Originally, most people’s family names had some special significance – they had some meaning. Some of you may know what your last name meant in its original language. My family name probably means something in its original language, but I’m not sure I really want to know what it is – “Oldfield.” But for the sake of illustration let’s make some silly assumptions. Could I assume, based on my name that I am the legal heir of the oldest property ever owned by man? Could I go to the World Court in the Hague and argue that my name proves my rights to the property first farmed by Adam after he was driven from Eden? If not Adam’s property, then perhaps Noah’s – that might have an even better chance of being true. Of course, the idea is ludicrous. My name doesn’t prove anything of the kind. But it does provide an illustration which applies to this lesson.
In our study of the names applied to the people of God from the days of the Bible down to today, we come to the famous “Waldensians.” I say “famous,” because they are or were a people who came out on OUR side of the Dark Ages, we have more information about them than we do others – like the Paulicians and Montanists. However, after saying that, it must also be said that they still felt the wrath of Catholicism and experienced the propensity of fallen Christendom to re-write history. We have documents of the Waldensians, but we also have conflicting histories of the Protestants and Roman Catholics. So we must still be careful in our research, and it is hard to be absolutely dogmatic about certain points. The truth is – even Baptist historians are divided on certain aspects of the Waldensian history.
And that is why I am going to start with Peter Waldo and the “Poor men of Lyon.”
Peter Waldo was a wealthy merchant from Lyon, France, about 550 miles northeast of Abigia. After the death of a close friend, he heard a troubadour singing or talking about the death of St. Alexius. It is interesting to learn from Wylie and others that the evangelists of the Albigenses were sometimes known as “troubadours.” The first definition of “troubadour” in Google is – “a French medieval lyric poet composing and singing in Provençal in the 11th to 13th centuries.” Anyway when Peter Waldo took this troubadour home with him, they became engaged in conversation about the way of salvation and other Biblical doctrines. Peter came under conviction, knowing he was unprepared for eternity. It appears that he fully repented of his sinfulness before God and accepted the message of the gospel – which of course is Christ Jesus. I can’t tell you with assurance he became a child of God, but it appears so, and I’d like to believe so.
At that point, the life of Peter Waldo was completely changed. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” He paid off his creditors, gave his house, vineyards and other properties to his wife and daughters, and began to give away the rest of his wealth to the poor and to other causes.. He employed two scholars to translate the New Testament from Latin into the Romance dialect of the region – “Provençal.” Not only did he relieve the poor, he began to just like the people to whom he offered relief.
He also began to publically preach and teach his ideas of simplicity and poverty. “No man can serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and mammon” as he had been doing before. In the process he also condemned the opulent excesses of the Pope and the Catholic church. From there he preached against transubstantiation, indulgences, purgatory, Catholic idolatry and so on. As people gathered around him, they became known as the “Poor men of Lyon.” Eventually driven out of town, Peter and his followers, when not traveling around Europe as peddlers and evangelists, they settled in the high valleys of the Piedmont of France, amongst the Albigenses.
Waldo was excommunicated by Pope Lucius III in 1184 – please note that date. The doctrines of the Poor men of Lyons were again condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. It was there that they were officially branded with the name “Waldensians” – which was interpreted to mean followers of Waldo. Ultimately some of these people joined with the Calvin and the Genevan Protestants. But others remained true to the Truth and eventually became identified with the term “Anabaptists,” which were condemned by those same Genevan Protestants.
Perhaps you wondered why I begin this lesson with that illustration about my last name. It is because, I don’t believe that Peter Waldo had anything to do with the origin of the Waldenses. The names are simply coincidental. They are like “Oldfield” and my claims for the pasture land used by Abraham outside of Hebron.
So what is the historical antiquity of the Waldenses?
If you read the Wikipedia article on the “Waldenses,” or most of the Protestant histories of these people, you’ll be told that the name is derived from Peter Waldo. Most dictionaries repeat what other dictionaries say, declaring that the etymology of the word comes from “Waldo.” In a few minutes, I will show you how that is impossible. But before we get there, I’ll just quote what historian Robert Robinson says – “Vaudois. This is the true name which they gave themselves. The word Vaudois signifies inhabitant of the vaux, or vallies; and it is here to be understood of the vallies of the Savoy, and the vallies of Piedmont. Accurate Latin writers translate the word Vallenses. Less attentive authors call them Wallenses.” Orchard says, “They call themselves Valdenses because they abide in a valley of tears.” In other words, according to some historians, the Waldenses derive their name from the valleys in which they lived, not from man from Lyon named Peter Waldo, who moved in among them.
Almost every Baptist historian has a chapter or two on the people of the valleys – Orchard, Christian, Armitage, Jarrel, Cramp and so on. But it might be argued that their opinions may have been clouded by their Baptist preferences. Some of them earnestly wanted to prove the antiquity of these people, and as a result their credibility and accuracy is to be doubted. But there have also been a number of other major histories written about these people of the Alps – Alex Muston, Samuel Moreland, J.A. Wylie, to mention but three. Not one of the men I just mentioned was a Baptist. They were Protestants – Presbyterians, Anglicans. None of them were trying to prove the doctrine of church perpetuity and succession. They only wanted to honestly present the facts about the Vallenses. But at the same time, they may have disliked the Church of Rome – just a little bit. Along with most Baptist historians, these Protestants take the Waldenses back to the Apostles.
Moreland, was the son of a Church of England pastor, and his book clearly shows his bias. He quotes with approval another Protestant who I didn’t recognize, saying – “As for the Waldenses, give me leave to call them the very seed of the Primitive and purer Christian Church, being those who have been so upheld (as is clear and manifest) by the admirable Providence of God, that neither those infinite storms and tempests whereby the whole Christian World has been shaken for so many ages together, and at length the western parts so miserably oppressed by that Bishop of Rome, falsely so called, nor those horrible persecutions which have been directly raised against them, were ever able so far to prevail upon them, as to make them bend or yield a voluntary subject to the Roman Tyranny and Idolatry.”
In Moreland’s third chapter he declares that there were churches on the Italian side of the Alps since the beginning of the Christian era. He says that they remained in fellowship with other churches, including the church in Rome “so long as it retained the true religion.” In the year 794, a synod of pastors was held in Frankfort, at which were many Italian bishops, and it condemned the second Nicene Council for decreeing image worship. In other words, in the eighth century there were churches in northern Italy who were breaking fellowship with Rome because of growing heresy. He says that these churches where planted by the Apostles, their disciples and successors. “But when as the Church of Rome began to corrupt itself, and would by no means be persuaded to retain the purity of that Apostolical doctrine and divine worship, then those of the Valleys began to separate themselves from them.” “And this is evident by divers very ancient manuscripts, long since laid up and preserved in the Valley of Pragela, which do strictly strike and oppose the errors of the church of Rome.” Moreland is saying that there has been a protesting, or Protestant people, living the Piedmont and the Alps since the moment the Roman Catholics began corrupting the faith. They have been there since the first and second centuries until they were nearly destroyed by the Catholics in 1655. He is not trying to defend the doctrine of church perpetuity, but that is in fact what he does.
J. A. Wylie was a Presbyterian minister who wrote “History of the Waldenses.” As strange as it sounds, the copy I possess was published by the Seventh Day Adventists. Obviously, neither one were trying to promote Baptist doctrine or Baptist churches.
In Wylie’s first chapter he wrote – “It was the ninth century, and superstitious beliefs and idolatrous rites were overspreading the church, when Claudius, bishop of Turin (in the foothills of the Alps)… set himself to arrest the growing corruption with all the fervor of a living faith, and the vigor of a courageous and powerful intellect. When Claude went to his grave, about the year 840, the battle, although not altogether dropped, was but languidly maintained.” So the Pope believed that he had the advantage and renewed his attack on these churches. “Petrus Damianus, bishop of Ostia, and Anselm, bishop of Lucca, were dispatched by the pontiff to receive the submission of the Lombard churches, (but) the popular tumults amid which that submission was extorted sufficiently show that the spirit of Claude still lingered at the foot of the Alps.”
After a few more paragraphs like this Wylie concludes by saying, “What has just been related respecting the dioceses of Milan and Turin settles the question of the apostolicity of the churches of the Waldensian valleys. lt is not necessary to show that missionaries were sent from Rome in the first age to plant Christianity in these valleys, nor is it necessary to show that these churches have existed as distinct and separate communities from early days; enough that they formed a part, as unquestionably they did, of the great evangelical church of the north of Italy. This is the proof at once of their apostolicity and their independence. It attests their descent from apostolic men, if doctrine be the life of churches. When their coreligionists on the plains entered within the pale of the Roman jurisdiction, they retired within the mountains, and spurning alike the tyrannical yoke and the corrupt tenets of the Church of the Seven Hills, they preserved in its purity and simplicity the faith their fathers had handed down to them. Rome manifestly was the schismatic; she it was that had abandoned what was once the common faith of Christendom, leaving by that step to all who remained on the old ground the indisputably valid title of the true church.”
Wylie goes on – “There is a singular concurrence of evidence in favor of their high antiquity. Their traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious belief. The ‘Nobla Leycon,’ which dates from the year 1100, goes to prove that the Waldenses of Piedmont did not owe their rise to Peter Waldo of Lyons, who did not appear till the latter half of that century ( 1160). The ‘Nobla Leycon,’’ though a poem, is in reality a confession of faith, and could have been composed only after some considerable study of the system of Christianity, in contradistinction to the errors of Rome. How could a church have arisen with such a document in her hands? Or how could these herdsmen and vinedressers, shut up in their mountains, have detected the errors against which they bore testimony, and found their way to the truths of which they made open profession in times of darkness like these? If we grant that their religious beliefs were the heritage of former ages, handed down from an evangelical ancestry, all is plain; but if we maintain that they were the discovery of the men of those days, we assert what approaches almost to a miracle. Their greatest enemies, Claude Seyssel of Turin (1517) and Reynerius the Inquisitor (1250), have admitted their antiquity, and stigmatized them as ” the most dangerous of all heretics, because the most ancient.”
I love it when serious author says something in a humorous sort of way. Baptist W.A. Jarrel, quotes an encyclopedia which was printed in the first half of the 19th century. He wrote – “The Penny Encyclopedia, at great expense, published by one of the most learned societies of Europe, called ‘The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ says of the Waldenses: ‘This little community is remarkable for having from time immemorial kept itself separate from the church of Rome, in ages when that church is generally considered as having been the only existing church in the West. We have memorials of the doctrines of the Vaudois, written in the early part of the twelfth century. The ‘Nobla Leycon,’ a poem written in the Vaudois dialect, records in the text its having been composed in the twelfth century.” It speaks of the missions of the Apostles and of the primitive church and of certain practices that were introduced afterwards in its bosom, of simony, the institution of masses and prayers for the dead, of absolution and other tenets of the church of Rome which it rejects. ”In one place it speaks of censure of the practice of all the popes… And in another says: ‘Now after the Apostles, were certain teachers who went on teaching the way of Jesus Christ, our Savior, some of whom are found at the present day, but they are known to a very few,’ and after describing the life and conversation of such teachers, the text proceeds: ‘Such a one is called a Vaudois.’ There is also a confession of faith of the Waldenses, bearing date A. D. 1120… denying purgatory, administering only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper, as signs or visible forms of the invisible grace; discarding the feasts and vigils of saints, the abstinence of flesh on certain days, the mass, etc. “Another MS. dated 1100, speaks of the Waldenses as having continued the same doctrines from time immemorial, in continued descent from father to son, even from the times of the Apostles. Besides these there are two controversial treatises, one entitled ‘Of Antichrist,’ and the other upon ‘The Intercession of the Saints,’ which seem to bear this internal evidence of their antiquity, that in enumerating the various tenets of the Roman church, which the Waldenses reject, they speak of the doctrine of the real presence and of the adoration of the Virgin Mary and all the saints, but in so doing they do not use the words “transubstantiation” and “canonization” suggesting a very early date. In other words, they condemn certain Roman Catholic doctrines, but they don’t use the language common in the Reformation and pre-reformation days.
I won’t try to finish our consideration of the Waldenses this evening. My primary purpose in this lesson is to impress upon you that the churches of Vaudois were ancient – they predated Roman Catholicism. And they predated Peter Waldo. Next week, we will return to the doctrines of the Waldenses.
I would not be ashamed to be called a descendant of the Vaudois or the Waldensians.