Frater Damaso in José Rizal's novel “Noli Me Tangere"
The Franciscan monk Damaso
belongs - next to the central character Ibarra and his fiancée Maria Clara -
to the main characters or protagonists in Rizal's novel “Noli Me
Tangere”. In the relatively unpleasant portrayed person of Damaso a
good part of the critic is concentrated, which Rizal harbored
against the monastic orders in his time - especially to the
Franciscans. Based on the novel – in the English translation
of Charles Derbyshire - we want to make an attempt, to characterize
the figure of Padre Damaso (1).
Appearance, manners and
Damaso is already gray-haired; nevertheless, the mighty physique,
covered by a brown habit, still looks vital and vigorous. The face
shows a prominent chin, ending in a
fat neck. Perhaps
the fat neck also results from the fried chicken that he is
accustomed to eat every day. With sweeping gestures, he regularly
emphasizes his words. Padre Damaso talks a lot, without being asked
he begins to speak. He is the one who wants to have the final say.
Without any respect he is interrupting other persons. His diction is
very direct and appears arrogant. He feels as
the representative of God, and is
not receptive for criticism. Sometimes he looses control. Then he
thumbs on the table, slaps the faces of others or he beats with a
cane, to drum the commandments in the heads of his parishioner. Also
the gravedigger gets beats. After that the gravedigger calls him –
so in the Spanish original of the novel - "truncheon
No wonder that the Franciscan is feared in his parish. Even
at the near approach the believers have to respect some gestures:
the holy decrees say! When an Indian meets a curate in the street he
should bow his head and offer his neck for his master to step upon.
If the curate and the Indian are both on horseback, then the Indian
should stop and has take off his
hat or Salakót reverently; and finally, if the Indian is on
horseback and the curate on foot, the Indian should alight and not
mount again until the curate has told him to go on, or is far away.
This is what the holy decrees and say he who does not obey
will be excommunicated "(XXXI).
The "Indian" is in Damasos opinion,
probably also stupid. Even a stay abroad can do little to change
this fact. Ibarra had returned from
Europe and he speaks about the social, political and religious life
and freedom in Europe. Hearing this Damaso barks at him:
“It was not worth while to squander your
fortune to learn so trifling a thing.
Any schoolboy knows that”
Some chapters later, Damaso gives the following comment:
"You know well enough what the Indian is -
just as soon as he gets a little learning he sets himself up as a
Sometimes the padre is a master of rhetoric, the
question is however, if his Spanish and Latin expositions
could be understood by his flock. Here an example:
"O ye great sinners,
captives of the Moros of the soul that infest the sea of eternal
life in the powerful craft of the flesh and the world, ye who are
with the fetters of load
lust and avarice, and who toil in the galleys of the
infernal Satan, look ye here with reverent repentance upon him who
saved souls from the
captivity of the devil, upon the intrepid Gideon,
upon the valiant David, upon the triumphant Roland of Christianity,
upon the celestial Civil Guard, more powerful than all the civil
guards together, now existing or to exist" (XXXI).
Not go to confession, is a gross violation of the
Church duties and can bring about - as we shall see later - serious
consequences. Let us now address the issue how Father Damaso
engages in the novel
Frater Damasos intrigues
Ibarra returns from his stay in
Europe and is confronted with the message that his father has died
in prison. The father had been accused of being a
"filibuster" (freedom fighter), being guilty of the accidental death
of a tax collector. However, the
grave of the father cannot be found. In a conversation with a
gravedigger Ibarra discovers that Fra Damaso forced him with a stick
to dig up the corpse again and to bring it on the Chinese cemetery.
A "heretic" - so the argumentation
of Father Damaso -, who did not go to confession and did not
participate in the sacraments could not find his final resting place
in the catholic cemetery. However, it was raining and the grave-digger
shunned away from digging the grave and threw the corpse without
further ado into a lake. Ibarra considers the memory of his
father severely desecrated by the order of Father Damaso, but he
still remains quiet.
Damaso himself was transferred involuntarily
by the civil authorities to another parish because of his appearance
and his actions. Damaso cannot
understand his transfer and he complains:
"The ruling powers support heretics against the ministers of God
The transfer shows also the tensions that exist in
Rizal's novel between the monks on the one hand, the state
authorities and the Archbishop of Manila (superior of the mostly
indigenous "secular priests") on the other hand.
In the course of time Ibarra donates a Barangay
school. On the occasion of laying
the foundation stone all notabilities including the governor are
gathered. Ibarra also climbs down to the excavation, but suddenly
the scaffolding with the block and tackle falls to the ground and
nearly kills Ibarra. A conspiracy is suspected, but no one
could be blamed. Someone, however, claims to have seen earlier a man
in a brown robe, climbing down the excavation.
laying of foundation stone was followed by a fiesta. Straightway the
not invited monk begins to make nasty remarks about
the bad architecture of the school
and too high payments for the workers. At first Ibarra remains calm.
However, when Damaso drops a hint about
the imprisonment of his father Ibarra flips out and exclaims: "Priest
of a God of peace, with your mouth full of sanctity and religion,
and your heart full of evil, you can not know what a father is, or
you might have thought of
your own! "(XXXIV).
Ibarra rushes to the Franciscan, and probably would have stabbed him
with a knife, if his fiancée Maria Clara had not stopped him.
Curiously enough Ibarra is not arrested by the police, because he
enjoys the protection of the Governor General, who quarrels with the
pretty amazing that Rizal shows the country representative – with
the Governor-General at the head - fairly positive, but it will be
later other government representatives, which take Rizal to court
and convict him to death for treason and rebellion. Perhaps Rizal
pays with his positive portrayal tribute to the liberal Governor
General Carlos Maria de la Torre (1869-1871).
However, there were
only a few liberal governors general in the Philippines; most of
them have been arch conservative "hardliners" and strong defenders of
Spanish colonialism and the alliance of church and crown.
excommunicated by the Archbishop of Manila for his assault, and this
excommunication allows Fra Damaso to prevent a marriage between
Ibarra and the lovely Maria Clara.
In the meantime, Maria Clare gets in conversation
with the successor of Fra Damaso, the scraggy and taciturn
Franciscan Padre Salvi. Let us mention in parentheses that also
Father Salvi cannot entirely suppress his desires. This shows the
following- a bit encrypted - sentence: "This evening he finds
no pleasure in placing his bony hand on his Christian nose that he
may dissemblingly slip it down over the bosom of the attractive
young woman who may have bent over to receive his blessing (LIV).
Salvi has also eyes for the beautiful Maria Clara, but there are no
further complications. At their meeting Padre Salvi is pressing
Maria Clara for an exchange of letters.
She gives him a
letter from Ibarra with politically sensitive subjects and she gets
letters from her mother, which Father Salvi found in the house of
Damaso. The letters reveal that the mother of Maria Clara Padre was
raped and was made pregnant by Damaso. Now she knows that she is the
daughter and not only the godson of Padre Damaso.
The archbishop of
Manila lifts the excommunication of Ibarra, not least thanks to the
request of the Governor General, and everything seems to take a turn
for the better. However,
Ibarra's enemies will not give up.
They stage-manage an attack on the
police station and incriminate Ibarra as ringleaders. He is
now wanted by the Guardia Civil. He flees with his friend Elijah,
but the latter comes in a hail of bullets to death. It is believed
that Ibarra was also killed in the incident.
Ibarra lives on, however, and
appears in Rizal's second novel, "El Filibusterismo" as a jeweler
Simoun again. He then worms his way into the confidence of
the higher circles of society. Later a
revolutionary assassination attempt fails. He has to escape.
enemies surrounded him, he poisons himself.
The surprising change
Maria Clara is depressed in
consideration of the alleged death of Ibarra and the planned
enforced marriage by Father Damaso. Her husband-to-be, the Spaniard
Linares, is not her favorite. She falls ill. Also Padre Damaso comes
to her sick-bed, and we see a very different padre.
"Padre Damaso drew her toward himself with a
tenderness that one would hardly have thought him capable of, and
catching both her hands in his questioned her with his gaze .... Do
not cry so, little girl. Your tears hurt me.
Tell me your troubles, and you'll
see how your godfather loves you!" (LXII).
Under hesitation, he confessed to her that she is his
daughter. And now we learn what induced him to all the negative
actions against Ibarra and his father:
"Daughter of God," he exclaimed at length in a
broken voice, "forgive me for having made you unhappy without
knowing it. I was thinking of your future, I desired your happiness.
How could I permit you to marry a native of the country, to see you
an unhappy wife and a wretched
mother? ... . I committed wrongs, for you, solely for you. If you
had become his wife you would have mourned afterwards over the
condition of your husband,
exposed to all kinds of
vexations without means of defense
love you as one loves his own
daughter! Yours is my only affection; I have seen you grow - not an
hour has passed that I have not thought of you - I dreamed of you -
you have been my only joy! "(LXII)
It is an open question
whether the sudden daughter love of Damaso is honest or only
theatrical. The priest was afraid that Maria Clara could have become
in close relation with Ibarra and his “radical” political views just
an unhappy wife and a long-suffering mother. The overly pious and
hypocritical priest, who everywhere saw a den of iniquity, ignores
his own crying shame. His
breach of celibacy is out of the question.
Let’s bring the story of the novel to a
close. In view of the approaching enforced marriage Maria Clara sees
only the alternative "death or monastery”.
Despite warnings of Damaso she goes
to the monastery. She will die there later.
- After a short stay in Manila Padre
Damaso gets the instruction from his order, to take on a new
pastorate in the province. The day after this information, he was
found dead in his bed. "Some said that he
had died of an apoplectic stroke, others of a nightmare, but his
physician dissipated all doubts by declaring that he had died
The publication of the
book "Noli Me Tangere" caused a sensation in Manila. It is evident
that the monks are not delighted with the novel.
Never before the monks have been
exposed to such a public criticism. They call for censorship.
The Augustinian friar Jose Rodriguez writes, for example, without
"The book is full of heretic
teachings and ideals against our Holy Religion. On almost every page
and paragraph can be read, incitement to violence, those that are
detestable and vulgar to the ears of true Christians, defilement of
our honorable Superiors of the Holy Church and Christians,
frustrations with God, ignorance, malicious encouragement to
conspire with the traitor Lucifer and other heretics, wayward
teachings and heretical truly thoughts; and further urges to turn us
from our faith in God. All these can be read in that perverse book
which is why it is being prohibited and whoever reads it commits a
great sin” (2) .
Censorship commissions are
appointed. The come to the conclusion:
The book is heretical, impious, scandalous and undermines the state
system. It is banned. Anyone
who sells, buys or reads the book runs at least the risk of
excommunication. The book is now circulating at
exorbitant prices in the underground.
It should be noted in this context
that Rizal certainly felt himself as a Christian. His critic
is primarily addressed to the Franciscans; Dominicans and Jesuits
are getting more lenient judgments.
The second book of him “El Filibusterismo" is particularly dedicated
to the three executed secular priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora
(3). Some clergymen are here portrayed in a quite
How representative is
the novel figure of Father Damaso for the round about 140
Franciscans or – to take a higher number - the nineteen thousand
clergy men or in the Philippines in the late 19th century
(4) ? Is the figure of Damaso more realistic or more
fictional? It seems that an accurate answer to this question cannot
be given. At first it is comfortable to hear from the
journalist Ambeth Ocampo that he scarcely found monks in the
present, which resembled the figure of Damaso. And he adds, if all
the clergy had been feared so malicious as Damaso, their freedom
of movement in the country would have been limited and not so free
and unconcerned. More incidents with the members of monastic orders
would have been the consequence. Of course there have been
occasional incidents especially with regard to their enormous
ownership of land and the partly exploitative nature of some leases.
And the Austrian aristocrat writes 1860 in his account of his
journey, that he met in the Philippines priests of religious orders
riding little horses “with on both sides of
the saddle powerful holster for pistols” (5).
frightened them? But there are also positive testimonials. Ocampo
for example, refers the first President of the Philippines, Emilio
Aguinaldo (1869-1964), who praised the kindness of brother Tomas
In the preface of his novel Rizal promises “to
reproduce the condition (of the country) faithfully, without
discrimination”. He wants to sacrifice “to truth everything”. But
not a caricature, a figure of political propaganda and literary
exaggeration? We have doubts, if
Frater Damaso is really a representative for the majority of the
members of monastic orders. Padre Damaso seems to be more an
individual case perhaps with the exception of his sexual intercourse
(s). There are no published
statistics how many children resulted from sexual liaisons with
monks and clergy men. The larger number of Mestizo (a) with Spanish
blood, however, indicates that there have been not a few cases of
discreet sexual contacts with female churchgoers – even if we deduct
the illegitimate children of the relatively small group of Spanish
civil servants, businessmen and military members.
This little critic,
however, does not intend to devalue Rizal's novel “Noli Me Tangere"
any way. It is an exciting and well-written novel with plenty of
local color, interesting dialogues and enormous political
after-effects in the history of the Philippines.
© Wolfgang Bethge, 2009
Quotes from: The Social Cancer,
Translated by Charles Derbyshire, in: http://books.google.de/books?id=KagzvgCGMfAC&printsec=frontcover&client=firefox-a
OnePage # v = & q = & f = false. The roman numerals are referring to
the chapters of the novel.
Jose Rodriguez Religious Order of Saint Agustin, Beware, in:
W. Bethge, Die Hinrichtung der Fratres Gomez, Burgos und Zamora
(1872), in: W. Bethge, Die Philippinen – Einblicke, Aachen, 2009
Numbers are taken from: A. L. Esmerelda,
A New Look at Philippine History and the Friars,
Freiherr von Hügel , The Pacific Sea and the Spanish possessions in
the East Indian archipelago, Vienna - Book review: W. Bethge,
Ambeth Ocampo, The Spanish friar, beyond the propaganda, in: