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Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 15
THE WALDENSES

[p. 134]
      Here is a group of our ancestors about which we have much information. We possess some of their writings and their confessions of faith. Their story is one of great blessings and great persecutions.

     Most of our historians write about the Waldenses and the Albigenses together. William Nevin writes: "We shall consider these two sects together because they are inseparable, both as to their origin, and their doctrines."1 We will treat them separately in this Notebook, though I believe them to be the same in origin and doctrine.

Their Name

     Mosheim and others think they took their name from Peter Waldus, a rich merchant of the city of Lyons. He did become one of them but they did not take their name from him. Robert Robinson gives the following account of the name Waldenses: "From the Latin vallis came the English valley, the French and Spanish valle, the Italian valdesi, the low Dutch valleye, the provencal vaux, vaudois, the ecclesiastical vallenses, valdenses, ualdenses, and waldenses. The words simply signify vallies, inhabitants of vallies and no more."2

     The Novatians, Donatists, Paulicians and many others had suffered severe persecution from the Roman Empire and the developing Roman Catholic Church in previous centuries. Of those persecuted, it would be natural that they flee for refuge to the mountains and vallies of the Pyrenees and the Alps. Here they would join together for they believed the same doctrines and were persecuted by the same Dragon. They took the name Waldenses after the valleys in which they dwelt. Sometimes the Waldenses were called by other names which we shall presently see.

Their Antiquity

     Their antiquity proves they did not take their name from Peter Waldus (Waldo). In their own writings they claimed linage all the way back to Christ and His apostles. At this time I would like to quote from one of their historians, Samuel Morland. His book was first published in 1658 A. D. Its republication is a blessing for Baptist historical studies today. It is written in the old English and therefore most will not put forth the effort to read it. Our quotes here will be in modern English.

     "Again it is as manifest, and necessarily follows, that the Waldenses who escaped the Massacres in France, in the year 1165, and came from thence into the valleys of Piemont (Piedmont), were not the first Founders of that Religion, but rather that they joined themselves to those their faithful Brethren, for the better fortifying and mutual edification of each otherís faith, just as those other Waldenses did, who having recourse to Bohemia, closed with the faithful Professors of the Greek Church there, who retained the ancient and true Religion; (note the Papal). Neither is it at all probable, that it could be otherwise; for the Waldenses knew right well, that the seat of their chief Adversary was in Italy; and therefore they would not have been so void of all sense and common prudence, as to have undertaken so long and tedious a Journey over the Alps, had they not been well assured that the Natives of those Valleys who professed the same Religion with them, would receive them and embrace them as their Brethren. D'Aubigne, a very judicious Historian seems to be clearly of this opinion. And Mr. Perrin, among his other Manuscripts, makes mention of a certain Epistle of the Waldenses, inscribed, an Epistle to the most severe King Lancelau, the Dukes, Barons, and most ancient Nobility of the Realm. The little troop of Christians falsely called by the name of poor people of Lions or Waldenses. By which it is most evident, that they had not their original from the said Waldo, but that this was a mere nick-name or reproachful term put upon them by their Adversaries, to make the world believe, that their Religion was but a Novelty, or a thing of yesterday."2

     The underlining in this quote is by me. The Waldenses existed hundreds of years before Waldo. They were made up of brethren and sisters who fled into the wilderness to escape the Dragon's persecution. There the mountains protected them and they flourished. They believed their own origin was with Christ and the Apostles. Hear Morland again: "The professors of the Reformed Religion may clap their hands forever against all the Disciples of the Church of Rome, and say, that they are now able manifestly and undeniably to probe and make good the continual Succession of their Religion from the days of Christ and His Apostles down to this present age."4

Historical Testimony

     A. W. Mitchell, Presbyterian, gives the following about the origin of the Waldenses: "Romish historians as far back as the year A. D. 1250, represented them as the oldest sect of heretics, though unable to tell when or how their heresy began. Their own account of the matter uniformly has been that their religion has descended with them from father to son by uninterrupted succession from the time of the apostles. There certainly is no improbability in the conjecture that the gospel was preached by some of those early missionaries who carried Christianity into Gaul. The common passage from Rome to Gaul at that time lay directly through the Cottian Alps, and Gaul we know received the gospel early in the second century at the latest, probably before the close of the first century. If the apostle Paul ever made that 'journey into Spain' (Romans 15:28) which he speaks of in his epistle to the Romans, and in which he proposed to go by way of Rome, his natural route would have been in the same direction, and it is not impossible that his voice was actually heard among those retired valleys. The most common opinion among Protestant writers is, that the conversion of the Waldenses was begun by some of the very early Christian missionaries, perhaps by some of the Apostles themselves, on their way to Gaul, and that it was completed and the churches more fully organized by a large influx of Christians from Rome, after the first general persecution under Nero. The Christians of Rome, scattered by this terrible event, would naturally flee from the plain country to the mountains, carrying with them the gospel and its institutions."5

     The same author quotes from the book Glorious Recovery by the Waldenses of Their Valleys by Henry Arnaud, one of the most intelligent of the Waldensian pastors. 'Neither has their church ever been reformed, whence arises its title of evangelistic. The Waldenses are in fact descended from those refugees from Italy, who, after St. Paul had there preached the gospel, abandoned their beautiful country, and fled, like the woman mentioned in the Apocalypse, to these wild mountains, where they have to this day, handed down the gospel from father to son, in the same purity and simplicity as it was preached by St. Paul.' This is not following fables, for there is nothing in the relation either improbable or absurd. When the Christians at Rome were bound to stakes, covered with pitch, and burnt in the evenings to illuminate the city, it is wonderful, if the glare of such fires should induce those yet at liberty, to betake themselves for shelter, to the almost inaccessible valleys of the Alps, and to the clefts of the rocks, trusting to that God in whose hands are the deep places of the earth, and considering that the strength of hills is his?"6

Waldenses by Various Names

     These Mountain and Valley dwellers are called by various names in the history books but they were all Waldenses or ancient Baptists. Let us here look at another extract from Samuel Morland: "Thus those who escaped the Massacres in France, were by the popish party surnamed either according to the places where they inhabited, or the chief of their Leaders; for example, from Waldo, a Citizen of Lyons, they were named Waldenses, and from the Country of Albie, Albigenses. And because those who did adhere to the doctrine of Waldo came out of Lyons, naked and stript of all their Goods and Estates, they were in derision, styled, The Poor of Lyons. In Dauphine they were nicknamed in mockery Chaignards. And for as much as part of them went over the Alps, they were called Tramontani. In England they were known by the name of Lollards, from one Lollard, who was one of their Chief Instructors in that Isle. In Provence they were usually termed Siccars, from a vulgar word then in use, which signified Cutpurses. In Italy they had been given the title of Fraticelli, or Men of the Brotherhood, because they lived together like Brethren. In Germany, they were named Gazares, a word which signifies execrable, and wicked in the highest degree. In Flanders they went under the name Turlepins, that is to say, Men inhibiting with, or companions of Wolves, because those poor people were oft times constrained in the heat of persecution, to inhabit the Woods and Deserts, amongst wild and savage beasts. Sometimes to render them more execrable, their Adversaries borrowed the names of several Heretics to brand them with. Thus for as much as they made profession of purity in their Life and Doctrine; they were called Cathares, that is, Puritans. And because they denied the Host which the Priest holds up at Mass, to be God, they were called Arrians, as those who denied the Divinity of the eternal Son of God. And because they maintained that the Authority of Kings and Emperors of the World did not depend upon the Jurisdiction of the Pope, they were called Manichai, as men asserting two first Principles. And for such like causes as these they were surnamed Gnostics, Calaphrygians, Adamites, and Apostolicks. Yea sometimes their Adversaries were outrageous, Matthew Paris calls them Ribaux, that is, Rogues, Rascals, Scoundrels, Varlets, or base Fellows. The author of the Thresor des Histories, calls them Bougres, that is Buggerers or Sodomites. Rubis reports, that the word Sorcerer was in those days expressed by the term Waldenses."7

Another Word On Origin

     One of the most touching books in my library is called Bright Lights in Dark Times. The author of the book is not listed. It is a brief book telling of the Waldenses. It tells of their origin, their valleys, their life and testimony in those valleys and of their persecutions. I should like to quote here from that book on the origin of the Waldenses.

     "The origin of the Waldenses, like those of all distant objects, remains in some obscurity. Various opinions have been advanced by their historians, some contending for, and others against, a great antiquity. The former endeavor to prove that a separate church has existed in the Alpine valleys from the earliest ages of Christianity, while the latter will not admit an earlier origin than the eleventh of twelfth century."

     "History and tradition alike, however, support the opinion that an almost uninterrupted testimony has been maintained, and handed down from primitive times. 'With the dawn of history,' observes an English historian, 'we of the Alps, where they still exist under the ancient name of the Vaudois, who by the light of the New Testament, saw the extraordinary contract between the purity of primitive times and the vices of the gorgeous hierarchy which surrounded them.' As throwing some light on their early conversion to Christianity, another writer says: 'Traces still exist of the Roman road which crossed the Cottian Alps, and extended from Milan to Boulogne, being the usual thoroughfare through which the Roman legions traveled from Italy to Gaul and Britain. While noticing their progress, in reading history, let it be remembered that the same road was probably the means of conveying many who brought glad tidings, and published the gospel of peace to the dwellers in the mountains and elsewhere. The famous city of Lyons, in the South of France, contained a community of Christians, as early as the second or third century; their bishop was Ireneaus, the pupil of Polycarp, himself the pastor of the church at Smyrna, and the disciple of St. John. It is not improbable that he was the instrument of converting the simple mountaineers from Paganism - Tradition also speaks of St. Paul as having traveled in this direction towards Spain, preaching to the inhabitants.'"

     "The Vaudois themselves have always maintained that the religion they followed had been preserved from father to son, and from generation to generation, from all time immemorial. Their own historians too, are of the same opinion. 'The Vaudois of the Alps,' writes one of the latest, 'are according to our belief the primitive church preserved in theses valleys.'"

     "Thus we have abundant testimony in favor of a very early origin: let us now look for a moment at what is stated by those who hold a contrary opinion. These are for the most part, Romish writers who appear anxious to prove that the Waldenses were merely a sect, which sprang up about the close of the twelfth century. Peter Waldo - the merchant Reformer of Lyons, as he was called - being their founder. There appears but little more reason for connecting Peter Waldo with the origin of the Waldenses than the similarity of names, which, however, is no more than a coincidence. 'The appellation,' says Dr. Gilly in his Waldensan Researchers 'of Valdesi in Italian, Vaudois in French, and Waldensian in English church history, means neither more nor less than men of the valleys.'"

     "We may easily understand why the Roman Church should attempt to cast doubt on the antiquity of the Waldensian Church. To admit it was to acknowledge that a distinct church, separate from 'the one, only, apostolic church' (as she proudly boasted) had existed and flourished from all time, thus yielding what she most of all desired, complete and universal supremacy."8

Concluding Remarks

     It can be seen by this, why the Protestant writers desire to find a founder for Baptist churches during the Reformation. If true churches existed (and they did) at the time of the Protestant Reformation, then the Reformers did not go far enough. They should have 'come out of the Roman church' and sought membership in the true churches. Since they did not do that they must find a late date for the origin of the Baptists.

     Since the Waldenses were Baptists (for the most part) we date our origin with them. Since we have dealt at length with the origin of the Waldenses, it remains in the pages ahead, to examine their doctrines and their persecutions to determine if they were our Baptist ancestors. They really were as we shall see.

Notes on Chapter 15

1 Alien Baptism and the Baptists, page 55.
2 Ecclesiastical Researches, pages 302.
3 The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, page 12.
4 The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, page 14.
5 The Waldenses, pages 27-28.
6 The Waldenses, pages 28-29.
7 The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, pages 12-13.
8 Bright Lights in Dark Times, pages 11-14.



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