A Brief Sketch of the Ancient Waldenses

Piedmont was a principality located at the foot of the Alps, and was so called from pede, foot - montium, mountains. Embosomed in mountains, traversed by rivers, and containing a fertile soil, this tract of thirteen thousand square miles afforded a delightful asylum for those people who, at different periods, had been driven into the wilderness. Having fled from persecutions and sought refuge in the valleys protected by mountains, they came to be known as Valdenses, or inhabitants of valleys. From this we have the name by which they are generally known, Waldenses. Many learned authorities, however, say that they were so called from Peter Waldo, an able and influential preacher among them, who had been a wealthy merchant at Lyon, and had expended all his wealth in supplying the poor, and traveling and distributing the scriptures. Little more is known of the labors of this Waldensian servant, who is said to have been finally driven to Bohemia in France, where he died in 1179. The Waldenses did not originate with Peter Waldo, who was merely a representative and leader, during this time, of a widespread struggle against the corruptions of the Church of Rome. The origin of this great body of dissenters is hid in the remotest depths of antiquity. Paul Perrin is quoted by Orchard as asserting that the Waldenses were time out of mind in Italy and Dalmatia, and were the offspring of the Novatianists, who were persecuted and driven from Rome, A. D. 400, (rather, 413); and who, for purity in communion, were called puritans." - Orchard, page 259. That they stood in direct line with the Montanists, Tertullianists, Novatians, Donatists, Paulicians, and Montenses, is unquestionable. Their claim that they originated with the apostles has never been successfully disputed. The influence of the Waldenses was by no means confined to the valley of Piedmont. They became quite numerous, and as early as 1000 their religion is said to have spread itself almost in all parts of Europe.

Their deportment is admitted by their enemies to be of the highest order. They held the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the only infallible standard of faith and practice, and rejected the authority of the so-called "fathers" and the traditions of the Catholics. They recognized and observed only two Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper, and held these to be emblems and evidences of an internal work of grace. In the twelfth century the cause of the Waldenses was ably advocated by Peter de Bruys, Henry of Toulouse, and Arnold of Brescia, whose labors and sufferings have already been related, and whose admirers were for a time called after the names of their leaders; yet they all finally became known by the general name of Waldenses. While dissenters in southern France were experiencing severe persecutions by Roman Catholics in the early part of the thirteenth century, the Waldenses of Piedmont appear to have enjoyed tranquility, causing the disciples of the Saviour in the French provinces to seek an asylum among these peaceful dwellers in the valleys. The Waldenses rapidly increased in number during the thirteenth century. Many of their churches existed in various kingdoms and provinces in 1223, and by 1229 they had spread themselves in great numbers throughout all Italy. One of their number, Reino Sacco, having lived among them for a period of seventeen years, left them in 1250 and went over to the Catholics. In an account of them written by him, he says there was an innumerable multitude of Waldenses. Notwithstanding their great losses by death in every form, yet it is said that they numbered eight hundred thousand in 1260. In 1300 many of the Waldenses emigrated and went off from the main body in the valleys, forming colonies in other parts, where churches were formed by them. They selected, as an emblem of their purpose, a lighted lamp with the motto: "The light shineth in darkness." What a fitting representation of the light disseminated by the faithful followers of the Lamb amid the gross darkness of this superstitious age!

About 1400 a severe persecution broke out. A shameful outrage was perpetrated upon the Waldenses located in the valley of Pragela in Piedmont, by the Catholics of that vicinity. Towards the end of December, when the mountains were covered with snow, these peaceable inhabitants were furiously attacked, driven from their homes, and pursued into the cold and desolate mountains, where many perished from hunger and cold. From this time persecutions were frequent and severe. Finally, in 1484, Innocent the Eighth, Pontiff of Rome, issued edicts for the complete extermination of the Waldenses, appointed officers and ordered armies to be raised to carry his decree into effect. An army was soon raised and marched into the valley of Loyse. The inhabitants knowing they were coming fled to the caves in the mountains, carrying with them their children and provisions for their support. The officer, discovering their hidden retreats, caused quantities of wood to be placed at the entrances of their caves and ordered the same to be fired. Hundreds of children were suffocated by this inhuman act, while many leaped from their caverns, and were dashed to pieces on the rocks below. It seems that three thousand men and women perished by this merciless treatment. Efforts to effect their complete destruction were renewed in 1487. An army of eighteen thousand men marched against them. Their patience being now exhausted, they departed from their peaceful creed of their ancestors, and arming themselves with such rude weapons a were available, defended themselves against the oppression of their enemies. For want of space we forbear to go into further detail of the sufferings of this devoted people. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the furious proceedings of Rome seemed to triumph over the Waldenses, and they were driven into obscurity, and the state of the Catholic church was generally calm and tranquil. As we thus review the faithfulness, devotion, and sufferings of this inoffensive people, we are thankful to know that, through the darkest midnight of this dismal age, God did not leave himself without true witnesses.

Elder John R. Daily - Primitive Monitor, 1897, pages 468-471.

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