Friar Rodrigo Aganduru of Saint Michael (1584-1626): Augustinian recollect missionary in the Philippines, restless evangelizer under doctrinal suspicion

The celebration of the Fourth Centenary of the Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine (1621-2021) invites us to bring to light recollect figures of great importance in the cultural field in which they have excelled either as missionaries, as writers, or as advances in other branches of knowledge. In this case we present Rodrigo of Saint Michael, a versatile character of great intellectual gifts and missionary courage.
News | 2021 Feb 04

Rodrigo of  Saint Michael could well be the protagonist of a thriller in which the tortuous trips to the East are intermingled, with a must stop in Mexico; inter religious conflicts, missionary tasks, which have always had an adventurous halo, the visit to Iraq and his close contacts with Pope Urban VIII. In case all this is not enough matter, we add the suspicion of the Inquisition about some of its behaviors and writings. And all in 42 years of life.

In 1584 in Aguilar de Campos a small town in the province of Valladolid, Spain, came to the world Friar Rodrigo Aganduru of Saint Michael. Son of a normal family? Well, more or less, it's better to say, son of a good family. He had a sister named Francisca and, it seems, also a brother named Jerome, but he is not entirely documented. What is known is that brother Rodrigo's family, both on the part of Antonio, his father; Catherine, her mother, was very well-seated and related to the Court, especially the paternal one. And, so that nothing was missing from the family, his uncle, Apolinar Franco Móriz, Franciscan, died martyred in Omura, Japan.

The Augustinian Recollection was born in 1588, within the Augustinian Chapter held in Toledo. Fray Rodrigo was part of the first promotions of recollect friars. At the age of sixteen, in 1600, he entered the recollect convent of Portillo,Valladolid, and later continued studies of philosophy in another of the first convents of the Augustinian recollection movement, that of Nava del Rey. In 1604 he moved to Salamanca to study theology. Since fewer could be expected of a restless and bold young man, as Brother Rodrigo was, conversations with his uncle Apolinar, the Franciscan, maximize his missionary spirit.

Apolinar was looking forward to marching as a missionary to Japan and encouraged his nephew to join the first pick-up expedition to Manila, Philippines.  He didn't even wait to finish his studies. On July 12th , 1605, together with thirteen other recollects he departed from Sanlúcar de Barrrameda, Huelva, Spain, bound for Manila. The nearly seven months of the trip were made in two stages: Spain-Mexico-Philippines. During the long journey in addition to cultivating some of his hobbies such as cartography and drawing, he had time to finish his theology studies. In 1606 he received priestly ordination.

Missionary in the Philippines: Zambales Destination

The adventure has only just begun. His biographers say he was an outgoing man with excellent communication skills. The first thing he had to do to make his evangelizing work effective was to learn the local languages. So he focused on learning tagalog and zambal, from which he went on to produce a grammar manual, a glossary, verses and plays.

From our point of view of the 21st century we may think that the success of the mission, as is now the case, is to overcome indifference, which itself is peaceful. Much less, at that time, evangelizing led him to try not to let that the rejection of the message be accompanied by a corrective who would leave a required in the missionary's battered body. That happened to three of his companions on the mission of Mariveles (Bataán) and our character was in charge of replacing them. In the seven years he was there, he was a real whirlwind. True, the road was not at all smooth and there were, for him, more thorns than roses, but his inculturation with the people, his affable character and his mastery of languages produced abundant fruits despite the hostility with which he had to deal daily. Almost a thousand baptized per year, construction of churches and convents; and eight religious who died because of the environmental conditions in which tropical diseases abounded; is the balance of your stay in the zambales  region.

In just eight years in the Philippines, the commitment and surrender of the recollects with the Mission was remarkable. But reinforcements were needed. Who can speak better of the mission than those who live it day by day? That's what the superiors thought and decided that Friar Rodrigo was the one to return to Spain and get new sap before the almighty Council of the Indies, the body that regulated the activity of missions in America and the Indies. It should not be forgotten that at that time evangelizing activity was an action of political and cultural expansion. The Rabbit of the Indies advised the king before authorizing any expedition. The testimony of Friar Rodrigo, in itself credible for the experience, was further supported by a letter of recommendation from the Bishop of Manila in which he called not only for the Mission to be maintained, but to have new territories awarded. With all this under his arm, Friar Rodrigo embarked in Cavite in July 1614 on his way to Spain.

Before the Council of the Indies, we can say that it did neither well, nor badly, nor quite the opposite. He asked for thirty religious and was given twenty, who would travel like chaplains of navy ships, on a journey through the Cape of Good Hope. But as is often the case, man proposes and God has. Health problems, abandonments, some excuse... The case is that in the end, on July 5, 1618 our character arrived in Cavite with two religious and an image of the Virgin of Carmen and half a ton of books. Oh, and two titles, one provincial vicar, that is, superior of all religious in the Philippines; and another, which we will then talk about, qualifier, in charge of censorship of the Holy Office in Mexico.

Stage in Manila

In this second stage nothing is ever the same again. Gone are the struggles to try to convince of the truth of the gospel. He combined his work as a superior with those of a writer collaborating in the drafting of the General History and Conquest of the Philippines while beginning the Ecclesiastical History of Japan. A sermon in Manila on the day of the Immaculate Year 1618 ignited the alarm light in the always attentive eyes of the Inquisition. The hunted hunter, you can think. But I'll tell you about that a little later. In 1622 he left the Philippines for good, without us being able to say that the exit was through the big door and free of a thousand and one versions, as could not otherwise be in such an intriguing character. It seems that the unrest with the Bishop of Manila and also with the religious, are behind his escape on a different route. Let's see.

Journey to Rome with a stopover in Iraq

No more or less than four years lasted this trip, with long stopovers in Malacca, Goa and Basra. But he was perhaps the one who has inspired all sorts of legendary stories the most. Someone may think, what had been lost to a small-town friar in Iraq noticing his tongues? Well, yes, actually. I daresay he didn't even know that this "short stop" was going to bring him so much recognition.

Fray Rodrigo arrived in Basra in March 1625 and stayed in the Augustinian convent. He quickly gave a hand in pastoral work thanks to his empathy and easy rhetoric. They also say that he also debated with the rabbis about the true identity of Jesus. As he did as a young man in Zambales he worked hard with the Augustinians in the evangelization of the Mandeums, who practice, even today, agnostic and dualistic religion and regard St John the Baptist as the true Messiah. His work paid off. They managed to get twenty-five of their bosses, on behalf of more than twelve thousand families, to accept and rubric their adherence to the Catholic faith. Fray Rodrigo took care of bringing the precious document to Pope Urban VIII.

On 30 April he sets sail for Rome; by boat? No, by camel. The journey away from exoticism cannot be more busy. At last, he arrived in Rome in February 1626. You're not wasting your time; He wants the Pope to receive it because he has two orders that urge him: to convey the unrest of the religious with the behavior of the bishops in the Philippines and to give him the precious treasure obtained in Basra together with a personal offer to continue the evangelizing work among the trustees. To do this, in addition to his title of qualifier of the Holy Office, which opened some doors to him, he sought for the ambassador of Spain in Rome, friend of the Pope, to move his threads to achieve as soon as possible the papal audience. On the last day of the month, Rodrigo has the opportunity to carry out his task and days later the Congregation of Propaganda Fidei studies his two proposals. What happened? For the first did not fit but the second did fill with enthusiasm the Roman Curía, who accepted his offer to captain the mission in Basra in which he had to take special care in the instruction of the children.

The Last Journey

Happier than a licorice with his new charge under his arm and all the Pope's compliments decide to approach Spain to visit his family and gather more support and resources for his new missionary adventure. But, health turns on the alarm light and the journey, once again, is hellish. In the end, as so many times pass, dreams evaporate, and the waves, despite their strength, die on the shore. That's what happened to our character. He did not have a death at his height, for the best end would have been that of the crown of martyrdom in any of his missionary journeys. In the end his breathing was definitively out at his family's house in Orio, Guipúzcoa, Spain.

The inquisition or story of the hunted hunter

As a life like this character's said at first cannot be without suspense, although by not boring the condensate. The Immaculate’s sermon in Manila, accusations of magic practices, and conflicts with the Filipino clergy opened a process to which each of the events were joining. This caused him to lose his title as a qualifier, but he died without knowing the suspicions about his behavior. I am sorry to disappoint if appearances were expected before the Holy Office or threats of being bonfire meat. Fray Rodrigo thought he was right and died convinced of it. But he nearly was tried for "almost heretic."

His writings

Where did he get time? That's the first question any ordinary citizen can ask himself. Hyperactivity had not been invented in his time, but Friar Rodrigo would not be far from that diagnosis.

It is a pity that many of his writings have been lost or appear in private collections far from the scope of his first purpose which was but that of disclosure or instruction. Others were not printed as is the case with his Zambal Dictionary and Grammar, or his book of sermons or that of poems. Nor did the tortoise of the printing press know a "manual" that he developed in Basra where he collected dialectical strategies to discuss doctrine with rabbis; and a collection of maps resulting from his a reputation for cartography.

General history of the Adjacent West Islands to Asia, called Philipinas

This work consists of no more or less than twenty books, nine of them are in unknown whereabouts.

At his time in Manila, the Cabildo commissioned this work to which he devoted himself with interest and detail, thanks to his special intuition and ability to observe. Although his literary style is not Cervantes's, he shows off his biblical knowledge and Greek mythology in establishing parallels, some more accurate than others, among the events he narrates with similar events collected in Sacred Scripture or Mythology. As a good adventurer, he traveled through some of the places he describes, allowing him to observe his customs and way of life; in addition to documenting itself. He used his open character to meet with some of the protagonists of his writings, such as Luis Báez de Torres, discoverer of the strait, named after him, between Australia and New Guinea. He also tells his conversations with a Manila native who helped him settle in Bolinao.

The volumes that are preserved, and are still useful, deal with the history of the Moluccas Islands, from1519, with the arrival of Magellan until 1578. By the way, he recognizes Magellan as an excellent captain but also "pokes" him for having been too severe in his repressions of the indigenous people.

Philippinas and Japan Conversion

The day after his interview in Rome with Pope Urban VIII he began writing this treatise on a papal commission in order to be able to explain more broadly the two commissions that motivated the papal audience. In just over two months he completes the 33 paragraphs.

In the top four. he recounts on the one hand the day-to-day life of the early years of the Recollects in the Philippines, of which he himself was the protagonist. Most of it was devoted to the persecution of missionaries in Japan between 1613 and 1623. Highlights include his uncle Apolinar, the Franciscan, of which he also publishes some letters he wrote to him, and two Augustinians, Hernando de San José and Pedro de Zúñiga. Then, in half a dozen chapters, he describes the conflicts between the Spanish and Dutch Navy off the coast of Zambales. Finally, he recounts what most impacted the Pope: his work in Basra with the conversion of the Manian leaders.


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