Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 1532-1602 A.D. Forgotten Spanish Reformer, Cipriano De Valera—“Open your eyes, O Spaniards!”

January 1532-1602 A.D. Forgotten Spanish Reformer, Cipriano De Valera—“Open your eyes, O Spaniards!”




Ivan E. Mesa

Researcher, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, USA


The common consensus over several generations, if not centuries, has been that the Reformation of the sixteenth century entirely bypassed the nation of Spain. While there is no doubt as to its slow progress and quick demise, a Protestant movement did occur in Spain.


 One key figure was Cipriano de Valera (c.1532–1602), most known for his revision of the Spanish Bible that is still the dominant Spanish Protestant Bible in use today. While we have little knowledge of Valera’s personal life, we do gain a sense of the man through his writings. In all, there are about seven published works, which mostly include translations of others’ work, original prefaces, and adaptations of various tracts. By examining two of his works—his tract on the papacy and the mass and his preface to the translation of Calvin’s  Institutes—


I will highlight this largely forgotten Spanish Protestant and draw attention to his evangelistic love for his countrymen.


Brief biographical sketch and published works


As a member of the Hieronymite Order on the outskirts of Seville, Spain, Valera along with others became convinced of Protestant thought. In


1557, he fled to Geneva to avoid the Inquisition’s reach. With the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England in 1558, Valera moved to London where he studied and received a fellowship at Cambridge and afterward obtained an M.A. at Oxford. There is a relative silence with regard to the next twenty years or so, but we know that he returned to London and was a member of what were known as Strangers’ churches.


 The failed invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588 prompted a concentrated effort by the English to produce Spanish books and pamphlets. This propagandistic output, patronized by the English, was intended to counteract the growing power of Spain.


Attack on the papacy and the mass (1588)


The tract, entitled  Dos Tratados. El primero es del Papa … El sugundo es de la Missa  

argued that the Roman Catholic Church was built on two pillars, the papacy and the mass.


Strike one of these columns, Valera said, and the entire structure would collapse, the mass being the more essential to the Catholic edifice. Valera prayed God would send the ‘true Samson, who is Christ’, to tear down the columns by the word of God.In his opening preface addressed ‘to the Christian reader’, Valera wrote of how it greatly pained him to see his nation, one which God had so richly blessed with ‘ingenuity, ability and understanding for the things of the world’, to be dumb and blind to the things of God.


Spain, according to Valera, had been pulled away and was allowing itself to be ‘governed, run down, [and] tyrannized by the pope, by the man of sin, by the son of perdition, by the Antichrist, who is seated in the temple of God, making himself appear as God’.


Valera desired that his nation would enjoy the same mercies that other surrounding European countries had experienced, no doubt a reference to the other reformations in Germany and elsewhere. What he most desired was ‘liberty of conscience’ to live freely before the Lord. This liberty, said Valera, was ‘not to have free reign to serve the lusts of the flesh but rather to serve the living God in spirit and in truth’.


While this work is polemical in nature, Valera frequently appealed directly to his fellow countrymen to see the error of the Roman Catholic system: see what esteem the pope has for the sacrament, which he himself sells to you for your money, saying it is your God.’


Open your eyes, Spain, and look; believe the one who warns you with great love; see if what I say is true or not.’


As a result, Valera was burned in effigy on April 26, 1562, and was the only one branded by the Index of forbidden books as the ‘the Spanish heretic’.


The Spanish Institutes (1597)


In 1597 Valera published a translation of John Calvin’s fifth edition of the

Institutes (1559). According to Valera, God raised up Calvin, the ‘most learned interpreter of the sacred Scripture’, to be one of several ‘instruments of grace’ in his church.


Calvin, according to Valera, treats the points of doctrine in his Institutes

in a ‘pure and simple’ manner, teaching all that is taught in God’s word and refuting error and heresy.


Valera’s preface, which is addressed ‘to all the faithful of the Spanish nation’, is heavily doctrinal and is peppered throughout with biblical allusions and stories. Valera begins by highlighting the supreme gift of God, namely, a true knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This knowledge, he notes, offers men ‘great joy and stillness of heart in this life and glory and happiness after this life’.


In short, nothing is more necessary than this knowledge. Valera emphasized that Satan, from creation to the present time, has sought to suppress the truth. He refers to foreign and domestic enemies who ‘glorify in being the people of God and that have the external appearance’; this is no doubt a reference to the Inquisition and the Roman Catholic Church infrastructure that propped it up.


In his most anti-papal remarks, Valera accused the Roman Catholic Church of having abandoned the path of the apostles and the commandment of Christ, for not caring for the sheep, and for suppressing them in ignorance. These leaders claimed to be ‘vicars of Christ’ but in reality they were guilty of pulling people away from a true knowledge of and obedience to Christ. Valera sounded a clear warning against false teachers and called on his readers to awaken from ignorance and renounce those that deceived them with idolatries and superstitions. In one of his more expressive moments, he declared that even ‘with fires, prisons, and knives of the persecutors, the light of truth has not been


 Instead, the truth had been spread out in kingdoms and cities on earth. He then cites Tertullian’s well known dictum: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Valera dedicated his translation of Calvin’s Institutes to all the faithful Spaniards, those who were still living under the yoke of the Inquisition and those who had been uprooted from their land. He listed three reasons that motivated him to undertake this work.


The first was gratitude to God who had delivered him from the power of darkness and transferred him into the kingdom of his beloved son (Col. 1:13). Here Valera cited Jesus’s words to Peter in Luke 22:32 (‘When thou art converted, strengthen thy brothers’) as motivation in his efforts to pro-duce this work in Spanish. The second reason was the ‘burning desire’ he had to ‘advance, by all means I can, the conversion, the comfort, and health of my nation’. The third motivation for his translation was the ‘great lack, scarcity, and need that our Spain has of a book that contains sound doctrine, by which men can be instructed in the doctrine of piety’. Each of these motivations reveal a man who, although displaced from his homeland, fanned into flame a lifetime zeal for his own countrymen. Valera concluded with this exhortation:


Therefore, open your eyes, O Spaniards, and forsaking those who deceive you, obey Christ and his word, which alone is firm and unchangeable forever. Establish and ground your faith on the true foundation of the prophets and apostles and sole Head of his church.


Encouragement for today


We see in Cipriano de Valera a man who maintained a lifelong evangelistic zeal for his own people. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 9, Valera experienced ‘great heaviness and continual sorrow’ (verse 2) for his fellow Spaniards, his ‘kinsmen according to the flesh’ (verse 3). Even though he left Spain at the age of 25, Valera never ceased to identify himself as a Spaniard and long for the salvation of his own people. He dedicated his efforts to writing, translating, and publishing works that placed evangelical truths before the readers of his native tongue.


In recent years there has been a growing interest in Reformed theology in the English-speaking world. While grateful for this trend, there is need for this same renewal among Spanish-speakers. A study of the sixteenth-century Spanish Protestants, including Cipriano de Valera, is a great source of encouragement as well as a reminder that the preaching of the gospel and Reformed truths have not been unknown in the Spanish language. May the Lord open many eyes in the Spanish-speaking world to a true and saving knowledge of Christ.

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