The Last Sixty Years, by the Rev. H. Ellsworth Chandlee (1961)

“I SOLEMNLY declare that today we definitely secede from the Church of Rome, and renounce allegiance to the Vatican, and . . . proclaim ourselves members of a Christian, Catholic, and Independent Church.” With the proclamation containing these words made by the distinguished Filipino patriot Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. before a large convention in Manila on August 2, 1902, the history of the service of the Philippine Independent Church to the Filipino people began.

The establishment of a national Catholic Church in the Philippines was part of the struggle for Filipino independence which took place at the turn of the century and was the culmination of a devoted effort on the part of Filipino Churchmen to secure much needed reforms in the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. It was not until it became entirely evident that no action for reform on the part of the papacy was to be forthcoming that the Filipino Churchmen broke their allegiance to the Roman Church. In the days before the breach of communion, Gregorio Aglipay had been the leader in a national council of Filipino clergy which had met and drawn up a provisional constitution so that the spiritual needs of the Filipinos might be met under the exigencies of revolution. Aglipay had become the beloved spiritual leader of the people in their struggle for freedom, and he was unanimously chosen to be the first Supreme Bishop of the new Independent Church, and prevailed upon to accept election despite his own misgivings.

Under the Spanish regime no Filipino had ever been appointed to a position of responsibility in the Church, nor had any Filipino been made a Bishop. Therefore at the outset the Church faced the problem of the continuation of Apostolic Succession. Because the urgent needs of the times seemed to demand it, and because apostolic consecration seemed impossible to obtain, Aglipay was consecrated by the laying on of hands of priests, and thus the Apostolic Succession was lost. Agjipay recognized full well the deficiency in orders and made every effort to secure valid Orders, seeking to negotiate with the American Episcopal Church and with the Old Catholics. But the unsettled conditions of the period and confusion in understanding prevented his requests being met. It was the clearly stated intention of the new Church to remain steadfastly Catholic in doctrine, discipline, and worship, and to reform the Church of superstition and abuses.   Further, the new Church was to be a truly national Church, administered by Filipinos. The proclamation of the Independent Church was received with great enthusiasm, and it is estimated that over three million Filipinos joined the movement.

Among those who were deeply interested in the Independent Church was Wm. H. Taft. The leaders of the Church responded to his friendship, and under Taft’s influence, the teachings of unitarianism were brought to bear upon Aglipay and several of the Independiente leaders. Unitarian doctrines began to be reflected in the statements of these leaders. The Oficio Divino printed in Spain and adopted as an official book of the Church in 1906, was a reformed liturgy, strongly unitarian in tone, denying several important catholic teachings, while adhering closely to the external forms of catholic services. Unitarianism never infiltrated deeply into the thought of the Church, however, and remained a surface influence, the rank and file of the clergy and people remaining orthodox in belief.

Other grave problems met the Independent Church. A supreme court decision in 1906 meant the loss to the Roman Church of all the Independent Church buildings and properties. There was a staggering shortage of trained clergy. The membership of the Church was largely drawn from the less wealthy, and financial problems were many. The Church was subjected to virulent and never-ceasing antagonistic propaganda and to proselytization by both the Roman Church and the Protestant denominations. The Church lacked schools and other institutions. She suffered grievously during the Japanese occupation, in large part because of her dedication to Filipino freedom, and counts many martyrs during the terrible days of invasion.

A new era of progress and reconstruction dawned with the election of Mons. Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr. as Supreme Bishop in 1946.’ Immediately upon taking office, with the support of an overwhelming majority of the clergy and people, he undertook a broad program of reconstruction and reform, and his enthusiasm soon became contagious. Everywhere renewed zeal and advance became evident. A revision of the constitution and canons was carried out, and a soundly orthodox declaration of faith was issued, removing any possible doctrinal ambiguity. Efforts were made to bring the Independent Church out of her isolation into the mainstream of the life of the universal Church. Chief among these was the petition to the American Church for the bestowal of Apostolic Succession. The petition was granted, and on April 7, 1948,   in   St.   Luke’s,   Pro-Cathedral in Manila,   Bishops   de los Reyes, Aguilar, and Bayaca of the Independent Church were consecrated, Bishop Binsted of the Philippine Episcopal Church acting as Consecrator; Bishop Wilner, the Suffragan of the Philippine Episcopal Church and Bishop Kennedy of Honolulu were the Co-consecrators. The three Bishops consecrated at this Service proceeded to regularize the Orders in the Independent Church. It was asked that candidates of the Independent Church be trained at St. Andrew’s Seminary, and today more than half of the men enrolled in the Seminary are Independientes.

Unfortunately a small number of bishops and clergy refused to accept the policies of advance, and a dispute over administrative matters developed, which cost the Church much in patience and in litigation in the courts until it was finally settled by a decision of the Supreme Court in 1955. Most of the dissidents have been reconciled to the Church. Recently the Independent Church carried out a painstaking and thorough revision of its liturgy, and a new Missal and Ritual are now in process of printing. This revised liturgy carefully preserves the best traditions of the Independent Church, and also draws freely upon the Book of Common Prayer.

At the last meeting of the Supreme Council of Bishops and of the Asamblea Magna of the Independent Church a historic step was taken. The Independent Church has petitioned the American Episcopal Church to enter into a concordat of intercommunion, based upon the concordat made some years ago between the Anglican Churches and the Old Catholic Churches. If this concordat can be entered into, a significant step both in ecumenical relations and in the whole future work of the Church in the Philippines will have become a reality, and there is a deepening sense among Filipino Churchmen of the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this new opportunity for unity and the advance of Christ’s Church in this part of the world. Today, the Independent Catholic Church of the Philippines is more than two million strong, steadily seeking to renew her zeal and to overcome her weaknesses and deficiencies and to do God’s work boldly and faithfully, bearing witness to the faith, life, and worship of the Catholic Church independent of Rome, a truly Filipino national Church.

Editor’s Note: The resolution proposing this concordat was passed by the unanimous vote of General Convention in the recent meeting at Detroit.

Cowley, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, pp. 132-134

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