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Jose Nguyen
Jose Nguyen

Veneration Without Understanding: A Reassessment of Renato Constantino's Critique of Rizal


Veneration Without Understanding: A Critical Review of Renato Constantino's Essay




In this article, I will provide a critical review of Renato Constantino's essay "Veneration Without Understanding", which was first delivered as the third national Rizal lecture at Fort Santiago, Manila on December 30, 1969. The essay is one of the most influential and controversial works on Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. It challenges the conventional view of Rizal as a flawless and heroic figure, and proposes a new way of understanding him and his role in Philippine history.




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Introduction




What is veneration without understanding?




Veneration without understanding is a term coined by Constantino to describe the uncritical and blind worship of Rizal as a national hero. He argues that this kind of veneration is not only superficial and misguided, but also detrimental to the development of Filipino nationalism and democracy. He writes:


"To understand Rizal we must first understand ourselves; not the other way around. To understand ourselves we must have an understanding of our history; not merely isolated aspects of our history but our history as a whole. To understand our history we must go beyond Rizal; we must understand him in relation to our history."


Who is Renato Constantino and why did he write this essay?




Renato Constantino was a Filipino historian, educator, and nationalist. He was one of the leading proponents of the nationalist school of Philippine historiography, which sought to reinterpret Philippine history from a Filipino perspective and challenge the colonial and neocolonial biases of previous historians. He wrote this essay in 1969, at a time when the Philippines was under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, who had declared martial law in 1972. Constantino was critical of Marcos' authoritarian regime and its use of Rizal as a propaganda tool to justify its policies. He wrote this essay to expose the contradictions and limitations of the official cult of Rizal, and to offer an alternative way of understanding him that would serve the interests of the Filipino people.


What is the main argument of the essay?




The main argument of the essay is that Rizal was not the leader or hero of the Philippine revolution, but rather an opponent and critic of it. He did not share the revolutionary vision or goals of Andres Bonifacio and other Katipuneros who fought for independence from Spain. He was a reformist who believed that reforms should come from above, not from below. He had a colonial mentality that accepted Spanish sovereignty and culture as superior to Filipino sovereignty and culture. He lacked social analysis and historical perspective that would enable him to see the root causes and solutions of the Filipino predicament. He was a product of his time and environment, not a transcendent and timeless figure. He was, however, a catalyst for nationalism and revolution, because his writings and martyrdom inspired many Filipinos to awaken to their oppression and struggle for their liberation. He was also a symbol of Filipino identity and aspiration, because he embodied the best qualities and achievements of the Filipino people.


Body




How does Constantino challenge the conventional view of Rizal as a national hero?




Rizal's repudiation of the revolution




One of the most striking points that Constantino makes is that Rizal was not the leader or hero of the Philippine revolution, but rather an opponent and critic of it. He cites Rizal's own words and actions to prove this point. For example, he quotes Rizal's manifesto of December 15, 1896, which he addressed to the Filipino people, in which he condemned the uprising as "absurd, savage, and plotted behind my back" and declared that he "abhorred its criminal methods and disclaimed all part in it". He also mentions that Rizal was on his way to Cuba to serve as a volunteer doctor for Spain when he was arrested by the Spanish authorities. He argues that Rizal's refusal to align himself with the revolutionary forces and his vehement condemnation of the mass movement and of its leaders have placed Filipinos in a dilemma: either the revolution was wrong, yet we cannot disown it, or Rizal was wrong, yet we cannot disown him either. He suggests that by and large, we have chosen to ignore this apparent contradiction and gloss over the matter.


Rizal's reformist and colonial mentality




Another point that Constantino makes is that Rizal was a reformist who believed that reforms should come from above, not from below. He did not advocate for independence from Spain, but rather for assimilation and representation within the Spanish empire. He believed that Filipinos should prove themselves worthy of Spanish citizenship by adopting Spanish culture and values. He had a colonial mentality that accepted Spanish sovereignty and culture as superior to Filipino sovereignty and culture. He writes:


"Rizal did not understand or refused to understand that Spain had already reached the end of its tether; that no concessions were possible unless wrested by force; that ultimately force alone would decide whether or not we were deserving of rights."


He also criticizes Rizal's proposal to establish a Filipino colony in Borneo under British protection, which he says would have been "a betrayal of the highest order" and "a negation of nationalism". He argues that Rizal's reformist and colonial mentality prevented him from seeing the necessity and inevitability of revolution as the only means of achieving freedom and justice for the Filipino people.


Rizal's lack of social analysis and historical perspective




A third point that Constantino makes is that Rizal lacked social analysis and historical perspective that would enable him to see the root causes and solutions of the Filipino predicament. He says that Rizal's analysis of Philippine society was limited by his class background and education. He was a member of the ilustrado class, which was composed of wealthy and educated Filipinos who benefited from the colonial system. He was also influenced by European liberalism and positivism, which emphasized individual rights and rational progress over collective action and historical dialectics. He writes:


"Rizals novels are excellent social commentaries but they are poor guides for social action. They are novels written by an ilustrado who had not broken away from his class; novels written by one who saw only one aspect of colonial society the aspect presented by his class."


He also says that Rizal's historical perspective was distorted by his acceptance of Spanish historiography, which portrayed Philippine history as a series of events without continuity or direction. He says that Rizal failed to recognize the pre-colonial achievements and struggles of the Filipino people, as well as the colonial nature and interests of Spain. He writes:


"Rizals concept of our past was limited by what Spain chose to teach him; he did not realize that there was another aspect to our history the history not taught in schools."


He argues that Rizal's lack of social analysis and historical perspective made him unable to grasp the true nature and dynamics of Philippine society and history, and thus unable to formulate an effective strategy for national liberation.


How does Constantino propose a new way of understanding Rizal and his role in Philippine history?




Rizal as a product of his time and environment




Rizal as a catalyst for nationalism and revolution




Despite his shortcomings and errors, Constantino does not deny that Rizal was a catalyst for nationalism and revolution. He acknowledges that Rizal's writings and martyrdom inspired many Filipinos to awaken to their oppression and struggle for their liberation. He says that Rizal's novels, especially Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, exposed the evils and injustices of Spanish colonialism and aroused the indignation and sympathy of the Filipino masses. He also says that Rizal's execution by the Spanish authorities on December 30, 1896, galvanized the Filipino people to rise up in arms and continue the revolution that he had rejected. He writes:


"Rizals death was the final act in his lifes drama. It was his final service to his people. His death made him a hero; his death made possible the Revolution."


He argues that Rizal's role as a catalyst for nationalism and revolution was not intentional or conscious, but rather accidental and unconscious. He says that Rizal did not foresee or desire the consequences of his actions, but rather acted out of personal conviction and moral courage. He writes:


"Rizal did not plan or intend this role; he was thrust into it by circumstances by his own greatness which was in turn shaped by the objective conditions of his time."


He suggests that Rizal's role as a catalyst for nationalism and revolution was not unique or exclusive, but rather shared and complemented by other Filipino patriots and heroes who contributed to the national cause in different ways. He writes:


"Rizal was only one of its heroes; he did not make the Revolution; he was not even one of its leaders. But he quickened it with his supreme sacrifice."


Rizal as a symbol of Filipino identity and aspiration




Finally, Constantino does not deny that Rizal was a symbol of Filipino identity and aspiration. He recognizes that Rizal embodied the best qualities and achievements of the Filipino people. He says that Rizal was a genius who excelled in various fields of knowledge and art. He was a patriot who loved his country and sacrificed his life for it. He was a humanist who advocated for freedom, justice, and progress for all mankind. He writes:


"Rizals greatness lies in his words and works; in what he taught us about ourselves; in what he did for our dignity as a people."


He argues that Rizal's role as a symbol of Filipino identity and aspiration was not fixed or static, but rather dynamic and evolving. He says that Rizal's meaning and relevance depend on the changing needs and interests of the Filipino people. He writes:


"Rizal is not only a man but an event; not only an event but an epoch; not only an epoch but a process."


He suggests that Rizal's role as a symbol of Filipino identity and aspiration is not absolute or final, but rather relative and provisional. He says that Rizal is not the only or ultimate source of inspiration and guidance for the Filipino people, but rather one among many possible sources. He writes:


"Rizal is not God; he is not infallible; he is not omniscient."


Conclusion




What are the implications and limitations of Constantino's essay?




In conclusion, Constantino's essay "Veneration Without Understanding" is a provocative and influential work that challenges the conventional view of Rizal as a national hero and proposes a new way of understanding him and his role in Philippine history. It has several implications and limitations that need to be considered.


One implication is that it invites us to rethink our relationship with Rizal and our history. It urges us to go beyond veneration without understanding, to critically examine Rizal's words and deeds in their historical context, to appreciate his strengths and weaknesses, to learn from his successes and failures, to relate him to our present situation and future goals.


Another implication is that it invites us to rethink our concept of heroism and nationalism. It suggests that heroism is not a matter of personal greatness or perfection, but rather a matter of social action and collective struggle. It suggests that nationalism is not a matter of blind worship or passive acceptance, but rather a matter of critical awareness and active participation.


A third implication is that it invites us to rethink our role and responsibility as Filipinos. It implies that we are not mere spectators or followers of Rizal and other heroes, but rather actors and leaders in our own history. It implies that we have the power and the duty to shape our destiny as a nation and as a people.


However, Constantino's essay also has some limitations that need to be acknowledged. One limitation is that it tends to oversimplify and polarize Rizal's views and actions. It portrays Rizal as a consistent and coherent reformist who opposed the revolution, while ignoring or downplaying his contradictions and ambiguities. It ignores or downplays the fact that Rizal also had revolutionary tendencies and sympathies, that he changed and evolved over time, that he was influenced by various factors and forces.


Another limitation is that it tends to underestimate and marginalize Rizal's contributions and achievements. It focuses on Rizal's negative and passive role as an opponent and critic of the revolution, while ignoring or downplaying his positive and active role as a catalyst and symbol of nationalism and revolution. It ignores or downplays the fact that Rizal also had a profound and lasting impact on Philippine society and culture, that he inspired and influenced many generations of Filipinos, that he represented and articulated the Filipino identity and aspiration.


A third limitation is that it tends to generalize and universalize Rizal's situation and significance. It assumes that Rizal's case is applicable and relevant to all times and places, while ignoring or downplaying the differences and variations. It ignores or downplays the fact that Rizal's meaning and relevance depend on the changing needs and interests of the Filipino people, that he can be interpreted and appreciated in different ways, that he can be a source of unity and diversity.


What are some questions and challenges for further study?




In light of these implications and limitations, Constantino's essay poses some questions and challenges for further study. Here are some of them:



  • How can we balance veneration with understanding, respect with critique, admiration with analysis, when it comes to Rizal and other heroes?



  • How can we reconcile the different aspects and dimensions of Rizal's personality and legacy, such as his reformism and revolutionism, his colonialism and nationalism, his individualism and collectivism?



  • How can we relate Rizal to other heroes and movements in Philippine history, such as Bonifacio and the Katipunan, Aguinaldo and the Malolos Republic, Mabini and the First Philippine Republic, Quezon and the Commonwealth, Roxas and the Third Republic, Marcos and Martial Law, Aquino and People Power?



  • How can we update and adapt Rizal's teachings and examples to our current situation and future goals, such as our political sovereignty and economic development, our social justice and human rights, our cultural diversity and national unity?



  • How can we make Rizal more accessible and relevant to the Filipino masses, especially the youth, the poor, the marginalized?



These are some of the questions and challenges that Constantino's essay raises for us as Filipinos who venerate Rizal without understanding him. They are not easy to answer or address, but they are worth pursuing and exploring.


FAQs





What is the main thesis of Constantino's essay "Veneration Without Understanding"?


  • The main thesis of Constantino's essay is that Rizal was not the leader or hero of the Philippine revolution, but rather an opponent and critic of it.



What are the main sources of evidence that Constantino uses to support his thesis?


  • The main sources of evidence that Constantino uses are Rizal's own words and actions, such as his manifesto of December 15, 1896, his plan to go to Cuba, and his novels.



What are the main counterarguments that Constantino anticipates and refutes in his essay?


  • The main counterarguments that Constantino anticipates and refutes are that Rizal was a flawless and heroic figure, that he foresaw and desired the revolution, that he transcended his time and environment, and that he was the only or ultimate source of inspiration and guidance for the Filipino people.



What are the main implications and limitations of Constantino's essay?


  • essay are that it invites us to rethink our relationship with Rizal and our history, our concept of heroism and nationalism, and our role and responsibility as Filipinos. The main limitations of Constantino's essay are that it tends to oversimplify and polarize Rizal's views and actions, underestimate and marginalize Rizal's contributions and achievements, and generalize and universalize Rizal's situation and significance.



What are some questions and challenges for further study that Constantino's essay poses?


  • Some questions and challenges for further study that Constantino's essay poses are: How can we balance veneration with understanding, respect with critique, admiration with analysis, when it comes to Rizal and other heroes? How can we reconcile the different aspects and dimensions of Rizal's personality and legacy, such as his reformism and revolutionism, his colonialism and nationalism, his individualism and collectivism? How can we relate Rizal to other heroes and movements in Philippine history, such as Bonifacio and the Katipunan, Aguinaldo and the Malolos Republic, Mabini and the First Philippine Republic, Quezon and the Commonwealth, Roxas and the Third Republic, Marcos and Martial Law, Aquino and People Power? How can we update and adapt Rizal's teachings and examples to our current situation and future goals, such as our political sovereignty and economic development, our social justice and human rights, our cultural diversity and national unity? How can we make Rizal more accessible and relevant to the Filipino masses, especially the youth, the poor, the marginalized?



I hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new about Rizal and Philippine history. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to share them with me. Thank you for your attention and interest. 71b2f0854b


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