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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: “to 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.” 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 “Independent” 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: “The dogma and the Creed would be the same as professed and practiced by all apostolic catholic Christians minus obedience to the Pope. “ 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 “outside power.” The “Doctrinas” 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 “Religion of the Katipunan,” 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 “New Evangel” 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 the Catequesis, “to 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.”
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’ humanity were omitted. Salvation comes from acceptance of God’s 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, “It 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?” 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. The Calendario of 1908, edited by Don Isabelo, contained many antiTrinitarian 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 – the Father applying to his divinity and Son to his humanity
and the Holy Ghost is but the spirit of Jesus. There is no Trinity of persons, but there is a Trinity of attributes – Omnipotent Creator, Eternal Love, and Omniscient Provider. The Philippine Independent Church, though modernistic in belief, ever practiced the seven sacraments approved by the Council of Trent. Its practice, however, was fully in accord with the principles putting aside all their mystical meanings and recognizing in them no intrinsic value whatsoever. Baptism was not a means of cleansing one’s sins, but a sign of regeneration. Confirmation was a ratification of a child’s baptism so that those baptized as adults needed no confirmation. Confession of one’s sin must be made to God alone. The Eucharist (viewed as transubstantiation in Roman Catholicism) was only an act of praise and thanksgiving, the performance of a commemorative act in which the bread and the wine only symbolized the body and blood of Jesus. The real presence was denied but the ritual of the service was of similar form to the Roman Mass. Extreme Unction was purely an act of charity and consolation to the sick and dying. Marriage as well as Ordination for the ministry was patterned after the Roman Catholic system. It must also be underlined that the intense nationalistic character of the Church greatly influenced its theology. As soon as the Church was organized, it canonized Rizal, Burgos, Gomez and Zamora (September 24, 1903) as saints. Aglipayanism, as the movement was also called, taking sides with Unitarianism, asserted that modern science should be placed above the Bible. Those parts of the Bible which do not bear out the discoveries of science must be discarded as obsolete and dangerous. It happened in 1907, when William Howard Taft came back to the Philippines as Secretary of State to open the new assembly, that he brought and put into the hands of Aglipay and De los Reyes much literature from the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association in Boston. In time the two churchmen became thoroughly attracted to this more extreme form of liberal Christianity, believing that it would soon capture the allegiance of the majority of Christians in the world. In 1912, Rev. Charles Wendle published, under the auspices of the American Unitarian Association, a book on the Promotion of Unitarian Christianity in Foreign Lands. In preparing the book, he made a brief survey of the
Philippine Independent Church. He found out this Church neither to be Roman nor in accord with orthodox Protestantism and might be open to Unitarian influence. When Isabelo de los Reyes devoted more time to political career and was elected senator in 1922, he ceased to be the theologian of the Independent Church. Bishop Aglipay gradually assumed the responsibility. Aglipay believed that the future of the Church lay with the liberal Christian movement over the world. He sought the support of many liberals in the Philippines, like the Masons, for a modern scientific and up-to-date church. From 1924, Aglipay issued a series of essays and manifestos which in effect reformed the Oficio Divino. The miracle of the Incarnation was done away with and Jesus was now seen to be just a very good man and not God in any sense. The Eucharist became simply a brotherly meal. A theology of rewards and punishments in a life after death was denied. In 1929, two dignitaries of the Unitarian Church came to the Philippines to consult with Aglipay and to bring about closer relations between the Independent Church and Unitarians. On March 28, 1931, Aglipay, accompanied by Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr. and Santiago Fonacier, left for America and attended the annual convention of the American Unitarian Association in Boston. Bishop Aglipay was awarded an honorary degree by Meadville Theological School, a Unitarian institution in Chicago. In 1934, Aglipay and Bishop de los Reyes Jr. went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to attend the Triennial Congress of the International Association for Liberal Christianity. Unitarianism made Aglipay into a world figure and confirmed his resolution to reform the Filipino Church. In 1939, Louis Cornish, President of the American Unitarian Association, during his visit, was made Honorary President of the Philippine Independent Church, and he was convinced that the bond between the two religious bodies was close. The Philippine Independent Church was Unitarian greatly unlike the American Unitarianism. American Unitarians did not accept the idea of sacraments, nor believed in priesthood and in consecration of bishops. They did not believe in the idea of mass but in preaching. They never built altars nor lighted a candle. The new Church could no longer be claimed catholic because it did not accept the doctrine of Apostolic Succession or the Nicene Creed, and denied the doctrine of original sin and the Trinity of Persons. Neither was it Protestant. Protestants accept the Trinity of persons, the infallibility of the Scriptures, and the Nicene Creed.
As early as 1930, however, discontent with Aglipay’s teachings began to openly manifest itself. A small minority, finding a voice in Servando Castro, Bishop of the Ilocos, declared that the Church had been doctrinally led far astray and should return to an affirmation of Christ’s divinity and to an orthodox interpretation of the sacraments, especially the Mass. Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. died in 1938, followed two years later by Bishop Aglipay. Gradually, Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr. who took over the leadership of the Church, came to embrace the apostolic and catholic faith. And when elected Obispo Maximo, on September 1, 1946, he and his followers determined to bring the Independent Church back into the mainstream of Christian belief and practice. Accordingly, all traces of heretical teaching were eliminated so that on August 5, 1947, the Church adopted an orthodox (clearly Trinitarian) Declaration Faith and Articles of Religion unanimously approved by the Supreme Council of Bishops and the General Assembly. Appropriate liturgical reforms were also introduced. From then on, the Philippine Independent Church is catholic that it preserves the faith and order of the Church set forth in Ecumenical Councils. It has the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. It administers the seven sacraments, holding baptism and communion to be generally necessary to salvation. It accepts the statement of faith as contained in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. This authoritative clarification of doctrinal position paved the way for the presentation of a petition to the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church by Bishop Norman Binsted on behalf of the Philippine Independent Church, requesting the conveyance of valid orders to the Church through the consecration of three bishops. The house approved the petition on November 6, 1947. Isabelo de los Reyes Jr., Obispo Maximo, Manuel Aguilar and Gerardo Bayaca were consecrated in the Apostolic Succession on April 7, 1948 by Bishops Norman Binsted and Robert Wilner of the Philippine Episcopal Church and Bishop Harry Kennedy of the District of Honolulu. These three newlyconsecrated bishops then proceeded to validly ordain and consecrate the bishops, priests and deacons of the Church. Also in 1947, Bishop de los Reyes was able to work out arrangements with St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, a Philippine Episcopal Church institution, whereby candidates for the priesthood of the Philippine Independent Church would receive their training, and selected priests would undergo intensive short courses to improve their inadequate theological (guerilla style) preparation.
Eventually, the Independent Church’s relationships with the Episcopal Church blossomed into a Concordat of Full Communion adopted by the two churches in September 1961. The Filipino Church has entered into similar agreements with other churches of the Anglican Communion and certain non-Roman Catholic Churches on the continent of Europe. In 1959, it became member of the East Asia Christian Conference and joined the World Council of Churches in 1960. In more recent years, the Independent Church produced a Filipino Missal, a Filipino Ritual, and a PIC edition of St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. The liturgy of these books reflects a marked Anglican influence while preserving a distinctly nationalistic Filipino flavor. The ultra rationalism and Unitarianism of its worship previously have been deleted. The very confusing theological development in the Philippine Independent Church could be better understood by remembering that Don Isabelo de los Reyes was a rationalist, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay was a bold reformer, while the early bishops and clergy were ex-Roman catholic priests and acquainted with the rationalistic trends of thought.
References: Achutegui, Pedro S. de, and Miguel A Bernard. Religious Revolution in the Philippines: The Life and Church of Gregorio Aglipay 1860-1960. Manila: Ateneo de Manila, 1962. Anderson, Gerald H. (ed). Studies in Philippine Church History. Ithaca, N.Y Cornell .: University Press. 1969. Chandlee, H. Ellsworth. “The Philippine Independent Church.” Pan Anglican. V/2 (October 1954). Cornish, Louis C. The Philippines Calling. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co., 1942. Deats, Richard L. Nationalism and Christianity in the Philippines. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press. 1967. Galang, Zoilo M. (ed). “The Aglipay Church.” Encyclopedia of the Philippines. Vol. X. Manila: Exequiel Floro. 1950. Gowing, Peter G. Islands Under the Cross: The Story of the Church in the Philippines. Manila: NCCP., 1967. Philippine Independent Church. “Declaration of the Faith and Articles of Religion.” The Filipino Missal. Manila: 1961. Rivera, Juan A. “The Aglipayan Movement.” Quezon City: The Mosher’s Library. Typewritten. 7
Whittemore, Lewis Bliss. Struggle for Freedom: History of the Philippine Independnet Church. Greenwich , Conn.: Seabury Press, 1961. Wise, Francis H. The History of the Philippine Independent Church. M.A. Thesis, Graduate School, University of the Philippines, 1955.
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