Century XIII, Chapter I




Peter Waldo.

THE reader will recollect the account, which has been given of the cathari,* who were evidently a people of God in the former part of the last century. In the latter part of the same century, they received a great accession of members from the learned labours and godly zeal of Peter Waldo. In the century before us, they were gloriously distinguished by a dreadful series of persecution, and exhibited a spectacle to the world, both of the power of divine grace, and of the malice and enmity of the world against the real gospel of Jesus Christ. I purpose to represent in one connected view, the history of this people to the time of the reformation, and a little after. The spirit, doctrine, and progress of the waldenses, will be more clearly understood by this method, than by broken and interrupted details; and the thirteenth century seems the most proper place in which their story should be introduced.

The cathari, whom Bernard so unhappily misrepresented, were peculiarly numerous in the valleys of Piedmont. Hence the name Vaudois, or Vallenses was given to them, particularly to those who inhabited the valleys of Lucerne and Angrogne. A mistake arose from similarity of names, that Peter Valdo or Waldo, was the first founder of these churches. For the name Vallenses being easily changed into Waldenses, the romanists improved this very easy and natural mistake into an argument against the antiquity of these

• See page 360.

churches, and denied that they had any existence till the appearance of Waldo. During the altercations of the papists and protestants, it was of some consequence that this matter should be rightly stated; because the former denied, that the doctrines of the latter had any existence till the days of Luther. But from a just account of the subject it appeared, that the real protestant doctrines existed during the dark ages of the church, even long before Waldo's time; the proper founder of them being Claudius of Turin, the christian hero of the ninth century. *

About the year 1160, the doctrine of transubstantiation, which, some time afterwards, Innocent III. confirmed in a very solemn manner, was required by the court of Rome to be acknowledged by all men. A very pernicious practice of idolatry was connected with the reception of this doctrine. Men fell down before the consecrated host and worshipped it as God: and the novelty, absurdity, and impiety of this abomination very much struck, the minds of all men, who were not dead to a sense of true religion. At this time Peter Waldo, a citizen of Lyons, appeared very courageous in opposing the invention; though it is evident from the very imperfect account, which we have of the man, that it was not one single circumstance alone which influenced him in his views of reformation. It was the fear of God, in general, as a ruling principle in his own soul, and an alarming sense of the wickedness of the times, which, under the divine influence, moved

* Dr. Allix, in his history of the ancient church of Piedmont, has done justice to this subject. I have already made use of his learned labours, and shall again avail myself of them; though my chief source of information concerning this people will be their history, written by John Paul Perrin of Lyons, who -wrote in 1618. 1 could have wished, that his accounts of internal religion had been more full, even though those of the persecutions had been more scanty. But there arose no writers of eminence among the Waldenses; and Perrin's history is in a great measure collected from the records of the process and proceedings against the Waldensian churches, which were in the offices of the archbishops of Ambrun, and which were very providentially preserved. I shall not quote him in any particular passage, because 1 make such large use of his history in general.

him to oppose with courage the dangerous corruptions of the hierarchy.

A providential event had given the first occasion to this reformer's concern for religion. Being assembled with some of his friends, and after supper conversing and refreshing himself amortg them, one of the company fell down dead on the ground, to the amazement of all that were present. From that moment, it pleased God, that Waldo should commence a serious inquirer after1 divine truth. This person was an opulent merchant of Lyons, and as his concern of mind increased, and a door of usefulness to the souls of men was more and more set open before him, he abandoned his mercantile occupation, distributed his wealth to the poor, and exhorted his neighbours to seek the bread of life. The poor, who flocked to him, that they might partake of his alms, received from him the best instructions, which he was capable of communicating; and they reverenced the man, to whose liberality the) were so much obliged, while the great and the rich both hated and despised him.

Waldo himself, however, that he might teach others effectually, needed himself to be taught; and where was instruction to be found? Men at that day might run here and there for meat, and not be satisfied. In some convents, among the many who substituted formality for power, there were particular persons, who " held the Head," and drew holy nourishment from him. But a secular man, like Waldo, would not easily find them out, and were he to have met with some of them, their prejudiced attachments to the see of Rome Would either have prevented them from imparting to the merchant of Lyons the food which was necessary for his soul, or have led him into a course of lifc> "7 which he would, after their example, have buried his talent in a napkin. The conduct of Bernard, one of the most eminent and best of them, too plainly shows, that one of these two things would have been the case. But Bernard was gone to his rest not long before this time, and seems not to have left any monastic brother

behind him at all to be compared with himself. Divine providence reserved better things for Waldo: darkened and distressed in mind and conscience, he knew that the scriptures were given as infallible guides, and he thirsted for those sources of instruction which at that time were in a great measure a sealed book in the christian world. To men who understood the Latin tongue, they were accessible. But how few were these compared with the bulk of mankind! The Latin vulgate bible was the only edition of the sacred book at that time in Europe; and the languages then in common use, the French and others, however mixed with the Latin, were, properly speaking, by this time separate and distinct from it. It is a certain mark of the general negligence of the clergy in those ages, that no provision was made for the ignorant in this respect, though I do not find that there existed any penal law to forbid the reading of the scriptures in the vulgar tongue. It is certain that Waldo found means to diffuse the precious gift of the scriptures among the people. But different accounts are given us of his manner of doing it.* His enemies assert, that some books of scripture, having been translated from Latin into French, he assumed 1 the office of an apostle to himself. In particular, Reinerius says, " Being somewhat learned, he taught the people the text of the new testament." This looks so like a reluctant confession of his learning and knowledge, that I am tempted to believe the words of Matthias Illyricus, who observes: " His kindness to the poor being diffused, his love of teaching and their love of learning growing stronger and stronger, greater crowds came to him, and he explained the scriptures. He was himself a man of learning, so I understand from some old parchments, nor was he obliged to employ others to translate for him, as his enemies affirm." Another anonymous author tells us, likewise, that Waldo made a collection in the vulgar tongue of the

• Usher de Christ. Eccl. success. & statu.

passages of the ancient fathers, that he might satisfy his disciples by the testimony of the doctors against their adversaries.

But whether Waldo himself entirely performed the work, or encouraged others to do it, or what is most probable, executed it himself with the assistance of others, it is certain, that the christian world in the west was indebted, under providence, to him for the flrst translation of the bible into a modern tongue, since the time that the Latin had ceased to be a living language. A most valuable gift! True reformers have ever been remarkable for a desire and endeavour to communicate knowledge among the ignorant: and it is a standing reproach to the whole popish system, that however pious and scripturally judicious some individuals of that church have been, no pains at all were takenby it to diffuse biblical knowledge among the vulgar. The praise of this work, if we except the single instance of the Sclavonian version of the scriptures, which, however, was executed by two Greek monks, and not by papists, is purely and exclusively of protestant origin in Europe, during all the ages preceding the reformation.

As Waldo grew more acquainted with the scriptures, he discovered, that the general practice of nominal christians was totally abhorrent from the doctrines of the new testament: and in particular, that a number of customs, which all the world regarded with reverence, had not only no foundation in the divine oracles, but were even condemned by them. Inflamed with equal zeal and charity, he boldly condemned the reigning vices, and the arrogance of the pope. He did more: as he himself grew in the knowledge of the true faith and love of Christ, he taught his neighbours the principles of practical godliness, and encouraged them to seek salvation by Jesus Christ.

John de Beles Mayons, the archbishop of Lyons, could not but be sensible of the tendency of these proceedings, and being jealous of the honour of the corrupt system, of which he was a distinguished member, he forbade the new reformer to teach any more,'on . pain of excommunication, and of being proceeded against as an heretic. Waldo replied, that though he was a layman, yet he could not be silent in a matter which concerned the salvation of men. On this reply, the archbishop endeavoured to apprehend him. But the great affection of Waldo's friends, the influence of his relations, who were men of rank, the universal regard paid to his probity and piety, and the conviction which, no doubt, many felt, that the extraordinary circumstances of things justified his assumption of the pastoral character,* all these things operated so strongly in his favour, .that he lived concealed at Lyons for the space of three years.

Among other scriptural discoveries the evils of the popedom struck the mind of Waldo; and pope Alexander III. having heard of his proceedings, anathematized the reformer and his adherents, and commanded the archbishop to proceed against them with the utmost rigor.

Waldo could no longer remain in Lyons. He escaped; his disciples followed him; and hence a dispersion took place, similar to that which arose in the primitive church on occasion of the persecution of Stephen. The effects were also similar: the doctrine of Waldo was hence more widely disseminated through Europe. He himself retired into Dauphiny, where his tenets took a deep and lasting root. Some of his people did probably join themselves to the vaudois of* Piedmont, and the new translation of the bible was, doubtless, a rich accession to the spiritual treasures of that people. Waldo himself, however, seems never to have been among them. Persecuted from place to place, he retired into Picardy. Success still attended his labours;

* If Waldo's friends reasoned aright in this, as I am inclined to think they did, arguing from the necessity of the case and the strength of that divine aphorism, " I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," let not, however, such extraordinary cases give a sanction to many sclfcreated teachers, who disturb rather than strengthen the hands of faithful pastors by their irregular proceedings. See Butler's Analogy, page 232. Oct. edit.

and the doctrines, which he preached, appear to have so harmonized with those of the vaudois, that with reason they and his people were henceforward considered as the same.

To support and encourage the church of Christ, formed no part of the glory of the greatest and wisest princes of that age. The barbarous conduct of our Henry II. has been already noticed; and Philip Augustus, one of the most prudent and sagacious princes which France ever saw, was no less enslaved by the " god of this world."* He took up arms against the waldenses of Picardy, pulled down three hundred houses of the gentlemen who supported their party, destroyed some walled towns, and drove the inhabitants into Flanders. Not content with this J he pursued them thither, and caused many of them to be burned.

From the account of a very authentic French historian,f it appears, that Waldo fled into Germany, and at last settled in Bohemia. There he ended his days in the year 1179, or before that time.J It is evident, from good records, that the churches of Dauphiny corresponded with those of Bohemia, and that these last were, on some occasions at least, supplied with pastors from Piedmont. These things show the mutual connexion of the waldensian churches, and prove the superior antiquity of those of the valleys, the severity of the persecution, and the important services of Peter Waldo. A very extraordinary personage! resem

• 2 Cor. iv. 4. t Thuan. Hist. sui temp 457.

\ The account, which Mosheim has given us of the waldenses, is se very different from mine, that it may seem proper, that I should assign the reasons, why I presume to differ from so learned an historian in matters of fact. 1st. I have adduced ample testimonies, and the reader, who will consult Dr. Allix, may see more, to prove, that these persons existed before the time of Peter Waldo, and consequently, that he was not, as Mosheim asserts, the proper parent and founder of the sect. 2d. That his account of their insisting on the necessity of the poverty and manual labours of their pastors is a mistake, will appear from their own declarations in the next chapter. 3d. So far was Waldo from being the founder of the churches of the valleys, that it does not appear, that he ever was in Piedmont at all. 4th. Whereas Mosheim asserts, that he assumed the pastoral function in 1180, it is evident from Thuanus, that he died before that era. On the whole, the information of Mosheim concerning this people, seem* very scanty, confused, and erroneous. See Mosheim, vol. i. p. 615

bling in many respects the immediate successors of the apostles themselves! But his piety, endowments, and labours, have met with no historian capable of doing them justice; and, as in every light he had no reward upon earth, he appears to have been eminently one of those, of whom the world was not worthy; but he turned many to righteousness, and shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. * The word of God grew and multiplied, in the places where he had planted, and even in still more distant regions. In Alsace and along the Rhine the gospel was preached with a powerful effusion of the holy Spirit; persecutions ensued, and thirty-five citizens of Mentz were burned at one fire in the city of Bingen, and at Mentz eighteen. The bishop of Mentz was very active in these persecutions, and the bishop of Strasburg was not inferior to him in vindictive zeal; for, through his means, eighty persons were burned at Strasburg. Every thing relating to the waldenses resembled the scenes of the primitive church. Numbers died praising God, and in confident assurance of a blessed resurrection; whence the blood of the martyrs again became the seed of the church; and in Bulgaria, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Hungary, churches were planted, which flourished in the thirteenth century, governed by Bartholomew, a native of Carcassone, a city not far distant from Toulouse, which might be called in those days the metropolis of the waldenses, on account of the numbers who there professed evangelical truth.f InBohemiaand in the country of Passaw, the churches were reckoned to have contained eighty thousand professors in the former part of the fourteenth century. Almost throughout Europe waldenses were to be found; and yet they were treated as the offscouring of the earth, and as people against whom all the power and wisdom of the world were united. But " the witnesses continued to prophecy in sackcloth,"J and souls were built up in the faith,

• Daniel xii.

t Matthew Paris, in his Hist. of Henry III. Ann. 1223. j Revelat. xi.

the hope, and the charity of the gospel; and here was the faith and patience of the saints.