Concerning the belief and conduct of the Waldenses in Bohemia.
NOW, because the Waldenses being driven into Bohemia, have continued there several years, it is but reasonable for us with some attention to take a view of the state of those Churches. This, as on the one hand it will give us a just idea of the purity of that spring from whence this rivulet was supplied with water; so on the other hand, it will be useful to clear them from those calumnies wherewith the Bishop of Meaux has endeavored to overwhelm them, in his treatise concerning the Protestant variations. An equitable reader will be able to make his judgment from hence, whether the Protestants have any reason to be ashamed to own the ancient Waldenses to be their predecessors; and whether the Church of Rome did well in rejecting and despising the advices and remonstrances of these their censors.
We have two famous authors, who can inform us concerning the faith and conversation of the Waldenses in Bohemia; the one is an Inquisitor, who wrote in the fourteenth century, towards the end of it, “Who,” saith he, “had an exact knowledge of the Waldenses,” at whose trials he had often assisted; and that in several countries, as himself witnesseth.
The other is Aeneas Sylvius, who came to be Pope Pius II. in his History of Bohemia, chap. 35; where he gives us an exact description of them, as having been himself on the place, and had several conferences with them, and desiring to inform a Cardinal concerning them.
The first of these has borrowed a good part of Raynerus’s treatise, who wrote in Lombardy about the year 1250; which shows, that they had the same opinions at the end of the fourteenth century, which their ancestors had in Lombardy about the middle of the thirteenth. The thing that is singular in this author is this, not only that he prosecutes the same way of calumniating them upon many heads, which is the way of Inquisitors against pretended heretics, but that he hath annexed to every article of the Waldensian opinions, concerning the doctrines or practices of the Church of Rome, the occasion that induced them to embrace such opinions; which is a thing well worth our consideration, since we shall learn hereby, that the Waldenses had very exactly considered and weighed the doctrines and practices of that Church. I am resolved to lay down these their opinions; for as the proofs which the good Inquisitor allegeth to defend the opinions of his Church, they are for the most part so extravagant, that the meanest polemical writer of this age amongst Papists would think it an affront to his own judgment to make use of them.
The first general head of the errors of the Waldenses is said to be of their blasphemies against the Church of Rome, her practice, statutes, and her whole Clergy. Their errors (saith he) are distinguished into three parts; the first is, of their blasphemies, wherewith they blaspheme the Church of Rome, her practice, laws, and whole Clergy. The second part of their errors is about the Sacraments of the Church, and the saints. The third part is concerning their abhorrency of all the good and laudable customs of the Church.
Their first error, which comes under the first general head, is, “That the Church of Rome is not the Church of Jesus Christ, but an assembly of ungodly men; and that she has ceased from being the true Church from the time of Pope Sylvester, at which time the poison of temporal advantages was east into the Church
2. “That all vices and sins reign in that Church; and that they alone live righteously.
3. “That there is scarce any one to be found in the Church, that lives according to the Gospel rule besides themselves.
4. “That they are the true poor in spirit, who suffer persecution for the faith, and righteousness sake.
5. “That they are the true Church of Christ.
6. “That the eastern Church doth not value or regard the Church of Rome; and that the Church of Rome is the whore in the Revelation.
7.“They despise and reject all ordinances and statutes of the Church, as being too many, and very burdensome.
8.“That the Pope is the head and captain of all error.
9.“That the Prelates are the Scribes, and seeming religious Pharisees.
10.“That the Pope and all his Bishops are murderers by reason of the wars they foment.
11.“That we must not obey Prelates, but God alone. Acts 4.
12.“That none in the Church ought to be greater than any of their brethren, according to that of St. Matthew, But ye are all brethren.
13.“That no man ought to kneel to a Priest; Revelation the angel saith to St. John, See thou do it not.
14.“That tithes are not to be given to Priests, because there was no use of them in the primitive Church. 15.“That the Clergy ought not to enjoy any temporal possessions. Deuteronomy Neither the priest, nor any of the tribe of Levi, shall have any inheritance with the children of Israel, the sacrifices being their portion.
16.“That neither the Clergy nor Religious ought to enjoy any prebends.
17.“That the Bishops and Abbots ought not to enjoy any regalia.
18.“That neither the land nor people ought to be divided into parishes.
19. “That it is an evil thing to endow and found churches and monasteries; and that nothing ought to be left to churches by will; that there ought to be none a tenant to the Church. And they condemn all the Clergy for their idleness, telling them they ought to work with their hands, as the Apostles did. They reject all the titles of Prelates, as Pope, Bishop, etc. That no man ought to be compelled by force in matters of faith. They condemn all ecclesiastical offices, and look upon them as null and void. They despise the privileges of the Church, and disregard the immunity of the Church and of persons and things belonging to it. They contemn councils and synods, and say that all parochial rights are only inventions; and that all the observances of the Religious are nothing else but Pharisaical traditions.
“As to the second part of their errors, they condemn all the sacraments of the Church. Concerning the sacrament of Baptism, they say, that the Catechism signifies nothing; that the absolution pronounced over infants avails them nothing; that the godfathers and godmothers do not understand what they answer the Priest; that the oblation which is called al wegen is nothing but a mere invention. They reject all exorcisms and blessings: they wonder why none but the Bishops alone should have power to confirm. Concerning the sacrament of the Eucharist they say, that a Priest guilty of mortal sin, cannot celebrate that Sacrament; but that a good layman, yea, a woman, if she knows the sacramental words, may. That transubstantiation is not performed by the hands of him who celebrates unworthily, but in the mouth of the worthy receiver, and that it may be celebrated on our common tables. Malach. In every place shall a pure offering be offered to my name. They condemn the custom of believers communicating no more than once a year, whereas they communicate daily. That transubstantiation is performed by words uttered in the vulgar tongue. That the Mass signifies nothing; that the Apostles knew nothing of it, and that it is only done for gain. They reject the Canon of the Mass, and only make use of the words of Christ in their vulgar tongue. They declare the singing in the Church to be no better than hellish howling They despise canonical hours. That the offering made by the Priest in the Mass is of no value. They reject the kiss of peace, that of the altar of the Priest’s hands, and Pope’s feet. They say concerning the sacrament of Penance, that none can be absolved by a wicked Priest. That a good layman hath the power of absolving; and that they, by laying on of their hands, can forgive sins and confer the Holy Ghost. That it is much better to confess to a good laic, than to a wicked Priest. That no heavy penances ought to be imposed according to the example of Christ, who said to the woman taken in adultery, Go thy way, and sin no more. All public penances and chains they disapprove of, especially in women. That a general confession ought not to be made every year. They condemn the sacrament of Marriage, declaring, that those who enter into the state of marriage without hope of children are guilty of mortal sin. Compaternity, they say, signifies nothing as to the hindering of marriage, neither have they any regard to the degrees of carnal or spiritual affinity, which the Church observes, nor to the impediments of order and public decency, or to the prohibition of the Church in that matter. That a woman after childbirth doth not stand in need of any blessing or churching. That it was an error of the Church to forbid the Clergy to marry; whereas the same is allowed of by the Eastern Church: that it is no sin in those who are continent, to kiss or embrace.
They disallow of the sacrament of extreme Unction, because the same is only given to the rich, and because many Priests are necessary to administer it. They hold the sacrament of Orders to be of no use, because every good layman is a Priest, the Apostles themselves being all laymen. That the preaching of a wicked Priest cannot profit any body. That what is uttered in the Latin tongue can be of no use to laymen. They mock at the tonsure of Priests. They reproach the Church that she raiseth bastards, boys, and notorious sinners, to high ecclesiastical dignities. That every layman, yea, and woman too, may preach. Corinth. For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may be edified. Whatsoever is preached without Scripture proof, they account no better than fables. That the holy Scripture is of the same efficacy in the vulgar tongue as in Latin, and accordingly they communicate, and administer the sacraments in the vulgar tongue. They can say a great part of the Old and New Testament by heart. They despise the Decretals, and the sayings and expositions of holy men, and only cleave to the text of Scripture. They contemn excommunication, neither do they value absolution, which they expect from God alone. They reject the indulgences of the Church, deride dispensations, neither do they believe any irregularity. They admit none for saints, save only the Apostles; they pray to no saint. They contemn the canonization, translation, and the vigils of the saints. They laugh at those laymen who choose themselves saints at the altar. They never read the Litany. They give no credit to the legends of the saints, and make a mock of the saints’ miracles. They despise the relics of the saints. They abhor the wood of the holy cross, because of Christ’s suffering on it, neither do they sign themselves with it. That the doctrine of Christ and the Apostles is sufficient to salvation, without any Church statutes and ordinances. That the traditions of the Church are no better than the traditions of the Pharisees; and that greater stress is laid on the observation of human traditions, than on the keeping of the law of God. Matthew Why do ye transgress the law of God by your traditions? They refute the mystical sense of Scripture, especially in sayings and actions traditionally delivered and published by the Church; as that the cock upon steeples signifies the pastor, and such like.
“Their errors of a third rank are these; they contemn all approved ecclesiastical customs, which they do not read of in the Gospel, as the observation of Candlemas, Palm Sunday, the reconciliation of penitents, the adoration of the cross on Good Friday. They despise the feast of Easter, and all other festivals of Christ and the saints, because of their being multiplied to that vast number, and say, that one day is as good as another, and work upon holydays, where they can do it, without being taken notice of. They disregard the Church fists, alleging that of Isaiah 58. Is this the fast that I have chosen? They deride and mock at all dedications, consecrations, and benedictions of candles, ashes, palm branches, oil, fire, wax-candles, agnus Dei, women after childbearing, strangers, holy places and persons, vestments, salt and water. They look upon the church, built of stone, to be no better than a common barn, and call it commonly steinbaus, neither do they believe that God dwells there; Acts 17. God doth not dwell in temples made with bands: and that prayer made in them is of no greater efficacy, than those which we offer up in our closets, Matthew 6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet. They have no value for the dedication of churches, and call the ornaments of the altar, the sin of the Church, and that it were much better to clothe the poor, than to deck walls. They say concerning the altar, that it is wastefulness to let so much cloth lie rotting upon stones, and that Christ never gave to his disciples vests, nor rockets, nor mitres. They celebrate the Eucharist in their household cups, and say, that the corporal, or cloth on which the Host is laid, is no holier than the cloth of their breeches. Concerning lights used in the Church, they say, that God, who is the true light, doth not stand in need of light, and that it can have no further use in the Church, than to hinder the Priests from stumbling in the dark. They reject all censings. Holy water they esteem no better than common water. the images and pictures in the church they declare to be idolatry. They mock at the singing in churches, that the efficacy is only in words, and not in the music. They deride the cries of the laymen, and reject all festival processions, as those at Easter, as well as mournful processions in Rogation-week and at funerals. They say, that the singing by day and by night is a thing lately instituted by Gregory, which in former times was not used in the Church. They find fault, that the Priest suffers many masses to be sung the same day for several persons. They laugh at the custom of bringing sick persons on a bench before the altar to make their supplications there for health. They rejoice whenever there is a public interdict, because then they corrupt many, saying, that they are forced to go to church for outward gain’s sake; for they themselves also go to church, and hypocritically offer, confess, and communicate. They dissuade people from going on pilgrimage to Rome, and other places beyond sea; though they themselves pretend to go on pilgrimage, whereas it is only with design to visit their Bishops, who live in Lombardy. They express no value for the Lord’s sepulcher, as well as those of the saints; and condemn the burying in churches. Matthew 23:Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, because ye build the tombs, etc.; and would choose rather to be buried in the field than in the church-yard, were they not afraid of the Church. That the offices for the deceased, masses for the dead, offerings, funeral pomps, last wills, legacies, visiting of graves, the reading of vigils, anniversary masses, and other like suffrages, are of no advantage to the souls of the deceased. They condemn the watching with the dead by night, because of the follies and wickedness which are acted on these occasions. They disallow of the confraternities of clergymen and laymen, which is called zech; and declare that all these are only invented for lucre’s sake.”
“They hold all these errors, because they deny purgatory, saying, that there are no more than two ways, the one of the elect to heaven, the other of the damned to hell. Ecclesiastes 11: Which way soever the tree falleth, there it must lie. That a good man stands in no need of any intercessions, and that they cannot profit those that are wicked. That all sins are mortal, and none at all venial. That once praying of the Lord’s Prayer is of more efficacy than the ringing of ten bells, yea, than the Mass itself. That all swearing is a mortal sin; Matthew: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; but let your communication be, Yea, yea, and Nay, nay. They think it is an oath to say verily or certainly, thereby to excuse himself from sin; that he may not divulge secrets: yea, they account him worse than a murderer, that compels another to swear; as likewise he that confers confirmation, because he exacts an oath from the party that is confirmed, and a judge of witnesses in law; as likewise doth the Inquisitor and the Priest, that force men to abjure their sins, by which means many become perjured. They reprove those who assert, that he who breaks his promise or oath made to the Priest is guilty of seven perjuries. That all judges and princes are damned, and they declare, that malefactors ought not to be condemned; Romans 12: Vengeance is mine, I will repay it, saith the Lord. Matthew 13 Suffer them both to grow together till the time of harvest. They say, that all ecclesiastical courts, held by Clergymen, are not maintained for the correction of evil doers, but for the profit which they bring along with them.”
“AEeas Sylvius gives us the following account of the Waldenses of Bohemia, in his history of that kingdom: That the Pope of Rome is equal with other Bishops: that there is no difference amongst Priests: that priesthood is not a dignity, but that grace and virtue only give the preference: that the souls of the deceased are either immediately plunged into hell, or advanced to eternal joys: that there is no purgatory fire: that it is a vain thing to pray for the dead, and a mere invention of priestly covetousness: that the images of God and the saints ought to be destroyed: that the blessing of water and palm branches is ridiculous: that the religion of the Mendicants was invented by evil spirits: that priests ought to be poor, and only content themselves with alms: that every one has liberty to preach: no capital sin ought to be tolerated upon pretense of avoiding a greater evil: that he who is guilty of mortal sin ought not to enjoy any secular or ecclesiastical dignity, or to be obeyed in any thing: that the confirmation which is celebrated with anointing, and extreme Unction, is none of the sacraments of the Church: that auricular Confession is a piece of foppery: that every one in his closet ought to confess his sins to God: that Baptism ought to be celebrated without the addition of holy oil: that the use of churchyards is vain, and nothing but a covetous invention: that it is all one what ground dead bodies be buried in: that the temple of the great God is the whole world, and that it is a limiting of the Divine Majesty, to build churches, monasteries, and oratories, as if the Divine Goodness could more favourably be found in them than elsewhere: that the priestly vestments, altar, ornaments, palls, corporals, chalices, patins, and other vessels, are of no efficacy: that a Priest may in any place consecrate the body of Christ, and give it to those who desire it, by reciting only. the sacramental words: that it is in vain to implore the suffrages of the saints reigning with Christ in heaven, because they cannot help us: that it is to no purpose to spend one’s time in singing and saying the Canonical Hours: that we are to cease from working on no day except the Lora’s day: that the holydays of saints are to be rejected; and that there is no merit in observing the fasts instituted by the Church.”
I do believe that it is not too hard for any judicious reader to consider,
1. The difference between those accounts given by these authors: it is too sensible not to be suddenly perceived.
2. That the Dominican Friar has strangely increased the number of controversies, picking out all occasions to exasperate his reader against them.
3. That he has represented those controversies in a very scurrilous manner, to make them the more ridiculous: from which way we do confess that Aeneas Sylvius was very far.