The ecclesiastic history of the Philippines, undoubtedly, begins with the arrival of the Spaniards. Although the Portuguese were the first Iberians and, therefore, the first Europeans to have reached the Philippines, it was the Spaniards who eventually settled in the Islands, whether or not this was in violation of the demarcation line set by the Treaty of Tordesillas on 7 June 1494 between representatives of the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns, which was subsequently subverted by the Alexandrine Bulls, issued by Alexander VI, in favour of the Catholic Monarchs: the papal brief Inter caetera dated 3 May 1493; the minor bull Inter caetera dated 4 May 1493 (but believed to have been edited later in June); the minor bull Eximiae devotionis dated 3 May 1493 (but believed to have been edited later in July); and the bull Dudum siquidem dated 26 September 1493.
Christianity arrived in the Philippines with Fernão de Magalhães on Passion Sunday, 17 March 1521 in the island of Homonhon. Amongst Iberians, Passion Sunday is called domingo de Lázaro, for which reason (and not the stupid reason that 17 March is the feast day of Saint Lazarus, whose feast day falls on 17 December in Western Christendom) the islands of Samar and Leyte, and other neighbouring islands were called the archipiélago de San Lázaro.
[Note: It would be ill-advised to Anglicise domingo de Lázaro as Lazarus Sunday, as no such liturgical day occurs in the calendars of the East and West, at least amongst Anglophones. The East, in particular, has a Lazarus Saturday, which falls on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, by which virtue Palm Sunday is sometimes loosely referred to as Lazarus Sunday. The discrepancy in the reckoning, therefore, would render the translation confusing. The term is still used in the Philippines, though sparsely now.]
However, the official beginning of Christianity in the Philippines is dated on Easter Sunday, 31 March 1521, in the heavily disputed island of Mazagua. (What most historians fail to realise is that it is utterly nonsensical, not to mention unimaginable, for Catholic subjects of a Catholic Realm to somehow fail to assist at Mass on the two previous Sundays, Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday.) This Mass, which merited to be written in the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta for the apparent reason that natives were present in it, was celebrated by Padre Pedro Valderrama.
Before Magalhães perished in Mactan at the cutlass of Lapu-Lapu, he was able to witness Padre Valderrama baptise Humabon, king of Cebu, who took the baptismal name of Carlos, in honour of the Spanish king; and his wife (unnamed in the chronicles of Pigafetta, but variously referred to as Humahoy, Maniwantiwan, and Amihan), who took the baptismal name of Juana, in honour of the Spanish king’s mother. Their captain killed, the remainder of the fleet fled, leaving behind some of their comrades. From their flight from Cebu until the Victoria docked once again at Sanlúcar de Barrameda on 6 September 1522, the expedition was led by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa and captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, having both been chosen in Mindanao in the aftermath of the battle.
The Spanish Crown would later send out other expeditions: García Jofre de Loaísa on 24 July 1525; Sebastián Cabot on 3 April 1526; Álvaro de Saavedra on 31 October 1527; after a thirteen-year hiatus during which Spain respected the Treaty of Zaragoza concluded on 22 April 1529, Ruy López de Villalobos on 1 November 1542; and twenty-two years later, Miguel López de Legazpi on 21 November 1564. With Legazpi came the Augustinians led by Fray Andrés de Urdaneta (who was convinced to accompany the expedition in order to evangelise New Guinea, and later was disillusioned because New Guinea was not part of the itinerary), who would later pioneer the evangelisation of the Philippine Islands, an apostolate that would later be expanded by subsequent missionaries.
The entire Philippine Islands, then under the vigorous missionary activity of the Spanish friars, were placed under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Mexico. The distance between the Philippines and Mexico made it extremely difficult for the spiritual administration of the new Spanish territory. The acephalous Philippine Church would eventually have its first head in the person of the Dominican Fray Domingo de Salazar, when Gregory XIII, by virtue of the Bull Illius fulti praesidio issued on 6 February 1579, erected the parish of Manila into a diocese, suffragan to the Archdiocese of Mexico.
After a tumultuous yet very fruitful reign, including an intrigue with the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Mexico (on the issue of who should exercise inquisitorial powers in the Philippines), Fray Domingo died on 4 December 1594. After having gone to Spain to defend himself before the King against his detractors, and after having successfully done so, including convincing the King to divide the diocese into four (a suggestion that would later be approved by Rome), he died a penniless man (having already been named by Rome as Archbishop of Manila), having spent whatever little wealth he had for the diocese, and his funeral coincided with that of Gaspar I de Quiroga y Vela, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Toledo (the richest archdiocese at that time in all Christendom), Primate of Spain, thus putting members of the Royal Council in the difficult position of choosing which funeral to attend. The King, who, upon learning that Fray Domingo had only six reales in possession at the time of his death, had paid for the cost of the bishop’s funeral, ordered the Royal Council to attend the funeral of the poor Bishop of Manila.
During the absence of Fray Domingo, and most especially, during the sede vacante, the diocese was administered by the deceased bishop’s zealous and loyal companion and provisor, Fray Cristóbal de Salvatierra, a fellow Dominican, appointed administrator of the diocese by Fray Domingo, who travelled so large an area, always barefoot, to carry out his mission in many places including Nueva Segovia, but mainly in Bataan.
On 14 August 1595, Clement VIII (who made it his mission to diminish Spanish control over the papacy), responding to the request of the Spanish crown (made upon proposal of Fray Domingo), sent out four bulls to Spain: one for the elevation of the Diocese of Manila into the rank of an archdiocese; three for creating three suffragan dioceses. Each of these bulls bore the incipit Super specula militantis Ecclesiae, and apparently carried the same preamble or prooemium, but differed in their specific contents.
[Note: The Latin preposition super demands an accusative, but the noun specula, when taken in the correct meaning of watchtower, is in the nominative. The accusative specula is the plural of speculum, meaning looking glass or mirror. In its form, the incipit would grammatically mean Upon the mirrors of the Church Militant, instead of the correct Upon the watchtower of the Church Militant. However, many sources, including the online Catholic Encyclopaedia, preserve this declension; hence, out of deference to more learned authors, we also retain the declension.]
We do not have the full text of the bulls in Latin; what we have in full is the Spanish translation of the bull that was intended for the newly-minted Diocese of Nueva Segovia. (This author has yet to contact the pertinent dioceses to obtain a copy of their respective bulls, if ever these were not destroyed during the War.) Below we reproduce only the putative prooemium of the bull.
These bulls were immediately followed by four reales cédulas that confirmed the ordinances. It is interesting to note that each of these bulls specifically affirmed the virtue of the patronato real, a privilege that would only be renounced in 1898 by Fray Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa, Archbishop of Manila, immediately after the American squadron defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, an event that was commemorated in the 1912 Almanaque on 1 May as the Gloriosa Derrota de la escuadra española en la Bahía de Manila en 1898.
With the elevation of Manila into an archdiocese, its second prelate, the Franciscan Fray Ignacio de Santibánez, became at the same time the second bishop and first archbishop, whose suffragan bishops were the ordinaries of Lallo, Naga, and Cebu. In the course of the centuries, these dioceses were also raised to archdiocesan status, and, attendant with the prevailing religious atmosphere, the ecclesiastic territory of Manila was broken to erect new dioceses.
The circumscription of the Ecclesiastic Province of Manila encompasses the suffragan dioceses of Antipolo, Cubao, Imus, Kalookan, Malolos, Novaliches, Parañaque, Pasig, and San Pablo.
Diocese of Imus and Diocese of Malolos
The Diocese of Imus and the Diocese of Malolos were created on 25 November 1961 when Pope John XXIII issued the bull Christifidelium consulere.
Diocese of San Pablo
The Diocese of San Pablo was created on 28 November 1966 when Pope Paul VI issued the bull Ecclesiarum perampla.
Diocese of Antipolo
The Diocese of Antipolo was created on 24 February 1982 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Quoniam in recte.
Diocese of Novaliches
The Diocese of Novaliches was created on 7 December 2002 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Animarum utilitati.
Diocese of Parañaque
The Diocese of Parañaque was created on 7 December 2002 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Ad efficacius.
Diocese of Cubao
The Diocese of Cubao was created on 28 June 2003 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Quo satius.
Diocese of Kalookan
The Diocese of Kalookan was created on 28 June 2003 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Quoniam quaelibet.
Diocese of Pasig
The Diocese of Pasig was created on 28 June 2003 when Pope John Paul II issued the bull Dei claritas.
The bulls issued in the 20th century were taken from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. The bull for Manila was taken from the Colección de documentos inéditos, and prooemium from the bull of the same formulation sent out on 20 May 1597 to the Kingdom of Congo and Angola to establish the Diocese of the Most Holy Saviour.