The Burning Torch for Protestantism.

By Alejandro Moreno Morrison
To the memory of
my great-great-grandfather,
who rests from his labors for his deeds follow him.

Anyone who knows something about Mexican history will realize that title above is
equivocal or at least ambiguous. That is because, on the one hand, there is a period in
the Mexican political and legal history known as the Reformation, while the term
“Reformation”, on the other hand, has a very specific and well defined religious and
theological connotation in our church community.
Such ambiguity is intended since there is a close relationship between the political
movement in Mexico called the Reformation and the history of the Presbyterian
Church in Mexico. Furthermore, some readers will be able to notice, as well, some of
the similarities that at least I see between the English Reformation and the Reformation
in Mexico.
The political “Reformation” in Mexico (1830/1870) was the movement carried out by the
“Liberals” (in its classical European sense rather than the modern American
sense) against the conservative oligarchy and the RomanCatholic clergy, who together
concentrated all economic, social, religious and political power. Both, the time frame
and the movement itself, overlap with the beginnings and development of the
Evangelical movement in Mexico, which eventually lead (in one of its several branches)
to the foundation and exponential growth of the Presbyterian Church in Mexico.
In the summer of 1822, Diego Thompson (a Scotsman missionary of Presbyterian
background) arrived to Peru with the twofold mission of establishing schools in the
“Lancasterian” method and of distributing Bibles in the Spanish language as an agent
of the British and Overseas Bible Society. It took him five years to make his way up to
Mexico City, where he arrived in May 1827, with 300 Bibles and 1000 New Testaments.
The newly arrived Bibles immediately got the attention of many people. On the one
hand, a few Roman Catholic clergymen and such statesmen as Dr. José María Luis
Mora, “considered the father of Liberalism in Mexico”, favorably received the
distribution of Bibles. Nevertheless, the official reaction of the Dioceses of Mexico was
to ban the circulation of the Bible, and to confiscate and burn those Bibles already
distributed among the people, even though such Bibles were the authorized Spanish
translation of the Roman Church with the Apocrypha (the “Scío de San Miguel” version,
published in Barcelona, 1820).
In spite of the ban, Bibles continued arriving into Mexico and circulating
clandestinely throughout the decades of the 1830’s to the 1860’s. This was a time of
great turmoil in Mexico as the Conservative Party (and the Roman Church) strived to
maintain power, while from the outside Mexico faced intervention and war from the
United States of America (USA) and France.
Above and beyond the earthy affairs of the “city of man”, a Christian soldier of the
Army of the United States of America saw the Mexican War as an opportunity to build
the “City of God” rather than the “city of man” by distributing Spanish Bibles to the
Mexican people wherever he went. Likewise, during the French intervention (18641867),
a Moravian chaplain of the French Army lead evangelical worship services in
downtown Mexico City.

By the mid 1850’s a Congress controlled by the Liberal Party passed a set of laws
known as the “Reformation Laws” and the Constitution of 1857, patterned after the
Constitution of the USA. A ruling criterion and aim of the new legislation was to limit
the power of the Romancatholic
clergy and acknowledge religious freedom and freedom of expression.
Moreover, a number of buildings and estates that were
property of the Roman Church (who owned 70% of the realstate property in Mexico)
were “secularized”; that is, taken away from ecclesiastical hands to be destined for
public use or to be sold for productive activities. Eventually, the use of several of these
“secularized” buildings was granted to Protestant Churches and organizations like the
Bible Society.
All such changes were officially condemned by the Roman pope Pius IX and thus
opposed by the majority, but not all, of the Mexican Roman clergy. A schism was
brought about by a small group of priests who sworn loyalty to Mexico and the
Reformation Laws, and who thereby endeavoured to establish “the Reformed Mexican
Catholic Church independent from that of Rome” and upon the foundations of the early Church.

These “Mexican Catholics” turned to the American Episcopal Church for a serious
ecclesiastical authority that would provide their meetings with an official character and
to credit their gatherings toward the formation of a church, and the first evangelical
service of this group took place in Mexico City in November 18, 1865.
A couple of years later, a Presbyterian Church was established in Villa de Coss,
Zacatecas, as a result of the preaching of Dr. Julius Mallet Prevost, elder in the
Presbyterian Church and American consul in that city. The church grew rapidly with
members from all the ranks of society (including governors and cabinet members), and
established churches in nearby cities like Fresnillo and Concepción del Oro. By 1870,
these Presbyterian Churches came under the wing of the Pennsylvania Synod.
In 1868, the American Episcopal Church sent to Mexico a missionary pastor, the
Rev. Henry C. Riley. The Rev. Riley was born and had spent part of his life in Santiago
de Chile, and was pastor of a large congregation of Spanish speaking people in New York,
thus he was fluent in the Spanish language. A few months after his arrival, the
Rev. Riley sent back to the USA the following report: “A perfect hurricane of
protestant desires is raging against the Roman church. I felt, as if I had suddenly
found myself in the Reformation time. The great task to be accomplished is to edify as
soon as possible churches and educational institutions”. In time, instead of the
“Reformed Mexican Catholic Church”, the Mexican Episcopal Church was established
with people coming from the Mexican Catholic movement and several “evangelical
societies” that had functioned clandestinely over the previous decades.
One of the leaders of this church, don Julián Rodriguez, persistently invited Mrs.
Felipa Escalona de Morales to attend their services. Felipa was a pure Mexican Indian
(of the lowest rank in society) and a member of the Liberal Party. She worked in the
domestic service at the residence of Ignacio Ramírez, one of the leaders of the Liberal
Party. Although Ignacio Ramirez was an atheist and someone with inclinations to the
occult, Mr. Ramírez gave Mrs. Felipa Morales a Bible. Albeit not formally educated,
Felipa and her husband Bartolo enjoyed a quite awakened mind and had learned to
read and write. From an early age, Felipa taught her son Arcadio to read and love the
Bible. Both parents were very religious, although they did not attend the RomanCatholic

In January 1869, Felipa Morales sent her son Arcadio (who had just turned 19
years old) to a Tuesday service in the Protestant Church on her behalf. That weekday
service was an infant baptism. Arcadio Morales was deeply scandalized by the mere
suggestion of attending to a Protestant gathering. At the end he attended merely out of
obedience to his mother who wanted him “to see and hear and report back to her”.
Thought not willingly, Arcadio attended the service with a friend of him and Mr.
Rodríguez, the church leader of the church who had been so persistent in inviting the
MoralesEscalona family.

The Protestant service made a powerful impression in Arcadio, who told Mr.
Rodriguez that, if that was what Protestantism was all about, he had been a Protestant
a long time ago. Nevertheless, Arcadio entered into a deep conflict of conscience upon
the mere thought of leaving the religion in which he had been raised. For the first time,
he addressed a prayer of his own to God: “My God, You see in what state I am; I do not
know on whose side lays the truth; but You, who are neither Catholic nor Protestant,
help me; I do not want my soul to be lost. If this new religion is the true one, let me
embrace it with all my heart, and if that in which I have lived is Yours, then, Lord, do
not let me abandon it even for a moment”. Then he took yet another step toward making up
his mind about the matter; he purchased two Bibles, one “Romancatholic”and one “Protestant”, in order to confirm
that the Protestant Bible was not different and, therefore, that all these years reading
the Bible had lead him to be a “Protestant” albeit being unaware of that. One week
after his first visit Arcadio Morales was back in the Protestant Church, now with a
passionate devotion for the gospel. He soon became a “reader” at the Church, while
also involved in the distribution of Bibles, and the preaching of the gospel in public
A few years later (October 1872), the first Presbyterian missionaries (proper) from
the USA (mostly from Pennsylvania) arrived to the coastal city of Veracruz, off que
Gulf of Mexico. The missionaries were Mr. & Mrs. Henry Clifton Thompson, Mr. &
Mrs. Paul H. Pitkins, Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell Phillips, Miss Helen P. Allen. A couple of
months later (December 28, 1872), the Rev. & Mrs. Merril N. Hutchinson arrived to
Mexico City and immediately got in touch with the Protestant Church and the young
Arcadio Morales.

The arrival (thus the growing presence) of the Presbyterian missionaries into an
Episcopal environment inevitably brought about the issue of church polity. The
Episcopalians were advocating for the appointment of an “Archbishop of the
Evangelical Missions in Mexico” to oversee all of the evangelical societies and incipient
churches. Moreover, as it was in the very origins of the Presbyterian movement within
the Church of England, the issue was also raised concerning the use of vestments and
other “Romish rituals” that remained in the form of worship.
Once again, the young Arcadio faced a dilemma on matters of the highest order:
What is the right way of worshipping the Lord? After earnest prayer and long
conversations with the Rev. Hutchinson on the matter (guided by Scripture as their
sole authority), Arcadio embraced the Presbyterian polity and manner of worship
leaving behind the Episcopal ways, and thus took the firm resolution “of establishing
the Presbyterian Church in the capital of the [Mexican] Republic”. Like his
Presbyterian forefathers, Arcadio was excommunicated from the Episcopal Church for
his Presbyterian persuasion, which they took as treason. “Yet”—he records— “with a
small number of brethren that followed me, we continued unaltered fighting against
the common enemy, ‘Romanism’, and laying the foundations of Presbyterianism in the
capital [city] of Mexico”.
In time, a small faculty of professors was formed in order to provide theological
education to future Mexican ministers like Arcadio Morales. Such faculty included
originally the missionary pastors Maxwell Phillips (Greek) and M. N. Hutchinson
(Theology). In the years to come such faculty was enriched with the involvement of L.
Polemus, Rollo Ogden, J. Milton Green (Th. D.), S. T. Wilton, (Th. D.), and Hubert
Brown, (Th. D.).
The 21st of May, 1874, Arcadio was examined and approved on his theological
training, in the constituting meeting of the Presbyterian Church in Mexico City (which
lasted four days with recesses). He, then, proceeded to make his public profession of
faith and to be baptized (since Presbyterians did not accept the Roman baptism –and
rightly so) along with other 64 believers who were the first members of the first
Presbyterian Church in Mexico City.
The Presbyterian Church was growing so rapidly, not only in Mexico City but also
throughout all the Mexican territory, that there was a growing need for pastors all
throughout Mexico. Along with ten other “seminarians” Arcadio Morales continued
his theological education under the Presbyterian missionaries above mentioned. By
1878, the theological education and aptitudes of these young Mexicans was deemed
appropriate to proceed to ordain them to the holy ministry in the Presbyterian Church.

That same year, 1878, the Rev. Arcadio Morales Escalona became the first pastor of
“El Divino Salvador”, the first Presbyterian Church in Mexico City, with 240 registered
members, 88 children baptized and growing!
The Reformation had flourished in Mexican soil . . .


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