Gregorio Aglipay and the Aglipayan Church
(by Mona Lisa H. Quizon, researcher of National Historical Commission)
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente better known as Philippine Independent Church or Aglipayan Church, named after its first bishop, Gregorio Aglipay is one of the tangible legacies of the 1896 Philippine Revolution. Its key component, Gregorio Aglipay is one of the courageous ministers of God-turned-revolutionist in the struggle for independence and the overthrow of colonialism in the Philippines.
Isabelo de los Reyes, founder of the Union Obrera Democratica, proposed to his members the establishment of Philippine Independent Church with Aglipay as Supreme Bishop. Aglipay, a Katipunan member and a former Catholic priest, was known for being nationalistic and patriotic was the most obvious candidate for the position. However, he had not been informed beforehand and he momentarily hesitated, but eventually he acceded to head the new church. This move marked the departure of Aglipay from the Catholic Church.
Gregorio Aglipay was born on 5 May 1860 in Batac, Ilocos Norte. He studied in Colegio San Juan de Letran and obtained a degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1877. He went to University of Santo Tomas to study law; however, he gave up law to study priesthood at the seminary in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Ordained as priest in December 1889, he was a co-adjutor in Victoria, Tarlac when the revolution broke out.
When he joined the Katipunan, his revolutionary activities were condemned by the friars. He was even branded as a non-conforming rebel for opposing the Pact of Biak na Bato. Aglipay was appointed as Military Vicar General through the decree issued by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on 20 October 1898. His appointment made him the religious leader of the revolutionary movement. He was also appointed member of the Malolos Congress, the lone member coming from the religious sector.
During the critical period of the Philippine-American hostilities, Aglipay convened the Filipino Ecclesiastical Council, made up of Filipino clergy in Paniqui, Tarlac on 23 October 1899, in response to Mabini’s manifesto urging the Filipino clergies to organize a Filipino National Church.
Due to active participation of Aglipay in the formation of this new church and the subsequent proclamation of the schism with the Vatican, he was excommunicated by Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda on 29 April 1899.
During the American period, the advocacy of independence is strongly opposed by the new colonial ruler. Filipinos need to find ways in expressing their sentiments in a non-political avenue. The channels were provided by the establishment of the first labor union and by the Aglipayan Church.
The Philippine Independent Church exhibits both the anti-friar nature of the Philippine Revolution and its nationalistic content. The Filipinos had given its supports to this newly established religion. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente was the answer to the demand for the secularization of the parishes in the country. Furthermore, the strength of the Aglipayan church was a reflection of the Filipino aspiration for sovereignty.
In his time, the Aglipayan Church was one of the largest religious groups in the Philippines prior to the growth of several sects and religion in the country. The Philippine Independent Church embedded love of country to its members and encouraged them to emulate the lives of our national heroes. The Philippine flag is displayed at the side altar in IFI churches.
According to Teodoro Agoncillo, the revolution started as a political upheaval; it ended as a religious triumph. The founding of the Filipino church showed finally that the Filipino clergy had at long last come of age. It was a reaction of the nationalistic priests to centuries of racism and prejudice.
Agoncillo, Teodoro. History of the Filipino People, Garotech Publishing, Quezon City. 1990.
Bernad, Miguel. The Life and Church of Gregorio Aglipay 1860-1960, Ateneo de Manila. 1961.
Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A Past Revisited Vol 1.Manila. 1975.
Cortes, Rosario et al. The Filipino Saga History as Social Change, New Day Publishers. Quezon City, 2000.
Gwekoh, Sol. Hall of Fame, Manila Times, September 1, 1965.
National Historical Institute, Filipinos in History vol. 1, 1995.