Appropriating Spanish Political Thought: The Scholastic Foundations of Emilio Jacinto’s Revolutionary Treatise

Stamp from 1963 featuring Emilio Jacinto. From the Philippine Postal Corporation.

Remaining unpublished at the time of the Emilio Jacinto’s death at the young age of 23, his treatise Liwanag at Dilim (Light and Darkness) is “the most holistic account of Katipunero vernacular political theology,” describing the moral, social, and governing principles by which he believes society was to be ruled. In this work, Jacinto appropriates the Spanish theological paradigm to serve its own revolutionary ends, mobilizing what are essentially the “tenets of Spanish Catholic political thought to counter a Spanish Catholic Regime.” 

In her article titled “The Scholastic Foundations of Emilio Jacinto’s Liwanag at Dilim (Light and Darkness), c. 1896,” published in our June 2021 issue, Johaina K. Crisostomo, a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Berkeley, corrects the emphasis that Filipino historians have placed on the French Enlightenment’s influence on the intellectual history of the Philippine Revolution. Instead, she argues that, based on an examination of the core principles of Jacinto’s Liwanag at Dilim, the intellectual foundation of the revolution is primarily rooted in the doctrines of Spanish Catholic political thought.

To understand Jacinto’s vernacular political theology, one must look to the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas and its resurgence among the Late Scholastics of the Spanish Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth century. For Aquinas, the universe operated through a hierarchy of laws, the highest category of which was that of “eternal law” or laws existing in God. In the second part of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, he outlines “divine law” as dictates revealed explicitly to men through scripture, and “natural law” as the self-evident principles of morality and justice “written in [men’s] hearts.” Frederick Copleston explained Thomistic free will best: “That man is free follows from the fact that he is rational.” What Aquinas conceived as “natural law” was the ruling principles of eternal law rationally discerned by men. During the Reformation, Catholic and Protestant opinions on how power flowed from God to the heads of state clashed. Catholic conviction in human rationality confronted the Protestant view that men were fallen creatures that were incapable of reproducing divine ethics in their civil lives, a belief that provided the theological justification for the “divine right of kings.” 

An important center for the Counter-Reformation movement was the University of Salamanca in Spain, which “became the intellectual hub of the Counter-Reformation as a group of Catholic philosophers inspired by pioneering theologian Francisco de Vitoria, who revitalized Aquinas’s theories.” Vitoria saw natural law as that which governed man’s relationship with the world and encompassed the socio-political dynamics of civil life. The extension of the principles of natural law to political affairs led to a formulation of rights (iura) as a natural consequence of God’s law. Vitoria argued that all political power was vested in the commonwealth (res publica), which delegated this authority to its chosen ruler(s). Vitoria also contended the extent of the Spanish monarch’s political authority over indigenous subjects overseas. Vitoria declared that any natural-law claim to Spanish sovereignty must come from the colonized republics themselves, and not imposed upon them by external peoples such as in the case of the Americas. He argued that men, simply by being creatures of God, were born free and rational by the dictates of natural law, whether they were Christian-European or “barbarian.” Men therefore had rights to their own territories and to the administration of their own civil affairs.

One of Vitoria’s successors, Jesuit theologian Francisco Suárez, took the Scholastic notion of popular sovereignty to new heights through the mechanism of “consent.” He asserted that the king derived civil authority from the power generated by the consensual coming together of people who decided to collectively consolidate their individual political authority in the person of the king. For the first time in history, someone theorized the capacity of the people to think, act, and function as a united, moral whole, in which the whole body was greater than the sum of its parts.

Theological debates on Spanish imperialism and the rights of natives happened during the attempted subordination of the Philippine islands during Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition in 1565. The archipelago became a “testing ground” for a less violent invasion to better improve the conscience of the Spanish king after the carnage that had just occurred in the Americas. Vitoria’s thought had a decisive impact on the conquest of the Philippines, made evident by the king’s orders to Legazpi and the conquistadores for a peaceful occupation of the islands. Importantly for the islands, the first archbishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar, was Vitoria’s student at the university. The Manila Synod of 1582, convened due to Salazar’s efforts and initiative, was dominated by the discussion on the natural-law rights of the natives. Although in the end the amount of real freedom of choice allotted to the native Filipinos was negligible, Salazar’s efforts demonstrated how the Late Scholastic view of political society defined the Hispano-Philippine order of things. Natives based their willingness to submit to the king on the Scholastic “contractual promise” that bound the king to his people, which specified the king’s obligation to protect the common good in exchange for the people’s services and loyalty.

In the nineteenth century, Philippine intellectual life continued to be dominated by Scholasticism despite the introduction of other philosophical movements into the islands. Most ilustrados remained in the Philippines for their studies, making it far likelier that they would be exposed to the works of Aquinas and Suárez before those of the French Enlightenment. Jacinto, like many of his ilustrado contemporaries, received an entirely homegrown intellectual formation from the Dominican institutions of the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán and the University of Santo Tomás (UST). At the UST, he elected to study law after getting his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. The law degree at the UST required “a good ground in theology,” and the textbook used in the curriculum was the Summa Theologica.

As a high-ranking officer of the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Katipunan), Jacinto has been dubbed the “brains of the Katipunan.” He wrote poems and essays for the Katipunan, among them his treatise Liwanag at Dilim, a collection of essays outlining his conception of freedom and legitimate political authority to validate the Philippine revolution. In the first section of Liwanag at Dilim, which is on “Kalayaan” (Freedom), Jacinto upheld a Thomist doctrine of the inseparability of human liberty from rationality, writing, “If reason exists, it is because there is freedom.” He went beyond the freedom–reason dyad and includes a third component to Kalayaan, that of “the will” (pagkukusa). He argued, “If there is no Freedom, this will not happen . . . that humanity will progress because whatever it does does not come from its own volition.” Jacinto thus envisioned the consequence of the deprivation of freedom as being tantamount to being denied the ability to will freely. As stated earlier, a key element in Vitoria’s natural law defense of native sovereignty was the recognition that natives were rational creatures who were in possession of their natural right to liberty. Jacinto essentially reproduced this moral logic in his defense of Kalayaan. 

In the rest of his “Kalayaan,” Jacinto wrote about a relationship between man and the divine that was predicated upon love and sacrifice, stating that “those that love and die for the sacred house of Freedom . . . are those that love and die for the Creator, the source and origin of reason which cannot be obtained without freedom.” Here, Jacinto eloquently depicted loving and dying for freedom as equivalent to loving and dying for the Creator.

Jacinto’s concept of the alienability of rights posited that freedom might be lost through some form of external abuse of power such as from a sovereign and compatriots abusing one another. Believing that freedom is subject to communal delegation, his idea envisioned a third way to lose freedom by which people can lose their natural right through their own collective volition. An example of Jacinto’s concept of the alienability of rights can be seen in the end of his section on “Kalayaan.” Here, he asserted that the Tagalog had suffered for nearly 400 years because they deliberately chose to reject and give away their natural right of freedom to abusive rulers. He contended that the Tagalog people themselves should be blamed for their enslavement because they allowed their freedom to be mishandled. Jacinto believed in a fundamentally collectivist understanding of political power, a belief similar to the socio-political dynamics in Vitoria’s natural law. Jacinto’s ideas had a close adherence to the Suarezian configuration of political rights in which rights resided in the indivisible body of the people and not in any of its constituent parts. In Jacinto’s own words, legitimate civil power was “the sum total or the coming-together of the power of every individual.” There was no notion of the self; the individual was always subsumed within the sovereign body of an entire people.

With his ideas on freedom and sovereignty explained, Jacinto then outlined his notions for legitimate revolt in “Kalayaan.” According to Jacinto, Spain failed to be a good ruler because the ruling state, instead of protecting the common good of its subjects, had forgotten that “all their power, greatness, and displayed glory” came from the very “vassals they enslave and bury in wretchedness.” He explicitly advocated for tyrannicide by writing that that those who disobeyed the principles of natural law “should necessarily be razed and annihilated.” Throughout Liwanag at Dilim, Jacinto portrayed the state of war between the Spanish ruling regime and the Tagalog people in stark, violent language.

The influence of Late Scholastic political theories on Philippine political theology cannot be overstated. The ideas Jacinto that presented were those that he learned in the Hispano-Philippine schools he attended. In many ways, it was not surprising that Jacinto mobilized Spanish Catholic political doctrines to justify breaking away from the empire that oppressed them. In Liwanag at Dilim, Jacinto provided “an incriminating deposition of Spain’s failure to live up to its own standards of justice and a reclamation of the natural rights that had long been theoretically granted to the Philippine natives.”  

Read the full article of Johaina K. Crisostomo in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, volume 69, number 2, 2021.


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