THE INCREDIBLE HISTORY OF GOD'S TRUE CHURCH
CHAPTER EIGHT -- THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS
During the long dark night of the Middle Ages, God's true Church, as prophesied, "fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God..." (Rev. 12:6). For 1260 years the church of God was driven by the persecuting power of the "Holy Roman Empire" into the remote mountains and valleys of Europe, there to preserve the purity of the true faith.
A variety of names were applied to God's people during this period; "Paulicians," "Publicans," "Puritans," "Waldenses," "Vaudois" (meaning "Valley Dwellers"), "Henricians," "Bogomils" ("Friends of God") and several others. Names such as these, however, were generally used by those outside of the Church. In their own writings church members normally employed the title "Church of God."
Church historians have been able to demonstrate that regardless of the differing names used, "These branches, however, sprang from one common stock, and were animated by the same religious and moral principles."1
"Indeed, from the borders of Spain, throughout the greatest part of the south of France, among and below the Alps, along the Rhine, and even to Bohemia, thousands of the disciples of Christ, as will hereafter be shown, were found, even in the very worst of times, preserving the faith in its purity, adhering to the simplicity of Christian worship, patiently bearing the cross after Christ, men distinguished by their fear of God and obedience to His will, and persecuted only for righteousness' sake."2
As the earlier "Smyrna" (Rev. 2:8-11) era of the true church had been classified by the world as "Ebionites," so the members of the "Pergamos" (Rev. 2:12-17) era came to be known as "Paulicians" ("the followers of the Apostle Paul").
This group of Christians became very numerous during the seventh century and were distinguished by their zeal, knowledge and the simplicity of their lives.
About A.D. 650 a well educated man named Constantine of Mananali began to study portions of the Bible that he had received as a gift. Amazed by the truth which he found revealed he began preaching in the regions of Cappadocia and Armenia. Several evangelists were trained to assist him in the ministry and soon tens of thousands were being converted to the truth.
Constantine plainly taught that the Pope was not the representative of God, and perhaps because of this and other reasons, he was martyred in A.D. 684.
Simeon, an officer sent by the Emperor at Constantinople to destroy Constantine and other church leaders, was so impressed by the faith and courage displayed by Constantine and several of the other martyrs, that he became convinced that these were truly God's people. Three years later, his service to the Emperor completed, he returned to the area and was placed by Christ into the office of an apostle, vacated by the death of Constantine. Following a three-year ministry Simeon was burned at the stake.
A third great leader, Sergius, was later raised up by God to lead the church.
Paulician doctrines, along with those of other groups, are described in a work entitled The Key of Truth, which was translated into English by Fred C. Conybeare. They preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God, baptized believers by immersion, practised the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit, and observed the Sabbath, the Passover on the fourteenth day of Nisan and the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
This era of the Church was not without its problems. A trend towards spiritual and moral decline set in early; many who associated with the Church were not really converted but simply cleaved to the true Christians with flatteries (Dan. 11:34).
Others held to the "doctrine of Balaam" (Rev. 2:14), that one could commit spiritual "fornication" and coexist with sin and false doctrine. When these people were permitted to fellowship with local church congregations, the corruption only spread to many more members.
In an attempt to correct His people, Christ allowed severe persecution to afflict them -- multitudes perished but few repented.
"During a period of one hundred and fifty years, these Christian churches seem to have been almost incessantly subjected to persecution, which they supported with Christian meekness and patience; and if the acts of their martyrdom, their preaching, and their lives were distinctly recorded, I see no reason to doubt that we should find in them the genuine successors of the Christians of the first two centuries. And in this, as well as former instances the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.
"A succession of teachers and churches arose: and a person named Sergius, who had labored among them in the ministry of the gospel thirty-seven years, is acknowledged, even by their vilest calumniators, to have been a most exemplary Christian. The persecution had, however, some intermissions, until at length Theodore, the Greek empress, exerted herself against them beyond all her predecessors. She sent inquisitors throughout all Asia Minor in search of these sectaries, and is computed to have killed by the gibbet, by fire, and by the sword, a hundred thousand persons."3
Paulician leaders including Sergius and Sambat taught that the same Holy Spirit was in them, and other true Christians, that was in Jesus Christ. Their persecutors, seemingly unable to grasp this point, charged that these Paulician teachers called themselves "Christs," as if this were a matter of blasphemy.
The Paulicians claimed that they were the "holy universal and apostolic church" and as such represented a direct continuation of the first century church established by Jesus Christ. They urged that all Christians, ministers and laymen, should study the Scriptures and that priests who prevented the people from studying were in error and were in fact hiding the truth of God.
Biblical church offices (Eph. 4:11) were held by Paulician ministers and leaders. Those of highest rank were termed "apostles" and "prophets," others who held office were called "evangelists," pastors" or "teachers." They exercised the power of "binding and loosing" (Matt. 18:17-18). "Elders ...rulers" and "readers" are also mentioned. "Teachers" were responsible for hand-copying the Holy Scriptures.
Ministers were expected to be married men, not celibate priests. Ordinations were conducted by the laying on of hands. Apostles were inducted into office by the direct inspiration and selection of Jesus Christ.
The Paulician faith eventually came to dominate large areas of Armenia and Albania but with many this was nothing more than an outward "form" of religion; truly converted members were never numerous. Many reached a state of compromise with the dominant Catholic state religion. They conformed externally but followed Paulician teachings in secret.
In time the alternatives narrowed to apostasy or martyrdom. By the ninth century most had drifted so far from the true doctrines that they were drawn to seek political or military solutions to their persecution problems. Anatolia, one of the earliest Paulician homelands, became a desolation and wilderness ravaged by decades of warfare; thus the "Pergamos" era of the true Church came to its inglorious conclusion.
The next era of the Church of God -- "Thyatira" (Rev. 2:18-29) -- began to conduct a work of some significance around A.D. 1000. Although having its headquarters and centre of operations located in the mountains and valleys of northern Italy and southern France, the work rapidly spread through large areas of Europe and even into Britain. The names most commonly applied to these people were "Vaudois," or "Waldensians."
"The Waldensians," says Popliner, "spread not only through France, but also through nearly all the European coasts, and appeared in Gaul, Spain, England, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Saxony, Poland and Lithuania."
Crosby records that: "For in the time of William the Conquerer (A.D. 1070) and his son William Rufus, it appears that the Waldenses and their disciples out of France, Germany and Holland, had their frequent recourse, and did abound in England. The Berlingarian, or Waldensian heresy, as the chronologer calls it, had, about A.D. 1080, generally corrupted all France, Italy, and England."4
A wide variation of opinion exists concerning the precise origin of the Waldenses. Some have traced their roots back to apostolic times.
"From among many testimonies I quote that of Henry Arnold, who superintended the `glorious return' of the Waldenses to their valleys in 1689. He says: `The Vaudois are, in fact, descended from those refugees from Italy: who, after St. Paul had there preached the Gospel, abandoned their beautiful country; and fled, like the woman mentioned in the Apocalypse, to these wild mountains, where they have, to this day, handed down the Gospel, from father to son, in the same purity and simplicity as it was preached by St. Paul.'"5
Several authorities, including Reimer, trace them back to the fourth century, but Reinerius Saccho, an inquisitor and implacable enemy, admits that they flourished about A.D. 600.
There seems to be general agreement amongst almost all non-Catholic writers that the Waldensians represented a continuation of the true Church of God.
Even Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, recognised the true status of this group. He employed the diplomatic channels available to him in an attempt to bring an end to the persecution of the Waldensians.
In a letter sent to the Lords of the United Provinces in 1655, Cromwell points out: "But if, on the other hand, he shall continue firmly resolved utterly to destroy and to drive to a state of distraction those men, among whom our religion was either planted by the first preachers of the gospel, and so maintained in its purity from age to age, or else reformed and restored to its primitive purity more early than among many other nations, we hereby declare ourselves ready to advise, in common with you, and the rest of our brethren and allies of the reformed religion, by what means we may most conveniently provide for the preservation and comfort of these distressed people."6
The Waldenses possessed a version of the Bible in their own language and stressed obedience to the commandments, including the observance of the seventh day Sabbath. They also baptized by immersion repentant believers, and kept the Passover or Lord's Supper once a year in the first month.
The lifestyle of these people tended to be simple but industrious. They raised cattle and sheep and had considerable success in the cultivation of olives, figs and grapes. Visitors to their pleasant and well kept villages and hamlets noted the happiness of the people and merry voices of the children at play.
Waldensian doctrines were based on "the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and comprehended in the Apostles' Creed, and admitted the sacraments instituted by Christ, and the ten commandments... They said they had received this doctrine from their ancestors, and that if they were in any error they were ready to receive instruction from the Word of God."7
High moral standards were a part of the Waldensian way of life and like a bright light shining in a dark place these people set a fine example to all who came into contact with them.
"Claudius Seisselius, archbishop of Turin, is pleased to say, that `their heresy excepted, they generally live a purer life than other Christians. They never swear but by compulsion, they fulfill their promises with punctuality; and living for the most part in poverty, they profess to live the apostolic life and doctrine.
"`They also profess it to be their desire to overcome only by the simplicity of faith, by purity of conscience, and integrity of life; not by philosophical niceties and theological subtleties.' And he very candidly admits that `in their lives and morals they were perfect, irreprehensible, and without reproach among men, addicting themselves with all their might to observe the commands of God.'"8
The Paulician and Bogomil evangelization of the Alpine region led to a fruitful harvest of conversions; so much so, in fact, that the Pope in 1096 described the Valley Louise in Dauphiny, France, as being infested with "heresy."
It was in this region, at Embrun, that Peter of Bruys, about 1104, began to preach a message of repentance from sin. This work spread throughout Languedoc and Provence. Peter rejected infant baptism; only persons old and mature enough to understand the importance of the step that they were taking were baptized, and that only after real repentance.
The Catholic teaching that the priest in the Mass was able to produce the literal flesh of Christ was also rejected, along with purgatory, prayers for the dead, reverence for crosses, and several other Catholic precepts.
Peter's preaching, which lasted for "nearly twenty years," was highly successful. Many during this period were led by the Holy Spirit to conversion. The true gospel of the kingdom was spread in the south of France.
After Peter was seized and burned at the stake, his disciple, Henry, took over his position as an apostle, and continued the work. They were charged by the Catholic church with remaining faithful to the whole law of God, including the observance of the Sabbath.
The historian, Mosheim, adds that they abstained from eating meats which were prohibited under the Mosaic economy, and refused to accept the "Trinity" doctrine. They seemed to have understood that God is a family, which converted Christians may join at the return of Christ.
Peter was martyred by burning at a town called St. Giles in 1126. Henry was burned at Toulouse in 1147; some; sources, however, state that he died in prison in 1149.9
"So zealous were the Inquisitors in destroying the writings of Bruis (Peter of Bruys) and Henry, that we scarcely know anything of their tenets save what we can learn from... an Abbot of Clugny."10
The "heretical" teachings of Peter and Henry were summarized by the Abbot as follows:
"(1) They rejected infant baptism and held that it was the faith of the individual candidate, which along with baptism saved him. One cannot be saved by the faith of another. (2) Church buildings are not necessary, worship can take place anywhere by those who are close to God. (3) Crucifixes should not be employed as a part of worship. (4) The bread and wine of the Passover or Communion service are only symbolic -- they do not change into the literal body and blood of Christ. (5) They denied that any prayers, alms or other sacrifices by the living could assist the dead."11
The followers of Peter were said by the Abbot to have gathered up as many crucifixes as they could find on a certain Good Friday and made a large fire of them upon which they roasted some meat and had a good meal. This story seems highly improbable and could have been mere propaganda.
Peter is said to have made the remark that "churches are vainly built, since the Church of God consists, not in a mass of coherent stones, but in the unity of the congregated faithful."12
Henry, Peter's disciple, spoke out against chanting and other forms of repetitious prayer.
During the ministry of Peter of Bruys the people of God were nicknamed "Petrobrusians." They later became known as "Henricians" after Henry. The people themselves, however, used the name "Church of God."
Speaking of the work carried out by Henry, Monastier records that "his preaching made a powerful impression on his hearers. The people were fascinated."13
Two views which were promulgated by Peter and Henry, which almost certainly contributed to the persecution which they suffered, were: "That the priests and monks ought to marry, rather than be the prey of lust, or give themselves to impurity"; and "That God is mocked by the chants which the priests and monks repeat in the temples; that God cannot be appeased by monkish melodies."14
These ministers could clearly see the need for sincere prayer which was from the heart.
Several of the Vaudois concepts were committed to writing during this period. Examples of their works include "The Noble Lesson" written in 1100, "Treatise on Antichrist" (1120), and "Treatise on Purgatory" (1126).
Shortly after the death of Henry the work spread from France into England.
"From Provence they passed into Languedoc and Gascogne, whence their so-called heresy penetrated into Spain and England."15
William of Newbury mentions that about the year 1160, "In the same days, certain vagabonds came into England, of the race (it is believed) of those whom they commonly denominate Publicans." Other sources classify these people as Waldenses or "Thirteen Valdensian families."
"These formerly emigrated from Gascony" and "they seemed to be multiplied beyond the sand of the sea." They were accused of "seducing the simple under a pretended display of piety."
"At that time (during the reign of Henry the Second), however, somewhat more than thirty individuals, as well men as women, dissembling their error, entered here, as it were peacefully, for the sake of propagating their pestilence; a certain Gerard being their leader."16
They seemed to have spread their doctrine in England for only a short time before being arrested, and put into prison. The king directed that they be tried by a council of bishops at Oxford. At their trial they claimed to be Christians, following the doctrines of the Apostles and rejected several points of Catholic belief.
The group was sentenced to be branded on the foreheads, whipped and driven from the city. After receiving this punishment they were "ejected from the city, through the intolerance of the cold (for the season was winter) no one showing to them even the slightest degree of mercy, they miserably perished."17
Another authority on this era (Authentic Details of the Valdenses, written in 1827) mentions that others were burned at the stake, also at Oxford.
Bale in his Old Chronical of London records "one burnt to death tainted with the faith of the Valdenses" in the year 1210. Some, fleeing from persecution in various parts of Europe, reached England to face what must have been an uncertain future.
A treatise dating to about 1160 speaks of "many well disposed persons devoting themselves to the preaching of the Gospel, notwithstanding the persecution which had been set on foot against the members of Christ."18
This period marks the beginning of one of the most important phases of God's work during this era. The later works of this "Thyatira" Church were "to be more than the first (Rev. 2:19).
It was at about this point in history that Peter Waldo, perhaps the most important leader in this Church era, began to preach. A successful and wealthy merchant of Lyons, France, Waldo was shocked by the sudden death of one of his friends. This traumatic experience prompted the question, "If I had died what would have become of my soul?"
Being a Catholic, Waldo asked a theologian, "What is the perfect way?" The reply, quoted from Scripture, was, "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come take up thy cross and follow me."
Waldo gave his wealth to the poor, but also used a part of it to produce a translation of the Scriptures. His personal study of these led him to the command to the apostles to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. Bringing an intelligent and orderly mind to the study of God's Word, Waldo's understanding of the truth increased rapidly.
After a time Waldo began to preach and share his newly discovered truths with others. A group of helpers or "co-workers" began to assist in this work as the "Poor Men of Lyons." The education and business expertise that Peter Waldo brought to the work of God was soon to lead to significant and steady growth.
The bold and determined stand that Waldo took, based on teachings which he found revealed in Scripture, was to lead to major personal problems within his own family. His Catholic wife and two daughters supposed that he had lost his mind, and as a result of this they separated themselves from him; one of his daughters entered a convent. There are some indications, however, that his wife later became reconciled to him and provided financial assistance from the money which he had given to her.
Little is known of the early stages of Waldo's ministry, but he is known to have gone, along with a group of his followers to Picardy, in northern France. After suffering persecution in that area they moved into Flanders and the Netherlands. By 1182 many converts from those regions had joined their cause. Everywhere they went, the Waldenses took their translation of the Bible with them.
In about 1176 the archbishop of Lyons forbade Waldo and his followers to preach. "We must obey God rather than man" was the reply which they gave, and when they persisted in spreading their message they were ordered to appear before Pope Alexander III.
Peter Waldo went boldly to Rome in 1178 where he urged that the Provencal translation of the Bible, which could be understood by the people of southern France, and by those in parts of Spain and Italy, be made available to the people. A decision on the matter was left to the Lateran Council, which in 1179 stated that Waldo and his followers could only preach at the invitation of local priests.
The response to this decision was that Christ had sent them to preach and that this was what they would continue to do. Several years of persecution were to follow, during which period they were eventually driven from Lyons. A group of Waldenses became established in Italy.
The courage displayed by Waldo in defending the true doctrine is further described by Townsend.
"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 worshipped 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 corruption's of the hierarchy.
"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. Influenced 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 neighbours the principles of practical godliness, and encouraged them to seek salvation by Jesus Christ.
"John de Bekos 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."
Although Waldo continued to preach, God it seems took steps to protect His courageous servant.
"All things operated so strongly in his favor, that he lived concealed at Lyons three years.
"Waldo fled from Lyons, and his disciples followed him. By this dispersion, the doctrine of Waldo was widely disseminated throughout Europe .... 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."
Phillip Augustus, a prince of France, attacked the Waldenses and destroyed much of their property. He drove many of them 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."19
A school or college was established for the training of qualified ministers and other labourers in the expanding work of God. It consisted of three small stone buildings and was located in the Angrogna Valley of the Cottian Alps. The college and town of La Torre became the new headquarters of the Church of God. Articles and small booklets were written and copied by hand and provided free of charge to those who were interested in them.
Tithes and offerings from many countries were used to finance the operating costs of the college and, as the work spread, translations of the Bible were produced in various languages.
"Their pastors were named barba, the Vaudois term for uncle. It was in the almost inaccessible solitude of the Pra-del-Tor, a deep gorge... that their school was situated."
"There they learned by heart the gospels of St. Matthew and St. John, the catholic epistles, and a portion of those of St. Paul. They were instructed, further, in Latin, Romane (old French) and Italian. After this they passed several years in retirement, and they were then consecrated ministers by the administration of the sacrament and imposition of hands."20
Ministers were mature and well qualified men. Because of long evangelistic journeys and the extreme personal danger that such trips sometimes produced, few of these men married; this was based on practical rather than religious grounds. They condemned priestly celibacy for scriptural reasons (I Tim. 4:1-3).
Biblical offices were restored for the ministry. Evangelists, pastors, elders and deacons were ordained. Peter Waldo, according to his fruits, was an apostle but called himself "chief elder."
"They were supported by the voluntary contributions of the people, distributed among them annually in a general synod. A third of these contributions was given to the ministers, a third to the poor, and a third was reserved for the missionaries of the church."
"These missionaries traveled in pairs, a young man and an old man. They traversed all Italy, where they had fixed stations at different points, and in almost all the towns adherents.
"The younger men thus became initiated in the delicate duties of evangelization, each being under the experienced conduct of an elder whom discipline established as his superior, and whom he obeyed in all things, alike from duty and from deference. The old man, on his part, thus prepared himself for his repose, by forming for the church successors worthy of it and himself."21
They visited the sick and sang hymns and believed in "free salvation by Jesus Christ -- and above all, faith working by charity."
"They recommended fasting, whereby men humble themselves; but fasting without charity is as a lamp without oil: it smokes, but shines not. Prayer is, with them, inherent in love; patience is the support; gentleness, resignation, charity, the seal of a Christian."
"They deny that the Christian should ever take an oath."22
Ministers were encouraged to learn a trade in order to be able, if necessary, to earn their own living. Many received special training in the laws of physical health and dietary matters.
A system of elementary schools was established for children. Even young children learned to memorize and recite entire chapters of Scripture.
Waldenses observed not only the weekly Sabbath and Passover, but also assembled once a year in September or October for a conference or synod. Some believe that this was in fact the Biblical "Feast of Tabernacles."
Special ministerial conferences were also held from time to time. On one occasion 143 pastors met together -- they came from several different countries.
"They also had extraordinary meetings by deputies from all parts of Europe, where Vaudois churches existed."23
The first Waldenses prohibited participation in wars and even avoided taking military action in self-defense, they also refused to take oaths of any kind. Later generations of Waldenses, however, began to reject these views.
They "instructed their children in the articles of the Christian faith and the commandments of God."24
"In like manner, also, their women are modest, avoiding backbiting, foolish jesting, and levity of speech, especially abstaining from lies or swearing, not so much as making use of the common asseveration, `in truth,' `for certain,' or the like, because they regard these as oaths, contenting themselves with simply answering `yes' or `no.'"25
Some 80,000 Waldenses were said to have lived in the Austrian Empire during the fourteenth century.
In 1315 Walter the Lollard, a leading Waldensian minister, along with his brother, Raymond, carried the true gospel into England. His work seemed to have been highly successful as it was said that he spread the Waldensian doctrine all over England.
This zealous leader in God's work also preached in other parts of Europe. "It is known that the celebrated Lollard who laboured with such zeal to diffuse the Vaudois doctrines in England, was not only a native of our valleys (Alpine valleys of northern Italy), but preached in them for a length of time with great success."26
The name "Lollard" came from the Flemish word "Lollen" or "Lullen," meaning to mumble or speak softly. Waldenses were thought to mumble to themselves, or at least this was the impression gained by outsiders as a result of the habit which they practised of memorizing and repeating to themselves, or others, passages from the Scriptures.
Walter Lollard was seized and burned at Cologne, Germany, in 1322. His death, according to one authority, was "highly detrimental" to the cause of his followers, but in England the movement seems to have prospered.
Later, during the second half of the fourteenth century, the name "Lollard" was also applied to the followers of John Wycliffe, the eminent Oxford theologian and Bible translator. Because of this confusion, the later history of the original Lollards becomes somewhat obscure.
A large number of sympathizers joined themselves to the Lollard cause, but it would appear that the objective of most of these people was to introduce reforms into the Catholic church, rather than to come to personal repentance and to assist in the preaching of the true gospel.
In 1401 a law was introduced which forbade the teaching of "new doctrines" by the Lollards. Faced with fines, imprisonment or the ultimate penalty of being burned to death, many recanted and made their peace with the Catholic church. The true Lollards remained faithful to the Church of God, however, and several were hunted down and martyred.
As late as 1494 a group of thirty people known as "the Lollards of Kyle" were tried for "heresy" in Scotland. They were fortunate in that they escaped execution.
The "Thyatira" era of the Church had major internal problems relating to compromise with false doctrine (Rev. 2:20). In the ancient Waldensian "Book of Antichrist" we read that the "Jezebel" of Bible prophecy was equated with the Roman papacy.
The Roman church during the Middle Ages used various means, including the threat of persecution, to induce the Waldenses to participate in Sunday services and the Catholic mass. Many allowed themselves to compromise and commit spiritual "fornication," some even allowed Catholic priests to "baptize" their infant children.
Generations of coexistence with sin led the Thyatira Church to gradually depart from its doctrines. By 1380 many members no longer had the faith to rely on God for protection and began to use military force to resist their persecutors. This was in spite of the fact that God, on several occasions, had caused a wall of dense fog to separate the Waldenses from their enemies.
The probable justification for using military action against their enemies, rather than to follow Christ's instructions to flee from persecution, was that the ancient Israelites had used military might, along with God's assistance to defeat their enemies, and as the Waldenses looked upon themselves as "Israel of the Alps," why should not they do likewise?
Most, by the fifteenth century, had forgotten that the Church of God is a holy and spiritual nation, using spiritual rather than carnal weapons (I Pet. 2:9). Although the first Waldenses had obeyed the command of Christ to "swear not at all" (Matt. 5:34-37), by the time of the Synod of Angrogna in 1532 they had departed so far from their earlier true doctrines that they now held "that a Christian may swear by the name of God."
The Sabbath seems to have been rejected by the Waldenses at about this date, or perhaps even earlier. One of the seventeen articles of their faith written in 1532 states "that on Sundays we ought to cease from our earthly labours."27
At the Synod of Angrogna the Waldenses declared their solidarity with the Swiss Calvinists and the Protestant Reformation. From this time they copied more and more of the ways of the Protestant churches.
The later history of the Waldensian movement is dominated by persecution. This period must be ranked as one of the blackest episodes in the entire history of man's inhumanity to his fellow human beings. God appears to have permitted the mass slaughter of multitudes of these people, perhaps in order to induce them, by means of these severe trials, to repent and return to their former true doctrines and godly way of life.
As the centuries of persecution progressed to a grisly climax, entire villages and communities of these unfortunate people were butchered until it was said that the valleys ran red with the blood of men, women and children.
"Children, cruelly torn from their mother's breast, were seized by the feet, and dashed and crushed against the rocks or walls... their bodies were cast away on common heaps.
"The valleys resounded with such mournful echoes of the lamentable cries of the wretched victims, and the shrieks wrung from them in their agonies, that you might have imagined the rocks were moved with compassion, while the barbarous perpetrators of these atrocious cruelties remained absolutely insensible."28
On one occasion fires were lit at the mouth of a cavern where a group of Vaudois were hiding.
"When the cavern was afterwards examined there were found in it four hundred infants suffocated in their cradles, or in the arms of their dead mothers. Altogether there perished in this cavern more than 3,000 Vaudois...."29
One young man was tied to an olive tree and used as target practice by the soldiers, until the fifth bullet terminated his sufferings.
"Daniel Revelli had his mouth filled with gunpowder, which, being lighted, blew his head to pieces.
"Another martyr, Mazzone, was stripped naked, his body shredded with iron whips, and the mangled frame then beaten to death with lighted brands."30
Many villages were burned to the ground. In one such incident, "Some women having been surprised in the church, they were stripped naked, subjected to indescribable outrages, and then compelled to hold
each other by the hand, as in a dance, were urged, at the pike's point, up the castlerock, whence, already severely wounded and suffering, they were precipitated, one after the other into the abyss beneath."31
Men were sometimes sold to ship owners as galley slaves and women and girls who survived the horrors of those days often were sold to the highest bidder.
"I speak not of the young women and girls who were seized and taken into these dens of iniquity; the atrocious outrages to which they were subjected may not be described."32
Some women, unable to contemplate an obscene and violent death, or survival under such unthinkable conditions, took their own lives.
Houses were burnt and goods plundered, thousands were forced to flee into the mountains where many perished of cold and hunger.
"So monstrous were the cruelties with which the extermination was accompanied, that several even of the officers who had been appointed to "execute it were struck with horror, and resigned their commands, rather than fulfill their orders."33
When the persecutions ended in 1686, a French officer observed that "All the valleys are wasted, all the inhabitants killed, hanged or massacred."34
As we read of this very sobering aspect of church history, it is good to remember that history does indeed repeat itself. A time, yet future is predicted, when the final era of God's Church, the Laodicean era, will also be exposed to the wrath of Satan, and those human instruments that he can influence. Is it not far better to learn the lesson that the Waldenses failed to heed, and to stay close enough to God that we are counted worthy to receive His protection (Rev. 3:7-13)?
FOOTNOTES -- Chapter 8
1. Jones' Church History, page 238.
2. Ibid., page 187.
3. Jones' Church History, page 187.
4. History of the Sabbath, J.N. Andrews.
5. The True Ecclesia, D.H. Macmillan, page 23.
6. Jones' Church History, page 380, ed. 1837.
7. Ibid., page 355, ed. 1837.
8. Idem., page 259.
9. See The Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, page 163, G.S. Faber.
10. Idem., page 163.
11. Ibid., pages 169-172.
12. Ibid., page 181.
13. The Vaudois Church, Monastier, page 40.
14. Ibid., page 45.
15. The Vaudois Church, Monastier, page 38.
16. The Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, G.S. Faber, pages 204-205.
17. Ibid., page 208.
18. Ibid., page 374.
19. Townsend's Abridgment, pages 405-409.
20. Israel of the Alps, A. Muston, page 3.
21. Ibid., page 4.
22. Ibid., pages 4-7.
23. The Vaudois Church, Monastier, page 93.
24. Jones' Church History, page 260.
25. Ibid., page 259.
26. Authentic Details of the Valdenses, ed. 1827.
27. The Vaudois Church, Monastier, page 146.
28. The Vaudois Church, Monastier, pages 270-1.
29. Israel of the Alps, A. Muston, page 20.
30. Ibid., page 45.
31. Ibid., page 34.
32. Ibid., page 74.
33. Ibid., page 141.
34.Ibid., page 204.