Gregorio Aglipay Cruz y Labayan (Gregorius Aglipay) 1940

Okaglipay (1)

Life is hard.  Sometimes the people and institutions which have formed and guided our lives seem to turn on us viciously.  We feel we have been abandoned and left alone.  At such times we are comforted by our faith and the knowledge that God does not abandon us. We are empowered by our faith to stand alone if necessary to continue in a way by which we may live our life in accord with God’s will despite rebuke, despite criticism, despite abandonment.  And, of course, we always must examine our own life and actions, or in-actions, and make amendments where it is clear we, and not those around us, have left God.

Bishop Aglipay was a churchman who found himself abandoned and excommunicated by what he had believed to be all his life the one true church.  But, he discovered in his love of God that sometimes God does not always choose those of comfortable estate to do his work. Sometimes an institution, even the church, can become askew from God’s intentions and need reform to bring it back to God’s holy purposes.

Bishop Aglipay was a native of the Philippines and Roman Catholic priest who was asked by his archbishop to approach Philippine revolutionaries with a proposal that they end their rebellion in exchange for a share in governing the Philippines.  The Katipunan (or Revolutionary movement) had begun around 1896 in an effort to secure the independence of the Philippines from Spain.  The Roman Catholic Church was aligned with Spanish interests and was naturally opposed to the revolutionary movement.  Aglipay met with the revolutionaries and was offered a position within the movement.  He initially refused but then as the United States began an attack on Manilla he changed his mind and joined.[1]

Bishop Aglipay was approached by a Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. y Florentino,[1] also known as Don Belong (July 7, 1864 – October 10, 1938), who was a prominent Filipino politician, writer and labor activist in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Don Belong asked Aglipay to help him found what became known as the Aglipayan Church, an independent Christian Protestant church in the catholic tradition.  Initially Aglipay refused but he again change his mind and became the first supreme bishop of  the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the Philippine Independent Church.

The background and history of the movement toward a church independent of Rome needs to be understood in the context of colonialism.  The Roman Catholic Church was closely allied with the power base in Spain and tended to reflect the thinking and prejudices of the Spanish ruling class.  Native Philippians who became Roman Catholic clergy were purposely held back from entering the higher ranks of the hierarchy.  This created much resentment and figured into the decision of Aglipay to leave Rome.  Diarmaid (pronounced Der-maid) MacCullough[2] summarized this in his work titled Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years [3]in Chapter 19, page 700:

The effect…was that Spanish clergy radically limited their trust in the natives.  Indigenous people might become assistants in the liturgy, but never principals – catechists, sacristans, cantors and instrumentalists, not priests.[4]

          Obviously this Spanish colonial attitude had softened by the time Aglipay came along as he was able to become a priest.  But, higher positions simply were not open to native Filipinos. Therefore, Bishop Aglipay found himself called to a work which was not favored by the establishment which he had grown up with and which came to abandoned him when he became excommunicated.

          “In 1960, the Philippine Independent Church entered into full communion with the Episcopal Church and through that affiliation is recognized as being in full communion with the churches of the Anglican Communion.”[5]

[1]  The attack was a part of the Spanish American War after which the Philippines became an American Territory as a result of the United States Victory

[2] Professor of the History of the Church, St. Cross College, Oxford.

[3] Viking Press, New York (2010)

[4] It is also interesting that MacCullough explains at the top of page 700 that the use of the monstrance in the veneration of the sacrament was a result of the efforts of the Spanish clergy to banish the worship of the sun.   The monstrance placed the Eucharistic host in the middle of a sunburst thereby giving the sun worshipers their sun and the son of God at the same time.

[5] Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing, New York (2010) at page 562.

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