Sins and miracles in Spanish times

Fr. Pedro  Chirino, S. J ( 1557-1635) arrived with Governor -General  Gomez Perez Dasmarinas in 1590.  He wrote “Relación de las Islas Filipinas (1604)”, which is valuable because it captured a historical moment, those early “points of contact”  between natives and Spaniards.  Fascinated with the baybayin, Padre Chirino included an illustration in his book and explained how the native indios combined vowels to form words. He also reported miracles that occurred when natives discarded “pagan” beliefs.

Once, a sick indio of Manila whom no human remedy could cure made a vow to Nuestra Señora de Guia of Ermita (the church dedicated to her still exists). He promised to walk to her shrine for nine days as soon as he was cured.  However, he dragged himself from his sick bed to begin to fulfill his vow. The man’s health improved noticeably and at the end of the 9 days, was completely well of body and soul. “A marvel of God!” wrote Padre Chirino. Another miracle occurred during a locust pest:  An india hurriedly erected a cross on her rice fields which the deadly insects bypassed.

Yet, sins were committed by missionaries, not everyone was like the saintly  Padre Chirino. In a letter to King Felipe III, dated 1605, Fiscal Rodrigo Diaz Guiral accused Fray Lorenzo de León, an Augustinian, of “too much ambition and ostentation” and of appropriating for himself silver vessels from mission churches that dotted the Islands. “When he visited the Ilocos province, he took the monstrance of Ylaguan, Candon, Tagudin and other places,” reported Fiscal Diaz. The Bishop of Nueva Segovia (now Vigan) wrote his own secret notes. Fray de Leon collected money to return to Spain; esurient, he was never punished.

The galleon trade was flourishing and many State and Church officials, their friends and relatives were amassing wealth from the trade of Chinese products that arrived in  Manila, shipped to Acapulco, Mexico,  distributed to Spain’s South American colonies, and to Europe, eventually. Merchants in southern Spain who once dominated the lucrative inter-oceanic trade were suffering from the competition. During two centuries, they badgered the kings of Spain to outlaw and end the galleon trade, which never happened.

There was a series of royal decrees that imposed protective measures like limiting the tonnage and value of cargo between Mexico and Filipinas, which were constantly violated in very creative ways. Smuggling at all levels was rampant, needless to say. A certain  Licenciado  Alfonso Fernandez de Castro brought up a curious issue– Is the violation of royal decrees a mortal sin?

Evidently, royal decrees had the force of law; the ones pertaining to maritime trade were specially designed to protect  Spanish merchants. Violators were apprehended and punished. So,  was it a burden on one’s conscience? A mortal sin?

Dr. Juan de Salcedo, a citizen of Nueva España (Mexico), questioned a royal decree dated Jan. 11, 1593, because it did not clearly specify whether it was the King’s intention to “strictly bind to an eternal punishment”  those on whom he imposed a pecuniary penalty.

The Archbishop of Manila was urged to excommunicate those engaged in the illegal traffic of goods and the sale of spaces in the hull of the galleons, but he was reluctant to resort to such an extreme punishment, so he left it up to the  Audiencia (court of justice).  His Grace was concerned with other “sins” like those committed by auditors who gave choice government positions to friends, or by   Religious Orders that refused his visitations ( the hard-headed Agustinians), or by the Jesuits, reputed to be excellent teachers, but were grabbers of indio lands in  Quiapo.

Neither State nor Church dared say whether those acts violating royal decrees were also mortal sins. So, Dr. Salcedo left it up to the King to decide whether that was purely a matter of penal ordinance and nothing more, or if it was, gravely so, a burden of conscience, i. e. a mortal sin.  The cabildo of the Church in  Islas Filipinas declared that only the Pope in Rome could determine the moral consequences of that particular matter,  whether or not it was a mortal sin to transgress the laws of the Kingdom which protected the State (Empire).

I have yet to find documentary evidence on how that legal and theologically thorny issue was finally resolved. In the meantime, it has made me wonder whether those miracles and sins of the 17th century, so deeply rooted in our national psyche, have anything to do with what we see today in the 21st century. People so obviously venal, corrupt and cruel chase respectability by going to Church every Sunday and receiving Holy Communion.