The life story of this former Catholic clergyman was written by request of the editor, and was translated from the Portuguese by Charles A. Rentfro. The translator's father, Clarence E. Rentfro, was the first Adventist missionary to Portugal (1904-1917). He baptized Antonio Dias Gomes, who became a worker, and at present is the director of the Portuguese Union. He is mentioned in this article. This is the fifth in a series on how ministers of other beliefs were led to accept Adventism.
I was born of Catholic parents, in December, 1905. As an only child, I was reared with tender care, for my family dreamed of carving out a brilliant future for me. My father wanted me to follow a military career ; my grandfather expected me to be a doctor; but in an endeavor to carry out my mother's wishes, I became a teacher. When I was eight years old I finished a two-standard primary course, and at the age of fifteen I was graduated from the high school lyceum. It was at this stage of my life that I decided to become a priest. A contributing factor in this case was the bishop of the diocese, who had befriended me. When I finished the lyceum, the bishop sent me to a Catholic seminary to continue my studies in Latin and philosophy. And in 1921 I went to Rome, where I attended the Pontifical Gregorian University under Jesuit supervision.
After living seven years in Rome, I received a doctorate in philosophy and theology, including a bachelor's degree in canon law. Concurrently I attended courses in Bible archaelogy, apologetics, classic Latinity, also harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Academy of Music of Saint Cecilia.
Never, in those earlier years, did I have the slightest doubt concerning the Roman faith. The teachings of the Jesuits in the Gregorian University—principally in the theological and canon law colleges—were calculated to impress upon the minds of their students the highest respect for the Papacy, and an equal devotion and obedience to the Pope. I was no exception to this rule. So consequently the reverence which I displayed toward the Pope was nearly worship. I saw Jesus Himself in the Pope.
My intense desire to fathom the Papacy led me to attend a course in Bible archaeology. It was then, while studying this subject, that my first doubt arose regarding the doctrinal legitimacy of papal claims. I did not find the proofs which I sought—whether Saint Peter had ever been in Rome. I questioned my professors, experienced archaeologists, who answered me, however, with evasive arguments. They in no way satisfied my avid spirit in search of truth.
I considered this thought of mine to be an evil doubt, a diabolic temptation. And I tried to smother it, according to the Jesuit teachings, by a fervent act of faith in Saint Peter's Primate Church, and that of his supposed successors.
I was ordained a presbyter (second order of the Catholic priesthood, empowered to say mass) in the papal Basilica by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome in December, 1927. When I completed my doctorate in theology in July, 1928, I returned to Portugal the following month, and was named professor and assistant rector of the Catholic seminary in the diocese of Portalegre. I appeared in the principal pulpits of the diocese and throughout the country. In the absence of the bishop I ruled the diocese in a capacity of general vicar.
Early Struggles With Conscience
In connection with the innermost self-examinations of my conscience, throughout my life as a seminary student and as a priest, I felt a definite and undefined spiritual uneasiness weighing heavily upon my whole life. Certain remarks of my associates confirmed my miserable spiritual condition. Today some of them are canons, monsignors, and even bishops. While associating with the clergy—even some of the most notable—I saw that their standards of living were characterized by discreet hypocrisy.
As I leafed through the prescribed sacraments of the Roman Church, which I myself had to teach to my students or proclaim from the pulpit, nowhere could I find the efficacy proclaimed by the theological manuals. The confessional was an oppressive weight, an unbearable burden, which I was unable to harmonize with this declaration of Jesus : "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
In addition to my classes at the seminary, I taught a course in religious interpretation for lyceum students in the local high school. In this manner I retained contact with the academic youth of the city, for whom I also said mass on Sundays in the cathedral, and then organized them into a Catholic youth group.
First Contacts With Advent Message
My first contact with the Adventist message was in 1930. One of the students spoke to me about Seventh-day Adventists, and I became agitated over the Sabbath question. I attempted to refute the fourth commandment, but I had to confess that the only argument at my command was that of the authority of Rome. The same student gave me some Adventist leaflets, which I read out of mere curiosity, but still I was prejudiced enough to refute them.
I repelled the doctrine of the mortality of the soul with indignation, in spite of my insufficient knowledge of the subject. I simply could not conceive of a mortal soul!
During my yearly vacation from school duties the bishop of the diocese decided that I should go to Lisbon to work with the Catholic Action movement. But I asked the bishop to permit me to remain in Portalegre another year. The bishop refused, and forbade me to return to the city. However, I returned, and took up private teaching. My, disobedience brought down upon me the ecclesiastical penalties of the church. Then I met the local Adventist worker, the present director of the Portuguese Union, A. Dias Gomes. I went to the church and enjoyed it. All the brethren displayed kindness and understanding.
I studied and argued with Pastor Dias Gomes at night during the course of many weeks, even till three and four in the morning. I accepted the Sabbath truth very soon, also the one and only mediation of our blessed Saviour, and salvation by faith. Even my belief in the supposed primacy of Peter and of his successors was dispelled from my thoughts. The greatest difficulty which I encountered was the Bible doctrine of the mortality of the soul. We studied this at length, discussed it thoroughly, and prayed earnestly. My whole life as a student, teacher, or preacher had set a precedent for me, and I was imbedded in the false doctrine of the absolute immortality of the soul. At last, thanks be to the power of prayer, light penetrated my darkened understanding, and I saw the truth.
Finally, having been convinced that the Roman Catholic Church was the great apostate, I resolved to disconnect myself from it, solemnly and officially. In one of the newspapers of the land I waged a polemic struggle with two Catholic papers. Against one of them I attacked Saint Peter's Sojourn in Rome; against the other I defended the Bible versus church tradition, which is opposed to the Word of God.
I began to attend the Adventist church regularly. In 1932 I was married and went to Lisbon and taught privately, to support myself and family. I decided to become a public school teacher. As I did not desire to avail myself of the degrees awarded to me by the Gregorian University of Rome, I attended the University of Lisbon, beginning as a simple student. I was graduated from the College of Letters in historical and philosophical sciences.
I entered a training course in the Normal Lyceum of Lisbon, to become a public high school teacher. At the same time I taught a Bible class started by Pastor Gomes in Lisbon, in a training school which was the forerunner of our present Adventist Seminary in Portalegre.
The brethren and I were always more or less in close association in Lisbon during those years. When my internship was completed, I was named professor in the same Normal Lyceum of Lisbon, where I taught history, philosophy, and political organization. But I still remembered the pulpit and my desire to win souls to the truth.
In my classes at the lyceum I lost no opportunity to speak of God and of the truth He gave to us, which man had tried to discredit. Whenever I talked to Pastor Gomes I told him of my desire to devote myself to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures or theology, and the ministry of saving souls. My one thought was that, since God had permitted me to have an ecclesiastical training, and then called me to the knowledge of His truth, this must not have been merely to go through life teaching in a state college. I felt a void within my soul while teaching history and philosophy.
It was in the midst of this spiritual desert that I met A. V. Olson in Lisbon during December, 1945. We talked a long time, and prayed together in his hotel room. I felt God's hand clearly pointing out to me the road which He felt I should take. I arrived at a definite decision. I began to attend the baptismal class, and on April 20, 1946, my wife and I were baptized.
I requested an unlimited leave of absence from the National Ministry of Education, and left the Normal Lyceum. I came to our Adventist Seminary in October of the same year, and after three months was invited by the union director, Pastor Gomes, to take charge of the church work in Portalegre, Portugal.
As I work happily and enthusiastically, my time is spent in the Lord's vineyard, teaching classes in the seminary and shepherding the church in the city. Occasionally I visit some of our churches throughout Portugal to hold public meetings. I consider myself fortunate, for I see the hand of God blessing me in our seminary as a teacher, and as a preacher of the Advent message.