That the Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont have constantly persevered in the same faith, until the time of the Reformation.
THIS is a confession which truth hath extorted from Claudius Seisselius. The most cruel persecutions have not been able to abolish the Churches of Italy, or to hinder them from a constant defense of that truth, which they received from their ancestors, as a sacred depositum. “All sorts of people,” saith he, “have several times in vain endeavored to root them out, and yet, contrary to the opinion of all men, they have still continued conquerors, or at least wholly invincible.”
It is easy to judge what the opinions of these Churches were before the Reformation, from what Seisselius himself tells us concerning them, before ever they heard of any reformation.
First, They lay it down as an infallible maxim, that the Pastors of the Romish Church had lost all the lawful authority which they could once have received from God. There were two causes, say they, of the election of Peter and the rest of the Apostles; the first was, because Christ knew their faith and their charity; the other, that by means of them he might reap much fruit from the rest of mankind: as also, that it might appear, that in this choice there was no respect of persons, but only regard had to their piety; and this to that degree, that in case they departed from it, they should not only fall from his grace and favor, but also be deprived of the authority he had conferred upon them. He saith elsewhere; I am the way, the truth, and the life; let him that serves me, follow me: and in another place, I am the vine, ye are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, brings forth much fruit: but he who abides not in me, shall be cut off, and cast into the fire. So long then as the Apostles continued in Christ, (now they always continued, from the time that they first received the Spirit,) the foundation of the universal Church has without doubt continued firm and unshaken, as resting upon most strong pillars and bases; and so likewise continued under their successors, as long as they imitated the actions, life, manners, and faith of the Apostles. But as soon as these successors began to wander and go astray from the precepts and doctrine of the Apostles, being seduced by divers lusts and sins, they no doubt departed also from Christ, and Christ from them, and consequently were cut off from his mystical body; for we cannot call them the Ministers of Christ, who are so far from following him, that they follow a quite contrary way. Whence it happens, that from a fruitful tree they are become the evil and unfruitful tree, which can bring forth no good fruit, except it be first made good itself; as our Savior himself witnesseth, saying, The evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. So that the reason for which they were chosen ceasing, the effect of it must needs cease also. It is evident then that a wicked man, by his impiety, is cut off from the body of Christ, as a useless branch is cut off from the vine. Besides, he who is a child and slave of the Devil cannot have the same relation to Christ, seeing he-himself saith, No man can serve two masters; and elsewhere, Ye are of your father the Devil, because ye do his works. And besides, all those who offend God by enormous crimes, according to the testimony of the Prophet, are blotted out of the book of life, and consequently are rooted out from the kingdom of heaven, that is to say, the Church.
They maintain, that believers ought to separate themselves from the communion of the Church of Rome, because she has lost all her just authority, by the crimes of her Ministers, and her errors in matters of faith. Our Savior has warned us, say they, to beware of this sort of people; Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves: and that they might not be at a loss who those were they were to take heed of, he adds, You shall know them by their fruits. Now the fruits are our works; if they are evil, we be to be avoided, though we may be clothed like sheep.
When things are thus, how can that Bishop or Priest, who is the enemy of God, have the power of making God propitious to others? He who himself is banished from the kingdom of heaven, how can he have the keys of it? With what power can he confer orders? How can he administer the sacraments in the virtue of the Spirit, especially considering, that the Spirit is so far from dwelling in him, that he is an enemy of the Spirit? Surely the Spirit of God does not dwell in a body that is a slave to sin, but rather abominates both his actions and prayers. And if God doth not hear the wicked, in vain do we implore the suffrages of him, who himself hath not God favorable to him. In a word, since neither his prayers nor his other actions are of any advantage, how can we suppose, that at his word Christ should transform himself under the species of bread and wine, and suffer himself to be handled by him whom he hath altogether rejected, and whose actions he detests and abhors? Moreover, O immortal God, what wise man can ever believe, that a king, endowed with the least grain of wisdom, will bestow his lieutenancy with sovereign power upon him to whom he scorns to allow a place amongst the meanest of his servants, him whom he thinks deserving the very worst of punishments? Who is the shepherd that trusts the wolf with his sheep? Shall a wise man trust his most chaste spouse with a filthy and dissolute libertine? Besides, is not he who turns himself away from God reduced to nothing? The Prophet saith, The wicked in his presence comes to nothing; also they shall be brought to nothing, like water that fleets away: and in many other places you will find the same. He therefore that is nothing, cannot be supposed to do any thing. And that we might not imagine that these things want Scripture testimonies to prove them, hear what God himself declares; To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? I am sated with the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. And then adds, Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with. Your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye multiply your prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. And Malachi, speaking of these wicked Priests, cries out in this manner; I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord, neither will I receive any offering at your hands. And a little lower, I will curse your blessings. After this he answers a tacit objection; for they might alleges that God had confirmed the priesthood to Levi by an eternal covenant, and therefore that he could not remove it from their family. But to this he plainly answers, that his covenant continued firm with the family of Levi, as long as they walked in the steps of their father Levi: for after he had said, My covenant of life and peace was with him; and I gave him my fear, and he feared me; he adds, But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have broken the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, etc. Which words are very applicable to all Bishops and Priests who transgress the ordinances of Christ and his Apostles; seeing he also speaks by another Prophet, I have hated the congregation of evil doers, and will not sit with the wicked. And elsewhere, I hate those that do wickedness, and all the workers of iniquity; and infinite such like passages. Is it not said of Saul, after that he had transgressed the commandment of the Lord, that the Spirit of God departed from him, though before he had been chosen by God himself to govern his people? Moreover, does not Christ say in the Gospel, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me? and afterwards, No man can serve two masters, God and mammon? and that which is yet plainer and harder too, He who doth not forsake all that he hath, cannot be my disciple? Shall we imagine that he will commit his vicegerency to him whom he will not accept for his disciple? Now, if the Popes be such, who will part with nothing that belongs to them, and in other things do not keep the law of Christ, with what power then do they ordain Bishops? And those who receive any Orders from them, how can they confer the same upon others, since they are all of them sick of the same disease? In short, if they confer no Orders, then those whom they have ordained cannot be true Priests, and consequently neither can they administer any true sacrament; for if they really had Orders, yet they would defile them by the filthiness and impurity of their lives. If therefore we can make it appear, that such are all the Priests and Bishops of the Church of Rome, it will be evident, that the Church of God cannot consist of them; for Christ cannot be the head of them who are none of his members.
Some, it may be, will imagine that these accusations against the Church of Rome, and the corruption of her Pastors, are extremely exaggerated. But first, we have reason to commend the uprightness of Claudius Seisselius, in reference to these criminations, if we further consider what he saith of the Waldenses in opposition to the Church of Rome.
“The Pope of Rome, and the rest of the Prelates and Priests of the Church of Rome, do neither follow the life nor the precepts of Christ, but do quite the contrary; and that no longer secretly, but so openly and manifestly, that it can no longer be hid or covered with a vail, because they chiefly value themselves in things that are contrary to religion, and do not only contemn, but mock at the precepts of the Apostles. They lived in great poverty, humility, chastity, continence, as to carnal things, and contempt of the world: whereas we Prelates and Priests live in great pomp, luxuriousness, and dissoluteness; we think it a brave thing to excel in royal power, rather than sacerdotal sanctity; and all our endeavors and studies drive only at the acquisition of glory amongst men, not by virtue, holiness, and learning, but by the abundance and plenty of all things, by arms and warlike magnificence, and by a vast expense in an equipage, and furniture of horses, gold, and other things of that nature. The Apostles would not possess any thing as their own, nor would receive any into their society who had not forsaken all, and laid it in common: whereas we, not being contented with what we have already, fish for other people’s goods, more avariciously and impudently than heathens themselves; therefore it is that we make wars, and incite Christian princes and people to take up arms. The Apostles travelling through towns and villages, and sowing the word of God with power, exercised besides many offices of charity, according to the several gifts they had received: whereas we do not only do nothing like this, and give no good examples of holy conversation, but besides, we frequently resist and oppose those that do, opening the way to all dissoluteness and avarice. They, as it were, against their wills, and with reluctancy, by the command or inspiration of God, received ordination to promote the salvation of others: whereas we buy benefices and preferments for money, or procure them by force, or by the favor of princes, and other indirect means, and for no other end but to satiate our lusts, to enrich our relations, and for the glory of the world. But besides all this, they spent their life in manifold fastings, watchings, and labors, being neither aftrighted with trouble nor with danger, that they might shew to others the way to salvation: whereas we pass our time in idleness, in pleasures, and other earthly or wicked things. They despising gold and silver, as they had received the divine grace freely, so they dispensed it to others: whereas we set all holy things to sale, and barter with the heavenly treasures of God himself, and, in a word, confound all things, both divine and human. So that the Church of Rome cannot be said to be the spouse of Christ, but that common prostitute whom Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and St. John in the Revelation, describes in such lively colors; for Christ hath joined his Church to him to be his bride, holy, pure, fair, adorned with the ornaments and jewels of all virtues, without spot or wrinkle, such as the Holy Spirit figuratively describes her in the Canticles. Far be it therefore that Christ should ever think of changing this his beautiful and lovely bride, for such a stinking, loathsome harlot.”
Secondly, We may say, that the case was so plain, that no disguise or excuse was any longer able to palliate the matter. “We do not deny,” say the Waldenses, according to the account Seisselius gives us, “but that God alone is the searcher of hearts, who, as the Scripture saith, searcheth the heart and trieth the reins; and therefore that he alone knows whether the works of men be pleasing unto him, and obtain his favor, which others cannot know, save only by conjecture. But he himself hath taught us how we may know it, saying, You shall know them by their fruits; for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor a good tree evil fruit. Wherefore, though it be a difficult thing to judge of good works, because they receive their value from the intention of the doer, yet wicked works discover themselves, and the intention cannot make them good, especially when they are evidently repugnant to the law of God, and open and barefaced. And therefore, if I see the Bishops and Priests every day living in dissoluteness and luxury, robbing others of their goods, smiting their neighbors, persecuting those that are good, blaspheming the name of God, prodigally wasting the patrimony of the Church in voluptuousness and damnable crimes, may not I undoubtedly affirm, that they who commit these things are not the Ministers of God, but his public and avowed enemies? Surely such they are, though we should suppose created or confirmed by an universal synod of Christians, or by the Pope, or by Peter himself. But how much more may we conclude them such, when those who ordain them are worse than they themselves, and their works openly worse than theirs? What shall we say, if it appears that they have publicly and notoriously bought the papacy; that they openly set to sale sacerdotal functions; and that they set over the Churches, not by mistake, but out of malice, those who are known to be wholly unworthy of that charge; and who never in all their lifetime did any thing worthy either of a Priest, or so much as of a Christian? Shall we obey such Priests and Prelates, who lead us the way to salvation neither by word nor work, but rather endeavour all they can to drag us into the same pit of destruction after them? Doth not our Savior tell us, that we must not suffer ourselves to be led by blind guides, lest, when one blind man leads another, they both fall into the ditch? Hath not he declared, that such as these are cut off from the life of the Church and the body of Christ, and destined to the fire? How can he be the vicegerent of Christ, who is not so much as a Christian, or a member of the mystical body of Christ, whom he commands us to avoid as a heathen and publican, as long as he continues incorrigible. And the apostolical authority, the faith of Peter, which Christ saith should not fail the Catholic Church, with whom he promiseth to abide for ever, is to be found amongst us who imitate the life of the Apostles, who, according to our weakness, observe their commands and ordinances. We are those very persons of whom St. Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Corinthians;
Brethren, consider your calling, that you are not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: but God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and the weak things of this world, to confound the things that are mighty; and the base and despised things of this world, yea, the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are. And St. Paul himself tells us, that he was sent to preach the Gospel, not in the mightiness of man’s wisdom, but in simplicity and plainness; alleging to this purpose what the Lord saith elsewhere; I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nought the prudence of the prudent.”
Without doubt the Bishop of Meaux will tell us, that all this is nothing else but the overflowing of a schismatical temper, exasperated by the corruption of the Clergy and their licentiousness; but that indeed there is nothing in all this that shews them to have held the same principles with those of the Reformation. I shall then make it my business to evidence the contrary, and that after so clear and visible a manner, that the Bishop shall no longer be in a condition to disguise it. What Seisselius tells us in particular, concerning the articles of their faith, is this:
“They receive only, saith he, what is written in the Old and New Testament.”
“They say, that the Popes of Rome, and other Priests, have depraved the Scriptures by their doctrines and glosses.”
“They say, that they owe neither tithes nor firstfruits to the Clergy.”
“They say, that the consecrations of churches, indulgences, and other such like benedictions, are the inventions of false Priests.”
“They do not celebrate the festivals of the saints.”
“They say, that men do not stand in need of the suffrages of the saints: Christ abundantly sufficing in all things.”
“They affirm, that marriage may be contracted in any degree, excepting only one or two at the most; as if the Popes had no power to prohibit marriage in any other degrees.”
“They say, that whatever is done to deliver the souls of the dead from the pains of purgatory, is useless, lost, and superstitious.”
“They say, that our Priests have no power of forgiving sins.”
“They say, that they alone observe the evangelical and apostolical doctrine, and upon this account, by an intolerable impudence, they usurp the name of the Catholic Church.”
Their Barbae, saith Seisselius, do err greatly, because they are neither sent of God, nor by the Pastors of the Church, but of the Devil; as appears from their damnable doctrine.
“They say, that the authority of hearing confessions belongs to all Christians that walk according to the Apostles’ precepts, (which their Barbae attribute to themselves,) because St. James saith, Confess your sins one to another.”
“They say, that we ought not to admit any kind of prayer, except it appear that it was composed by some certain author, and approved of God, in order to obtain something of him. Their Barbae have often preached this doctrine, to abolish the service of the glorious Virgin, and of other saints.”
“They do not think that Christians ought to say the angelical salutation to the mother of God, alleging, that it has not the form of a prayer, but a salutation: but it is only that they might rob the Virgin of this service, saying, that it is not lawful to worship or serve her any more than the rest of the saints.”
“They affirm, that the blessings of the Priests are of no virtue at all. Did not Christ bless the bread in the desert? When the Apostles sat down to eat bread, they blessed what was set upon the table.”
“They say, there is no need of holy water in the churches, because neither Christ himself nor his Apostles either made it or commanded it: as if we ought to say or do nothing but what we read was done by them.”
“They say, that the indulgences allowed of by the Church are despicable useless things.”
“They say, that the souls of the dead, without being tried by any purgation, do immediately upon their parting from the body enter into joy or pains, and that the Clergy, blinded by their covetousness, have invented purgatory.”
“They say, that the saints cannot take notice of what is done here below.”
“They abhor and detest all images, and the sign of the cross, much more than we honor them.”
“They make no distinction between the worship of latria, which is due to God only, and that of dulia, which belongs to the saints.”
“As to the fasts, which the Catholic Church has instituted for the honor of God and the saints, they have yet less reason to object these to us.”
There is a pleasant error Seisselius ascribes to them, about the nature of lying, which evidenceth how great their purity was as to this article, and with what impudence it is that their enemies calumniate them with equivocation. “They affirm, that a lie is always a mortal sin, because David says, God destroys all liars.” But it is evident that these general propositions are to be moderated, otherwise who should be saved? Hereupon to convince them in an error, he accuseth all the saints, even St. Paul and Christ himself, to have made use of lies upon occasion.
But because in all this we have made no mention of transubstantiation, the Bishop of Meaux will take it for granted, that in Seisselius’s time the Waldenses received it as a doctrine of faith; but he will mistake himself if he do, for Seisselius declares, that they rejected it as a great extravagance. He tells us also,
“That they made a mock of all the artifices they made use of, to make it appear more plausible to them. I think, saith he, that those took pains to little purpose, who, writing against this sect, made it their chief business to insist upon the difficulties about the sacrament of the Eucharist, and, in order to the clearing of them, have spoken so sharply and subtilly, that I may not say confusedly, that I have great reason to doubt whether ever they understood the thing themselves. Yet I will not say, that because I do not comprehend it myself, (for that I ingenuously confess,) I think it also to surpass the capacity of others; but because it has always appeared to me to be a point of that difficulty, that the most able have been fain to profess, that the strength of human understanding must in this case be subject to faith.” After which he useth his utmost endeavors to persuade the Waldenses to embrace an opinion, for the which they had always testified a great aversion.
By this we may see what was the faith of the believers of Piedmont, as far as Seisselius’s account thereof reacheth. And as for their carriage and conversation, the same Seisselius tells us;
“They say, that they desire only to overcome by the simplicity of faith, purity of conscience, and integrity of life; not by philosophical niceties and theological subtilties.”
“Setting aside what they hold in opposition to our faith and religion, for the rest, saith that Bishop, they for the most part lead a more pure life than other Christians. They swear not at all, except they be forced to it, and very rarely take the name of God in vain: they honestly perform their promises; and the most part of them living in poverty, they protest that they alone observe the life and doctrine of the Apostles, and therefore affirm, that the power of the Church resides in them, as the true innocent disciples of Jesus Christ, for the sake of whose faith and religion they live in poverty.”
It is impossible to give them a more advantageous testimony than what he gives them elsewhere, acknowledging, that they looked upon it as an honorable and glorious thing to suffer the persecutions which were raised against them by the Church of Rome.