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The Waldenses
G. I. Miles, 1836
      Among all the sects of ancient times, none has been so highly regarded as that of the Waldenses. Their history has undergone a most diligent search by all parties of Protestants in defence of their peculiar sentiments. A line of succession down from the Apostles, seemed necessary to refute the charges that they were new sects, made against them by the Catholics. This induced many learned men to examine the Waldensian records with great care and attention. They had no thought of assisting the cause of the Baptists, who were then greatly despised, but it so happened that, most important evidence was furnished in favor of our claims to the Waldenses as our predecessors.

      "Little" says [Robert] Robinson "did the Old Waldenses think when they were held in universal abhorrence and committed everywhere to the flames, that a time would come when the honor of a connection with them would be disputed by different parties of the highest reputation."

      One observation respecting this people may here be made. Attempts have been made by some to prove them all Baptists by others, all Pedo Baptists. Both attempt to prove too much, for it is evident that there were included under the name of Waldenses, a considerable variety of sentiments and characters.

      The term was used as that of Non Conformist in England, which comprehends a number of sects. It is necessary therefore to distinguish between the original Waldenses, and the promiscuous assemblage upon whom the name is conferred.

      Concerning the origin of the Waldenses, and the manner in which they received their name, there are various opinions entertained. The papists and some others date their commencement in the twelfth century, under the famous reformer Peter Waldo. The Catholics feel of course an interest in disputing their antiquity, and Protestants in maintaining it.

      Robinson and Milner consider Claude, bishop of Turin their founder. The former calls him the Wickliff of Turin, the latter the Christian Hero of the ninth century. He bore indeed, a noble testimony against the errors of that time, and no doubt promoted the cause of the disputes through his piety and zeal; but various testimonies make it most probable that, there were Christians of the same character as the Waldenses long before the time of Claude.

      Dr. Allix in his history of the Churches of Piedmont, gives this account of the Waldenses: That for three hundred or more years, the Bishop of Rome attempted to subjugate the Church of Milan, who rather than submit to such jurisdiction, retired to the vallies of Lucerne and Angrogne, and thence were called Vallenses, Wallenses, or the people of the vallies.

      President [Jonathan] Edwards makes the following observations: it is supposed that these people first betook themselves to this desert secret place among the mountains, to hide themselves from the severity of the heathen persecutions before the time of Constantine, and thus the woman fled into the wilderness from the face of the serpent.

      Cranz in his history of the United Brethren gives this statement; these ancient Christians date their origin from the beginning of the Fourth Century; when one Leo, at the great revolution in religion under Constantine, opposed the innovations of Sylvester, bishop of Rome.

      The cruel Inquisitor Reinerus, spent much time in examining these people, and observes, "that some aver their existence from the days of Sylvester, and others from the very time of the Apostles," and he admits that they flourished five hundred years before Peter Waldo. This account seems to have come from the Waldenses themselves, and appears to be the truth. The doctrine they maintained was that of the Apostles, and as a body they existed from the time of Sylvester, when the Church sunk into superstition and formality.

      All testimony it seems sustains the high antiquity of this body of Christians, and some popish writers own that they never submitted to the Church of Rome, and all acknowledge that her persecutions could never extirpate them.

      In relation to the name of this people, it may be interesting to make several quotations from Jones' Church History, a work which we take the liberty to recommend to all our readers. After noticing the opinion of Mosheim, that they received their name from Peter Waldo, which is contradicted by his learned translator, and most other writers of authority, he says "the most satisfactory definition of the term Waldenses is that given by Robinson in his Ecclesiastical Researches, which is, that from the Latin word Vallis, came the English Valley, the French and Spanish Valle, the Italian Valdesi, the Low Dutch Valleye, the Provincial Vaux, Vaudois, the ecclesiastical, Valdenses and Waldenses. The words simply signify Valleys, inhabitants of valleys, and no more. It happened that the inhabitants of the vallies of the Pyrenees did not profess the Catholic faith; it fell out also that the inhabitants of the vallies about the Alps did not embrace it; it happened moreover that in the ninth century, one Valdo a friend and counsellor of Berengarius, and a man of eminence who had many followers did not approve of the papal discipline and doctrine; and it came to pass about a hundred and thirty years after, that a rich merchant of Lyons who was called Valdus or Waldo, because he received his religious notions from the inhabitants of the valleys, openly disavowed the Roman Catholic religion, supported many to teach the doctrines believed in the valleys, and became the instrument of the conversion of great numbers: all these people were called Waldenses. This view of the matter is also supported by their own historians Perrin, Leger, Sir S. Morland, and Dr. Alix."

      "The names imposed upon them in France by their adversaries have been intended to vilify and ridicule them, or to represent them as new and different sects. Being stripped of all their property by persecution they have been called the "poor of Lyons." From their mean appearance in their exiled and destitute state, they have been called in provincial jargon "Siccan" or pickpockets. Because they would not observe Saints' days, they were falsely supposed to neglect the Sabbath also, and called "Inzabbatati or Insabbathists." As they denied transubstantiation, they were called "Arians." Their adversaries premising that all power must be derived from God through his vicegerent the Pope, or from an opposite or evil spirit, inferred that they were "Manichaeans"1 because they denied the Pope's supremacy."

      "In Languedoc, the Catholics pretended that their origin was recent, and that their name was derived from Waldo; but this was rather the renovation of the name from a particular cause, than its original; accordingly it extended over that district only in France where Waldo preached; for in other districts the people who were branches of the same original sect, as in Dauphine, were from a noted preacher called Josephists, in Languedoc, Henricians, - and in other provinces, from Peter de Bruys, they were called Petrobrusians. Sometimes they received their name from their manners, as "Catharists," (Puritans,) and from the foreign country whence it was pretended they had been expelled, they were called "Bulgarians" or Bougres. In Italy they were commonly called Fraticelli, that is men of the brotherhood. Sometimes they were denominated "Paulicians," and by a corruption of the word, "Publicans." Sometimes they were named from the country, or city in which they prevailed, as Lombardists, Toulousians, and Albigenses. This last became their common name in France, from the great number that inhabited the city of Alby and the district of Albigeois, but was not general and confirmed until after the Council of Alby 1254, which condemned them as heretics. When the Popes issued their fulminations, and persecutions were carried on against them under the appellation of Albigenses, it was for professing the faith of the Waldenses."

      The doctrinal sentiments as we have hinted, as well as the origin and name of the Waldenses, have been subjected to a very thorough examination. Whoever will undertake to determine what were the sentiments of this people, must remember that all heretics, as they were termed by Catholics, were considered under the general term Waldenses by their adversaries, and that therefore no particular branch maintained all the views attributed to them. Upon this point, we direct the reader to the second section of the fifth chapter of Jones' Church History, where, in relation to the testimony of Inquisitors and others of the Catholic Church, especially that of Claudius Seiselius, archbishop of Turin, a resident in the very heart of the Valleys of Piedmont, he uses this language; "Such is the description given us of the Waldenses of Piedmont before Luther was born, or Calvin thought of, or the term Reformation ever mentioned." And yet the Catholics have had the effrontery to ask us, "Where was your religion before Luther?" From this, the reader will doubtless imagine the principles of the Waldenses to be the very principles of the Reformation, as in fact they were, with the exception of perhaps, a greater degree of purity and gospel simplicity to characterise them.

      We will now attend to the testimony of different parties, concerning the views of the Waldenses upon the subject of Baptism, merely promising that this has reference only to the proper subjects of the ordinance, and not the mode of administration, as upon that point there was then but one opinion,2 and that one of the principal sins laid to their charge was the denial of infant baptism.

      In a Confession of Faith submitted by them to the French King in 1544, we find this article; "We believe that in the ordinance of Baptism, the water is the visible and external sign which represents to us that which by virtue of God's invisible operation is within us, namely the renovation of our minds and the mortification of our members through (the faith of) Jesus Christ. And by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God's people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life."3

      In "A treatise concerning Antichrist, Purgatory, the Invocation of Saints, and the Sacraments," which is said to bear date A. D. 1120, nearly half a century before the time of Waldo, and attributed to the pen of Peter de Bruys, is the following remark, in the description given of Antichrist; "He teaches to baptize children into the faith, and attributes to this the work of regeneration; thus confounding the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, with the external rite of baptism, and on this foundation bestows orders and indeed grounds all his Christianity."4

      Chessanion in his history of the Albigenses, after mentioning the suspense in which he had been held, and some reasons for his conclusion, says; "the truth is they did not reject the sacrament (of baptism) and say it was useless, but only counted it unnecessary to infants, because they are not of age to believe, nor capable of giving evidence of their faith."

      Dr. Wall in his history of Infant Baptism, speaking of the Petrobrussians, says; "withdrawing themselves about the year 1100 from the communion of the Church of Rome, which was then very corrupt, they did reckon infant baptism as one of the corruptions, and accordingly renounced it and practised only adult baptism."

      Mosheim, speaking of Peter de Bruys, says; "it is certain that one of his tenets was that no persons whatever were to be baptized before they were come to the full use of reason."

      Bishop Bossuet, a Catholic, complaining of Calvin's party for claiming Apostolical succession through the Waldenses, observes, "You adopt Henry and Peter de Bruys among your predecessors, but both of these every body knows were Anabaptists."

      "The Waldenses," says Francowitz "scent a little of Anabaptism, but they were nothing like the Anabaptists of our times." "Yes," replies Limborch, a learned Professor of Divinity in the University of Amsterdam, "to speak candidly what I think of all the modern sects of Christians, the Dutch Baptists most resemble both the Albigenses and the Waldenses."

      Other testimony could be furnished, but we merely add the following from Mosheim, who notwithstanding the hard names he has bestowed upon us, settles the connection claimed between us and the people under consideration. "The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of the Anabaptists, by their administering anew the rite of baptism, and derived the name of Mennonist from the famous man to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is of consequence difficult to be ascertained."

      We present our humble thanks to the Dr. for this concession, and dismiss this matter by expressing the opinion, that the original Waldenses were what are now termed baptists in sentiment and practice, and that the same may be said of all their prominent men, whilst some other dissenters from the church of Rome obtained a residence and a name with them, where they practised infant baptism unmolested.

      To the character of the Waldenses &c., for piety and all moral excellence, the strongest evidence is afforded even by their enemies. Their numbers, though not exactly known, must have been very considerable. The persecutions they suffered were frequent and in some instances of the most horrid kind; they are presented in detail in Jones' Church History.


1 The sect of Manichaeans derived its origin from Manes, or Manichaeus, a Persian who embraced Christianity about the end of the third century. He believed that there are two principles from which all things proceed, one called Light, the other Darkness, who rule all things.
2 See chapter on the History of Baptism in this work.
3 Jones' Church History. 2 vol. p. 47.
4 Same, page 51.


[From G. I. Miles, A Glance at the Baptists, 1836, pp. 14-23. The Notes are changed from symbols to numbers. Document from Princeton Theological Seminary Library, On-line Open Library. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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