In Nick Joaquin's story or novella "The Order of Melchizedek", Guia, the main character's younger sister, has become a member of a religious organisation that is referred to as the Order of Melchizedek. Another member of the "order", Sister Juana, explains,

Well, Mr. Estiva, we try you might say, uh, to bring the Vatican Council to the masses. For example, more public participation in ritual. But our parish priests don't have the time to train all their flocks in the procedure. This is where we come in. Wherever we go we gather a crowd to train. We use the techniques of traveling salesmen: our personnel put on a show. We are usually a combo of four, with guitars. Sister Guia here does an exhibition of the twist or the frug, we sing Beatles songs. But we also slip in the songs now enjoined for Mass. Presently the crowd is joining in. It's the guitars, Mr. Estiva. They make even sacred songs native and contemporary.

(The Second Vatican Council took place in the years 1962–1965; "The Order of Melchizedek" was published in December 1966.)

The "order" later turns out to be something more sinister. For this reason, I would like to know whether Joaquin is here referring to an organisation or efforts that really existed in the Philippines after the Vatican Council and is using the order's violence as indirect criticism of things that really happened in the Philippines.

  • Maybe a question better asked on Christianity SE or History SE? (But then most questions about cultural or historical context have some overlap with other sites.) Oct 31, 2020 at 18:31

1 Answer 1



It's tough to prove a negative, but I don't believe there to be any extant organization that matches your description.

There is a real theological thing referred to as the "Order of Melchizedek". Wikipedia provides a nice cross-denominational summary under the name "Priesthood of Melchizedek", but at least in my denomination we refer to it as an "order".

In essence, it refers to someone being a legitimate priest even though they are not a son of Aaron. This matters because in the Old Testament there is a requirement that only male descendants of Aaron be priests. So the priesthood of Melchizedek is something of a legitimizing force which allows people outside of the Old Testament covenants to be a priest.

Since Jesus was not descended from Aaron, this gets picked up by Christian churches today. Part of the book of Hebrews is dedicated to contrasting the two kinds of priesthood, and explaining why the order of Melchizedek is better.

But the author is picking up an another historical occurrence.

You are right that the author is riffing on a real historical occurrence, but it isn't the order of Melchizedek - it's Vatican II! The Second Vatican Council was an important event to the Catholic world. The last ecumenical council was 100 years ago. The calling of more than 2,000 people to this council was a surprise to many.

Overall, Vatican II focused on a kind of reconciliation of catholicism to the modern world. One of the first outcomes was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which encouraged lay people to participate in services. Mass no longer needed to be in Latin; it was encouraged to use local language and vernacular to make church more accessible.

A second part of Vatican II was a shift toward interacting with the world. Prior to Vatican II, there was a belief that the church was a kind of spiritual bulwark which resisted the world around it. Vatican II pushed for a more dynamic interaction, where the church and modern world interact.

Although I am unfamiliar with this story, in your quote it seems clear that the author is having some fun with the changes which stemmed from Vatican II. Public participation and modern aesthetics are taken to a more extreme degree than happened in reality, so perhaps this reflects some fears or anxieties about what was to come.

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