Garcia, Manuel., Reflecsiones [sic] sobre el artículo primero del decreto emitido por la Asamblea de Guatemala en veinte de julio de 1826 (Guatemala: Mayor, Casa de Porras, June 20, 1826)
Reflections made by a layman of the San Francisco Convent of Guatemala on July 20 and sanctioned by the Council on the 26 of the same month, in the year 1826. Article 1: Youths under the age of 23 cannot enter any Religious convent or profess until the age of 25.
The sweet accent of independence and the deafening thunder clap against regular clergy resounded almost simultaneously in Guatemala. The Spanish government wants to destroy them and Guatemala says: I am independent. The former issues a decree that is destructive to the religious institutions; and virtuous Guatemala looks upon such a shocking idea with disdain. It lifts its voice and separates from a government that wants to tyrannize even the spiritual, and the religious communities adhere to the general opinion and shout, long live independence. The Prelates, who were called to the assembly that was supposed to decide the great point of separation, were in favor of independence. To deny this assertion would be like denying the existence of sunlight at noon. The Communities swear to it, saying they would spill their last drop of blood to support it.
From the day on which Guatemala proclaimed their independence until today, no Community or single member of the clergy has contradicted the system of government. They have lived happily in observance of its institutes, without any interference in politics. In private conversations and in the pulpits, they have inspired obedience of the authorities. In their works, they manifest exemplary conformity. They have not been paid a fourth of the national treasury to keep quiet. Charges
have been imposed upon them, which they did not have before, and they have suffered because of them; and if any Community demanded their rights, it was a result of the nonexistent share observed from the contribution tax. Even without a law that prohibits God’s ministers from speaking in the Cathedra about the Holy Spirit with evangelical liberty, as required by the ministry, we have seen them crushed with prison sentences, and the clergy’s tolerant character survives everything because gossip does not cry out that the friars are enemies of the system and of independence; but there are cases in which resignation is more strongly resented and silence is a crime. It is legal for a man to defend himself when someone wants to kill him: There is no law that prohibits this; nature itself commands him. The Central American religious communities look very closely at their inexistence.
One of the State Assembly’s decrees has put the ax to the building’s roots and its ruin is inevitable. The Convents will collapse. This is what the Assembly wants, under the specious title of Christian decorum. What is this? What will they say to this: Did we not swear to independence with the idea that there would be no innovations made to clergy? And wasn’t the latter compelled to swear to it to avoid the destructive blow of Spain’s decrees? How is it that our visit repeats the same scene– not by demoralized Spaniards, but by the children of our land? Reason seems to contradict the Assembly: The social pact is lacking; men’s hopes are ridiculed; yet, the deputies, those people in whom we deposit our trust, order it so and, instead of presenting us with a an increasingly encouraging future through institutional obedience, they insinuate a death sentence– the destruction
of the Convents. Is this possible? Does that decree destroy religions? I think so; and since I am free to discuss and write my thoughts, I will prove it, so that the public can weigh it on the scales of reason.
Upon setting the age for religious profession, the deputies retrogressed to the year 1560 and issued the decree, the exterminator of the religious institutions in Central America. This doctrine is not new in the Church’s history. In the cited year, Christianity and the very Catholic Charles IX prohibited religious profession before the age of 25 in article 19 of the Orleans ordinance. This Sovereign, history adds, was still a minor surrounded by a faction of heretics to whom the Chancellor was too favorable. Although this innovation feigned zeal toward the cloisters’ regularity, their secret desire was to destroy them. They did not achieve this because the Orleans article was completely revoked by article 28 of the Ordinance of Blois which, in accordance with the Council of Trent’s doctrine, set the age for religious profession at 16. I would never say that when the deputies of our Assembly fixed the age of profession, they were guided by the ideas held by the faction surrounding King Charles IX– the latter were heretics, our deputies are Roman Catholics; the former wanted to destroy religion under the zeal of reform, our deputies wanted to see the clergy in the splendor of virtues; but what does it matter that such religious thoughts and purest intentions stand out, if the case is so identical, so similar to the 1560 case that it makes me think that the decree destroys religions,
The youths of Central America are inclined very little toward the cloisters. It cannot be argued to the Communities that their excessive numbers makes them inconvenient. The Province of San Francisco extends from Ciudad Real to Tegucigalpa and among all its individuals, about 80 are priests. That of Santo Domingo has a parallel number of clergy members. La Merced has a much more inferior number. The College of Christ  is so overwhelmed that, in order to fulfill the ministry’s duties, they must all work harder than grown men. Thus, a reflection is valuable if it is given a place in reason’s tribunal. If, with the liberty of professing at 16 years and up, the convents lack clergymen, could there be hope based on good logic that, by prescribing the age of 25 years for profession, the number would increase? Doesn’t reason dictate that if, over a period of three years, eight or ten per institute profess in observance of the Council of Trent, then only one or two, or perhaps none, would profess under the new decree? And doesn’t this touch upon the destruction of Religions? Man must convince himself by force of reason that to contradict the truth is a crime. Good sense and the order of things observed in taking the cloth in religions agree that decree destroys them.
But the State’s Assembly notes the reason for this decree in the paragraph before the first article: “It desires that the virtues, which flourished with public utility in other times, be practiced in the convents of the clergy who profess cloister.”
With all the effusion of their hearts, the clergy also wishes that all Christians, making a glorious retreat to the first centuries of the gospel, manifest this collection of virtues that adorned the first professors of Christianity; but we are so far from our wishes. There is a more infinite distance between the first Christians and those of today than those in the year 1826, which separates us from that era. The members of the clergy are men– you will find some that do not observe their institutions but the large part does not aspire to anything else other than to unite with Jesus Christ.
If the Assembly desires the glory of religion, from where does the idea of setting the age of profession at 25 come? This is a point that, in order to capture my understanding, was crucial to making me see that the decree had been dictated by the Holy Spirit; but I am not fanatical about allowing myself be persuaded into believing that divine providence inspires feelings of destruction and not of construction. I unite my soul with all the Gallican clergy in the memorial that was dedicated to its Sovereign in the year 1780: “Once more,” said the entire clergy to the King, “the criminal project of sacrificing sad and unfortunate victims upon the altar of religion is far from us. We shall never stop agreeing with the judgment of the last Council of Bordeaux’s priests: a small number of true clergymen are worth incomparably more than innumerable legions of monks without vocation or virtue. Yet, all the people consumed in monastic knowledge, united in one voice, demonstrate that commonly, the pleasure of religious practices is not carried out with glory and construction, but rather by those in their early years, before the
tempestuous period of effervescent passions lays hold of them.” This is what the circumspect and wise French clergy said to their sovereign; and the religious communities of Central America protest in the face of all its inhabitants that Jesus Christ’s wife is more pleased with innocent youths than with men who have become intoxicated with Marat’s bitter waters.
The age of profession was thoroughly discussed in the Council of Trent. They observed the diverse aspects of man at distinct ages and once the material was examined with the prudence it required, they chose the age of 16 for profession. This congress was composed of wise men, of the successors of the Apostles, that is, the Bishops; of men of prominent virtue; of men who implored divine help in the presence of God for the correct answer. And are we to believe that the Lord did not hear them in this matter of such importance, which determines whether youths can deny themselves and embrace Jesus Christ’s cross? Would he allow those holy men to err in such a sensitive matter? The Council’s decree, which prescribes the age of 16 for profession is not an article of faith, but it should be carefully considered. How, then, can such a respectable resolution, sealed for three centuries, be ruined in one moment? Do the Assembly deputies know more about religion than the bishops, theologians, and national ambassadors who were present in the Council? In whose hands should the Church’s nave be placed– in those of inexperienced sailors or in those of the people who form the religion’s foundation? Reason shows us that teachers are closer to the truth
than disciples, that youth is not appropriate for such delicate matters, and that the majority of the deputies, still green and inexperienced, destroy religious institutions because they are not familiar with them.
Don’t the Church’s canons deserve some regard in the Assembly’s opinion? Do they believe themselves to be arbiters not only in political matters but also in the ecclesiastical? This is truly despotism and the beginning of graver things. Doesn’t the act of independence say that priests, seculars, and regulars should be respected and that their property should be preserved? Isn’t religion’s property its own preservation? Isn’t the clergy responsible for bringing the Gospel to this part of America? Don’t they have a right to sustain it? Why should we attack them with a thunderbolt? Why can’t we maintain harmony between the building’s cornerstone, the act of independence, and the decrees that surround them? In the former, the language of reason is spoken, in both the latter, the dark language of destruction.
We are innocently nearing the predictions of Necker, d’Alambert, Rousseau, Marat, Diderot, and Frederick II of Prussia. This last man said: soon, soon philosophy (irreligion) will reign across the world. This glory is due to you, Bayle and Voltaire. In a letter he wrote on May 5, 1769 to the learned d’Alambert, he says: “in the upcoming century, the Pope and friars will surely fall.” D’Alambert, more intelligent than Frederick, said: “I already stroll across the ruins of superstition (the Church of Jesus Christ).”
all the means of astuteness in motion so that these great men will not turn out to be false prophets. In Spain, what did the liberals not do to credit their precursors? They led a stand against the friars. They lived intimately persuaded that if the friars existed, Jesus Christ’s religion would exist, that attacking the former was an attack on the latter. They did not achieve it due to one of those reasons that providence maintains secret. Article 28 of Spain’s secret constitution says: the friars are another pillar, which, through sermons and confessionals, maintains superstition (Jesus Christ’s gospel). Therefore, it will deal with uniformly abolishing them. This is another point that should require all our strength and vigilance: Article 29 reads: but if their abolition cannot be attained, then at least, all their income should be procured. A precious article for those who wish to live in aid of the public.
This is the plan proposed by the regenerators of humankind in France and Spain, and this is what can be seen on our horizon. The St. Augustine Convent has already been abolished under the pretext that they were not in compliance; the pupils of St. Teresa have been expelled and the professed are vehemently insulted. The Assembly has already touched upon the issue of tithes, reducing them to half. Ecclesiastic jurisdiction has been abolished under the pretext of equality, although among the same Protestants, sect ministers are respected even in the case of delinquents. It will not be long before another decree is issued that will fix priests’ salaries, paid in three installments: late, incorrectly, and never, because this is another one of the
eleven million ways used to damage the foundation of Jesus Christ’s religion. Lastly, the famous decree, the destroyer of friars and nuns, was seen in full pomp. Are there any more stones left to move in order to fulfill the plan created by humankind’s reformers?
Well, shoulders to the wheel– all methods are legal when dealing with friars. Well, Diderot himself would not have done it better if he crawled out of his grave, as written in a pamphlet. This Apostle recanted at the hour of his death because in those last minutes of life, there is no fever other than that cured by apothecary remedies.
They will say that the deputies do not intent to destroy the religious institutions and that the decree has no objective other than what is mentioned in its exordium. The decree wishes for virtues– virtues that have flourished in another time. What times could these be? The decree does not mention the period of these virtues but it implies that there are no virtues in the present. The decree is an insult to religion because, since religion has existed, they have flourished and all types of virtues have flourished in convents; we can already see that they will not flourish if the decree is carried out, scorning the wise representation made by the prelates of religion before the Assembly itself. But if they are asking for virtues, then why do they close the door so that there can be none? If they wish to destroy through hypocrisy, how can they ask for virtues that do not exist? If they create obstacles so that there is no clergy, how can they hope for saints? The decree contradicts itself. Five years from now, they will say that there are no friars for outside convents and they will order their suppression. Ten years from now, once the number of clergymen is reduced to almost
nothing, they will announce that religious institutions can no longer continue because there have so few people and among these, the individuals are old, others sick, and others lack those virtues called for in the exordium, and that Christian decorum imperiously demands the suppression of religious communities. The search down this path for virtues that exist but are not seen will lead to the abolition of not only the imitators of evangelical perfection but also of the convents’ material funds.
It is strange that erudite men cannot see something that we can all see. The Colombia decree rung out in Mexico, which prescribed the age of 25 for profession and, of course, reason rose up and said: Convents are finished. The pamphlet entitled “Nuns in Jalapa,” says: “We dare to say, without the suspicion of deceiving ourselves, that this law (reference to the Colombia law), though through an indirect path, destroys even the foundations and annihilates the monastic institution forever. In Guatemala, all those who wish to hear mass on Sundays and on days of obligation, those who wish to receive the holy sacraments of penance and the Eucharist once a year or with some frequency, those who like to hear the divine word in panegyric and moral sermons– all are of the opinion that the decree destroys the clergy. Only erudite men see virtues where everyone else sees nothing other than true destruction.
Pleasant sentiments cannot be caused in any of the Republic’s states by: a law that deprives family men of that sweet satisfaction felt upon placing their children in the hands of divine providence in religious cloisters,
since it imprisons youths in the harsh slavery of denying the inspirations of grace felt when the Lord calls in their hearts; a law that, in ten years, will cause the indefectible ruin of religious institutions, if it does not annihilate them immediately; a law that leaves its course because when the novitiates find themselves in the Guatemala Court, it has a bearing on all the other States and, in this case, the federal Congress should speak and not the Guatemala Assembly; a law that, although dressed in the uniform of virtue, must have the destruction of virtue itself as its ultimate objective; a decree that not only degrades the public, but also awakens the soundest sleeper among the sanctuary ministers because it hits the target as it walks.
Save me the politics, let it be remembered in that wise maxim by men consumed with controlling the world. During government transitions, it is necessary to make the majority of the people feel the new benefits provided by the adopted system. The locals observe the steps taken by the government and they know how to make comparisons; and foreigners watch with heightened vigilance to see whether we know how to represent ourselves or not. Has the time fallen upon our soil for us to dislike the entire secular and regular clergy? And have we touched upon the end of Diderot’s, Rousseau’s, and Voltaire’s pompous and bombastic expressions regarding the scorn, overthrow, and subsequent destruction of religion? Did the decrees of the abuse and destruction of the clergy contain such precision? Must the nuns of Guatemala– the honor of their sex and mirrors of the purest virtue–participate in the fetidness of this decree? Aren’t they allowed to profess only after having turned 25 years old, as prescribed by article 4 of the decree? Haven’t those
who professed at the ages of 16, 18, or 20 been virtuous? Are more virtues desired? This is like walking in the dark because the nuns live, not only in their respective institutes, but also in intimate union with Jesus Christ. If you know the nuns, you will understand the strength of God’s grace in these young girls who, scorning the most seductive things presented by the world, gave themselves to Jesus Christ. Yet this is exactly the friars’ and nuns’ political sin– to live in the world and not live according to the maxims of the world. Thus, the philosophers said, destroy them because they are contrary to our plans of regeneration. Exterminate superstition (the religion of Jesus Christ) forever, so that the superstitious (the friars), who are columns of hypocrisy (of the true doctrine), do not appear in our sight. Enchanting language that has captivated some under its flags.
Yet, this is not Central America’s utterance. Its inhabitants are Catholic and will always be so. The same deputies who signed the decree could not have conceived of how far it would be extended by the goals of those who promoted it. In freemasonry there are initiates, officials, and masters. These last ones propose but do not reveal the entire extent of their plans. Frederick II of Prussia was told that the project was in opposition to the gospel, but they hid the fact that his own authority was under fire. He was irritated when he found out and conceived a mortal hatred against the masters because he was nothing more than an overdue official in the freemasons. I know various deputies of the Assembly: their intelligence and talents are not hidden from me; the reasoning that encourages them is not so heavy as to incline them to
wise and respectable representation made by the prelates of religion, that they will assess the objections that were not present during the actual discussion. However, this decree is essentially the work of the Freemason Grand Masters. This is terrible for youths of both sexes: for one, there are no nunneries except for those in the Court of Guatemala, so it is
impossible for them to enter in the flower of their youth, which is the time at which Jesus Christ calls them; and for the others because they cannot wear the habit until reaching the age of 23 and cannot profess until they have turned 25 years old, and this is the period of passion’s unrest, a time at which they no longer try to enter into religion. Experience confirms it in this manner. In France, they ordered that no one profess until reaching the age of 22, and the Convents were annihilated. In Colombia and in Guatemala, it has been ordered that no one profess before the age of 25 and it can be assured with all certainty that religious institutes were destroyed in these two republics. If the ruin of the convents is the people’s declaration, the deputies have fulfilled their duties, but if the people of Central America want the clergy to exist, the deputies have expressed their own opinion and not the people’s. In any case, I have proved that the decree pronounced by the Assembly destroys religion; that decrees of this nature, in all times and all places, have had the same objective of destruction. I have manifested that the enemies of Jesus Christ have tried to exterminate
the friars– not because they did not live in observance of their institutes, but because they are one of the strongest columns in God’s Church. The sensible people will form their own opinion and understand the decree’s consequences.
Fray Manuel Garcia