Protestantism in Spain

Protestantism in Spain


Through intercourse with Germany, France, and the Netherlands, reformed doctrines penetrated into Spain. Some of the early writings of Luther found their way beyond the Pyrenees very soon after their publication. A number of Spaniards, who did not venture to labor under the shadow of the Inquisition, employed all available opportunities to send their countrymen the evangelical message. A Spanish translation of the New Testament by Francisco de Enzinas, and another by Juan Perez, completed respectively in 1543 and 1556, were circulated to some extent, in spite of inquisitorial vigilance.


The first distinct indications of awakened interest in the truths of the Reformation appeared between 1530 and 1540. Within thirty years from the latter date, Spanish Protestantism had well-nigh gathered its harvest, the full list of victims which it afforded for the prison, the rack, and the flames. It never enrolled a very numerous company. The great mass of the people were not perceptibly affected by its influence. Still it had enough adherents to provoke serious apprehensions. Roman Catholic writers of the era expressed the opinion that it soon would have made rapid advances, and become a formidable power, had it not been arrested with merciless rigor. "There is no one," wrote Paramo, the Sicilian inquisitor, "who doubts that, in our age, a great conflagration would have been kindled in the Spanish kingdoms, had not the most vigilant fathers of the holy tribunal used their utmost diligence to extinguish the flame." 1 Büsching, Comm. de Vestig. Lutheranismi in Hispania; Gieseler, § 20 Illescas testified to the same effect; declaring of the sectaries, "so great was their number, that all Spain would have been corrupted by them, and imbued with errors, if the inquisitors had delayed to apply the needful medicine for two or three months." 1 Büsching, Com. de Ves. Lutheranismi in Hispania; Gieseler, § 20. This, to be sure, is the language of conjecture, and may exceed the limits of a sober judgment. There is no reason, however, to doubt that with a fair opportunity the Reformation would have made extensive conquests in the Spanish peninsula.


In Spain, as in Italy, a large proportion of those who sympathized with the reformed opinions belonged to the educated class. "Perhaps there never was in any other country," says M'Crie, "so large a proportion of persons, illustrious either from their rank or their learning, among the converts to a new and proscribed religion." 2 Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Spain, p. 234. Among those who showed a leaning to the Reformation, the clergy were well represented. According to Llorente, more than twoscore prelates and doctors of theology fell under the suspicion of the Inquisition. 3 Histoire Critique de 1'Inquisition d'Espagne, iii. 61-99. Some of these, it must be allowed, departed but moderately, if at all, from the dogmas of the Romish Church. Certainly the archbishop Carranza was far from renouncing the Roman Catholic faith in general. His affinity with Protestantism was, at most, no greater than that of Cardinal Pole. Nevertheless the Inquisition compelled him to wear out his life in prison. 4 The persecution of Carranza excites greater indignation against the tribunal which sought his destruction, than sympathy for the victim of its intolerant zeal. Carranza himself had patronized severe measures against Protestants. For an extended account of his process, sea Llorente, iii. 183-315. There were some, however, in the priestly rank, who heartily embraced the Protestant faith. Even that monastic order which had a large share in the management of the Inquisition supplied martyrs to the Reformation. 1 Sepulveda speaks of the prominence of the Dominicans in spreading what he terms the lutheran pest. Cujus mali monachi potissimum auctores et satores esse ferebantur ex familia Dominicana, et eorum quidam illustri genere nati (Opera, vol. iii., De Rebus Gestis Philippi II., Lib. II. cap. xviii.). These facts are worth noting, as indicating among others that the ecclesiastical rank, with all its corruptions and bigotry, was not far behind the average of European society in receptivity for gospel truth. In every country that persecuted the Reformation, priests and monks formed a fair proportion of the confessors and martyrs.


The Inquisition first began the work of uprooting Spanish Protestantism in deep earnest in 1557. But individual exhibitions of its tender mercies were scattered through the preceding years. Even the chaplain of Charles V., Alfonso de Virves, had to pay tribute to the intolerant tribunal. After being kept in secret prisons for four years, he was compelled to abjure (1537), and escaped further penalty only through the interposition of the Emperor. In language of great cogency, he has left on record his sense of the current tyranny. "Many have adopted," says he, "the maxim that it is lawful to abuse a heretic by word and writing, when they have it not in their power to kill and to torture him. If they get a poor man whom they think they can persecute with impunity, into their hands, they subject him to a disgraceful sentence; so that, though he prove himself innocent, and obtain a speedy acquittal, he is stigmatized for life as a criminal. If, on the other hand, the unhappy person has fallen into error through inadvertence, or the conversation of those with whom he associated, his judges do not labor to undeceive him by explaining the true doctrine of the Church, by mild persuasion, and paternal advice; but, in spite of the character of fathers to which they lay claim, have recourse to the prison, the torture, chains, and the axe. And what is the effect of these horrible means? All these torments inflicted on the body can produce no change whatever on the dispositions of the mind, which can be brought back to truth only by the Word of God, which is quick, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword." 1 Llorente, ii. 8-15.


The fate which befell the Emperor's chaplain, or a more serious one, was escaped by Pedro de Lerma, chancellor of the University of Alcala, only through timely flight. His nephew and successor, Louis de Cadena, soon found it expedient to resort to the same means of safety. Rodrigo de Valer, who was among the first to advocate reformed views in Seville, was condemned to life-long penance and imprisonment (about 1541). A number of years later, Egidius, a distinguished preacher of that city, whom De Valer had awakened to the demands of an evangelical ministry, was apprehended by the Inquisition. The associate of Egidius for a season, the learned and accomplished Constantine Ponce de la Fuente, though spared for a longer interval, at length found himself in the same relentless grasp. To him the prison was an instrument of martyrdom. A memorial of the horrors of his dungeon has been preserved in the agonized exclamation, "O my God! were there no Scythians, or cannibals, or others more cruel still, into whose hands I might have been delivered, instead of falling under the power of these barbarians?" 1 Llorente, ii. 277. The arrest of Constantine was one of the first-fruits of the general onslaught which was finally made against the adherents of the Reformation in Seville.


The first Protestant in Spain, of whose endurance of the extreme penalty for heresy we have a distinct account, was Francisco San Roman (1544). When brought before the inquisitors, he frankly confessed his belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation, and denounced the corruptions of Romanism. "If his zeal was impetuous, it supported him to the last. He endured the horrors of a protracted imprisonment with the utmost fortitude and patience. He resisted all the importunities used by the friars to induce him to recant. He refused, at the place of execution, to purchase a mitigation of punishment by making a confession to a priest, or bowing to a crucifix which was placed before him. When the flames first reached him on being fastened to the stake, he made an involuntary motion with his head, upon which the friars in attendance exclaimed that he was become penitent, and ordered him to be brought from the fire. On recovering his breath, he looked them calmly in the face, and said, 'Did you envy my happiness?' at which words he was thrust back into the flames, and almost instantly suffocated." 2 M'Crie, pp. 172, 173; Mémoires de Francisco de Ezinas, ii. 208-214.


Such punishments as befell De Valer, San Roman, and Egidius, scarcely imposed a check upon the advance of the new teachings. Protestant congregations assembled in secret, particularly at Valladolid and Seville. At length, apprised, by instructions from the Netherlands, of the extent of the movement, the Inquisition began to work with terrible energy. Decrees both from Philip II. and the Pope sustained, and gave unlimited scope to, its operations. Early in 1558, Fernando Valdés, whose hardness and fanaticism eminently qualified him for the office of grand inquisitor, was urged by Paul IV. to proceed against the Lutheran heresy with the utmost vigor. In the same year, Philip II. published an edict declaring death, and confiscation of property, the penalty for buying, selling, or possessing prohibited books. 1 Llorente, I. 470. In January, 1559, the Pope issued a bull instructing all confessors to require their penitents, under pain of excommunication, to report to the Office of the Inquisition whatever they might know about the spread and use of forbidden writings. 2 Raynaldus, Tom. XV., anno 1559, n. 15. Another bull, issued near the same time, authorized the execution even of such recanting heretics as had never relapsed, provided the genuineness of their penitence was suspected. 3 Ibid., n. 18. Finally, having collected all possible information, the Inquisition made a sudden move, and filled its prisons to overflowing with those suspected of heresy. Now the wholesale sacrifice began. On the 21st of May, 1559, the first auto de fé for the execution of Protestants was celebrated at Valladolid. With the lavish pomp and ceremony peculiarly characteristic of Spanish taste in these matters, the friends of the gospel were led to the slaughter.


"A general auto," says M'Crie, "in which a number of heretics were brought out, was performed with the most imposing solemnity, and formed an imitation of an ancient Roman triumph, combined with the last judgment. It was always celebrated on a Sunday or holiday, in the largest church, but more frequently in the most spacious square of the town in which it happened to be held. Intimation of it was publicly made beforehand in all the churches and religious houses in the neighborhood. The attendance of the civil authorities, as well as of the clergy, secular and regular, was required; and with the view of attracting the multitude, an indulgence of forty days was proclaimed to all who should witness the ceremonies of the act."


"Early in the morning, the bells of all the churches began to toll, when the officials of the Inquisition repaired to the prison, and, having assembled the prisoners, clothed them in the several dresses in which they were to make their appearance at the spectacle. Those who were found suspected of having erred in the slightest degree were simply clothed in black. The other prisoners wore a sanbenito, or species of loose vest of yellow cloth. On the sanbenito of those who were to be strangled, were painted flames burning downwards, to intimate that they had escaped the fire. The sanbenito of those who were doomed to be burnt alive was covered with figures of flames burning upward, around which were painted devils carrying fagots, or fanning the fire." 1 Reformation in Spain, pp. 274-276.


A solemn procession was then formed to the place of the auto; a sermon was preached; the assembled people were sworn to defend the Catholic faith; the sentences of the different classes of heretics were read; and those adjudged worthy of execution were led without the walls of the city, where they were strangled or burnt alive. The inquisitors, while delivering over the victims to the civil officer, were wont to employ the form of a request that they should be treated with kindness. Whatever may have been the original import of this request, its use had become mere stereotyped hypocrisy. Perchance the very persons for whom kindness was solicited had been tortured by the inquisitors themselves up to the last point of mortal endurance; and the very magistrates who were asked to show kindness had just rendered a solemn oath to these same inquisitors, the unmistakable import of which was that they would steadfastly uphold the Inquisition in the work of destroying heresy. 1 For the form of the oath exacted, see Puigblanch, The Inquisition Unmasked, I. 326, 345-354. The magistrate knew well enough that any refusal or delay to cut off the condemned heretic would arouse against himself a vengeance not easy to escape.


A second auto de fé at Valladolid occurred in October, 1559. Philip II. and many distinguished members of his court were among the witnesses of the spectacle. Of the condemned, two were made especially conspicuous by their character and their sufferings. These were Don Carlos de Seso and Domingo de Roxas. The former was a man of noble rank and high distinction. "Having performed important services for Charles V., he was held in great honor by that monarch, through whose interest he obtained in marriage Donna Isabella de Castilla, a descendant of the royal family of Castille and Leon. De Seso was not less elevated by dignity of character, mental accomplishments, and decorum of manners, than by his birth and connections." 1 M'Crie, pp. 232, 233. No one had contributed more than he to the spread of the reformed opinions in Spain. De Roxas, who went with him to the stake, was a Dominican monk.


In Seville, the first auto de fé took place in September, 1559. Year by year these pompous executions were repeated at the different stations of the Inquisition throughout the kingdom. The attempt at extirpation was successful. By the year 1570, Protestantism in Spain was destroyed. Thereafter the advocates and upholders of infallible authority were obliged to look mainly to other sources for the victims with which, from time to time, they celebrated the terrible festival of fanatical intolerance.


Contrary to the old maxim, the blood of the martyrs seems here to have produced no harvest, to have served no purpose except to seal upon Spain the curse of intellectual and spiritual desolation. A wider view, however, may suggest a more cheerful conclusion. Not to mention the increased resolution which came to the Protestants of the Netherlands from the sight of the burning pyres beyond the Pyrenees, Spain herself may yet find therein a salutary aid to an enlightened judgment upon the claims of a self-deified hierarchy.


The efficiency of the Inquisition in the work of extirpating the Reformation in Spain was not a little dependent upon the zealous co-operation and support of Philip II. As this monarch was a marked embodiment of the Spanish conservatism of the sixteenth century, and withal a central figure in the Roman Catholic reaction in Europe, a few words may fitly be added in this connection, on his character.


Philip II. was born at Valladolid, in 1527. As he grew up, he appeared cautious and reserved, slow speech, and disposed to a seriousness that bordered on melancholy. He possessed scarcely a touch of the affability, and power of adaptation to different surroundings, which distinguished his father, the Emperor Charles V. He was also unlike him in his lack of martial spirit and capability. Though able to endure much labor, it was of that kind which pertains to the cabinet rather than to the field. The movements of his mind were slow but positive and straightforward. His purpose once chosen was inflexible. Morally considered, he is to be assigned, if not to the worst class of rulers, to one much below the best. Bigotry was not his only fault. He was guilty to some extent of gallantries. He was an adept in the arts of dissimulation. "His dagger followed close upon his smile." Still he was not without conscience, if under that category we may include any sort of a devotion which regards aught besides personal advantage. He had principles, and firmness in adhering to principles; but his principles were chosen in the thick darkness of intense bigotry. The measure of conscientiousness, therefore, which he possessed, only served to make him the more heartless and machine-like in his policy of repression. "Philip II.," says Froude, "was one of those limited but not ill-meaning men, to whom religion furnishes usually a healthy principle of action, and who are ready and eager to submit to its authority. In the unfortunate conjuncture at which he was set to reign, what ought to have guided him into good became the source of those actions which have made his name infamous. With no broad intelligence to test or to correct his superstitions, he gave prominence, like the rest of his countrymen, to those particular features of his creed which could be of the smallest practical advantage to him. He saw in his position and his convictions a call from Providence to restore through Europe the shaking fabric of the Church; and he lived to show that the most cruel curse which can afflict the world is the tyranny of ignorant conscientiousness, and that there is no crime too dark for a devotee to perform under the seeming sanction of his creed." 1 History of England, ix. 313.


A bigotry determined and remorseless, counteracted by no warmth or generosity of nature, was the chief ingredient in Philip II. No Pope ever cherished a more intolerant zeal. At the beginning of his reign, during his visit to the Netherlands, he declared that it was better not to reign at all than to reign over heretics. No sacrifice, in his view, could be more acceptable to Heaven than the tortured body of a heretic. As the noble Don Carlos de Seso was being led to the stage, he exclaimed to Philip, "Is it thus that you allow your innocent subjects to be persecuted?" The reply of Philip was characteristic of the man: "If it were my own son, I would fetch the wood to burn him, were he such a wretch as thou art!" 1 Prescott, Philip II. i. 396. All virtue, all title to clemency from earth or heaven, canceled by disloyalty to a single Romish dogma ! such was the verdict of the royal bigot.


The intolerance of Philip and the Spaniards of his time was, in part, a thing of inheritance. The Inquisition, no doubt, was an efficient agent in hardening the sensibilities of the people; but apart from its influence, centuries of conflict with the infidel had their effect in the direction of intolerant zeal. "The life of every devout Spaniard," says Milman, "was a perpetual crusade. By temperament and position he was in constant adventurous warfare against the enemies of the cross; hatred of the Jew, of the Mohammedan, was the banner under which he served; it was the oath of his chivalry; that hatred with all its intensity was soon easily extended toward the heretic." "The auto de fé," says Prescott, "was the legitimate consequence of the long wars with the Moslems, which made the Spaniard intolerant of religious infidelity. Atrocious as it seems in a more humane and enlightened age, it was regarded by the ancient Spaniard as a sacrifice grateful to Heaven, at which he was to rekindle the dormant embers of his own religious sensibilities. . . . Never was there a people, probably, with the exception of the Jews, distinguished by so intense a nationality. It was among such a people, and under such influences, that Philip was born and educated. His temperament and his constitution of mind peculiarly fitted him for the reception of these influences; and the Spaniards, as he grew in years, beheld with pride and satisfaction, in their future sovereign, the most perfect type of the national character."