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Theological Struggles of the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) by Samuel B. Batara

Theological Struggles of the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) by Samuel B. Batara



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Published by Samu Bata
Research paper on the shifts of doctrinal positions taken by the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) in its first half century. The Church separated from the Roman Church too soon and its search for apostolic succession made it drift.
Research paper on the shifts of doctrinal positions taken by the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) in its first half century. The Church separated from the Roman Church too soon and its search for apostolic succession made it drift.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Samu Bata on Oct 16, 2008
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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By Samuel Baltazar Batara

From the actual proclamation of the Philippine Independent Church, on August 2, 1902, the minds of the great mass of Filipinos who joined were not much concerned with theology. They were certain to be no longer under the Pope of Rome and they had a sense of emancipation.

As an official dogma of the Church, modernism took actual form in the Fundamental Epistles of Gregorio Aglipay, the first Obispo Maximo. The Third Fundamental Epistle of October 17, 1902 stated the objective of the newly founded Church: \u201cto reestablish in its entire splendor the worship of the one true God and the purity of his Holy Word which have been lost under the reign of obscurantism. The greed of the imposters was so great that they have relegated to oblivion the idea of God symbolized in the Trinity.\u201d

From the theological point of view, the Fundamental Epistles were orthodox. They were in conformity with the great creeds of historic Christianity. The Third Epistle also speaks of Jesus who taught that God is one, but there are three who bear witness in heaven: The Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One. In the Trinity can be seen the Omnipotence which created the universe, the supreme abnegation of Jesus who died to redeem man and the whole creation, and the Holy Spirit who sustains and guides us with love ineffable.

When the Church was founded, its dogma was frankly Roman Catholic. The Second Fundamental Epistle dated October 2, 1902 charged the \u201cIndependent\u201d bishops to teach the minor order in their respective seminaries (found in rectories and parish houses) no more than Christian doctrines ordered by the Council of Trent. The Fourth Fundamental Epistle of October 29, 1902 claimed the new Church to have the same belief as the Roman Christians, except that it did not obey the Pope. This was embodied in Section 3 of the Constitution in La Verdad, January 21, 1903, which states: \u201cThe dogma and the Creed would be the same as professed and practiced by all apostolic catholic Christians minus obedience to the Pope. \u201c The clergy, for the most part, went on using the old (Latin) Roman Missal.

As early as 1904, Gregorio Aglipay would like the new Church to resemble that of the Anglican Communion. He approached the Episcopal Church by visiting Bishop Brent that year. These two churchmen, however, did not get very far.

During the same year (1904), Aglipay was also corresponding with Bishop Herzog of the Swiss National Church, a part of the old Catholic Church which, like Anglicanism, had the Apostolic Succession of Bishops. Herzog was


interested and consecration could be conveyed if detailed information about the Independent Church would be forwarded plus a subscription to the Declaration of Utrecht.

Aglipay, however, hesitated by giving various excuses. He had committed himself to the Protestant theory of the Episcopate in his Fundamental Epistles; and to accept consecration from some outside Christian body would invalidate all of his arguments. To a strong nationalist and reformer, it might have been a point of pride to not acknowledge dependence upon any \u201coutside power.\u201d

The \u201cDoctrinas\u201d approved on May 28, 1903 already modified the old dogma. Isabelo de los Reyes Sr. contributed much to the theological development of the Philippine Independent Church. He was much influenced by European intellectual liberalism and rationalism. Accordingly, his theology was much affected by modern thoughts.

After his release from prison in Barcelona (1897), de los Reyes wrote the \u201cReligion of the Katipunan,\u201d published in December 1900. Here he showed that prior to the coming of the Spaniards, the Filipinos already had a developed and advanced religion. The Bathalaistic faith was common to all Filipinos. Bathala is the same God of the Christians, but worshipped with more purity of heart. If God appeared to the Israelites under the name of Jehovah (or Yahweh to be more precise), to the Jews with the name of Jesus, to the Hindus with the name of Brahma, and to the Mohammedans with the name of Allah, why could he not have appeared with the name Bathala to the Filipinos?

Eventually, this old primitive religion purified became for the most part the doctrine of the Philippine Independent Church. The Bathalistic doctrine of God with three attributes became the accepted doctrine. The conception of the relations between God and mankind was a curious admixture of Darwinism and rationalism. Darwinism was accepted and harmonized with the biblical doctrine.

As the chief theologian, Isabelo de los Reyes prepared for the Church the
Oficio Divino in 1906. The first part of this book was the \u201cNew Evangel\u201d

which mainly consisted of harmony of Gospels. The Evangelio Filipino (pages 1 to 133 of the Oficio Divino), as also called, was principally based on the Gospel according to Mark which is considered the oldest and least adulterated with paganism. Regarded as inconsistent with nature, physical and spiritual accounts of miracles were eliminated. It was the firm objective of the new Church as summarized in theCatequesis, \u201cto liberate the conscience from all error, exaggeration and unscientific scruples and from anything that may be contrary to the laws of nature and sound reason.\u201d


De los Reyes harmonized or omitted all accounts in the original gospels which appeared to be in contradiction. Only the miracles of healing were retained. The doctrine of original sin was denied as well as the view that such sin was expiated through Jesus Christ. He believed in life after death, although he based his faith in what he considered to be scientific evidence.

Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, was God, his manhood was only appearance. God cannot suffer upon the cross; therefore, there was no sacrificial atonement. His death was not an expiatory sacrifice, for He himself objected to sacrifices. It was rather a seal of the truths which he taught, a lofty example of his abnegation. His death was the death of a great hero of humanity. His resurrection was a resurrection of the elements of which the body is made. God cannot err, and so all accounts which emphasized Jesus\u2019 humanity were omitted. Salvation comes from acceptance of God\u2019s perfect teachings as enunciated by Jesus.

At this stage, De los Reyes demonstrated his theology to be some sort of Unitarian Docetic Agnosticism. Inconsistently, the supreme miracle of the Incarnation was retained., Philippine Independent Church apologists might explain, however, that the inconsistency of God confining himself to one man must mean that God could again incarnate himself in another when the occasion arises.

Don Isabelo took the belief in the nature deity Bathala, and attempted to develop a Philippine theology compatible with scientific thought and the modern world. The first part of the Filipino Bible he printed in 1908 attempted to explain creation by the prevalent theory of evolution as expounded by Darwin. In the unique language of the Catequesis, \u201cIt would be inconceivable for the universe to exist without God because it is his life and necessary machinery. God is the life of whatever exists. But neither could God exist without the universe because it is his laboratory and indispensable place. Without the universe where shall we locate God?\u201d

The theology of creation was a purely naturalistic position. Something procured out of nothing is denied. God did not create anything but that the original matter developed through an evolutionary process.

TheCalendar io of 1908, edited by Don Isabelo, contained many anti- Trinitarian statements. This was where the shift from Bathalaism to Unitarianism, as well as the influence of Protestantism, boldly appeared.

The unity of God was stressed. God is one and only one. The Trinity idea was considered a later addition to Christianity. It was maintained that the Trinity concept was pure paganism derived from the Greeks and Egyptians. When the Apostles baptized, they used only the name of Jesus. The Father and Son are the same \u2013 the Father applying to his divinity and Son to his humanity


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