“And the Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
This is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, in continuation of and in addition to the first stories of persecution of the rising Christianity.
History repeats itself.
In the same measure in which a religious belief is contested, public interest is attracted to it, even from its very enemies. The opposition and slander of an idea invites people to study it, to examine it, to become acquainted with its arguments and the affirmations against it; and when the latter are lacking in reason, as happened with the pagan contradiction of Christianity in the first centuries of our era, the results are usually quite contrary to what the opposition intended.
This is the case with Spain.
When the present Spanish government proclaimed a toleration much more restricted than what the evangelical Christians of that country had enjoyed for nearly a century, the clergy raised a clamor to high heaven and vehemently protested. Pastoral letters and furious articles flood the press, forcing the government to reduce even more the small measure of liberty granted by the law.
And what has been the result? Since the day of the conversion of the Rev. Cipriano Tornos, ex-confessor of Queen Isabba II, three-quarters of a century ago, evangelical Christianity has not obtained such signal and repeated triumphs as those secured in the past two years.
On account of this unjust and extreme anti-Protestant campaign, not only are many atheists and indifferent persons attracted to the Protestant services, especially in the large cities where there is less fear of reprisals, but also the light of the Gospel is penetrating seemingly inaccessible places, winning the consciences of distinguished members of the Catholic clergy.
None other than the Secretary-General of the Marian Congregations of Spain, and after that of the world, the Rev. Carrillo de Albornoz, S.J., went from Spain to Rome and disappeared mysteriously from the Catholic scene, only to reappear in Geneva. There he made a public renunciation of his Roman Catholic faith in an evangelical church in the city of Calvin. That cosmopolitan city, which displays in one of its parks the great monument to the Reformation with its motto Post Tenebras Lux, “After Darkness Light” gave refuge to the illustrious Spanish ecclesiastic, who declared that he had passed from the darkness of a Christianity overshadowed and stiff-jointed through human teachings and dogmas unknown to Apostolic Christianity, to the radiant light of the glorious Gospel of Christ.
In the same year, 1950, several priests from various dioceses of Spain (Gerona, Mallorca, etc.) followed his example.
And now the noted founder of the Loyola Institute, the very well-known psychiatrist, lecturer, and sacred orator, the Rev. Luis Padrosa Roca, astounds his own people and others with his conversion to evangelical Christianity.
Only the one who knows the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish people, and has lived for years in that country where Catholicism means everything and Protestantism is the object of all sorts of hatred and scurrilous attack, can have any idea of the enormous sacrifice it means for persons of the stature of the Rev. Luis Padrose or the Rev. Carrillo de Albornoz to make such a decision. When evangelical Christianity scarcely has some thousands of followers among the working classes of Spain, while it is generally despised by the aristocracy, how can it come to win the mind and heart of these prominent figures among the Roman Catholic clergy?
The explanation is logical and understandable.
For the faithful Catholic a change of religion is almost impossible, because the fear of falling into sin hinders his carrying out any investigation in matters of faith; the Catholic must trust implicitly in his Church, under threat or danger of mortal sin; so his look is always turned timidly, anxiously, in search of the Nihil obstat, the first words of the ecclesiastical authorization, when any religious book happens to fall into his hands. In this way he avoids doubts, but he becomes enclosed within a pernicious circle, with great disadvantages to himself when he has to discuss religious subjects with others; and he is totally incapacitated for seeing the light about the Christian faith.
This limitation does not exist, however, in the same measure for the members of the clergy. They are set to defend their religion and it is natural that they should try to know something about what it is their duty to combat. There is still a certain fear in many priests, who don't dare to read a heretical book, nor would they carry on a controversy with a Protestant without permission of the bishop, an authorization which is rarely obtained; but that superstitious fear could not exist in persons of the intellectual stature of the Secretary-General of the Marian Congregations or of Rev. Luis Padrosa. No one would be afraid, not even they themselves believed it at the beginning, that persons so well-informed in Catholic theology and apologetics would apostatize from their faith through the act of allowing themselves a simple investigation of the doctrines and reason or justification for existence of evangelical Christianity. “But the truth is known by all her sons (children),” and our Lord affirmed, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). The man of sincerity and tender conscience, who sets himself to study the Gospel is won by the sublimity and simplicity of its teaching.
“I have found that there is no foundation in the Gospel for the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church.” These were the first words with which the Rev. Father Luis Padrosa, still wearing his priest's robes, astonished the first evangelical pastor with whom he came in contact in Spain.
That Gospel minister had prepared himself conscientiously for a sharp controversy from the time that the extraordinary visit was announced to him; for Father Padrosa was not in any way a weak controversialist. He could hardly be conquered in dialectics, nor in knowledge of history, nor in patristic theology; surely he would also be well versed in the Holy Scriptures, although this is not the strong point of the Catholics. But all his preparation turned out to be useless. The Rev. Luis Padrosa didn't go to convert or to be converted. He went persuaded by the Spirit of God and by the force of the truth, anxious to express what he personally had discovered in the pages of the Holy Scriptures, guided in his investigation by some good works of Protestant theology which he had not hesitated to read, thinking it would be easy to refute them.
The Rev. Luis Padrosa showed himself to be a person of extraordinarily sensitive conscience. A man “in whom there is no guile,” as Christ said about Nathanael. A sincere and true Catholic, who loved God with all his soul, strength and mind, he could not bear the thought of contradicting and opposing, with his teaching and his practice as a Catholic priest, the doctrine of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And he was determined to take the step, both sorrowful and dangerous – especially in Spain – of giving up his office, his position, and the reputation that he had earned as a lecturer and as director of the Loyola Institute of Barcelona and Tarrasa, in order to be true to the light which he had received.
From the first moment, he expressed the desire to share the glorious discovery with other souls deeply troubled by doubt and fear.
“Don't you have among your parishioners souls who are tormented by doubt?” said Father Luis Padrosa in this first interview.
“We evangelical Christians know in whom we have believed and we are sure . . . , as the great Apostle of the Gentiles said,” was the reply of the Gospel minister.
“Ah, yes, I expected that! That is the difference between leaning on the teachings of men, or on the infallible Word of God.”
“And the fact is that there is no joy or peace in the soul until a person has received Christ as his only and sufficient Saviour and is ready to fulfill His most holy will, cost what it may.”
The Rev. Luis Padrosa went on to explain how this peace and joy flooded his heart from the day he decided to follow the teachings of the Gospel.
Today he is earning his bread respectably working as a professor, and he voluntarily proclaims the Gospel in many churches that invite him.
But his heart is in Spain, where he has all his loved ones; in his fellow Jesuits, for whom he does not cease to pray; in his numerous pupils and clients of the Loyola Institute who more than once have opened their hearts to him without his being able to open his own entirely unto them; in his relatives according to the flesh, whom he would like to see saved and secure through the true faith in Christ, as once the great apostle Paul desired for his own; in his reviled evangelical brethren, whom he scarcely had time to get acquainted with, because of the haste and secrecy with which the preparations for his trip had to be carried out.
We are sure that the talents of the Rev. Luis Padrosa, put to the service of the Gospel by means of his word and his pen, will bring blessing to the evangelical churches of Spanish America, especially in the Argentine Republic. We think that a certain number of books may reach the hands of old acquaintances of the Director of the Loyola Institute in Spain, and we fervently pray that God may see fit to use these pages to illumine their souls.
It is possible that some copies may also reach fanatical and intolerant Catholics in the mother country. To such we take the liberty of saying as our Lord said to the blinded Saul of Tarsus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” All the enemies of the Gospel truth have had this sad experience through twenty centuries; and it cannot be otherwise in our own, or in a country like Spain, where there are still so many sincerely religious and God-fearing souls.
“I would never have thought of studying Protestantism carefully in the light of the Bible, and much less of becoming a Protestant,” the Rev. Luis Padrosa has told us, “if I had not been obliged to combat evangelical Christianity. But when Cardinal Segura from Seville and Archbishop Msgr. Vizcarra of Zaragoza sounded the alarm with their pastoral letters against Protestantism, setting in motion all the clerical and even political forces of Spain against heresy, I felt that we could not, there in Tarrasa, where Protestantism had taken root and was making progress, avoid the call of the Church. We had to do something special and noteworthy to decimate the ranks of the enemy. We must convince the Protestants of their error. To do this it was necessary, first of all, to study Protestantism and teach the Catholics to fight it with the favorite weapon of the Protestants themselves, the Holy Scriptures. But the Holy Scriptures conquered me.”
Behold the result, Catholics of Spain, behold the disastrous result for the Church which you are trying to serve, of not paying heed to the counsel of the One whom we call Master and Lord, who said to His disciples about one who was calling His holy name without being attached to the apostolic college: “Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us in on our part” (Mark 9:39, 40).
How much better it would be, dear Catholic believers, if instead of fighting the evangelical faith with the base methods of intolerance, you would bend your efforts to persuading the many unbelievers and skeptics, who remain in chivalrous Spain, concerning the basic principles of the Christian faith.
And when you contemplate the humble and heroic labor of your evangelical or Protestant fellow citizens, say with the wise man Gamaliel in apostolic times: “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, . . . for if this counsel, or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38, 39).