Francisco Ramos Mexía: The first modern Seventh-day Adventist?
by Juan Carlos Priora
Sixteen years before the great disappointment of 1844, Francisco Ramos Mexía of Buenos Aires died a Sabbathkeeper and a believer in the imminent return of Jesus.
Who is a Seventh-day Adventist? Simply put, one who keeps the Seventh-day Sabbath and looks forward to the literal return of Jesus Christ in the near future. Of course, there are other fundamental beliefs a Seventh-day Adventist subscribes to, but these two are basic. LeRoy Froom, in his monumental research on the Advent movement through the centuries,1 identified several Sabbatarian Adventists in the early 1800s, even before the birth of Adventism.
In Scotland there was James A. Begg, a Presbyterian, who believed in the second coming of Christ and began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath in 1832.2 In the United States, Rachel Oakes, later Mrs. Preston, kept the Sabbath from 1837 and accepted the belief that the second coming of Christ would occur in 1844.3
Froom includes in his fascinating gallery a South American forerunner of the Advent movement: Francisco Hermógenes Ramos Mexía.4 My own research and contacts with his descendants have allowed me to add significant details to his intriguing portrait.
Ramos Mexía died in 1828, 16 years before the great disappointment experienced by the Advent movement in the United States. He died a Sabbathkeeper and a believer in the second coming of Jesus Christ. That certainly qualifies him to be called the first Seventh-day Adventist in modern history, at least in the Americas.
Francisco Ramos Mexía was born in Buenos Aires on November 20, 1773. The southern region of South America of which Buenos Aires served as capital was known then as the Vice-Royalty of Río de la Plata, under the rule of the Spanish monarchy. Seventh in a well-to-do family of 13 children, Francisco showed a keen love for the outdoors and an affinity for spiritual things. His early education consisted of theology, grammar, and logic, all under Catholic tutors. The qualities of integrity and sturdiness probably inherited from his Scottish Protestant maternal grandfather and the discipline for study instilled early in his life influenced young Francisco never to accept anything as true, unless he himself had an opportunity to probe it from every possible angle.
After completing studies in the Royal College of San Carlos, a Jesuit institution in his home town, Francisco Ramos Mexía joined government work in 1797 in the La Paz district, now part of Bolivia. La Paz was a city of culture and learning, and was the seat of the famous University of San Francisco Javier. Here Ramos Mexía came under the influence of some of the keenest Franciscan monks and Jesuit intellectuals. The open university atmosphere and the friendships he was able to make helped young Franciso to enlarge his knowledge in philosophy, theology, and logic. He also began showing his compassion for the native Indians, the exploited social group of that time.
La Paz also gave him his wife: in 1804 he married María Antonia de Segurola, daughter of the city's governor. After the birth and early death of the first child in La Paz, the couple moved to a large estate near Buenos Aires, where they raised a large family.
Ramos Mexía the patriot
Francisco loved the outdoors, where he spent hours supervising the work in his lands and observing the marvels of God's handiwork in the vast, grassy pampas of what is today Argentina. He raised cattle, built a dairy, grew vegetables, made bread and cheese, and managed his extensive lands. He also befriended the native Indians and frequently took up their cause. In fact, contrary to the custom, he bought land from the Indians instead of taking it from them by force. This unusual attitude often placed him in difficulty with authorities, who tended to see the Indians as inferior and exploitable. But justice and peace were part of Ramos Mexía's convictions, and he tried to practice them all his life.
Thus tuned to nature and attached to the human quest for dignity and peace, Ramos Mexía was both a patriot and a reformer. As a patriot in the emerging nation of Argentina, he involved himself in many national causes. As the region began moving away from Spanish rule and toward independence, he supported the patriotic cause and was a member of the first expeditionary force that in 1810 probed the northern parts of the country.5
In the same year he joined the municipal council of Buenos Aires, which appointed him Defender of Children.6 In 1820, as the white man representing 16 Pampa Indian chiefs, Ramos Mexía signed the Peace Treaty of Miraflores with the government of Buenos Aires.7 A year later the authorities broke the peace terms, attacked the Pampas, and took the unprecedented step of arresting their protector, Ramos Mexía. Confined by the government to his estate for several years, he died a victim of an epidemic and a broken spirit on March 5, 1828. He was 54.
Ramos Mexía the reformer
But life is not how long you live; but how well. Ramos Mexía lived so well that he not only influenced his generation but also generations to come. He was a man of action and also a deeply religious individual. He spent hours reading and pondering over God's dealings with His people in the past and His plans for the future. The theological influences received in his youth never really left him. He studied regularly his Vulgate Bible, writing down notes on the margin.8 By the time he got married, he already had "a clearly marked religious conscience."9
One author who influenced Ramos Mexía's thought on Bible prophecy was Manuel Lacunza (1731-1801), the Chilean Jesuit. Lacunza became noted for his landmark work on the second coming of Jesus, written while in exile in Italy. His book The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty was circulated in fragments in the late 1780s throughout Europe and the Americas, and was published in book form after his death.10
Ramos Mexía was so interested in the book that he copied the manuscript by hand. He later acquired the four-volume edition of Lacunza's book printed in London in 1816 and wrote copious notes on its margins. These reveal that while Lacunza still owed a good deal to his Catholic theological formation, Ramos Mexía shared many of the views of the Protestant Reformers.
The first modern Adventist?
Living in the midst of rapid socio-political change in his homeland, Ramos Mexía saw in the promised return of Jesus to this earth his best hope. His deep study of the Bible eventually resulted in a declaration to the people of Argentina. This short treatise ("The Gospel That Is Represented Before the Nation by the Citizen Francisco Ramos Mexía"11) and another pamphlet ("The A B C of Religion") published in 1820 argued for some major theological views that were rather startling and new for the place and the times in which he lived. Some of the truths to which he gave biblical witness and personal proclamation were these:
Ramos Mexía's religious publications brought forth immediate reprisal. The provincial government of Buenos Aires ordered him to "stop causing disturbances against the public order, his family, and his own personal reputation."12 The government order came about as a result of a report by José Valentín Gómez, an influential Catholic clergyman. The report told the government that Ramos Mexía was not only keeping the Sabbath in his home, but also persuading others, including the workers in his estates and the Indians who had sought his protection, to do likewise. The fact that he was a layman and dared to publicly deal with doctrinal issues from a biblical perspective was considered a heresy.
Francisco Ramos Mexía, of course, did not obey the warning. Instead he went on obeying God, reading from portions of the Bible to his farmhands and protesting the treatment of the Indians. Like the apostle Peter, in matters of faith and conscience, Ramos Mexía affirmed that "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29, KJV). With that stand, the first modern Seventh-day Adventist died in the firm and sure hope of the second coming of Jesus.
Juan Carlos Priora teaches history at Universidad Adventista del Plata, in Argentina. He has published scores of articles and two books: La naturaleza del hombre y el fin de la historia (1992) and El nuevo orden mundial y el fin de la historia (1994).
Notes and References
1. LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1950-1954), 4 vols.
2. Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 937-940.
3. Ibid., pp. 948-950.
4. Ibid., pp. 920-936.
5. Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, July 5, 1810.
6. Acuerdos del Extinguido Cabildo de Buenos Ayres, October 17, 1810.
7. Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, April 12, 1820.
8. Unfortunately, this Bible no longer exists. One of Francisco Ramos Mexía's granddaughters threw it into a fire. See Clemente Ricci, "Destrucción de un documento histórico: La Biblia anotada de Ramos Mexía entregada a las llamas," Boletín de Investigaciones Históricas de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Buenos Aires, vol. II, p. 31.
9. Clemente Ricci, Francisco Ramos Mexía: Un heterodoxo argentino como hombre de genio y como precursor (Buenos Aires: Imprenta Juan H. Kidd y Cía., 1923), p. 31.
10. See Abel Chaneton, En torno a un papel anónimo del siglo XVIII (Buenos Aires: Publicaciones del Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, 1928), p. 23. See also Sergio Olivares, "Manuel Lacunza: The Adventist Connection," College and University Dialogue, 6:1 (1994), pp. 12-15.
11. The document was published in its entirety by historian Clemente Ricci under the title, En la penumbra de la historia. See also La Reforma, December 1913, for other documents on Francisco Ramos Mexía.
12. "National Government: Cult (1819-1821)," a document from the National Archives of Argentina, a copy of which is in the author's possession.