[Published in Φιλοσοφια: International Journal of Philosophy 31 (1): 47-67.
Copyright 2002. Philippine National Philosophical Research Society]
RIZAL’S RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY1
(Or the Religious Debate between
Jose Rizal and Pablo Pastells, S. J.)
Rolando M. Gripaldo
De La Salle University
The author argues that Rizal’s mature philosophy of religion is a combination of agnostic
realism and deism, or in short it can properly be described as agnostic deism. It affirms the
existence of a God who does not interfere in human affairs and whose attributes cannot be
A little philosophy, a little resignation, will enable me to bear my little sufferings.
Second Letter (1961:25)
We can distinguish philosophy of religion from theology or what I will call theology proper.
According to William and Mabel Sahakian (1970:213-14), philosophy of religion is the study—on the basis
of reason, nature, or scientific facts—of the existence and nature of God, the existence and nature of the
soul, the question of immortality, and the question of natural evils. Closely related to the last are the issues
on miracles and the validity of prayers. These are the dominant topics of this branch of philosophy.
Philosophy of religion is otherwise called natural theology or general theology. Theology proper, on the
other hand, studies God and related matters on the basis of the existence of holy books like the Koran or the
Bible. It is otherwise called dogmatic theology, revealed theology, or special theology. In the case of
Christianity, theology deals with subjects like Christology or the study of Jesus as the Christ, soteriology or
the study of the salvation of the soul, and eschatology or the study of the end of the world, among others.
These two types of theology do not necessarily conflict with each other because philosophy can be
the handmaiden of theology. Philosophy or reason can help explain or enlighten the dogmas of religion.
Where, on occasion, the possibility of a conflict looms, then the parting of the ways may arise. A number
of thinkers have decided to become agnostics like Bertrand Russell or athiests like Rudolf Carnap.
The other possible way is simply to abandon reason when the conflict becomes imminent. The basic
assumption here is that God can be known only if he reveals himself to man through some divinely inspired
individuals who thereby pen down these divine revelations. Reason can help in making the revelations
understandable to the man on the street, but reason is not entitled to contradict them since they are assumed
infallible. Otherwise, reason has to be discarded and, in all likelihood, that part of the revelation where
reason fails to elaborate, may be considered a mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fremantle 1954:156-58)
differentiates the objects of reason and of faith. In the natural world, it is impossible to know and to believe
a thing at the same time: the object of the intellect is the knowable (seen) while the object of faith is the
The purpose of this paper is to determine critically the religious philosophy of Jose Rizal as he
expresses them in his correspondence with Fr. Pablo Pastells (1961:1-117; Bonoan 1994: 83-2162). These
are the most mature religious ideas of Rizal.
The correspondence consists of nine letters, five from Rizal and four from Pastells. It began in
September 1892, just a few months after Rizal was banishd to Dapitan on 7 July 1892. By this time, most
of Rizal’s major and minor works had already been published.
RIZAL AND PASTELLS: THE RELIGIOUS DEBATE
Rizal has written a number of works which contain religious ideas. It is a subject of controversy as to
whether he believes in all or simply in just a few of them. Most of these religious views are expressed
through Rizal’s characters in novels or dialogues. Some of them were written with a presupposed
contextual background, and they may not truly reflect Rizal’s own religious convictions (see Schumacher
1965:709). Rizal (Bonoan 1994: 21) himself says that “he must not be held responsible for everything
spoken by his character but only for what he had said in his own name.” Eugene Hessell (1983: passim)
enumerates the works which contain Rizal’s religious thoughts: Noli me tangere, El filibusterismo, Rizal’s
annotations of Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las islas Filipinas, “The vision of Friar Rodriguez,” the
“open letter” entitled “My young countrywomen of Malolos,” the satire “By telephone,” “The Philippines a
century hence,” “The indolence of the Filipinos,” the “State of religiosity in the Philippines,” “Friars and
Filipinos,” one unfinished novel, Rizal’s letters to Pablo Pastells, and some religious thoughts in other
miscellaneous writings and correspondence, including the poem, My last farewell.
Fr. Pablo Pastells is a Jesuit priest—then twenty-nine years old—who was the former subprefect of
the boarders and the former director of a religious association which Rizal once served as secretary3 at the
Ateneo Municipal. He was interested in the reconversion of Rizal to the Catholic faith since he believed
that the latter went astray not only politically but also religiously because of “self-love,” which in the
context appears to mean “false pride.” In a letter to Fr. Antonio Obach, the parish missionary of Dapitan,
Fr. Pastells requested the latter to tell Rizal “to stop this nonsense of wanting to look at his affairs through
the prism of his own judgment and self-love” since “no one sits in judgment in his own case.”
The following exchange of letters necessarily touch on some philosophical and theological issues
because it is the correspondence between a religious philosopher (Rizal) and a theologian (Fr. Pastells).
Rizal wrote the first letter on 1 September 1892 to Fr. Pastells, explaining that God has given man
reason and self-esteem, and it must be for some purpose. It would be impractical to look at things, or “his
affairs,” through the prisms of others since there are as many prisms as there are individuals and it would
be difficult to “know which to choose.” Moreover, to look at things through the prisms of others would
offend God because this is tantamount to scorning the “most precious gifts” which He has given to man.
When God endowed man a mind of his own, He meant it to be used properly. God did not wish that one
“who has less judgment should think like one who has more, or vice versa, just as one must not digest with
his neighbor’s stomach.”
With respect to self-love or self-esteem, Rizal says he has prayed that God should dispossess him of
it, but God has preserved it, knowing all the while what is best for each man. Self-love, when tempered by
reason, can be used as a guide for man’s perfection and integrity since it saves “him from any base and
unworthy acts” when he has forgotten the “precepts in which he has been trained.” Rizal considers man as
a “masterpiece of creation, perfect within his limitations” that to deprive him of his physical or moral
component parts, like reason and self-love, would disfigure and render him miserable.
Rizal informs Fr. Pastells that he sometimes prays but when he prays he does not ask for anything.
He believes everything he has and whatever happens to him are God’s will, and so he does this or that as
guided by his conscience because after all, “God will have his [own] way.”
Fr. Pastells laments in his first reply dated 12 October 1892 that a young man like Rizal did not
decide to take better causes than the one that led to his misfortune, all because of “excessive self-love,” or
“a mistaken sense of personal dignity.” It was German Protestantism that separated Rizal from the Catholic
faith and French freemasonry that goaded him to filibusterism. Noli me tangere is the result of the first
captivity while El filibusterismo, the result of the second captivity. One whose judgment and self-love
have been “obstructed and falsified by erroneous principles and disorderly affections” cannot be guided by
the light of his own judgment and conscience. According to Fr. Pastells, the lamp of this light is unreliable
and no matter how wise we may be, “we can never be so wise as to have no need of the knowledge of
others.” It is therefore necessary to be guided by the lamp of others, or to abide by the criterion and
judgment of others. It is a natural lamp the knowledge of which is derived from right reason. Nevertheless,
we need another lamp—a supernatural one—that will point to us “the reefs in the sea of life and the harbor
The rest of the reply is an incursion into a discussion of theology proper which is supposed to be a
rebuttal of Rizal’s first captivity. Fr. Pastells explains the nature of revealed knowledge as inspired by the
Holy Spirit. He argues that even if “faith exceeds reason, there cannot exist between them a true
opposition,” because God endows the human soul with the light of reason. Since God cannot deny faith
and reason, then the truth of reason cannot contradict the truth of faith. If there is an apparent contradiction,
it is either the dogmas of faith have not been properly understood or the ravings of opinion are unworthily
considered as axioms of reason. Fr. Pastells promises to offer a rebuttal in the future of the second
captivity, i.e., Rizal’s separatist ideas.
Rizal’s second letter of 11 November 1892 argues that although there are better causes, his cause is
good and sufficient for him. He is not sorry for the humbleness of his cause, the poverty of the rewards it
offers, and the little talent that God has given him to serve his cause. But God cannot err in His acts. He
ordains them and He knows what the future will bring. Besides, Rizal says he does not aspire for “eternal
fame or renown.”
Rizal bewails the fact that Fr. Pastells was “confused . . . along with the crowd that believe whatever
they hear without first looking into the matter.” Rizal read German books, but to presume Germans had
inspired him is “to be ignorant of the German people, their character and puruits.” Only one-fourth of Noli
me tangere was written in Germany, one-half in Madrid, and the other fourth in Paris. No German had
heard of his book before it was published. He was certainly influenced by the cool German environment
and the “free, hard-working, studious, well-governed” German people, “full of hope in their future and
master of their own destinies.”
Rizal denies being a Protestant. He respects religious ideas but does not consider religion as “a
matter of convenience or the art of getting along well in life.” Had he accepted Protestantism, he would
now be “rich, free, [and] crowned with honors,” instead of being a poor deportee. The reference clearly
points to the wealthy Boustead family of France whose daughter, Nellie, was willing to marry Rizal only if
Rizal would embrace Protestantism (Guerrero 1974: 242). Rizal did have conversations with a German
Protestant minister (Pastor Karl Ullmer) at Odenwald for a period of three months, but the discussion was
dispassionate and completely free. And there was also a priest (Father Heinrich Bardorf) who joined their
discussion once a month. Rizal concluded two things: (1) an idea sincerely conceived and practiced, no
matter how opposite it is to one’s own convictions, deserves a deep respect; and (2) “religions, whatever
they may be, ought to make men not enemies of one another, but brothers and good brothers at that.” The
minister and the priest individually did his duty and left to God the judgment who of them interpreted His
Truth may have been polarized, or obstructed and distorted, when it enters one’s understanding.
Reason can be mistaken and can be limited. Nevertheless, according to Rizal, it is only reason that can
correct its own mistakes: “reason alone knows how to get up everytime it falls as perforce it must in its
long pilgrimage here on earth.” No doubt, far superior to human reason is the supernatural or divine light.
But who can justly “claim that he is the reflector of that Light? Every religion claims to possess the truth.”
Moreover, says Rizal, truth is seen from different angles and therefore religious, moral, and political truths
are complex and must be studied piecemeal. Nobody has the right to judge the beliefs of others, using his
own beliefs as norm or criteria.
Rizal promises Fr. Pastells that he will elaborate and explain why his religious views are different in
his next mail if the latter is interested. Regarding separatist ideas, Rizal says: “. . . who tells you [Fr.
Pastells] that the good of my country, which is all that I pursue, can be found only in separatism?”
In his second reply dated 8 December 1892, Fr. Pastells expresses his interest in Rizal’s religious
views, but insists that the latter’s twofold conclusion at Odenwald is “completely Protestant through and
through, [for] it sets a seal of approval upon private judgment.” Fr. Pastells criticizes the German priest as
“simple-minded, ignorant fellow who had lost his common sense as a Catholic,” because the difference
between Catholics and Protestants is not a matter of opinion but a matter of faith. He likewise criticizes
reason without being illumined by faith as dangerous since it is subject to the “whims of a madmistress
named Lady Imagination.” The aberrations and misdeeds of independent reason can only be “countered and
corrected decisively by reason itself illumined by faith.” It is this alone that can save “true science and true
religion.” True religion cannot tolerate these errors, for as Christ says, “Who is not with me is against me.”
Fr. Pastells then summarizes his position: (1) For every correct idea sincerely conceived and put to practice
with conviction—highest appreciation, profound respect, perfect conformity. (2) For every false and
erroneous idea—deep hatred, courageous and ceaseless battle. (3) For persons who hold in good faith false
and erroneous doctrines—sympathy and effective assistance on every occasion, in season and out of
season, to enable them to banish their errors and get out of the deep pit into which vice and erroneous
convictions have made them to fall. (4) For every erroneous idea maliciously conceived and put to practice
(especially if destructive)—a strategy of pursuit, isolation, control, and destruction, so as to prevent it from
contaminating society with its harmful intent.
Fr. Pastells is glad that Rizal believes in one personal God, “Creator and Lord, . . . who hurls worlds
into space, endowed with reason . . . and has granted [every individual] man . . . this small spark . . . we call
the intellect . . .” He congratulates Rizal, for admitting the existence of “one God, Creator and Lord of all
creation,” for not being a partisan to Cartesianism and its offsprings, that is to say, to
materialism, idealism, and pantheism in philosophy; liberalism in politics; deism,
rationalism, unbelief, and indifferentism in religion; romanticism and naturalism in literature
and fine arts; positivism and egoism in one’s domestic, social, and civil life, and in the
conduct of affairs in all branches of business, industry, and agriculture.
But does Rizal “admit the divinity of Christ and the divine institution of his Church?” To Rizal’s
query as to who is the true reflector of God’s Light, Fr. Pastells answers that it is Jesus Christ, who by
“virtue of his human nature . . . is the legitimate reflector; and by virtue of his divine nature and person is
the very same light and splendor of his Eternal Father.”
What follows in the reply is the discussion of the Holy Trinity and the miracles perfomed by Jesus
Christ to prove his divine mission. Since Jesus teaches, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” [Jn 14:6],
then at whatever angle one views Jesus, it would be the same perspective of Him and His teachings. So
Rizal’s analogy of students copying a statue from different angles and seeing different perspectives would
not apply. Not satisfied in further rebutting Rizal’s religious captivity, Fr. Pastells is constrained to
mention in passing the political question of Spain’s colonization of the Philippines, to express the final
rebuttal of Rizal’s political captivity. He argues: (1) That the right of Spain to the occupation and much
later, the dominion, of the Philippines was a divine and natural right; (2) That the prescriptive right that
arose from the fact of Spanish dominion in the Philippines together with the attending circusmstances,
sancioned this primitive right, thus making it indisputable; (3) That the benefits for the Philippines of the
occupation and dominion by Spain, resulting from the system of legislation, government, administration,
and culture which Spain adopted and employed, strengthen the act and right of her possession; and that
the abuses committed by government officials in all branches of government cannot destroy the fact or
right of dominion; (4) That separatism among Filipinos, especially if an attempt to carry it out is made,
constitutes a most ugly mark of incalculable ingratitude; (5) That in the Philippines separatism is
impossible to execute, indefensible in practice, and in the final analysis, counter-productive; (6) That
united with Spain, the Philippines will run the course of true progress and finish the race with flying
colors; but separated from her, she will rush headlong into the chaos of anarchy, slavery, and savagery.
In Rizal’s third letter of 9 January 1893 he puts forward in all candor his religious position while
ignoring the political question, the discussion of which he requested Fr. Pastells in his second letter to
put off since it is “an extremely delicate topic, which shoud be avoided under the circumstances” he finds
himself in. It would be provocative for a man without freedom, Rizal says, to broach an independent idea
or else he becomes a mean person or a flatterer for expressing a servile idea.
It is not by faith, Rizal contends, “but by reasoning and by necessity” that he firmly believes in the
existence of the creator. Who and how he is cannot be adequately described. Rizal notes that someone
argues that man made God in his own image and likeness, and “Anacreon4 . . . said that if a bull could form
an image of God, it would imagine him with horns and mooing in a superlative degree.”
Rizal says he conceives God as “infinitely wise, mighty, [and] good.” But his idea of “infinite” is
confused and imperfect, considering the “wonders of [God’s] works, the order that reigns over the universe,
the magnificence and expanse of creation, and the goodness that shines in all” of them. Even the crazy
lucubrations of a poor worm cannot offend God’s “ineffable majesty.” He prefers to leave the study of
God to clearer minds since God, for him, is “the inconceivable, the superhuman, the infinite.” The thought
of Him overwhelms Rizal, makes him giddy, and his reason falls stupefied, dazzled, confounded everytime
his reason attempts to reach that Being. Fear overcomes him. Rizal prefers to be silent to being Anacreon’s
bull. He contents himself with studying God in humanity—his fellow-beings—and in his conscience.
Rizal considers the holy books like the Bible as
insights of men and whole generations put down in writing, the knowledge of the past in
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.
But when a conflict arises among them, Rizal will decide in favor of that which is in most conformity
with nature’s law since “nature is the only divine book of unquestionable legitimacy, the sole
manifestation of the Creator” on earth. Besides, Rizal believes that “the Creator desires man to perfect
himself by growing in knowledge” and that “victory belongs only to the one who seeks the perfection of
others as well as his own.”
Rizal believes in the immortality of the soul and the eternity of life. It is apparent that he is
conversant with the first law of thermodynamics which says that matter and energy cannot be created or
destroyed but only transformed from one form to another. To quote Rizal:
. . . 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?
Rizal likewise believes in redemption or the salvation of mankind. Man’s fall— “three or even a
thousand times in life’s bitter road . . . will always find salvation.” Humanity will rise again triumphant in
the end, for God’s work cannot perish.
Rizal tells Fr. Pastells that his “religious ideas are perhaps in agreement” with the latter. If he (Rizal)
is mistaken, he is at least “convinced and sincere,” and if the road he has taken appears shocking, he asks
Fr. Pastells for “pardon in the name of the God who has made beauty to consist in variety within unity.”
In his third reply of 2 Febraury 1893, Fr. Pastells recognizes by this time that Rizal’s faith is indeed
shipwrecked. But he refuses to concede that all is lost. Rizal imbibes the pure doctrine of the true religion
in his mother’s breast, in the company of his family, and at the Ateneo Municipal. “Sooner or later,” he
writes Rizal, “you will return to the bosom of your Holy Mother the Catholic Church.”
He agrees with Rizal that God—the First Cause—can be known by reason through His handiworks—
from the effect to the cause. That is the basis of natural philosophy: there are wonders and there is order in
God’s works; they are magnificent and good. As has been said, “The heavens tell the glory of God and the
firmament proclaims his handiwork” [Ps 19:1].
However, Fr. Pastells contends that this is only one form of knowing God. To know God in this way
is to know him from behind: the way of philosophy is to prove God’s existence a posteriori. There is
another way and the way of theology is to know God through revelation. Is revelation perchance
impossible? If God has endowed man with the power of communication in different languages so that he
can converse with his fellowmen, why should God deprive Himself of such power of communication so
that He can directly communicate with men? Is it really that necessary that God should limit himself only
with mute nature in communicating Himself with men? Revelation is more convenient than mute nature.
To quote Fr. Pastells:
But is there any better way for God to communicate his will to us for our compliance than
by means of the revelation that he entrusts to an infallible teaching office to preserve in its
Is revelation perchance unnecessary? Fr. Pastells tells Rizal to read “the history of the world before
the coming of Christ,” and see how far mankind, left to its own resources, had gone astray, how it “fell into
the deep abyss of idolatry” and the natural moral law was almost completely obliterated in the hearts of
individual men and families despite the fact that God has engraved the natural law in the consciences of
Although many religions pretend to have the will of God, only the Catholic religion really has it. Fr.
Pastells challenges Rizal to cite just one “contradiction in Sacred Scripture and in the traditional beliefs and
practices of the Catholic Church.” He assures him that if we apply the rules of hermeneutics to the difficult
questions, Rizal cannot cite anything “untenable in the matter of religion.” God desires not only the natural
perfection of man through the accumulation of natural knowledge and developing natural virtues, but also
the supernatural perfection of man “by growing in the knowledge of revealed truths and cultivating solid
and perfect supernatural virtues proper to his state in life.”
It is in this fourth letter, dated 5 April 1893,5 that Rizal’s mature religious views are expressed. Rizal
presupposes the Cartesian proof for Rene Descartes’ own existence: “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think,
therefore I am”). To quote Rizal:
How can I doubt God’s existence when I am so convinced of my own? Whosoever
recognizes the effect recognizes the cause. To doubt God’s existence would be to doubt one’s
own self-awareness and consequently to doubt everything else. But then, would life have any
meaning at all?
But this belief in God, which is the result of reasoning, is blind in the sense that it knows nothing.
God is unknowable, beyond description. Rizal says:
I neither believe nor disbelieve in the qualities which many attribute to God, and I can
only smile at the definitions and elucubrations [sic] of theologians and philosophers
concerning this ineffable and inscrutable being. I have this conviction that I stand before
the Supreme Problem, which confused voices wish to unravel to me. And I cannot but reply:
“You maybe right, but the God I am aware of is much more grand, much nobler: Plus supra!”
What about revelation? It is not impossible, and Rizal believes in it. However, he believes in God’s
revelation in nature, which surrounds us everywhere,” and in one’s own conscience— “the voice speaking
out through nature”—which to him “penetrates our being from the day we are born to the day we die.” He
does not believe in the revelations which every religion pretends to possess. When compared and
impartially scrutinized, those revelations—according to Rizal—disclose the “human imprint and the marks
of the times in which they were written.” Rizal believes that “Man makes his own God according to his
own image and likeness and then attributes to him his own works.” Everyone does that.
Not all precepts of absolute necessity and usefulness are “found clearly enunciated in nature,” but
God, says Rizal, has implanted these “in the heart, in our conscience, which is God’s nobler temple.” God
kept “the book of his revelation continually open for us, while his priest unceasingly speaks to us through
the mysterious voice of our consciences.” Thus, the best religions for Rizal are the simplest, “most in
conformity of nature, most in harmony with the needs and aspirations of men,” like the doctrine of Christ.
Rizal rejects the infallibility of the church. Like any other, it is a human institution, more perfect than
others because it is managed more wisely and ably, but it has its defects and errors, its obscure points
(“mysteries”) and naivetes (“miracles”), its divisions or dissensions (“sects or heresies”). Rizal does not
believe that before the coming of Jesus Christ, all those people before him were in the “infernal abyss” or
hell. Nor does he believe that after the advent of Christ, everything has been “sunshine, peace, and good
fortune, and that most men returned to the ways of the just.” There were the battlefields, conflagrations,
burnings at the stake, imprisonments, rapes, tortures of the Inquisition, etc. They existed at all times. Did
not these evils exist when the Church was dominant, perchance during the Middle Ages?
What about the contradictions in the canonical books and miracles? Rizal considers the subject “a
well-worn topic, too boring to go into again.” He hints, however, the existence of contradictions in the
genealogies and some miracles like the one at Cana which Christ performed despite having announced that
His hour had not yet come. Moreover, it is unbelievable—according to Rizal—that the disciples who had
witnessed many miracles of Jesus would be incredulous about his resurrection. Rizal discards the view that
God suspends the laws of nature to perform miracles. This God may not contradict himself for suspending
the laws of nature at certain times to achieve certain objectives, but “he would be inferior to him who can
realize the same objectives without suspending or changing anything” (Rizal and Pastells 1961: 80).
And what about Jesus Christ? Rizal considers him only a man and not a God. For Rizal (1961: 80),
“the Christ on Calvary . . . reveals a man in torment and agony, but what a man. As far as I am concerned,
Christ the man is greater than Christ the God.”
Rizal denies that this belief system is the product of the stupid “pride of the rationalists.” He says that
the man who tries to impose one’s opinions on others is more stupidly proud than the man who is contented
with following his own reason.
Fourth and Last Reply
The last reply of Fr. Pastells dated 28 April 1893 is the longest. Therein it argues that faith is not the
result of reasoning and therefore is not blind. There are many truths we are certain of but which we cannot
comprehend. Even the scientists—physicist, chemist, and astronomer—who know the existence of
phenomena do not understand them fully.
This argument and the rest of the letter do not seem to interest Rizal anymore. He has already
expressed his religious convictions based on reason. He would not want anymore to discuss the views of
established religions like those of Catholicism, for he could no longer understand them. This would partly
explain why Rizal has decided to stop his communication to Fr. Pastells as he says in his fifth and last
In this fourth and last reply of Fr. Pastells, there is (1) the reiteration of the possibility and the reality
of miracles and divine revelation; (2) the contention that God, who imposes his will by suspending the laws
of nature to perform a miracle, is not like the inferior bad governor who wants to get out of a difficulty by
suspending the efficacy of the laws and substituting his own will; (3) the insistence that despite the fact that
the scriptures were written by humans, they were divinely inspired, or God was the original author; (4) the
position that not all revealed truths can be found in scriptures, for some are found in the traditions of the
church; (5) the refutation of the allegation that man made God in his own image in that the human
descriptions of God are but “allegorical” since God does not need eyes to see or ears to hear: as the first
cause God can produce effects through His will and not through the senses; (6) the argument that the
revelation of nature is faint and mute and that the revelation through conscience is corruptible in view of
our fallen nature; (7) the assertion that it is better to interpret the Bible in conformity with the rules of
hermeneutics than to blindly interpret nature in accordance with the “hopeless principles of monism”; (8)
the contention that Rizal has prejudged the religious issue, since if reason comes from God and if the
supernatural goes beyond one’s reason, then Rizal ought to study the supernatural facts; (9) the explanation
about the divinity of Christ the God-Man, who died on the cross in that as God-Man, Christ is “more than
mere man;” and (10) the final explanation why the disciples, who were selected from the common folks—
ignorant, rude, weak, and poor—would be lacking in faith, especially in the ultimate resurrection of Christ.
In the last paragraph, Fr. Pastells promises Rizal to discuss completely the origin of the Catholic
Church and its foundation on the indestructible rock of Peter and the Roman Pontiffs as the visible and
legitimate successors of St. Peter.
Fifth and Final Letter
Rizal’s last and final letter dated June 1893 is the shortest. He says he is stopping his correspondence
because: (1) he notices in Pastell’s letter a “certain impatience” either because of the shortness of Rizal’s
mind for being slow in grasping religious truths or by the “pity of [Rizal’s] religious situation” which has
been aroused in Pastells; and (2) Rizal could “no longer comprehend” or appreciate the merits of Pastells’
arguments. He appreciates the latter’s desire to “enlighten him and illumine” his path, but he believes it is
a useless task. He agrees with Pastell’s hope that God will restore the faith that he (Rizal) lacks. But in the
meantime he would not want to waste the latter’s time: “let us leave to God the things that are God’s and to
men the things that are men’s. As Your Reverence says, the return to the faith is God’s work.”
We have enumerated in the introduction the four dominant topics in the philosophy of religion;
namely, the existence and nature of God, the existence and nature of the soul, the problem of immortality,
and the problem of natural evil, together with the related issues on the possibility of miracles and the
efficacy of prayers. Let me start with the first one.
Concept and Nature of God
Rizal’s philosophy of religion appears to be a hybrid between deism and agnostic realism.6 The deist
believes that after God created the universe with all the necessary laws of nature, He left it perfectly
working by itself without ever intending to return to interfere with it again. The important distinguishing
feature in deism is God’s nonintervention in the workings of the universe. The universe is like a perfect
watch functioning with its own mechanism and the watchmaker simply left it that way (Sahakian 1970:
215-16). Comments Ernest Mossner (Edwards 1967: 327):
. . . the meaning [of deism] is restricted to belief in a God, or First Cause, who created the
world and instituted immutable and universal laws that preclude any alteration as well as divine
immanence—in short, the concept of an “absentee God.”
According to Rizal, we can know God through the laws of nature, through the natural beauty and
order we find in the universe, that is to say, through the revelation of nature. In this belief system, “God
helps him who helps himself” (Sahakian 1970: 215-16). This is the popular view of God during the
Enlightenment (18th century) and later in various countries like Spain up to the time of Rizal (19th
century), although it declined with the acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution which was published in
Rizal (see Edwards 1967:332; Bonoan 1992:54, 56, 60) makes a certain modification of the “hard”
version of deism, the version he learns from Voltaire, of whom he has the complete works, i.e., that the
knowledge of God is obtainable only through the laws and workings of nature. Rizal acknowledges the
insufficiency of pure natural religion. He accepts the “soft” version of deism, held by Jean Jacques
Rousseau, that God reveals Himself through “the heart, in the conscience of man, which is [God’s] best
temple” (Rizal and Pastells 1961:77). Both revelations—those of nature and of conscience—are known
by reason. As Rizal (1961: 77) says, “. . . the voice of my conscience can come only from God; this
judgment is inferred by deduction.” While Voltaire and Rousseau consider natural religion by nature and
by conscience as sufficient, respectively, Rizal considers both taken individually as insufficient. Only the
natural religion of both by nature and by conscience taken collectively would be sufficient. According to
Delhaye (1968: 37-50; Bonoan 1994:51), a sincere conscience should be followed even if it is erroneous.
The agnostic realist, on the other hand, believes that God is unknowable. Although God is inferred
to exist, or the knowledge of God is obtainable through reason, “the particulars regarding his nature are not
within the range of human knowledge” (Sahakian 1970: 215). It follows from this that God’s attributes are
likewise unknowable. As Rizal (1961:75) maintains, “I neither believe nor disbelieve the attributes that
many people ascribe to Him.” It is highly probable that Rizal has read Herbert Spencer who lived from
1820 to 1903 and whose magnum opus on the evolutionary progress of mankind entitled First principles
was published in 1862, when Rizal was barely two years old. To quote Rizal (Bonoan 1994:187):
I have more reason to rejoice when I see humanity ever marching forward toward unending
progress, notwithstanding human weaknesses, failures, and aberrations. For this points to the
glorious destiny of man, it tells me that man is made to be better than just something for flames
to feed on, and it fills me with trust in God’s providence that he will not allow his work to
perish, notwithstanding the devil’s wiles and our foolish ways.
Does Rizal believe in the devil? The answer is negative. The word should be interpreted as the
symbol of all the existing human evils, including the religious abuses of the friars.
In view of the above, Fr. Pastells (1961: 92; Bonoan 1994:197) errs when he insinuates that Rizal’s
conception of God is pantheistic and cautions him not “to incur the errors of pantheism.” Even if we grant
that human reason is a spark of the divine reason, this alone could not lead us to pantheism, or the belief
that God is all and all is God. Besides deism as an alternative, there is panentheism or the belief that God is
not only immanent but distinct and separate from the universe.7 There is, however, a hint from another of
Rizal’s works. In The vision of Friar Rodriguez, God is described to have commanded St. Augustine to go
to earth. God in this work says: “Tell them that I am All and that apart from me nothing exists and nothing
is able to exist without my will and consent” (Hessel 1983: 102). Although the word “All” suggests a
pantheistic God, it should be interpreted simply as “self-sufficient” and the only “one true God” since He
is said to be the God of St. Augustine, a Roman Catholic, whose God is the personal nonpantheistic one.
In his third letter to Fr. Pastells, Rizal (1961:50; Bonoan 1994:160) describes God as “infinitely
wise, mighty, [and] good” and as “the inconceivable, the superhuman, the infinite.” He says that the
thought of God overwhelms him and “fear overcomes him.” His reason falls “stunned, puzzled, and
crushed.” He qualifies his view on the nature of God by saying that his idea of the “infinite” is imperfect
and confused. He agrees with Anacreon [Xenophanes] that man makes God in his own image. These are
consistent with the Voltairean and Spencerian conceptions of God.
In his other writings, particularly “The state of religiousity in the Philippines,” the Noli and Fili,
“Friars and Filipinos,” among others, Rizal describes God as inscrutable, one, infinitely perfect, omniscient,
omnipotent, God of Truth, Highest Good, Intelligence who rules, everlasting, self-sufficient, happy from all
eternity, just, merciful, loving, forgiving, creator, and one who works out His judgment in history (see
Hessel 1983: 241-42). If God is unknowable, what then are these descriptions of Rizal? Spencer says that
our descriptions of God are only symbols which in the end turn out to be inadequate. To quote him
Very likely there will ever remain a need to give shape to that indefinite sense of the Ultimate
Existence, which forms the basis of our intelligence. We shall always be under the necessity of
contemplating it as some mode of being; that is, of representing it to ourselves in some form of
thought, however vague. And we shall not err in doing this so long as we treat every notion we
thus frame as merely a symbol, utterly without resemblance to that for which it stands. Perhaps
the constant formation of such symbols and constant rejection of them as inadequate may be
hereafter, as it has hitherto been, a means of discipline. Perpetually to construct ideas requiring
the utmost stretch of our faculties, and perpetually to find that such ideas must be abandoned as
futile imaginations, may realize to us, more fully than any other course, the greatness of that
which we vainly strive to grasp.
Rizal’s philosophy of religion may appropriately be called agnostic deism, or the belief that there is
God who does not interfere in man’s affairs and whose attributes are unknowable.
Existence and Nature of the Soul
Rizal does not provide us with a fuller description of the soul. He believes that if God exists, then He
shares with man that divine “spark” which we call intelligence or reason or mind. He says in “The state of
religiosity of the Philippines” and in “Friars and Filipinos” that God endows man with the “divine spark” or
with “intelligence.” In one letter Rizal (Bonoan 1994 17) calls this divine spark as “science.” In the Noli he
maintains that man is endowed with a “soul.” Moreover, Rizal was a freemason (initiated in London in
1888-89) who believes in God, the immortality of the soul, and the brotherhood of men, although French
masonry, of which Rizal was acquainted, puts more emphasis on men’s brotherhood.
There is no doubt that Rizal conceives man as created by God, but following Anacreon
[Xenophanes], Rizal discards the idea that God created man in His image. In fact this view was uttered by
St. Augustine (Hessel 1983: 97) in “The vision of Friar Rodriguez,” which shows that it is Augustine’s and
not Rizal’s idea.
Question of Immortality
Associated with the existence of the soul is the problem of immortality. In his third letter to Fr.
Pastells, in the Noli, and in “The vision of Friar Rodriguez,” Rizal says that the soul is immortal and there
is life after death. Hessel (1983:49) doubts that Rizal truly believes in these.8 We should remember,
however, that for Rizal (Hessel 1983: 47) God is the “Intelligence who rules the machinery of the world”
and who shares this intelligence as the divine spark in man. It follows from this that when man dies that
divine spark will rejoin God.
Problem of Natural Evils
The question of natural evils is something that Rizal did not say anything in his letters.9 It seems that
from God’s point of view there are no natural evils. If God created the universe perfectly with all its natural
laws, it follows that volcanic eruptions, floods, diseases, etc., are natural happenings and God must have a
good purpose for them. Gottfried von Leibnitz maintains that when God created the universe as the best of
all possible worlds, everything in it could not be different from what it is, and therefore natural evils are
necessary evils. Benedict Spinoza, a pantheist, argues that since God is all and all is God, then everything
from God’s point of view must be good. The distinction between good and evil is therefore human and not
divine. What is beneficial to man is good and what is harmful to him is bad. Rousseau the deist agrees with
Spinoza. Since God for Rousseau (Edwards 1967: 332) is infinitely powerful, infinitely good, and
supremely just, he could not be the author of evil. It is man who is the author: “born good, he acquires
vice.” It is this version that Rizal adopts. Man is a masterpiece of creation, perfect within his conditions. He
has everything that God has given him in order to grow in knowledge and virtue. Only that there are
obstacles along the way to his perfection, to the ultimate realization of his potentialities. In the case of the
Philippines, these are the colonization of Spain and the religious abuses of the friars.
If man is perfect within his conditions, what then would be the status of miracles and prayers?
Miracles for Rizal are unnecessary and he discards them. Reason dictates, according to him, that if God
created the universe perfectly, then miracles are useless. But what about prayers? They are useless, too, if
one asks God for something additional. Man’s salvation lies within himself. He is by nature free, his
intelligence can elevate him to perfection, progress is inevitable, and he can master nature. Rizal maintains
that he prays to God to dispossess him of certain qualities which God has given him for a good purpose,
like self-esteem or self-love, but God has preserved them. His last recorded prayer (Bonoan 1992:64),
which he “wrote in German in his diary,” was in 1896, when the Spanish authorities in Barcelona sent him
back to Manila to face the trial of subversion. He prayed to God that He was his “hope and consolation”
and that he was ready to face his fate: “May our will be done.”
In conclusion, I want to say that deism began in England in the late stage of the Age of Reason in the
17th century and became popular in France and Germany only during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th
century. Although it was in Madrid, in late 19th century, that Rizal during his student days became
acquainted with the works of Voltaire, he was also in England doing research for many months at the
British Museum and working on his annotations of Morga’s Sucesos de las islas Filipinas. It is probable
that Rizal became acquainted likewise with the deistic and Spencerian ideas of England and became at
home with them. Voltaire, who was exiled to England, helped in propagating deism there. Rizal had stayed
in France and Germany and had travelled to the United States. It might be wild conjecture, but the
possibility is there that Rizal may have also acquainted himself with the deistic ideas of those places.
Moreover, while in Madrid he became aquainted with Krausism, a movement founded by Julian Sanz del
Rio and based on the views of a minor Kantian, Karl Christian Friedrick Krause (1871-1832). Krausism
attempts to orient Spanish life to the rationalism of Europe and the world (Bonoan 1994: 13).
We can mention the ideas of some of the prominent deists. Mossner (Edwards 1967:327-34) and
Robertson (1915: 69-419) discuss several of the important British, Continental, and American deists.
Among the British deists, Lord Herbert of Chesbury (see Edwards 1967), the father of English deism,
“treated Scripture as ordinary history, ridiculed bibliolatry, overtly attacked priestcraft, and disavowed faith
as a basis for religion.” John Toland opposes “Biblical mysteries, challenges the validity of the Biblical
canon, and points out corruptions in Biblical texts.” Anthony Collins blames priests “for trivial quarreling
among themselves over Biblical interpretations and are held responsible for many corrupt texts.” Matthew
Tindal, who believes that God’s being and attributes are deducible a priori by reason, including the moral
precepts for the life of virtue and ultimate salvation, considers the scripture as “unnecessary and confusing
to men of reason.”
Among the Continental deists (Edwards 1967) , Voltaire attacks priestcraft and the corruptions of the
church. Rousseau, who is a Genevan who lived in France, believes in natural religion through conscience.
The German deist Hermann Reimarus believes in natural revelation, while Immanuel Kant, a Christian
deist, strips Christianity of its mystery and tradition and treats it as a purely moral religion. Kant says that
“the limits of religion, basically naturalistic, are set in conscience or practical religion.” In Spain, Pi y
Margall (Bonoan 1992: 58, 61) maintains that only reason itself can correct its own errors and that God
plays a role in man’s conscience.
Among the American deists (Edwards 1967), Thomas Jefferson “extols Jesus as a man for his moral
teachings, omits ambiguous and controversial passages,” and rejects many of the supernatural elements of
the scripture. George Washington advocates total separation of church and state while Thomas Paine
attacks the Old and New Testaments, “arguing that the Bible is not the word of God and depicting
Christianity as a species of atheism.”10 Elihu Palmer criticizes the divine authority of the Bible.
Not that the deistic views have no replies from such stalwarts as Joseph Butler and others (see
Robertson 1915:179-80), but in the Philippines human degradation was at its height and such condition
finds support to Rizal’s agnostic deism. In most of his works Rizal follows the Lutheran line in attacking
the abuses of the church and the deistic precepts in rejecting miracles and positive prayers. He does not
agree with Tindal, however, that God made man in his own image.
Among the friar evils that Rizal (Hessel 1984: 253) criticizes, on the one hand, are hypocrisy, lack of
real faith in God, ignorance, betrayal of the confessional, fraud and lying, pride, despotism, intemperance,
mercenariness, and sexual immorality. On the other hand, he (Hesel 1984: 249-50) criticizes the church
practices like saint worship, image worship, rosaries, confessions, candles, scapularies, novenas, kissing the
hand of priests, processions, indulgences, fiestas, holy water, etc. He rejects the purgatory, the infallibility
of the pope and the church, the divinity of Christ, and so on. Fr. Pastells concedes the existence of friar
abuses, but although they ought to be righted, he would have argued that they should not be used to destroy
the legitimacy of the church of Christ and the Roman Pontiffs as his successors.
Rizal’s last major work is the poem, My last farewell. This is an affirmation of the reality of God and
the immortality of the soul. Rizal (Alzona and Abeto 1989:40) writes: “I’ll go where there are no slaves,
tyrants or hangmen/ Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.” This view is consistent
with agnostic deism and Roman Catholicism and even with the general tenets of freemasonry.
Eugene Hessel (1984:299-300, 304) considers Rizal still a Christian for having extolled the teachings
of Christ the man despite the fact that Rizal was neither a Catholic11 nor Protestant. Hessel believes that
Rizal, in fact, may have “felt himself a Christian, perhaps even a Catholic.” He considers Rizal’s religious
convictions appropriate as a response to the latter’s time and age in the historical development of the
Philippines. Rizal may have not retracted in view of his mature religious deistic views, held with deep and
sincere convictions,12 but even if he did recant at the last moment, Hessel opines that Rizal remains a free
believer and a fighter of religious toleration. In the final analysis, I think everyone will agree with Hessel
that even if Rizal retracted his religious views and discarded freemasonry as what Leon Ma. Guerrero
(1974: 458-59) tries to demonstrate in his book, The first Filipino, Rizal remains “a great reformer and
1. Lecture delivered at Ariston Estrada Seminar Room on 6 February 1998 during the College of
Liberal Arts Week of De La Salle University in fulfillment of the Ariston Estrada, Sr. Professorial Chair in
Liberal Arts II. This version is with minor revisions.
2. Unless otherwise specified, all the quotations in this article from the nine letters of Rizal and Fr.
Pastells are taken from Bonoan’s work (1994).
3. There is a confusion as to whether Rizal became a prefect (president) of the Congregacion
Mariana, or the Sodality of Our Lady (“now renamed Christian Life Communities”), or simply its
secretary. Rizal himself denied having been a prefect of the Sodality because he “was so small and could
not preside” (Bonoan 1994: 9; Retana 1907:417).
4. I agree with Bonoan (1994:160) that Rizal must have meant Xenophanes of Colophon in Asia
Minor who says that if oxen, horses, and lions can draw, they would draw their gods in their own respective
images. Anacreon of Theos, the son of Scythinus, was a lyric poet.
5. The other English translation (Rizal and Pastells 1961:74) has the date “April 4, 1893.” The
Bonoan manuscripts are the complete ones as they come from Fr. Pastells themselves, while the Epistolario
Rizalino letters of Rizal (Kalaw 1930-1938) are believed to be Rizal’s drafts (Bonoan 1987:5, 119; see n.
6. Ricardo Pascual (1962: 272) calls this hybrid as one of a “realist-rationalist.”
7. Rizal says that God rules the atoms and that consciousness is not destroyed with the disappearnce
of the atoms. Modern physics informs us that ultimate reality or the fundamental substance of the universe
is one, that is, a “field of force” or a “field of incessant activity” where sub-atomic and atomic particles
emerge and disappear. While Bertrand Russell (Gripaldo 1971: 11, 36) believes that consciousness
vanishes with the destruction of the brain, Rizal thinks that consciousness only goes back to divine reason
or intelligence. This view need not be pantheistic, but could be panentheistic—similar to that of Alfred
North Whitehead (1969)—which can be made consistent with agnostic deism by the explanation that
although God is immanent in the universe, he reveals himself in the world through the laws of nature and
through conscience (Hessel 1983: 288-89).
8. Hessel’s doubt is understandable because he has no access to the documents in the possession of
Fr. Pastells where Rizal’s third letter is complete. In Kalaw’s Epistolario Rizalino, which is Hessel’s basis,
this letter has missing paragraphs, including Rizal’s belief in the immortality of the soul.
9. Bonoan (1992:63) says that Rizal ignores the “all too tragic facts of floods, plagues, earthquakes
and other natural disasters.”
10. See the book The theological works of Thomas Paine (1827), which is a collection of Paine’s
various works (the pagination is not continuous). This collection includes some examinations of
prophecies and a version of the origin of freemasonry.
11. According to Retana (Palma 1966: 246-47), Rizal had ceased being a Catholic in Dapitan, but
“endeavored not to attack the piety of the believers.” He stopped going to mass and considered fiestas as a
waste of money. He did not contribute a centavo to the fiesta in honor of San Roque, the “patron saint of
the principal barrio of Dapitan.” Fiestas seem to be excluded in Rizal’s idea of religious tolerance.
12. Rafael Palma (1966:333-44) and Ricardo Pascual (1950:1-200) believe that Rizal did not retract.
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