Rizal's Retraction: A Note on the Debate

by Dr. Eugene A. Hessel.


Note:  This was originally published in The Silliman Journal (Vol. 12, No. 2, April, May, June, 1965), pages 168-183.

Permission has been given by Silliman University and by the author, Dr. Hessel, to reproduce the document on this site.


Originally this was a lecture given at Silliman University, February 15, 1965.  Dr. Eugene A Hessel was once a Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, Dasmariñas, Cavite.




Eugene A. Hessel

This is a debate in which this lecturer hesitates to take part.  For one thing, I believe there are aspects in the life and thought of Dr. José Rizal which are of far greater significance.   I have already expressed this view in my book The Religious Thought of José Rizal, (01) and I shall have more to say about it in the concluding part of this lecture.  It is most unfortunate that some people speak and write about the Retraction without really knowing what Rizal did or did not retract, i.e., not sufficient attention has been given to the mature, quite uniform and systematic religious thought of Dr. Rizal.  Only when this has been done first can one evaluate the meaningfulness of the Retraction.  For some people to retract would mean little, for they have so little to retract.  This was not so of Rizal, and I have tried to make this clear in my previous lectures and writing.  It is the life and thought of Rizal during his mature years which are of primary interest to me, and not what happened during the last day of his life.

Another reason I hesitate to enter the “debate” is that some of the protagonists have generated more heat than light.  There has been a great deal of “argumentum ad hominem,” i.e., vitriolic attacks upon opponents in the debate.  I do not wish to engage in such.  I have respect for a number of Roman Catholic defenders of the Retraction.  I treasure a letter received recently from one who has written four books defending it.  He says, after reading my book, “I wish to congratulate you for your . . . impartial appraisal of the man [Dr. Rizal].”  Father Manuel A. Garcia, the discoverer of the Retraction Document, has been most gracious in personally helping me with my research.

Recently, however, I have been looking into the question of the Retraction with some interest and I intend to continue my research.  I find that there are four common attitudes toward the “Retraction” and its bearing on the life and character of Dr. Rizal:

1. There are those who insist that the Rizal to be remembered and honored is the “converted” Rizal.  This is the official Roman Catholic position.  In the only “official” book dealing with all aspects of the Retraction (“official” in the sense that it bears the Imprimatur of Archbishop Santos), Rizal’s Unfading Glory, Father Cavanna says in the Preface:

Rizal’s glory as a scholar, as a poet, as a scientist, as a patriot, as a hero, may some day fade away, as all worldly glories, earlier or later do.  But his glory of having found at the hour of his death what unfortunately he lost for a time, the Truth, the Way, and the Life, that will ever be his UNFADING GLORY. (02)

This same sentiment is echoed in the statement issued by the Catholic Welfare Organization in 1956 and signed by the Archbishop with regard to the Noli and the Fili:

. . .  We have to imitate him [Rizal] precisely in what he did when he was about to crown the whole work of his life by sealing it with his blood; we ought to withdraw, as he courageously did in the hour of his supreme sacrifice, “whatever in his works, writings, publications, and conduct had been contrary to his status as a son of the Catholic Church.

2. There are those who have argued that Rizal throughout his mature life was a “free thinker and unbeliever”; thus the Retraction is of necessity a lie.  This is the extreme opposite of the Roman Catholic position.  My previous writing has tried to demonstrate that the major premise on which this thesis is based is not true.

3. A third implied view may be summarized as follows: the Rizal that matters is the pre-Retraction Rizal; therefore one can ignore the Retraction.  The fundamental assumption here is held by many students and admirers of Rizal, including myself, but the conclusion does not necessarily follow.  This brings us to the fourth possible attitude towards the Retraction.

4. Scholarly investigation of all facets of Rizal’s life and thought is desirable.  In the interest of truth, the truth to which Rizal gave such passionate devotion, we have every right, and also an obligation, to seek to know the facts with regard to the Retraction.  If scholarly research continues, fancy may yet become acknowledged fact.

Before we proceed further it would be well to say something about bibliography and method.  More than twenty books and pamphlets, in addition to numerous articles have been surveyed in the course of this study.  A number of writings on the Retraction merely repeat the arguments of earlier ones and add nothing new.  Others are more sarcastic and sentimental than enlightening.  But something of value has been gained from almost all of them.  The literature belongs to two general categories: biography, and works dealing specifically with the Retraction.  Among the biographers, Guerrero, (03) Laubach, (04) and Palma (05) have given the most adequate treatment of the Retraction, the first accepting it and the other two rejecting it.  Of works dealing specifically with the Retraction, the most objective, scholarly and complete are those by Pascual, (06) arguing against the Retraction, and Father Cavanna (07) in its favor.  As an almost complete compendium of information and arguments pro and con there is no book to date which is the equal of that of Father Cavanna.  The second edition has 353 pages of text, appendices, and bibliographical entries totaling some 123 items.  (A new edition just off the press is enlarged further but could not be utilized.  Incidentally, Father Cavanna draws heavily upon the documents and information supplied by Father Manuel A. Garcia.)  Amongst other writers consulted, special indebtedness to Collas, (08) Ricardo Garcia, (09) and Runes and Buenafe (10) should be mentioned.  Garcia is a prolific popular writer in defense of the Retraction; the other two oppose it.  All tend to chiefly summarize what has previously argued although Runes introduces several new arguments which will be examined in due course.  Much research time has been spent in running down various versions of the Retraction Document appearing in books, articles, newspapers, etc. in writing letters to clarify or verify certain points, and in conferring with individuals.  Unfortunately, many documents were destroyed during the war.

The story of the Retraction has been told and retold.  Various newspaper reports of the last hours of Rizal were published on Dec. 30, 1896 or the days shortly thereafter.  However, the first detailed account came out in a series of anonymous articles in the Barcelona magazine, “La Juventud,” issues of January 15 and 31 and Feb. 14, 1897, republished some months later in a booklet entitled La Masonización de Filipinas -- Rizal y su Obra.  Some thirteen years later, Father Vicente Balaguer, S.J., the Jesuit priest who claimed to have secured Rizal’s Retraction, asserted that this account was his work which he originally wrote “that very same night of December 29, 1896. (11) Subsequently, on August 8, 1917, Father Balaguer repeated his story in a notarial act sworn to by him in Murcia, Spain.  The only detailed account is that by Father Pio Pi Y Vidal, S. J., Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines in 1896, who published in Manila in 1909 La Muerte Cristiana del Doctor Rizal and confirmed his account in a Notarial Act signed in Barcelona, April 7, 1917.  In brief, the Jesuit account is this: On the 28th of December (the very day Governor General Polaviéja ordered the death sentence) Archbishop Nozaleda commissioned the Jesuits to the spiritual care of Rizal, indicating that it would probably be necessary to demand a retraction and suggesting that both he and Father Pi would prepare “formulas.”  Thus, about 7:00 a.m. of the 29th, two of the Jesuits arrived at the temporary chapel where Rizal was to spend his last 24 hours.  During this day various Jesuits came in and out together with other visitors, including members of his own family.  Rizal also took time to write letters.  Arguments with Rizal, with Father Balaguer taking the leading part, continued until dusk, by which time, according to the Father’s account, (12) Rizal was already asking for the formula of retraction.  That night Rizal wrote out a retraction based on the formula of Father Pi and signed it about 11:30 p.m.  The Retraction contains two significant points: (1) the rejection of Masonry (“I abominate Masonry”) and (2) a repudiation of “anything in my words, writings, publications, and conduct that has been contrary to my character as a son of the Catholic Church,” together with the statement “I believe and profess what it teaches and I submit to what it demands.”  During the night there followed, according to the Jesuit accounts, several Confessions (some say five), several hearings of Mass, a number of devotional acts, the asking for and signing of devotional booklets intended for various members of his family, and finally at 6:00 a.m. or thereabouts, some fifteen minutes before he was marched out of Fort Santiago to his execution, a marriage ceremony performed by Father Balaguer for Rizal and Josephine Bracken.  So much for the story in outline.  Details, including the text of the Retraction, will be presented and discussed later.

Before assessing the validity of the account a brief word should be said about the history of the controversy concerning the Retraction.  One way to arrive quickly at an overall view of the course of the debate is to read the titles and dates of pamphlets and books dealing with the subject such as are contained in any good bibliography of Rizal.  A seemingly accurate description of the history of the struggle in convenient form is found in Part II of Cavanna’s book which reports the various attacks down to the publication in 1949 of Ozaeta’s translation of Palma’s biography of Rizal.  Cavanna seeks to answer the various arguments against the Retraction, and in doing so makes reference to the chief works defending it.  The first stage of the Debate lasted for some twelve years after Rizal’s death, and at least overtly was wholly one-sided.  Cavanna aptly calls this period one of “Concealed Attacks.”  The newspapers published the reports given to them presumably by the Jesuits.  Within the first year the Jesuits published a quite complete story, for the time being anonymous in authorship.  In successive years other books and booklets were devoted in whole or in part to repeating the same story, culminating in the famous full length biography in Spanish by Wenceslao Retana who incorporates the Jesuit account.  Yet even in the early years of this first period there were a few small voices raised in objection, quite surprising since a totalitarian regime combining Church and State was in control.  Cavanna himself lists a leaflet dated Manila, December 31, 1896 and several letters questioning the retraction. (13)  Their main point, stated or implied, is that the Retraction is not in keeping with the character of Rizal.  It is of interest that at the end of the period, just a year after the publication of his own biography of Rizal, Retana has something similar to say in an article dated Dec. 29, 1908.  Although still not denying the retraction, he adds:

. . . The fact is that influenced by a series of phenomena, or what is the same, of abnormal circumstances, Rizal subscribed that document, which has been so much talked about, and which no one has seen . . .  The conversion of Rizal . . .  was a romantic concession of the poet, it was not a meditated concession of the philosopher. (14)

We may accept Cavanna’s dating of the second period as covering from 1908-1935.  This is the time of vigorous open attacks, many of them by Masons.  Ever since, somewhat unfortunately, an active battle has been waged between Roman Catholic and Masonic protagonists.  Early in the period, in 1909 to be exact, Father Pi published his booklet La Muerte Cristiana del Doctor Rizal.  This was answered three years later in a long article by Hermenegildo Cruz in which several arguments often repeated subsequently were presented, chief of them being: Where is the Retraction Document?  The debate drew forth in 1920 the most serious Roman Catholic answer until recent times, namely Father Gonzalo Ma. Piñana’s Murio el Doctor Rizal Cristianamente? Which is chiefly significant because it reports a series of notarized accounts made in the years 1917-1918 by the chief “witnesses.”  The period seemingly closes with victory for the defenders of the Retraction, for after many challenges to show the actual Document of Retraction on May 18, 1935 it was “discovered” by Father Manuel A. Garcia, C.M., while he was archdiocesan archivist [and] was busily sorting through a pile of documents [so] that they might be arranged in orderly fashion in their new fireproof vault.  On June 16th the news was released by The Philippine Herald.

I would date the last period of the Debate from 1935 until the present.  This is the time when, in the light of the Retraction Document discovery, major and minor works have been written on the subject of Rizal’s life and thought as a whole and on the Retraction in particular.  This leads us naturally to an assessment of the chief arguments pro and con which have been raised over the years and systematically dealt with in the last thirty years.

As one examines the issues brought forth in the debate, a tabulation of the chief ones raised since 1935 (the year of the discovery of the alleged Retraction Document) indicates that a sort of impasse has been reached.  Similar points are now made over and over again.  In what follows I shall not devote myself to presenting detailed answers to detailed arguments.  This has been done in book after book.  Furthermore, as any college debater or trial lawyer knows, it is possible to present an objection to almost any statement, and the effect so far as the audience is concerned is often the result of a subtle turn of phrase or an appeal to a bit of loyalty or sentiment.  Rather, we shall be concerned with the thrust of certain main positions which taken individually and in their accumulative significance serve to swing the weight of unbiased conviction from one side to the other.  Finally, we shall offer some suggestions for escaping from the present stalemated debate.

What, then, are the major arguments for the Retraction?  Although the arguments had been presented by others before him, Father Cavanna (15) gives a well organized summary which is adopted by most subsequent defenders.  The points which follow are based on Cavanna with some minor modifications:

1.  Since the discovery in 1935, the Retraction “Document” is considered the chief witness to the reality of the Retraction, itself.  In fact, since then, by words or implication, the defenders have said: “the burden of proof now rests with those who question the Retraction.”

2.  The testimony of the press at the time of the event, of “eye-witnesses,” and other “qualified witnesses,” i.e. those closely associated with the events such as the head of the Jesuit order, the archbishop, etc.

3.  “Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity” reportedly recited and signed by Dr. Rizal as attested by “witnesses” and a signed Prayer Book.  This is very strong testimony if true, for Rizal was giving assent to Roman Catholic teaching not in a general way as in the case of the Retraction statement but specifically to a number of beliefs which he had previously repudiated.  According to the testimony of Father Balaguer, following the signing of the Retraction a prayer book was offered to Rizal.  “He took the prayer book, read slowly those acts, accepted them, took the pen and saying ‘Credo’ (I believe) he signed the acts with his name in the book itself.” (16) What was it Rizal signed?  It is worth quoting in detail the “Act of Faith.”

I believe in God the Father, I believe in God the Son, I believe in God the Holy Ghost, Three distinct Persons, and only One True God.  I believe that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity became Man, taking flesh in the most pure womb of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, arose again, ascended into Heaven, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead, to give glory to the just because they have kept his holy commandments, and eternal punishment to the wicked because they have  not kept them.  I believe that the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ are really present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.  I believe that the Blessed and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, was in the first moment of her natural life conceived without the stain of original sin.  I believe that the Roman Pontiff, Vicar of Jesus Christ, visible Head of the Church, is the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians; that he is infallible when he teaches doctrines of faith and morals to be observed by the universal Church, and that his definitions are in themselves binding and immutable; and I believe all that the Holy, Roman Catholic, and Apostolic Church believes and teaches, since God who can neither deceive nor be deceived, has so revealed it; and in this faith I wish to live and die.

The signed Prayer Book was amongst the documents discovered by Father Garcia along with the Retraction.

4.  Acts of Piety performed by Rizal during his last hours as testified to by “witnesses.”

5.  His “Roman Catholic Marriage” to Josephine Bracken as attested to by “witnesses.”  There could be no marriage without a retraction.

These arguments are impressive.  Many think of them, as Cavanna does, as “irrefutable facts.”  But to call them “facts” is to prejudge the case or to misuse the word.  That a Retraction Document was discovered in 1935 is probably a fact but that is a document actually prepared and signed by Rizal is the question at issue.  AS we shall soon see, many opponents of the Retraction use the Document as their chief argument.  So also, there is a signed Prayer Book.  But a number have asked, is this really Rizal’s signature?  Granted, for sake of argument, that it is, what is the significance of a mere signature apart from the testimony of Father Balaguer as to why Rizal signed?

What about the testimony of the “witnesses?”  We may dismiss the newspaper reports as being less significant though of corroborative value.  Their news was secured from others.  One reporter got into the chapel during part of the twenty-four hours.  He states that “studies, frolics of infancy, and boys’ stories, were the subject of our chat.” (17) As for the actual eye witnesses, some eight testified to having seen one or more of the acts mentioned above.  Only three testify to having seen the signing of the Retraction.  The major witnesses are priests or government officials at a time when Church and State worked hand in hand.  The bulk of the testimony comes from notarized statements in 1917 or later.  Having made these remarks, it is none the less true that the testimony is impressive.  It cannot be dismissed, as some have tried to do, with a few sarcastic comments.  The argument from testimony as well as the arguments as a whole can be better judged only after weighing this evidence over against the arguments rejecting the Retraction.

What is the case against the Retraction?

1.  The Retraction Document is said to be a forgery.  As we have noted, the Document plays a significant part on both sides of the debate.  There are four prongs to the case against the document itself.

a.   First of all there is the matter of the handwriting.  To date the only detailed, scientific study leading to an attack upon the genuineness of the document is that made by Dr. Ricardo R. Pascual of the University of the Philippines shortly after the document was found, a study which he incorporated in his book Rizal Beyond the Grave.  Taking as his “standard” some half dozen unquestioned writings of Rizal dating from the last half of December 1896, he notes a number of variations with the handwriting of the Retraction Document, the following being the most significant ones according to the present lecturer: (1) the slant of the letters in the standard writings gives averages several points higher than the average yielded by the Retraction Document, and perhaps more significantly, the most slanted letters are to be found in the Document; (2) there are significant variations in the way individual letters are formed; (3) with reference to the signature, Pascual notes no less than seven differences, one of the most significant being indications of “stops” which, says the critic, are most naturally explained by the fact that a forger might stop at certain points to determine what form to make next; (4) there are marked similarities in several respects between the body of the Retraction and the writing of all three signers, i.e. Rizal and the two witnesses, thus serving to point to Pascual’s conclusion that this is a “one-man document.”

The only scholarly answer to Pascual is that given by Dr. José I. Del Rosario as part of the thesis which he prepared for his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Sto. Tomas, 1937, although most of the details are the result of a later study which Father Cavanna asked him to specifically prepare. (18) Dr. del Rosario’s main criticism may be said to be that Pascual does not include enough of Rizal’s writings by way of comparison.  On the basis of a larger selection of standards he is able to challenge a number of Pascual’s statements although this lecturer has noted mistakes in del Rosario’s own data.  Dr. del Rosario’s conclusion is that the hand-writing is genuine.



Me declare católico y en esta Religion en que nací y me eduqué quiero vivir y morir.

Me retracto de todo corazon de cuanto en mis palabras, escritos, impresos y conducta ha habido contrario á mi cualidad de hijo de la Iglesia Católica.  Creo y profeso cuanto ella enseña y me someto á cuarto ella manda.  Abomino de la Masoneria, como enemiga que es de la Iglesia, y como sociedad prohibida por la Iglesia.  Puede el Parelado Diocesano, como Autoridad Superior Eclesiástica hacer pública esta manifestación espontánea mia para reparar el escándalo que mis actos hayan podido causar y para que Dios y los hombres me perdonen.

                                José Rizal

El Jefe del Piquete      El ayudante uplaze

Juan del Fresno          Eloy Moure


* Based on a photostat of the Retraction in the files of Rev. Manuel A. Garcia, C.M.   seen by this lecturer.



Me declare católico y en esta religión en que nací y me eduqué quiero vivir y morir.  Me retracto de todo corazon de cuanto en mis palabras, escritos, impresos y conducta ha habido contrario a mi cualidad de hijo de la Iglesia.  Creo y profeso cuanto ella enseña; y me someto á cuarto ella manda.  Abomino de la Masonería, como enemiga que es de la Iglesia, y como Sociedad prohibida por la misma Iglesia.  Puede el Parelado diocesano, como Autoridad superior eclesiástica, hacer pública esta manifestación, espontánea mía para reparar el escándalo que mis actos hayan podido causar y para que Dios y los hombres me perdonen.


Manila, 29 de Deciembre de 1896.


Esta… retractación la firmaron con el Dr. Rizal, el Sr. Fresno Jefe del Piquete y el señor Moure, Ayudantede la Plaza.


* Cf. Gonazlo Ma. Piñana, Murió el Doctor Rizal Cristianamente?  (Barcelona: Editorial Barcelonesa, S.A., 1920), p. 155


b.   A second prong directed against the authenticity of the document itself is based on the principles of textual criticism.  Several critics, beginning so far as I know with Pascual, have noted differences between the text of the document found in 1935 and other versions of the Retraction including the one issued by Father Balaguer. (19) Since this kind of criticism is related to my work in Biblical studies I am now engaged in a major textual study of my own which consists first of all in gathering together all available forms of the text.  To date, it is clear from my own studies that at least from the morning of December 30, 1896 there have been, discounting numerous minor variations, two distinct forms of the text with significant differences.  The one form is represented by the Document discovered in 1935 and certain other early records of the Retraction.  Two phrases in particular are to be noted: in line 6, “Iglesia Catolica,” and in line 10 “la Iglesia.”  The other form of the text is much more common beginning with the text of Balaguer published in 1897.  In place of “Iglesia Catolica” in line 6 there is the single word “Iglesia” and in place of “la Iglesia” there appears “la misma Iglesia.”  There also tend to be consistent differences between the two types of the text in the use of capital letters.  The second form also claims to be a true representation of the original.

The usual explanation of these differences is that either Father Balaguer or Father Pi made errors in preparing a copy of the original and these have been transmitted from this earliest copy to others.  Father Cavanna makes the ingenious suggestion that Father Balaguer made corrections in the “formula” which he supplied to Rizal according to the charges which he supplied to Rizal writing out his own, but he didn’t accurately note them all.  On the other hand, it would have seemed that the copy would have been carefully compared at the very moment or at some other early date before the “original” disappeared.  It is not surprising that some have wondered if the Retraction Document was fabricated from the “wrong” version of a retraction statement issued by the religious authorities.

c.    A third argument against the genuineness of the Retraction Document which also applies to the Retraction itself is that its content is in part strangely worded, e.g. in the Catholic Religion “I wish to live and die,” yet there was little time to live, and also Rizal’s claim that his retraction was “spontaneous.”

d.   Finally, there is the “confession” of “the forger.”  Only Runes has this story.  He and his co-author report an interview with a certain Antonio K. Abad who tells how on August 13, 1901 at a party at his ancestral home in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija (when Abad was fifteen) a certain Roman Roque told how he was employed by the Friars earlier that same year to make several copies of a retraction document.  This same Roque had been previously employed by Colonel Funston to forge the signature of the revolutionary General Lacuna on the document which led to the capture of Aguinaldo.  Runes also includes a letter dated November 10, 1936 from Lorenzo Ador Dionisio, former provincial secretary of Nueva Ecija, who was also present when Roque told his story and confirms it. (20)

On the basis of the above arguments taken as a whole it would seem that there is reasonable ground to at least question the Retraction Document.

(2) The second main line of argument against the Retraction is the claim that other acts and facts do not fit well with the story of the Retraction.  Those most often referred to by writers beginning with Hermengildo Cruz in 1912 are as follows:

a.   The document of Retraction was not made public until 1935.  Even members of the family did not see it.  It was said to be “lost.”

b.   No effort was made to save Rizal from the death penalty after his signing of the Retraction.

The usual rebuttal is that Rizal’s death was due to political factors and with this the religious authorities could not interfere.

c.    Rizal’s burial was kept secret; he was buried outside the inner wall of the Paco cemetery; and the record of his burial was not placed on the page for entries of Dec. 30th but on a special page where at least one other admitted non-penitent is recorded (perhaps others, the evidence is conflicting).

It is asked by the defenders of the Retraction, how else could an executed felon be treated?  Perhaps the ground outside the wall was sacred also or could have been specially consecrated.  To top the rebuttal, Rizal’s “Christian Burial Certificate” was discovered on May 18, 1935 in the very same file with the Retraction Document!  The penmanship is admitted by all to be by an amanuensis.  Whether the signature is genuine is open to question.

d.   There is no marriage certificate or public record of the marriage of Rizal with Josephine Bracken.  To say that these were not needed is not very convincing.

e.   Finally, Rizal’s behavior as a whole during his last days at Fort Santiago and during the last 24 hours in particular does not point to a conversion.  Whether written during the last 24 hours or somewhat earlier, Rizal’s Ultima [Ultimo] Adios does not suggest any change in Rizal’s thought.  The letters which Rizal wrote during his last hours do not indicate conversion or even religious turmoil.  In the evening Rizal’s mother and sister Trinidad arrive and nothing is said to them about the Retraction although Father Balaguer claims that even in the afternoon Rizal’s attitude was beginning to change and he was asking for the formula of retraction.  It is all well and good to point out that all the above happened prior to the actual retraction.  A question is still present in the minds of many.

(3) The third chief line of argument against the Retraction is that it is out of character.  This argument has been more persistently and consistently presented than any other.  Beginning with the anonymous leaflet of Dec. 31, 1896 it has been asserted or implied in every significant statement against the Retraction since that time.  It has seemed to many, including the present lecturer, that the Retraction is not in keeping with the character and faith of Rizal as well as inconsistent with his previous declarations of religious thought.

First let us look at the character of the man.  Rizal was mature.  Anyone acquainted with the facts of his life knows this is so.  Thirty-five is not exactly young and Rizal was far more mature than the average at this age.  It is not likely, then, that he would have been shocked into abnormal behavior by the threat of death.  He had anticipated for some time that the authorities would destroy him, and even the priests admit that during most of his last 24 hours Rizal manifested a type of behavior consistent with all that was previously exhibited during his mature years.  I worked closely with prisoners for some ten years and accompanied two of them to the scaffold.  Their behavior was restrained and consistent.  I would have expected Rizal’s to be the same.  Furthermore, in the deepest sense of the word Rizal was already a “believer.”  In my book and elsewhere I have argued strongly that Rizal was not a “free-thinker” in the usual sense of the word.  History is full of the unchallenged reports of real conversions, but the most significant meaning of true conversion is the change from unbelief to belief, not mere change of ideas.

Rizal’s conversion is also out of keeping with his mature religious thought.  It is not as though Rizal had been bowled over by confrontation with the new thought of Europe (and by antagonism towards religious authorities who had injured his family and who worked hand-in-hand with a restrictive colonial regime) but had never fully thought through his religious convictions.  As I have written elsewhere: “The fact that similar views are found from writing to writing of his mature years and that they made a quite consistent whole suggest that such theology as he had was fully his own . . . .” (21) Rizal had a consistent and meaningful system of Christian thought, and it is therefore harder to think of his suddenly exchanging it for another.

So much for the debate up to the present.  I have tried to state fairly the arguments, and it is perhaps evident on which side the lecturer stands.  Nonetheless, I do not feel that the question is settled.  What, then, remains to be done?  Is there a way out of the impasse?  Are there areas for further investigation?

(1) Let a new effort be made to keep personalities and institutional loyalties out of future discussion.  It is time for honest investigators to stop speaking of the “Protestant,” the “Masonic,” or the “Roman Catholic” view towards the Retraction.  Let the facts speak for themselves.

(2) Let the Retraction Document be subject to neutral, scientific analysis.  This suggestion is not new, but in view of the present state of the debate and appropriate to the approaching 30th year since its discovery it would be fitting to at last carry this out.  Furthermore, it would be an act of good faith on the part of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  If the document is genuine, those who favor the Retraction have nothing to lose; in either case the cause of Truth will gain.  I would suggest for this analysis a government bureau of investigation in some neutral country such as Switzerland or Sweden.

Should neutral experts claim that the Document discovered in 1935 is a forgery this of itself would not prove that Rizal did not retract.  But it would prompt further study.

(3) As a third step, then, to be undertaken only after a new evaluation of the Retraction Document, the Roman Catholic Hierarchy should feel bound to allow its other “documents” pertaining to Rizal’s case to be investigated, i.e. “the burial certificate,” the signature of the Prayer Book, and perhaps also certain other retraction documents found in the same bundle with that of Dr. Rizal’s.

(4) The story concerning the “forger” should be investigated further.

(5) If assurance can be given that the above steps are being undertaken then let there be a moratorium on further debate and greater attention given to the rest of Rizal’s life and thought, in particular to his mature religious faith and thought.  Let me close with the words of Senator José Diokno:

Surely whether Rizal died a Catholic or an apostate adds or detracts nothing from his greatness as a Filipino.  It is because of what he did and what he was that we revere Rizal. . .  Catholic or Mason, Rizal is still Rizal: the hero who courted death “to prove to those who deny our patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and our beliefs” . . . (22)


(01)   Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1961.

(02)   Jesus Ma. Cavanna y Manso, C. M. Rizal’s Unfading Glory, a Documentary History of the Conversion of Dr. José Rizal.  2nd. Ed. Rev. and improved (Manila: n. n. 1956), p. vi.  Subsequently referred to as “Cavanna.”

(03)   Leon Ma. Guerrero, The First Filipino (Manila: National Heroes Commission, 1963).  Subsequently referred to as “Guerrero.”

(04)   Frank C. Laubach, Rizal: Man and Martyr (Manila: Community Publishers, 1936).  Subsequently referred to as “Laubach.”

(05)   Rafael Palma, The Pride of the Malay Race. Translated Roman Ozaeta.  (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1949).  Subsequently referred to as “Palma.”

(06)   Ricardo R. Pascual, Rizal Beyond the Grave, Revised Edition (Manila: Luzon Publishing Corp., 1950).  Subsequently referred to as “Pascual.”

(07)   Jesus Ma. Cavanna y Manso, op cit. in footnote “1”.

(08)   Juan Collas, Rizal’s “Retractions” (Manila: n.n. 1960).  Mr. Collas was of great help in preparation of my book on Rizal’s religious thought.  He handles both Spanish and English with consummate skill and has opened up to many English readers much of Rizal’s thought by translating Rizal’s most important minor writings.

(09)   Ricardo P. Garcia, The Great Debate, The Rizal Retraction (Quezon City: R. P. Garcia Publishing Col, 1964).  Subsequently referred to as “Garcia.”  Starting with a little booklet in 1960, this former school principal turned publisher has since published three enlargements of his original attempt to answer a number of works written against the Retraction, including those by Palma, Collas, Juan Nabong, Judge Garduño, and Runes using as his defense chiefly Cavanna.

(10)   Ildefonso T. Runes and Mameto R. Buenafe, The Forgery of the Rizal “Retraction” and Josephine’s “Autobiography” (Manila: BR Book Col, 1962).  Subsequently referred to as “Runes.”

(11)   Cavanna, p. 24.

(12)   Ibid, p. 8. Cavanna has conveniently included in his book most of the pertinent Jesuits accounts.

(13)   Cavanna, pp. 144ff.

(14)   Ibid, p. 153.

(15)   Cavanna, pp. 1-108.

(16)   Cavanna, p. 54.  A Photostat of the Acts is found facing page 57 of Cavanna and the translated text on pp 57f.

(17)   Don Santiago Mataix, correspondent of the Heraldo de Madrid, quoted by Palma, p. 325.

(18)   Cavanna, pp. 176ff.

(19)   See accompanying page [inserted columns above] for the two “texts.”

(20)   Runes, pp. 107ff.  As a first check of my own on his evidence I wrote to a professor friend of mine whom I have known intimately for eighteen years.  Since he comes from the North I thought he might be able to make some comments on the persons involved. To my surprise I found that my friend is himself a native of San Isidro, knew personally all three men mentioned above, and vouched strongly for their respectability and truthfulness.  All had been civic officials.  My informant had not heard the above story nor read the book by Runes, but he knows the author personally and vouches for his “reliability and honesty.”

(21)   Eugene A. Hessel, The Religious Thought of José Rizal (Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1961), p. 255.

(22)   From the Preface to Garcia’s The Great Debate.  It is surprising and heartening that the senator would write this in a book defending the Retraction.

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The Life and of Dr. José Rizal
Dr. Robert L. Yoder