FR. ERICSON JOSUE is one of few Catholic priests I admire. Besides being bright and hardworking, he is humble and sensitive. We have known each other since our early teens (when he was still so lanky while I was then too fat), and I have always held him in high regard.
While other priests were busy attending parties, grooming expensive dogs, and constructing an ostentatious swimming pool in the Bishop’s Palace, Ericson had been busy writing books. Only in his early thirties, this son of Pasuquin has already published his second research output. “Out of the Depths”, which came out last December, tackles the phenomenal rise and eventual decline of Aglipayanism.
Well-meaning scholars must be given support and due recognition, and so I encourage my students and friends to read the book, if only to generate intelligent and enlightened discourse, a rarity in the Church (and government) these days.
Here, allow me to share excerpts of an interview conducted by students with Professor Fides Bernardo A. Bitanga, who teaches Sociology of Religion in the Mariano Marcos State University. Bitanga is also the new Editor-in-Chief of Sabangan, a social sciences publication in MMSU.
We have heard some readers react that the presentation of the data was one-sided, very biased and seemingly many more important historical facts were left out. Was Bishop Sergio Utleg wrong when he called Fr. Josue as “a scholarly-but-unassuming young priest”?
This book has to be dealt with critically. It has opened up a lot of sensitive issues which entail a lot of discussion and clarification. One should not casually announce and invite people to buy and read it. Using MTRCB terminologies, reading it needs parental guidance. Many issues were opened up by the book which many Christian Faithful (Clergy and Laity) still do not understand. For instance, it opened the topic on Ecumenism, Ecclesia semper reformanda and also raised the question on whether Aglipay is a hero or a villain. Yet the book does not offer clear answers to these sensitive questions. With this ambiguity, I am afraid it might arouse bitter emotions between the Romanos and the Aglipayanos again.
So what about the theme on Ecumenism?
As far as Fr. Josue writing the book, the theme on ecumenism only comes out towards the end, particularly on pages 87 to 89. This theme comes out surprisingly since the author never mentioned this as one of his objectives in his Preface. I suspect three things. First, the section on ecumenism was not part of the original writing plan. It was a later addition but he failed to go back and revise the Preface. The author probably added ecumenism after he read the powerful Foreword of Fr. Laeda which made mention of the said theme.
Second, Fr. Josue failed to get out from the usual style of theologians or even catechists of including everything when they write: the Dogma, the Bible, the Morals, the Liturgical and the Current Events. Such a style sometimes may loosen the historical sense or impact of the research or any writing at that. However, if he is dealing with an interpreted history, then he is justified.
Finally, Fr. Josue, like many writers are wont to do, theologized and spiritualized too much, especially at the concluding sections of his works. A historian has to make himself convinced that his findings are themselves beautiful stories without blending his theological reflections. A good historical presentation is enough to encourage the readers to reflection.
So do you disagree with Rev. Fr. Romeo Magsingit’s comment on the back cover page that the author is someone struggling to transcend the confines of sectarianism and seeking for solidarity which he called Ecumenism?
I think Fr. Magsingit did not read the book. Anyway, he was just saying his impression. Impressions are not always correct. They may be wrong.
Are you saying that the book is not ecumenical?
Change the title and it becomes somehow ecumenical. The expression “out of the depths” sounds inspiring or edifying, but its biblical context can never be ecumenical. It gives the impression that the Catholic priest is crying because of the pain that Aglipay brought upon, and this Catholic priest prays to God to destroy these Aglipayanos.
Why do you say that?
It is found in Psalm 130 and this is a lamentation as the author would point out. It is seen in the context of a prayer where God’s servant calls upon God to come and destroy the enemies of his servant. As Biblical exegetes would say, Psalm 130 is a reinforcement to Psalm 129. In addition, one should remember that the Psalms were the prayers and songs of David who was so engaged in bloody battles with the enemies of Israel. It seems to me now that David represents the Catholic priests and the enemies would be the Aglipayanos.
Perhaps a better biblical title to this book could be found in the writings of Ezra, Nehemiah or from the prophets who talked about the rebuilding of the Temple.
In page 87, Fr. Josue tried to discuss ecumenism, but it is loaded with quotations that are difficult to understand.
With the presence of so many direct quotations, surely it gives the impression that he did not discuss it well. Ironically, this section of the book is supposed to be his reflection part.
Was the author successful in tackling Ecumenism?
Ask Archbishop Edmundo Abaya. He was the CBCP chair on Ecumenism when he was Bishop of Laoag. Honestly, I am not comfortable with words or expressions such as “separated brothers and sisters” when referring to Aglipayans. Is there any other word that is more friendly or accommodating? Oh, the difference is the same.
On Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, some readers say that the book is very biased in its presentation of the achievements of the clerics in the so-called “turning the table around” or “the coming out of the depths”? What is your take on this?
That may be the bias of the writer because he is a priest himself. But I am not in the right position to judge. I just hope that Fr. Josue’s next book would give more emphasis on efforts of the laity, which is also my bias since it is where I belong.
One point for reflection though, if you present baptismal proofs, will you see that as an effort of the priest? Or an effort of the Bataqueños? I believe that Bataqueños have reached a certain Christian maturity that whoever is the priest assigned to them now, it does not matter much anymore. Their history would say that they are people who would strongly reject erring priests, which was never mentioned in the book, but I guess the Bataqueños are more forgiving now to “seminarians turned priests” who were also escaping from the seminary like Aglipay.
Is Aglipay a Hero or a Villain?
Fr. Laeda’s Foreword, quoting the work he has done in tandem with Fr. Ian Rabago, answered this question more than the book itself. So, read the Foreword first before reading the last chapters of this book.
What is your advice to those who read the book?
Let us develop the attitude taught by St. Anselm – “Fides querens intellectum.” Our faith should always be in search for explanations or understanding. We should ask more questions. Our relationship to such books, letters, and even teachings should always be critical. Questions are not dissents. They are indicators of a thirsty soul longing for enlightenment. Having spent long years of formation, our priests are ready to answer us. If we choose to conceal things into silence, our faith dies.
Professor Andres Tungpalan, the Faculty Association President and Faculty Regent of MMSU, also feels that the book left a lot of gaps, issues which remain unaddressed. These gaps, explain Tungpalan, led to some biases that make the veracity of the book questionable.
Tungpalan says the book failed to mention or did not give due emphasis on the root causes of the Independientes’ departure from the Catholic Church, i.e. the discrimination against Filipino priests and the execution of Gomburza and other native clergy. “The reasons given for the split were rather shallow, thus trivializing the crusade of Aglipay and his companions”, he adds.
It seems, Tungpalan surmises, that there was an effort, consciously or not, to romanticize the sacrifices made by the Catholic hierarchy. “The biases for the Catholic Church and against Aglipayanism were so glaring, and were reflected in the use of certain words that belie true ecumenism”, explains the professor, an alumnus of the University of Sto. Tomas.
Nonetheless, Tungpalan says we should commend Fr. Josue for bringing out these issues for everyone to reflect on and react to.