Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Waldenses

by Chad Ward
Located in the valleys of the Alps lived a people who set themselves apart from the world, living out their faith according to the Bible. They were beloved of God but hated by the world. These men and women have since passed but their heroic faith will live on forever.

Most often the Waldenses are traced back to Peter Waldo of the mid-12th century but it is believed they were around before that; possibly back to the time of the apostles. The name Waldenses means "men of the valleys". But these men, women and children are known by many other names including Chignards meaning dogs, beggars, Turlupins meaning wolves because they were forced to live in the wilderness, sodomites, Carthari meaning pure, and the Israel of the Alps. They could also be called Saints because they were sanctified in Christ to do God’s work and one title that they will attain for all eternity is "good and faithful servants".

The Waldenses are remembered for their great faith, doctrine, and way of living. The Waldensian way of life was simple. Secluded from the influence of the world they could focus on living for God and devote much time to study and missionary work. One great feat of the Waldenses was their ability to memorize the entire New Testament and part of the Old Testament. Not only did they memorize the New Testament but they were instructed in Latin, Romane and Italian. Perhaps learning God’s Word by heart and memory is what gave them their great courage and ability to live under the persecutions they endured. They understood 2 Timothy 2:15 and took it to heart. Without the influences of the world all they had was God and His Word. (p. 3 Israel of the Alps) They also spent much time in copying the Scriptures which they would distribute on their missionary journeys.

The Waldenses had a great burden for missionary work. They bravely went into Southern and Central Europe, scattering the seeds of the gospel in countries such as Germany, Spain, France, Poland, and Austria. They even went into the city of Rome. Their missionaries came up with a great way to present the gospel as they traveled. They would carry with them merchandise for sale and introduce themselves saying, "SIR, will you please to buy any rings, or seals, or trinkets? MADAM, will you look at any handkerchiefs, or pieces or needlework for veils? I can afford them cheap." After they finished with their business transaction the person would ask, "Have you anything more?" and the Waldensian Missionary would reply, "Yes, great rarities; I have one precious stone through which you can see God, and another that kindles love to him in the heart." Then the missionary would bring out a portion of Scripture and say: "The inestimable jewel I spoke of, is the world of God, by which he communicates his mind to men, and which inflames their hearts with love to him." The missionary would then read the scripture and leave it with the person. (p.123-124 History of the Churches)

The majority of the Waldenses rejected the Roman doctrine and held to a more fundamental doctrine. It has been said, "It is not they who separated from Catholicism, but Catholicism which separated from them." (p. 1 Israel of the Alps)
They rejected the Roman Church, the corruption of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Catholic priest, purgatory, prayers to the dead, and prayers to saints. They believed in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, One God who is triune, the sin nature in man, salvation in Jesus Christ alone, and faith working by charity. They also believed in confession but as stated like this, "Confession, said they, is of two natures; the first should be made to God, from the bottom of the heart; without it, no one can be saved: the second is that made aloud to the priest, in order to obtain counsel from him; and this confession is valid when that of the heart has preceded it; but the second, without the first, will not save men from perdition. (p. 5 Israel of the Alps)

There were many persecutions against the Waldenses throughout the dark ages. On one account Pope Innocent III formed a crusaded against the Waldenses in France in the year 1209. He was able to get thousands in his crusade by promising forgiveness of sins. The crusade went on for twenty years in which hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered and tortured. They were thrown from cliffs, hanged, burned at the stake, disemboweled, pierced through, drowned, torn by dogs, and crucified. In one particular case 400 mothers with their babies took to the mountains and hid in a cave. When the Catholic crusaders discovered them they set a large fire outside the cave which suffocated all the refugees inside. (p.130-131 History of the Churches) No matter what the persecution the Waldenses displayed great courage and faith in their Lord even unto death. One man by the name Geoffrey Varaille whose father led a crusade and himself had become a convert said this when his death sentence was announced to him, "Be assured, messeigneurs, you will sooner want wood wherewith to burn us, than ministers ready to burn in seal of their faith: from day to day they multiply; and the word of God endureth forever." He was then burned on March 29th 1558. (p.46-48 Israel of the Alps)

Jesus said let your light so shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). But the world, mainly the Catholics hated the light (John 3:19). The Roman Catholics made many false accusations against the Waldenses and attempted to destroy them all. At the hands of the Roman Catholic crusades many Waldenses died a martyr’s death. Jesus said I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. By looking at the aggressive spread of Roman Catholicism and its heresies it would appear that the gates of hell did prevail against the church. The Roman Catholics tried to extinguish the light that was shining from the Alps. But God has kept His promise. He did not say there would be large numbers (Matt. 7:13-14). The Waldenses of that time are gone from this world but their light has not been put out, it still shines today.
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints whose bones
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipt 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 roll'd
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who, having learn'd thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
- John Milton