Spanish history from the death of Philip II to the end of the last century is virtually an unexplored subject. There have been no good books on it in English and only one or two of limited scope in French or Spanish. Spain has lain walled off by the Pyrenees like a country of fable, a favorite subject for travel writers but neglected by the historians. The few that have tried their hand at it have merely scraped the surface.
This has been particularly true of the nineteenth century, the subject of the greater part of Raymond Carr’s new book. What after all is one to make of those three revolutions, six constitutions, and twenty or so pronunciamentos by an army that had over six hundred generals, and one officer to every eight men? In what other country does one find large parties that are as fanatically religious as the Carlists or as fanatically atheist as the Anarcho-Syndicalists? What was the point of holding elections every few years when the results were always known beforehand? Surely this Spain was not a serious nation, just a land of paradoxes and absurdities, and its history was as difficult to make sense of as that of Ireland. Even Spaniards preferred to get it in novel form through Galdós’s Episodios Nacionales.
It was only in the present century, after the shock given by the loss of Cuba, that educated Spaniards began to ask themselves why so many things seemed to have gone wrong. They found a number of reasons for this—in the increasing influence of the reactionary Church, especially in education, in the faking of the elections by the caciques or local bosses, in the new independent stand taken by the Army officers, and generally in the tendency of the various parts and elements of the nation to split apart and move towards their extremes. These were clearly symptoms of the weakening force of Liberalism but they also had a root in the country’s geography. Spain lived mainly by its agriculture and yet the soil, the rainfall, and therefore the conditions of work and land tenure varied wildly from one region to another. To give only two examples, agricultural laborers in Andalusia might have to travel ten miles on a donkey to reach their work and besides that be unemployed for half the year, whereas in Galicia a family would be tied to a tiny plot of acid soil that was too small and too poor to support it. Every one of Spain’s regions differed markedly from the others and had its own special form of rural life, so that when to these differences were added the ideologies that derived from them—Carlism from Navarre, Anarcho-Syndicalism from rural Andalusia and industrial Catalonia, Socialism from the mining and wheat-growing areas, Basque and Catalan nationalism from their respective provinces—it will be seen that government from Madrid required either great firmness or a difficult balancing feat.
The Republic which came in in 1931 released these bottled up feelings. Its attempt to set the Liberal current flowing again seemed merely to increase the intransigence of those who had other ideas. The middle classes, torn between reactionary and progressive opinions, ceased to hold together. The working classes, feeling their strength, refused to wait. The Army, anticipating a revolution which it thought was coming, rose. And now today—such has been General Franco’s good luck—the democratic nations he so much despised are solving his problems for him. Spaniards have attained a standard of living utterly undreamed of thirty years ago because the flood of tourists from the North has provided the capital that was needed for developing the country. Only the problems of liberty and popular representation remain.
RAYMOND CARR’S Spain 1808-1939 is the first satisfactory history to have appeared in any language on this confused and confusing period. Its subject is a depressing one—the failure of Liberalism in an economically backward country, not ripe for Socialism and haunted and pulled back by memories of its past greatness and of its dedication to a religious idea. This theme is developed in a long and densely packed book which demands a vigorous appetite for Spanish things in the reader. But that is not a criticism; for although a shorter work would have brought out the salient features more clearly, it would have been much less valuable in other respects.
The book opens with an admirable chapter on the land question and goes on to describe the political and economic condition of the country in the second half of the eighteenth century. After that we be given an account of the repercussions set up by the Napoleonic invasion, and the Liberals make their appearance. Their name alone was new (it was the Spaniards who invented it) for their program was borrowed from that of the Enlightenment which Charles III, unlike his french contemporary, Louis XVI, had adopted and begun to put into execution. The clericals and the Absolutionists opposed them, and the struggle, exacerbated by the Carllist rising in the North, lasted till 1840, when it ended, thanks to the Army, in a Liberal victory. The history of the next sixty years is a record of the attempts of a the curiously amorphous radicals to gain ground against the increasingly Conservative oligarchy.
Such is the bare outline of the first five hundred pages of Carr’s book. What I find difficult to convey is its immense superiority to anything that has ben written before on this or indeed any other period of Spanish history. Whatever the Subject that Carr deals with may be, he deepens our understanding of it. To give an example—it has always been the custom to speak of the caciques who fixed the elections in terms of strong moral disapprobation. Carr, who devotes a dozen pages to them, shows that they were a natural growth, inevitable in a backward country where the electorate was indifferent to political issues. The lawyer or landowner who under the instructions of the Civil Governor made the elections was a local worthy and deputized, in most cases impartially, for the interests of his district or town. As Spain’s greatest scientist, the neurologist Ramón y Cajal, remarked, these men were the only link between the countryside and the city, the people and the State. If caciquismo was falling into disrepute after 1900, that is because the alternative to it was not understood. Everyone agreed that the cure for it was more education, yet when this came about a pre-revolutionary situation developed which soon made any kind of of Liberal government unworkable. Carr is the first person to have given a full explanations of this much maligned system and his grasp and penetration are equally assured when he writes on carlism or Anarchism or on Basque or Catalan Nationalism. In each case he takes one down to the grass roots.
I DO NOT KNOW what impresses me most about this masterly book—the immense amount of careful and laborious research that has gone into it or the insight and discrimination that its author has brought to bear on every twist and turn of events. His comments show a deep understanding of Spanish life and, since he has no bias, his conclusions are always convincing. His approach to history is that of the modern professional historian, concerned to show exactly how each event came about as it did and neglecting none of the relevant factors, whether political, economic, or social. Indeed one of the things that most distinguished him is his strong sense of how these different factors are intertwined and of the importance of local and provincial conditions. This means that his book requires a good deal of application from the reader, in spite of the fact that he writes in a style which, though condensed, is clear and lucid. Since he makes no concessions to the lazy minded it will not be popular, but all the same it is the final and conclusive history of this period because it is impossible to imagine anyone ever writing a better one.
I have one slight criticism to make. Carr gives few portraits of his historical personages and none of more than a few lines. I think this is a pity. I know of course that to his severe school of historical writing the suggestion that he should introduce any ambellishment of this sort will be anathema, but Herodotus and thucydides went out of their way to provide a human and literary interest and I feel that a long and complex book such as this would have been enlivened by a few vivid portraits. Among so many movements and events one craves for an occasional sight of the human face. He is also chary of speaking of the horrifying things that were done in the First Carlist War and in the recent Civil War. I think that a few concrete examples might have been given in the footnotes to prevent us from getting too milk-and-water an impression of Spanish affairs. For example it cannot fail to be instructive to learn that the Carlist leader Gómez burned 173 people of both sexes in the church of Calzada de Calatrava, or that thee were priests who killed and tortured men and women and threw them alive over a cliff. When we read in books by Catholic writers of the red Jewish Masonic atrocities, this helps to rectify the balance.
CARMEN IRIZZARY’S BOOK, The Thirty Thousand, is a very different affair. She is an American Catholic, interested in freedom of conscience, who has recently made a trip through Spain to discover how 30,000 Protestants there are being treated. But before describing the results of her mission she gives us sixty pages of highly selected history to show how much worse they were treated in the time of Philip II. She lists the names of those burned in the auto-da-fé of 1558 and has a lot to say about the Inquisition. These raids on the past are, I think, a mistake because she is not sufficiently versed in the religious currents of that period. She makes it worse by following Menéndez Pelayo’s Heterodoxos españoles, a good but biased book written eighty years ago, much more often than Marcel Bataillon’s classic Erasmet l’Espagne which came out in 1937. Thus when she says that in 1559 “Seville throbbed with Protestants,” Bataillon tells us that the twenty-three persons burned as such in that year were really Erasmist Illuminists who practiced mental prayer. The point, I imagine, is that none of these people, though of loose or doubtful orthodoxy, wished to separate from the Church. The real Protestants never got past the Pyrenees.
She follows Menéndez Pelayo too in her treatment of the case of Archbishop Carranza, the Primate of Spain, who was arrested in the same year on a charge of Lutheran heresy. This was the cause célèbre of the time. The poor man could show an excellent record for he had been active in burning Protestants in England, but he had been so unwise as to publish a Commentary on the Catechism, a rambling work in 900 pages folio, full of violent abuse of heretics, but containing phrases which if taken out of their context, were capable of a heretical interpretation. The truth about his case was that, as Mrs. Irizzary fails to make clear, he was framed. The Inquisitor General Valdés needed, like Yagoda later, to do something that would make his services indispensable, while the Holy Office needed money for its expanding army of spies, and so long as carranza’s trial lasted the vast income of the archbishopric would flow into its pockets.*
The most interesting person for us here is the theological adviser to the Inquisitor, Melchor Cano. This eminent Dominican, the chief representative of Conservative opinion in the Church, believed that the real heresy of the age was the tendency to an interior religion. Lutheranism was just one branch of this; illuminism and the Jesuits were others. In his view the good Catholic was a person who heard mass daily, confessed often, and mortified the flesh. All enthusiasm was dangerous. Men must be taught to obey and fear God. They should not be allowed to read even the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed in the vernacular. Such an attitude conflicted not only with Carranza’s, which we should today call woolly, but with the deeper and more personal religious consciousness which,with the optimism given by the discovery of grace, was spreading all over Europe. Yet it was not Cano’s views which prevailed. By the end of the sixteenth century the Jesuits, whom he had dubbed “the claws of Antichrist,”were climbing into power, while the Carmelite mystics, whom he would probably have regarded in much the same light, were on their way to canonization. Thus the tension between Conservatism and the deeper religious consciousness that derived from Erasmus was ended by the discovery of a new line that channeled mental prayer into the convents and gave the laity the Spiritual Exercises. Religious aspirations were satisfied while the clergy remained in full control.
Carmen Irizzary then makes a great point of Luis Vivés, the famous humanist, being a Converso or Converted Jew and goes on to say, following Menéndez Pelayo, that many of the people prosecuted for Protestantism were Converso also. But in fact perhaps half the educated classes in Spain at this time were of Jewish origin, among them some of the most eminent poets and writers. St. Theresa, for example, was of Jewish stock, probably on both sides. A recently discovered lawsuit has revealed that her grand-father was a Converso who relapse openly with his whole family to Judaism a few years before the Inquisition was set up. Then in a panic he returned to Catholicism and was protected by the Archbishop of Toledo to whom he acted as a tax collector. St. John of the Cross was probably of Jewish decent too, because his uncle was a canon of Toledo Cathedral and these canons were all regarded as New Christians. I have no doubt it was the horror of knowing that they belonged to the race of decides that deepened the religious feelings of many of those friars and nuns who practiced the higher forms of prayer, for the only Spanish mystic known to us before 1500 was the Major can Ramon Lull and he had learned his method from the Moslem Sufis.
FINALLY I must really differ from Mrs. Irizzary when she says that the Jews were persecuted for their religion, never for their race. How can she reconcile that with the statutes of purity of blood? Diego Laïnez, the third General of the Jesuits, could not visit Spain because his Jewish ancestry might have led the Inquisition to apprehend him. Long after all secret Judaism had been wiped out, to have Jewish blood in one’s veins was regarded as shameful and those who knew they had it concealed it.
But I have disagreed with Mrs. Irizzary too much, for I find the rest of her book extremely interesting. She gives a good account of the conditions under which Protestants have had to live since the Civil War and there are some interesting conversations with priests. One of the most fanatical of these, the priest of Puertollano, I myself talked to some seventeen years ago and found him as obdurate about his parishioners, who were miners living on starvation wages, as he was to her about Protestants. But then he had been imprisoned during the Civil War and had seen all his fellow ecclesiastics taken out and shot. In general she seems to have come across two kinds of priests—those who regard Protestants as pariahs, to be tolerated only so long as they keep out of sight and do not aspire to have schools or hospitals or public funerals. The chief propagator of these views is the Jesuit organization, Fé Católica, and some of the petty persecutions she reports are very mean. Then there are those other priests who have listened to Pope John and were sometimes even ready for a dialogue with their Protestant brothers. I was glad to see that in the cities there are quite a number of these and that the attitude of Opus Dei, that influential organization of Catholic laymen, is tolerant. At all events Mrs. Irizzary’s book shows that a wind of change is ruffling the Spanish Church, though to have much effect it will have to penetrate the seminaries, which till now have been the nurseries of Spanish intransigence. If we wish to make a guess as to what this confrontation of two different currents of opinion may lead to we might do worse than consider what happened after the death of Melchor Cano.
At present the chief obstacle to the Spanish Protestants improving their position comes from the Concordant between the Holy See and the State, but that is being modified. Yet the clergy’s fear of proselytism remains. I confess that I sympathize with them over this because a large increase in the number of Protestants might well drive the Church into a more intransigent attitude and it seems to me desirable that it should cease to be the political irritant it has been in the past. For that reason I think that the American Baptists who go about the country trying to make converts do more harm than good. But not everyone will agree with me that Spain is a special country, where changing one’s religion is regarded as almost synonymous with changing one’s nationality and where most priests prefer an atheist to a Protestant because, though he has lost his faith, he has not discarded his Catholic formation and so may return to the Church in his old age. I would therefore urge those who are interested to read this sympathetic and tolerant book.
November 17, 1966
To conclude the story of Carranza, after seven years in the prison of the Spanish Inquisition the Pope insisted that he be tried in Rome. There Pius V, that fierce ex-inquisitor and hammer of the heretics, read his Commentary with edification and could see no harm in it. But Philip II demanded that, to save the prestige of the Inquisition, he should be condemned, so under the next Pope he was found guilty of the suspicion of holding certain errors. He abjured and died, thirteen years after his arrest. ↩