Tag Archives: cebu primatial see of the philippines

‘Cradle of Christianity’ or ‘Seat of Christianity’ in the Far East?

Cebu has been referred to many things such as “cradle” or birthplace of Christianity in the Philippines; some would include Southeast Asia and others the entirety of the Asian continent. Both clergymen and laymen alike also allude the same central island as (Philippine / Southeast Asian / Asian) Christianity’s “seat,” but which are accurate and otherwise?

Catholic Christianity vs Nestorian Christianity

Now before the endeavor of the title’s accuracy, we have to discern the word “Christianity.” In this context, we are referring to the true Christianity found in Catholicism (those who disagree, I invite you to read the tracts of Catholic Answers here and here). While Catholic Christianity took root in Asia, another type of Christianity preceded especially in the Southeast region called Nestorian Christianity; though this sect was wiped off the Asian map years before the Portuguese and Spaniards set foot in the 1500s.[1] Hereafter then, when we say “Christianity,” we mean to say the Catholic type unless specified.

Also for being unequivocal, the term “Far East” can mean the Southeast Asia or the entire Asian continent.

Far East: In the Context of Southeast Asia

Malacca, Malaysia (1511) and Cebu, Philippines (1521) were the two pillars of Christianity in Southeast Asia. However, by the dawn of the 1600 Malacca was leveled to the ground by the Dutch onslaught rendering its diocese dissolved, its churches and parishes destroyed, and the land converted to the Dutch Reformed faith while the central island in the Philippines remained Catholic. Interestingly, the faithful in Malacca fled and found refuge in Cebu [2] as if by divine intervention Malacca passed the baton being herald of Christianity to another pillar in the region. Adding into the equation that the Philippines was called by Pope Blessed Paul VI as “a great Catholic nation in South-East Asia” in 1965 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of evangelization,[3] hence, Cebu being “cradle” and “seat” of Christianity in Southeast Asia truly has credence.

Far East: In the context of Asia

The first Christian community ever established in Asia was not from Cebu but Kerala, India founded by the Apostle Thomas in the first century. While the community had apostolic lineage, St. Thomas Christians had an irregular communion with the See of the Apostle Peter (Rome). Until today, the community in communion with Rome thrived. Hence, it is erroneous to assume Cebu is the “cradle” of Christianity in Asia. Kerala rightfully holds that title.

Being the center and seat of Christianity is another matter. We all know the Philippines holds the number of Catholic Christians in all of Asia. Looking into the statistics, Philippines has the larger numbers even with China, India, Vietnam, Korea, Japan combined and this is no exaggeration. [4] Deductively, all of the country’s great size of faithful found its genesis and spiritual center undoubtedly in Cebu.

Therefore, it is not superfluous for the bishops and faithful alike to say Cebu, in the context of the Philippines and all Southeast Asia, as cradle of Christianity. Also it’s valid too to say, in the light of Asia, as Christianity’s seat. Indeed, Cebu is the spiritual Rome of the Far East.

 

Note:

[1] For more perusal on the subject: John C. England’s The Earliest Christian Communities in Southeast and Northeast Asia: An Outline of the Evidence Available in Seven Countries before A.D. 1500

[2] Peter Schreurs, “Did Saint Francis Xavier Come to Mindanao?” Philippine Quarterly of Culture Society 22, (1994): 20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29792140

[3] Speeches of Pope Paul VI (Vatican Website)

[4] PewResearch and Revisiting Catholicism in Asia  

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The Real Mother of All Churches?

Back in April of 2014, the Manila Cathedral was finally re-opened and, interestingly enough, the CBCP newsite dubbed it as the “mother of all Philippine churches” for reasons being an important episcopal see and the structure’s antiquity. Before the news, blogs and others on the internet assumed this title.  What’s more fascinating is the Basilica del Sto. Niño and the Cebu Cathedral preceded other Christian structures in the Philippines (Nestorian Christianity not included).

Before becoming the cathedral now, the Cebu bishop’s see was primarily an ordinary church built by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres de Urdaneta. Bishop Pedro Agurto, O.S.A.,  (the first Cebu diocesan prelate) chose the structure as his see in 1595.  On the  same day of the Cebu Cathedral’s  foundation (April 1565), the Augustinian church and convent (also the first ever convent in the archipelago) was established on the very spot the image of the Sto. Niño was found. The Cebuana Anthropologist Astrid Sala-Boza, when settling the issue where the Holy Image was found (Basilica del Sto. Niño vs. San Nicolas de Tolentino Church), she demonstrated that the Cebu Cathedral was also the church established in 1565. [1]

In 1965, during the celebration of the 400th anniversary of evangelization (not Christianization)[2]  in the Apostolic Letter Ut Clarificetur, Pope Paul VI described in Latin the genesis of Christianity and called the church enshrined the Sto. Niño not only the “mother” of all the future churches in the archipelago but also its “head”! [3]

Let me be clear, this is in no way minimizing the importance of the Manila Cathedral–far from it. Manila is one of the most influential and important episcopal sees. However, we have to look at the eminence of the Basilica del Sto. Niño and remember the “mother and head of all churches” in the country is canonically under the equally historical Cebu Cathedral, thus, consequently making Cebu the primatial see of the Philippines.

 

Note:

1. For perusal on the subject:  Sala-Boza, Astrid, “The Contested Site of the Finding of the Holy Child: Villa San Miguel or San Nicolas (Cebu El Viejo),” Philippine Quarterly of Culture Society 34, (2006): 232. Also available in the University of San Carlos Publication

2. The Christian faith started in 1521 at the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and Fr. Pedro Valderrama. While it’s true there was an evangelization transpired in 1521 materially, the formal endeavor happened in 1565. In the year 2021, the Philippines will celebrate half a millennium of Christianity.

3. “mater et caput… omnium ecclesiarum Insularum Philippinarum.”