Aglipayanism and the Philippine Independence Church

[From Area Handbook for the Philippines, Chapter 8: Religions
published by The American University, Washington, D.C., 1976]

At its zenith in 1904 the Philippine Independent Church was reliably estimated to have had a membership of between one-quarter and one-third of the Christian population. Since them, however, this proportion has declined markedly, although in 1970 the church remained the largest indigenous Christian group.

The movement's principal basis was the intense nationalism that accompanied the war for independence and the strong anti-Spanish and anti-friar sentiments directed against a church that was dominated by a foreign clergy. In the first decade of the twentieth century the movement received support from Masons in Spain and the United States and from a majority of Protestant missionaries from the United States.

In 1899, after the United States armed forces intervened against Spain and later against Aguinaldo's insurgent, Aglipay became the leader of a guerilla band that harassed the Americans until the band formally surrendered in 1900. In April 1901 two priest representing the dissenting Filipino clergy went to Rome to ask the Pope to agree to recognize the actions of Aguinaldo and Aglipay and to commit himself to appointing only Filipinos as bishops, except where appointment of a foreigner received the approval of a majority of Filipino priests.

This request was supported by a similar petition drawn up in Madrid by a Philippine committee headed by Isabelo de los Reyes, a Filipino newspaperman and pamphleteer who had been imprisoned for complicity in an anti-Spanish conspiracy and sent to Madrid, when he was released. In August 1902 de los Reyes launched the Aglipayan movement by proclaiming, in a Manila newspaper, the establishment of a new church under Aglipay. To head the executive committee of laymen he appointed Governor General Howard Taft, an American; General Aguinaldo; and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, a Filipino member of the governing commission under Taft. Pardo de Tavera, however, publicly denied having any connection with the movement, as did a majority of the priests mentioned by de los Reyes as leading the Philippine Independent Church.

After attempts at reconciliation failed, Aglipay broke with the Roman Catholic Church. On September 27, 1902, he informed both Governor General Taft and the church authorities of his demand that the cathedral of Manila be turned over to him as head of the Philippine Independent Church. Although rebuffed this gesture was the beginning of a five-year campaign that resulted in the acquisition of nearly one-half of the Roman Catholic Church's properties in he Philippines by Aglipay's followers. In many cases forces was used, and considerable bloodshed resulted. Many churches were burned,. and several priests were killed. At the height of the movement, in 1904, Aglipay asserted that half of the population of the islands belonged to his church. His claim, however, proved premature. In 1906 the conservative Philippine Supreme Court ruled that all the buildings of the Roman Catholic Church that had been occupied by Aglipay's followers had to be returned to the church. Forced to move to makeshift quarters the movement faced financial difficulties and a rapid decline in membership.

De los Reyes created a distinct doctrine, liturgy, and organization for the Philippine Independent Church. Although he was never a Mason, he drew concepts of theology and worship from the Masonic Code and much of his support and inspiration from Miguel Morayta, the grad master of the Spanish Orient Lodge of Freemasonry in Madrid. According to his doctrine, which was approved formally by Aglipay, their church was founded principally to worship the one true God and to liberate the human conscience from "all scientific error, exaggeration and scruple." The rejected the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the possibility of miracles, including those mentioned in the New Testament. A new version of the Gospel was produced based exclusively on that of Saint Mark; the other evangelists were considered apocryphal. In this version angels, devils, miracles, and other manifestations of the supernatural do not exist. Revelation and prophecy are denied.

The Aglipayan creed states that God is a universal and intelligent force, the principle of all life and movement. Satisfaction of human needs is achieved through work rather than prayer. All reward and punishment for virtuous or evil behavior occur in this life. The origin of the universe is explained. The origin of the universe is explained as development and not creation because matter has no beginning.

At the time of the break with Rome in 1902 Aglipay had claimed that the doctrine and ritual of his church was identical to those of Roman Catholicism. Although new doctrine and ritual were proclaimed officially, for several decades most Aglipay priests continued to teach Roman Catholic doctrine and to follow Roman Catholic ritual. They continued to say Mass, venerate the saints, and perform all customary acts of devotions, even thought he acts were opposed to official doctrine. As a result of doctrinal disintegration a schism developed even before the death of Aglipay in 1940. In the meantime de los Reyes had reverted to Roman Catholicism.

Early official books, while denying Trinity, recognized the divinity of Christ, but by 1919 the revised plan for studies contained instructions of "discarding...what is said about Christ's divinity, a doctrine which we accepted in the beginning only out of compulsion." Christ is said to have taught the more grave errors. There is an emphasis on science as the source for all religious truths, Morality is highly relativistic. The Ten Commandments are said to be pure myth.

The closer Aglipay brought this church toward unitarian teachings the greater the tension within it became. Many of his ministers complained that they had to continue the traditional practices and rituals at the risk of losing their income and most of their followers. During the 1920s two of Aglipay's ministers formed their own splinter groups. Angel Flor Mata called his branch the Philippine Reformed Church (Iglesia Filipina Reformada), and in 1924 Ciriaco de las Llagas founded the Independent Philippine Evangelical Church (Iglesia Filipina Evangélica Independiente).

In 1928 an open battle erupted within the Philippine Independent Church over the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and other traditional dogma, which was to result a decade later in a major split in the movement. Severando Castro, the Aglipayan bishop of Ilocos, and five other founding members of the Aglipayan movement publicly protested the unitarian doctrine that de los Reyes and Aglipay had introduced, without the approval of the Supreme Council of Bishops. They asserted that the rank-and-file Aglipayans held to the traditional teachings, that immutability is a characteristic quality of religious truths, and further that the new doctrines were contrary to the faith that the leaders of the Aglipayan church publicly swore to preserve.

In April 1938 a group known as the Trinitarian faction, under the leadership of Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr., broke away. After the death of Aglipay both the Unitarian and Trinitarian groups maintained that they were the true Philippine Independent Church. Finally in 1955 the courts awarded the right to the name and possession of Aglipayan church property to the Trinitarian faction. The unitarian faction continued to insist that it represented the true form of Aglipayanism. Since 1948 the dominant Trinitarian faction has been associated with the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United Church, which consecrated three of its bishops. In turn these bishops consecrated the other bishops of the Philippine Independent Church. In 1961 this faction, having a total membership of just over 200,000, entered into a Concordant of Full Communion with the Philippine Episcopal Church of the United States.

Source: Philippine-American War Centennial Initiative (P.A.W.C.I.)

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