Protestantism is said to be one of the movements which has most influenced the development of Western culture, not only in terms of religion, but also intellectually. Although in historical terms, the socio-cultural revolt of the Protestant movement happened during the 15th and 16th centuries, it initially grew out of what is known as the events at Pentecost, or rather the birth of the first Christian church in Jerusalem in the first century AD.
The Development of Christianity
Christianity grew in spectacular fashion, and soon reached the borders of the Roman Empire, mainly due to the missionary zeal of the first Christians. There were, however, other external factors; good land and maritime routes not only enabled Roman legions or merchandise to travel with ease, they also allowed the spread of ideas and the Greek language ( and also Latin ), which was the common language between different cultures.
The first Christian communities met in prívate homes, and were inspired by the teachings of the New Testament ( NT ). They were led by presbyteroi ( elders ) and diakonoi ( ministerial servants ). Over time, whenever there were several communities in one city, their supervision was the responsibility of a episkopoi ( overseers ). In the second century ,whole cities and entire territories came under their charge, and they bécame known as patriarchs. These different names were according to custom, The New Testament writers also use the terms "overseer" and "elder" interchangeably and as synonyms.
We now come to the year 313, an important date in history: Christianity becomes recognized by the state after the Emperor Constantine passes the Edict of Tolerance of Milan. The Church is treated favourably and, unfortunately, throne and altar gradually become united.
Reform: Martín Luther
Over time, the debasement of the religious life and the absolutism of its hierarchy increased. Again and again, in Spain and elsewhere ,critics anxious for reform could be heard, but these voices would be silenced by force.
One voice, however, managed to penetrate deep into the religious life of the European Renaissance: that of Martin Luther, who ,along with many others, heralded the Protestant Reformation in Roman Catholic Europe, including Spain.
The reforms represented a return to the very sources of Christianty, the authentic message of Christ, overcoming centuries of traditions and rituals, although many still exist in the present day.
“Through Christ alone, by grace alone and by Scripture alone”. Luther’s words signified that man is saved only by faith in Christ and by the grace of God, freely given by Him, not by man’s good works. Moreover, the only authority on faith and the Christian life is the Bible, not Church traditions and other teachings.
In fact, one of the great achievements of the Reformation was the translation and publication of the Holy Scripture in different languages, as opposed to Latin.
Reformers in Spain
News of Luther’s 95 theses quickly arrived in Spain in the same year of their publication and as early as 1519, an important cargo of pamphlets and books ( 2 tons ) was discovered by the Inquisition in a Basque port. Many of the Spanish Reformers were distinguished intellectuals of their time, humanists, nobles and members of religious orders close to the court of Carlos I, such as Pedro de Lerma, Chancellor of the University of Alcalá; Juan de Vergara, translator of the polyglot Bible; Alfonso de Valdés, Secretary to the Emperor; his brother,Juan de Valdés, a leading literary figure and Doctor Egidio, Canon of the Seville Chapter and Bishop of Tortosa. These are some of the illustrious names to be found in the records of the Inquisition, but there were many more teachers, merchants and clerics forced into exile around Europe.
It has been said by some historians that the Inquisition as much as the Jesuit Order of Ignacio de Loyola operated such an efficient system of espionage and repression that resistance was impossible; up to 9 bishops were tried for being Lutherans. There was also no quarter in the villages of Tarragona, such as Cambrils, Montblanc, Valls or
Meanwhile, the rest of Europe moved towards religious freedom, enthusiastically enjoying one of the most revolutionary periods in their spiritual, social and economic history.
The 19th Century
Signs of the new evangelical Christianity in Spain were not in evidence until the 19th century. The movement of people and anticlerical and liberal ideas caused by the Napeolonic Wars gradually gave way to a new tolerance.
In 1812 the Courts of Cadiz enacted laws, banning the Inquisition and expelling the Jesuits, albeit for a short time. The revolution of 1868 ( the First Republic ) brought with it a new Constitution which gave religious freedom to foreigners, but which also allowed Spanish people to think in a different way to the Roman Catholic Church. Taking advantage of this period of political liberty, European missionaries arrived, usually from England. They founded small evangelical churches throughout the country and carried out important social work in schools and hospitals. One of the most important activities carried out jointly by Spanish and foreign evangelicals was large scale distribution of the Bible. In spite of these successes, intolerance towards and imprisonment of Protestants lasted for many years. In particular, the Matamoros case was widely reported in the European press due to its international repercussions.
Manuel Matamoros, from Lepe, was an army officer with liberal ideas, who discovered the Gospels in Gibraltar and joined the church in Malaga.In 1860 he was arrested in Barcelona purely on the grounds of being a Protestant. The case became known outside Spain and European society was quick to show its disapproval. A delegation made up of diplomats from Austria, Bavaria, Denmark, England,France, Holland, Prussia, Switzerland and Sweden went to Madrid demanding his release. Queen Isabel II rejected their demands but agreed to reduce the sentence of life imprisonment to exile in the galley ships. Matamoros was finally freed after 3 years in prison and died soon after from an illness contracted in the prison of Granada.
Christianity in Tarragona in the 19th Century
Copies of the New Testament and Bibles were also distributed by travelling salesmen in the cities and villages of the Tarragona and Baix Camp areas. The first pastor to arrive in Reus, on the 1st April 1876, was Antonio Martínez de Castilla, the son of a well to do family of doctors in Granada. Martínez established the first evangelical church and a school for poor children, which used the most modern European teaching methods. The school operated for 60 years until its closure by Franco’s supporters during the Civil War. After Martínez, came many others who spread the Gospel in this area and opened new evangelical churches in Tarragona, Reus, Valls, Amposta, Roquetes, El Vendrell and Salou. The intolerance of the past has been overcome and religious freedom in Spain was made law by the 1978 Constitution.