerful, capable of overcoming our blunders and errors, incorruptible, one that cannot play false in spite of human caprice, with its laws constant and unchangeable in all places and for all times. Your Reverence will object that the page we possess from this book is of little value and that, while we can achieve perfect knowledge of our planet; however we could only have an imperfect knowledge of the Creator, just as we can have no perfect knowledge of the sculptor from a small statue or sketch. I agree, but ex ungue leonem [we know the lion by its claws - Bonoan] and at least the path we pursue is a sure one and universally apt for uniting all inhabitants of the earth into one single religion. And who knows but that the weak mind of man might well explode like Sirius and Aldebaran [two brilliant stars – from note by Bonoan - rly] if we propose to it too great an object?
Therefore in the light of the knowledge of the past and present, I weigh things, try to determine their causes and the finality of their activity, and strive to follow the direction they take. I see in everyone an inborn desire to know; I see the world outside full of colors, qualities and incentives that nourish this desire; I see misery as the chastisement of ignorance, well-being as the prize of knowledge. And I come to the conclusion from my humble reasoning that the Creator desires man to perfect himself by growing in knowledge. Reflecting on the mysterious sentiment of sympathy, its dynamism and transformations, I become aware of the impulse that commands us to love one another, and I take as God's word the religious command that everyone must love the neighbor as himself. Seeing how freedom when overrated destroys and ruins the principle of life in a living thing which can subsist by itself, seeing the daily lesson in all creation of how weak creatures-from nestling birds to young lions in the den-are given support and protection, but as soon as they can get on by themselves, freedom and room for action; I find justification for the precepts of charity and respect for the rights of others. At first glance, after a superficial examination, we get the impression that the law of struggle holds sway and it is might that wins the day. But after careful study, when we contemplate the skeletons of gigantic monsters now gone from the face of the earth, when we read in history the epitaphs of great and mighty empires which lived off the life and freedom of humanity, when we see how the cat lives on as the tiger disappears, how shopkeepers increase in number as conquistadors vanish; we become better aware of the principles of peace, the triumph of the mind and the law of universal harmony -- harmony which follows the world in its rapid course, demanding life for all and freedom for all' Those who consume more than they produce incur the hatred of the world, and victory belongs only to the one who seeks the perfection of others as well as his own.
These are the fundamental principles of my religious ideas. I admit they do not constitute a complete system, because in spite of all the studies we have done, we are still in the slow process of reading from this grand book. But these principles have the advantage of being open to all, of constituting legitimate divine revelation, and of being able to unite one day all consciences, without resorting to quarrels, anathemas and bloodshed. There are no anathemas and prohibitions, but a free forum for discussion; no miracles as proofs, but facts and experience give their verdict. There is no fear of apocryphal accounts or forged manuscripts: death is the fate of everything that does not conform to nature.
Regarding the immortality of the soul and life eternal, how can I believe in the death of my consciousness, when everything around me tells me that nothing is lost but things merely change? If the atom cannot be annihilated, is it possible for my consciousness which rules the atom to be annihilated? To deny eternal life, one would have to come back from the other side of eternity, and this return would be itself a confirmation of life eternal.
Regarding redemption, I have stronger faith in this matter than many of those who perhaps take me for a heretic. I believe in the redemption by the Word which has been decreed from all eternity.  Humanity can fall three or even a thousand times on life's bitter road, but it will always find salvation. And the greater the crisis, the greater the victory will be. In the end humanity will rise again triumphant and glorious, for the work of God cannot perish.
Basically, my religious ideas are perhaps in agreement with yours (I hope you do not mind the company); but if the road I have taken is a great shock to you, I ask for your pardon in the name of the God who has made beauty to consist in variety within unity. Perhaps it will not be so bad a thing if we differ a little bit even as we worship the same Creator. My ideas may be erroneous, but at least I am convinced and sincere, arising as they do from my humble judgment and my heart. Come the day for offering sacrifice, I shall approach the altar with the product of my own efforts, a faith truly my own, the best I can offer. Others will offer hecatombs [An extravagant offering of animal sacrifice to the Greek gods - rly] they have bought or borrowed, foreign ideas, well-studied positions, imposed beliefs -- all stereotyped offerings, more precious and worthy than my own. But he to whom these are directed will be the judge. I submit myself to his judgment.
Let us put aside the religious question and please accept a small gift which I am sending through the kindness of the Fathers. I have nothing here, there are no stores selling art objects. Nonetheless, I owe you so much I thought I ought to send you a small token, however poorly executed, of my gratitude. It is a small statue of St. Paul in an attitude of prayer. If you wish, you can have someone who knows about ceramics to bake and harden it. This would make me happy, for you would remember me always in your prayers.
Concerning the improvement of health conditions in this town, I think the problem ought to be taken seriously. This year, unfortunately, there is a lot of work to be done and I doubt if there are enough workers available. It will be necessary to ask a good number of people to work for some months, and spend some amount of money to build a perfect network of canals and drainage facilities, to disinfect some mangroves and raise the ground at some places. This is not a matter for ten or twenty Pintakasi [Patrons; benefactors of projects – rly (from footnote of Bonoan)] alone, and it will not suffice to dig two or three canals which will fill up after the first few rainfalls. This is a matter of the greatest importance; it concerns the health of the people, on which depends their economic as well as moral well-being. We will need brick, lime, labor and money. I am sure you could do something if you tried; but unfortunately Your Reverence is far away and busy with so many things while out here we lack labor and materials. I am willing in every way to do anything I can for the service of the people. Please do tell me what to do.
We are in good health here. Don Ricardo will write Your Reverence and I presume that in his letter he will thank you for asking me to convey to him your best regards. The Fathers are well.  Father Sanchez has progressed much in his study of the language. We shall meet one day to talk about the formation of the tenses of Tagalog verbs.
A man from Calamba has come here to look over the farmlands with a view to moving to this place the townspeople of Calamba who have been dispossessed of their homes and properties. He was greatly pleased with the lands in Libulad and Duhinob and is now writing Calamba inviting them to come over.  These people are hard-working, peace-loving, but cognizant of their rights; and I have no doubt but that if they are granted some concessions, they will give life to this District. They ask that for at least three years while they are building their town and starting to cultivate their fields, they are exempted from the requirement of personal service. [Mandatory labor required of citizens in Spanish times – rly (from a footnote by Bonoan)] In effect, in the first few years, they need all their resources for one massive effort to clear the forest, build their homes, plant, look for their food, and acclimatize them to the place.
It will be a big help also if the authorities in Laguna don’t place any obstacle to this emigration. His Excellency the Governor can issue a decree to this effect, as Don Ricardo has already said. If this plan pushes through, I will have no difficulty whatsoever remaining in this District forever.
My best wishes for a happy new year and many happy returns on your feast day. I remain always your devoted and loyal servant. Respectfully yours,
José Rizal 

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