In real-life situation, Rizal chose religion over love

via GMANews – In the final portion of the Miss Universe pageant, Shamcey Supsup was asked a now-famous hypothetical question about whether she would change her religion for the man she loves. And she gave a hypothetical answer.

In 1891, Jose Rizal was faced with just that choice. He and his sweetheart at the time, the wealthy half Pinay-half English Nelly Boustead, had talked about getting married. But Nelly asked Rizal to first convert. We will let Austin Coates’ remarkable biography of Rizal tell the rest of the story.

Nelly Boustead was a Protestant – though whether her parents were is uncertain – and she held decided views on the subject. She disliked what she seems to have taken to be agnosticism in Rizal, and seeing him as being far-strayed from the Roman Catholic fold, believed he should re-think his ideas and become a Protestant. Actually, to a young woman of such conviction as Nelly, difference of faith was an impediment to be avoided in choosing a husband.

Sporting a mischievous half-smile and an unusual head dress, Jose Rizal, extreme left, looks away from his sweetheart at the time, the demure Nelly Boustead, fourth from left, in Paris. Photo courtesy of Pardo de Tavera family

Desiring now to marry him, but still unsure of his motives, she did a sensible thing. She promised that she would wait till he was ready to raise with her father the question of a formal engagement, but on one condition: that he “embrace Christianity as I understand it and as it should be understood by all who cannot do anything good without His help and His grace.”

In a letter to Nelly from Paris he questioned the sincerity of her promise to wait for him, in view of the condition she had imposed with it. In view of what had transpired between them all at Biarritz she was shocked, and grew more certain that in her attitude towards him she had been right. She replied:

“I was very much surprised to receive your letter, which fortunately did not fall into the hands of my parents.”

But she was still prepared to marry him. When her parents asked her what her sentiments were towards him, she explained to them about the religious condition she had imposed. She wrote to Jose:

“I have even suggested to them, to tell you that I am disposed to wait for some time so that you may examine the question with calm and concentration and without haste.”

Sporting a mischievous half-smile and an unusual head dress, Jose Rizal, extreme left, looks away from his sweetheart at the time, the demure Nelly Boustead, fourth from left, in Paris. Photo courtesy of Pardo de Tavera family

But his implication that she had made her promise to him out of mere caprice had grieved her, and she knew she must finalize matters. She asked him:

“Do you yield then? Since I shall ask you not to write to me again, I shall also give you another opportunity, if you desire to accept it.

Think well of the condition I have imposed and will always impose on you. If you end by becoming convinced, then come to me and we shall explain ourselves viva voce. In that way there will be no misunderstandings.”

The correspondence continued, but he would not give in. It was in effect a gentle parting of friends. When a little later he was leaving Europe she wrote:

“Since you are leaving, I wish you bon voyage and success in your enterprises, and above all that the Lord may look upon you with favourable eyes wherever you may be and may shower on you blessings, which may you learn to appreciate! My remembrances will accompany you as well as my prayers.”

The qualities Rizal most admired in women were constancy and loyalty, each of them qualities implying determination. But as with his colleagues, he was not a man to take easily to determination unless it lay in the same direction as his own. Though he and Nelly Bousted were much alike in character, it would have been a difficult marriage.

Nelly too, like many who knew him, did not understand him when it came to religion. He was much more of a Catholic than she knew, as he subsequently showed in one of his letters to (Jesuit priest) Father Pastells, in which, without mentioning names, he refers to this incident:

“As for being a Protestant – if Your Reverence knew what I lost by not declaring myself in conformity with Protestant ideas, he would not say such a thing. By not respecting, always, the idea of religion, by treating religion, for myself, as a science of convenience or as an artifice for doing myself well in this life, instead of being a poor deportee I would now be rich, free and see myself heaped with honours.” – HS, GMA News

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One Response to In real-life situation, Rizal chose religion over love

  • noone says:

    “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?”

    -This line is the key to understanding Rizal’s way of ratiocination of choices: In this case, he is non-commital not out of blind faith to the vice-like grip of the Catholic Church, but from the lack of a better alternative.

    Becoming a Protestant is about the same rut as being a Catholic. It’s like exchanging one pair of shackles for another. He may have been in love, but he certainly wasn’t stupid.

    He believes in a God. But it is not exclusively any religion’s God. It is a God that lacks definitions and transcends the imaginary borders imposed by different religions.


    “We are entirely in accord in admitting the existence of God. How can I doubt his when I am convinced of mine. Who so recognizes the effect recognizes the cause. To doubt God is to doubt one’s own conscience, and in consequence, it would be to doubt everything; and then what is life for? Now then, my faith in God, if the result of a ratiocination may be called faith, is blind, blind in the sense of knowing nothing. I neither believe nor disbelieve the qualities which many attribute to him; before theologians’ and philosophers’ definitions and lucubrations of this ineffable and inscrutable being I find myself smiling. Faced with the conviction of seeing myself confronting the supreme Problem, which confused voices seek to explain to me, I cannot but reply: ‘It could be; but the God that I foreknow is far more grand, far more good: Plus Supra!…I believe in (revelation); but not in revelation or revelations which each religion or religions claim to possess. Examining them impartially, comparing them and scrutinizing them, one cannot avoid discerning the human ‘fingernail’ and the stamp of the time in which they were written… No, let us not make God in our image, poor inhabitants that we are of a distant planet lost in infinite space. However, brilliant and sublime our intelligence may be, it is scarcely more than a small spark which shines and in an instant is extinguished, and it alone can give us no idea of that blaze, that conflagration, that ocean of light. I believe in revelation, but in that living revelation which surrounds us on every side, in that voice, mighty, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, universal as is the being from whom it proceeds, in that revelation which speaks to us and penetrates us from the moment we are born until we die. What books can better reveal to us the goodness of God, his love, his providence, his eternity, his glory, his wisdom? ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork’.

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