Chapter 15


 Peter Waldo

  "The Cathari, who were evidently a people of God, received great accessions of members from the learned labors and godly zeal of Peter Waldo, an opulent merchant of Lyons, toward the close of the twelfth century. They were gloriously distinguished by a dreadful series of persecution, and exhibited a spectacle, both of the power of Divine grace, and of the malice and enmity of the world against the real gospel of Jesus Christ. I purpose to represent in one connected view the history of this people till a little after the time of the Reformation. The spirit, doctrine, and progress of the Waldenses, will be more clearly understood by this method, than by a broken place in which their story should be introduced.

"These people were numerous in the valleys of Piedmont. Hence the name Vaudois, or Vallenses was given them, particularly to those who inhabited the valleys of Luverne and Argorgne. A mistake arose from similarity of names, that Peter Valdo, or Waldo, was the first founder of these churches. For the name Vallenses being easily changed into Waldenses, the Romanists improved this very easy and natural mistake into an argument against the antiquity of these churches, and denied that they had any existence till the appearance of Waldo. During the altercations of the papists and protestants, it was of some consequence that this matter should be rightly stated; because the former denies that the doctrines of the latter had any existence till the days of Luther. But from a just account of the subject, it appeared, that the real protestant doctrines existed during the dark ages of the church, long before Waldo's time.

"About 1160, the doctrine of transubstantiation was required by the court of Rome to be acknowledged by all men. This led to idolatry. Men fell down before the consecrated host and worshiped it as God. The impiety of this abomination shocked the minds of all men who were not dead to a sense of true religion. The mind of Peter Waldo was aroused to oppose the abomination, and to strive for a reformation. A fear of God, in union with an alarming sense of the wickedness of the times, led him to conduct with courage in opposing the dangerous corruptions of the hierarchy. He abandoned his mercantile occupation, distributed his wealth to the poor, who flocked to him to share his alms, received the best instructions he was capable of communicating, and reverenced the man, of whose liberality they partook, while the great and the rich both hated and despised him.

"A secular man like Waldo needed instruction. But where could it be found, at a time of such general ignorance and declension? He knew that the Scriptures were given by infallible guides, and thirsted for those sources of instruction, which, at that time, were in a great measure a sealed book in the Christian world. To men who understood the Latin tongue, they were accessible. But how few were these compared with the bulk of mankind! The Latin vulgate Bible was the only edition of the sacred book at that time in Europe: and, the languages then in common use, the French and others, however, mixed with the Latin, were, properly speaking, by this time separate and distinct from it. It appears that the Christian world under providence, was indebted to Waldo, for the first translation of the Bible into a modern tongue. No pains had been taken, by those who were attached to popish system, to diffuse Biblical knowledge among the vulgar. The benevolent attempt to send the bread of life among the common people, by giving them the Scriptures in their own tongue, if we accept the single instance of the Sclavonian version, was purely and exclusively of Protestant origin.

"As Waldo grew more acquainted with the Scriptures, he saw that the general practice of nominal Christians was totally abhorrent from the doctrines of the New Testament: and in particular, that a number of customs, which all the world regarded with reverence, had not only, no foundation in the divine oracles, but were even condemned by them. Inflamed with equal zeal and charity, he boldly condemned the reigning vices, and the arrogance of the pope. He did more: as he advanced in the knowledge of the true faith and love of Christ, he taught his neighbors the principles of practical godliness, and encouraged them to seek salvation by Jesus Christ.

"John de Bekes Mayons, archbishop of Lyons, a distinguished member of the corrupt system, forbade the new reformer to teach anymore, on pain of excommunication, and of being proceeded against as an heretic. Waldo replied, that though he was a layman, yet he could not be silent in a matter that concerned the salvation of men. On this, the archbishop endeavored to apprehend him. But the great affection of Waldo's friends, the influence of his relations, who were men of rank, the universal regard paid to his probity and piety, and the conviction which, no doubt many felt, that the extraordinary circumstances justified his assumption of the pastoral character; all things operated so strongly in his favor that he lived concealed at Lyons three years.

"Pope Alexander III, having heard of the proceedings of Waldo, anathematized him and adherents, and commanded the archbishop to proceed against him with the utmost rigor.

"Waldo fled from Lyons, and his disciples followed him. By this dispersion, the doctrine of Waldo was widely disseminated throughout Europe. In Dauphiny, whither he retired, his tenets took a deep and lasting root. Some of his people probably did join themselves to the Vaudois of Piedmont, and the new translation of the Bible, was, doubtless, a rich accession to the spiritual treasures of that people. Waldo himself, however, seems never to have been among them. Persecuted from place to place, he retired into Picardy. Success attended his labors; and the doctrines which he preached appear to have so harmonized with those of the Vaudois, that they and his people were henceforth considered as the same.

"To support and encourage the church, formed no part of the glory of the greatest and wisest princes of that age. Phillip Augustus, one of the most prudent and sagacious princes that France ever saw, was enslaved by the god of this world. He took up arms against the Waldenses of Picardy, pulled down 300 houses belonging to those who supported their party, destroyed some walled towns, and drove the inhabitants into Flanders. Not content with this, he pursued them thither, and caused many of them to be burned. It appears that, at this time, Waldo fled into Germany, and at last settled in Bohemia, where he ended his days about the year 1179. He appears to have been one of whom the world was not worthy, and to have turned many unto righteousness. The word of God then grew and multiplied. In Alsace and along the Rhine the gospel was preached with a powerful effusion of the Holy Spirit: persecution ensued, and 35 citizens of Nantz were burned at one fire, in the city of Bingen, and at Mentz, 18. In those persecutions, the bishop of Mentz was very active, and the bishop of Strasburg was not inferior to him in vindictive zeal: for, through his means, 80 persons were burned at that place. Everything relating to the Waldenses resembled the scenes of the primitive church. Numbers died praising God, and in confident assurance of a blessed resurrection; whence the blood of the martyrs became again the seed of the church; and in Bulgaria, Croatia, Dalmatia, and in Hungary, many churches were planted; which flourished in the thirteenth century, governed by Bartholomew, a native of Carcassone, a city not far from Poulouse, which might be called in those days; the metropolis of the Waldenses, on account of the numbers who there professed evangelical truth. In Bohemia and the country of Passaw, the churches were reckoned to have contained in the former part of the fourteenth century eighty thousand professors. Almost throughout Europe Waldenses were then to be found; and yet they were treated as the off-scouring of the earth, and as people against whom all the power of wisdom of the world were united. But, the witness continued to prophesy in sackcloth,' and souls were built up in the faith, hope, and charity of the gospel." -- Townsend's Abridgment, pp. 405-409.


The Waldensian Church of God

  During the twelfth century the work of the Church of God, known to the world as "Waldenses," was at its best since the days of the apostles. Men of ability had been raised to the leadership of God's people in the wilderness, and much increase was made in winning souls from paganistic Roman Catholicism of the dark ages. In various countries these people were known by many names which were not acknowledged by the people themselves. The predominating names brought to use by history are "Waldenses," "Cathari," and "Albigenses," but the people themselves objected to these man-made names.

From E. Comba's work, Guild Hall Library, London, we get the following. "The Waldenses objected to being called after Peter Waldo. They teach that We are a little Christian flock, falsely called Waldenses.' Further they say, We are proud of working,' and reproached the Roman clergy with idleness."

The enemies of the church, and also others who do not understand, attribute the beginning of the Waldenses, also known by other names, to the time of Peter Waldo, the leading preacher of his time; but a careful search will reveal that the Waldenses, as a people separate and distinct from Rome, existed prior to the ministry of Waldo.

"Further, the provincial councils of Toulouse in 1119, and of Lombez in 1886 [sic., 1186?], and the general councils of Lateran in 1139 and 1179, do not condemn them, as Albigenses, but as heretics; and when they particularize them, they denominate them as bons homet,' (i.e., good men) Cathari,' Paterini,' Publicani,' etc., which shows that they existed before they were generally known as Albigenses. It is also proved from their books that they existed as Waldenses before the times of Peter Waldo, who preached about the year of 1160. Perrin, who wrote their history, had in his possession a New Testament in the Vallese language, written on parchment, in a very ancient letter, and a book entitled, in their language, Quai cosa sia l'Antichrist?' that is, What Is Antichrist?' under date of the year 1120, which carries us back twenty years before Waldo. Another book, entitled The Noble Lesson,' is dated A.D. 1100." -- Jones' Church History, p. 232, ed. 1837.

Of these true servants of God, Milner bears the following witness: "In this century (XII) there were numerous opposers of the reigning idolatry and superstitions of the church of Rome, who were dominated by their enemies, Cathari; they, as to worldly property, were in low circumstances, and in general, mechanics. Cologne, Flanders, the south of France, Savoy, and Milan were their principal places of residence. These appear to have been a plain, unassuming, harmless, and industrious sect of Christians, condemning, by their doctrine and manners the whole apparatus of the fashionable idolatry and superstition, placing true religion in the faith and love of Christ, and retaining a supreme regard for the Divine Word. They seem to have conformed to the public worship much in the same manner as the apostles did to the Jewish church, while it existed, still preserving a union among themselves in worship, and in hearing sermons, so far as the iniquity of the times would permit.

"This people continued in a state of extreme persecution throughout this century. Bernard, who seems to have been extremely ill-informed concerning them, remarks that they had no particular father of their heresy, and condemns them in whatever respects they stood opposed to the high claims and superstitions of the church of Rome. We cannot, however, find that he ever opposed their real piety." -- Townsend's Abridgment, pp. 396, 397.

Let us note that Milner says Bernard knew of no particular father of their heresy.

Mr. Jones gives Saccho's own opinion, as following: "Their enemies confirm their great antiquity. Reinerius Saccho, an inquisitor, and one of their most cruel persecutors, who lived only eighty years after Waldo (A.D. 1160) admits that Gretser, the Jesuit, who also wrote against the Waldenses, and had examined the subject fully, not only admits their great antiquity, but declared his firm belief that the Toulousians and Albigenses, were no other than the Waldenses." -- Jones' History of the Church, vol. 2, chap. 5, sec. 1.

Concerning Waldenses, according to the Roman churchman Everiinusm, about 1140: "They say that the church is only among themselves, because they alone follow the ways of Christ, and imitate the apostles, not seeking secular gains, possessing no property, following the pattern of Christ, who was perfectly poor, nor permitted his disciples to possess anything." . . . "I must inform you, also that those of them who have returned to our (Roman) church, tell us that they had great numbers of their persuasion scattered almost everywhere, and that they had great numbers of our clergy and monks. And as for those who were burnt, they, in the defense they made for themselves, told us that this heresy had been concealed from the time of the martyrs, and that it had existed in Greece and other countries." -- Idem, pp. 210, 211.

These people of God then, as in all ages of the church, understood the prophesies applying to themselves, and understood that they were to be preserved by Jehovah in the wilderness until the time of persecution would end.

A celebrated leader among the Waldenses and Albigenses, Arder Joachim of Calabria, the year 1190, when in conversation with Richard, The Lion Hearted, said, "Certain wicked nations called Gog' and Magog' shall rise up to destroy the Church of God and shall subvert the race of Christians, and then shall be the day of judgment. He says John speaks of the church, that the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared of God that He should feed her there a thousand, two hundred, and sixty days."

"The ancient Waldenses . . . held that to endow churches from state funds is an evil thing,' and that the church then fell and became the whore, sitting on that beast mentioned in the book of the Revelation, when under Pope Sylvester, she received temporal donations." -- Idem, p. 266.

The true church while opposed by Rome, was respected by the people among whom she dwelt. Her doctrine was scriptural, and the lives of her people were faultless in that age of darkness.

In Encyclopaedia Metropolitania, London Library, on page 653, in speaking of heretics it says, "Of all the sects in this century (the twelfth), the one which by the purity of its doctrine, and by the ability of its leaders, there were none that surpassed the Waldenses."

From nation to nation the Waldenses fled, and never were secure from the unrelenting wrath of the minions of Rome. Anathema of Pope and edicts of kings repeatedly were hurled against them of which the following will suffice to show the fury of Rome against God's saints:

"Forasmuch as it has pleased God to set us (the Roman church) over his people . . . we . . . do command and charge that the Waldenses, Inzabbati, who otherwise are called the poor of Lyons,' and all other heretics who cannot be numbered, being excommunicated from the holy church to depart from out of our kingdom and all our dominions. Whosoever, therefore, from this day forward, shall presume to receive the said Waldenses and Inzabbati, or any other heretics of whatever profession, into their houses, or to be present at their pernicious sermons, or to afford them meat, or any other favor, shall thereby incur the indignation of Almighty God . . . ." -- Edict of Ildefonsus, King of Arragon, Spain, in the year 1194. From Pegna's Directory of the Inquisitors, in Jones' Church History, p. 237.


Some General Remarks

  "Here we are justly called upon to vindicate the claim, which this people made to the honorable character of the Church of God. In times of great declension, whoever is led by the Spirit of God to revive true religion, necessarily exposes himself to the invidious charges of arrogance, uncharitableness and self-conceit. By condemning all others, such a one provokes the rest of the world to observe and investigate his faults. These disadvantages the Waldenses had in common with other reformers; they had also disadvantages peculiarly their own. Power, knowledge, and learning were almost entirely in the hands of their adversaries: in them very particularly, God Almighty chose the weak and foolish things of the world, to confound the wise. As they were, for the most part, a plain and illiterate people, they furnished no learned divines, no profound reasoners, nor able historians. The vindication, therefore, of their claims to the character of a true church must be drawn principally from the holiness of their lives and the patience of their sufferings.

"Rainerious, the cruel persecutor, owns that the Waldenses frequently read the holy Scriptures, and in their preaching, cited the words of Christ and his apostles concerning love, humility, and other virtues; insomuch that the women who heard them, were enraptured with the sound. He further says, that they taught men to live, by the words of the gospel and the apostles, that they led religious lives; that their manners were seasoned with grace, and their words prudent; that they freely discoursed of divine things, that they might be esteemed, good men. He observes, likewise, that they taught their children and families the epistles and gospels. Claude, bishop of Turin, wrote a treatise against their doctrines, in which he candidly owns, that they themselves were blameless, without reproach among men, and that they observed the Divine commands with all their might.

"Jacob de Riberia says, that he had seen peasants among them who could recite the book of Job by heart; and several others, who could perfectly repeat the whole New Testament.

"The bishop of Cavaillon once obliged a teaching monk to enter into conference with them, that they might be convinced of their errors, and the effusion of blood might be prevented. This happened during a great persecution in 1540, in Merindol and Provence. But the monk returned in confusion, owning that he had never known in his whole life so much of the Scriptures, as he had learned during those few days, in which he had held conference with the heretics. The bishop however, sent among them a number of doctors, young men, who had lately come from the Sorbonne, at Paris, which was renowned for theological subtilty. One of them openly owned, that he had understood more of the doctrine of salvation from the answers of the little children in their catechism, than by all the disputations which he had ever heard. This is the testimony of Vesembecius in his oration concerning the Waldenses. The same author informs us farther, that Lewis XII importuned by the calumnies of informers, sent two respectable persons into Provence, to make inquiries. They reported, that in visiting all their parishes and temples, they found no images or Roman ceremonies, but, that they could not discover any marks of the crimes with which they were charged: That the sabbath day was strictly observed; that the children were baptized according to the rules of the primitive church, and instructed in the articles of the Christian faith, and the commandments of God. Lewis having heard the report declared with an oath, They are better men than myself or my people.'

"We must add here the testimony of that great historian, Thuanus, enemy, indeed, of the Waldenses, though a fair and candid one.

"He is describing one of the valleys inhabited by this people in Dauphiny, which is called the stony valley. Their clothing,' he says, is of the skins of sheep; they have no linen. They inhabit seven villages: their houses are constructed of flint stone, with a flat roof covered with mud, which being spoiled or loosened by rain, they smooth again with a roller. In these they live with their cattle, separated from them, however, by a fence. They have besides two caves, set apart for particular purposes, in one of which they conceal their cattle, in the other, themselves, when hunted by their enemies. They live on milk and venison, being by constant practice, excellent marksmen. Poor as they are, they are content, and live separate from the rest of mankind. One thing is astonishing, that persons externally so savage and rude, should have so much moral cultivation. They can all read and write. They are acquainted with French so far as is needful for the understanding of the Bible, and the singing of psalms. You can scarce find a boy among them, who cannot give you an intelligible account of the faith which they profess, in this, indeed, they resemble their brethren of the other valley, they pay tribute with a good conscience, and the obligation of this duty is particularly noted in the confession of their faith. If by any reason of the civil wars, they are prevented from doing this, they carefully set apart the sum, and at the first opportunity put it to the king's taxgatherers.'

"Francis I, the successor of Lewis XII, received, on inquiry the following information concerning the Waldenses of Merindol, and other neighboring places; namely, that they were a laboring people, who came from Piedmont to dwell in Provence, about 200 years ago; that they had much improved the country by their industry; that their manners were most excellent; that they were honest, liberal, hospitable, and human; that they were distinct from others in this, that they could not bear the sound of blasphemy, or the naming of the devil, or any oaths, except on solemn occasions; and that if they ever fell into company where blasphemy or lewdness formed the substance of the discourse, they instantly withdrew themselves. Such were the testimonies to the character of this people from enemies!

"Luther, who owns that he was once prejudiced against them, testifies that he understood by their confessions and writings, that they had been for ages singularly expert in the use of the scriptures. He rejoiced and gave thanks to God, that he had enabled the reformed and the Waldenses, to see and own each other as brethren. By the general confession of the Romanists, it appears, that the Protestants and the Waldenses, were looked on as holding the same principles. The churches of Piedmont were, however, on account of their superior antiquity, regarded as guides of the rest.

"From the borders of Spain, throughout the South of France for the most part, among and below the Alps, along the Rhine, on both sides of its course, and even to Bohemia, thousands of godly souls were seen patiently to bear persecution for the sake of Christ, against whom malice could say no evil, except that which admits the most satisfactory refutation: men distinguished for every virtue, and only hated because of godliness itself. Persecutors with a sigh owned, that, because of their virtue, they were the most dangerous enemies of the church. But of what church? Of that, which the thirteenth century, and long before, had shown itself to be antichristian. How faithful is the promise of God in supporting and maintaining a church, even in the darkest times! But her livery is often sackcloth, and her external bread is that of affliction, while she sojourns on the earth.

"The Waldenses were conscientiously obedient to established governments, and their separation from a church, so corrupt as that of Rome, was with them only a matter of necessity. We shall now see what they were in point of doctrine and discipline."


The Doctrine and Discipline of the Waldenses

  "The leading principle of this church was, that we ought to believe that the holy Scriptures alone contain all the things necessary to our salvation, and that nothing ought to be received as an article of faith but what God hath revealed to us.' Wherever this principle dwells in the heart, it expels superstition and idolatry. There the worship of one God, through the one Mediator, and by the influence of one Holy Spirit, is practiced sincerely. The dreams of purgatory, the intercession of saints, the adoration of images, dependence on relics and austerities, cannot stand before the doctrine of Scripture. The Waldenses were faithful to the great fundamental principle of Protestantism. They affirm that there is only one mediator, and therefore we must not invocate the saints. That there is no purgatory; but that all those, who are justified by Christ, go into life eternal.

"A number of their old treatises evince, that for some hundred years, the principles of the gospel, which alone can produce such holiness of life as the Waldenses exhibited in their conduct, were professed, understood, and embraced by this chosen people, while Antichrist was in the very height of his power.

"In a book concerning their pastors we have this account of their vocation.

"All who are to be ordained as pastors among us, while they are yet at home, entreat us to receive them into the ministry, and desire that we would pray to God, that they may be rendered capable of so great a charge. They are to learn by heart all the chapters of St. Matthew and St. John, all the canonical epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David, and the prophets. Afterwards, having exhibited proper testimonials of their learning and conversation, they are admitted as pastors by the imposition of hands. The junior pastors must do nothing without the license of their seniors; nor are the seniors to undertake anything without the approbation of their colleagues, that everything may be done among us in order. We pastors meet together once every year, to settle our affairs in a general synod. Those whom we teach, afford us food and raiment with good will, and without compulsion. The money given us by the people is carried to the general synod, is there received by the elders, and is applied partly to the supply of travelers, and partly to the relief of the indigent. If a pastor among us shall fall into gross sin, he is ejected from the community, and debarred from the function of preaching.'

"The Waldenses in general expressed their firm belief that there is no other mediator than Jesus Christ: they spake with great respect of the virgin Mary as holy, humble, and full of grace; at the same time they totally discountenanced that senseless and extravagant admiration in which she has been held for ages.

"The labors of Claudius, of Turin, in the ninth century, appear, under God, to have produced these blessed results as to the faith and honesty of the Waldenses. Men, who spend and are spent for the glory of God, and for the profit of souls, have no conception on the importance of their efforts. These often remain in durable effects, to succeeding generations, and are blessed to the emancipation of thousands from the dominion of sin and Satan.

"The Waldenses took special care for the religious instruction of their children, by catechetical and expository tracts, adapted to the plainest understandings. These formed a very salutary body of instruction, and early taught the youth the great things which pertained to life and godliness. If more could be said of this people, than that they hated the gross abomination of popery, and condemned the vices of the generality of mankind, they might have been ostentatious Pharisees, or self-sufficient Socians. But though, no doubt, there were unsound professors among them, as among all denominations, yet in their community, there were many real Christians, who knew how to direct the edge of their severity against their indwelling sins; and who being truly humbled under a view of their native depravity, betook themselves wholly to the grace of God in Christ for salvation.

"It is clearly evident from the general current of their history, that the Waldenses were a humbled people, prepared to receive the gospel of Christ from the heart, to walk in His steps, to carry His cross, and to fear sin above all other evils. They were devoutedly strict in the discharge of family religion. In some ancient inquisitorial memoirs, describing their names and customs, it is said of them: Before they go to meat, the elder among them says, "God, who blessed the five barley loaves and two fishes in the wilderness, bless this table, and that which is upon it, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." And after meat he says, "The God, who has given us corporal food, grant us spiritual life, and may God be with us, and we always with Him." After their meals, they teach and exhort one to another.'

"There were evidently many humble and devout followers of Christ among this people, who felt the power and enjoyed the consolations of the doctrines of the cross." -- Townsend's Abridgment, pp. 409-416.


Continue with Chapter 16.

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