History "The history of the ancient Waldenses certainly remains to be written," said Emilio Comba in the preface to his History of the Waldenses of Italy. This is certainly one of the most absolute truths to any student of Waldensian history.
Has there ever been written an unprejudiced history of these people? The Catholics carelessly lump all heretics together, intermix their doctrinal beliefs, and falsely accuse them of all types of immoralities and practices. Protestants each try to pick the bones of the carcass to find suggestions and hints or similarities that they were truly their ancestors, so as to not have to acknowledge a Catholic mother church at any time since the apostles.
One Baptist historian, Vedder, says that the Baptist historians, at one time or another, have tried to trace their history through nearly every offshoot from the Catholic church. Since this church is made to appear as the mother of all Protestants (except those who admit the Catholic church as an errant mother which needed to be reformed), we must anticipate a reading into or an ignoring of many things written in their early literature. What a sad state of affairs when the denomination of the writer becomes of prime importance in "history."
Thus, C. H. Strong in his Presbyterian history of the Waldensians will quote out of any of the Confessions of Faith the possible suggestions that they were Presbyterian. Then Orchard, in his Baptist history, will do the same, and so on by Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Amish, Mennonite, Church of God, Christian Church, and so on ad infinitum.
Did you realize that all these varied churches trace their history back through this one ancestor? Could ALL these divergent churches have had one common ancestor so few hundred years ago? The ancient Waldenses did not mother all these children, but the Protestant daughters certainly mothered the latter and modern Waldensians as we shall see in this history. As J. L. Hurlbut said about the changed church that arose after the lost century, so must we say about the Waldensian: the cloud that covered the change of the ancient Waldensian church into the Protestant before the reformation church reveals a church that is hardly recognizable with the original. This led Comba to record:
There has been a desire on the part of some to extend backward their early history: with this only as a result, that it has been crushed out of all shape. The historian has filled it full of fables and traditions picked up at hap-hazard; then, as if with trumpet blast and clarionring, its antiquity was blazoned forth.1 As if not content with this injustice to history, writers have then tried to pull a Methuselah-in-reverse as to the date of origin and antiquity of these people. Naturally, any Protestant writer desirous of avoiding association with the Catholic church as a mother would love to stretch the history of such an outstanding Christian people all the way back to the New Testament Apostolic Church. But should desire become the mother of invention to a historian who should be motivated by facts and not dreams or hopes?
Prior to these historian dreamers we learn that of all the records of these people.
The first writers who mention the Waldenses-Bernardus Fontis Calidi, Alanus, Peter Vallis Cernaii, Eberhard of Bethune, and others — make no allusion to any pretension on their part to reach back through history to the early days of the church.2 So we see only after Protestant writers were sent from other countries to find traces of their ancestry among these people do we find efforts to stretch their past back to more ancient times than their real founder, Peter Waldo.
Another obvious factor to a student of Waldensian history is the long, laborious task of "the needle in the haystack" search for pertinent material among the endless pages of descriptions of valleys, rivers, mountains, and non-consequential chaff that should be limited to geographers rather than Waldensian historians. One of many examples of this is a History of Protestantism in Italy which gives 15 pages to their origin and antiquity, 29 pages in a brief description of the country inhabited by the Waldenses, 37 pages on their history, and 44 pages on their present state. And this is a very mild example — some works of antiquity on them belaboring such for three-fourths of a large volume.
Can one imagine a Christian so desirous of having his dream a reality that he would alter the date of an ancient document to make the Waldensians more ancient than their real founder, Peter Waldo? A Christian should not be too shocked to learn an evolutionist has manufactured a "Piltdown hoax" to fill the missing link in his dream being made a "reality." But for a Christian to be guilty of such a fraud? And, yet, such is the case in Waldensian history.
To "lose" ancient literature in such a place as the Cambridge University Library because it does not substantiate your dream or belief is certainly unethical, and, what is more important, unchristian. Did not our father Abraham suffer much from covering the whole truth and representing half-truths? And yet, such is the case in the history of the Waldensian literature.
Is it not about time history became history once again and we left the fables to Aesop? Or as Comba concluded:
The question of the origin of the Waldenses deserves serious investigation. Natural obscurities render the task a difficult one, and this difficulty is increased by party polemics, the result being confusion worse confounded. Solutions offered are far from agreeing with each other. It has been said: "There is hardly a sect whose origin has been more disputed over than that of the Waldenses."
...Let us admit at the outset, that prejudice has taken a very active part in the researches relating to the origin of the Waldenses: it has exerted its influence, somewhat over everybody, friends as well as foes. But as prejudice has no part in true history, it must be our endeavour to free ourselves of it.3
Footnotes:1. Emilio Comba, History of the Waldenses of Italy, preface.
2. Ibid., p. 6.
3. Ibid., p. 3.