Il Buon Dí Si Conosce Da Mattina1
Early the next morning the report spread through the town that many lights had been seen in the cemetery on the previous night. The leader of the Venerable Tertiary Order spoke of lighted candles, of their shape and size, and, although he could not fix the exact number, had counted more than twenty. Sister Sipa, of the Brotherhood of the Holy Rosary, could not bear the thought that a member of a rival order should alone boast of having seen this divine marvel, so she, even though she did not live near the place, had heard cries and groans, and even thought she recognized by their voices certain persons with whom she, in other times,—but out of Christian charity she not only forgave them but prayed for them and would keep their names secret, for all of which she was declared on the spot to be a saint. Sister Rufa was not so keen of hearing, but she could not suffer that Sister Sipa had heard so much and she nothing, so she related a dream in which there had appeared before her many souls—not only of the dead but even of the living—souls in torment who begged for a part of those indulgences of hers which were so carefully recorded and treasured. She could furnish names to the families interested and only asked for a few alms to succor the Pope in his needs. A little fellow, a herder, who dared to assert that he had seen nothing more than one light and two men in salakots had difficulty in escaping with mere slaps and scoldings. Vainly he swore to it; there were his carabaos with him and could verify his statement. “Do you pretend to know more than the Warden and the Sisters, paracmason,2 heretic?” he was asked amid angry looks. The curate went up into the pulpit and preached about purgatory so fervently that the pesos again flowed forth from their hiding-places to pay for masses.
But let us leave the suffering souls and listen to the conversation between Don Filipo and old Tasio in the lonely home of the latter. The Sage, or Lunatic, was sick, having been for days unable to leave his bed, prostrated by a malady that was rapidly growing worse.
“Really, I don’t know whether to congratulate you or not that your resignation has been accepted. Formerly, when the gobernadorcillo so shamelessly disregarded the will of the majority, it was right for you to tender it, but now that you are engaged in a contest with the Civil Guard it’s not quite proper. In time of war you ought to remain at your post.”
“Yes, but not when the general sells himself,” answered Don Filipo. “You know that on the following morning the gobernadorcillo liberated the soldiers that I had succeeded in arresting and refused to take any further action. Without the consent of my superior officer I could do nothing.”
“You alone, nothing; but with the rest, much. You should have taken advantage of this opportunity to set an example to the other towns. Above the ridiculous authority of the gobernadorcillo are the rights of the people. It was the beginning of a good lesson and you have neglected it.”
“But what could I have done against the representative of the interests? Here you have Señor Ibarra, he has bowed before the beliefs of the crowd. Do you think that he believes in excommunications?”
“You are not in the same fix. Señor Ibarra is trying to sow the good seed, and to do so he must bend himself and make what use he can of the material at hand. Your mission was to stir things up, and for that purpose initiative and force are required. Besides, the fight should not be considered as merely against the gobernadorcillo. The principle ought to be, against him who makes wrong use of his authority, against him who disturbs the public peace, against him who fails in his duty. You would not have been alone, for the country is not the same now that it was twenty years ago.”
“Do you think so?” asked Don Filipo.
“Don’t you feel it?” rejoined the old man, sitting up in his bed. “Ah, that is because you haven’t seen the past, you haven’t studied the effect of European immigration, of the coming of new books, and of the movement of our youth to Europe. Examine and compare these facts. It is true that the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, with its most sapient faculty, still exists and that some intelligences are yet exercised in formulating distinctions and in penetrating the subtleties of scholasticism; but where will you now find the metaphysical youth of our days, with their archaic education, who tortured their brains and died in full pursuit of sophistries in some corner of the provinces, without ever having succeeded in understanding the attributes of being, or solving the problem of essence and existence, those lofty concepts that made us forget what was essential,—our own existence and our own individuality? Look at the youth of today! Full of enthusiasm at the view of a wider horizon, they study history, mathematics, geography, literature, physical sciences, languages—all subjects that in our times we heard mentioned with horror, as though they were heresies. The greatest free-thinker of my day declared them inferior to the classifications of Aristotle and the laws of the syllogism. Man has at last comprehended that he is man; he has given up analyzing his God and searching into the imperceptible, into what he has not seen; he has given up framing laws for the phantasms of his brain; he comprehends that his heritage is the vast world, dominion over which is within his reach; weary of his useless and presumptuous toil, he lowers his head and examines what surrounds him. See how poets are now springing up among us! The Muses of Nature are gradually opening up their treasures to us and begin to smile in encouragement on our efforts; the experimental sciences have already borne their first-fruits; time only is lacking for their development. The lawyers of today are being trained in the new forms of the philosophy of law, some of them begin to shine in the midst of the shadows which surround our courts of justice, indicating a change in the course of affairs. Hear how the youth talk, visit the centers of learning! Other names resound within the walls of the schools, there where we heard only those of St. Thomas, Suarez, Amat, Sanchez,3 and others who were the idols of our times. In vain do the friars cry out from the pulpits against our demoralization, as the fish-venders cry out against the cupidity of their customers, disregarding the fact that their wares are stale and unserviceable! In vain do the conventos extend their ramifications to check the new current. The gods are going! The roots of the tree may weaken the plants that support themselves under it, but they cannot take away life from those other beings, which, like birds, are soaring toward the sky.”
The Sage spoke with animation, his eyes gleamed.
“Still, the new seed is small,” objected Don Filipo incredulously. “If all enter upon the progress we purchase so dearly, it may be stifled.”
“Stifled! Who will stifle it? Man, that weak dwarf, stifle progress, the powerful child of time and action? When has he been able to do so? Bigotry, the gibbet, the stake, by endeavoring to stifle it, have hurried it along. E pur si muove,4 said Galileo, when the Dominicans forced him to declare that the earth does not move, and the same statement might be applied to human progress. Some wills are broken down, some individuals sacrificed, but that is of little import; progress continues on its way, and from the blood of those who fall new and vigorous offspring is born. See, the press itself, however backward it may wish to be, is taking a step forward. The Dominicans themselves do not escape the operation of this law, but are imitating the Jesuits, their irreconcilable enemies. They hold fiestas in their cloisters, they erect little theaters, they compose poems, because, as they are not devoid of intelligence in spite of believing in the fifteenth century, they realize that the Jesuits are right, and they will still take part in the future of the younger peoples that they have reared.”
“So, according to you, the Jesuits keep up with progress?” asked Don Filipo in wonder. “Why, then, are they opposed in Europe?”
“I will answer you like an old scholastic,” replied the Sage, lying down again and resuming his jesting expression. “There are three ways in which one may accompany the course of progress: in front of, beside, or behind it. The first guide it, the second suffer themselves to be carried along with it, and the last are dragged after it and to these last the Jesuits belong. They would like to direct it, but as they see that it is strong and has other tendencies, they capitulate, preferring to follow rather than to be crushed or left alone among the shadows by the wayside. Well now, we in the Philippines are moving along at least three centuries behind the car of progress; we are barely beginning to emerge from the Middle Ages. Hence the Jesuits, who are reactionary in Europe, when seen from our point of view, represent progress. To them the Philippines owes her dawning system of instruction in the natural sciences, the soul of the nineteenth century, as she owed to the Dominicans scholasticism, already dead in spite of Leo XIII, for there is no Pope who can revive what common sense has judged and condemned.
“But where are we getting to?” he asked with a change of tone. “Ah, we were speaking of the present condition of the Philippines. Yes, we are now entering upon a period of strife, or rather, I should say that you are, for my generation belongs to the night, we are passing away. This strife is between the past, which seizes and strives with curses to cling to the tottering feudal castle, and the future, whose song of triumph may be heard from afar amid the splendors of the coming dawn, bringing the message of Good-News from other lands. Who will fall and be buried in the moldering ruins?”
The old man paused. Noticing that Don Filipo was gazing at him thoughtfully, he said with a smile, “I can almost guess what you are thinking.”
“You are thinking of how easily I may be mistaken,” was the answer with a sad smile. “Today I am feverish, and I am not infallible: homo sum et nihil humani a me alienum puto,5 said Terence, and if at any time one is allowed to dream, why not dream pleasantly in the last hours of life? And after all, I have lived only in dreams! You are right, it is a dream! Our youths think only of love affairs and dissipations; they expend more time and work harder to deceive and dishonor a maiden than in thinking about the welfare of their country; our women, in order to care for the house and family of God, neglect their own: our men are active only in vice and heroic only in shame; childhood develops amid ignorance and routine, youth lives its best years without ideals, and a sterile manhood serves only as an example for corrupting youth. Gladly do I die! Claudite iam rivos, pueri!”6
“Don’t you want some medicine?” asked Don Filipo in order to change the course of the conversation, which had darkened the old man’s face.
“The dying need no medicines; you who remain need them. Tell Don Crisostomo to come and see me tomorrow, for I have some important things to say to him. In a few days I am going away. The Philippines is in darkness!”
After a few moments more of talk, Don Filipo left the sick man’s house, grave and thoughtful.
1 The fair day is foretold by the morn.
2 Paracmason, i.e. freemason.
3 Scholastic theologians.—TR.
4 And yet it does move!
5 I am a man and nothing that concerns humanity do I consider foreign to me.
6 A portion of the closing words of Virgil’s third eclogue, equivalent here to “Let the curtain drop.”—TR.