The History of the Waldenses

Taken from

“An Exposition of the Book of Revelation”

by Andrew Fuller

The history of the witnesses prior to the eleventh and twelfth centuries is difficult to be traced, owing to the want of materials; and during those centuries almost all the accounts that we have of them are from the pens of their persecutors, who have not failed to transmit their memory to posterity in the most odious colours. That some who in church history are deemed heretics were really such need not to be questioned; but let any serious Christian read the church history of MOSHEIM; and, unless he can find a portion of true religion under the article of “heresies and heretics that disturbed the peace of the church during this century,” it is difficult to say where he is to look for it. After the utmost search through other parts, he may ask, “Where is wisdom, and where is the place of understanding?”

There is little doubt but that all through these dark ages there were many thousands who stood aloof from the corruptions of the times, and bore practical testimony against them; and who, notwithstanding some errors, were much nearer the truth and true religion than those who have reproached them as heretics.

There is reason to believe that amongst the Novatians, the Paulicians, the Cathari, the Paterines, and others who separated from the catholic church, and were cruelly persecuted by it, there were a great number of faithful witnesses for the truth in those days.

We should not, like Bishop Newton, confine the witnesses to councils, princes, and eminent men, who in their day bore testimony against error and superstition. They will be found, I doubt not, in great numbers amongst those who were unknown, and consequently unnoticed by historians. God hath chosen the things that are not to bring to nought the things that are. Let a church history of our own times be written on the principles of that of MOSHEIM, and the great body of the most faithful witnesses would have no place in it.

The history of the witnesses will be principally found in that of the Waldenses and Albigenses, who for a succession of centuries spread themselves over almost every nation in Europe, and in innumerable instances bore testimony, at the expense of their lives, against the corruptions of the antichristian party.

John Paul Perrin, a French protestant of the city of Lyons, who early in the seventeenth century wrote the history of these churches, traces their origin to Peter Waldo, who was also a citizen of Lyons. Waldo, as we shall see presently, was not the father of the Waldenses; but he was an excellent man. About the year 1160 he began to bear testimony against the papal corruptions. The archbishop of Lyons, being informed of his proceedings, sought to apprehend him; but Waldo, having many friends in the city, was concealed there for about three years. After this, he was driven from Lyons, and it is said that he retired into Dauphine in the south of France, and afterwards into Picardy in the north; and that his followers spread themselves, not only in Piedmont, Provence, Languedoc, &c., but in almost all the nations of Europe.

Waldo translated, or procured to be translated, the Scriptures into the French language; by means of which his followers disseminated the truth over a great part of Europe.

In Piedmont, whither some of his followers were driven, churches were planted, which though exposed to innumerable oppressions and persecutions from their princes, who were stirred up by the priests, yet continued to bear witness to the truth, not only till the Reformation, but for a considerable time after it. In Picardy, whither Waldo himself retired, the houses of three hundred gentlemen who adhered to him were razed to the ground, and several walled towns were destroyed. Being driven thence, he and his followers retired into Flanders, where great numbers of them were burnt to death. Thence many fled into Germany, particularly into Alsace, and the country along the Rhine, where the bishop of Mayence caused to be burnt thirty-five burgesses in one fire, and eighteen in another, who with great constancy suffered death. At Strasburg eighty were burnt at the instance of the bishop of the place. They were scattered through the whole kingdom of France. From the year 1206, when the Inquisition was established, to 1228, such multitudes were seized, particularly in France, that even the bishops declared to the monks inquisitors, that “the expense of supporting them would be more than could be defrayed, and that there would not be found lime and stone sufficient to build prisons which should contain them!” A hundred and fourteen were burnt alive at one time in Paris. In 1223 they had goodly churches in Bulgaria, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Hungary; and notwithstanding the persecution, in Germany, one of their martyrs assured his persecutors, in the year 1315, that there were then 80,000 of the same mind in the country. In Bohemia, a colony of Waldenses settled and planted churches 240 years before the time of Huss. Another colony went from Dauphine about 1370, and settled in Calabria, where they were defended by their landlords against the priests till 1560, when they were exterminated by the papal soldiery. In England, during the reign of Henry II., namely, from 1174 to 1189, they were persecuted under the name of Publicans. About 1315, LOLLARD, who was seven years afterwards burnt to death at Cologne, came over to England and taught many, who thence were called Lollards, and were persecuted without mercy. Soon after the death of Lollard, the same doctrines were taught by Wickliff, whose followers also for a century and a half, down to the Reformation, were burnt in great numbers.

Perrin, as has been observed, traces the origin of the Waldenses and Albigenses to PETER WALDO; yet there are several things even in his history which prove their existence LONG BEFORE THE TIME OF WALDO. He quotes Reynerius the inquisitor, who wrote within sixty years after Waldo, as saying of the Waldenses that “they had resisted the church of Rome, for a long time.” He quotes a Waldensian poem, called The Noble Lesson, which poem appears by its contents to have been written about the year 1100, that is, forty or fifty years at least before the appearance of Waldo. He quotes Claudius Pubis, who, in his History of Lyons, says of the Waldenses, in a way of reproach, that “being retired unto the Alps, at their departure from Lyons, they became like the rest of the people of that country, besom-riders,” or sorcerers. There must then have been a people among the Alps who were reproached as sorcerers, before the disciples of Waldo went and joined them. Finally, in Perrin’s History of the Albigenses, he says, They received the belief of the Waldenses soon after the departure of Waldo from Lyons, that is, soon after 1160, and yet that the instruments who were employed in this work were Peter of Bruis, Henry, Joseph, Esperon, and Arnold Holt. But Peter of Bruis began to preach against the corruptions of popery in 1110, and was burnt in 1130, and henry was soon after imprisoned at Rome; all before the times of Waldo. There must therefore have been a body of these faithful witnesses from an early period, probably from the times in which the Christian church began to be overspread with corruptions.

In the spring of 1655 a most horrible massacre of the Waldenses was perpetrated in the dominions of the duke of Savoy. On this occasion Sir Samuel Morland, going over as envoy from the protector Cromwell to the court of Savoy, was charged, as he says, by Archbishop Usher, before he left England, to make the most diligent inquiry into the antiquity of the Waldenses.

It was on occasion of this horrible massacre that MILTON wrote the following sonnet:

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans,
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled
Mother and infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields, where still doth sway
A triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who, having learned thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe!
Not only did the English government interfere with the court of Turin in behalf of the remnant of these persecuted people, but a collection was made for them through the nation, which amounted to nearly £40,000, (a prodigious sum in those times,) which was sent to them by Sir Samuel Morland.

Having finished his business at Turin, and retired to Geneva, he was requested by Secretary Thurloe to write his History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont. In his history, Sir Samuel, besides relating many things of the Waldenses since the days of Perrin, and narrating the particulars of the late massacre, makes it appear that these churches remained united with all other Christian churches so long as they retained the true religion; but when the church of Rome departed from it, they began to depart from her; and that the followers of Peter Waldo, who about 1165 fled from the south of France into the valleys of Piedmont, were not the first Waldenses, but rather that they joined themselves to those their faithful brethren who had been there long before them.

The learned DR. ALLIX, a French protestant who took refuge in England on the revocation of the edict of Nantes, largely establishes the same thing in his Remarks on the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont and of the Country of the Albigenses. He has proved that these people, from their situation in the valleys, and not from Waldo, were denominated Waldenses, or the Vaudois – that though not free from a portion of the general corruption, yet they continued to maintain the leading principles of what is now called the protestant religion – that before the year 1026 a body of men in Italy, connected with Gundulfus, believed contrary to the opinions of the church of Rome, condemned its errors, and sent their brethren into divers places to oppose themselves to the superstitions that reigned throughout the west – that in the same century another body of the Christians of Italy, denominated Paterines, and whose principles were much the same with those who were afterwards called Waldenses, separated from the church of Rome – that soon after the year 1100 it was said, “If a man loves those that desire to love God and Jesus Christ, if he will neither curse, nor swear, nor lie, nor whore, nor kill, nor deceive his neighbour, nor avenge himself of his enemies, they presently say, He is a Vaudes, he deserves to be punished; and by lies and forging are found to take away from him what he has got by his lawful industry”- that about 1160 many of the followers of Peter Waldo retired into the valleys of Piedmont, and there joined the Vaudois – that, Waldo himself being condemned as a heretic, it was common for the papists to call all religious people Waldenses, hoping thereby to fix a stigma upon them, and to represent them as a sect but newly risen up – and that from this time to the Reformation, a period of between three and four hundred years, the Waldenses were persecuted with but little intermission; partly by armies sent to destroy them, and partly by the horrid process of the inquisition; which persecutions they bore with unparalleled constancy.

Similar remarks are made by Dr. Allix on the churches of the Albigenses, so called from Albi, a city in the south of France. He has proved that these churches continued for many centuries independent of the pope – that about the middle of the eleventh century Berengarius of Tours opposed the doctrines of the Romish church, and was charged by its adherents with having corrupted almost all the French, Italians, and English – that early in the twelfth, namely, about the year 1110, Peter of Bruis, and after him Henry, taught the same doctrines, for which the former was burnt, and the latter died in prison – that in the fourth canon of the Council of Tours, held in the year 1163, it is said, “In the country about Thoulouse there sprang up long ago a damnable heresy, which by little and little, like a canker, spreading itself to the neighbouring places in Gascoin, hath already infected many other provinces” – that between 1137 and 1180 Languedoc was so full of the disciples of Peter of Bruis and Henry, that the archbishop of Narbonne, writing to Louis VII. king of France, complains as follows: “My lord the king, We are extremely pressed with many calamities, among which there is one that most of all affects us, which is, that the catholic faith is extremely shaken in this our diocess, and St. Peter’s boat is so violently tossed by the waves that it is in great danger of sinking!”

From the whole it appears that. in the early ages of the papal apostacy, before the introduction of image-worship, transubstantiation, and other gross departures from the faith, the opposition of the faithful would be less decided than in later times. Other Christian churches, while they preserved their independency, might not go the same lengths as that of Rome; but neither might they at once separate from it, nor probably be clear of a participation in its corruptions. The opposition to it might be expected also to be chiefly from individuals rather than from churches; and this appears to have been the fact.

The famous CLAUDE, bishop of Turin, in the ninth century, though he preached the doctrine of Christ in great purity, and boldly opposed almost all the errors of popery, yet does not appear to have so separated from the church of Rome as to form independent churches. The principles however which he taught led to this issue, and were acted upon after his death. His preaching and writings contributed greatly to the spread of true religion in the valleys of Piedmont.

From the fourth to the tenth century but little is said of the Waldenses in history: yet as Reynerius, who wrote about the year 1230, speaks of the Vaudois as “a sect of the longest standing,” and as the Council of Tours, about seventy years before this, speaks of the same heresy as having “sprung up long ago,” we may conclude, even from the acknowledgments of the adversaries, that God was not without his witnesses in those dark ages. MILTON also, in the sonnet before quoted, represents the Vaudois, or people of the valleys, as having “kept God’s truth so pure of old, when all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones.” He must therefore have considered them as having preserved the purity of Christianity while our Saxon ancestors were yet heathens. After the tenth century, when iniquity was at the full, the opposition was more decided. For 500 years, during the most murderous wars and persecutions, the Paterines, the Petrobrussians, the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Lollards, the Wickliffites, &c., maintained their ground. Nor were they contented to bear witness to the truth in their own countries, but employed missionaries to almost all the nations of Europe; and this notwithstanding each missionary could expect nothing less than martyrdom for his reward!

Nor were their labours unproductive. The numbers who espoused their principles in the south of France only were such that a crusade of 500,000 men was sent against them. It was by this army of bloody-minded fanatics that the city of Beziers was taken, and the inhabitants, without distinction, men, women, and children, to the number of 60,000, were put to the sword!