People of the past, holding to Baptist principles, have been known by many names. In one country they would be called after the place; in another they would take their name after an able spokesman or writer among them. Such is the case of this group of our ancestors that we are about to study. Always remember: True Baptist ancestors are identified by their doctrine and not by their name.
Peter de Bruys
This group of our ancestors was located in the south of France in the provinces of Languedoc and Provence, mainly. About the year 1110, Peter de Bruys appeared preaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who was Peter de Bruys?
He was, for a time, a Roman Catholic priest. History does not preserve for how his conviction for truth came about. We know that God used some providence in bringing this man to the truth.
Some men within the corrupt churches still preached the truth. Some feel the influence of Claudius of Turin (died about 832) had been felt in southern France. This man taught that whoever sought salvation anywhere except in Christ, was an idolater. He condemned image worship. He taught that prayers to dead saints could render service to no man. He taught we should worship every virgin and every manger as well as the virgin Mary or the manger at Bethlehem. Crucifixes were an abomination. He denied Peter had received any personal power to bind or loose. He denied that works of an external nature earned favor with God.1 Maybe Peter de Bruys was influenced by this man’s teachings or someone like him.
More probably, he was influenced by the true churches that were located, very early, in the south of France. Persecutions of our Baptist ancestors in Italy and other areas drove them into the hill country of France as well as into the
Alps. It could be that Peter de Bruys met with these folks and came to know the truth through them.
William Cathcart has the following to say about Peter de Bruys: "Peter de Bruys commenced his ministry about 1125, and such was his success that in a few years in the places about the mouth of the Rhone, in the plain country about Thoulouse, and particularly in that city itself, and in many parts of “the province of Gascoigne” he led great throngs of men and women to Jesus, and overthrew the entire authority of popes, bishops, and priests."2
Following is a quote from the Presbyterian historian, James Wharey: "The whole system of doctrines, inculcated by this Peter upon his followers, who from his were called Petrobrusians, is not known; yet there are five of his opinions that have reached us: 1. That persons ought not to be baptized till they come to the use of reason. 2. That it is not proper to build churches, and that such as are built should be pulled down. 3. That the holy crosses should be destroyed. 4. That the body and blood of Christ are not distributed in the sacred supper, but only the sign of them. 5. That the oblations, prayers, and good works of the living do not profit the dead."3
From this we see they rejected infant baptism and believed only in believer’s baptism. They believed money was wasted in the construction of great buildings and people would be likely to idolize the building. Crosses and crucifixes to them were of no avail. They held the Lord’s Supper to be a symbolic church ordinance. Purgatory was an institution of the devil. We see, in this ancient people, folks not unlike ourselves.
This historian makes several conjections against Peter de Bruys which he concedes cannot be proved. He does make several statements that we want to share here:
"It is certain that he rejected the authority of the church and of the great teachers, to whom it was customary to appeal, and would recognize nothing as obligatory on faith but what could be proved from the Bible. . . . He was an opponent of infant baptism, since he regarded personal faith as a necessary condition for true baptism, and denied the benefit in this case of another's faith. As he could not allow, according to this, any validity whatever to infant baptism, he must consequently rebaptize, or bestow true baptism for the first time, on those who joined his party. The followers of Peter de Bruys refused to be called Anabaptists, a name given to them for the reason just mentioned: because the only baptism, they said, which they could regard as the true one, was a baptism united with knowledge and faith, by which man is cleansed from his sins. The mass, the pretension of the priests that they could produce Christ's body and repeat the sacrifice, Peter of Bruis looked upon as the grand means for upholding and promoting the dominion of the priesthood: this doctrine, therefore, he vehemently attacked. . . . His zeal against the veneration paid to the cross, led him to say that the instrument with which Christ was so cruelly put to death, was so far from deserving reverence that it should rather be abused and destroyed in every way to avenge his sufferings and death. . . . On one Good-Friday, the Petrobrusians got together a great multitude of people, collected all the crosses which they could lay hold of, and made a large bonfire of them, at which, in contempt of the church laws, they cooked meat, which was distributed to all present. . . . He rejected prayer, offerings, alms for the departed, maintaining "that all depends on a man's conduct during his life on earth; this decides his destiny. Nothing that is done for him after he is dead can be of any use to him. "For twenty years, Peter of Bruis, had labored as a preacher in South France, when seized by an infuriated mob at St. Gilles, in Languedoc, he was hurried away to the stake. But. . . his doctrines still continued after his death to have an influence in many districts, particularly around Gascoigne."4
Peter de Bruys Was a Baptist
Armitage writes: "In the Petrobusians we find a sect of Baptists for which no apology is needed. Peter of Bruis seized the entire Biblical presentation of baptism, and forced its teaching home upon the conscience and the life, by rejecting the immersion of babes and insisting on the immersion of all believers in Christ, without any admixture of Catharistic nonsense."5
Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Clugny wrote a book against what he called the heresy of the Petrobrusians. Vedder, after reviewing what he wrote, comes to the following conclusion: "It is evident that the 'errors' of the Petrobrusians were what Baptists have always maintained to be the fundamental truths of the Scriptures. Any body of Christians that holds to the supremacy of the Scriptures, a church of the regenerate only, and believer's baptism, is fundamentally one with the Baptist churches of today, whatever else it may add to or omit from its statement of beliefs."6
Cathcart writes: "Peter and his followers were decided Baptists, and like ourselves they gave a fresh baptism to all converts. They reckoned that they were not believers when first immersed in the Catholic church, and that as Scripture baptism required faith in its candidates, and for the same reason they repudiated the idea that they rebaptized them, confidently asserting that because of the lack of faith they had never been baptized."7
Peter the Venerable, abbot of Clugny was born in 1093, and died in 1157. He is considered by all the historians that I have read, to be a scholar. It is said that he would rebuke the pope or anyone who needed it. He wrote against the Jews and the Saracens and others. Because of the great success of the preaching of Peter de Bruys (Peter of Bruis) he felt compelled to write against the Petrobrusians. History is indebted to him for the account of what the Petrobrusians believed. The histories quoted in this chapter used him as their source. It would be a blessing to every student of Bible history to read pages 912-916 in William Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia. In this section he quotes from Peter the Venerable to prove the doctrines held by Peter de Bruys and the Petrobrusians. Vedder and others do this too. There can be no doubt that Peter de Bruys was a Baptist.
Holding to the doctrines they preached and believed brought them into conflict with the Catholics and thus with those in control of the state. They suffered for their beliefs. "All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Hassell writes: "In the first years of the twelfth century Peter of Bruis (Petrobrusians) went forth like another John the Baptist, full of the Spirit and of power, and lived for twenty years as an evangelist in the south of France, which he seems to have filled completely with his doctrine, till he was overtaken by the wrath of the priesthood he had challenged, and was burned alive by a mob of monastics somewhere about 1120. Thus the seed was planted of what widened afterward into the famous and greatly dreaded 'heresy' of the Waldenses and Albigenses. Peter de Bruys was a strong Baptist."8 Jones and other historians date his being burned about 1130.
Notes on Chapter 12
1 A Manual of Church History, Volume 1, pages 558-559.
2 Baptist Encyclopedia, page 912.
3 Sketches of Church History, page 174.
4 General History of the Christian Religion and Church, Volume 4, pages 595-597.
5 The History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 294.
6 A Short History of the Baptists, page 15.
7 Baptist Encyclopedia, page 912.
8 History of the Church of God, page 438.
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