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SPAIN (Gr. Spania). The westernmost peni- nsula of Europe, populated basically by an Indo- European stock allied to the Celts. The land was early noticed by the Phoenicians who established a major center of trade at Tartessus. The Carthaginians inherited the Phoenician interest in Spain, and New Carthage (Cartagena) was developed by Hannibal as his base against Italy in the Second Punic War. Spain, in consequence, became a theater of conflict in this clash of nations, and with the victory of Rome remained in Roman hands. It was not until the time of Augustus that the peninsula was finally pacified and organized. It was rapidly Romanized. Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius I, among the emperors, were Spaniards; among men of letters the two Senecas, Lucan, Columella, Quintillian, Martial, and Prudentius came from Spain. Paul’s projected visit (Rom.15.24) was clearly in line with his evident policy to capture for the church the principal centers of the empire.——EMB

According to tradition, Spain first received Christianity from St. Paul and St. James. Certainly by the third century, as Tertullian averred, a flourishing national church was in existence and a council was held at Elvira* in a.d. 300. The country was adversely affected by various heresies, and in the fifth century the Arian Visigoths overran the land, but their successors at the Third Council of Toledo* (589) accepted the Catholic faith. From 711 onward the country was taken over by the Muslim Moors who were at last checked by Charles Martel at Tours in 732. The Christian Church was now persecuted, but a reconquest was begun c.1000 and was finally completed with the absorption of Granada in 1492 and the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in 1494. Throughout this period French influence became everywhere predominant, the new religious orders arrived, and the ancient Spanish Mozarabic liturgy which had always been unpopular with the popes was suppressed.

In 1479 also the Inquisition* was introduced into Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella, the two “Catholic” monarchs, and a studied persecution of Marranos and Moriscos (Jews and Muslims) was begun; of the former alone 350,000 were accused of heresy, and 12,000 burnt. The Reformed faith was treated similarly, and in the sixteenth century-the age of Spain's greatest prosperity and expanding imperial power-the native church became the pope's most faithful ally against both France and England, and largely helped to shape the Counter-Reformation. St. Teresa,* St. John of the Cross,* and Ignatius Loyola* were notable figures of this period. Soon, however, Spanish power began to decline, the church during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became hopelessly intolerant and corrupt, and even drastic measures such as Charles III's expulsion of the Jesuits (1767) failed to halt the decline.

With the French occupation of Spain (1808) political liberalism and anticlericalism were introduced into the country, and these new forces confronted traditionalism in church and state and led to a century-and-a-half of civil strife. Socialism, anarchism, and various regional nationalisms latterly added weight to the forces of disruption. The Civil War of 1936-39 resulted in a victory for the Nationalists and the restoration of the Catholic Church, which had suffered severely during the period of the Republic (1931-36). Church and state were at one again, and a notable concordat was concluded in 1953, but of recent years individual church leaders have taken a more critical view of the Franco regime.

The Spanish Church today is divided into nine archbishoprics and sixty-one bishoprics. The secular clergy probably total 30,000 and the religious 45,000. Though Spain is regarded as the most devout of nations, probably only about 20 per cent of her people are practicing Catholics, while anticlericalism is widespread. The principal features of church life include an exaggerated cult of the Virgin Mary unparalleled elsewhere, the prominence of miracle-working relics, and elaborate and semi- pagan processions and pilgrimages connected especially with Holy Week.

Protestantism in Spain began with various pre-Reformation movements, especially those connected with Raymond Lull,* the thirteenth-century missionary to the Muslims; Alfonso de Madrigal, the expositor; and Pedro de Osuma, often called “the Spanish Hus.” No doubt the sixteenth-century Reformation would have taken firmer root on Spanish soil but for the vigorous, if partial, reform of the church carried out by Jiménes de Cisneros* at the turn of the century consequent on the union of the Peninsular states. As it was, Protestantism made its appeal almost entirely to the privileged and educated classes and was confined to isolated families and individuals. Particularly noteworthy are Francisco de Enzinas, who translated the NT into Spanish and was for a time professor of Greek at Cambridge; Juan de Valdés,* who maintained his Protestant witness from Italy; Rodrigo de Valder, the “Spanish Wycliffe,” who preached openly in Seville till he was imprisoned for life; and Archbishop Carranza of Toledo, primate of Spain who died after great suffering in 1576. No separatist churches were formed, however, and after 1530 the Inquisition vigorously suppressed all Reformed teaching; the first auto-da-fé was held in 1559.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a time of intellectual torpor and extreme social conservatism, saw the Reformed faith firmly excluded from Spanish soil. Not till the nineteenth century did Protestantism make a significant return to the country: in 1832 William Rule was preaching there, and in 1837 George Borrow,* as an agent of the International Bible Society, embarked on those adventures which he later described in The Bible in Spain. After the republican revolution of 1868, Protestantism could enter the country more freely, American, English, Irish, Swiss, and Swedish missionaries of various denominations being prominent in the field. Slowly native Spanish churches were built up: the Episcopal Reformed Church of Spain-whose first bishop was consecrated by three prelates of the Church of Ireland (to the anger of British High Churchmen) in 1894-which remains small, has recently developed liturgical interests and claims to preserve the native Mozarabic Rite in its purest form; the Spanish Evangelical Church (Congregational/Presbyterian and American in origin); the Baptists; and the Brethren.

With the revolution of 1931, Protestant activities could proceed unimpeded: churches were opened as well as schools, including El Porvenir, reputed to be the finest secondary school in Spain. The Nationalists, however, denounced the Protestants as being abettors of Republicanism, and after 1939 persecution began again. Only slowly has the position of this despised minority been improved, though evangelism and theological education have both been less restricted since the promulgation of the Organic Law of the State (1966). Even so, disabilities still attach to Protestants, in regard to marriages and burials, professional advancement, the printing and distribution of literature, and the position of the young Protestant conscript. In recent years Pentecostalism has been spreading to Spain in a manner not unlike its progress in the former Spanish American colonies. The total Protestant community in Spain is now about 43,000, which means that it has doubled during the last forty years.

R.S. Alderson, The Church in Caverns Hidden (n.d.); G. Borrow, The Bible in Spain (1842); P.J. Hauben (ed.), The Spanish Inquisition (1869); C.R. Haines, Christianity and Islam in Spain (1889); F. Meyrick, The Church in Spain (1892); H.C. Lea, The Moriscos in Spain (1901) and A History of the Inquisition in Spain (4 vols., rep. 1967); E. Gill, Europe and the Gospel (1931); C.A. Garcia and K.G. Grubb, Religion in the Republic of Spain (1933); E.A. Peers, Spain, the Church and the Orders (1939); H.V. Livermore, A History of Spain (1958); H. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition (1965); R.M. Smith, Spain: A Modern History (1965); Journal of Religion 35, pp. 242-51; Theology Today 16, pp. 338-44; Ecumenical Review 20, pp. 53-62.

SPAIN (Σπανία, G5056). The westernmost of the European peninsulas was called variously in reference to its primitive inhabitants Iberia, Liguria, and Celtica. In historic times the name Hispania, the origin of which is unknown, prevailed. Unlike Italy and the Gr. peninsula, Spain was invaded both by the westward wandering Indo-European tribes, and by intruders over the Gibraltar Straits from Africa, a pattern of settlement which was persistent into medieval times.

Tartessus, a town and kingdom on the Baetis or Guadalquivir, in the southern part of the peninsula, was prob. visited by ships from Minoan Crete in the middle of the second millennium b.c. But for the sake of its tin, Phoen. traders from Tyre brought the area into the orbit of their overseas commerce in 1100 b.c., founding Gades as their headquarters nearby. Phoenician Carthage fell heir to this foothold, absorbed Tartessus and penetrated the peninsula deeply. Greek colonization, in the process, was limited to the NE corner, where Massilia maintained two small footholds, Emporiae and Rhodae. After her first clash with Rome (264-241 b.c.) Carthage developed Spain as a base for her European power, a process which Rome sought to check. The Second Punic War (218-201 b.c.) broke out over Saguntum. Hannibal’s disastrous invasion of Italy was staged from Spain, and Rome in her eternal quest for a stable frontier was forced first to fight and subdue Carthage in the Spanish peninsula, and then to undertake Spain’s subjugation to eliminate the Carthaginian bridgehead (1 Macc 8:3).

Such is the nature of the terrain, that Rome spent two centuries on this task. Some of her greatest soldiers fought to subdue the Spanish tribes, and on two notable occasions, the war against Sertorius (78-72 b.c.) and Julius Caesar’s subjugation of the legions of his rival Pompey (49-45 b.c.), Rome’s own grim civil strife found a Spanish battleground. Augustus completed the pacification of the rugged hinterland in the course of his systematic organization of the frontiers and borderlands of the empire. From this point onward, Romanization, already established in the towns and coastal areas under a provincial organization already almost two centuries old, began to penetrate. Roads, generosity over citizenship, and the other manifest advantages of the “Roman Peace” found an accelerating response, and Spain became notable for her contributions to imperial life and culture. Three emperors—Trajan, Hadrian, and the first Theodosius—came from Spain. Men of letters from Spain included the two Senecas, Lucan, Pomponius Mela, Columella, Quintilian, Martial, Prudentius, and Orosius.

Spain’s flair for Romanization may have been realized by Paul, and that fact supports the contention that he worked on a strategic plan to bring the empire to Christ by planting Christian cells in the key points and areas of the great system. Whether he achieved his twice-expressed ambition of visiting Spain is not known for certain (Rom 15:24, 28). According to Clement of Rome, writing some thirty years after Paul’s death, the apostle went to “the limits of the West” (Ep. 1:5), but it would be dangerous to build too weighty an assumption on a phrase so vague.


A. Schulten, Tartessos (1922); R. Carpenter, The Greeks in Spain (1925); CAH, VIII. x. (A. Schulten) (1930); C. H. V. Sutherland, The Romans in Spain 217-117 B.C. (1939).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The country in the Southwest of Europe which still bears this name. It was Paul’s purpose, as stated in Ro 15:24,28, to visit Spain. If, as is probable, he ultimately carried out this intention, it must have been after a release from his first imprisonment. Clement of Rome speaks of the apostle as having reached "the extreme limit of the West" (Epistle of Clement, v).

See Paul, the Apostle; Tarshish.