The Reformation in Spain

As you know, this is an incredibly important year—2017. This is the year we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. So, we’ll be spending a lot of time with the Reformation, especially as we get into October. Why not, right? So, let’s talk about a place where the Reformation did not make significant inroads. As you look across Europe, you realize that in many countries—Germany, the Swiss city-states, the Netherlands, Scotland, and England—the Reformation did very well. But there were places in Europe where the Reformation just was not able to penetrate, and one of those places was Spain. But that does not mean that Spain was without influence from the Reformers.

One of the people in Spain who was a significant figure in the Reformation was Juan de Valdés. He was born in 1490, and in the 1520s he came in contact with the writings of Erasmus and the teachings of Martin Luther. This led him in 1529 to write a book called Dialogue on Christian Doctrine. It was immediately confiscated and put on the index of prohibited books. This was a list maintained by the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic institution that sought to combat heresy. The Inquisition kept the Reformation from blossoming in Spain and also caused significant problems for Valdés. Once his book was on the index, he became an outlaw.

So, Valdés left Spain for Italy, where he came in contact with Peter Martyr Vermigli. Now, of course, in Italy the Reformation again didn’t make many inroads, so there too he had challenges. Meanwhile, back in Spain, all the copies of his book were being collected and destroyed. One copy made its way to Portugal, and it is the only surviving copy from the original printing of Dialogue on Christian Doctrine.

Another figure is Juan Pérez de Pineda. He too had to leave Spain and worked in Rome. He actually worked for Emperor Charles V in Rome, and he was there from 1527 to 1530. He eventually went back to Spain and started working on a translation of the Greek New Testament into Spanish. He also fell under the condemnation of the Inquisition and managed to flee to Geneva, where he carried on his work of translation. It was a Genevan printer that published his Spanish New Testament in 1556. It was a culmination of five years of hard work.

What’s fascinating about the title page of Pérez de Pineda’s New Testament is that it has a large Y on it. Pérez de Pineda did that because the two arms of the Y represent two destinies. As you look at the Y, one arm is wider because wide is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and the other arm is much narrower because narrow is the way and narrow is the gate that leads to salvation. So, even on the title page, he was indicating the message of the book, and the message of the New Testament is that it leads to salvation.

In the preface, Pérez de Pineda writes, “I feel very much obliged to do service to those of my nation according to the vocation that the Lord has called me to the enunciation of the Gospel.” And he says, “It seems there is no other way to complete this task than to give the New Testament in my own language.”

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    Andrew posted:
    5:51 pm, October 25, 2017

    Very helpful in filling out the European map of the Reformation in my mind. Thank you.

    Reply