THE COUNTRY’S oldest book has found a new home.

An eBook version of Doctrina Christiana, first printed in the Philippines in 1593 by the old Imprenta de los Dominicanos de Manila, can now be downloaded online for free from several internet sources.

A popular digital library, Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), has a vast collection of public domain and licensed works readable online, including the host site for the Doctrina Christiana, which comes in Spanish and version of Tagalog texts, written both in the Roman script and in the traditional writing system. Others also available are Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Just like the original copy, the eBook version of Doctrina Christiana contains basic prayers and teachings of the Christian faith, including the Ten Commandments in Spanish and Tagalog, as well as the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Hail Holy Queen and Apostle’s Creed.

“If you have a document like this, the basics of faith are given and (hopefully) explained there so people have something to look at, to study and something to use it in their lives,” said Fr. Franz Josef Eilers, S.V.D., an expert on pastoral communication and a professor at the Graduate School.

Doctrina Christiana, (roughly translated as “The Teachings of Christianity”) was intended by the Spanish missionaries as a catechetical guide to help spread Christianity in the country more effectively by using the local language.

This made use of the ancient Tagalog script, which had 17 symbols with only three vowels: a, i and u, compared to the modern Tagalog alphabet with five vowels and 15 consonants. The book was based on the teachings of the Jesuit theologian and doctor of the church Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who was recognized as a firm defender of the Catholic faith against heretics, and was highly praised for his catechism and polemic works.

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“The first pages of the book provide the Tagalog syllabaries which serve as reading guides for the text written in the vernacular,” said Assistant Archivist Fr. Fidel Villaroel, O.P.

Apart from its catechetical and evangelical purposes, it introduces to readers the early Tagalog script called “baybayin,” which used symbols that represent a complete syllable.

The rare book in-depth

Edwin Wolf II, editor of one of three facsimile editions of Doctrina Christiana, wrote an introductory essay for the text which discussed four major aspects of the original volume: physical description, bibliographical history, authorship, and actual printing.

Wolf described the book as “browned and brittle” with 74 pages bound with the woodcut cover of an image of St. Dominic, with some of the pages having been separated from its original stitching.

The pages were printed through xylography, a method of printing texts using hand-carved woodblocks.

According to Wolf, the Chinese who pioneered this printing method had a vital role in the production of books during the Spanish era.

He said the Chinese books brought to Manila served as “xylographic models upon which the books could be based.”

Wolf also included in his essay documents which proved the licensed printing of the books in 1593.

One of them was a letter written by then Governor Gomez Perez Dasmarinas to Philip II of Spain in the same year.

The letter notified the King of granting a license for Doctrina Christiana to be printed in Tagalog and Chinese.

Wolf also discussed the contributions of the four orders of priests in the Philippines (Augustinians, Jesuits, Domincans and Franciscans) who prepared and revised the book.

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He said these orders “might have written or worked on the Doctrinas printed in 1593.”

Leaf through history

Villaroel wrote in his book Printing and Rare Books published in 1991 that three copies of Doctrina Christiana were found in three different times and places.

In 1947, one copy in Spanish and Tagalog written in pre-hispanic syllabary was found in Italy.

The other two copies both written in Chinese were found in 1948 at the Vatican Library, and in 1952 at the National Library of Madrid. Today, the U.S. Library of Congress holds the only surviving copy of Doctrina Christiana in Tagalog.

Villaroel also said that there were three facsimile editions of the Doctrina in print, including his own and the other two by Wolf and Dominican priest Jesus Gayo. The first was in 1948 by Wolf, now distributed as an eBook.

“During the [earlier] times, it was hard to preserve books,” he said. “You are lucky today that you have all these computers for the preservation of these rare books.”

But Eilers noted that readers still needed to carefully study the text in Doctrina’s eBook version.

Aside from Project Gutenberg, other websites like the World Digital Library also distribute copies of Doctrina in easy-to-access electronic files.

In April, the online library published a catalog of scanned pages of the original book, giving readers the feeling of reading from the original copy. As compared to the plain text distributed by Project Gutenberg, the site provides a more interesting reading with the browned old pages being flashed on the screen.

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Search sites like Google would also provide internet users easy access to the Doctrina eBook through a long list of results from the keywords “Doctrina Christiana.”

Other sources that offer the free eBook are manybooks.net, mybebook.com and the Filipino library filipiniana.net.

Users can also read the book anywhere by downloading it in portable document format (PDF) to their mobile phones and other compatible gadgets.

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