Project Canterbury

The Reformation in Mexico

Hartford, Connecticut: Junior Auxiliary Publishing Co., 1894.

FOUR hundred years ago Mexico was inhabited by a number of Indian tribes whose antecedent history is practically unknown. In the early part of the sixteenth century, the country was occupied by the Spaniards, under Hernan Cortes; and the Christian religion, as held by them, was forced upon the natives, and came in time to be the religion of the country. Spanish Christianity in that age was fearfully corrupt, and it was not improved by its transplantation to Mexico. There was a new nomenclature of objects of worship, and a considerable increase in their number, but there seems to have been little change for the better in the prevailing conditions. There were some good men among the Spanish clergy then, and these have had successors since; but three centuries of papalism have done very little for the instruction and education of the people, nor has there been much, if any, improvement in their moral character. Of course one must not ignore the fact that there has been a foreign element introduced from Spain and other countries, which has had its influence in producing a part of the population, especially in the cities, that differs considerably in some respects from the descendants of the tribes above referred to. Again, in the capital there are large colonies of Spaniards, French, Italians, Germans, English, and Americans, and each of these maintains its national peculiarities to a greater or less extent. But when one speaks of "Mexicans," in the general sense, one refers to the native inhabitants, pure and mixed bloods, as practically one people, notwithstanding certain differences that exist between the former and the latter. The general judgment seems to be that the greater vivility of character is found among those who are most purely of the ancient blood.

[4] To an American visitor there is very much that is attractive in Mexico and in the Mexican people; but the more he becomes acquainted with the masses of the people and their customs, the more he wonders what the Church represented in that land has been about all these years, and why certain evils are as prevalent as they undeniably are. Considering that she has had absolute control, she must be held responsible for this state of affairs; for with the power in her hands, she could certainly have made things different, had she desired to do so. The explanation is to be found, doubtless, in the policy she has generally pursued in her missions to the native people of the New World. She seems to have as her principal object, dominion. If the people will submit to her authority, and pay her fees and other claims upon their substance, she seems to care very little about their morals or their personal religion. This is not saying that all her clergy are equally indifferent to this question; nor are they. Some of them have been, and some are now, more or less deeply interested in it; but it is only natural that many others should be no better than the system they represent, and should be content with doing themselves, and teaching their people to do, only the things upon which their system puts most stress. If, as a tree is judged by its fruit, the papal system is to be judged by what it has brought forth in Mexico in these three centuries, it cannot but be condemned as evil. As specimens of its fruit let us take the prevalence of the gambling habit, evidenced as it is by the lottery-ticket business on the streets of the capital; the small number of marriages compared to the population, and the disproportion between this number and that of births; and the bacchanalian character of the religious festivals, which is almost incredible except in the face of the testimony of one's senses. What a commentary these things afford on the teaching these people have received, and the requirements that have been made of them by the Church that has exercised such despotic power over them! Nothing can be said to strengthen the significance of facts such as these.

[5] If there has been but little improvement in moral and spiritual things, there has been a good deal in matters of a different character. The progressive political ideas of the latter part of the eighteenth century found their way into Mexico, through various channels, early in the nineteenth; and as far back as 1856, we find the beginning of the open struggle between the "Liberals" and the "Clericals." This struggle went on with great bitterness for several years; the episode of the French intervention and the short-lived empire of the unfortunate Maximilian witnessing to the efforts of the clergy to perpetuate their power at any cost to the people. The end of the war, however, saw them overthrown, and the liberal party firmly established in control of the government, under the leadership of Benito Juarez, one of the most remarkable men the New World has ever produced. The confiscation of the properties held by the Church has been severely criticised in some quarters, but most unjustly. It was an act of precisely the same character as that of the emancipation of the negroes by Abraham Lincoln, and was in some respects even more justifiable. In both cases the object was to deprive the enemies of the government of weapons they were using against it, and to bring these into the service of the government; but in Mexico the confiscated property was held by what was practically a foreign corporation, and was being used in the interest of an alien power, and this after having been first extorted by moral (or immoral) coercion from the people of the country--which is a much stronger case than can be made out for Mr. Lincoln's act. The Mexican government was not only abundantly justified in this action; it would have been equally justifiable had it gone much further and punished as traitors the men who were using this property in giving aid and comfort to foreign foes. It may yet rue its failure to do this, for the old influences are still working and would again produce a similar result if circumstances were favorable.

When the struggle between the "Liberals" and the "Clericals" was at its highest, the British and Foreign Bible Society [5/6] introduced its publications, including a Spanish translation of the Bible, into Mexico. This was eagerly read by numbers of the people, and the prevailing feeling against the clergy was strengthened by this reading, at the same time that this was an incentive to it. Soon a cry arose for reform, in religion as well as in politics, and there were not wanting clergymen to join in it. The leaders of the "Liberals" rejoiced to see this, and favored the movement to the uttermost of their power. "Evangelical Congregations," as they were called, sprang up spontaneously in many places; but the poor people, for lack of proper guidance, fleeing from one extreme, fell into the other, and the most extravagant and unevangelical theories and practices followed. Congregations appointed and empowered their own ministers, and the Sacraments were administered by laymen, sometimes one man being appointed to act one week and another the next! Had the right man appeared to guide the movement in proper channels, great results might have been obtained; but none such came, and so the early enthusiasm wasted itself in unintelligent efforts after a good desired but not clearly understood. The early leaders did not have influence enough, or did not understand the needs of the movement sufficiently, to do what needed to be done, and so a great opportunity was lost. Others appeared later, but they were mostly unfit for the work from want of suitable education or some other defect, and some were unworthy as well as unfit. One name there is whose bearer began to work on right lines, as we shall see later, but he was taken away before he could accomplish much, and the work soon come under the leadership of one who--well, the less said about him the better!

Among the earliest of the reformers were Rafael Diaz Martinez, Juan N. Enriquez y Orestes, Manuel Aguilar, and Francisco Dominguez, all clergy of the Roman communion. After these came Ramon Lozano, Manuel Aguas, Agustin Palacios, and Jose Maria Gonzalez, with the same ecclesiastical character. As for laymen, it may be said that President Juarez and all the principal [6/7] men of the Liberal party were in hearty sympathy with the movement, largely, no doubt, from political motives, while a few like Louis Canal, J. Buen Romero, Sostenes Juarez, Prudencio Hernandez, Miguel Ponce de Leon, and Joaquin de Agreda, took a prominent part in it.

From the first, great sympathy was manifested in the United States, and in 1864 there was some communication between the reformers and certain of the American Bishops. An American Presbyter, the Rev. E. G. Nicholson, was sent to Mexico in this year by the Foreign Committee of our Board of Missions, and spent several months there; but the work which led up to the organization of the Mexican Church, and to the connection of the American Church so intimately therewith, began in 1869. In this year the American and Foreign Christian Union, a society in New York, composed of members of various religious bodies, became interested in Mexico as a field for missionary work, looking at the matter from an ultra-Protestant point of view. They sent a man to the city of Mexico, with instructions to "preach the Gospel," without attempting to build up any particular religious body. The idea of the society could not long be carried out, however, as one sect after another sent its agents and sought to establish itself in the country; so the society, as such, gave up its work. Its agent remained, notwithstanding; and as he was an Episcopalian, so far as his Orders were concerned, the work under his immediate care was taken up by a new Society, composed of Episcopalians, principally of New York, and known as "The Mexican Missionary Society."

In the meantime large sums of money had been contributed, and the famous church of San Francisco had been secured at a cost of about thirty thousand dollars, and that of San Jose de Gracia had been practically presented to the reformers by President Juarez. The great popular preacher, Manuel Aguas, a canon of the Cathedral of Mexico, having been appointed to oppose the reform movement, had been converted and had at once [7/8] taken the leadership. He was excommunicated by Archbishop Labastida, but he published a reply which created a great sensation, manifesting as it did the weakness of his adversaries and his own power. Another thing which added very greatly to the first impression Aguas made, was his acceptance of a challenge from one of the Roman clergy for a public discussion, and the result. The day and place were fixed, and a vast multitude gathered to hear the discussion. Aguas was there on time, but his antagonist did not make his appearance; so the former had things all his own way, and made a powerful attack on the errors which he knew so well and had so lately abandoned. Adhesions came to him from all quarters, and many new congregations were organized in various places.

The most important work Aguas did for the new movement, however, was the organized form he gave it. Previously there had been no general or central organization, but the baldest congregationalism had prevailed. Aguas tried to remedy this state of affairs by organizing "The Church of Jesus." He desired to go back to the primitive model, and was himself elected as the first Bishop of the new Church, expecting to secure recognition and consecration from the American Bishops. His early death, however, in 1872, prevented this.

About this time "The American Church Missionary Society" took upon itself the support of the movement, and this gave the work a new impetus, by reason of the influence of this society in the United States. The Episcopal minister above referred to as the agent of the first society, was a prominent figure in the new Church, of course, as all contributions from the United States came through his hands and were controlled by him; but Aguas left the leadership when he died to Luis Canal, a Spanish gentleman who had become deeply interested, and who was a warm friend and admirer of Aguas. Canal was soon driven away, however, through the intrigues of interested parties, and these also prevented the utilization of the talents of Gonzalez, who was a born [8/9] leader; and in 1874 the American Episcopal minister became the acknowledged leader, being elected "Missionary Bishop."

Some of the American Bishops had now become deeply interested in the Mexican reform movement; and early in 1875 one of their number, the Rt. Rev. Alfred Lee, D.D., LL. D., of Delaware, accompanied by the Rev. Heman Dyer, D. D., Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, made a visit to Mexico. These gentlemen were so greatly pleased with what they saw, that the Bishop ordained seven men, first deacons, then priests, for "The Mexican Branch of the Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, Militant upon Earth," which was the remarkable name that had lately been substituted for the one first mentioned. In October of the same year the American Bishops entered into a covenant with this Church, agreeing to consecrate Bishops for it in due time, and on certain conditions. [See Journal of General Convention of 1880, p. 303.] They appointed a committee of seven of their number to be known as "The Mexican Commission, "to act in connection with the local authorities of the Mexican Church in its episcopal government. For a time there was great enthusiasm. Money was given freely, nearly thirty thousand dollars being contributed for the putting in good condition of the property of the church of San Francisco, and large sums for the various departments of the works.

In 1877, the American Church Missionary Society, after five years of earnest work in support of the Mexican Church, turned it over to the Foreign Committee of the Board of Missions, which then took charge of the financial interests. [For the reasons of this change, see "Echo of Mission Work in Brazil," for November, 1893.] Glowing reports were constantly sent in from the field; and the need of local episcopal supervision was so strongly urged, that in 1879, though the conditions of the covenant had not been fully complied with, the American Bishops proceeded to the consecration of the Presbyter of the American Church heretofore referred to, as the first [8/9] Bishop of the Mexican Church. The new Bishop went to Europe soon after his consecration, and in England and Ireland excited so deep an interest in his work that large sums of money were contributed for it. It was supposed that in Mexico there was being carried forward a great national Reformation, on the lines of the English Reformation, both in doctrine and practice; and tins, it was hoped, would result in the building up of a reformed National Church, in full harmony and communion with the English and American Churches. It was not long after this consecration, however, that rumors were heard on all sides that things in Mexico were not as they should be. It was with difficulty that the Bishop was gotten back from Europe, nearly two years after his consecration; and soon after his arrival in his diocese, dissensions and divisions occurred in the field. Bad faith and bad management resulted in destruction of confidence among the American Bishops, and it became necessary for some of the Mexican clergy and readers to organize a new body in order to maintain relations with these Bishops. This body was called the "Cuerpo Eclesiastico."

Things had now come to such a state that the Bishop was required to resign his jurisdiction, which he did in 1884. In order to get out of the difficulties of the situation, and to put the Mexican Church in such a position that tile American Bishops could still recognize it, a General Convention of the whole Church was called; and the large majority of the congregations, by their representatives, reorganized the Cuerpo Eclesiastico, as the local ecclesiastical authority. A few of them, however, declined to do so, and pretended to keep up the old organization, at least on paper. Under pressure from the United States, a petition was made to the Board of Managers of Missions to receive the Mexican Church temporarily, as a Foreign Mission of the American Church. This petition was rejected. At the General Convention of 1886, the petition was renewed to the House of Bishops; and they, after approving the acts of the Mexican Commission and [10/11] dissolving it, and acknowledging the Cuerpo Eclesiastico as the local authority in Mexico, acceded to the petition. They expressed their great interest in the Mexican work and its continuance; and under their influence the Board of Missions, while it declined to place the Mexican Church on the footing of an American Mission, or to appropriate a single dollar for it, instructed the Board of Managers to appoint an American Presbyter, to be nominated by the Presiding Bishop, to reside in Mexico and guide and counsel the local authorities, his support to be guaranteed in advance by friends of the work. Under this action, the Rev. W. B. Gordon of Delaware--whose bishop had now become Presiding Bishop and Provisional Bishop of the Mexican Church--was sent to Mexico early in the following year.

Mr. Gordon spent nearly six years in the performance of his duties in Mexico, suffering most of the time from ill health. He found the congregations of the Mexican Church scattered over four States, and most of them inaccessible except on horseback. Devoting himself to the visiting of these, he rode thousands of miles, sometimes encountering dangers that would have deterred many men; but Mr. Gordon was an old soldier, who knew no fear except that of failing in his duty; and so duty was done, at whatever risk or cost. During his stay in Mexico he secured property at various places for the Church, and also was instrumental in obtaining some twenty thousand dollars towards the purchase of a large house in the city for the Mrs. Hooker School and Orphanage. Besides, he had the pleasure of seeing re-united to the majority, the few congregations that had at first refused to follow the Cuerpo Eclesiastico. When on account of failing health he retired from the field in 1892, he left the Church a unit in organization, and with an improved prospect for the future. He is affectionately remembered by the whole Church, and his name will have an honored place in its history. Mr. Gordon's departure being very soon followed by the death of good Mrs. Hooker, this is a suitable place to introduce an account of her [11/12] work; and that may well be followed by some particulars of the history of the Mexican Church, which could not well be brought in earlier without interfering too much with the regular march of the story.

THE MRS. HOOKER SCHOOL AND ORPHANAGE is an institution which has been connected with the Mexican Church since 1875. Mrs. Hooker was the widow of the Rev. Herman Hooker of Philadelphia. She went to Mexico early in the year just mentioned, and started this work for the benefit of girls. Her object was twofold: to provide for destitute children, and to educate teachers for the Church schools. She had some means of her own; and with these and contributions from friends in the United States, she maintained this institution till her death, January 21, 1893. Many and various were her trials and difficulties, but she heroically endured the former and overcame the latter. Her heart often got the better of her judgment, leading her to receive children when it would have been better not to do so; and sometimes she was severely put to it to provide the necessities, not to say the comforts and decencies of life for her wards. Unfortunately, she left no intelligible record of her work, so that the good she accomplished will be known only at the last day. There can be no doubt, however, that her noble life of self-sacrifice and devotion was blessed to the relief of much suffering and the lifting up of many souls to a higher plane of living. Many grateful hearts will hold her in everlasting remembrance, and will testify at last to the blessed influence for good she brought to bear on their lives. Before her death she had the happiness to take her girls to a house they could call their own, in which, after many moves from one rented house to another, she and they could settle down and feel at home. She has left behind her as a sacred legacy to the Mexican Church, not only the blessed memory of her devoted life, but also this institution, which by God's blessing will be a power for good for many generations. One of her last acts before her death was to sign instructions for the [12/13] endowment of eight scholarships for girls in this school, out of the proceeds of the small estate she left.

MARTYRS.--The Mexican Church has had its martyrs. In its early days attacks were often made upon its congregations and its individual members, resulting in many deaths and more injuries. There never was any great danger in the capital, but in places where the local authorities either did not fully sympathize with "Liberal" principles, or had not sufficient force to protect the reformers, it was very different. At Atzala, in the State of Puebla, twenty-two persons were killed in one day. Here the Reformers had become strong enough to carry the election for the local officers of the municipality, and this so incensed the "Clericals" that violence was threatened. Some arrests were made in consequence, and soon afterwards a mob, led by the parish priest and the political chief (Jefe Politico) of the district, attacked the successful candidates and their friends with the result above stated. It was afterwards claimed that the difficulty was a purely political one, but this is not true. There would have been no such difficulty had the elected Liberals not been objects of hatred on account of their religious profession. The State government promptly sent troops to restore order, and some of the perpetrators of the outrage were arrested and kept in prison for some time. The two principals, however, had fled and could not be found. It is reported that the political chief was some time afterwards met on the road by a relative of some of the sufferers and was killed by him, and that the priest never has been heard of since. After the restoration of peace, the Governor, Don Juan Bonilla, filled all the local offices from among the survivors of the Reformers. There were other martyrdoms at Joquicingo, Tetelco, Tizayuca, and other places, and scarcely any of the early congregations failed to have some wounded, if they had none killed.

All this is changed now, so far as these same places are concerned. An illustration of the change is afforded by a recent occurrence at Xochitenco. Sixteen years ago, the founder of the [13/14] congregation at this place died, and the feeling was so strong that his body was not buried at the usual spot, but in order to prevent difficulty, and to save the remains from a possible subsequent desecration, the burial took place in San Agustin Atlapulco, where the reforming element had greater power and influence. The widow of this gentleman died a short time ago, and it was determined to take up his remains and re-inter them with hers. Their son is now President of the municipality, and the various ceremonies, running through two days, were performed, not only without let or hindrance, but with the most gratifying evidences of respect and sympathy from the whole population. Some three hundred persons attended the services at the house, and more than twice that number were at the cemetery. Yet the parish priest of to-day is the one who occupied the position sixteen years ago.

SOME PROMINENT MEXICAN CHURCHMEN.--Next to Aguas, the principal Roman presbyter who came over to the Mexican Church, was Jose Maria Gonzalez. He was a sincere, earnest, and talented man, and was elected Bishop of the Capital. The election was not confirmed, however, on account of some defect in the proceedings; and after the troubles came upon the Church, Gonzalez drifted into spiritualism and renounced his ministry, and was deposed at his own request, by Bishop Elliott, of Western Texas, when he visited Mexico.

Prudencio Hernandez, a lay friend of Aguilar, was one of the seven men ordained by Bishop Lee in 1875. He became Bishop-elect of Cuernavaca. He is long since dead, but his son, Jacinto, is one of the faithful Presbyters of the Church to-day.

Tomas Valdespino was another of the Bishops-elect, and would probably have been consecrated in 1879, had it not been that he had not then reached the canonical age. He afterwards abandoned the ministry and went to San Diego, Cal., as Mexican Consul, and died there.

The only other who was elected to the episcopate was Jose [14/15] Antonio Carrion, who has remained faithful through all the troubles and trials of the past, and has been for some years the President of the Cuerpo Eclesiastico, and is also now at the head of the Standing Committee.

1893 AND 1894.--Mr. Gordon's successor in Mexico, as the representative of the American Church, reached the field January 5, 1893. In the interval between then and now some important changes have occurred. The Cuerpo Eclesiastico, which was composed of the clergy and readers only, has been made representative of the whole Church, being now constituted as our Diocesan Conventions in the United States. Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion based as far as practicable on the Mozarabic (the ancient Spanish) Liturgy, and mainly the work of the Rt. Rev. Charles R. Hale, D. D., LL. D., Bishop of Cairo, Illinois (Assistant of Springfield), have been adopted by the Cuerpo Eclesiastico, and approved for provisional use by the Provisional Bishop (the Bishop of Connecticut), and his advisers. These offices are now in use throughout the Church, the things still lacking being taken from the American Prayer Book until the Mexican book shall be completed. A Divinity School and a feeder to it in the form of a school for boys have been started, and both are doing their regular work at the Capital.

On the other hand, a schismatical movement was started in August, 1893, which carried off one large congregation and two small ones and part of another. It is losing strength--such as it had--day by day, and will soon come to nothing. The famous church of San Francisco, which ought to be in the possession of the Mexican Church, has gone back into the hands of its original owners, the Roman Catholics, having been sold to them for a hundred thousand dollars, Mexican silver. Three congregations have separated from the Church, partly on account of objections to the new offices and the American Prayer Book, and partly through the evil influence of unfaithful men.

[16] A note of the present strength of the Church will be found on the last page.

After Mrs. Hooker's decease, the institution she founded and so long governed and maintained was named "The Mary Josephine Hooker Memorial School and Orphanage"; and was placed under the direction of Miss Henrietta V. Driggs, who was Mrs. Hooker's assistant for the last three years of her life, and who fills the position of Directress most admirably. Miss Driggs is the sister of our well-known lay-missionary in Alaska, Dr. John B. Driggs. There are now forty-one girls living in the house, and about half as many day-scholars, several of whom dine at the school table. Three of the girls have just gone out as teachers in the parochial schools. All the older girls are communicants, most of them having been confirmed by Bishop Kendrick, in January, 1893. The school is supported almost entirely by contributions from the United States, though there is a Saving Society composed of ladies of the Anglo-American congregation in the city, which is most helpful in clothing the children. Twenty-two of the girls are on scholarships. The widow of the late Presbyter Maruri is one of the employees.

THE EDUCATIONAL WORK OUTSIDE OF THE CAPITAL.--This is one of the most important branches of the work of the Mexican Church. The parish schools are in some cases the only ones in the place; and when there are municipal schools, those of the Church are often preferred, even by parents who are not of it. These schools exercise a profound influence for good, quite apart from and in addition to the instruction they give. They act as leaven in the community, bringing first the children and to a greater or less extent the parents, under better and broader influence than would otherwise reach them. Thus prejudices are removed, or at least weakened, tolerance is promoted, ideas are put in circulation, and the tone of public feeling is improved. A large proportion of the children in attendance at the schools are of Roman Catholic parentage.


Had the help given to the Mexican Church in its earlier years been wisely used, it would now have no needs which could not be provided for on the ground. As things are, however, its needs are great and important, and must be supplied from abroad, in the main, for some years to come. The greatest need is education and instruction in Christian truth and practice; and this can be met only by an educated ministry and corps of teachers. These can be produced solely at the cost of money and labour, which, under present conditions, can come only from the American Church. So our work in Mexico seems to be to furnish the educators and the money to put the Mexican Church on its feet, and give it the start that is essential to its future progress and success. Provision needs to be made for the support of what work there is, for the enlarging of the educational facilities in all departments, but more especially in the Divinity School and the boys' school connected therewith. After this year the Mrs. Hooker School will provide all the woman teachers needed; and when the other schools just above mentioned can do a similar work in their respective spheres, the battle will be practically won, and the American Church may then honorably and with a good conscience begin to think of withdrawing her support, and leaving her Mexican sister to take care of herself. It is hoped that by that time there will be sufficient financial ability in the latter to enable her to be self-supporting, and that a Mexican Episcopate will have been established to the entire satisfaction of both Churches.


Presbyters:--Jose Antoino Carrion, Jacinto V. Hernandez, Elizio Lopez, Isaac B. Bustamante, J. Leonardo Perez.

Deacons.--Fausto Orihuela, Manuel M. Perez.

Congregations:--22; with a number of local Readers, about 1,000 Communicants, and ten Parochial Schools, with an equal number of Teachers, and some 400 pupils, about three-fifths being girls and two-fifths boys.

Project Canterbury