Project Canterbury

The Reformation in Mexico

By Alfred Lee

No place: no publisher, no date.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009

FEW histories are clothed with more fascinating interest than that of Mexico. Before America was unveiled to the old world by the voyage of Columbus many of the arts of civilization were known there, and a powerful kingdom was flourishing in a splendor that could vie with the realms of the Orient. While the aborigines of our own land were savage Nomads, whose skill only sufficed to construct the wigwam, the canoe, and the weapons of war and chase, there were magnificent cities in this Southern region, and great hosts were mustered under the conduct of plumed and armed chieftains. The descriptions given by the Spanish invaders of the extent, riches and power of the Mexican empire, the well-organized system of administration, the beauty and grandeur of the capital, a Western Venice reposing in the bosom of its inland waters, and of the royal state of Montezuma's court, sound like the dreams of romance. Whether the gorgeous semi-civilization of Mexico was self-developed, the growth of the country the fruit of gradual progress and advance, or whether imported from the Eastern Continent at a period anterior to historic record, is a question upon which learned and intelligent students are unable to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Strong arguments are urged on each side of the question. But whichever view be taken, there can be no doubt respecting the intellectual ability and energy of a people who could either achieve such a condition, or maintain it cut off from all external sources of improvement and refinement. The Aztecs, the race dominant at the era of the Conquest, were a remarkable people. If, as is supposed, the Aztecs derived their knowledge mainly from the Toltecs whom they subdued, the latter must have been a still more wonderful race, superior to the Aztecs in science and art, as well as in gentleness. For, with all their pomp and luxury, the Aztecs were a ferocious and sanguinary people, in a state of almost constant warfare with their neighbors. Of their religion, to which they were fanatically devoted, human sacrifice was [3/4] the prominent feature. In all their principal cities were Teocalis, lofty pyramidal idol mounds, crowned with altars upon which living victims were continually immolated. These were mostly captives taken in war, and this was one great motive for hostile expeditions. When the supply from this source failed, in order to satiate the demands of the idol priests, a fearful blood-tribute was levied and exacted as systematically as a pecuniary tax. The combination of luxury and cruelty, refinement and superstition, the unrestrained enjoyment and profligacy of the privileged classes, the terror of the abject, is an awful comment upon the condition of man without the Gospel.

If we turn from the state of the Mexican empire to the narrative of the Spanish invasion and conquest, we open another most interesting page. The subversion of a powerful and warlike kingdom by a handful of foreign adventurers, the tale of marches, stratagems and desperate battles, of imminent dangers and marvelous victories, sounds more like romance than veritable history. No imaginary description of the feats of heroes of chivalry surpasses the authentic record of the conquest of Mexico. With the gloomy close of Montezuma's brilliant reign, the dark shadows that came over his fortunes after the landing of the mysterious strangers upon his coast, it is impossible not to sympathize. His destruction was greatly due to his own superstitious fears.

Strangely enough, oracles were current that the kingdom of Mexico would be overthrown by strangers from beyond the sea. The alarmed monarch dreaded from the first the men of destiny. His policy was vacillating and undecided, now deprecatory and submissive, now treacherous and hostile, and his heart sank within him at the steady and irresistible advance of the invaders. They were already established in the heart of the capital, and the sovereign a prisoner in their hands, ere the nation was fully aroused. But when it was awakened and exasperated by indignities to their king and insults to their religion, their fury was like the outburst of a tropical tornado. The canals of the city ran with blood and were choked with corpses, the onrushing multitudes cared nothing for their own lives so they might grapple with their enemies, drag them into their canoes, and carry them away in triumph to be sacrificed upon the altar of the war-god. By dint of desperate struggle Cortez and a remnant [4/5] of exhausted followers escaped from the infuriated city. An aged and massive cypress still marks the spot where the fugitives halted for rest, a monument of the "Noche triste," the sorrowful night.

But such resistance could only defer for a short space the triumph of the European, and his ultimate victory was signalized of course by religious as well as political revolution. The Spanish conqueror of the sixteenth century was a most sincere propagandist of his creed. The cross was emblazoned on his banner. The saint was his war-cry. The Virgin was his tutelary Deity. The priest and friar accompanied the host. When a city was won, the idol was hurled from its shrine and mass was celebrated in the temple. The future of the rich and beautiful regions subdued by Cortez was largely shaped by the strong religious bias of the nation from which he came. Spain was transplanted to America--the Spain of Charles V. and Philip II. The subtle Jesuit and the Dominican Inquisitor came over with the mail-clad warrior. The natives who escaped the edge of the sword were compelled to submit to the new faith. Neither does their conversion, such as it was, seem to have been attended with much difficulty. It is no want of charity to regard the change as merely superficial. Adoration was transferred from the Mexican idol to the Virgin, and images, certainly more attractive to the eye, supplanted the grim Aztec deities. Of the power of true Christianity they remained as unconscious as before. The shrewd ecclesiastic was not disposed to give too violent a shock to inveterate usages and habits. In many places old heathen rites still linger. In the favorite resort of Indian devotion, the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadalupe, may be now witnessed dances of native women, the remains of orgies celebrated for centuries on that very spot. In one respect, indeed, a happy change was wrought. Human sacrifices were abolished. Victims were no longer extended upon the block, nor warm hearts reeking upon the altar. Christianity, in a corrupt form, showed its superiority in mercy. And yet, even in this point, Rome cannot be held guiltless. She also claimed living sacrifices in the new world as in the old. The frowning walls of the Inquisition were reared, the fires of the Auto de Fé were kindled, unhappy prisoners were consigned to those dark and fearful dungeons, [5/6] never to revisit the light of day, and when the building was partly demolished, bodies dried to mummies were found in the walls, where they had been shut up and left to perish.

For more than three hundred years the power of Rome was supreme. Both politically and religiously Mexico was bound hand and foot. State and Church were closely united, and the foot of viceroy and priest was upon the neck of the people. The multitudes were kept in ignorance and the land impoverished, while immense convents were founded, grand churches erected, swarms of priests, monks and nuns supported, and vast sums sent to prop up the languishing monarchy of Spain. But the principles of liberty, successfully asserted by the American Revolution, could not, by the most jealous vigilance, be shut out from the Spanish colonies. They penetrated into Mexico as well as South America. Mexico became an independent nation. But the previous condition of the people had poorly prepared them for self-government, and their annals for a half century are stormy and troublous. The Romish Church was too keen-sighted not to perceive that free institutions would be fatal in the end to her exclusive domination, and that religious toleration would of necessity follow civil liberty. Hence her intrigues have not been wanting to foment these internal dissensions. The party of constitutional freedom and progress has had to contend against powerful Church influence. But it succeeded in the enactment of the Constitution of 1857, which establishes the principles of toleration and the equality of religions before the law. This was followed by the sequestration of conventual property and the suppression of religious orders. The first measure was defended on the ground that the wealth of these institutions had been drawn from the nation and the nation might rightfully reclaim it, and the second was regarded as a measure of self-defense, and essential to the maintenance of a liberal government. To a citizen of the United States some of the restraints imposed upon the Roman Catholic Church may excite surprise, accustomed, as we are, to the spectacle of unrestricted management of their internal affairs by the various religious bodies. But there are dangers there of which we are unconscious. Rome bears not the loss of power, looks upon the whole land as her rightful possession, and has not abandoned the hope of regaining her former ascendancy. Until a very recent [6/7] period no other form of worship was openly celebrated, and while Rome could no longer control the State, and had greatly lost her hold upon intelligent and educated men, she still remained unchallenged in the domain of faith. Many who had lost belief in her dogmas still gave her an outward reverence.

But spiritual light is now breaking upon the land, and within the last ten years a movement has been in progress full of promise and hope. Viewed in its origin, nature and growth, and in connection with the country in which it appeared, it may be considered one of the remarkable movements of the age. It certainly has strong claims upon the attention and sympathy of the lovers of Scriptural truth and pure, primitive Christianity. And to none does it appeal more forcibly than to members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Romanism, however deeply rooted in the sacred associations, early prejudices, and social habits of the people, has no longer an undisputed field. A new communion has arisen, presenting the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ in a widely different aspect, and from small beginnings has been rapidly spreading. Of the origin and history of this infant Church a brief outline will be now presented.

Of this plant, now growing so vigorously, it may be emphatically said, "The Seed was the Word of God." It differs from the Christian Missions of the day in that the apparent impulse came not from the living Missionary, but from the Bible. It sprang up from the bosom of the Papal Communion through the silent influence of the Holy Scriptures. When the attempt was made to seat the unfortunate Maximilian upon the throne of Mexico, advantage was taken of the new condition of things to introduce a considerable supply of copies of the Bible in the Spanish tongue. This was especially done by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The book found readers. Some of the precious seed fell upon ground prepared by Divine grace for its reception. Among those thus enlightened was a priest named Francisco Aguilar. Upon him the reading of the volume produced like effects as upon Luther in the convent of Erfurth. He not only rejoiced in the discovery which was so precious to his own soul, but he longed to extend to others the blessings he had found. By him the first Protestant congregation, for the worship of God in the Spanish tongue and the preaching of [7/8] the gospel, was gathered in the city of Mexico. Protestant worship had been held by chaplains, both American and French, but these services were not in the native tongue nor for the native population. The thought of Aguilar was to establish a Reformed Catholic Church, evangelical in doctrine and assimilated in model and polity to the primitive Apostolic pattern. He began with a little congregation of about fifty persons, which increased steadily under his assiduous labors. But his course was a brief one. His own exertions were exhausting, and persecution, none the less malignant if restrained from actual violence, was exceedingly harassing. Within two years he succumbed, pressing in his last moments the Bible to his heart. Among his papers was found the translation of a little volume, in which the right and duty of every man to search the Scriptures was powerfully argued. This was published by the Rev. H. C. Riley, and proved an effective ally to his work.

The attention of the bereaved flock was directed to a Presbyter of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, of American parentage, but of Chilian birth and education, who was ministering in the Spanish tongue to an Episcopal congregation in the city of New York. In view of the admirable fitness of the Rev. Henry C. Riley for the work in Mexico, it is no presumption to recognize the hand of God in this call. It was a startling summons to Mr. Riley, urging him to leave his kindred and congregation for a post of certain danger and uncertain results. When the expediency of establishing a mission in Mexico was under consideration by the Foreign Committee of our Board, Mr. Seward, Secretary of State, was consulted, and he strongly dissuaded from the enterprise as involving too great risk for the missionaries who should be sent there. After examining all the difficulties and perils involved, Mr. Riley decided to give himself to the work. Constrained by the love of Christ and zeal for the extension of His Kingdom, he "counted not his life dear unto himself, and none of these things moved him." The Foreign Committee declining the mission, he went on his own responsibility and mainly at his own charges. Arriving in Mexico in 1869, he re-collected, as far as practicable, the scattered flock of Aguilar, teaching both publicly and from house to house. He labored not less effectively with his pen, circulating numbers of tracts of his own composition, explanatory of the great doctrines of the gospel. [8/9] He soon attracted public attention, and the jealous eyes of the dominant Church watched him with inquisitorial vigilance. A Catholic Society, with a layman for President, was formed with the express object of counteracting his growing influence. It is a mortifying fact for us to learn that the Minister of the United States then resident in Mexico, Gen. Rosecrantz, was in active sympathy with this Society. But, in spite of opposition, Mr. Riley's hearers multiplied. He obtained from the Government one of the sequestrated conventual churches, San Jose de Gracia, and prepared to transfer thither his services. The rage of his enemies waxed hot, and only to the protecting hand of his Almighty Guardian can we ascribe it that his life was not cut short by the dagger of the assassin. The Romish party, unable to crush him by violence, determined to employ argument. For this purpose they selected one of the most eminent and learned ecclesiastics of the capital, Manuel Aguas, a Dominican friar, and very popular as a preacher. He examined Mr. Riley's publications with the intention of preparing a refutation. But the Lord led him by a way that he knew not. He was himself vanquished by the power of the truth. "There fell from his eyes as it had been scales." He discovered that he had been all his life in darkness, and that the work he had undertaken to oppose was of the Lord. He sought personal conference with Mr. Riley, and after painful conflict and deep searchings of heart, he joined himself to that which he had been wont to look upon as an odious and heretical sect. This open adhesion to the new doctrine was a shock to his former associates not unlike that occasioned by the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The church of San Jose de Gracia was about to be occupied by the congregation under Dr. Riley's care. Loud and deep were the threats that the blood of the worshipers should stain the pavement. What added fuel to the flame was the announcement that the preacher on that occasion would be none other than Manuel Aguas! With Apostolic boldness the converted friar ascended the pulpit from which it was not unlikely he would be dragged to martyrdom, and before an immense audience proclaimed the gospel. The favoring hand of God averted the danger of this first experiment of reformed worship in an old Romish church, and the delivery of the opening sermon by so distinguished a convert. Manuel Aguas concluded his sermon without interruption, [9/10] and went forward with zeal and intrepidity in his new vocation. From that time he was united with Mr. Riley in the oversight of the Church. He was elected its first Bishop, and had every qualification for a leader. Trained in all the learning of the Romish school, and conversant with the system of internal administration, he could speak intelligently upon all the points that came under discussion. Of unblemished character as well as great intellectual powers, he commanded the respect of his bitterest enemies. Embracing the grand verities of the gospel with simple, child-like faith, and proclaiming them with fervor and eloquence, he attracted large numbers to hear the Word, and had the entire confidence and affection of the flock to whom he ministered. He seemed, indeed, precisely the man for the arduous and important charge for which he had been selected, "a chosen vessel of the Lord."

The anger and astonishment created among his old associates may be imagined. He was of course speedily excommunicated, but his enemies could not, as a former generation would have done, consign him to the tender mercies of the Inquisition. He was challenged to a public disputation. This he gladly accepted, and named, as the question for discussion, "Is the Church of Rome guilty of idolatry?" Public expectation was intensely aroused, and on the day appointed thousands wended their way to San Jose. Great precautions were taken by the friends of Aguas for his safety. It was with difficulty that way was made for him through the dense masses to the platform. But when he arrived his antagonist did not make his appearance. The Roman authorities had thought better of it, and concluded not to allow the discussion. Their selected theologian, who, in good faith had been preparing himself, was sent to a distant place. Aguas was alone. He had the field to himself, and he did not fail to take advantage of the great opportunity. He boldly accused Rome of the sin of idolatry, and sustained the charge by convincing proofs. Strange things were brought to the ears of many of his auditors, and the shock given on that day to the Roman system was a heavy one.

Aguas was busy with his pen as well as in his public ministry. In particular he replied to the sentence of excommunication in a tract, which, for forcible style and keen sarcasm, is worthy to be compared with "The Provincial Letters" of Pascal. No [10/11] more life-like portrait of the man can be presented than that which he himself has drawn upon the pages of this tract, and so well does it bring before the reader the nature of the controversy in which he was engaged, that I need not apologize for extracts of some length. Referring to his excommunication, he says, that the Romish Church deals no worse with him than with her own people, except by seeking to hold him up for public abhorrence and detestation. By withholding the cup, Rome substituted a ceremony of her own invention for the ordinance of Christ, and virtually nullified the Lord's Supper. And to show the injustice of the anathema launched against him he imagines the Apostle Paul returning to earth and visiting the Cathedral of the city of Mexico. He is received by the Archbishop and clergy with obsequious reverence, and, entering the Cathedral, inquires the design and use of the various objects which meet his eye. The answers to his questions bring out, one after another, the falsehoods and abuses of Rome, and it is made apparent in the issue that Paul is as deserving of excommunication as Aguas.

The tract is addressed to the Archbishop:

"For my part I forgive. You curse me and I bless you! You hate me and I love you in Jesus Christ. You would, if you had the power, conduct me to the flames, as your predecessors, the inquisitors, have done many sincere Christians, and I desire that the Saviour conduct you to glory. I follow the religion which blesses, compassionates the sufferings of sinners, and all the more if they be enemies, and you follow the religion which curses, detests, excommunicates and tortures, and whose vengeance is unsatisfied until it burns alive those who have the courage to open the Bible and declare to the people the truths which God has revealed, thus exposing the falsehoods inculcated by Rome. This only is my fault. You cannot allege, brother Bishop, any other crime as cause for my excommunication."

"But this is not to be wondered at, inasmuch as you adhere to a Christianity so corrupted by the Bishops of Rome, that if the primitive leaders of the faith were to rise from the dead, they could in no way recognize it. Let us suppose the Apostle St. Paul to reappear on earth and take a corporal form. Let us suppose, also, that the first city which he visits is Mexico, and [11/12] that, as is natural, he directs his steps to the most conspicuous edifice of that capital, the Cathedral. What cause of joy to yourself and to your subjects so illustrious a visitor! You would doubtless make great preparations to receive him, placing a magnificent chair of state in the Tabernacle to be occupied by the Saint, while you honored him with a solemn chanted Mass. You would make a display of all your splendor and pomp, decking yourselves with your richest and most costly ornaments. You would be attended by all the friars, clergy, and even the nuns, dispensed for the occasion from their usual confinement, all wearing their respective costumes, and the canons displaying their immense and glittering trains. You yourself would walk under a canopy, wearing your embroidered mitre, showing upon your breast your rich pectoral, valued by competent judges at the sum of more than one hundred thousand dollars--pity that such wealth should not be devoted to the relief of the thousands of unfortunate and distressed families in Mexico."

"With what surprise would the Holy Apostle see these fanciful and gorgeous vestments, bringing at once to his memory bacchanalian scenes among the heathen. In amazement he would ask, 'Who are ye?' With graceful politeness, and with an air of majesty, you would advance to pay your homage to the Apostle, you and all your retinue prostrating yourselves before him. St. Paul would recall the incident of his life when a priest of Jupiter, believing him to be the god Mercury, would have offered sacrifice to him at Lystra. Rending his garments as at that time, he would cry out, 'Why do ye this? I am myself a man like you. I supposed you to be Christians--but I see that I was in error. I am in the midst of idolatry.' You, rising up with precipitation, would endeavor to detain the Apostle from escaping, and would say, 'Fear not, holy Apostle, I am a Bishop of the Church of Christ, and these are my sheep.' Paul, recovered a little from his alarm, would follow you, although hesitatingly. On arriving at the Cathedral he would exclaim with admiration, 'What a beautiful temple! Certainly you are fortunate in wresting this edifice from the ancient Aztecs, for I understand that here they formerly adored their god Huitzilopotchli. All these idols which adorn the walls of this temple reveal to me that they [12/13] have belonged to the heathen. Bring me hammers and axes and let us proceed to destroy these images, so insulting to the true God.' "

"What would you answer him, brother Bishop? I believe that in your heart you would justify the Saint, for you would then remember the commandment of the Lord (Ex. xx.). Nevertheless, with some confusion, you would entreat the Apostle to pass around, and defer for a time his purpose."

"The blessed Apostle, affectionate and gracious, would permit the delay, and advance into the interior of the Cathedral. But now commences the chant of the choir, accompanied by the organ. He inquires, 'In what language are those brethren singing?' 'In Latin,' you answer. 'Is then the Latin spoken and understood in Mexico?' 'No, sir; here the Castillian alone is spoken:' 'How unfortunate,' the Apostle would reply, 'that you have not been acquainted with my Epistle to the faithful at Corinth, in the 14th chapter of which the Holy Spirit, by my mouth, recommends that nothing should be said or sung in the Church except in a language understood by the people. I said myself to these primitive Christians, I thank my God I speak with tongues more than ye all. Yet in the Church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.' "

"Before you could answer that just observation, the Holy Apostle would again ask, 'Why have ye not destroyed this altar of the Indians, upon which so many human victims must have been sacrificed? Nay, I grieve to see that instead of destroying it, ye have preserved it most carefully and adorned it richly.' 'Sir,' you would answer, 'there is no human victim here offered. We use it for saying the Mass, in which we sacrifice Jesus, the victim whom we offer daily to the Father.' The Apostle might answer, 'What you mean by the word Mass I understand not, neither do I comprehend how it is that ye daily sacrifice Jesus Christ, Who is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, in His glorified body and soul--Who only on two occasions comes into this world, first to suffer, which has already been accomplished, the second time to judge, at the last day.' "

"'I see too, plainly that though ye call yourselves Christians, [13/14] ye are not so in reality, since ye do not know the New Testament. If you had read at least my Epistles you would have found repeated testimonies that Jesus Christ was once sacrificed for the sins of many, and that He is never to be sacrificed again.' (He then quoted Rom. vi.: 9; Heb. vii.: 26, 27; ix. 24-28; x. 10-18.)"

"'Neither suppose, brother Bishop, that I alone have so thought. All the Apostles agree with me in this. What says St. Peter in his 1st Epistle, iii.: 18? How can you presume to tell me that you sacrifice Christ daily when you celebrate that Mass, a thing to me wholly unknown? How can you pretend to shed at every step that most precious blood of the Lord!' "

"You would answer, 'We do not in the Mass shed the blood of Jesus. Although the sacrifice upon Calvary was with shedding of blood, it is our doctrine that the sacrifice of the Mass is unbloody.' Think you, brother Bishop, that this answer would satisfy the Holy Apostle? 'Then,' he would reply, 'this, your alleged sacrifice, is wholly useless and unavailing, for in my Epistle to the Hebrews, ix.: 22, I have taught without shedding of blood is no remission.' "

Omitting the questions and answers concerning the vow of chastity and the forbidding the use of certain meats, and the Apostle's notice and queries touching the confessional boxes, and his castigation of the claim of priestly absolution, and reference to the dangers and abuses of the Confessional (and the previous acquaintance of the writer with the whole interior of the system gives great weight to these exposures), I come to another question.

"'Pray tell me, brother Bishop, whence comes to my ears this metallic sound, as if it were the ring of silver money?' 'Sir, the faithful are paying for masses to be celebrated on the altar of pardon, in order to effect the release of souls from Purgatory.' 'What mean ye by this word, Purgatory? I already understand that the payment for masses signifies that these unworthy Bishops and Presbyters by taking this money imitate, so far as is in their power, the treacherous Judas, who sold his divine Master for thirty pieces of silver, with the difference, however, that Judas committed his frightful crime once, and here it is committed every day and many times a day. But the word Purgatory I do not understand, explain it.' [14/15] 'Sir, Purgatory is a dark and gloomy place, much like hell, where souls that have not made full satisfaction to God for their sins suffer in flames the most exquisite torments, until their relatives pay a dollar for the reciting of a mass on the altar of pardon, for example, when, on the celebration of the said Mass, not only one but five souls go forth from this place of torment.' "

"'I know not with what conscience,' the Apostle would rejoin, 'ye can rob the public in so scandalous a manner, and wonder that the authorities do not suppress the altar and the abuse. But tell me, who taught you this fable of Purgatory, an old wives' fable, of which you find nothing in the Scriptures? Nay, you are in the grossest error in supposing that men can satisfy God for their sins, which is an utter falsehood, however virtuous and imposing their works may be. Many passages of Scripture condemn this erroneous and dangerous doctrine. Read my Epistle to the Ephesians, ii.: 8, 9: "By grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." Moreover, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin the souls that trust in Him. Wherefore invent a place where souls are purified from sins by fire. But it is manifest that you have invented Purgatory in order to rob the people and enrich yourselves.' "

"'Tell me, what signifies this picture representing wretches in the midst of flames?" 'Sir,' you would have to answer, 'this is a representation of Purgatory, and it has been placed near the altar of pardon, in order that the faithful may see plainly what their defunct relatives are suffering in the other world, whence it comes to pass that this poor little altar, so much abused, receives most profuse offerings.' "

"The holy Apostle, full of indignation, would say, 'Now I perceive that the images which adorn this temple have been placed here by yourselves, and not, as I thought at first, by the old Aztecs, and hence your refusal that they should be destroyed. But know, brethren, that all who adore graven images are idolaters.' * * But you would answer, 'Holy Apostle, although we adore these images, we do not direct our adorations to them absolutely, but to the saints in heaven whom they represent, whom we regard as our mediators, advocates and intercessors with the Father, and therefore to them we [15/16] direct our prayers, open our hearts and disclose our wants. And great are the benefits we thus derive under our burdens and afflictions.' * * * * * 'Moreover we possess many relics of the Saints before which we kneel reverently, adore and kiss them, that by actions so meritorious we may gain many indulgences and the remission of all our sins.' "

"'What are these relics that you have,' exclaims the wondering Apostle. You hasten to display the precious gifts of which you are so proud. 'Look,' you say, 'this thread is the remainder of the garment of St. Anna; this old shoe was worn by the Apostle Thomas; the beads of this rosary were made from the stones with which Stephen was killed; this hood belonged to the greatest of the inquisiters, Domingo de Guzman, by whom so many heretics were burned; these teeth'--'Silence!' the Apostle would answer, 'I want no more teeth, no more lies, no more of these pitiful superstitions. I desire earnestly that ye may know the true religion, that ye become Christians, for at present ye are real idolaters, attributing great efficacy to despicable amulets. Bring me a Bible immediately and I will show you.' 'We have no Bible in the Cathedral.' 'How? Not a single copy of the sacred volume in this which you tell me is a Christian Church? 'Not one, holy Apostle.' 'Then let one of these boys in red vestments run to a street which is called street of San Francisco, where in passing by I noticed a Bible depository and buy one.' 'On no account, blessed Saint. Those are the Bibles with which the Protestants, on Sunday the second of July, gave us such a shock that we are scarcely yet recovered. Better let one of our annotated Bibles be brought. Let the father Sacristan, who lives here, bring his Bible.' "

"Then the said father would advance, making to you, Brother Bishop, a thousand genuflexions and reverences, and in a tremulous voice would say, 'Most illustrious, reverend, excellent and pious sir, the Bible that I have is that of Vence, but it is imperfect--there remains but the first volume, and even that has been gnawed by the rats. If it please your very illustrious and pious Lordship, I will bring it immediately.' 'Leave me,' you reply."

"The holy Apostle, with indignant manner, would reprove you thus: 'Why do you despise in this manner the word of [16/17] God? If ye have fallen into so great errors, it is because ye are ignorant of the Holy Scriptures. Well do the words of Jesus to the Sadducees suit you. "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures." You have formed with your own hands these images, and bow down to them and worship them, and thus commit the dreadful sin of idolatry, which God solemnly forbade in the second commandment of the Decalogue." 'Sir,' you would say, 'in order to rid ourselves of the great blemish of idolatry, our King (the Pope) has ordered the suppression of that second commandment in the Catechism which we put in the hands of the children. By this ingenious artifice we have been able to deceive the people and to get from them the money which we so much need.' "

One more extract. "'I can now understand,'" the Apostle is represented as saying, "'why you teach such things, since your object is, as you confess, to obtain money from the people, and for that end you have established a religion which is not the religion of God, but the religion of money. But what astonishes me is that the poor people, having, as they must have, the Bible in their hands, can suffer themselves to be so misled. Even we who wrought miracles did not ask our hearers to believe upon our word, but daily to 'search the Scriptures, and see whether these things were so.' Acts xvii.: 11. How is it that your subjects have believed you?' "

"Brother Bishop, as a man of veracity, you would be obliged to answer: 'The people may not read the Bible without notes; so doing they would incur the greater excommunication. Only persons in whom we repose perfect confidence, and who are interested in preserving our dogmas are licensed to read the book, with the notes and explanations of Roman Saints.' The Apostle would answer, 'How? A license to read the Bible, which, as I wrote in my second Epistle to Timothy, "is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If a license be required to read this sacred book which God has vouchsafed to mortals, why not a license needed to breathe the free air or enjoy the light of the sun? But tell me wherefore has the reading of the Bible been prohibited?' "

"You would answer, 'Because the Holy Council of Trent [17/18] declared that book to be mischievous, dangerous and likely to lead souls to error and perdition.' "

"The holy Apostle would reply, 'But when God declares just the contrary, whom are we to believe? Moreover, Jesus expressly charges men, "Search the Scriptures, for they testify of me." Why have the people obeyed man rather than God?' "

"Brother Bishop, I suppose you to be a man of truth and sincerity. I suppose, therefore, that you would answer the holy Apostle, 'those who dared to read the Bible without license and have credited its teachings, have been straightway led to a horrible tribunal, known by the name of the Holy Inquisition, have been thrown into dark and damp dungeons, their bones have been broken, they have been cruelly tortured, and if they possessed the courage to persevere in their opinions, they have been conducted to the flames, where they have been cruelly tortured, and roasted alive, and consumed to ashes. Many thousands has the holy Inquisition destroyed in the fire.' "

These extracts are sufficient to show the intellectual vigor of the author, his mastery of the whole subject, his uncompromising boldness, and the keen edge of his controversial weapon. As an opponent of Romish corruptions and priestly frauds, as well as a preacher of the gospel of salvation, his trumpet gave no uncertain sound.

Through the labors of Aguas, Riley and some faithful helpers, the work prospered greatly, and extended from the capital to neighboring towns and villages. A simple liturgy was prepared, and proved a very efficient aid in diffusing the principles of the gospel and building up congregations. Bible readers, men unversed in scholastic lore, but full of faith and zeal, carried the glad tidings from village to village, experiencing often the same treatment as the first heralds of the cross, but persevering and undismayed. In the city of Mexico an important acquisition was made in the purchase of another of the old conventual churches, San Francisco. This is a magnificent edifice, in which an audience of two thousand might be assembled, with a chapel adjacent capable of accommodating three hundred persons, situated on the principal street of the city. The church is only inferior to the cathedral in dimensions, and of a better style of architecture. It is every way suited to [18/19] be a center of mission work. Hitherto the chapel only has been used, but efforts are now made to put the church in repair, and great advantages are anticipated from its use in public worship.

The course of Aguas, like that of Aguilar, was soon terminated. In labors he was most abundant, preaching from twelve to fifteen sermons a week in addition to manifold cares of oversight and pastoral duty. Under these exertions, as well as the harassing effects of persecution and calumny upon a sensitive spirit, his health gave way. In 1871 he rested from his labors. There was no place for his remains in what was called consecrated ground, and they were interred in the American cemetery. At this time Mr. Riley was absent, having been detained in New York by the death of his father. The infant Church suffered greatly from this sore bereavement and the want of a recognized head, and advantage was taken of its affliction to divide congregations and draw off members. Under these circumstances a petition was forwarded by the Synod of the Church to the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, praying them to take measures for conveying to the Church in Mexico the Episcopal Office, offering to give guarantees respecting faith and order. This petition was presented to the Bishops in October, 1874, and led to the appointment of a Mexican Commission, consisting of seven Bishops, at whose request the writer visited Mexico for personal examination and conference during the last winter, accompanied by the Rev. H. Dyer, D.D., of New York. There has yet been no opportunity for action upon his report.

In a work of such recent origin, and exposed to such severe trials and interruptions, many things must of course be yet in an inchoate shape and condition. The Liturgy in use is understood to be provisional. Surprise has been sometimes expressed that it differs from the services of our Prayer Book. But it should be borne in mind that this is a Reformed Mexican Church, not a branch of the Protestant Episcopal Church transplanted to Mexico. It is no exotic but an indigenous growth. It did not originate in a mission from this country. We have no right to exact precise and rigid conformity to our model. Our kindly counsel and advice will be most respectfully and gratefully received, but dictation would be sure to awaken the spirit of national jealousy among a very sensitive people. The [19/20] present Liturgy is simple, scriptural, and responsive. It embodies the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, portions of the Te Deum, and the Gloria in Excelsis. The doctrine of the Trinity is made very prominent, distinct petitions being offered to each person of the Godhead, and the sole intercession of the Lord Jesus as the one Mediator is everywhere recognized. Lessons from both the Old and New Testaments are read, but there is no prescribed Lectionary.

A full and permanent Liturgy must be formed by the deliberate and mature action of the Church that is to use it, a Church, be it remembered, whose members are of Spanish not Anglo-Saxon race and education. Precious materials may be drawn from the ancient Mozarabic Liturgies; time, learning, study and experience must all contribute to perfect so important a work as the permanent cultus of this Church.

From the beginning the ideal in the minds of the leaders of this movement was a Church purified from Romish errors and corruptions, but retaining the primitive constitution of the Spanish Ante Nicene Church, and closely allied to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The hope was cherished at the outset of obtaining the adhesion of one of the Mexican Bishops, and thus perpetuating the ministry in the order which they desired, but the way was not then opened. Afterwards, having elected Aguas as their future Bishop, they looked forward to the day when he could be consecrated to his office. Disappointed in this earnest desire, they still waited patiently without resorting to any other mode of ordination. Men who felt themselves called by the Holy Spirit testified to their countrymen the doctrines of Salvation. So far as possible the sacraments were ministered by Dr. Riley and converted priests. It was a memorable day, Feb. 24, 1875, when the first ordination in Mexico was held by a Protestant Bishop. The full service of our Church in the Spanish tongue was used, the sermon being preached by the Rev. Dr. Riley. When the Epistle was read, Acts vi., "Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business," the unintentional coincidence of seven persons being presented for ordination, made quite an impression. After the service the emotion shown was very touching, the newly ordained Deacons throwing themselves [20/21] into each other's arms and weeping for joy. As it was so uncertain when another opportunity would be presented, ordination to the Presbyterate followed a few days after.

The doctrines of the "Church of Jesus" are in accord with the Creeds and Articles of the Protestant Episcopal Church. As in the era of the Reformation, the revulsion from Rome is strong and decided. Papal corruption and oppression are to them fearful realities. Those who have given up friends and prospects of earthly advantage, and are hazarding their lives in the struggle for a pure faith, are not inclined to compromise with such an enemy. Two doctrines especially hold in their minds the same high position with which they were regarded by the champions of the Reformation--the Holy Scriptures, the standard of faith and practice, and the right of every man to read them under his responsibility to God; and justification by the merits of Jesus Christ, through faith alone.

The rapid increase of the "Church of Jesus" in Mexico is fitted to awaken strong hopes for the future. It counts now over fifty congregations, of which thirteen were organized within two months after the writer's visit. Many of these are small, but others number from three to four hundred, and in some villages the larger part of the population is embraced. The reformation in morals is in such places very observable. It is safe to reckon that over six thousand souls are at this time under the influence of the Church. In the capital are six congregations, two of them quite large, from which came the greater part of one hundred and thirty candidates who received the rite of confirmation. Had time permitted, other classes would have been prepared and the number greatly increased. An evidence of the extent to which the work has spread was furnished by the visit of delegations from remote congregations, some of whom had traveled many miles.

As in Apostolic days the converts are largely "the poor of this world rich in faith." The proportion of Indians is very considerable. The obloquy encountered and the worldly sacrifices to be made are great obstacles in the way of persons of high social position. It is "hard for the rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." The spirit of persecution is none the less bitter because its outward demonstrations are checked by law. Some of those who were ordained, young men of good families, [21/22] had been cast off by their own parents for having joined this Church. There is no reason to doubt that the present Government is sincere in its desire to enforce the laws of toleration, and it succeeds in the capital as well as could be expected. But in remote districts its arm is comparatively weak, while an ignorant and fanatical populace is easily incited to violence by artful priests. Such an outbreak took place last winter at Acapulco, on the occasion of a visit from a Presbyterian missionary, when some six or seven persons lost their lives. The "Church of Jesus" in Mexico, has had its martyrs and confessors. One of its Bible readers was slain while I was in the country, another since my departure, and I met more than one who bore in the "body the marks of the Lord Jesus." But the spirit of genuine Christianity is shown not only in willingness to suffer and die for Christ, but also in the return of evil for good and blessings for curses. There has been little complaint heard from the suffering Church. Indignities, revilings and outrages have been patiently borne, and "with well doing they seek to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Like the early Christians they are assailed by false and odious accusations. One of the senseless slanders put in circulation was, that in their meetings an image of Christ was beaten, and every one present compelled to inflict a blow; another, that a picture of the Virgin Mary was placed upon the floor, just inside of the door, so that whoever entered would be compelled to trample on it. And as the early apologists complain that pestilence, famine, flood, and other public disasters were imputed to the wrath of the old Pagan gods provoked by the Christians, so in Mexico the so-called heretics are charged with being the cause of destructive earthquakes. Sacred history repeats itself as well as secular.

While the evangelist is exposed to obvious dangers from fanatical bigotry, there is not the same risk for the native worker as for the foreigner. The missionary from abroad, especially from the United States, arouses national and political as well as religious prejudices. And herein is largely the hope and promise of the movement under consideration. It is of Mexican origin, and carried forward by native laborers. Peradventure God in His Providence is thus preparing the way for the extension of the pure gospel among the millions on this Continent speaking the Spanish tongue. We know how inaccessible they have [22/23] seemed to missionary enterprise. But let a Mexican Church be established, presenting the truth as it is in Jesus, and the light thus enkindled would extend its beams to the Antilles and the Continental Spanish American States. A great company of preachers would go forth, sister churches would spring up, and light-towers be kindled along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Nay, it is no extreme supposition that the radiance will extend across the ocean, and that from the countries to which Spain sent her fierce armed propagandists in the 16th century, may be returned to her the much needed influences of pure and Apostolic Christianity. Such hopes are not to be put aside as idle dreams, when we see what has already been done. A Reformed Church, numbering more than fifty congregations, and celebrating its worship in grand temples in the very heart of the city of Mexico, has been gathered within the space of ten years, in the face of virulent prejudice and fanatical opposition.

Surely such a work, opening such prospects, may well cheer the hearts and encourage the hopes of the lovers of truth and holiness.

To our own Church is the appeal for sympathy and aid urgently made, and much depends on the way in which it is received and the response with which it is met. The attention of other Christian bodies has been drawn to this remarkable work of Divine grace, and they have shown their customary readiness to embrace the opening. While doing justice to their liberality and zeal, it does seem an unhappy thing that, at so critical a moment, minds just emerging from Romish error should be distracted by sectarian emulations, and the divisions among Protestants should furnish such a powerful argument to the enemy. The questions between the "Church of Jesus" and the dominant religion are just the broad, deep, ineffaceable questions between the Papal system and real Christianity. It is to be regretted that other points should be thrust in, and that banners of various hue should be thrown to the breeze, especially as the field is so wide, and many points might be selected for operation without pitching tents close beside the congregations previously gathered by faithful and self-denying labors. But, this much we may learn, if we withhold the hand of fellowship, the cordial God-speed and substantial evidences of sympathy, there are organized societies all ready to grasp [23/24] the opportunities which we neglect. To us the hearts and wishes of that which is in truth the Church of Christ in Mexico, are now turned. We can impart to them gifts that none others can, and gifts upon which they set a high value. We can engage with peculiar advantage in a grand and holy work. "A great door and effectual is opened unto us of the Lord." If it be added, "and there are many adversaries," this is no new experience in the history of Christ's religion.



SINCE the publication of the foregoing statement, as an article in the Church Review, October, 1875, a new shape has been given to the Reformation in Mexico by the proceedings of the Mexican Commission above mentioned, and the action of the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church thereupon. The Commission, after very full and earnest consideration of the report made by the visiting bishop, and the accompanying documents, accepted and approved his report. Among the resolutions adopted were the following:

"Whereas, in the opinion of this Commission, there is sufficient evidence of the existence in Mexico of presbyters and brethren who are Mexican citizens, owing no allegiance to the government of these United States, but recognizing the Episcopate of this Church, and seeking further organization under its nursing care:

"Resolved, that the record of Synodical action, and other documents laid before us, indicate the provisional organization of a Church in Mexico, which justifies our recognition of such Church under Article X. of our Constitution."

"Resolved, that we recognize the fact that said Church has certified to us the election of two Presbyters as Missionary Bishops of said Church by due Synodical action; but finding the testimonials furnished in evidence of said election in some respects less than a full equivalent of the formulated [24/25] testimonials under which the Episcopate was imparted to our own Church, we hereby respectfully suggest that such testimonials as shall be equivalent thereto be further supplied by the aforesaid Church in Mexico, according to historical forms to be by us sent for their consideration."

The Commission also resolved to lay before the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church a formal Covenant or Articles of Agreement between the Bishops and "The Mexican Branch of the Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ Militant upon Earth" (the title assumed by said Church at its Synodical meeting in August, 1875), in further and definite settlement of relations with said Church in Mexico.

After hearing and discussion of this report, the following action was taken, nemine contradicente:

1. "Resolved, that the Bishops in Council learn with deep gratitude to Almighty God, the facts presented in the Report of their Commission, and heartily desire to render fraternal aid in the full settlement of 'The Mexican Branch of the Catholic Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ Militant upon Earth,' in its possession of Scriptural truth and apostolic order."

2. "Resolved, that the Bishops in Council, by their Commission to be appointed with full authority to represent them (the said Bishops) in conclusive action, agree to the ratification of Articles of Agreement with the Mexican Church aforesaid, duly represented by its regularly constituted Synodical authority, and the Commission to be appointed for that purpose is hereby empowered to correspond with the representatives of the said Mexican Church in order to the final ratification of the aforesaid Articles of Agreement."

Further resolutions empower the Commission, when said ratification shall have taken place, to examine and report to the Presiding Bishop upon the evidence of election and testimonials of qualification of the person or persons presented for ordination to the Episcopate, and, also request and empower the Presiding Bishop, when he shall have received such report from the Commission, to take order for the consecration of persons to him recommended by the Commission.

After the adoption of these resolutions the members of the first Commission were reappointed.

The action of the Bishops was not only in itself most satisfactory [25/26] to the friends of this infant Church, but eminently gratifying in its cordial unanimity. This important movement has now the avowed sympathy of our Episcopate. While the work is opening wonderfully in Mexico, its advocates here are placed in a new and highly favorable position. What is now needed is such material aid as will insure the carrying forward of its operations, and relieve those at its head from harassing pecuniary anxieties. The native laborers have manifested eminent self-denial, and are content with the scantiest support. Even this has been of late uncertain, and fears have been entertained lest it might be necessary to disband some of the workers, and narrow the field of operations, when the Providence of God seemed to point so clearly to enlargement. Seldom is such an opportunity given to a Church as that which is now extended to us. Earnest, generous embrace of this great opening will tell upon the future of pure Christianity upon this Continent in a way that we can scarcely limit. The regeneration of Spanish America may, in God's marvelous Providence, grow out of this germ of true Evangelic faith. Let our Church respond with one heart to a call so unwonted and so urgent.


Buildings near the Square in the City of Mexico

Cathedral of the Mexican Branch of the Church in the City of Mexico

Rev. Henry Chauncey Riley, D. D., Bishop-Elect of the Mexican Branch of the Church

Rev. Prudencio G. Hernandez, Bishop-Elect of the Mexican Branch of the Church.

Church of San Jose de Gracia, of the Mexican Branch of the Church, City of Mexico.

Project Canterbury