Baptists in Italy
By S.H. Ford
Waymarks in the wilderness, flame-pillars in the night-desert, were these three heroes of truth, Henry, Peter de Bruis, and Arnold of Brescia. "Nor are the Baptists," says Mosheim, "entirely in error when they boast of their descent form the Waldenses, Petrobrussians, and other ancient sects."
These "ancient sects," it has been seen, received from their foes appellations derived from champions who were renowned, or who perished in the propagation of their cause Truth is aggressive ever. Christianity aims at the entire subversion and ruin of everything opposed to it in spirit or practice. Such was the mission of the apostles. Feeble and few as they were, they undertook the invasion of the mighty territories of evil. They admitted of no compromise; they asked and gave no quarter. They sought no relaxation, knew no pause, and were deaf to the word "retreat;" but ever in the field, they "fought manfully the battles of the Lord."
The same indomitable energy and fearless courage characterized the Baptist standard-bearers of the dark ages, and those who gathered around them were called by their names. Thus the "heretics" along the valleys of Piedmont and the Alps, were called "Arnoldists." That Arnold was a Baptist, as well as Peter de Bruis, has been shown by the statements of Pedobaptists.
Those, therefore, known as their followers, and who were numbered by thousands, were, also, most unquestionably, Baptists. Where did they come from?
We have now to peer through the darkest gloom that ever settled on the world’s history. Through that mystic obscurity images appear, arrayed in the wrappages of ecclesiastic pomp; and romantic personages, that seem like the creations of fancy. Can we, amid that mist and darkness, find the footsteps of God’s hidden ones? We are on the track, and shall faithfully follow it.
We have already seen, that in the south of France were thousands of Baptists in the tenth and eleventh centuries."It was in the country of the Albegeois," [says the classic Gibbon,] "in the southern provinces of France, that the Paulicians were most deeply implanted. In the practice, or at least in the theory, of the sacraments, the Paulicians were inclined to abolish all visible objects of worship; and the words of the gospel were, in their judgment, the baptism and communion of the faithful,"* [believers].Now let us learn from Mosheim the belief of those Paulicians:"They maintained, in general, according to their own confession, that the whole of religion consisted in the study of practical piety, and in a course of action conformable to the Divine laws; and they treated all external modes of worship with the utmost contempt. Their particular tenets may be reduced to the following heads: 1. They rejected baptism, and, in a more especial manner, the baptism of infants, as a ceremony that was, in no respect, essential to salvation. 2. They rejected, for the same reason, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. 3. They denied that the churches were endowed with a greater degree of sanctity than private houses, or that they were more adapted to the worship of God than any other place. 4. They affirmed that the altars were to be considered in no other light than as heaps of stones, and were, therefore, unworthy of any marks of veneration or regard. 5. They disapproved the use of incense and consecrated oil in services of a religious nature. 6. They looked upon the use of bells in the churches as an intolerable superstition. 7. They denied that the establishment of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and other ecclesiastical dignities, was of Divine institution, and went so far as to maintain that the appointment of stated ministers
* Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vol. v, p. 388.
in the church was entirely unnecessary. 8. They affirmed that the institution of funeral rites was an effect of sacerdotal avarice, and that it was a matter of indifference whether the dead were buried in the churches or in the fields. 9. They looked upon the voluntary punishment called penance, so generally practiced in this century, as unprofitable and absurd. 10. They denied that the sins of departed spirits could be, in any measure, atoned for by the celebration of masses, the distribution of alms to the poor, or a vicarious penance; and they, consequently, treated the doctrine of purgatory as a ridiculous fable. 11. They considered [Catholic ceremonial] marriage as a pernicious institution, and absurdly condemned, without distinction, all connubial bonds. 12. They looked upon a certain sort of veneration and worship as due to the apostles and martyrs, from which, however, they excluded such as were only confessors, in which class they comprehended the saints, who had not suffered death for the cause of Christ, and whose bodies, in their esteem, had nothing more sacred than any other human carcass. 13. They declared the use of instrumental music in the churches, and other religious assemblies, superstitious and unlawful. 14. They denied that the cross on which Christ suffered was, in any respect, more sacred than any other kind of wood, and, in consequence, refused to pay to it the smallest degree of religious worship. 15. They not only refused all acts of adoration to the images of Christ, and of the saints, but were also for having them removed out of the churches. 16. They were shocked at the subordination and distinctions that were established among the clergy, and at the different degrees of authority conferred upon the different members of that sacred body. When we consider the corrupt state of religion in this country, and particularly the superstitious notions that were generally adopted in relation to outward ceremonies, the efficacy of penance, and the sanctity of churches, relics, and images, it will not appear surprising that many persons of good sense and solid piety, running from one extreme to another, fell into the opinions of these mystics, in which among several absurdities, there were many things plausible and specious, and some highly rational."*
Let it be remembered that this is the statement of their bitter enemy, and even he modified it by this explanation:"The eleventh article is scarcely credible, at least as it is here expressed. It is more reasonable that these mystics did not absolutely condemn marriage."+Doubtless the truth is, they denied, as all Protestants do, that marriage was a sacrament, and stripping it of
* Mosheim, pp. 258, 259.
+ Mosheim, pp. 258, 259.
all the ghostly ceremonies of Popery, esteemed it, as we do, a civil contract between the parties, in the fear of God, and according to His Word. Their denial of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper can be accounted for in the same way. They refused to worship the host, or admit that the words pronounced by the priest change the bread into the soul, body, and divinity of Christ. This, to the clergy of Rome, was, of course, a blasphemous denial of the sacrament. They were Baptists. They were the predecessors of the Petrobrussians and Arnoldists. They were numbered by scores of thousands. Gibbon says:"They conversed freely with strangers and natives, and their opinions were silently propagated in Rome and the kingdoms beyond the Alps. It was soon discovered that many thousand Catholics, of every rank and either sex, had embraced the Manichean heresy."We will pass the Alps, and follow up the track those Baptists traveled. In the classic land of Italy, beneath the dread shadow of the Vatican, have lived, in every age, men, upon whose foreheads was never stamped the symbol of the beast, and on whose spirits beamed the light of truth, brighter and purer than their own lovely skies. The historian Gibbon says:"In the busy age of the crusades, some sparks of curiosity and reason were kindled in the Western world. The heresy of Bulgaria, the Paulician sect, was successively transplanted into the soul of Italy and France. The Gnostic visions were united with the simplicity of the gospel, and the enemies of the clergy reconciled their passions with there conscience, the desire of freedom with the profession of piety."These were the same people whose belief has been given from Mosheim, the people to whom Arnold of Brescia belonged, and who were called Manicheans, Paulicians, Catheri, Paterines, and Anabaptists. In Italy they were known as Paterines. They said that a Christian Church ought to consist of persons who had professed faith, and that it had no power to frame general
canons or creeds. And Gregory, writing against them, says:"The baptism which the Catholics approve, the Paterines condemn - the baptism of children - which is condemned by the Paterines."They were Baptists. They had fifteen associations in Italy. And in vindication of their principles, their virtues, and their antiquity, let Gibbon now speak:"The Paulicians sincerely condemned the memory and opinions of the Manichean sect, and complained of the injustice which impressed that invidious name on the simple followers of Paul and Christ. The objects which had been transformed by the magic of superstition, appeared to the eyes of the Paulicians in the genuine and naked colors. Of the ecclesiastical chain, many links were broken by these reformers; and against the gradual innovations of discipline and doctrine they were strongly guarded by habit and aversion, as by the silence of Paul and the Evangelists. They attached themselves, with peculiar devotion, to the writings and character of Paul, in whom they gloried. In the Gospels and Epistles of Paul, Constantine investigated the creed of the primitive Christians; and whatever might be the success, a Protestant reader will applaud the spirit of the inquiry. In practice, or, at least, in the theory, of the sacraments, the Paulicians were inclined to abolish all visible objects of worship; and the words of the gospel were, in their judgments, the baptism and communion of the faithful. A creed thus simple and spiritual, was not adapted to the genius of the times; and the rational Christian was offended at the violation offered to his religion by the Paulicians." *Mosheim says:"It is evident they rejected the baptism of infants. They were not charged with any error concerning baptism."Dr. Allix says:"They, with the Manicheans, were Anabaptists, or rejectors of infant baptism, and were, consequently, often reproached with that term."Milner says:"They were simply Scriptural in the use of the sacraments; they were orthodox in the doctrine of the Trinity; they knew of no other Mediator than the Lord Jesus Christ."That these Paulicians or Paterines were Baptists, is by the united testimony of profane and ecclesiastical
* Gibbon’s Ro. Hist., ch. 54).
history, placed beyond a doubt. Well, where did they come from? Gibbon continues:"About the middle of the eighth century, Constantine, surnamed Copronymus by the worshipers of images, had made an expedition into Armenia, and found, in the cities of Melitene and Theodosiopolis, a great number of Paulicians of his kindred heretics. As a favor of punishment, he transplanted them form the banks of the Euphrates to Constantinople and Thrace; and, by this emigration, their doctrine was introduced and diffused in Europe. If the sectarians of the metropolis were soon mingled with the promiscuous mass, those of the country struck a deep root in a foreign soil. The Paulicians of Thrace resisted the storms of persecution, maintained a secret correspondence with their Armenian brethren, and gave aid and comfort to their preachers, who solicited, not without success, the infant faith of the Bulgarians."They were transplanted from the banks of the Euphrates to Constantinople. Under the Byzantine standard they were transported to "Rome, Milan, and the kingdoms beyond the Alps." Amid the provinces of southern France they were found in the twelfth century, under the leadership of Henry and Peter de Bruis. From the south of France they passed to England and other parts of Europe, "where they lingered," says Gibbon, "till the Reformation." And thus is the text of Mosheim illustrated:"Before the rise of Luther and Calvin there lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe men who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the modern Baptists."And thus through the gloom of the dark ages have we tracked the path along which passed the witnesses of Christ, and have found those who, with abiding attachments, adhered to our principles, and were members of our churches as far back as the eighth century, and in the lands of apostolic labor and suffering. The Paulicians, calumniated, banished as criminals, stand forth a prominent milestone in the march of time, and that blood-stained trace we shall still follow in our further inquiry: Where did the Baptists come from?
[From: Samuel H. Ford, The Origin of the Baptists, 1860, republished by the Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1905 edition, Chapter VIII - "Century Ten," pp. 59-64. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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