Carlos Puyol Buil: Dialogue with a Spanish pastor, scholar, and administrator

A powerful preacher. A prolific writer. A man of strong faith and convictions. Add to this Christian kindness, humility, and an inquisitive mind, and you have Carlos Puyol Buil. Born in Zaragoza, Spain, Carlos grew up during the Second World War. Political dictatorship, economic hardship, and very little opportunity shaped in his youthful days a nonconformist spirit, with a vision for a better future.

At 12, Carlos came in contact with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which at the time was barely tolerated. Four years later, he was baptized—in spite of the opposition of his parents. His rebellious spirit gave way to obedience to God’s call to enter the pastoral ministry. He started his ministerial training in Madrid and completed it at Collonges-sous-Salève, France. At 19, he met and later married Rosa María Salvador Terraza. Their only child, Carlos Miguel, was born in 1968.

Puyol served initially as pastor, Bible teacher, and education director. He obtained, at the request of the church, a university degree in history. At 33, Puyol was elected president of the Spanish Mission. His new responsibilities coincided with the last years of the Franco régime. The Adventist Church experienced the end of its ghetto status, and began to be involved in public evangelism.

As a respected pastor and head of the church in his country, he played a major role in the visit of the queen of Spain to the Madrid Adventist church—the first time ever that a member of the royalty had attended a Christian, non-Catholic religious service.

Attracted to the academic life, Puyol became president of Sagunto Adventist College. Later he was appointed president of the Spanish Union. Busy people accomplish much, and during those years Puyol completed a Ph.D. in history. His dissertation (746 pp.), on the Spanish Inquisition, was published under the patronage of the Spanish High Council of Scientific Research. In 1994, Puyol returned to pastoral ministry. The following year he was elected secretary of the Euro-Africa Division of Seventh-day Adventists–his current position.

Considering the circumstances, your conversion appears miraculous.

Conversion is always a miracle of divine grace, in which providential circumstances, hereditary or acquired receptivity, and the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit are jointly at work. A previous preparation, often unconscious, precedes the conversion process. In my case, I have to ascribe it to the influence of my mother, a devout Catholic, who inspired in me the search for God.

You had a very independent spirit. How did you choose to join a church which, at first sight, seems characterized by rules?

Christ promised that it is truth that gives true freedom (John 8:32). The gospel frees us from sin and from whatever other form of bondage we may be under. It allows us to recover the value of human dignity. I found in the norms of the Adventist Church a way toward personal improvement and liberation.

Tell us about your experience as a ministerial student in Spain during those years.

It was thrilling. Since the authorities had closed the seminary, we attended classes in the homes of our teachers, taking notes on our knees. There were no dormitories. We stayed with church members. We spent the holidays working as literature evangelists, participating in church life and, whenever possible, helping out pastors in evangelism.

What were the major problems faced by young Adventists at that time?

To keep the Sabbath in school and at work. But the problems increased during military service. Practically all the young people of my generation spent time in military prison for their religious convictions. Some faced a “war council” (military court) and spent years in prison. Marriage presented another challenge, since it required the approval of a bishop, which was normally granted only for Catholic weddings. Years were spent in desperate waiting. Those who could, got married abroad, as I did. But some yielded to pressure.

Your doctoral dissertation is on the Inquisition. Could you have written on that topic in the early years?

No. The archives of the Spanish Inquisition were open only to scholars authorized by the Roman Catholic Church. At that time, studies about the Inquisition were strictly apologetic in nature, i.e., they tried to justify the historical reason for that institution. For centuries, the topic was taboo. No university professor would have dared to direct such a research project.

Did you have anything to do in the creation of AEGUAE, the Spanish association of Adventist university students and professionals?

Although the initiative was taken by the students of our churches in Catalonia, I immediately understood that it was a project that deserved the full support of the church administration. It was important to create an organization in which our intellectuals would feel that they were well represented and where they could express their concerns, study in depth our fundamental doctrines, and create the necessary means for a loyal cooperation with the general goals of the church. The foundations were laid, and there was never a split between the association and the church administration. This year, AEGUAE celebrates its 25th anniversary. An international convention is planned, with guests from all European countries. The theme will be “The Bible and Mediterranean Culture.”

Your privileged relationship with the king and queen of Spain is well known. How did it all start, and what is the current situation?

At the beginning of 1976, as a sign of the new winds blowing over Spain (Franco passed away in 1975), our church was invited to hold a seminar on Adventism at the Department of Contemporary Humanities of the University of Madrid. The queen was a student in this department and attended all the classes. At the conclusion of our seminar, she expressed her desire to visit our church in Madrid. The queen came on a Sabbath, and that day we were having the Lord’s Supper. The queen was moved by the experience. Sometime later she asked that I join the team of teachers of the foundation, “Contemporary Science and Thought,” which organizes, for her and a select group of persons, seminars and colloquia on current issues. I have been active in this group for almost 20 years, witnessing about our faith whenever there is an opportunity, advocating religious liberty, and emphasizing spiritual values in the midst of secularization. I meet the king at official receptions granted each year to Spanish writers in conjunction with the awarding of the prestigious Premio Cervantes. Last year Safeliz, the Adventist publishing house in Spain, published a book on the queen written by the president of the foundation mentioned above. One chapter relates in detail and with pictures the queen’s visit to the Adventist church.

Minority churches in Spain today enjoy religious freedom that would have been unthinkable 40 years ago. Could the Spanish model influence other Hispanic countries?

I hope so, and something is already taking place. Through different steps, between 1978 and 1992, a constitutionally based agreement has been reached with Protestants, Jews, and Muslims in Spain. There is clear separation of church and state. Religious plurality is formally recognized, and the fundamental rights of each religion as well as their exercise, in private and in public, are guaranteed by the state.

The Adventist Church lived courageously in Spain during times in which it was barely tolerated. What are the challenges it faces in the current climate of freedom?

The main challenge confronting the church in all secularized countries is evangelization—how to reach postmodern people with the gospel. We have often failed to adapt to the new social context, to identify the real needs of individuals before providing the answers. On the other hand, paradoxically, we run the serious risk of losing our identity, of slipping into global ecumenical uniformity.

You are a teacher/scholar/evangelist. Now you devote most of your time to administrative tasks. Are you sometimes frustrated? Is it difficult to keep the vision of your call, while serving as a division secretary?

My basic call is not to be specifically a teacher, a scholar, an evangelist, or a church administrator. My call is to be a servant of God and of His church, and this is fully implemented in each of the ministries mentioned above. Although I recognize the existence of spiritual gifts and personal talents, I am afraid of restrictive calls that condition the availability of God’s servants. I accept the necessity of specialization in the church, but only as an instrument to fulfill God’s will. For this reason, I was never frustrated in my different ministries.

Being realistic, what could be done in favor of the Adventist intellectuals of Spain that has not been done yet?

It would be profitable, I think, to organize from time to time courses or seminars, adapted to their specific backgrounds, that would allow them to combine, without mental traumas, the requirements of science and those of faith in different disciplines. The necessary means should be provided so that the largest number of people may participate. Our intellectuals deserve special attention. The investments made in their favor will be like the seed sown “on good soil” (Matthew 13:23).

Interview by Pietro E. Copiz. Born in Romania, Pietro E. Copiz (Ph.D., University of Michigan) served as university professor and education director of the Euro-Africa Division of Seventh-day Adventists before retiring near Bern, Switzerland. E-mail: Carlos Puyol’s address: Schosshaldenstrasse 17; 3006 Berne; Switzerland. E-mail: