This blog post is based on the Covenant Reformed Seminary of Asia’s lesson on Church History Module – The Forerunners of the Reformation (Part 1): THE WALDENSES
Let us be reminded, as we begin our reflections on the forerunners of the Reformation, of Jesus words when He answered Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”John 18:36 ESV
His kingdom is spiritual, not physical. But its members are composed of every tribe, tongue and nation. Advancing His kingdom is not by means of force and sword but by bold proclamation of the gospel.
Waldensians are one of the great dissenting movements of Western Christendom (Needham 432). The Waldensians were persecuted intensely and they suffered ruthlessly. It ended when Cromwell stood for them. They even endured the inquisition.
The Waldensians may also hold the record for the most intense suffering of any body of Christians, having endured ruthless attack, torture, and slaughter during five straight centuries of relentless persecution by the Roman Catholic church and its agents. Throughout their history, the Roman hierarchy hated and feared them as the threat that could bring down the cult of popish conformity. Its relentless efforts to wipe out the Waldensians completely—man, woman, and child—probably form the most prolonged and shameful chapter of martyrdom in all of Christian history.
It started in Lyons, Rhone Valley, France with Peter Waldo (1140-1205). He was a wealthy clothier and merchant and a man of some learning. He rejected transubstantiation.
Like Luther, who took the death of his friend seriously, Peter lived a radical Christian life after the unexpected death of a friend during an evening meal. May this remind us that death is knocking on the door. We must take its reality seriously. Once we die, are we ready to face the Lord?
At about this time, Waldo began to preach and teach publicly, based on his ideas of simplicity and poverty, notably that “No man can serve two masters, God and Mammon.
The most radical part of his life was employing a priest to translate Latin Vulgate into French the Four gospels together with other books.
From hence, he discovered the truth of God’s word. He realized that the Scriptures alone are to be the basis of faith, and not the word of any human being, be he priest or bishop or pope, there is but one Mediator and the saints should not be worshipped, and there are only two sacraments that the Lod instituted: baptism and Lord’s supper.
In 1177, the conviction that he received from the word of God drove him to organize a society of men and women (called as “the Poor Men of Lyons” & “Sabotati”) who were willing to help him bring Bible truth before their fellows. Hence, they frankly and openly attacked the Roman Catholic Religion, preaching the Word of God fearlessly. They even sold knick-knacks and offered the pearl of great price.
- Making the gospel known and understood in the native language of the people.
- Identifying with the poor by becoming poor
- Pursuing closer obedience to a life of faith by following the teachings of Jesus Christ and the example of his disciples. This is practical obedience, true theology translated into transformed life.
Peter was great in his organizational skills, thus none endured like the Waldensians. Pre-dating the Protestant Reformation by 300 years, the beginning of the Waldensian movement is sometimes referred to as the “First Reformation.” The group has also been called the “Oldest Evangelical Church” and “Israel of the Alps.”
As we expect from Matthew 5, the followers of Christ are always faced with opposition. When they realized the threat of Waldensians’ movement against Rome, during Council of Valencia, they forbade men who were not priest to read the Bible, whether in Latin or in the vernacular, the only exception being that they might. This direct opposes Psalm 1 that the blessed are to meditate on the Word day and night. During this Council, the Bible was also placed in the Index of Forbidden Books. They were also branded heretics, excommunicated by Pope Lucius. But Peter also excommunicated Pope Lucius as not part of the true church.
There were also illustrations that depicted them as witch. This was followed by series of persecutions and massacres by the Roman Catholic Religion.
In 1211, more than 80 Waldensians were burned as heretics at Strasbourg; this action launched several centuries of persecution that nearly destroyed the movement.
In 1251, Waldensians in Toulouse, France, were massacred for non- conformity to the church, and their town was burned to the ground
In 1487 Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull for the extermination of the heresies of the Vaudois. Alberto de’ Capitanei, arch-deacon of Cremona, responded to the bull by organizing a crusade to fulfill its order and launched an offensive in the provinces of Dauphine and Piedmont.
Many thousands of the Waldenses were slain in the murderous Roman Catholic crusades against them. Many were tortured with great cruelty, and their country was periodically transformed into a desert. Even mothers with infants were rolled down the rocks. This was especially the case in the area known as Piedmont.
In January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded the Waldensians to attend Mass or remove to the upper valleys of their homeland, giving them twenty days in which to sell their lands. Being in the midst of winter, the order was intended to persuade the Vaudois to choose the former; however, the bulk of the populace instead chose the latter, abandoning their homes and lands in the lower valleys and removing to the upper valleys. It was written that these targets of persecution, including old men, women, little children and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks, and at length reached the homes of their impoverished brethren of the upper Valleys, where they were warmly received.”
Pope Innocent VII even said that “Whoever kills a Waldensian will have pardon for his sins and the right to keep any property taken from his victim.” Rome’s persecution and massacre of the Waldensians continued until the end of 17th century. So, we ask, If the Holy Spirit is really with Rome as the church founded by Christ, will He led them to be mass murderers? Being led by the Spirit does not result in being a mass murderer. As our pastor pointed out, the Scripture knows that the fruit of the Spirit is not hatred, envy, and evil deeds but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
Waldensians and the Reformation
When the news of the Reformation reached the Waldensian Valleys, the Tavola Valdese decided to seek fellowship with the nascent Protestantism. At a meeting held in 1526 in Laus, a town in the Chisone valley, it was decided to send envoys to examine the new movement. In 1532, they met with German and Swiss Protestants and ultimately adapted their beliefs to those of the Reformed Church.
The Swiss and French Reformed churches sent William Farel and Anthony Saunier to attend the meeting of Chanforan, which convened on 12 October 1532. Farel invited them to join the Reformation and to emerge from secrecy. A Confession of Faith, with Reformed doctrines, was formulated and the Waldensians decided to worship openly in French. Today, they are attached to the Dutch Reformed church.
In 2015, Pope Francis visited the Waldensian Church in Turin, Italy, and said, “On the part of the Catholic church, I ask you forgiveness for the non-Christian, even non-human, attitudes and behaviors that, in history, we have had against you. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!” (McElwee). During the session of our modular course, a Roman Catholic viewer comments, “Peter Waldo was once a Catholic layman. He has no theological studies and he made his own beliefs.” This is how they try to change history and water down their evils deeds! Rome is a bloody religion! Our pastor emphasized that Pope Francis’ apology, which reduced the Roman Catholic Church’s crime of mass murder and genocide to “attitudes” and “behavior,” is an invalid apology. Only by genuinely owning and acknowledging the gravity of the offense can an apology be valid!
Of the Waldensians, the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38). They love not their lives unto death (Revelation 12:11). By faith, they overcame the world, and we do well to remember the testimony to the truth and the steadfastness under grievous tribulation which characterized their lives.
John Milton (1608-1674), the author of the Paradise Lost, to whom the Roman Catholic religion is regarded as the representation of Babylon, who also called the Pope the “Babylonian high-priest”, writes,
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter’d saints, whose bonesJohn Milton, On the Late Massacre in Piedmont
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipp’d stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubl’d to the hills, and they
To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundred-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
Indeed, they were “A courageous group of men known as the Pre-Reformers, forerunners of the Protestant Reformation, placed an emphasis on the doctrine of divine predestination. Because of their strong biblical convictions, these early advocates of reform—the Waldensians… Their work helped bring about a deeper understanding of the doctrines of grace and a wider acceptance of them” (Lawson).
As forerunners of the Reformation, they strong affirm the doctrine of Justification, in The Waldensian Confessions of Faith (Circa 1120), it states, “That Christ is our life, and truth, and peace, and righteousness – our shepherd and advocate, our sacrifice and priest, who died for the salvation of all who should believe, and rose again for their justification.”
‘They lived and died for their faith. Known as “people of the Book,” scripture is what embodied the faith of the Waldensians — they lived by it and died for it.’ (Waldensian Trail of Faith)
The Waldensians did not love their own lives for the sake of the gospel. What about us? Are our love and devotion to the Lord simply proven by only staying at home, doing nothing and showing no care for the lost instead of going out to preach the gospel? Are we ready to give up everything, even our own lives that the Name of Christ may be proclaimed? Can we really stand up for Jesus when persecution comes?
But thanks be to God because He abundantly grants hearts to His people that they may desire to pray for the lost even providentially hindered at home. He gives passion that they may sacrificially leave the busyness of this world to plead before His Throne of mercy that His gospel may advance. By His grace, He makes us grow in our love and devotion to Him whether at home interceding or outside proclaiming.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
- Houghton, S M, and B J Bennink. Sketches from Church History. Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa., Banner Of Truth Trust, , Printing, 1980.
- Needham, Nick R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power. Volume 2, the Middle Ages. London, Grace Publications Trust, 2016.
- “Waldensian History.” Trail-of-Faith-1, 2015, http://www.waldensiantrailoffaith.org/waldensian-timeline. Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.
- Lawson, Steven J. Pillars of Grace : A.D. 100-1564. Editorial: Lake Mary, Fla., Reformation Trust Pub, 2010.
- Joshua J. McElwee, “Francis Asks Forgiveness for Waldensian Persecutions, Killings.” National Catholic Reporter, 22 June 2015, http://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/francis-asks-forgiveness-waldensian-persecutions-killings?fbclid=IwAR0wmX6DFhBNz-u287gOoibatdFKAeF0UmD0ebWVCMqeiHgNxhhLITDATmg. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.
- Foundation, Poetry. “Sonnet 18: Avenge, O Lord, Thy Slaughter’d Saints, Whose Bones by John Milton.” Poetry Foundation, 17 Dec. 2020, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44747/sonnet-18-avenge-o-lord-thy-slaughterd-saints-whose-bones.
- The Waldensian Confessions of Faith (circa 1120) | Reformed Theology at a Puritan’s Mind. http://www.apuritansmind.com/creeds-and-confessions/the-waldensian-confessions-of-faith-circa-1120/#:~:text=The%20Waldensian%20Confessions%20of%20Faith%20%28Circa%201120%29%20Creeds. Accessed 17 Sept. 2021.
4 thoughts on “Reflections on the Past VII: The Waldensians”
Take note that Pope Francis watered down his apology by reducing the Roman Catholic Church’s crime of mass murder and genocide into mere “attitudes” and “behavior.” An apology can only be valid if the weight of the offense is truly owned and acknowledged!
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Good post! A few years ago I was ministering in the big Country in Asia near your country and a pastor actually got saved by a French believer preaching to him who self-identify as a Waldensian…seems there’s a small group of believers who still identify themselves as Waldensians
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Oh. Thanks for sharing brother. Yeah, I think there are few of them. But not sure if there are Waldensians in the Philippines.
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