Rebecca A. Smith

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

History & Art History


Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Selwyn, Assistant Professor of History

Evangelization in the Philippines: Idealistic Vision and Compromise in the Early Missionary Enterprise: 1565-1700

In 1565, with the intent of securing a share in the lucrative spice trade for Spain and establishing a base for contact with Japan and China, an expedition led by Miguel López de Legazpi founded the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines. The expedition brought the first Catholic missionaries to the islands, five Augustinian friars. In the following years, they were joined by clergy from the Franciscan, Jesuit, Dominican, and Augustinian Recollect orders. The missionaries came with high expectations for the conversion of the Filipinos; they did not foresee the extent to which their enterprise would be challenged.

In Christianizing the Filipinos, the missionaries envisaged themselves as "spiritual conquerors." They regarded the natives' animistic beliefs as the Devil's tyranny and attempted to suppress all pre-conquest practices and rituals. Early on, the clergy sought to relocate the native population into large towns in order to better administer the Catholic Faith. The effort to Christianize the natives was compromised by the tenacity of the Filipino people to remain in small, decentralized family units and their preference for visiting parish churches only for festivals and holidays. With so few missionaries for such a widely dispersed population, Catechism was reduced to its essential minimum. Only five decades into the enterprise, many of the once enthusiastic evangelizing clergy felt daunted and disillusioned by the magnitude and difficulty of their task to fully indoctrinate the Filipino masses in Spanish Catholicism.

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