A Handbook of Church History
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A Handbook of Church History

Chapter V - Series: 1:

Waldenses and Anabaptists

When Waldenses Began

   From the New International Encyclopedia, article Waldenses: The name given to the followers of Peter Waldo and his successors in modern times.
   In modern times, there are two things you need to discern especially about the Waldenses. First, how old are they? Do they go all the way back to the apostles? The Baptists try to claim they do, as do others who trace their church history back through them. Yet, can you prove that by the facts of history? Are they a group that arose in the days of Peter Waldo? The second thing you need to realize: Waldenses exist even today. They have 40 or 50 churches in the world today. There is one in Missouri, one in North Carolina, and they exist in Italy today. Most of the accounts of their doctrine, and its history, pertain to the Waldenses of the last three or four centuries. That is where you have to be careful. One thing you still notice in the church histories: the Waldenses of today differ in a number of ways from the original Waldenses. Churches which trace history through them want to take their modern doctrines and modern practices. They want to take the people as they are today, but they want to take the centuries they have existed without going back to the original doctrines of the original Waldenses. The name was given to the followers of Peter Waldo and his successors in modern times.
   Waldo, or more properly, Valdez or Valdesius, a wealthy merchant of Lyons, France in the latter half of the 12th century was moved by the death of a friend. In 1170 he determined to lead a life of poverty and to devote himself to the cause of religion. As he wished to read the scriptures, he employed two ecclesiastics to translate portions of the Bible into the vernacular. Followers soon flocked to him and were known sometimes by his name, sometimes as the 'poor men of Lyons.'1
   That is true, but did their church exist as the Waldensian church since the days of the apostles? Or did they recognize forerunners as the Nazarenes, Paulicians, Bogomils, Petrobrusians, etc.? Some Waldensian ministers "maintain that their origin dated from the persecution of the third century." But does this mean under the same name, or thru stages known by different names? "This idea is now entirely abandoned." Would the Baptists, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses or others who trace their history through the Waldenses back to the apostles like read that?
   From the 9th edition of Encyclopedia Americana, article Waldenses we learn: Here we see again the Waldenses were not a denomination. They were still a sect. They joined with the reform movement and became a denomination. Today the Waldenses are a denomination. Notice the Americana, the New International, and we will see the Britannica also says they began with Peter Waldo. But the Baptists and other denominations who trace their history back through them say they did not.
   Some of the writers derive the name Waldenses from Valez, from the French word valley, and they call them "voodaux," which was the name given later.
   [Notice, the name given later, not the original name. This derivation of their name was an attempt to stretch their antiquity back to the apostles rather than be dated by the name of an individual which could be established.]
   Still others have traced their origin to the earlier sects of HENRICIANS.
   About 1170, Waldo, shocked and moved to repentance by his sins by the sudden death of a friend came to the determination to imitate the mode of life of the apostles and primitive Christians.
   Strange how these historians admit by the very doctrines and attitudes of these various stages of the church, they were trying to imitate and exemplify the life of the apostles and primitive Christians. This should remind us of a verse in Jude that says we ought to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. In every stage we have read that very statement. The intention of Peter De Bruy, the Paulicians, the Bogomils was to imitate the mode of life of the apostles and primitive Christians.
   He gave his goods to the poor and by his preaching, collected numerous followers chiefly from the class of artisans who from the place of their birth were designated Leonists. They were designated Leonists or the poor men of Lyons; Sabatati, or Insabati on account of their wooden shoes of sandals [sabats]; Humiliatists on account of their profession of humility, and were often confounded with the Patarines, Albigenses and others whose faith they shared.
   Remember what we read about the church at Thyatira in Rev. 2, that Christ would come quickly and they would be there when he returned. The Waldenses will be there when Christ returns.
   In their fanatical contempt of the clergy and their opposition to the Roman priesthood, the Waldenses resembled the sects of like character in the middle ages. They made the Bible alone the rule of their faith and rejected whatever was not founded by the Bible as not conformable to apostolic antiquity.
   What would this do to the pagan superstitions in our 'Christianity' such as Easter, Christmas, immortality of the soul; and what about churches who trace their history back through them but whose beliefs and practices are not founded on the Bible?
   They renounced entirely the doctrines, usages, and traditions of the Roman Catholic church, and formed a separate religious system. They were therefore excommunicated as heretics at the council of Rome in 1184, but they did not suffer a general persecution until the war against the Albigenses whom they closely resembled in their doctrines and customs.
   Notice that! They were excommunicated at that early date, but when were their great, great sufferings? They did not even suffer a general persecution until the war against the Albigenses. As long as these people were faithful, as long as they were the true church, God protected them. The greater abundance of martyrs of the Waldenses, as with any era of God's church, took place after they were not the true church anymore. God promised that he would keep them from the hour of tribulation, if they would watch and pray they would be accounted worthy to escape. This is important to notice with each church stage or era.
   Single congregations went to Callabria and Apolia where they were soon suppressed, others to Bohemia where they were called Grubenheimer because they used to conceal themselves in caverns.    They soon became amalgamated with the Hussites.2
   See! God's true church had ceased existing in Bulgaria in the days of the Bogomils. So even though Waldenses did go up to Bulgaria, that wasn't the place God prepared for them to go next. So if they went over, they soon became amalgamated with the Hussites. Some very interesting facts are added by Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia:
   Waldensian church. Named from Peter Waldo. The oldest Protestant church in the world and one of the three native evangelical churches in Italy. The Waldensian valleys are in the North of Italy. The territory occupied by the Waldenses is from 24 to 25 miles long and from 14 to 15 miles wide. The chief place is Toratalese with 5000 inhabitants where there is a college for boys and a highschool for girls.
   [That is talking about them today.]

Conversion of Peter Waldo

   The Waldenses numbering from 25,000 to 26,000 are chiefly peasants, living in small villages. [It is now generally agreed among church historians that there is no evidence that the Waldenses were in existence as a separate organization before the days of Peter Waldo.]
   That is true! They were not. But there was a separate church from the Catholic church, and they did descend from it, but it wasn't the Waldensian church all the way back down to the apostles. The question, however, is far from being settled but even if the connection between Waldo and the Waldensians be denied, here is a reformer whose doctrines are so much like those professed by the Waldenses themselves.
   This is undoubtedly Presbyterian, their ecclesiastical quality very much resembling that of the church of Scotland.

Presbyterian Ministers Acquired

   [Recourse was had to send to Geneva and France for a supply of preachers and those who were sent being Presbyterian, brought with them and established in Piedmont that form of church quality which now prevails.]
   The Moravian brethren go so far as to affirm that their first bishop received the Episcopalian ordination from Stephanus, bishop of the valley. Whether that opinion is true or not cannot be affirmed with certainty. The fact is that the Waldenses, although Presbyterian, differ somewhat from the Presbyterian churches in some respects. They keep Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Ascension day. They have the rite of confession in the Episcopal church, they have a liturgy, and the ministers are at liberty to use it or not. Their synod which corresponds to the general assembly of the Presbyterian church meets once a year and is composed of all the ordained ministers of the home church and of the mission field. The lay deputation is composed of two delegates not necessarily ruling elders. The seminary of the church is in France.
   Those who wish to be enrolled as regular theological students must have a government diploma which corresponds to the degree of M.A. in England. The curriculum last three years, nine months every year. There are three professors. After the Waldenses received their civil and religious freedom in 1848 they began the work of evangelization among their countrymen. They had 44 churches, 43 pastors, 47 stations with 47 evangelists and 8 teacher evangelists.3
   Chambers Encyclopedia gives more information under their article entitled Waldenses, Valdenses, Valdecia, Valdeci, Vaudois: The religious doctrine of the Waldenses are now similar to those of the reform churches. The Waldenses had at one time bishops but that was when the sect was more widely spread than it now is. [Much has been said of the origin of the Waldenses. Their own historians assert that the community has remained from apostolic times independent of the church of Rome and they boast they can show a regular apostolic succession of bishops from the earliest period of Christianity, till that of the reformation. This statement has been very generally admitted by critical writers, but in the light of recent investigations it would seem to be no longer believable. DeKauf and Herzog have submitted the early history of the Waldenses to a critical examination and the conclusion to which they have come after an examination of the manuscript records is that the Waldenses had not the early origin claimed for them and were not Protestant before the reformation, although they entertained opinions which so far were in anticipation of those held by the reformers. They are also of the opinion that the Waldenses do not take their name from Valle, Vaule, a valley, as has been assumed by some, but from Peter Waldo, of Lyons, a merchant of the 12th century who was less a founder of a sect than the representative and leader of a widespread struggle against the corruption of the clergy.] The church would have tolerated Peter Waldo as it had tolerated St. Francis the founder of the Franciscans and perhaps have allowed him to form a new order had he not tread upon ground dangerous to the hierarchy, but he had the 4 gospels translated and maintained that laymen had a right to read them to the people.

Clergy's Ignorance and Immorality Exposed

   He exposed in this way, the prevalent ignorance and immorality of the clergy and brought down their wrath upon himself. His opinions were condemned by a general council in 1179 and he retired to the valley of the Cottian Alps. A long series of persecutions followed but Waldo's followers could not be forced to change their opinions. They continued to be known as Leonesti from the place of their origin, poor men of Lyons, Sabatati, humiloti. It was natural that a body cruelly persecuted should stand aloft from the church and even offer armed resistance. But we have no evidence of the manner in which the Waldenses first became a separate community. They are now shown to have been identical with the followers of Waldo but they must not be confounded with the Albigenses who were persecuted in the same period. The protests of the Waldenses against the church of Rome only related to the practical questions. That of the Albigenses related to matters of doctrine. The Waldenses at first seemed to have spread in the upper valleys of Dopheny and Piedmont to which Waldo retired. They were subjected to persecutions in 1332, 1400 and 1478 and where their industry and integrity were universally renowned. So widely had the sects been scattered that it was said a traveller from Antwerp to Rome could sleep every night at the house of one of the brethren. In Bohemia many of them had settled and they, without forsaking their own community, joined the Hussites, Taberites, and Bohemian Brethren, a connection which lead to a change in the principles of the Waldenses. They adopted the doctrines of the reformers and this lead to more serious persecutions than any they had previously undergone.4

Obscure History of Sects

   The Encyclopedia Britannica bears witness to the obscure information on the sects of the Middle Ages as follows
   Waldenses: The name Waldenses was given to the members of an heretical Christian sect which arose in the South of France about 1170. The history of the sects of the middle ages is obscure, because the earliest accounts of them come from those who were concerned in their suppression and were therefore eager to lay upon each of them the worst enormities which could be attributed to any. In later times the apologists of each sect reversed the process and cleared that in which they were interested at the expense of the others. In early times these sectaries produced little literature of their own; when they produced literature at the beginning of the 15th century they attempted to claim for it a much earlier origin.
   Notice the first literature the Waldenses have is in the 15th century. Actually they have two separate histories of the Waldenses, the one in the 15th century and the one written later in the 18th and 19th centuries by Gilly and other men who went over there from England.
   Hence there is confusion on every side; it is difficult to distinguish between various sects and to determine their exact opinions or the circumstances under which they came into being. The Waldenses, under their more modern name of the Vaudois [Notice the Britannica claims it is their more modern name. That's true. That's the name of the modern Waldenses from the 15th century on up. The history of the original Waldenses, was written in the 15th century. These histories of the modern Vaudois [written in 1800 and 1900] have survived to the present day in the valleys of Piedmont.] The Waldensians have been regarded at one time as the most ancient and the most evangelical of the medieval sects. It is, however, by no means easy to determine their original tenets.
   Notice that! Their original tenets are quite a bit different from what they are now. In the 13th and 14th centuries they were a body of obscure and unlettered peasants, hiding themselves in a corner, while in the 16th century they were absorbed into the general movement of the Reformation. See when they quit being the true church! When were they the little flock, the obscure, hidden people?
   As regards their antiquity, the attempts to claim for them an earlier origin than the end of the 12th century can no longer be sustained. They rested upon the supposed antiquity of a body of Waldensian literature, which modern criticism has shown to be tampered with.

Waldensians and Preceding Sects

   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. 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. Putting these views aside as unsubstantial, we will consider the relation of the Waldenses as they appear in actual history with the sects which preceded them. Already in the 9th century there were several protests against the rigidity and want of spirituality of a purely sacradotal church. The Berenger of Tours upheld the symbolic character of the Eucharist and the superiority of the Bible over tradition. The Paterines in Milan raised a protest against simony and other abuses. In France, at Embrun, Peter De Bruys founded a sect known as Petrobrusians, who denied infant baptism, the need of consecrated churches, transsubstantiation, and masses for the dead. A follower of his, a monk, Henry, gave the name to another body known as Henricians, who centered in Tours. The teachers of these new opinions were men of high character and holy lives, who in spite of persecution wandered from place to place and made many converts from those who were dissatisfied at the want of clerical discipline which followed upon the struggle for temporal supremacy into which the reforming projects of Gregory VII had carried the church. It was at this time that a rich merchant of Lyons, Peter Waldo, sold his goods and gave them to the poor; then he went forth as a preacher of voluntary poverty.

Empty Religion

   His followers, the Waldenses or poor men of Lyons, were moved by a religious feeling which could find no satisfaction within the actual system of the church.
   Is that the way it started with you? Did you start feeling empty when you came back from church? When you tried to check out what you believed, about the ever-burning hell and mothers in heaven seeing their babies burning in that ever-burning hell? Could you find satisfaction? That's what these men experienced.
   Like St. Francis, Waldo adopted a life of poverty that he might be free to preach, but with this difference, that the Waldenses preached the doctrine of Christ while the Franciscans preached the person of Christ. Waldo reformed teaching while Francis kindled love; hence, the one awakened antagonisms which the other escaped. For Waldo had a translation of the New Testament made into the vernacular and his preachers not only stirred up men to more holy lives but explained the Scriptures at their will. Such an interference with the ecclesiastical authorities led to difficulties. Pope Alexander III who had approved of the poverty of the Waldensians, prohibited them from preaching without the permission of the bishops. Waldo answered that he must obey God rather than man. The result of this disobedience was excommunication by Lucius III in 1184. Thus a reforming movement became heresy through disobedience to authority, and after being condemned embarked on a course of polemical investigation now to justify its own position.

Earliest Account of Doctrines

   The earliest definite account given of the Waldensian opinion is that of the inquisitor Sacconi about 1250.
   Now what are we going to find he had to say about these Waldenses? Quite a bit different from those in 1650 or those in 1550.
   He divides them into two classes, those north of the Alps and those of Lombardy. The first class hold (1) that oaths are forbidden by the gospel, (2) that capital punishment is not allowed to the civil power, (3) that any layman may consecrate the sacrament of the altar, and (4) that the Roman Church is not the church of Christ.
   So they weren't Protestants, were they? No, because Protestants think the Roman church was the Church of Christ that went astray and needed to be cleaned up. But anybody who claims that it never was the church of Christ isn't a Protestant.
   The Lombard sect went farther in (3) holding that no one in mortal sin could consecrate the sacrament, and (4) that the Roman Church was the scarlet woman of the Apocalypse whose precepts ought not to be obeyed, especially those appointing fast-days. They were opposed to asceticism, and had no official priesthood; at the same time their objection to oaths and to capital punishment are closely related to the principles of the Cathari. Their other opinions were forced upon them by their conflict with the authority of the Church.

Christ in You

   These opinions were subversive of the system of the medieval church, and were naturally viewed with great disfavour by its officials; but it cannot fairly be said that they have much in common with the opinions of the Reformers of the 16th century. The medieval church set forth Christ as present in the orderly community of the faithful; Protestantism aimed at setting the individual in immediate communion with Christ.
   Do you see the difference? These people of this time set Christ as the center of the community and their orderly way of living, whereas others aimed at setting the individual right with Christ. There is quite a bit of difference, if you get the point.
   The earliest known document proceeding from the Waldensians is an account of a conference held at Bergamo in 1218 between the Ultramontane and the Lombard divisions, in which the Lombards showed a greater opposition to the recognized priesthood than did their northern brethren.

Ministerial Functions

   The ministers received food and clothing from the contributions of the people, but also worked with their hands; the result of this was that they were very ignorant and also were grasping after bequests from the dying. The affairs of the church were managed by a general synod held every year. The duties of the barbs were to visit all within their district once a year, hear their confessions, advise and admonish them; in all services the two ministers sat side by side and one spoke after the other.
   Is that the way the Baptists do it? Or the Jehovah Witnesses? No, they are all preachers, the Jehovah Witnesses. Is that the way the Adventists do it? No. That's the way the Waldenses did. They maintained that from the original Waldenses when they were the true church.

Freewill and Predestination Troubles Waldenses

   In point of doctrine they denied purgatory and the sacrifice of the mass, and did not observe fasts or festivals.
   No Easter, no Christmas, no Halloween, no St. Patrick's day. No festivals from Paganism!

Good Works

   After giving this account of themselves they ask for information about several points in a way which shows the exigencies of a rude and isolated society, and finally they say that they have been much disturbed by the Lutheran teaching about freewill and destination, for they held that men did good works.
   That's really terrible, isn't it? Would Protestants claim them as their ancestors with this belief?
   They had held that men did good works through natural virtue stimulated by God's grace and they thought of predestination in no other way than as a part of God's foreknowledge.5 That's certainly true!

Catholic Testimony

The Catholic Encyclopedia records Waldenses:

   A heretical sect which appeared in the second half of the 12th century and in a considerably modified form has survived to the present day.

Considerably modified form! That's putting it lightly.

   Name and origin. The name has derived from Peter Valdez, their founder. Variation of the name, Valdeci, Valdenses, numerous other designations were applied to them. The poor, Leonists, poor men of Lyons, Sandalati, Insabati. Anxious to surround their own history and doctrine with the halo of antiquity, some Waldenses claimed for their churches an apostolic origin.
   That's so! That's true! They did have an apostolic origin, but not as Waldenses since the Apostles. Notice how he words that:
   Anxious to surround their own history and doctrine with the halo of antiquity.
   Of course the Catholics didn't try to surround their doctrines with the halo of antiquity, did they?

Opponents Admit Their Pure Lives

   They were by the admission of their opponents, pure in life and free from the stain of formal heresy and thus they won over many who were dissatisfied with the existing state of corruption in high places and yet shrank from the Manichaean heresy that infected the Albigenses. Hence, they speedily became numerous and proved a cause of great peril to the church and for three reasons, Rinerious, dominican inquisitor, who had much to do with them, remarks the three main reasons they were especially dangerous: Number 1, because they were of earlier origin than the other sects, that is according to their own account as they traced themselves to Sylvester's time, 2. they were more widely extended, 3. while other sects filled their hearers with horror by their foul blasphemies, the Leonists had a great show of piety so as to live upright in the sight of all, having a right faith in all the things of God and the articles of the creed though they only reviled the church of Rome and the clergy. Their separation from the church and continued study of holy scripture by the light of their private judgment soon led them to oppose many of the prevailing doctrines and practices. The errors ascribed to them ranged under three heads:
   1. Those against Rome and the clergy.
   2. Those against the sacraments and the saints.
   3. Those against the ecclesiastical customs.

Doctrines Enumerated!

A list of their doctrines proves very enlightening:

   Number 1. They threw off the authority of the pope and the bishops generally. Those of Italy indeed allowed that Rome was a true but corrupt church. Those of France, ultra Montaine Waldenses, maintained that she had apostacized and was Babylon and the harlot and that they themselves were the only true church.
   Is that what you find the Bogomils said, and the Paulicians said? Is that what you think too?
   The pope was the head of error. The appellates were the scribes and the monks were the Pharisees. 2. They exercised the right of laymen to preach. 3. They declared the consecration and absolution of bad priests to be invalid.
   Didn't we read even in the Bible that they allowed Catholics to baptize and administer sacraments? Didn't God say he had somewhat against them because they allowed the false woman, Jezebel, to seduce and baptize His servants? Remember that about Thyatira, from Rev. 2:7? The unworthiness of the ministering priests rendered the sacraments to be of none effect.
   4. That absolution by a good layman was effective and that therefore confession might be made to anyone. Next, they refused to pay tithes, protested against religious endowments and the temporal powers of the clergy.
   Did they believe in tithing? We'll find out. They refused to pay tithes to whom?
   They abolished much of the prevailing ritual in baptism. Some declared that infant baptism was unprofitable. That difference does not seem to be universally held. With regard to the eucharist, they maintained a kind of subjective presence as it would now be called, that the trans-substantiation does not take place in the hands of the priest but in the mouth of the believer.
   That is, if you eat the bread and wine, you make it in your own mouth the body and blood of Christ, who lives His life in you. That's how Christ lives in you. If you don't take the bread and wine, then you have no part with Christ.

Invocation of Saints

   They rejected the canon of the mass and they denied any oblation in it. They allowed the confirmation by priests.
   That is one of the things God had against them!
   They objected to the forbidden degrees (probably only the more remote of which Rome made such a profit by means of dispensation). Also they objected to compulsory celibacy of the clergy. They depreciated unction. They asserted that the apostles were the only saints who should be had in honor and declared against any invocation of them even. They opposed as useless all alms, masses and fasts and prayers for the faithful departed.

Intermediate State of the Dead!

   What a point of truth about hell from the Waldenses! They denied purgatory and maintained that the disembodied spirits go to heaven or hell, somehow even held a doctrine of the intermediate state. When you die, you are in the intermediate state between life and the next state. When you die, you just don't exist; your very thoughts perish and you know not anything. Wind goes to wind, dust goes to dust, water goes to water, and there is nothing there of you except your character that God is controlling to put into another body. Some of the Waldenses held the doctrine of the intermediate state. They knew one word for hell was the grave, the intermediate place of the dead before their resurrection to their final fate.
   Next, they called the plain song of the church clamor and finale, and they rejected the ecumenical hours as time for prayer. They opposed the use of crosses, images and ornaments in churches. They opposed the ceremony of Palm Sunday and all dedications, in fact all traditions and ecclesiastical customs that weren't expressly contained in scripture. Next, they denied the mystical use of scripture.
   That's what the Catholics say: the scriptures are a mystery for the priest to understand. None of the average men understand it.
   They called pilgrimages useless. Some of them refused to worship in churches, preferring the use of bedrooms and stables. They also objected to ecclesiastical burials. They denied the lawfulness of capital punishment, of oaths, they denied the lawfulness of bearing arms in self defense. This from their modern descendants, the Vaudois. Also, they were denied the lawfulness of lawsuits. They interpreted the sermon on the mount according to the strict letter.
   God says, 'swear not at all.' He means swear not at all! Isn't that something? If He says, 'don't call any man Rabbi,' He means it! Is that odd to think Christ meant what He said?


   Between A.D. 1307 and 1323, 607 sentences of various punishment were passed by the inquisition in France upon heretics and only 92 of these were upon the Waldenses.
   Only 92 out of 607, over the time period of 16 years: God was looking after them.
   They gradually declined in that country. At the present time, only a remnant is left on the Western slopes of the Alps in Dophene. They extended themselves into Lower Germany, especially Brandenberg, Pomerania and Meckenberg, where many were burnt.
   There they paved the way for the Reformation and in aftertimes were mingled with the Protestants of those parts. It was in Italy under their modernized name of Vaudois they made themselves most celebrated.
   Yes, that's where it was, Vaudois, in Italy that they became more celebrated.
   Their fierce resistance in arms to persecution so now they are totally changed. Now they are fierce in their resistance.
   They, unlike the Christians of earlier times, resisted by force of arms the attempts made upon their faith.

He admits the earlier Christians didn't resist with arms.

   The French Vaudois offered no resistance to their persecutors.

1556 Confession of Faith

   In 1556, they sent a confession of faith to the Reformers of Germany. In this they expressed their belief in the old and new testament. They acknowledged the holy sacraments, they admitted the ten commandments as a rule of life.
   That is how they believed in 1556. At this time they still believed the 10 commandments were a rule of life!
   They professed submission to the superiors placed over them by God. None of the Vaudois were at this time allowed to practice law or visit upon their own territory and even at home they were restricted to ranks of apothecaries and attorneys. All the civil and military offices were closed to them.

Numerous Church Festivals

   They were compelled to refrain from all work on the numerous festivals of the church.
   What numerous church festivals, seeing they rejected the traditional and pagan days of the Catholic church Palm Sunday, Easter, Christmas, Halloween? They were keeping God's Holy Days!
   Difficulties were thrown in the way of their building houses for their pastors and repairing their places of worship. They were refused admission into many of the established hospitals unless they would consent to renounce their own communion.
   So you come to the door of the hospital, dying. They say, 'are you one of those Vaudois?' You say 'yes.' They say, you will have to change your belief before we will let you into the hospital...we are merciful Christians.'
   All of these restrictions are now abolished and hospitals have been founded for them. The Vaudois had at the same time given up many of their old peculiarities, and approximated more to the ordinary type of foreign Protestants except only they are free from the Sessinianism of the Swiss and the rationalism of the German and French Protestants. They never showed any great inclination toward the errors of Calvin.

Three Periods of Waldensian Literature

   M. Montey was given a very thorough account of Waldensian literature, dividing it into three periods. The first is the Catholic period during which the dogmas and practices of the church were accepted. The writings of this period are taken from the fathers. The pope during this period is never attacked by the Waldensians.
   Then the second period, the Hussite period. Now the pope is fiercely attacked. The sacraments are invalid by reason of the wickedness of the priest, and there is a strong leaning toward the universal priesthood.6
   And then the third period, the Calvinistic period. Unhappily this last period has been marked by a wholesale falsification of documents. The documents relating to the Waldensian histories from the time of the Reformation forward have been falsified by forgery and by mutilation with the object of showing the Waldensian is a Christian body which had descended from apostolic times.

Early Characteristics

From Walker's History of the Christian Church, we read:

   They now appealed to the third Lateran Council in 1179 for permission to preach. The Council refused permission for them to preach. This led Peter Waldo to decisive action. Valdez, who appears in what is known of his later history as determined, not to say obstinate, felt that this refusal was the voice of man against that of God. He and his associates continued preaching.
   The early characteristics of the Waldensians now rapidly developed.
   Take note! They always divide the characteristics of the Waldenses into two different groups! Their doctrines later were quite different from what they were originally.
   Chief of all was the principle that the Bible and especially the new testament is the sole rule of belief and life. Yet they read it through thoroughly medieval spectacles.
   In other words, they read it like the Paulicians and like the Henricians and the Petrobrusians did.
   It was to them a book of law.
   Is that what it is to you? The book of law? Or a book of sentimentality, of emotionalism?
   It was to them, a book of law, of minute prescriptions.
   Is that what it is to you? If it says 'swear not at all,' does it mean it? If it says let your yea be yea and your nay, nay, does it mean it? Notice they said minute prescriptions: to be followed to the letter.
   In the minute prescriptions to be followed to the letter, the Bible was a book of law. Large portions were learned by heart.
How many of us know large portions of the Bible by heart? How many of us even know the outline of the major chapters in the Bible?
   In accordance with what they believed to be its teachings, they went out two-by-two preaching, clad in a simple woolen garment, barefooted or wearing sandals, living solely on the gifts of their hearers. They held prayer more effective in secret than in church.

Church Government

   They opposed the Cathari and justly regarded them as widely different. Certain conflicts of opinion, and a feeling that the government of Valdez was arbitrary, lead to the secession of the Lombard branch by 1210.
   So there were certain sects and groups in the Waldensians who had their own opinions about certain things, and they felt that the government of Valdez was up to the individual as to whether you wanted to go along with it or not. They thought it was arbitrary. You see, they didn't recognize church government. Some seceded to maintain their own opinions. But what about the ones who stayed faithful? The descendants of Peter Waldo remained the true church and not this group which split away. The Bible says, 'he who is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject, knowing that they do gender strife rather than godly edifying.
   Attempts at reunion were made in 1218 after Valdez' death. The two bodies remained estranged. The able pope, Innocent III, improved these disputes by countenancing in 1208 the organization of Pauperes Catholici which allowed many of the practices of the Waldensians under strict churchly oversight. Considerable numbers were thus won back to the church. Nevertheless, the Waldensian body split. Waldensians were to be found in Northern Spain.

Only Surviving Medieval Sect

   Under modern religious freedom, their labor was a success in many parts of Italy. Their history is one of heroic endurance, of persecution, most honorable history, and they are the only medieval sect which still survives.
   God said they would, in Revelation two! He said He would come to them: they will be here when He returns. He didn't say that of the Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Bogomils or any of the other stages of the true church. Notice! This historian bears witness they are the only medieval sect which still survives.
   Though with wide modification of their original ideas and methods. The Cathari and the Waldensians had much use of the Bible. The synod of Toulouse in 1229 forbade the laity to possess the scriptures except the Salter and such portions as are contained in the breviary and especially denounced all translations.
   The decree was indeed local, but similar moves lead to like procedures in Spain and elsewhere. No universal denial of Bible reading by the laity was issued during the middle ages.7
   We notice again the distinnction and stages of the different groups of Waldensians from Funk's Manual of Church History, article Waldensians:
   The founder of the Waldensians was Peter Waldez, a native of Lyons.
   So, there again is a dogmatic statement that the Waldensians were founded by Peter Waldo. They did not trace their history back from 400 A.D. They were not a split-off from the Catholic church. Neither is true.

Humiliadi Poor Men of Lyons

   They were, however, obliged to withdraw into secrecy when Lucius III formally included in the heretics whom he excommunicated the Humiliadi or poor men of Lyons. This was the name by which the Waldensians were commonly known. Though they were called also Leonesta, From Lyons, and Sabbatati, from the sandals they wore. They depended for their living on the alms of their friends and admirers who still remained entangled in the life of this world.

Military Service Rejected

   They rejected purgatory, intercession for the dead, indulgences, and military service.

The Sect Split

   The sect soon split into two branches. The Lombards demanded a certain independence. They demanded the right of electing and consecrating life-long superiors. In spite of the efforts of Waldo, they insisted also on maintaining their guilds of craftsmen. [In other words, their labor unions, of people united together in their particular trade, setting some standards.] They finally severed their connection with the others. After the founder's death an attempt was made at the Conference of Bergame, 1218, to re-establish unity, but it was no avail. The division lead to certain differences in practical conduct. The French attended the Divine service with the Catholics. The Italians went farther and believed the worth of the sacraments depended upon the personal sanctity of the minister. They refused the sacraments of the church and conducted their own services but they were not able to continue this practice for long as early as the end of the 13th century, they were compelled, in order to avoid persecution, to receive the sacraments of the official church.
   They were given an order to receive the sacraments of the Catholic priest, or they would know who they were. What would they do? Receive the sacraments and stay alive or go ahead and reject them and get killed? Some of them did each.
   They persisted in confessing their sins only to their own brethren. In the 16th century, the sectarians either went over to Protestantism or at least re-organized themselves on a Protestant basis.

The Legend of the Primitive Church Connection

   There is a legend of comparatively early invention that the Waldenses were connected with the primitive church. This is the truth, if you understand in what way, but all these historians get the wrong way. The Waldensians were connected with the primitive church, but through other names, and stages. It is legend that they came all the way down themselves.
   When Constantine the great had heaped power and wealth on Sylvester, a band of devoted men resolved to preserve inviolate apostolic life and had become parents of the sect.
   It received general belief among the Protestants. Why would it not? Can you not see why they would want to have believed it? Why would the Baptists, the Jehovah Witnesses, any Protestant body, which refused to connect its history with the Catholic Church at all, why would they want the Waldensians to be more ancient than they really are?
   The legend received general acceptance among the Protestants until the middle of the last century and now everywhere it is acknowledged to be completely devoid of foundation.8
   That is absolutely true. And that is a good reliable source on that particular point.

Opinions of Waldensians Origin

Church History, by Ruter:

   Concerning the sect which existed in the 12th century, none was more distinguished by the reputation it acquired, by the multitude of its votaries, and the testimony which its bitterest enemies bore to the probity and innocence of its members than that of the Waldensians. The origin of this celebrated people has occasioned much discussion and their geneology has been traced to the first periods of Christianity, or to a much less remote source, according to the ingenuity or fancy of the historian.
   Yes, but in what way? It has to be one of two ways. Either you try to claim it came all the way down as Waldensians or you say, before this we were Bogomils, before this we were Paulicians, before this we are Nazarenes always giving a different name in a different area or era.
   With rather more probability the name by which these distinguished reformers have been transmitted to posterity has been ascribed to their living in the valleys of Piedmont whence they obtained the appellation of Vaudois. A different attempt from any of the preceding, however, is given by Turatine of this sect.
   He represents them as originating from the Millenese clergy, many of whom refused to repudiate their wives in compliance with the injunctions of Leo IX and Nicholas II and Gregory VII.
   Withdrawing from the Roman communion, they held conventions on their own at a place called Patarea, whence they first were called Patarines, afterwards Waldensians.

A Branch of Paulicians

   With still greater probability.
   Notice, this statement! These others have opinions, different accounts, and then he says with still greater probability. Now what is the greatest probability?
   However, they are conceived to have been a branch of the Paulicians.

Conversion of Waldo

Ruter pictures Peter Waldo's conversion very beautifully:

   No sooner, however, had he pursued these sacred records with the proper amount of attention than he perceived that the religion which was now taught by the Roman church differed totally from that which was inculcated by Christ and the apostles. Struck with this glaring departure from the truth, and animated with a pious zeal for promoting his own salvation and that of others, he abandoned his mercantile vocation, distributed his riches among the poor and forming an association with other pious men, who had adopted his sentiments, he began to assume in 1180 the character of a public teacher.

Invention of Indulgences

   The newly invented doctrine of indulgences had almost totally abolished. They, at the same time, affirmed that every pious Christian was qualified and entitled to prescribe to the penitent, the kind and degree of satisfaction or expiation which his transgressions required, that confession made to the priests was by no means necessary since the humble offender might acknowledge his sins and testify his repentance to any true believer. That he might expect from such, the counsel and admonition which his case and circumstances demanded. They maintained that the power of delivering sinners from the guilt and punishment of their offenses belonged to God alone.

Albigensian Branch from Waldensian Stock

   The Albigenses, who derived their name from Albi, were a branch from this parent stock. In common with the Waldensians they opposed the errors and superstitions of the Romish church. Such an enormity could not pass unpunished, and Peter De Bruys, one of their first teachers, was condemned to be burned.9
   So, you notice that they even list Peter De Bruys as one of the first teachers of the Albigenses. So these Albigenses existed at the same time as the Waldensians, and were preceded by Peter De Bruys.

Conflict Among Historians

   A more recent church historian illustrates the knowledge of the true Waldensian antiquity. This is the Short History of the Christian Church, by Hurst.
   More than once in the history of the church, there has arisen from among the laity, bold and fearless reaction against the moral decline of the priesthood. The most notable illustration is to be found in the rise and growth of the Waldensians. They represented the protest of the private members against the prevailing corruption in the church. The Waldensians took their name from Peter Waldo of Lyons in France.
   All modern historians admit this. The only ones that disagree are the early Protestant historians at the time of the Reformation. They like to trace the Waldensians back to the days of the apostles. It is obvious why they would like to.

The German Carlstadt & Albigenses were Waldenses

   They established societies in Germany and in the mountain regions of France under the name, Albigenses. Their existence out of Piedmont was always insecure. In some instances they existed as individual believers as Carlstadt in Germany, but knew each other by secret signs. They lead pure and devout lives and they labored by such methods as defied discovery to produce a better life around them.
   They preached against purgatory, they preached against the worship of saints and they preached against priestly absolution. They held that the real church of Christ embraced many more believers than the papal church.
   So they had begun earlier than the Waldensians. They began about 100 years before the Waldensians did.
   They preached fearlessly against the corruption of the times when the Waldensians were gaining strength. Notwithstanding, the bitterness of Rome, the Catharists regarded their cause as identical with their own end and tried to combine with the Waldensians. The Waldensians were then at first men less opposed than the Catharists had been, but in due time, they stood alike as injurious and threatening in the eyes of Rome. By and by, a relentless warfare was declared not only against these heretics, but all similar reformatory bodies. Raymond Roger, Viscount of Beziers and Albi represented the cause of the reformers who were grouped under the general term of Albigenses.
   When these reformers were persecuted on the continent, their sufferings awakened a universal sympathy. In many of the nations of Europe, there were pure people who were praying for a better life throughout the Christian world. They watched with fear and trembling the persecutions of the believers in France and Piedmont and believed that though they conquered today, they would be victorious tomorrow. In England, this sympathy was intense and the parties to the persecution were made to feel it. Milton at a later day...[yes, a day when he wrote about the Piedmont Waldensians, who were not even the true church at his day in writing] put into ringing and immortal verse the English protest.10
   The Mennonite Church History by Hartzler and Kauffman.
   He traces their consecutive history through Paulicians, Henricians, Petrobrusians, Albigenses and Waldensians. This is exactly as it should be traced, but these authors never get around to telling you what they believed. Wonder why he never does? I am afraid the Mennonites would be quite red-faced if they did, but they will quote just parts but not all of them.
   In the time of Nero's persecution, a body of worshippers sought refuge in the valleys, caves and cliffs of the Cottian Alps.
   So, you notice right away what he tries to do. I am afraid the apostle Paul was still alive then, was he not? The apostle Paul had a few bouts with that lion. He had been in the lion's den. He had been there in the time of Nero. There was not a Waldensian for 1000 years after that. I do not understand what that Mennonite historian is trying to do because right before this, he lists the Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Henricians, Albigenses and Waldensians, here way back in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries and then he turns right around and tries to trace the Waldensians all the way back to Nero. The Mennonite readers will not notice. They would never trace back. Just like these Baptist historians never would check on him, except those who are not any longer in the Baptist church. He gives the Paulicians in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th century and he gives the Albigenses, then he gives the Henricians and then these others. And then he comes down to the Waldensians.
   After his death, they settled in the secluded parts of that locality. Possibly no other body of Christians was so favored at that time. Surrounded by the mountains of Northern Italy, they were separated to a very large measure from the government of Rome and not so far separated, they could not see the spiritual decline of the hierarchy.
   If they could see the rottenness of the Catholic Church for so long, why could not the Catholics see them for so long? Here they are looking down from the mountains, they see all the Catholic frauds and all the Catholic errors. They see all their shortcomings and here is a church that martyred 100,000 Paulicians and slaughtered Bogomils by the thousands and here are these Waldensians looking down all the time and they did not touch them.

Rynerius Sacco

   Surrounded by the mountains of Northern Italy, they weren't too far separated though that they could see the spiritual decline of the hierarchy. This prompted them to lead righteous lives and created a desire to retain the Bible in its purity.

Notice he says "retain" and not "restore."

   Rynerius Sacco, a leader among the inquisitors of this region during the early part of the [now notice, if these Waldensians were down there in the time of Nero, what is he doing quoting a man, his first quote about the Waldensians and their characteristics comes from an inquisitor leader of the early 13th century.]
   Concerning the sects of the ancient heretics, observe that there have been more than 70 of all except the sects of the Manicheans, Arians, Roncarians and the Leonists which have infected Germany.
   He even states in this inquisitor's report that they had infected Germany.
   I they have, through the favor of God, been destroyed.
   So, out of all the heretical sects, out of the 70, they had destroyed 66. Only four escaped. "Manicheans." I wonder why this inquisitor does not list the Leonists as Manichaeans, like some history books try to do. Because he knew they were not. He lists them as totally separate.

Mennonite Conclusions

   With all due regard for such authority on theology and history as Dekoff and Herzog, who claim that no one can trace their doctrine back to the time of the apostles, we still believe that the evidence of Sacco, Sissal and half a dozen others, enemies of the Waldensians, justify the following conclusions: [So here is what the Mennonites conclude] First, that the Leonists and Waldensians or Valdensians were one and the same people. Second, that the Leonists or Valdenses were not the same as the heretical body called the Manicheans as many writers try to make it appear. Third, that among them were those who had never gone the way of the Romanists.
   Among the Waldenses were descendants of those who had never gone the way of the Romanists.
   And all through the dark ages there were people to be found that lived lives that were beyond reproach.
   That is not a very strong tracing of Mennonite history, is it? That is all they claim there. They claim that among those who had never gone the way of the Romanists, that all through the dark ages, there were people yes, well he ought to name them. He ought to trace them. He could not do that, because their doctrines do not agree with theirs.
   Nonetheless, he still insists that in the dark ages there were people to be found who lived lives that were beyond reproach.
   Fourth, that Peter Waldo, instead of being the founder of the Waldenses, was an organizer and a promoter, in a body of worshippers which existed long before that noted worker was born.
   So that is the fourth claim that Peter Waldo just came along among the Waldensians. He became one of their greatest workers and organizers.

Inquisitors Expose Doctrines

   In Sissal's work entitles Errors in Sect of the Waldenses, a work which shows the bitter spirit of the man against this people, he says, the 15th century:
   Upon examination, we shall find that their theological principles have in no respect varied from those which they attested to have maintained at an earlier period. They acknowledged no authoritative rule handed down by His apostles and rejecting the glosses of the popish doctors, followed it in plain and obvious sense according to the letter, deeming the church of Rome the Babylonian harlot and asserting their church to be alone the true universal church of Christ. They paid no attention to the ecclesiastical censures of the popish prelates and clergy. The vital doctrines of justification through the merits of Christ alone they firmly maintained, asserting that men required not the suffrages of the saints.
   Men did not require the suffrages of the saints, Christ only being to all abundantly sufficient for all things. Purgatory they altogether rejected, affirming that departed spirits did not go through any intermediate state of purification, that the payment of money in reference to the expiation of the souls of the deceased by penal sufferings is a foolish and destructive superstition, the whole fable being invented by the priests for their sordid emolument. They maintained that with one or two exceptions at the utmost, the conclusion of matrimony is freely open to all degrees of men, and in every other case they denied to the pontiffs the right of prohibition. The power of absolution by the priests and the necessity of confession to them, they entirely disallowed. All worship of the virgin, all worship of saints they rejected as idolatry. And, thence, they drew aside its principles addressed which have been composed by the highest doctors of the church.
   Faber in his History and Theology of the Ancient Waldensians and Albigenses says:
   The tenet of transsubstantiation they denied and derided and though Sissal described them as mere babblers, at this point he waives all arguments with these dreadfully inconclusive reasoners on the grounds that even the faithful themselves and the most skilled theologians so far from being capable of understanding so deep a mystery.

Impeccable Lives

   All benedictions of cemeteries and holy water and oratories and ecclesiastical ornaments they affirmed to be utterly useless. The adoration of images they strenuously opposed.

Sissal says further:

   They commonly lead a purer life than other Christians.
   Remember what happened when the ruling hierarchy at Babylon tried to find something wrong with Daniel? They could find nothing wrong with the way he lived. What did they finally find? They said, "We will not find anything wrong with this Daniel, unless we find something wrong with the law between him and his God." So, that is where they looked. That is what happened here, too. Yet, this very same Sissal, the very archbishop of the Catholic church said:
   They commonly lead a purer life than other Christians. Except by compulsions they swear not and they rarely take the name of God in vain.


1. "Waldenses," New International Encyclopedia

2. "Waldenses," Encyclopedia Americana, 9th ed.

3. "Waldenses," Johnson's Universal Encyclopedia

4. "Waldenses," Chamber's Encyclopedia, Vol. X, p. 44-45

5. "Waldenses," Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. XXVII-XXVIII, p. 255-258

6. "Waldenses," Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XII, p. 241-254

7. Walker, History of the Christian Church, (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1926), p. 252-253

8. F. X. Funk, Manual of Church History, (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., n.d.), Vol. I, p. 352-353

9. Martin Ruter, A Concise History of the Christian Church, (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, n.d.), p. 239-242

10. John Fletcher Hurst, Short History of the Christian Church, (New York: Harper & Bros., 1893), p. 153-155

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Publication Date: 1973
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