Monday, January 16, 2006

Jesus and Juan Valdez

Mention the name Juan Valdez to most people in North America and they are likely to envision a man with a donkey in the aisle of a grocery store promoting 100% Columbian coffee; and in a blog called 'Java and Jesus' it might not be too surprising to hear his name come up. Maybe someday we'll talk about him, but not today.

The Juan de Valdez I'd like to tell you about was actually a church reformer during the 16th century, only you won't find him listed among the leaders of the Reformation. This is because unlike his contemporaries in Germany and Geneva, he did not abandon the Catholic church; rather, he criticized Martin Luther and the others for doing so.

On January 14th, 1529, several months before Luther would publish his longer and shorter catechisms, Valdez published his "Dialogue on Christian Doctrine." Written as a conversation between a young priest and an historical Spanish archbishop the dialogue addresses what Valdez regarded as an ignorance of basic doctrine among many priests of his day. During the course of the conversation it soon becomes clear that among other things Valdez holds to a doctrine of salvation by faith alone. It would also seem he doesn't care for such traditions as devotions to Mary and the saints. In addition he only mentions two sacraments - baptism and the Lord's Supper – ignoring the other five sacraments traditionally held by the Catholic church. The entire document has a decidedly Protestant tone to it despite the fact that one of Juan’s professors convinced him to make a few changes so as not to attract the attention of the Spanish inquisition.

At first, the Inquisitor of Navarre, Sancho Carranza de Miranda, was so impressed by what the teenager had written, (it should be mentioned that Valdez was only 18 years old when the "Dialogue on Christian Doctrine" was published) that he bought copies for several of his friends. However, as the Inquisition continued its work and then broadened its definition of heresy, Valdez's writings were added to the Catholic Index of Prohibited Books in 1531. Before he could be arrested, Valdez fled for Naples, Italy.

In Naples he continued to write, including a piece called "The Benefit of Christ" which was my introduction to his work. I was going through a tough time during the period after my father's death, and the Christian community I was part of at the time had, from my point of view, let me down. For a long time my disappointment in my fellow Christians threatened to challenge my belief in Christ Himself. Staying away from church, I continued to struggle with my faith - sort of a long, dark coffee break of the soul, if you will. During this time of personal doubt, I read these words from Valdez...

"A man who is tempted to doubt experiences a work of Christian progress. I believe that such temptation originates in a man's desire to believe and to stand firm in his Christian faith. ...let one who doubts regard his temptation as evidence of progress in the Christian life. Let him recognize that had he not wished a desire to believe, he would not be tempted to doubt. His very distress is indicative of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life."

These words spoke to me at the time, and still do today. They helped me to stop focusing on the failings of other people and start focusing on the faithfulness of Christ. They also fueled my fascination with the works of Christian writers of the past.

The writings of Juan de Valdez did eventually give rise to a Spanish Reformation movement, but it was quickly squashed by the Inquisition. When Valdez died in 1541, his followers scattered. While his work did little to accomplish reform within the Catholic Church, it did form the basis of the first Protestant catechism in Italy, in a sense making Valdez, however reluctantly, an unsung hero of the Protestant Reformation.


daniel said...

thank you man. there is so much in Valdez' have eloquently regarded this thought and allowed other's the same opportunity. may you be blessed in future writings.

Amigaver said...

Hi Dennis:
Finally I have time... I enjoyed reading your "blogs?" What a source of encouragement and stimulants to deepen our faith walk. Of course, Juan Valdez sparked my interest, since we share the common native origins of COLOMBIA. Notice how Colombians write themselves with two "o" s for Cristobal Colon. This is the Spanish version of his name and the one used to name our country after him. I loved your informative writing about the Juan Valdez 'Reformer' - how interesting and encouraging that even in the 16th century Catholics, like Luther, recognized God's true teaching in the Bible and realized that grace and salvation were granted by faith alone. Blessings on your writings, I will "link" to your next one sooner. Ver.