Chapter 16: Did Rizal Retract?
Archbishop Bernadino Nozaleda (pictured opposite) master-minded the attempt both to convert Rizal back to Catholic orthodoxy and to influence public opinion regarding Rizal's alleged retraction of his beliefs after his execution.
From seven A.M., December 29, to seven A.M., December 30, 1896, Rizal remained in the Fort Santiago chapel. For brief periods he saw his mother, six of his sisters, his nephew Mauricio, his niece Angelica, (02) a reporter, the fiscal, and, in the last morning, Josephine.
The Jesuits, on the other hand, were with him practically every minute of the time, six priests going in relays, usually two at a time, in an attempt to bring about Rizal's conversion. They have written the only complete story about his last day. Their earliest account was published in Spain in 1897; it is found in chapter seventeen of a book called La Masonizacion de Filipinas, Rizal y su Orba, printed by Tipografica Catolica of Barcelona. The author is anonymous but is thought to have been Father Pastalls. (03) In starting chapter seventeen he says:
"We will relate the fascinatingly interesting incidents as furnished to us from a new unedited and authentic account received from Manila." The account deals so largely with Father Balaguer, that it probably depended upon the notes Father Balaguer said he kept. (04)
How far can we rely upon the accuracy and fairness of this book? Fortunately, we have a means of judging it. The first sixteen chapters deal with the life of Rizal which we have already studied. It says he was a model youth until he went to Europe to study medicine. There he joined Masonic lodges where he heard Republicans declare, "Liberty should be demanded with bullets and not on one's knees." Ideas like this turned him into a "fierce revolutionist." The book finds not a single wrong in the Philippines; but finds several governor-generals too lenient! It says that the liberal Governor Terrero was so weak that the religious orders had to hound him out of the Islands. (05) Governor General [Valeriano] Weyler (the "bloody Weyler" of Cuba) was an ideal governor who "knew how to attack with firmness the evils permitted in the time of the weak Terrero. To use his graphic phrase he 'sucked out the brains' of those he captured, so that the insurrection could not raise its head nor Masonry make any gains (06) . . . If only Rizal had remained in the Philippines and studied agriculture he would not have become the scandalizer and corruptor of his people." (07) The book strikes that note throughout, concerning Rizal and his most "miserable work." (08) He was completely wrong, Spain beautifully right, but too mild at times; not injustice, but Masonry and Germany led Rizal to write his books -- indeed, most of the conclusions are diametrically opposite to the truth. One is prepared by this distortion of facts to be on his guard in reading the chapter on Rizal's last day.
Father Pio Pi, who succeeded Father Pastells, and was head of the Jesuit order in 1896, but not personally acquainted with Rizal, wrote a little book in 1909, called La Muerte Christiana de Doctor Rizal. (09) This follows the anonymous book of 1897 closely, often quoting word for word, but adding other details. (10)
Father Balaguer, who says he secured Rizal's retraction, signed (11) a sworn statement in 1917 in which he says: "If anyone judges that I could not remember so many details, after twenty years, I may say that the same day in which Rizal died I wrote a very detailed story, the entire original of which I saved, and I have borrowed from it to make the present statement." All three writers evidently depend upon the notes of Father Balaguer for the most disputed part of the story. (12)
Because the controversy as to whether Rizal did retract is so intense, it will be interesting to read the essential portions of the narrative, in an effort to get at the truth.
It was what Retana calls "El Día Supremo" for the Jesuits. They had worked with Rizal for four years without visible results. Following a well-conceived and well-executed plan, the government had "touched his heart with the sufferings of his relatives," with exasperating espionage, with alternating laxity and severity, with heart-breaking disappointments, with loneliness, while the Jesuit fathers tried to win him with kindness and arguments. They had apparently failed. Now they had twenty-four hours or never!
Father Pio Pi writes that "the Archbishop showed great eagerness for the conversion of the man sentenced to death, and granted us all his authority to do whatever might be necessary. He directed us also to prepare a retraction, in the hope that the condemned man might be willing to accept and sign it; and we agreed to do so and to present it for his approval. . . ."
As usual, the Jesuits went at their task with tremendous fervor. From seven o'clock of December 29, when Rizal was notified of his sentence, until he fell dead, there were few moments when they were not with him, coming in pairs and marshalling every means they could think of to play upon his emotions, to appeal to his reason, and to terrify him when other methods failed.
Rizal's statue: "The Sacred Heart of Christ"
The rector of the Ateneo, Father Miguel Saderra Mata, and one of the
professors, Father Luis Viza, took with them an image of the Sacred Heart of
Christ, which Rizal had carved when he was a student in the Ateneo.
Pi says that Rizal took it and put it on his table, where it remained until after his execution.
"Then Father Antonio Rosell was with the prisoner for awhile, and returned with a bad impression; he believed from what he heard that the man was a Protestant.
"Father [Federico] Faura also visited him that morning. Rizal asked as soon as he entered, 'Do you recall, Father, the last time we talked and what you foretold? It has come to pass. You are a prophet; I am going to die on the scaffold.' Padre Faura could not subdue that spirit, still rebelling against the appeals of grace; so much so that the Father retired broken up with grief."
From Rizal y su Obra (13) comes an account which sounds true, for there could have been no object in inventing the story:
"Father Balaguer returned to the chapel to discuss the religious question with the prisoner. The symptoms were very sad; there was little hope. In the morning when he had been given a medal of the Holy Virgin, he took it, probably from courtesy, and said coldly: 'I am a little Marian.' Unfortunate man! To such an extreme, because of his error, had the former secretary of the Marian Congregation fallen. And yet he did not desire to abandon Her whom he had formerly served with filial love.
"Concerning religion, Rizal began to speak with reverence of God, of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Gospel, and of the Sacred Scriptures; he said that he prayed, and that he was always asking God for light, as his only wish was to fulfill his Holy Will. . . He seemed like a fervent probationer. But observing that his statements were those that a Protestant would make, Father Balaguer narrowed him down to concrete and categorical questions, which showed that Rizal did not admit the authority of the Roman church nor of the Pontificate, and held as his rule of faith, the Scriptures as interpreted by his judgment, in short that he seemed to be guided by a Protestant criterion, but mixed in reality with free thinking and a strange piety."
Father Balaguer, who had been with Rizal in Dapitan, is the man who claims that he secured the retraction. We will let him tell his own story as to how he did it:
"I, who knew the history of his errors and what his books contain, in order to carry out our delicate mission, asked Rizal to explain his ideas about religion. He showed at once that he was a Protestant by certain phrases in which he manifested love and respect for Jesus Christ; but he told me more or less explicitly that the rule of faith was the word of God contained in the Sacred Scriptures; . . . He told me that he was guided by the reason which God had given him, adding with a self assurance that froze the blood, that he could go to appear before the judgment seat of God, tranquilly as one who has done his duty as a rational man. In attacking him, I then began with arguments of the Catholic doctrine to expose the objections, a thousand times refuted, of the heretics and rationalists, and we argued about the criteria and rule of faith, the authority of the church, its infallibility and divine authority. . . and many points in apologetics."
"But with all this," says Father Pio Pi, "the poor condemned man was not convinced. So far had he lost his faith, and so proud was his self-conceit that he would not admit light nor law into his limited vision. . . With very good tact Father Balaguer tried him out, and giving a sudden turn in the conversation, exclaimed: (14)
"'So, at the judgment seat of God, before whom we must appear, you will be unpardonably condemned forever, if you do not bring your intellect into subjection to faith.'
"Whereupon," says Father Balauger, (15) "at hearing this threat of mine, the tears sprang to his eyes, and he replied, 'No, no, I will not be condemned!'
"'Yes,' I replied, 'you will go to hell; for whether you like it or not, extra Ecclesiam Catholicam nulla datur salus. Yes, outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation' . . . Agitated at this chiding, he said to me:
"'See here, Father, if I should comply with your request and sign what you propose, without feeling it, I would be a hypocrite and would offend God.'
"'Certainly', I said, 'I do not desire that. But do you not believe that it is the greatest grief for me to see a person whom I love, obstinate in his error, to see that he will be damned and not to be able to help him? We value you so highly, believe me, that we would give our blood and our lives if we could achieve your salvation. Right now we would offer ourselves to be shot in your place.'
"'But Father,' he replied with feeling. 'What would you have me do, for I do not think I could conquer my reason.'
"'Offer yourself', I answered. 'Offer to God the sacrifice of your self-esteem, and even though it should be contrary to the voice of reason, ask God for the grace of faith, which is a gift of God, which he offers in abundance, and which is infallibly obtained with humble and persevering prayer. The only trouble is that you reject it.'
"'Good then, Father', he said, 'I promise you that the rest of my life I will use asking God for the grace of faith.' . . ."
Father Balaguer continues:
"For a better understanding of the events of that day, I think it best to relate them in order.
"Father Vilaclara (now dead) and I arrived at Fort Santiago about ten in the morning. After being received by Rizal, the discussion with him began as related above. At twelve I went to the Palace to tell the Archbishop what had happened, as he had requested, and I had to say that up to that time the condemned man had remained obstinate in his errors and ideas contrary to the Catholic faith. Upon hearing this, the Archbishop, in his ardent zeal for the conversion of Dr. Rizal, at once sent a circular to all the religious communities of Manila, that they should plead for the conversion of the condemned man. In all of them there was fervent prayer, and in some of them there were offered for this purpose many penances, celebrating the Holy Sacrament.
"At three in the afternoon or a little later I returned to the Fort where Father Vilaclara had remained, and continued the discussion with Dr. Rizal. This lasted until evening, stopping at the point which I indicated above. I then went with Father Viza to the [Archbishop's] palace, to give an account of the condition of the condemned man and to express hope for his conversion."
While Father Balaguer was gone, Father Pio Pi's account tells us that "Rizal became restless and asked Father Vilaclara to hear his confession. The later told him that it would be necessary first to make a retraction, for which purpose he should await the formula which the Prelate had promised to furnish. . .
"At ten in the evening he was given [by Father Balaguer] the long formula of retraction which had been written by order of the Prelate. . . The inner fight had not yet ceased, and though his spirit was more humble, it was not wholly conquered. . . The wording did not suit him, both because of its length and because the style was not clear. 'See here, Father', he said, 'even though I should sign this, nobody would believe that it was mine. You know my style, that it is very clear. Bring me a pen and you dictate what I ought to say.' Then Father Balaguer began to dictate the other formula, which had already been approved by the Archbishop, much briefer, though expressive and decisive, which, after offering some objections, he accepted in its entirety, only asking to interject on his own initiative a few brief phrases, which only add expression and courage to the document."
Father Pio Pi continues:
"Let us see how it was composed with full deliberation, phrase by phrase.
"While Father [Balaguer] was dictating the phrases, Rizal thought about them, and either made some observation or said nothing, and then wrote with clear letters and sure pulse. The words were dictated: 'I declare myself to be a Catholic, and in this religion I wish to live and die'. After the word religion he added 'in which I was born and educated'' and commenting upon what he had added, he said, 'Because it is evident that I was lost in Spain!' So the next two clauses were dictated and written without any change; and the Father continued: 'I abominate Masonry as a society condemned by the Church' -- and here also Rizal objected. It seemed to him that the sect was not intrinsically bad, although, as he thought, there were many bad Masons; that those whom he met in London, where he had been affiliated, were decent persons; that the Masonry of the Philippines was not opposed to Catholicism, in which many Masons of lower degrees (beyond which Rizal seems not to have passed) were not required to say anything which implied apostasy to the Catholic religion. It was necessary to argue here a little more and to insist upon the prohibition of the church; and that it was important for his own self respect that he who had been a freethinker until that moment, should state clearly his recantation. The Father proposed that he change a few of the words in this form: 'I abominate Masonry as the enemy that it is to the church and prohibited by the same', and he finally consented, although there is very little difference between one way of expressing it and the other. . .
The full retraction, which Father Balaguer says he saw Rizal sign at eleven-thirty at night, (16) -- an hour and a half after they began, -- is as follows:
"Manila, December, 29th, 1896.
Father Pio Pi's picture of the remainder of the night is of extreme interest to the student who is trying to sift out the truth about the retraction.
Father Pio Pi continues: "Rizal had taken the step most difficult for his conversion. This business finished, the condemned man tried to sleep, and did sleep tranquilly for a while.
"He arose at one thirty, and was in prayer. . . . Father Vilaclara invited him to perform a few acts of faith, hope, and charity, which he might read from a devotional book. He accepted it and taking a pen said, 'I believe' and signed his name in this book. . . . Already he could accept without pain, even dogmatic points which he would not have accepted before. . . Taking with him the devotional book and paper on which he had written his retraction, without the least suggestion from anybody he went to the altar of the chapel, fell to his knees and recited in a natural and clear voice, slowly and devoutly first the retraction and afterwards these acts of faith, hope, and charity. Amazed and moved by this example, all present also fell to their knees, and so remained until the end; during that long space of time all excepting the condemned man were in absolute silence, moved with pity, more than one shedding religious tears of devotion and joy. There were present, besides the priests, the Judge Inspector, chief of the pickets [troops who guard against a surprise attack], aide-de-camp, three other officers of the army corps, and at least a few more. . .
"He requested the Psalm 'Have mercy upon me O God,' which he read, pausing at each verse, to give him time to meditate. He also repeated some prayers which he remembered entirely, from among those which he had repeated years before in the Ateneo. He prayed with the rosary, going over the beads slowly, closing or lowering his eyes. He read [Thomas] á Kempis awhile. At three, Father Balaguer performed mass, and again [Rizal] confessed briefly, (the fourth time) and attended mass. For a time he was giving thanks before the altar, on his knees nearly all the time, so that somebody had to tell him to sit down. Before this, following his request, the sky-blue escapulary (= scapular) of the Immaculate Virgin had been put on him, and he had been received into the Fraternity of Animas. He counted the hours which remained for him to live, and declared that a special providence of God had put him to death, because if it had not been so, he would not have had the shining assistance he was now receiving.
"At five in the morning he had breakfast with the senior officers; and soon the English Josephine entered, accompanied by a sister of Rizal, to be married as had been arranged. They were married by Father Balaguer with the brief formula approved by the Prelate, and the newly married ones separated forever. . . This occurred only fifteen minutes before the condemned man left the chapel for his execution. . . Before leaving the chapel he exclaimed: 'Oh, Jesus, now how I have changed. I am not the same Rizal as before. No, no, I am another Rizal.'"
These are all the essential elements of the narratives of the two Spanish priests, Father Pio Pi and Father Balaguer. Filipino students of Rizal deny that he was suddenly converted by a "threat" of "damnation." Father Balaguer in his affidavit calls it a "miracle". (18) It would indeed have meant an amazing change in Rizal's nature. The Rizal of iron will, who had argued over doctrines almost daily for four years in Dapitan and had been threatened with damnation by Father Pastells, would not have withered and wept at a threat, as he did the evening of that day. This was indeed a "different Rizal".
Before that change took place Rizal could not have declared that Masonry was good, and then "after a few objections" to have written "I abominate Masonry". The man who did that from fear of hell was "another Rizal." All his fight was gone. That iron will had crumbled. This was not the man who had written two letters, "To be opened after my death", or the man who had resisted the appeals of friends to escape. If he became frightened and cried, then what Father Balaguer tells us Rizal said the next morning was also true: "I am not the same Rizal as before. No, no I am another Rizal."
Some people resort to the theory which Dr. Pardo de Tavara often presented to his friends. Every convicted man, thought Dr. Tavera, the night before his execution becomes psychopathic and should not be held accountable for what he does. Tavera believed that it was possible that after the terrific suffering he had endured while in Europe, after the four years of mental torture which had been inflicted upon him in Dapitan, and under the relentless mental third degree which the Jesuits say they administered from dawn to darkness the last day, Rizal's reason might have tottered. It would then be a question, thought Dr. Tavera, not of Rizal having changed his mind, but of his having lost his mind. The judgments of his mature mind might have faded from his memory, and he might have reverted to the beliefs of his childhood. His subconscious mind might perhaps have played the trick upon him which is seen in every psychopathic hospital, where minds escape intolerable trouble by dethroning reason. Before morning, Father Pio Pi, it will be recalled, says they had to tell Rizal when to get off his knees and sit down! Dr. Tavera's theory fits the story of Father Balaguer.
The trouble with it is that it does not fit the evidence other than that of priests. Fiscal Castaño (19) saw Rizal between nine and ten in the evening. Rizal 'seemed tranquil and master of himself," acted with "amiable urbanity" and talked with "jovial courtesy".
The following morning, while all the world looked on, Rizal walked coolly and with perfect self-control before the firing squad, calmly telling the Captain how he wanted to be shot, his enemies amazed at the heroism of the man, the same courageous Rizal he had been all his life. What we know then is like the rest of his life, and it gives the lie to the story of Father Balaguer that Rizal crumbled and cried at a threat of Hell. It seems to many people today that Father Balaguer did what Spanish friars did in his day, framed a story so as to discredit a Filipino, and incidentally to give himself, a Spaniard, credit for a marvelous conversion. Even though further research should prove that the retraction is authentic, Father Balaguer's tale as to how it happened would remain as incredible as it was childish, fabricated to delight the enemies of Rizal.
There are great gaps in our knowledge, and we have records only of what Rizal's enemies wanted to tell. While the Spanish Jesuits desired to save his soul, they did not ask for his pardon.
Other much more creditable reasons for a retraction have often been named. For example, Rizal, even though he for a time suspected Josephine as a spy, seems to have become convinced that she now loved him, and he may have desired to give her a legal status in the eyes of the church, and so provide for her future. Father Balaguer says that as Josephine left Fort Santiago the morning of the execution, "Rizal gave his wife advice, speaking in English, as to how she could make a living in a godly manner, and asked that the Fathers might help her in any way possible." (20)
Rizal may have been told that he faced the dilemma of signing the retraction or of having his relatives pursued by further persecutions. Since he hoped his death would stop the persecution of his relatives, the retraction may have seemed to him to be the only way of achieving that purpose.
More than once his sisters had written him to make peace with the friars and settle down quietly to his profession as a physician. They had suffered terribly on his account. Should they suffer after his death? Would a retraction stop their persecution? (21)
Or (what seems to us most probable of all, if Rizal did write the retraction) he may have thought along these lines:
"I am dying for my country and my neighbors and relatives, dying so that a sense of shame may come over Spain, and she may reform. Spain knows I have no real political guilt and never had. Nevertheless, if I die outside the church, the friars will cry that the heretic deserved what he received. If, on the other hand, I die within the church, the entire Spanish population will see that I made peace with the church, and since they know that I was not a traitor to Spain, they will see that they put an innocent man to death. The Jesuits will become my defenders to the end of time. With the sense of having done me a great wrong, multitudes of conscientious Spaniards will demand reforms in the corrupt Philippine government. In just this way an outrage against justice has time after time caused the pendulum to swing toward reform. So I will bless my country and my loved ones most by writing a brief retraction, and thus make the issue purely political." That would not be unworthy of Rizal. (22) He would have written the retraction, not because he was frightened, but in order to serve his country and his family.
Rizal did not desire to injure the Roman Catholic Church, but to remove the cancer which ruined both church and state in the Philippines -- friar control of land and domination by the government. He was also struggling for freedom of thought and of conscience to the individual. He was as devoutly religious as any priest, so much so that they were impressed at his "strange piety". He may have felt that, for his efforts to have lasting results, he would have to die within the church.
Some Rizalists insist that there was much said by the Jesuits which they never told the public. We do not have Rizal's side of the story, but only what Father Balaguer saw fit to make public. We are struck by the fact that all the conversation reported deals with doctrinal questions. Is this extremely improbable? Might we not have expected Father Balaguer to have said to Rizal:
"We Jesuits do not share the hatred the friars feel toward you and your family. If you die reconciled to the church, we will be able to protect your family from further persecution. If you die outside the church you tie our hands.
"We disapprove of the injustices on friar estates as much as you do, and are as anxious as you are for reforms in the Philippines. (The Jesuits had no haciendas.) We will strive to carry on the cause for which you are giving your life. But if you die outside the church, you will end your usefulness and paralyze our efforts.
"We cannot omit this retraction, for the Archbishop demands it, and will not come to terms without it. So let us see whether we cannot formulate a statement that you can honestly sign, and thus save your cause from perishing."
A statement like this would have had great weight with Rizal. But if Father Balaguer said something of this kind, he would not dare to report it publicly later.
But could Rizal have written, "I abominate Masonry"? If still possessed of his reason, he might have believed that, since Masonry was the cradle of the Katipunan which he opposed, and which was the immediate cause of his death -- he could write "abominate" for that reason.
He had written from Fort Santiago on December 16, "I condemn this savage and absurd insurrection -- I abominate its cruelties and disavow any kind of connection with it."
Could he have retracted any of his own works? He may have felt that much of his propaganda had produced the insurrection, and have repented of that. His letter to Paciano (see next chapter), written the night before his execution, corroborates that theory.
Rizal was a very profound man. Perhaps we might find a reason for his regretting much that he had written in his philosophy at the end of El Filibusterismo. Here Father Florentino says, "Hatred never creates anything but monsters. . . Only love is able to work miracles. . . Only virtue can save! . . . We must conquer by merit, by lifting up intelligence. . . by loving justice and goodness and greatness even to the point of dying for it. . ." Did Rizal feel that night, that in his propaganda he had at times sown hatred, and could he have meant that he retracted that type of propaganda? He was always over-conscientious about doing exactly right.
But could he have written of the Catholic Church: "I believe and profess what it teaches"? In "explaining" this to him, as Father Balaguer says he did explain each phrase, could the priest have said: "All of us believe what the church teaches, you do, we do. But many good Catholics do not believe all that it teaches. You will be honest if you write with that understanding"? Would Rizal have acceded to such sophistry? Hardly!
It had been suggested that Rizal may have written the word "Catholic" in the broad sense of the "Church Universal" as it is used by all branches of the Christian Church excepting the Roman Catholics. All churches repeat, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," in this broad sense.
So it is possible to conceive how Rizal, faced with an inescapable dilemma, may have written a retraction (1) to save his family and town from further persecution, (2) to give Josephine a legal status as his wife, (3) to secure reforms from the Spanish government, and (4) to help the church herself to cut away the disease which harmed her. These four reasons would have been worthy of his character and mentality.
It is possible, but it is not like Rizal. "Mental reservations," seeming to others to say what he did not believe, would have meant a lowering of standards for the most honorable man that ever trod of Philippines. He may have been driven by terrible necessity to practice sophistry but if so, that would be more bitter and tragic than death itself. We shall never know what mental anguish this great soul endured in his Gethsemane, as they tried to compel him to drown his very reason and violate his life principles.
If, therefore, Rizal signed a retraction, Father Balaguer's "fright" story is incredible, and there are other possible reasons that are neither incredible nor discreditable to Rizal.
But these are all conjectures which would arise if it were proven that Rizal did retract. The unanswered question is: Was there any retraction? A bitter dispute has been waged from 1896 to the present day over this highly controversial question. Professor Padilla of the University of the Philippines states the position of many and perhaps most educated Filipinos in this succinct way: (23)
"Briefly then the picture presented before us is that of Dr. Rizal, the man, the scientist, and rationalist, who wrote vigorously against the Catholic Church, and who ridiculed the idea of hell. A few hours before his execution, when threatened with eternal damnation, he became suddenly 'distributed' and cried like a child, 'No, no, I would not be condemned.' Assured by Father Balaguer that he would certainly go to hell if he did not retract and return to the Catholic Church, the fear became greater, his reason capitulated to faith, and he exclaimed: 'Well Father, I promise that the remainder of my lifetime I will employ asking God for the grace of faith'. Whereupon he signed a retraction in which he disowned all that he ever said and wrote against the church, and abominated Masonry. . . This picture is too much for one's credulity. Too many of the supposed facts brought out in the way of evidence, when pieced together, do not seem to fit psychologically into the picture."
Let us examine the proofs on both sides of the question.
As first hand evidence for the retraction we now have four sworn statements: Fathers Balaguer and Visa swore that they saw the retraction signed. Father Pio Pi swore that he received it from Father Balaguer in the Ateneo, (24) and a Colonel if the Infantry, R. Sominguez, swore on May 30, 1918, that he had seen Rizal kneel at the altar of the Fort Chapel and read the retraction "with voice clear and serene." Dominguez then quoted the retraction without a single error, twenty-two years after the event! He certainly copied this retraction, for he could not have remembered it, which fact, as Pascual insists, leaves one in doubt as to how much more he copied. Many of his sentences are exact duplicates of other records. (25)
Another affidavit is often presented as circumstantial evidence. The Fiscal, Don Gaspar Castaño, visited Rizal between nine and ten the evening before the execution, and tells us that as he departed, Rizal "with jovial courtesy expressed his regret that he could not ask me to come again. . ." I said, 'Rizal, you passionately love your mother and your country, both of which are Catholic. Do not cause them the great pain of dying outside the true religion.' He answered in a tone of great solemnity, looking toward the altar, using this phrase which I well remember, 'Mr. Fiscal, you may be sure I will not close the doors of eternity.' (26)
The most important evidence is the retraction itself, which was found on May 18, 1935, by Father Manuel Garcia. It had been wrapped up with retractions made by other men of the same period. In the same package was a prayer book ending with "Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity", under which appears the signature of José Rizal. These "Acts" cover the doctrines of the church much more fully than does the retraction. If the retraction and the signature are found to be genuine, then the fact of the retraction will be settled, though Father Balaguer's story will remain incredible.
Let us now consider the evidence against the retraction. Several exceedingly stupid blunders were made if the retraction is authentic, so stupid that they seem to point to fraud. Rizal's relatives were promised that the retraction would be read to them in Paco church, but they never heard it. That caused doubt. The newspapers published different versions. That caused doubt.
Then came the well-nigh incredible report that it had been lost! Nobody could believe it! After four years of effort to convert Rizal had been crowned with success, after the orders had all prayed with penances and mortification, the retraction, the most precious document the church possessed in the Philippines, ought to have been guarded as nothing else. Yet it had disappeared! Father Balaguer swears under oath (in 1917) that he took it to the Ateneo before Rizal was led out to be shot, and that Father Pio Pi carried it to the Palace of Archbishop Nozaleda, entrusting it to Secretary Gonzalez Feijoo, who deposited it in the chest for reserved papers. There all trace of it was lost. Father Pio Pi said they looked for it and could not find it. (27) That caused doubt.
For thirty-nine years, millions of Filipinos, whether Catholic or not, denied that such a paper existed. Then the retraction was found in the very files where it had formerly been sought in vain. That fact caused doubt. Why had it been missing thirty-nine years? Asked the incredulous Filipinos.
The Archbishop permitted Ricardo R. Pascual, Ph.D. to examine the retraction, and give him a good photostat of it. (28) Pascual wrote a devastating book called "Rizal Beyond the Grave" in which he seems to show by minute measurements that the retraction diverges from the style of Rizal's other writings of that period, and he concludes that the paper was a forgery. Pascual points out that both signatures of the "witnesses" were signed by the same man, and they do indeed look alike. Pascual's book caused doubt. Until world experts on handwriting give their judgment, suspicion will continue. Perhaps even with such scientific judgment, people would believe or doubt the document according to their prejudices, for it is difficult to be dispassionate.
Unfortunately for the historian there was more blundering, which has led many writers into uncertainty, concerning the marriage of Rizal. Father Balaguer swears that he married José and Josephine about fifteen minutes before the time for the execution. But the marriage record could not be found in the Manila Cathedral nor in the Registry of Fort Santiago where it ought to have been place. This raised doubt. Rizal's sister Lucia, who went with Josephine to the chapel that morning, saw a priest in vestments, but said she did not see the ceremony. One fact supports the marriage statement. Rizal wrote in a copy of The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis, these words: "To my dear and unhappy wife, Dec. 30, 1896."
The obvious answer might be that Rizal had regarded Josephine as his wife since they first held hands in Dapitan a year and a half before, -- but in no letter now available did he call her "wife" before this time. (29) Or the writing may be forged.
The strongest circumstantial evidence for the wedding comes from Rizal's sister Maria. When she went to say farewell the last night, José said to her:
"Maria, I am going to marry Josephine. I know you all oppose it, especially you, yourself. But I want to give Josephine a name. Besides you know the verse in the Bible, 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children to the third and forth generation.' I do not want them to persecute you or her for what I have done." (30)
There were three more blunders, which produced doubts. Rizal was not buried where persons in good ecclesiastical standing are buried in Paco Cemetery, but "in unconsecrated ground" between the outer and inner wall where Father Burgos had been buried after his execution. (31) This raises doubt. Then he was not buried in a coffin or box of any kind. This raises doubt.
Burial Record. Note page number, although with a December date.
The record of his ecclesiastical burial is not on the page (147) where persons who died in December, 1896, were recorded, but on page 204, where persons buried ten months later, in September, 1897, were recorded. His name seems to have been written ten months after he was buried. This raised doubt. Pascual's theory is that they buried Rizal as an unrepentant criminal, and then had to frame a case later to fit the retraction.
Was there ever such blundering with important circumstantial evidence?
Doubt has also been raised by the fact that neither the Archbishop nor the Jesuits asked for pardon or mitigation of the sentence. Only his family begged for mercy. (32)
The strongest argument was the character of Rizal. It was but a few months before that he had rejected Father Sanchez' offer of a professorship, a hundred thousand pesos, and an estate if he would retract; and he had declared that he could not be bought for half the Philippines.
That sounds like Rizal, as every one of his old friends will testify. He was not only incorruptible, but very angry at the least suggestion that he might be bribed. That character speaks so loud against the retraction that all of Rizal's old friends believe he could not have written it. They look at the writing and say, "Yes, that is his handwriting, but then Mariano Ponce and Antonio Lopez and many others could write exactly like Rizal. A good forgery is meant to deceive."
The question, "Did Rizal retract?" rests upon the genuineness, or otherwise, of the supposed retraction. The Archbishop should settle this question, or at least attempt to settle it, by permitting the document to be submitted to the greatest handwriting experts in the world, preferably to several of them working independently. He should permit the paper and ink to be subjected to the best tests of modern science. Since Father Balaguer has told us an incredible story, nothing is certain.
The most painstaking analysis which has thus
far been made is that of Pascual, and he pronounces the document to be a
forgery. Under these circumstances the Church must shoulder the burden of
proof that it is not. Everybody, it would seem, would like to have this
question settled convincingly.