A Spanish priest named Pedro Chirino (1604) narrated that a former catalonan named Diego Magsanga (Unabia, 2000) converted to Roman Catholicism and was teaching children cathechism (Doctrina Christiana or Christian Doctrines) in Silang, Cavite. He also reported that a lot of people followed this former catalonan. We can surmise that the catalonan was more convincing than the friars because he was the religious leader of the barangay. Although he was not a priest the likely role the Spanish priest gave him in the church is that of a laity or hermano. We will talk more about this later on.
Not all of the native priests accepted the new religion. In the Visayas it has been reported that in 1621 a babayalan named Tamblot led hundreds of Boholanos in revolt in order to restore the old religion. This was suppressed by 50 Spanish soldiers and 1,500 indios. (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1977, p.119) The chief of Limasawa, Leyte who had converted to Christianity also led a revolt in 1622 to restore the pagan religion but was defeated by again a combined Spanish-indio force. (Agoncillo & Guerrero) We can see that conversion especially for the adults was not an easy thing. It took hundreds of years, a change in generation before the new religion was integrated. Some catalonans were arrested, imprisoned or even executed as witches. Pag-aanitos were raided by the Spanish priests, the likhas wer confiscated and burned. The Spanish priest could force people to stop practicing the old religion because in the Spanish colonial government the church and the state was one. The priest can call soldiers to arrest and punish heretics, sometimes priest even carry swords and went to war. Generally it was the children who were taught by people like Diego Magsanga that trully accepted the new religion. But even then the understanding of the Latin rites of Roman Catholicism and Christianity was generally shallow and mixed with paganism. The form reminds us of the concept of Abangan muslims, which current anthropologist now call Folk-Christianity, a mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs. Even today a lot of nominal Christians believe in aswangs, tiyanaks, and agimats. Some also believe in cult leaders practicing the babaylan/catalonan ritual of possession and healing the sick. Although it is no longer an anito that is said to possess the catalonan but Roman catholic figures like the Virgin Mary, Sto. Niño (child jesus), saints and even dwarves.
What then is Roman Catholicism and where did former catalonans/babaylans fit into this new religion?
The Roman Catholic church believes that it was founded by Jesus and its bishops are successors of the first apostles. The Pope (Papa, or father) is the highest authority and is believed to be the successor of St. Peter. The church’s headquarters is in the Vatican city, Italy.
The RC’s faith can be summed up in the Nicene Creed (or Apostle’s creed) which is shared with other Christian churches. It teaches that the Holy Spirit reveals God's truth through Sacred Scripture (Bible), Sacred Tradition (from the apostles) and the Magisterium or the teaching authority of the Church and includes infallible pronouncements of the pope. They believe that the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit and cannot be wrong. (Roman Catholic Church in Wikipedia)
The following chart is a simplified diagram of the RC organizational structure in the 17th century.
There were five regular orders in the Philippines namely the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Recollects, and the Jesuits. These were all called friars by the indios and they would become powerful in the 18th century. Notice in the above chart that indios occupy the lowest levels of the church hierarchy. Cofradias are lay organizations inside the church. Their original role is to teach cathecisms, prevent backsliding, report to the priests, and finance feasts and masses.
To the eyes of the native RC latin ritual is not too different from pagan beliefs in the use of statues and prayers for the dead. The Catholics pray for the dead because they believe in a place called purgatory where souls wait for judgement. Supposedly if the living prays for the dead he/she could go to heaven faster. The Catholic heaven is a place filled with clouds and angels that look like human beings dressed in white and having halos and wings. St. Peter is supposed to guard the gate and anyone who is to enter is looked up first in the book of life. If your not listed you go to hell. Catholic hell in the middle ages is a terrifying place. Popular belief is that it is ruled by the devil very much like the idea of hades in Greek mythology. There is fire everywhere and the souls are tortured by demons based on their sins. The devil is imagined by Catholics to have horns, pointed tail, and carrying a pitchfork or trident. Of course this is popular belief and the theology of priests could be more sophisticated. But in Catholicism in the past, reading the Bible is not encouraged because it is believed that only the church has the right to interpret the bible, there is no room for personal interpretations.
My reading of the bible does not provide the above visual descriptions of heaven and hell. There is no mention of purgatory either. Most descriptions are prophetic and symbolic. Hell is mentioned only as a lake of fire where even the devil will be punished along with sinners. There is no mention of the devil ruling hell. There is a danger to this belief in that the devil is being equated with God. In my opinion God rules everywhere whether heaven or hell. In fact God is the one who will punish sinners not the devil. It is from God’s punishment that we are saved by him through Jesus Christ because He is merciful. It’s like a father who is about to punish his children who had sinned, but rather than punish the children he asked the eldest child (Jesus) to take all the punishment of the other children. That is why the other children will no longer be punished.
Agoncillo, T.A., & Guerrero, M.C. (1977). History of the Filipino people. (5th Ed.). Quezon city: R.P. Garcia.
Chirino, P. (1604). Relación de las Islas Filipinas (concluded). In Blair and Robertson. The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803,Vol.13.
Unabia, T. P. (2000, Agosto). Silang, kasaysayan at pananampalataya. Cavite Historical Society, p.186-187.