September 5: Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration


Gregorio Agilpay was the principal founder and first Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church.

Agilpay was born in 1860 and orphaned at an early age. As a boy he worked in the tobacco fields during the Spanish occupation of his homeland and for the rest of his life bore hard feelings toward the Spanish colonialists. He took a degree in law before embarking on theological studies in preparation for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1890, but seems to have been something of a free spirit from the beginning, illustrated by his joining the Freemasons, an affiliation that was forbidden to Catholic priests.

In 1898, the Philippine Revolution began to bring an end to Spanish colonization. Because church and state were deeply intertwined, any revolutionary activity in the state was destined to have impact as well on the church. Matters were compounded by the fact that the Spanish hierarchy did not allow native Filipinos to rise through the ranks of their own church. Agilpay quickly took the side of the Filipino nationalists and recognized that national independence would also mean independence from the Roman Catholic Church because it was strongly allied with Spanish interests. Agilpay called upon his fellow Catholic priests to occupy the parishes and support the revolution. Many followed his lead.

Agilpay was at first threatened with excommunication and later he was tempted with a deal that would have made him a Roman Catholic bishop with enormous resources at his personal disposal. Agilpay refused the deal and with his Filipino supporters formed a new national church. Subsequently, Agilpay and the whole of the Philippine Independent Church would be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

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.


Eternal God, who didst call Gregorio Aglipay to witness to thy truth in the renewal of thy Church in the Philippines: Help us, like him, to be guided by thy Holy Spirit, that people everywhere may hear the saving words of our Savior, so that all may believe and find eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ who, with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Eternal God, you called Gregorio Aglipay to witness to your truth in the renewal of your Church in the Philippines: Help us, like him, to be guided by your Holy Spirit, that people everywhere may hear the saving words of our Savior, so that all may believe and find eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


1 Chronicles 28:19–29:2

1 Peter 4:7–11

Matthew 20:1–16



Preface for the Dedication of a Church

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
 We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

If you’d like to participate in the official online trial use survey, click here. For more information about the survey, click here.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

16 thoughts on “September 5: Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

  1. IMHO, Father Agilpay needs a ‘He died in 1940.’ statement.

    Hebrew Reading: This is about building a temple.
    Gospel: This is about workers and their pay.
    Do either of these readings fit the commemoration? It doesn’t seem so to me.

  2. Phil.

    I don’t understand your comment above: title or text? It is spelled the same way and is Bishop Agilpay’s last name, right? I am missing whatever you have noticed.

    • Maybe my computer is being random again (I would believe almost anything possible as far as that goes), but what my screen says just above the first comment is ‘3 Responses to September 5: Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940’. It’s also spelled ‘Aglipay’ in the title at the top of this page as I write this comment, but spelled ‘Agilpay’ throughout the actual biog. Wikipedia spells it ‘Aglipay’ (on my screen, anyway)… and so does WikiPilipinas now that I google it that way.

      • Just a little correction, sir. Gregorio Aglipay is not the founder of the Philippine Independent Church. He is the first Supreme Bishop of the church but the founder is Isabelo Delos Reyes, Sr. The PIC is better known as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente which was proclaimed on the 3rd of August 1902.

  3. September 5: Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

    1st issue is spelling the last name. The only search results on Google spell it differently from the way it is in the title and the collect. Google agrees with the spelling found throughout the bio.

    2nd, the title says “Priest” but the 1st bio line says “Bishop.” That discrepancy suggests we have uncertainty about his consecration.

    There’s a strand of contentious negativity running through the bio, from his lifelong hard feelings for Spanish colonists, to his disregard to his church’s (RC) proscription against freemasonry, to the Spanish hierarchy’s prejudicial policy against Filipino clergy’s “rise through the ranks” (which sounds more like a sports playoff or a corporate career than ordained service among the People of God), to his advancement bribe (“temptation”). The excommunication comes across as the final trump card in a power play bluff that was “called” and outplayed.

    The entire description lacks any redemptive tone. It’s totally void of the theological quest for integrity that undergirded the Reformation, even given the political dimensions of the latter. The entire procedure is described as if it’s nothing more than a hostile takeover of a corporate set of vested interests. As described, it lacks any inspiring quality. If the reality was more a work of grace than is described, then this description is not ready for HWHM. I don’t think it belongs in our calendar, at least not yet.

    ABOUT THE COLLECT: The collect would be okay if the bio had borne it out, but (as is evident above) I must have missed the line where he witnessed to God’s truth, was guided by God’s Holy Spirit, renewed the church, or made it so people better heard the saving words of our Savior. It takes “a willing suspension of disbelief” for me to pray this one confidently. How about re-conceiving this as a commemoration focused simply on the birth of the Philippine Independent Church?

    • Pardon me for butting in in your discussion about our first supreme bishop. I am a former Roman Catholic but now works with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (a.k.a. P.I.C. and Aglipayans). Obispo Maximo Gregorio Labayan Aglipay was ordained to the priesthood on the 21st of December 1899. He was declared as the supreme bishop of the IFI before he was consecrated to the episcopate on Jan. 18, 1903. His consecration was actually a clamor from the masses who dreamed of ecclesiastical and political independence from the hands of foreigners. For your reference and further information, I would like to share with you a short paper by one of our historians in the Church.

      The Historical beginnings of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI)
      and Its Immediate Aftermath
      (Rev. Eleuterio Jose Revollido, S.Th.D.)

      The birth of the IFI was part and a product of a protracted struggle for socio- political and religious independence of the country. Notable historians like the Jesuit Fathers De Achutegui and Bernad opined that the forces at work that gained the momentum towards its advance “was the intense wave of nationalism that swept the country at the time of the Revolution against Spain and war of resistance against America.” 17 Another historian William Henry Scott supported this idea and wrote, “Nationalism was the vitality that held the Philippine Independent Church through its many trials and setbacks.” 18
      While nationalism is the crowning glory that prides every member of the IFI, however, there are comments that many are not conscious, if not confused about the context of her birth. The Rev. Apolonio M. Ranche, a notable IFI historian, commented on the prevailing error of romanticizing the IFI as the “only remaining tangible result of the Revolution” that becomes a source of “widespread error that it was founded by Gregorio Aglipay during the Revolution against Spain” 19 He suggested that the correct historical context of her founding need to be emphasized to properly understand the IFI vocation and beginnings. He succinctly describes the socio-political context of her birth by stating that:

      “The end of the Filipino-American war as officially proclaimed by then US President Theodore Roosevelt on July 4, 1902 did not mean the end of Filipino resistance or in a more positive manner, the Filipino desire for liberty. The laws passed by the Philippine Commission could be seen as evidence of continuing Filipino aspiration for liberty. Three of these would be the Sedition Law (1901) which forbade advocacy even by peaceful means; the Brigandage Act (1902) which classified all armed resistance as pure banditry; and the Reconcentration Act (1903) which gave legal justification for hamletting to deny the guerilla’s support from the populace. A later one would be the Flag Law (1907) which prohibited the display of the Flag and the playing of the Philippine National Anthem. The Filipinos’ expressions of their desire for liberty were varied and these laws could be seen as a response to these speculations/expressions… In this period of continuing resistance when the (institutional and missionary) churches were cooperating (explicitly or otherwise) with established colonial government, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was founded.” 20

      In the midst of this violent “pacification” campaign launched by the American colonial government there were two parallel events being waged in different fronts by two sectors in the early months of 1902 both calling for independence and the exercise of their rights. One was the activities initiated by the working class under the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD) headed by Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr.,21 “leading an agitation for an increase in the wages of servants, tradesmen, printers, tailors, mechanics, tobacco workers and stevedores…The delegate of the Union is making an active canvass of the town among the Filipinos and is enlisting numerous laborers and mechanics in the cause.” 22 The other was the religious reform being waged by the nationalist secular clergy. The secularization issue manifested through the series of events in 1902, geared towards the approval of the August 3, 1902 proclamation later on. The first of these events happened in January 1902 with the declaration of “Ultimatum of seventeen Ilocano Priests to the Apostolic Delegate appointing Aglipay as their Leader” saying that:

      “We the undersigned priests will fight for the exclusive right of the Filipino clergy to occupy the position of archbishops and bishops in the Philippines. If this right is violated by the Apostolic Delegate, we will secede from the Roman Church and form an independent Filipino Church, teaching the same dogmas as the Roman.” 23

      The second event occurred in May 1902 at Kullabeng (now Pinili, Ilocos Norte), the wartime hideout of Aglipay where he celebrated his birthday with the Ilocano clergy. The Kullabeng record says:

      “The Reverend Mariano Espiritu suggested that they send three priests to see the Pope in Rome to request him to appoint a Filipino Archbishop to head the Church in the Philippines. The Reverend Evaristo Clemente asked that they should also request that no more priests of the white race be sent to the Philippines. The Reverend Pio Romero also suggested their total separation from Roman Catholicism. A long discussion followed in three languages – Ilocano, Latin and Spanish. In the end, Father Gregorio Aglipay spoke. He said that it would be better for them to separate from the Holy Father completely. The religion that they would then establish would be the fruit of the recent revolution watered with so much Filipino blood. The hearty applause that followed indicated that all of them were in favor of the establishment of a new religion completely Filipino.” 24

      The third occasion was the sending of a circular from Father Pedro Brillantes, former Vicar (Forane) addressed to his fellow priests in Ilocos which was published in Manila on July 10, 1902 or barely three weeks before the UOD proclamation of the IFI on August 3rd. Achutegui and Bernad summarized the circular with this content:

      “In the face of the agitation in the press concerning the status of the Filipino clergy, he (Father Brillantes) hoped that the Filipino secular priests would not give up the fight merely to avoid trouble. They had done well in the past by refusing to acknowledge the authority of Fray Fidel Larrinaga as Ecclesiastical Governor. Two things were against him: he was a friar; and he had been appointed by the friar-bishop. They must now continue the fight and demand from the new Apostolic Delegate that none but Filipinos be appointed bishops and archbishops. They must also be better organized.” 25

      Summarily, the concerted efforts of the workers for rights advocated by UOD, the continuing struggle for independence being waged by the remaining revolutionaries in the likes of Macario Sakay, 26 and the clamor of the secular clergy for the Filipinization of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the Philippines were part of the continuing nationalist aspirations for sovereignty and independence during those periods. While many factors were working against the above aspirations as seen in the suppressive laws promulgated by the American government, the same thing was true in the prevailing character in the Roman Catholic Church as manifested later on in the content of the apostolic constitution Quae mari Sinico.27 This socio-political and religious condition further contributed to the history in the birth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente on that fateful day in the month of August.
      It was Sunday, August 3, 1902 when in the meeting of the General Council of the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), at the Centro de Bellas Artes, Manila, its president, Isabelo de los Reyes Sr., who was fondly called “Dong Belong”, made history when he declared:

      “Consulting the General Council of the Democratic Labor Union, I come authorized to give our humble cooperation to Mr. Poblete upon whose initiative this demonstration against the friars is held and at the same time to declare without vacillation that from now on we definitely separate ourselves from the Vatican, forming a Filipino Independent Church…We shall follow all the lofty inspirations of God but not the injustices and mere caprices of men. We respect devotion to the Virgin and the Saints, but over and above all, we shall place the worship of only one God…As a tribute and fealty to the sovereign will of the Filipino people solemnly manifested at the Council of Tarlac in 1899, we propose as the supreme head of the Filipino Independent Church the most virtuous and greatest patriot – Father Aglipay.”28

      To give credence to this movement, prominent Filipinos were nominated, including the American Civil Governor, William Howard Taft, while Emilio Aguinaldo and Pardo de Tavera were proposed as Honorary Presidents of the Executive Council. In the following weeks, many protested such moves in the press except for Aguinaldo, the former president of the Revolutionary Government. The most telling blow came from Father Gregorio Aglipay himself, assuring his brothers in robes, that there was no schism planned and called to exhaust all means to negotiate with Rome.29 In one of the newspapers dated August 17, 1902, the Manila American announced that the Iglesia Filipina Independiente seemed to have died before it was born.30
      The successful wave of labor strikes within that week created more trouble for Don Belong that eventually led to his arrest on August 17, 1902, barely thirteen days after he led the proclamation of the IFI. The pro-colonial newspaper, The Manila American, made the following sarcastic comments:

      Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my! Here is the head of the new Iglesia Filipina, the national church of the Filipinos, in a cell of a police station, charged with a criminal offense against the peace and dignity of the state!”31

      Two crucial occurrences that many historians have conjectured made Father Gregorio Aglipay decide to join the movement. One was the event mentioned by Teodoro Agoncilio in his book, History of the Filipino People, when in the Jesuit retreat house in Sta. Ana, Manila, Aglipay was insulted by Fr. Forodada that led to their confrontation and triggered his acceptance to lead the IFI.32 The other one was opined by some historians in the like of Protestant author Frank C. Laubach and also echoed by Sister Mary Dorita Clifford, B.V.M, on her paper, Iglesia Filipina Independiente: The Revolutionary Church, where she connected Aglipay’s decision on the issue brought about by Taft after his return from Rome in the latter part of August 1902. It was the failure of the Taft – Vatican negotiations and not stating “categorically that the government would buy the friars’ land and that the friars would be withdrawn immediately, the schism might have received its quietus, as Taft claimed and as many historians have conjectured.” 33
      On September 22, 1902 Aglipay issued under his own signature as Obispo Maximo the first of the Six Fundamental Epistles which gave form and organization to the IFI. On October 1, 1902, Pedro Brillantes took possession of St. James Church in Bacarra as his cathedral and announced himself as bishop of Ilocos Norte. He was consecrated in Bacarra by twenty four of his priests on October 1, 1902, and justified his act saying:

      “Without being either dependent or independent, I am merely Filipino, Catholic, Apostolic and Divine, and for this reason I shall be consecrated ritu divino et apostolico, I shall recognize the Pope if he recognizes me and gives up his diplomacy and his politics which are so oppressive to the Filipinos. If he turns away from his errors, I shall absolve him.”34

      It was on this same occasion that the so-called Bacarra Formula was formulated by the Ilocano clergy subscribing their “faith in Peter…but not in his diplomacy or his politics or his despotism” and swore to “guard inviolate the Faith, the teaching of Tradition, the contents of Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, the Liturgy, the veneration of the Saints and especially of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary.” 35
      The formal inauguration of the IFI was on October 26, 1902 where Obispo Maximo Gregorio Aglipay celebrated the Pontifical Mass and attended by a huge number of people in an improvised chapel in Paseo Azcarraga in Tondo, Manila. The newspaper La Democracia wrote:

      “The die is cast! Padre Aglipay has crossed the Rubicon of intransigency and absolutism, with the decision and energy of a Roman Captain. It has been a blow, a death blow to Catholic unity in the Philippines. The spark will cause a blaze. And what is the cause of this religious secession? In appearance it is the matter of hierarchy. In reality, it is the assertion of the dignity of the people, the last consequence of the revolution, which in order to be complete requires religious liberty.” 36

      The enthusiasm of people in joining the IFI that was strongly led by two leading nationalist figures of the revolution against Spain and the war against American colonial power was received with suspicion by its detractors, saying that:
      “Aglipayan Church was nothing but a facade for a movement to oust the American sovereignty in the Philippines under the cloak of religion”.37

      Years later, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay put into proper context the history of the founding of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the reason why it was born. It also placed into proper perspective the error that it was he who founded the IFI. He said, in two occasions, in an interview and in a letter that:

      “The Filipino people is my witness that I am not the author of the Filipino Independent Church, neither did I intervene in its preparation. I was sleeping in Ezpeleta Street when I was awakened and told that in a meeting at the Centro de Bellas Artes in Manila, August 3, 1902, the Filipino people proclaimed the new church… The Philippine Independent Church was founded by the people of our country. It was a product of their initiative, a product of their desire for liberty, religiously, politically and socially. I was only one of the instruments of its expression.” 38

      The abovementioned statement giving primary roles to the people as the true founders of the IFI could be backed by statistics, as compared to the number of priests who joined this Church in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Achuteguie and Bernad opined that only around fifty Catholic priests, mainly secular and concentrated in the diocese of Nueva Segovia, turned to the IFI out of the 825 Filipino Roman Catholic priests during that period.39 This statistical reality bolstered the claim that the founding of the IFI was not merely a clergy affair by judging from the figure of a million and a half people who turned IFI followers overnight in a population of seven million. The same authors commented further that it “was numerically large enough to constitute a major change in the religious picture…was in fact a major revolution, with important political and economic repercussions.” 40
      The emphasis on the people’s role in the founding of the IFI was given great consideration by Father Apolonio Ranche in his historical writings. He said that the people, including popular organizations must be given proper recognition. Quoting the earliest adherents of this Church written in La IFI Revista Catolica entitled “Primeras Adhesiones,” he enumerated the sixty residents of Navotas led by a woman named Saturnina Bunda, the member of the Union Obrera Democratica, some clergymen, seminarians and several individuals. He also mentioned the millenarian groups joining the IFI like the Guardia de Honor in Pangasinan and the Sagrada Familia of Ilocos Sur. But notable here were the examples shown by the townspeople of Maragondon in Cavite and Lagonoy in Camarines Sur as communities of people joining the IFI. The importance given to the lay people can be gleaned even from the early organizational structure of the IFI by giving them representation in the decision-making bodies of the Church.41
      History records that after a few years of conversion came the drastic decline in IFI membership. It was caused not by the mellowing of nationalism but rather by the identification of many people with the prestige and grandeur of the church edifices and the outward expressions of their religiosity sufficed by the imagery built in it. It all started after the November 24, 1906 Supreme Court decision to return all disputed church buildings and other parish properties that were occupied by the IFI back to the Roman Catholic Church. This decision served as a test to the early IFI adherents that in the words of Achutegui and Bernad, “was catastrophic to the Philippine Independent Church.”42
      It was succeeded by a counteroffensive condemning the IFI as the “Synagogue of Anti-Christ” in the Manila Council of 1907, 43 and the invitation for more Religious Orders from Europe to come to the country. It was called, “the third wave of Catholic missionaries to the Philippines consciously or unconsciously which became an invisible but sturdy rampart of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against the onslaught of Protestantism, Aglipayanism, and Neo-Hispanism in the first two decades of the US colonization of the Philippines.” 44
      But the great wonder, however, as Bishop Whittemore, a PECUSA historian pronounced that the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was able to survive in any form after that crushing blow, saying that:

      “These people tasted the gall and bitterness of humiliation…But they did not give up, whether because of native courage or of something deeper…they felt, as no other group, identified with the Philippines and carried an ark of the covenant with them into the wilderness. That covenant was with the heroes of the past who had seen visions of a fairer Philippines – and had suffered. They could not see the future but they knew that something precious had been entrusted to them.” 45

  4. Oh.
    I see it. It is spelled A-g-l-i-p-a y in the title and collect; and spelled A-g-i-l-p-a-y in the bio. Apparently I need to wear stronger glasses. 🙂

  5. I tried to leave a message yesterday, but it evaporated into internet ether. I was beginning to wonder if my posts might not be welcome.

    Is there more than one printing of Holy Men, Holy Women? In my edition the title and the collects seem to have the correct spelling of the Rev. Gregorio Aglipay’s name as was noted by Mr. Wainwright. The biography is spelled Agilpay which is apparently the incorrect spelling. This is opposite to what Mr. LaVoe wrote about the spelling.

    I am confused. Is it the establishment of hte Philippine Independent Church which is the celebration or is it s celebration of the Supreme Bishop Gregorio Aglipay?

  6. Egads, Suzanne, you’re right! I got it backwards — but I’ll never admit it in public. (Nice fact checking.)

    When I went back to look, Google also found a fantastic website that promises to provide his “Current Phone, Address, Age & More.”

    O the breadth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of Google!
    How searchable are its judgments, and how screw-up-able its ways!
    (Thanks for the correction. Happy Labor Day.) –JFL

  7. Surely the caption to the Propers should describe this saint as “Founder and Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church”, rather than as a priest, notwithstanding the fact that he could not have been a member of the Episcopate at the time of the founding of the independent Church.

    In lines 3 & 4 of the third paragraph, amend the order of the words to read “..on the church as well”, to read more smoothly.

    In line 4 of the third paragraph, substitute “because” for the clumsy “by the fact that”.

    In line 5 of the third paragraph, isn’t the word “native” redundant? That word in such a context still has its colonialist connotation of lesser beings, found in such comments as “the natives are restless tonight”.

    In line 8 of the third paragraph, after “Church” I recommend “, so” as a substitute for “because it was”.

    In line 2 of the fourth paragraph, I suggest that quotation marks be placed around “deal”, a somewhat informal sense of the word,

    In line 4 of the fourth paragraph, I suggest substituting “offer” to avoid repeating “deal”.

  8. I have known andf worked witth many priests and two bishops of the IFI and Fr. Aglipay is a geart hero of their. I’m glad to see him in the calendar.

  9. In the next to last pragraph, the reference to ‘a deal’ that he did not take is very fuzzy. What’s it about? Is it relevant to his work? It would be helpful to provide a pronunciation guide for some of the proper names of people and places, perhaps in the index.

  10. Internet research confirms for me that Obispo Maximo Gregorio Aglipay is a hero for justice from the perspective of many Filipinos. The first Bishops of The Episcopal Church were not perfect either, but we still commemorate them for the work they did.

    From what I can tell, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, though a minority church (ever since the US govt awarded all the nationalized churches back to the RCC– and would this have been partly in retribution for the revolutionary spirit of the IFI?), continues to embody a passion for social justice, freedom of conscience, and equality in society. Perhaps a rewrite from this more positive perspective would help our church to appreciate Obispo Gregorio.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s