How Pedro Paterno “Invented” A Religion (And Got Called Crazy By Rizal For It)

By | 12/09/2015

You know your mind is operating on a totally different wavelength when even the country’s national hero cannot describe your level of insanity.

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Yet Pedro Paterno did just that, rendering Jose Rizal at a loss for words courtesy of his crazy theory that the pre-Spanish Filipinos practiced a proto-Christian religion way before the Spaniards arrived.

Pedro Paterno and Jose Rizal

In his book Antigua Civilizacion Tagalog, Paterno modeled the history of pre-Spanish Philippines closely with that of the ancient civilizations of Europe. According to him, the natives practiced a monotheistic religion he termed Tagalismo/Bathalismo throughout Luzon and the Visayas which formed part of the ancient state.

And like something out of a Da Vinci Code-esque plot, Paterno said the baybayin alphabet contained hidden meanings, all of which pointed to the existence of the religion and its adherents in the archipelago.


Tagalog language in Spanish-modified Baybayin script (aka Post Kudlit). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Even more spectacular was Paterno’s claim that the natives had contact with ancient pre-Christian civilizations all the way from Europe and the Middle East, and that even Christian missionaries may have reached the islands hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived.

As claimed by Paterno, the anitos, the institution of the babaylan, and other religious practices of the natives were actually a form of proto-Christianity parallel to that of the saints and the priesthood. Consequently, the arrival of the Spanish only served to “upgrade” the religion to its truest and purest form of Christianity.

READ: 10 Reasons Why Life Was Better In Pre-Colonial Philippines

(Un)surprisingly, many of Paterno’s contemporaries dismissed his claim of the pre-Spanish natives practicing an ancient form of Christianity as ludicrous and overblown, with T.H. Pardo de Tavera calling him a plagiarist and a vulgar impostor whose work was nothing but “pure fantasy full of extraneous and incredible assertions.”

Noted writer Wenceslao Retana, the one-time opponent of La Solidaridad in general and Jose Rizal in particular, described the book as the “dreamy fantasy of a poet devoid of all scientific value.”

As for Rizal, he warned his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt from reading Paterno’s book. In his own words, he wrote:

“Pay no attention to what Paterno says of Bathala in his work. P.A. Paterno is… I cant find a word but only a sign thus: (scribble-like scrawl).

Jose Rizal's letter to Blumentritt about Pedro Paterno

Excerpt from Rizal’s letter to Blumentritt, handwritten in German.

That’s right, Rizal described Paterno with a scrawl of loops—apparently indicating his belief about the man being plain loopy.

In his defense and given his penchant for self-glorification, it is generally agreed Paterno only wanted to show the world the supposed glorious history of the ancient Filipinos, thereby raising the stock of their descendants (including him of course). Unfortunately for him, however, even the most tolerant of critics found his work just too fantastic to stomach.

No wonder virtually no one reads his works today.


About the Author: When he isn’t deploring the sad state of Philippine politics, Marc V. likes to skulk around the Internet for new bits of information which he can weave into a somewhat-average list you might still enjoy. For comments on this article, contact him at: [email protected]

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Mojares, R. (2006). Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de Los Reyes, and the Production of Modern Knowledge. Ateneo University Press.

Morrow, P. (2009). Da Bathala Code Part 4: Paterno and his critics. The Pilipino Express, (15). Retrieved from