Alpha Christianity

Cabo de Gata, Spain

Spain, or more precisely the narrow exit from the Mediterranean at Gibraltar, was classically thought to be the end of the world, at least in that direction. Preaching the Gospel in the whole world, to borrow a phrase from Mark 14:9 (early 30's), would thus sooner or later involve preaching in Spain. Spain, as symbolizing the ultimate in missionary activity, was in the nature of things likely to get linked up, sooner or later, with the most famous Apostle to the Gentile world, namely Paul.

That association did eventually take place. As early as the editing of Paul's letters (c65), it was implied, in material added at that time to the end of Romans, that Paul at least intended to visit Spain, precisely because it was new territory, and not yet visited by other missionaries. 1 Clement, written about 96, evidently considers that Paul did exactly this. The Muratorian Canon (written in Rome, also toward the end of the 2c) records it as a known fact. A romantic text from that same period, the Acts of Peter, includes a scene in which Peter sees Paul off on his journey to Spain. This amounts to the movie version of the Muratorian Canon tradition. None of it has any basis in fact. Instead, it has a basis in the wish of Rome to be associated positively with the two most famous names of the age, Peter and Paul, but without being openly responsible for the deaths of either. If Paul went on from Rome to preach in Spain, half of this program would be achieved. But embarrassingly enough for the pretensions of Rome as a Christian center, Paul was executed in Rome in c60, and even if he had wished to preach at the ultimate western border of civilization, that wish was never realized.

What do the locals have to say? Spanish traditions about Christianity in Spain are lacking for the earliest period, as they are for Antioch and and Alexandria and every other major center. The first plausible record of Spanish Christians is the tale of Bishop Fructuosus of Tarragona and his two Deacons, who were martyred on 21 January 259, under a sudden persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian (r253-260). This incident was celebrated in verse by Prudentius (late 4c). Only much later, in the 8th century, was the Paul legend borrowed into Spain, where it provided a previously missing beginning for the tradition of Christianity in that country.

It is perhaps fortunate that Paul, who spoke only Greek, never did visit Spain, since the language of the Roman parts of Spain was exclusively Latin. The myth of Paul in Spain, besides helping burnish the reputation of Paul, also enhanced that of Rome, since it requires that Paul was released from his first Roman captivity for further productive years in the field. The historical association of Paul with Rome (where he was executed under Nero), especially when it had been whitewashed by a mythical association of Paul with Spain, helped chiefly to enhance the prestige of Rome, at precisely the time (see again 1 Clement) when Rome was beginning to assert itself as having power over church leaders in other centers.

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25 Nov 2011 / Contact The Project / Exit to Alpha Page