Statement of the Philippine Hierarchy

on the Novels of Dr. Jose Rizal

Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo

Among the many illustrious Filipinos who have distinguished themselves in the service of their country, the highest place of honor belongs to Dr. Jose Rizal.  And justly so; for Rizal possessed to an eminent degree those virtues which together make up true patriotism.  He loved his country not in word alone but in deed.  He devoted his time, his energies and the resources of his brilliant mind to dispelling the ignorance and apathy of his people, and combating the injustices and inequalities under which they labored.  When these salutary activities fell under the suspicion of the colonial government and he was condemned to death as a rebel, he generously offered his blood for the welfare of his country.

But although his  love for his country was great, it was not a blind, unreflecting love.  It was not the inordinate love which so often passes for patriotism, whereby one regards one’s native country as perfect beyond criticism, and attributes all its ills to the tyranny and greed of strangers.  Rizal’s balance of judgment saved him from this pernicious error.  He clearly saw and boldly proclaimed the fact that while the Filipino people suffered from colonial rule, they were as much the victims of their own vices and defects.  In dedicating his novel, Noli Me Tangere, to his beloved country, he addressed her as follows: Desiring  your health which is also ours, and seeking the  best means of  restoring it,  I shall do with you what the ancients did with their sick;  they brought them to the steps of the temple that all who came to invoke the god might stop to  suggest  a remedy…   I  shall  lift a portion of the bandage which  hides  the  disease,  sacrificing all to the truth, even my personal pride,  for us a son of yours I am not exempt from your defects and weaknesses.1 Thus, while Rizal was fearless in denouncing the evils of the colonial administration of his time, he was no less fearless in pointing out to his countrymen “our own mistakes, our own vices, our supine and culpable acquiescence to these evils.”2

It will not be out of place in this connection to suggest that the affectionate realism with which Rizal regarded his country and his people should characterize our own attitude towards Rizal himself.  The fact that he is our national hero by no means obliges us to approve of all that he said or did.  As one of our most illustrious senators said on the floor of the Senate a few days ago:  “I do not say that Rizal did not  make any mistake, did not commit any error in judgment or in the appreciation or in the presentation of facts or in the criticism which he had launched.  You can always find passages in his works that are perhaps objectionable.  And if I were to be given time and opportunity, to discuss page by page these different passages I could say that I will also differ from many statements which he made.”3 We believe that those who try to make Rizal out as a paragon of all virtues with no human failings do him a great disservice; for by departing so obviously from the truth, they only succeed in casting doubt on the very real and truly great qualities which he did possess. Let us therefore by all means honor Rizal, but for the right reasons:  first of all, for his unselfish devotion to his country, and secondly, for the depth of insight with which he examined and analyzed our national problems.  Rising above petty passions and prejudices, he disengaged from the concrete complexities of his time ideas regarding the function of government, the well being of society, the dignity of the individual, the necessity of popular education, the native traits and possibilities of the Filipino character, and the special mission and destiny of our nation under God; ideas which, because of their universal and timeless validity, are applicable even in our own times.  Would that our leaders of today and our people as a whole might put into practice more faithfully the patriotic teachings contained in the writings of our national hero! But men cannot put into practice teachings with which they have but slight acquaintance and which they do not thoroughly and rightly understand.  Hence We cannot but approve and applaud in principle the desire of many that the writings of Rizal be more widely circulated and read, and even introduced as reading matter in the public and private schools of the nation. We can think of no more effective means, after the formal teaching of religion, to develop in our youth a sane and constructive nationalism and the civic virtue, so necessary in our times of subordinating individual ambitions to the common good.
Nevertheless, in this our respect and esteem for Rizal and his work, we ought to follow the affectionate realism he taught us in the love he had for his country.  We need not be blind to his errors.  To err is human.  He had his human failings like the rest of us; and while he showed great wisdom and courage in returning to the true Faith before his death, we cannot ignore the fact that he did lapse from that faith.  The historic fact of his retraction shows that he himself, in conscience, in the face of death, did not approve of each and every one of his previous statements.

Some of Rizal’s most cogent insights into the political and social order are undoubtedly contained in his two novesl, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo .  Certainly our outstanding national hero wrote these books inspired by a most ardent love for our country whose “dear image presented itself showing a social cancer,”4 which he dared to expose in the hope of finding a remedy for it. We wish to make it clear that insofar as these novels give expression to our people’s desire for political freedom and a social order based on justice they are not at variance with the practical applications of Catholic doctrine to the exigencies of the social milieu as it existed at the time.  The Catholic Church in itself, as distinguished from the human and fallible individuals who compose it, is not, never has been, and never will be arrayed against the legitimate political and social aspirations of any people.  If it were, it should not be what it is called:  Catholic, that is universal.  Hence it follows that the clear and even forceful expression of such aspirations can never be injurious to the Catholic Church.  The aims and objectives of that Church, being supernatural, are also supranational; between them and national aims, provided these are in conformity with the principles of morality, no conflict is possible. Moreover, the same God who created nature, restored it by grace; to Him both the supernatural and the natural order owe their being; hence, as Pope Leo XIII says, “If we would judge rightly, the supernatural love of the Church and the natural love of country are twin loves sprung from the same eternal source, since the author and causes of both is God.  Whence it follows that there can be no conflict between these two duties.”5 We may even go further and assert that history has repeatedly exemplified that the Gospel,. which is the divine mission of the Church to preach and propagate, has for its proper effect to make the individual conscious of his dignity as an image of God and as one who is adopted by our heavenly Father as a filial participant in His own exalted nature.  Furthermore, it renders the citizen conscious of his rights and responsibilities within the society which gave him birth and of the freedom, both political and social which is necessary for the exercise of these rights and responsibilities.  Thus the Gospel of Christ contributes to the foundation of a true and solid basis for the development of a balanced, dignified and really forceful nationalism.  Pope Leo XIII made this clear in no uncertain terms two years after the publication of the Noli Me Tangere:
The  Church  does  not  condemn  the  desire that one’s nation  should  be free from foreign  or absolute rule, provided this  freedom  can  be  won  without  injustice.   Nor  does she reprehend those who wish to bring it about that states should be  governed  in  accordance  with  their  own  laws,  and  the citizens  be  granted  the  widest possible scope for increasing their  prosperity.   The  Church  has  always  shown herself a most faithful supporter of legitimate civil liberties.6

Now, according to Rizal himself, the object of his novels was to expose in terms of fictional narrative the actual evils which then afflicted Philippine society.7 This “social cancer” was, in his opinion, largely due to the decadent state of the religious order and to some practices of the Catholic religion. Hence the larger part of these novels is devoted to castigating dissedifying priests and to satirizing what he deemed to be supertitious observances and practices of the Church.

Did Rizal attack only the abuses of certain priets but never contradict Catholic doctrines?  No.  When in May 1889, Dr. Tavera told Rizal in Paris “that he (Tavera) tried to defend him (Rizal) before Fr. Faura explaining that, in the attack upon the friars, the stone was thrown so high and with such force that it reach religion,”  Rizal corrected him saying:  “This comparison is not quite exact; I wished to throw the missile against the friars; but as they used the ritual and superstitions of a religion as a shield, I had to get rid of that shield in order to wound the enemy that was hiding behind it.”8 The interpretation, then, of Dr. Tavera was not exact, according to Rizal himself.  He did attack the shield, that is, not only the superstitions which sometimes, due to ignorance, creep into religious practices, but the ritual itself of the Church, which are sacred acts of Catholic worship.  And he acknowledged this at the end when he wrote:  “I retract with all my heart whatever in my works, writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my status as a son of the Catholic Church.”9 Furthermore, there are passages in the two books where it is not anymore the novel’s characters but the author himself who speaks.  And among these passages, there are many which are derogatory to Catholic beliefs and practices as such, aside from the criticisms leveled upon unworthy priests.10

In these two novels we find passages against Catholic dogma and morals 11 where repeated attacks are made against the Catholic religion in general, against the possibility of miracles, against the doctrine of Purgatory, against the Sacrament of Baptism, against Confession, Communion, Holy Mass, against the doctrine of Indulgences, Church prayers, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, sermons, sacramentals and books of piety.  There are even passages casting doubts on or covering with confusion God’s omnipotence, the existence of hell, the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, and the two natures of Christ.

Similarly, we find passages which disparage divine worship ,12 especially the veneration of images and relics, devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, the use of scapulars, cords and habits, the praying of rosaries, novenas, ejaculations and indulgenced prayers.  Even vocal prayers are included, such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Doxology, the Act of Contrition, and the Angelus, Mass ceremonies, baptismal and exsequial rites, worship of the Cross, the use of holy water and candles, processions, bells and even the Sacred Sunday obligations do not escape scorn.

We also find passages that make light of ecclesiastical discipline ,13 especially in what concerns stole fees, alms to the Church, alms in suffrages for the dead, authority of the Pope, excommunication, education in Catholic schools, Pontifical privileges, Catholic burial, the organization of nunneries and monasteries, Confraternities, Third Orders, etc.

These are the actual findings from a serene and impartial reading of the two novels.  Much to Our regret then, We feel it our sacred duty to come to the conclusion that these works, as any other of their kind, fall under Canon Law 1399 of the code of Canon Law which establishes: By the law itself are forbidden…
…  2  Books of any writers defending heresy or schism, or tending  in any way to undermine the very foundations of religion;
…  6  Books  which attack or  ridicule any of the Catholic dogmas, or which defend errors condemned by the Holy See, or which  disparage  divine worship, or strive to overthrow ecclesiastical discipline,  or which have the avowed aim of defaming the ecclesiastical hierarchy or the clerical or religious states;…
Evidently, some , not all, of the clauses of this law affect clearly the novels we are studying.  This is indeed a matter of concern to all of us, dear children, and We are the first to regret that the books that were written by our foremost national hero inspired by the most genuine patriotism, have included such substantial defects in their religious aspect as to render them objectionable reading in such sense that only with due permission obtained from ecclesiastical authority may these books be read by Catholics.  This permission, however, is readily granted for a justifiable reason, whenever the person concerned has sufficient knowledge of the Catholic doctrine in question.
This does not mean, however, that each and every portion of the novels falls under this law.  Those portions which do not contradict the content and practices of the Catholic Faith are evidently not affected by the law.

This being the fact, to make the two novels in question compulsory reading matter in our schools, as proposed in the Senate Bill No. 438, is tantamount to forcing our Catholic youth to read doctrinal attacks against their religion without making it equally obligatory for them to read the answer to such attacks.  Is this being fair to Catholics?  It is true that our government allows the teaching of religion in schools.  But this does not do away with the unfairness of the proposed law, because while the government would impose the obligation to teach the anti-Catholic side, as contained in the novels, it merely does not oppose the study of the Catholic side. Or will the government in the same manner make compulsory the reading of the Catholic doctrines contradicted in those novels?  But in that event would not the principle of separation of Church and State be at once invoked against such remedial reading?
As in the case of a certain biography of Rizal, we see here the same tendency to discriminate against Catholics in this Catholic country.  When there is a point of attacking the Catholic position, the government seems to have the right even to spend the people’s money in support of the attack, in the name of patriotism, culture, history, or for any other noble purpose.  Should Catholics wish to defend their side in the same manner that it is attacked, the spectre of clericalism, bigotry, obscurantism, reaction or the like is invoked, and the wall of “separation of Church and State” is hastily rigged to block our way.

Let us be sincere and straightforward.  In order to imbue our youth with patriotism, is it necessary to make them read that confessionals are made so that we may sin”?14 In order to teach our youth love of country is it necessary to expose them to jeers at Catholic worship, or to say of stole fees that “divine justice is not nearly so exacting as human”, to say “novenas, responsories, versicles and prayers have been composed for those who lack original ideas and feelings” and that “the Church does not gratuitously save the beloved souls for you nor does it distribute indulgences without payment?”15 In order to teach our youth high political and social ideals, is it necessary to make them read that the idea of Purgatory “does not exist in the Old Testament nor in the Gospels; that neither Moses nor Christ made the slightest mention of it; and that the early Christians did not believe in a purgatory?”16 In order to teach our youth civic virtues is it necessary to tell our girls that “there is a mystery (of corruption) that is hidden behind the walls of a nunnery; that it is a thousand times better for them to be unhappy in the world than in the cloister; that girls who are beautiful were not born to be brides of Christ?”17 Does patriotism and nationalism consist in these assertions and many others like these repeated again and again in multifarious ways throughout many of the chapters of these novels?  If not, then it is evident that the political and social principles of Rizal are not inseparable from those passages which we consider objectionable from the point of view of our Church.  Therefore, statements against the Church contained in the novels should never be considered indispensable parts of the ideals we want to teach our youth. We view with alarm any obligatory reading of these objectionable passages for they can be easily exploited by those who hate the Church as an opportunity, under the guise of patriotism, under the cloak of the spirit of nationalism, to imbue, with legal sanction (that is, by law, to be enacted by Catholic legislators) the minds of our youth with ideas which are inimical to their religion.

Religious conscience is formed by one’s belief in and adherence to the teachings and the laws of one’s own faith.  Catholic conscience, then is guided by Catholic teachings and the laws of the Catholic Church.  We are aware that in our country, there are many baptized Catholics for whom Catholic teachings and laws have little meaning.  But on the other hand, there are millions of Filipinos, from all levels of life, from the farmhand to the learned professional and academic professor who take the Church as the guide of their conscience. Once they become aware that there are portions of the books which are against the teachings and laws of their Church, they will consider contrary to their conscience compulsory reading of the novels in their entirety.  It will not be sufficient to say that prominent and learned Filipinos consider these portions of the two books as attacks only on some disedifying priests and not as attacks on doctrines of the Church.  While these millions of faithful Catholics respect their political leaders and follow their political and social leadership, they (the faithful Catholics) still consider the official pronouncements of their Church as the guide of their faith. It is in their name that We want to appeal to our legislators not to legislate against the conscience of these millions of their countrymen who have a right to their freedom of conscience as much as anybody else.  If we want to teach our youth to love, as Rizal did, the freedom of their country, let us not disregard one of the fundamental freedoms of our people, viz., their freedom of conscience.

There is a serious danger here of confusing the issues:  patriotism and faith.   The two issues are so intimately mixed up in Rizal’s novels that all our efforts to separate them in this delicate question might be misinterpreted.  Were it not because of Our Pastoral duty bids Us forcefully at this moment to speak, We would rather prefer to keep a prudent silence on the matter, as Our predecessors did.  But since We ought to speak, allow Us to sum up Our mind in the following brief, precise statements, that We offer to you, dear children, for your guidance.  And We present these to all Filipinos, especially to the law-giving bodies of our Government, for calm study and fair consideration.  They are Our expression of the Catholic stand concerning the novels of Dr. Jose Rizal, NOLI ME TANGERE and EL FILIBUSTERISMO:

I. We, the Catholic Philippine Hierarchy, in Our name and in the name of millions of faithful Filipino Catholics, wish on this occasion to restate our unshakable loyalty to our fatherland, as well as to the lawfully constituted authorities of the country.

II. Faithful Catholics wish to be second to none in love and veneration for our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose patriotism remains for us a noble inspiration.

III. We assert that he is our greatest patriot and our greatest national hero, not however for what one day he wrote against our religion and which at the end he retracted “with all his heart”, but for what he did on behalf of the welfare of our country.

IV. The novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were doubtlessly written as an expression of Rizal’s ardent and generous love for our dear Philippines, and there are many beautiful passages in them showing this; and we are in favor of propagating these passages and encouraging our young generation to read and learn them.

V. But unfortunately these novels were written when Dr. Jose Rizal, estranged for a time from our faith and religion, did contradict many of our Christian beliefs.

VI. This in no way implies that we must reject him in order to remain loyal to our faith.  It only means that we have to imitate him 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.”  A dying person’s last will  is sacred.  Taking into account Rizal’s last will, we must carry out for him what death prevented him from doing, namely, the withdrawal of all his statements against the Catholic faith.

VII. It is our conviction that to disregard our national hero’s last will expressed in his Retraction as well as his Last Farewell, is, far from revering his memory, bringing it into contempt.

VIII. It is true, as the Explanatory Note to the proposed Bill No. 438 – 3rd C.R.P. says that “to praise Rizal without taking the trouble to study that which elicits our praises is to be hypocritical”.  Hence we suggest that a Rizalian Anthology be prepared where all the patriotic passages and the social political philosophy of Rizal not only from these two novels but from all the rest of his writings, letters, poems and speeches be compiled.  It is not only in the two novels but also in his other writings are the patriotic teachings of Rizal to be found.  In order to compile an Anthology of the kind we suggest, we have already organized a committee which is making the necessary studies.

IX. Our objection then to the Bill proposed is not an objection against our national hero nor against the imparting of patriotic education to our Children.

X. Our Constitution (Art. 3, Section 1 (7) guarantees the free exercise of religion.  The Supreme  Court of the United States has decided that the American school children belonging to a certain sect cannot be compelled to salute the American flag because said act is offensive to their religious belief.  (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319, U.S. 624).  On this basis, We believe that to compel Catholic students to read a book which contain passages contradicting their faith constitutes a violation of  a Philippine constitutional provision.

XI. We, the Catholic Philippine Hierarchy maintain that these novels do contain teachings contrary to our faith and so, We are opposed to the proposed compulsory reading in their entirety of such books in any school in the Philippines where Catholic students may be affected.  We cannot permit the eternal salvation of immortal souls, souls for which We are answerable before the throne of Divine Justice, to be compromised for the sake of any human good, no matter how great it may appear to be.  “For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”18


Given this 21st day of April in the year of Our Lord, 1956.  Manila, Philippines


For the Philippine Hierarchy:



Archbishop of Manila

President, Administrative Council




1  Noli Me Tangere (Nueva Era ed.) p. (3)
2  Letter to a Friend, March 1887; in W.E. Retana, Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal, (Madrid, 1907), p. 126
3  Dr. Laurel, Speech of Sponsorship of Sen. Bill No. 438.
4  The Social Cancer (English version of Noli Me Tangere, by Charles E. Derbyshire, 2nd. ed.), p. l vii.
5  Encycl. “Sapientiae Christianae”, 10 January 1890; Denzinger, Enrichiridion n. 1936 b.
6  Encycl. “Libertas, praestantissimum”, 20 June 1886; ibid n. 1936.
7  In the letter cited in note 2.
8  R. Palma, Pride of the Malay Race, pp. 115-116.
9  J. Cavanna, Rizal’s Unfading Glory, p. 52.
10  Noli Me Tangere (P. Sayo Book Store, Manila, Nueva ed. 1950) pp. 54, 55, 57, 74, 75, 76. 157, 159, 163, 234.  In El Filibusterismo (Manila Filatelica, Manila, 1908) pp. 232, 233.
11  Noli, ibid. op. cit., against Confession, pp. 26, 183, 191, 231, 232, 233, 277; Baptism, p. 263; Communion, p. 171, 183; Holy Mass, 74, 119, 159, 171, 183; Purgatory, 67-70;  Hell, 69-70; Miracles, 178, 258; Catholic Catechism, 93; Catholic Religion, 74, 113, 171, 263, 317; alms to the Church, 26, 75; Catholic priesthood, 171; Catholic preaching, 162, 169, 171, 183;  scapulars, cords, blessed habits, 83, 157, 258; books of piety, 231; Indulgencies, 74, 82-84, 272; education in Catholic Schools, 273-274; also cf. 74-76, 113, 160, 165, 263, 288.  In El Filibusterismo, ibid. op. cit., Communion, p. 206, Holy Mass, 140, 207, Hell, 139; Miracles, 26-27; Catholic religion, 278; alms to Church, 140; Preaching, 206; scapulars, habits, etc. 207; Most Holy Trinity, God’s omnipotence, two natures in Christ, 207, 232.
12  Noli , ibid. op, cit., against veneration of images, 32-34, 234, 307; devotion to saints, 54, 307-308; Angelus, 275; Processions, 55, 158, 201-202; Holy Water, 159; Church worship, 159, worship to the Cross; 220; Church bells, 65; Candles, 74; Novenas, church prayers, 74, 84; Sunday duty, 76.
In El Filibusterismo , ibid. op. cit., veneration of images, 75; processions, 75, 110, 207; Holy Water, 234; Ritual Blessing, 40, 233; Veneration of relics, 66; Novenas, Church prayers, 110, 207.
13  Noli , op. cit., against excommunications, 191, 200, 214; 252; stole fees, 26, 74-75; 34; Pope’s authority, 55, 98, 182, 189; education in Catholic schools, 38, 42, 145, 274; Catholic burial, 28, 43, Monasteries of Nuns, 321, 332.
In El Filibusterismo, op. cit., stole fees, 140; education in Catholic schools, 88, 95, 213; Catholic burial, 62-63, 288.
14  Ibid. op. cit. p. 280.
15  Ibid. pp. 106-107.
16  Ibid. p. 97.
17  Ibid. p. 483.



The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines

The Official Website of

CBCP Online

Statement of the Philippine Hierarchy on the Novels of Dr. Jose Rizal