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The Plain Truth About The Waldensians
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The Plain Truth About The Waldensians
Dean C Blackwell   
Church of God

Died: April 14, 2003
Member Since: 1952
Ambassador College: 1956
Office: ACE - Evangelist

Chapter II:


   The problem of Waldensian antiquity to a modern scholar in research has been long since solved. To better understand the histories written by Protestant writers, however, it is very valuable to comprehend their materials in the light of this problem.
   So, first let us obverve the typical Protestant writers' view of their antiquity when their histories were first recorded.
William Jones says:

   The most satisfactory definition that I have met with of the term Waldenses, is that given by Mr. Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches:

   "From the Latin word Vallis, came the English word valley, the French and Spanish Valle, the Italian Valdesi, the Low Dutch Valleye, the Provencal Vaux, Vaudois, the ecclesiastical Valdenses, Ualdenses, and Waldenses. The words s1mply signify valleys, inhabitants of valleys, and no more. It happened that the inhabitants of the valleys of the Pyrenees did not profess the Catholic faith; it fell out also that the inhabitants of the valleys about the Alps did not embrace it; it happened, moreover, in the ninth century, that one Valdo, a friend and counsellor of Berengarius, and a man of eminence who had many followers, did not approve of the papal discipline and doctrine; and it came to pass about a hundred and thirty years after, that a rich merchant of Lyons, who was called Ualdus, or Waldo, openly disavowed the Roman Catholic religion, supported many to teach the doctrines believed in the valleys, and became the instrument of the conversion of great numbers; all these people were called Waldenses." (Ecclesiastical Researches, pp. 302-303)

   This view of the matter, which to myself appears indisputably the true one, is also supported by the authority of their own historians, Pierre Gilles, Perrin, Leger, Sir S. Morland, and Dr. Allix.4

   Thus we see the common approach of so many Waldensian writers of avoiding the name Waldo as of an individual who would be dated. Some went so far as to doubt any such individual ever lived and others tried to confuse him with another Valdez. In spite of this approach, we have absolute and clear testimony [text illegivly](no document proving apostolic foundation for these churches.... However remote their antiquity, no records exist as to any of these churches being apostolical."5
   Thus the Waldensians as a distinct people themselves must have had a time of origin since they were not apostolical. But how did the Protestant writers formerly answer this rebuttal? The answer is given in a source on the Waldensians put out by the Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board: "The Waldenses complain, that it has been the cruel policy of their persecutors to destroy all the historical memorials of their antiquity."6
   Can we as historians use "the proof of silence" or such lack of information as evidence? And, it might be remembered that not only their persecutors found it advantageous to "lose" or "alter" or destroy the historical memorials of their antiquity!
   Another legend or "out" for the Protestant historians is also recorded:
   There is a legend of comparatively early invention, that the Waldensians were connected with the primitive church; that when Constantine the Great had heaped power and wealth on Sylvester, a band of devoted men resolved to preserve inviolate the apostolic life, and had become the parents of the sect. This legend, which received general credence among the Protestants until the middle of the last century, is now everywhere acknowledged to be devoid of foundation.7
   Certainly if the Waldensians existed since Sylvester, we would not expect to find that "the first combined measures taken by the secular authority for the destruction of the Vaudois, do not appear to date before 1209.8
   Had the much persecuted Waldensians from the thirteenth century on, existed since Sylvester unknown and unpersecuted? Definitely not!
   Another possibility, and as a matter of fact the truth of church history, is that the Waldensians recognized an unbroken chain of successive church stages and eras were their ancestral chain from the Apostles. Only in this way could they claim they were apostolical, but not as Waldensians by name since the apostles. A Baptist historian states:
   The people, the ancestors of the Waldenses, were termed Vaudois,... Puritans,... Paterines, ... Lyonists,... Petrobrussians,... Arnoldists,...Berengarians,...These, with the Paul1cians, were one and the same people.9
   In this light also we can understand the evidence recorded by Edman: "With the dawning of the Reformation in the sixteenth century they became a part of that great movement, although alleging that they were apostolic Christians and not reformers."10
   Jesus had said the gates of hell (grave) would not prevail against His church, and that He would be with it always, even until the end of the world (age). It has continued to exist ever since, and in seven successive stages has come down to us today. (Revelation 2-3) In this way only can the Waldensians claim apostolic authority and succession.

History Falsified

   What a shame that history has to record a fail in trust on the part of some who were given the Waldensian literature and what subsequently happened to it. To defraud such an honest and moral people is really a giant travesty in justice. Both Catholic and Protestant, as well as secular historians, record such injustice.
   Since the sixteenth century, unsuccessful attempts have been made, by those who regard the Waldenses as the legitimate forerunners of Protestantism, to trace their origin back to the Apostolic age, or at least to the time of the iconoclast, Claudius of Qurin, and for this purpose their history has been falsified and their doctrines misrepresented. These efforts to pervert the truth of history have been ably refuted by Herzog, Friedrich, and Melia. According to Catholic authorities, whose honesty cannot be fairly called in question, they derive their origin from Peter Waldo (Peter of Vaux, or Valdum — English, "Wood").11
   The Protestant writer, Perrin, who quotes many of the Waldensian documents verbatim in his history, bears witness to the lost literature:
   In the year 1658, Samuel Morland, whom Oliver Cromwell had sent as ambassador to the Duke of Savoy on behalf of the persecuted Waldenses, carried from Piedmont to Britain several ancient manuscripts, which were represented to be works of the primitive Christians among the Cottian Alps. These he deposited in the University Library at Cambridge, whence most of them have since disappeared. (Faber's Inquiry, 369, 370)12

Old Writings Collected

   The Waldensian Pastor, Leger, had collected these pieces personally, as is related by the following testimony:
   Jon Leger, one of the Waldensian pastors, in the seventeenth century, carefully collected a number of ancient documents of the Waldensian doctrine. In the persecution, 1655, the plunderers of the Waldenses deprived him of every leaf of manuscript in order to bury in oblivion all knowledge of their former existence, or long continued principles. With incredible diligence he commenced a new search in the Valleys on the French side of the Alps, where the destruction had not been so severe, and found authentic copies of the same treatises. A number of these he has published in his valuable history of the Waldenses. The originals he delivered to Sir Samuel Morland, who presented them in 1q58 to the library of the University of Cambridge. Twenty-one volumes were there deposited, but the first seven are now missing, though Allix quoted from one of these seven in 1690. Copies of some of these are preserved in Geneva. The remaining fourteen volumes, from H to W, are still to be seen at Cambridge.13

Lost Literature Found

   The mysterious recovery of the "lost" literature is related as follows:
   First Period of Literature — The Waldenses has a literature almost from their very origin. The Manuscripts of this literature are chiefly found at Geneva, Cambridge, and Dublin: though single works may also be found at Grenoble, Zurich and Paris. Of special interest is the collection at Cambridge... made by Morland... deposited in the university library of Cambridge; but, shortly after, they disappeared and they were generally considered as lost, until in 1862 they were rediscovered by Mr. Bradshaw. (See H. Bradshaw: "On the Recovery of the Long-lost Waldensian Manuscripts," in the memoirs of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, March 10, 1862, No. XVIII.: and Groome: "The Long-lost Waldensian Manuscripts" in the Christian Advocate and Review, January, 1863, No. 23)14

Literature Date Altered

   Was this merely an accidental loss of such valued, old literature of such great importance to Protestantism? Or was this an effort to cover up the knowledge that a vital date had been changed, on one document at least, to substantiate Protestant claim to the Waldensians' existence before Waldo? Notice, the literature rediscovered was termed by Mr. Bradshaw, "... the Long-lost...."
   The modern Protestant historian, Edman, views the facts in the following way:
   The origin of the Waldenses has been a matter of great dispute. They themselves allege, and their critics admit they have long held that allegation, that the group of believers has persisted in the remote valleys of the Maritime Alps since the days of Constantine. Misinterpretation of the dates of their documents by early writers has not strengthened their allegation; and it seems that their authentic records may not go back beyond the thirteenth century.

   For a discussion of the validity and accuracy of the documentary evidence see James Henthorn Todd, The Waldensian Manuscripts, preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, with an Appendix containing a correspondence (reprinted from the British Magazine) on the Poems of the "Poor Men of Lyons," the antiquity and genuineness of the Waldensian Literature, and the supposed loss of the Morland Manuscripts, at Cambridge, with Mr. Bradshaw's paper on his recent discovery of them. (London: MacMillan and Co., 1865)

   Among the Romanist foes of the Waldensians, there are those who declare the latter to hold the view of their great antiquity, such as Reinerius Saccho {1250),... see Pius Melia, The Origin, Persecutions, and Doctrines of the Waldenses from Documents, many now for the first t1me collected and edited. {London: James Toovey, 1870, pp. 20-25) Dr. Melia uses his documentary material to "prove" that the Waldenses originated in the twelfth century.15

   For an exact account of the altering of the date, and not just a misinterpretation of same as Mr. Edman suggested, a clear account is given in Philip Smith's work as follows:
   To the argument for the high antiquity of the sect from their writings which are preserved in manuscripts, the general reply is that these works belong to the 15th century, or later, and are affected by that Hussite influence to which reference is made above. The most plausible of these arguments has been derived from the metrical work {in the Romance language), entitled The Noble Lesson (Nobla Leyczon), the opening l1nes of which (in the first printed edition) give the date of 1100 years since Christ, and also the name "Vaudes" whence it has been inferred that the sect existed under that name, nearly a century before Waldo. But an inspection of the manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library has proved the true reading to be 1400 years ("mil et 4 cent ans" instead of "mile cent ans"), thus bring1ng the date of the poem down to the fifteenth century.16

Avoid Name Waldo

   Unprejudiced, secular, and the most authoritative modern writers readily admit the antiquity and founder of the Waldensians. Thus the blunt information in the Collier's Encyclopedia: "Waldenses (Fr. Vaudois, !tal. Valdesi), a religious sect which derived its name and origin from Peter Waldo, a twelfth century merchant of Lyons."17
   The facts that these were deliberate attempts to avoid the dating of the people by association with the name Waldo is forcefully and conclusively brought home by the Britannica thusly:
   As regards their antiquity, the attempts to claim for them an earlier origin than the end of the twelfth century can no longer be sustained. They rested upon the supposed antiquity of a body of Waldensian literature, which modern criticism has shown to have been tampered with. The most important of these documents, a poem in Provencal, "La Nobla Leyczon," contains two lines which clalmed for it the date of 1100:
Ben ha mil e cent anez compli entierament Que fo scripta l'ora, car sen al derier temp.
   But it was pointed out (Bradshaw, in Transactions of Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 1842, text edited by Montet, 4 to, 1887) that in the oldest manuscript existing in the Cambridge University Library the figure 4 had been imperfectly erased before the word "cent" — a discovery which harmonized with the results of a criticism of the contents of the poem itself. This discovery did away with the ingenious attempts to account for the name of Waldenses from some other source than from the historical founder of the sect, Peter Waldo or Valdez. To get rid of Waldo, whose date was known, the name Waldenses or Vallenses was derived from Vallis, because they dwelt in the valleys, or from a supposed Provencal word Vaudes, which meant a sorcerer.18
   Additional evidence to show the impossibility of avoiding the association of the Waldenses with Peter Waldo is given by Philip Smith:
   For it may safely be pronounced a fond fancy, which, with the aid of a mere play on the name, would trace their origin to a primitive remnant of Evangelical Christians in the Alps of Piedmont and Savoy. [Footnote: The easy transformation of Waldensis or Valdensis (the V and W being interchangable in the Latin) into Vallensis is further complicated by the resemblance to Vaudois, the name of one of the districts where the sect has survived.
... The very likeness would be a ground for suspecting one of those frequent plays of words, of which we have seen an example in Popelicani and Publicani, if the argument were one of probability only. But, with the known origin of the sect from Peter Waldo as its founder, the conclusion is quite clear, that, "when it is sought to get rid of their relation to him, as embodied in the very name which they bear and to change this name into Vallenses, the Men of the Valleys, or the Dolesmen, it is a transformation which has no likelihood, philological or historic, to recommend it." (Trench, p. 250) The only early writer, in whom we find the name Vallenses, used it as a play of words: Ebrard (Lib. antihaeresis, c. 25):
Quidham autem, qui Vallenses, and c., appellant, eo quod in valle lacrymarum manent;
and in like manner the Abbot Barnard (Adv. Waldenses) doubles the pun, saying they are called Valdenses,
nimirum e valle densa, eo quod profundis et densis errorum tenebris involvuntur,
(evidently alluding to the German word Wald, Latin, Valda, "a wood").]19

Peter Waldo

   What made Peter Waldo the type man who could usher in such a noted and godly people as the Waldensians? What training had qualified him for this task? What caused a man of his wealth and prestige to become disenchanted with life to the point of starting all over? For the exciting and beautiful story of a man's conversion and use by God, we can refer to Edward Backhouse's Witnesses for Christ. Following is a brief resume.
   The hundreds of Protestant sects spread abroad have represented the gamut of belief which ranged from doubt in the Old Testament's authority to delusions regarding heavenly mysteries. Many Protestants held sound doctrines and led exemplary lives, but they all lacked the characteristics which seemed to unite the Waldenses: a pure faith which was animated by a spirit of love.
   Peter Waldo was a citizen of Lyons and had amassed a certain amount of wealth by usurious means. One day he attended a civic event where he witnessed the collapse and death of a bystander. He considered that the fate of his fellow citizen might at any time be his own. He was very moved by this.
   In A.D. 1173, on a Sabbath, his attention turned to a troubadour reciting passages from a Romaunt called the Life of St. Alexis. From that point on he became fascinated with the momentous subject of Christianity, so much so he went to a priest which advised him, "If you wouldst be perfect, go sell all you have and give to the poor." So, he did precisely that. He liquidated his assets so he could help support the poor. He fed all who came to him three days a week, enrolled his two daughters in a convent and publicly announced his intention to serve God rather than mammon. He practiced self-denial and invited others to follow him. He was soon joined by a number of companions and they formed together a fraternity called the Poor Men of Lyons. This was a compassionate and charitable organization.
   Longing to be more knowledgeable in the Scriptures, Waldo conceived the idea of translating the Bible into the vernacular language, the Gallo-Provencal idiom. With the help of three other scholars, the entire New Testament, Psalms and many books of the Old Testament were made accessable to the bulk of the people.
   Taking with them these translated books of the Bible along with other selected passages of Scripture, Waldo and his followers set out preaching the Gospel message in the streets and houses of Lyons and neighboring villages. As the seventy disciples went out two by two without staff or scrip and wearing wooden sandals, so did Waldo's disciples. As the following grew, the local priests became jealous of their work and convinced the archbishop of Lyons to issue an order forbidding Waldo and his followers to expound the Scriptures or to preach. But Waldo's spirit of truth by which he claimed he was led could not be silenced by a petty law of the land.
   Looking for justice within the Catholic Church, two of Waldo's followers journeyed to Rome to see Pope Alexander III and solicit his approbation of their work. They brought with them a translation of their Bible. The pope received them graciously and expressed his approbation of their charitable work. At the time of their visit, the third Lateran.Council was in session and one of the topics of discussion was whether or not Waldo's work was a threat to the Catholic Church. The pope didn't think it would be wise to extinguish this small work, but. he did grant to Waldo and his friends a limited license to preach which was subject to the control of the Catholic clergy. Up to this point Waldo's conduct was almost entirely within the Catholics' limitations and there were no grounds for ecclesiastical censure. Be counsellea with their priests, enrolled his daughters in convents, and the men who helped him translate the Bible were in the priestly order. They even preached within the limitations imposed by the pope — for a time.
   At length their zeal became too intense to stay within the pope's guidelines. They could not be restrained. They shed the shackles of ecclesiastical censure and declared the truth in the spirit of liberty. Because of this flagrant disobedience to the apostolic office of the pope, they were immediately threatened with the severest penalties. At the Council of Verona in 1184, under the presidency of Pope Lucius III, Waldo and his disciples were formally excommunicated.
   Thus, the Waldenses were cast out of their native land. They sprinkled themselves throughout much of Europe wherever they were received. To some, theirs was a new gospel and to others a recultivation of a seed sown earlier.
   Peter Waldo preached for a while in Dauphine, but the persecution was too hot so close to Lyons. He gathered many followers in Picardy. They became so numerous that the French king, Philip Augustus, sent an army against them. Hundreds of houses were burned, several towns were sacked and survivors fled to Flanders. From there Waldo went to Bohemia where he would be beyond the reach of the papal police. Here he founded a church and the membership grew tremendously. In 1315 the communicants numbered an estimated 80,000. There is little known about Waldo's last days or his death.


4. William Jones, History of the Christian Church: From the Birth of Christ to the XVII Century, p. 255.

5. G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, p. 255.

6. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication: French Protestants: The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, p. 29.

7. Jones, History of the Christian Church, p. 354.

8. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, French Protestants, p. 46.

9. Oorchard, Baptist History, p. 297.

10. V. Raymond Edman, Light in the Dark Ages, p. 303.

11. John Alzog, Manual of Univeral Church History, Vol. II, p. 658.

12. Jean Paul Perrin, Historie of the Waldenses and Albingenses, p. 263, footnote.

13. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, The Waldenes: Sketches of the Evanelical Christians of the Valleys of Piedmont, p. 31.

14. Waldenses, "Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1891, Vol. IV, p. 2473.

15. Edman, Light in Dark Ages, p. 301.

16. Philip Smith, Student's Ecclesiastical History, Part II: The History of the Christian Church During the Middle Ages, pp. 597-598, footnote.

17. "Waldenses," Collier's Encyclopedia, Vol. 23, p. 217.

18. "Waldenses," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th ed., Vol. 28, p. 255.

19. Smith, History of the Christian Church During the Middle Ages, p. 578-579.

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Publication Date: 1974
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