The localization of Roman Catholicism

Radical transcendence and social empathy in a Philippine town

Authored by: Julius Bautista

Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635035
eBook ISBN: 9781315758534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636465


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Early Roman Catholic missions in the Philippines had emphasized a form of transcendence that is achieved through acts of pain-inflicting self-mortification. In his 1604 Relación de las Islas Filpinas, Spanish missionary Pedro Chirino reported that acts of ritual self-flagellation, first introduced in the island of Panay in 1590, had been taken up with ‘extraordinary’ vehemence by Filipino Christian converts (Chirino 1969: 285; Barker 1998: 6–7). Chirino described how Indios of all walks of life were ‘so eager and fervent’ in the practice that it was sometimes necessary to physically restrain them. This was remarkable, given that this was not a compulsory part of Church worship, and that the missionaries did not observe any similar rituals practiced prior to their arrival (Barker 1998: 6). Other Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in the Philippines would later testify to the continuance of self-flagellation throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In these acts, self-inflicted pain was not only framed as a means of communion with the divine, but as a struggle towards a pious, corporeal self-mastery. Acting and reflecting on the Passion of Christ reiterated his trans-substantive presence in the sacrament, which can be fully appreciated through an ensemble of embodied rites called ‘disciplina’.

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