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Paul in Spain

From Like a Flickering Flame by Dale G. Vought


One of the questions that arise when considering the Church in Spain is the fundamental question of when the Gospel first arrived and by whose hands. If the Apostle Paul had only told us if he fulfilled his desire to visit Spain, as expressed in his letter to the Romans (15:23-28), it would have simplified matters. However, he did not and we are left without knowing for sure. The destruction of so many of the documents of that period is unfortunate. The Roman emperor Dioclation not only tried to eliminate the Christians, but destroy all of their monuments and writings. Some of the documents might have clarified the subject for us but as it stands we can only speculate about the meaning of the few documents that did survive. This author believes that it is reasonable to say that Paul did visit Spain for the following reasons: 1. It was a possibility time wise. 2. The church was large and well-organized at an early date. 3. The plans of Paul included a visit to Spain. 4. Early documents indicate that such a visit was made. 5. Local Spanish traditions speak of a visit by Paul. First of all there seems to be a period of time from the spring of 63 A.D. until sometime in the year 67 A.D. that such a trip would have been possible. Where did Paul go after his two-year imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16,30), which must have terminated in the spring of 63 A. D? His death in Rome was not until sometime around 67 A.D. There are those that believe that he was in Spain. (1) The reputable historian M. Diaz y Diaz says The evangelizing presence of Saint Paul in Hispania (Spain) seems to be beyond all reasonable doubt; the testimony, both contemporary and later, is conserved almost in its entirety in authors and texts unrelated to the Peninsula, and are therefore free of a biased interpretation, giving sufficient proof. (2) Secondly, the size and organization of the church in Spain by the third century suggests that the Gospel arrived at a very early date. In a letter written in 254 or 255 by Cipriano, Bishop in Carthage, there is evidence of well-organized churches in

Spain. The church council of Spain held in Elvira, near Granada, in the year 306 or 307 was attended by 19 bishops and 24 presbyters. The presbyters were delegates from churches whose bishops were unable to attend. All of the provinces of Spain were represented among them and from the subjects discussed; it is evident that the church was well developed. (3) Thirdly, it is common knowledge that Paul was following some kind of strategy in his missionary trips. His visits to the important cities and to the Jewish synagogues were not done arbitrarily; it was part of a plan. Paul would take up residence for a time in strategic centers, like Antioch and Corinth, from which he and his helpers would reach out to the smaller villages of the region. It is reasonable to believe that he planned to make Rome, as he intimates in Romans 15, the next center for reaching out further to the west. The early arrival of the Gospel in Spain could be the result of his having accomplished his purpose. Meyrick places such a visit above question stating that Paul was in Spain for twelve months and made an important contribution to the establishment of the Church. (4) Fourthly, early documents, such as the letter written by Clement of Rome to the church in Corinth in 69 A.D. indicate that Paul did in fact reach Spain. In his letter, Clement states that Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being thrown into jail seven times, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. (5) The expression extreme limit of the west was commonly understood to be Hispania or what is now the kingdom of Spain. (6) Other independent witnesses are found in Cyril of Jerusalem who writes, --one, who from Jerusalem, and even unto Illyricum, fully preached the Gospel, and instructed even imperial Rome, and carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing Signs and wonders (7) Chrysostom also writes about Paul stating, For after he had been in Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these parts, we know not. (8) There is also an interesting fragment of a papyrus manuscript discovered in the Ambrosia Library (Italy) in 1700 by Domingo M. Muratori. The document, written in Latin, seems to date around the year 140, judging from its content. Among the important references to the four gospels, Pauls letter to the Romans, and other documents, there appear five lines which terminate with the words when he (Paul) went to preach the Gospel in Spain.

(9) This reference to a visit of Paul to Spain is strong evidence that such a trip did indeed take place. (10) Finally, there are the local traditions. Although these are of late origin, they give an idea of what people much closer to the time believed. In Tarragona (Barcelona) there is a monument to Paul, and the tradition that he preached there. Also, at the other extreme of Spain in the village of Ecija (Seville) there is a monument marking the place where Paul supposedly preached. Paul is still the Patron Saint of Ecija and for years baptisms were done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Apostle Paul. One plausible route for Pauls visit would be to enter Spain at Tarragona (Tarraco), passing down the coast to Cadiz and then back through Sevilla, Ecija, Cordoba, Mrida, Zaragoza and leaving again from the port of Ampuias (Emporias ) on the coast between Barcelona and the French border. It should be remembered that travel between Spain and Italy was a common occurrence and what happened in one country did not escape the notice of the other. The evidence is strongly in favor of Paul having visited Spain. However that alone would not have been sufficient to evangelize Spain to the extent we see at such an early date. There had to have been others that did the bulk of the work. Who these were makes for interesting conjectures. Spain was very closely linked to Rome and maybe some of the converted Pretorium guards that were with Paul in Rome were sent to Spain where they testified to others.

Footnotes 1 W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Grand Rapids, MI., Eerdmans Publishing Co. See the evidence presented by pages 738- 741. 2 M. Dias y Diaz; San Pablo enEspafla, Historia 16, ExtmXN, June 1980, p. 124. 3 Francisco J. Montalban, Manual de Historia de las Misiones, Secretariado de Misiones, Burgos. 1938, p.122. 4 Frederick Meyrick, Spain, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. London., 1892., p. 20. 5 A. Roberts, & J. Donaldson, The Ante-Nicen Fathers, Vol. I Page 18, Ages Digital Library. 6 To confirm this read Cayo Plinio the elder. Vo1wne III, I page 52, of his Natural History Origo ab occasu solis et gaditano fretu;Hispania prima terrarum est, uterior apellata The gaditano straits could be at Gibraltar or a reference to Cadiz while Hispania is defiantly Spain. 7 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II Volume VII (ECF -Volume XXX) Catechism., xvii.

8 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I Volume XIII (ECF -Volume XXII) F, on II Timothy 4:20. Paragraph 26. 9 Arturo Gutierrez, Arbores del Cristianismo en Espaiia, Publicaciones Porta t Levittown, Pa. 1963. p.45. 10 The Spanish pastor Arturo Gutierrez wrote a series of articles on the possible visit of Paul to Spain, which were compiled into a small volume and published in Book just mentioned. Just about-everyone writing on this mentions the Muratori Fragment.