Century XIII, Chapter II


The real Character of the Waldemes.

But we are just!)' called on, in this place, to vindicate the claim, which this people made to the honourable character of the church of God. In times of very great decline, whoever is led by the spirit of God to revive true religion, necessarily exposes himself to the invidious charges of arrogance, uncharitableness, and selfconceit. By condemning all others, he provokes the rest qf the world to observe and investigate his faults. These disadvantages the waldenses had in common with other reformers: they had also disadvantages peculiarly their own. Power, knowledge, and learning, were almost entirely in the hands of their adversaries: in them very particularly God Almighty chose the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise. As they were, for the most part, a plain and illiterate people, they furnished no learned divines, no profound reasoners, nor able historians. The vindication, therefore, of their claims to the character of a true church must be drawn principally from the holiness of their lives and the patience of their sufferings. There are, however, besides these, certain documents respecting their principles, which will enable the candid and attentive reader to form a just estimate of these men.

Nothing can exceed the calumnies of their adversaries: in this respect they had the honour to bear the cross of the first christians. Poor men of Lyons and dogs were the usual terms of derision. In Provence they were all called cutpurses: in Italy, because they observed not the appointed festivals, and rested from

their ordinary occupations only on Sundays, they were 1 called insabathas; that is, regardless of sabbaths. In Germany, they were called gazares, a terra expressive of every thing flagitiously wicked. In Flanders they were denominated turlupins, that is, inhabitants with wolves, because they were often obliged to dwell in woods and deserts. And because they denied the consecrated host to be God, they were accused of arianism, as if they had denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. Our old historian Hoveden calls them arians.* It was not possible for these poor sufferers to speak a word in defence or explanation of their doctrines, but malice, which discolors every thing, was sure to misrepresent it. If they maintained the independency of the temporal powers on the ecclesiastical, a doctrine now believed almost universally in Europe, they were called manichees, as if they favoured the notion of two principles. So I find Baronius calls them, observing that they were rather manichees than arians. f The old odious name of gnostic also was revived, with every other term of ancient or modern opprobrium, which might infix a stigma on the character of the sufferers, and seem to justify the barbarity with which they were treated.

Matthew Paris himself, one of the most valuable of the monkish historians, calls them ribalds, or dissolute men. They were termed, and as numbers believed, not without justice, sorcerers, and even sodomites. It is surprising how the old calumnies, with which the pagans blackened the primitive christians, were renewed, namely, that they met in the night, were guilty of incest, and the like. Rainerius, their adversary, as mentioned above, was not ashamed to repeat this absurd accusation. To which he adds, that they allowed divorces at pleasure, in order that they might live with their sectarian brethren; that they worshipped their pastors; and that they maintained as a principle that no magistrate ought to condemn any person to death.

* Hoveden, p. 32r t B«ron. cent. xii. Ann. U7&

But it were endless to recite calumnies of this kind: let us see how they cleared themselves by their own writings. An apology was still extant in the time of Perrin, which the waldenses of Bohemia sent to Ladislaus, king of Hungary and Bohemia, by whom they were grievously persecuted. From this and some other of their writings, their conduct is defended.

In answer to the charge of lewdness, they strongly deny it, and gravely express their abhorrence of the sin. " This vice," say they, " consumes the estates of many', as it is said of the prodigal son, who wasted hfs substance in riotous living. Balaam made choice of this vice, to provoke the children of Israel to offend their God. Hence Sampson lost his sight. Hence Solomon was perverted, and many have perished. The remedies for this sin are fasting, prayer, and the keeping at a distance from temptation. Other vices may be subdued by fighting; in this we conquer by flight." Let men of this refined age, who are enslaved by W»cleanness, learn some good rules from the waldenses, whose simplicity was mixed with true wisdom. The charge of admitting divorces at pleasure they abhor, and quote the scripture* against the practice: "Let not the wife depart from her husband, nor the husband put away his wife." They published also a book, describing the causes of their separation from the roman church. The separation was at length made complete, indeed, through the violence of their persecutors; but I have elsewhere observed, that the desire of separating from the Latin church did not commence with them. This people were injuriously represented also as holding the community of goods, and denying the right of all private property. Their answer to the charge was very satisfactory. " Every one of us hath possessed his own at all times and in all places. In Dauphiny and other parts, when we were dispossessed of our substance, the suits for the recovery of" each e*

tate were conducted by the particular proprietors.* The waldenses of Provence do at this present time demand of the pope the restoration of the lands and estates annexed to his domain by confiscation; every particular person making oath of his parcel of goods and lands, which descended to him from time immemorial; for we never have had community of property in the sense objected to us by our adversaries."

Nothing is more common than to slander true christians with aspersions, which tend to deprive them of all respectability in society, and to represent them as quite unfit for the ordinary purposes of human life. We have just seen a foul attempt of this nature formed against the waldenses. To the same purport they were charged with denying the lawfulness of oaths in all cases without exception. This point of their history has its difficulties: what they really held on the doctrine of oaths is not very apparent from the account which Usher gives us.f Most probably they condemned the multiplicity of oaths, with which the courts of law abounded. That they did not, however, maintain the absolute unlawfulness of oaths is certain, from the exposition of the third commandment in their" spiritual almanack;" in which are these words; " there are some oaths lawful, tending to the honour of God, and the edification of our neighbour, as appears from Heb. vi. 16. Men swear by a greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." Other scriptures are alleged by them to the same purport. Men who held these things should be acquitted of the charge of universally denying the lawfulness of oaths. But it seems to have been one of the common artifices of the prince of darkness to calumniate the people of God in this manner. He knows, that if religious men be thought wholly unfitted for this world, because of cer

* This appears by the legal process, existing in Perrin's time, which shews that Lewis xii. condemned the usurpers of the goods of the waldenses to a restitution. This happened about the beginning of the sixteenth century.

t Usher De Christ. Ecc. success. &- statu.

tain absurd or ridiculous customs, the generality of mankind will pay no great regard to their instructions concerning the right way to the next. It is, therefore, of some consequence, to clear up the character of true christians in this respect.

Another charge against them was, that they denied baptism to infants. In answer to this, in their spiritual almanack, they say, " neither the time nor the place is appointed for those, who must be baptized. But we do bring our children to be baptized, which they ought to do, to whom they are nearest related; their parents or those whom God hath inspired with such charily." If this be the case, and the evidence of their own books appears to be unanswerable, it seems improper to look on the waldenscs as averse to infant baptism. Yet, that some of them were regarded as professed enemies to the baptism of infants, is affirmed on respectable authority,* and it possibly might be the case with a few of them. The greater part of them are, however, vindicated in this respect by an authority from which lies no appeal, their own authentic writings. However, having been for some hundred of years constrained to suffer their children to be baptized by the Romish priest, they were under frequent temptations to defer it, on account of the superstitious inventions annexed to that holy ordinance in those times: and very frequently, on account of the absence of their own pastors, whom they called barbs, who were travelling abroad for the service of the churches, they could not have baptism administered to their children by their ministry. The delay occasioned by these things exposed them to the reproach of their adversaries. And though many, who approved of them in all other respects, gave credit to the accusation, I cannot find any satisfactory proof, that they were, in judgment, antipaedo-baptists strictly. And it is very probable, that some of the supposed heretics, who have been mentioned above,t delayed the baptism of their children

• Cert. Magd. xii. 833. t Bee p. 362. of this volume.

on the same account; because similar circumstances would naturally be attended with similar effects. On the whole, a few instances excepted, the existence of antipredo-baptism, seems scarcely to have taken place in the church of Christ, till a little after the beginning of the reformation, when a sect arose, whom historians commonly call the anabaptists. I lay no great stress on this subject; for the waldenses might have been a faithful, humble, and spiritual people, as I believe they were, if they had differed from the general body of christians on this article. But when I find persons to have been taken as enemies to infant baptism on principle, who were not so, it seemed to be a part of historical veracity to represent things as they really were.

The charge of worshipping their barbs is suffici

mandment in the book of their doctrine. Indeed Albert de Capitaneis, their grand enemy in the diocese of Turin, violently tortured them, in order to extort • from them a confession of this idolatry, but to no purpose.

It was a gross calumny to accuse them as enemies to the penal power of the magistrate, because they complained of the abuse of his power in condemning true christians to death without a fair examination; when, at the same time, in their own books, they asserted, that " a malefactor ought not to be suffered to live."*

No less unjust were the charges against them of seditiousness and undutifulness to the supreme power. For in the book of the causes of their separation from the church of Rome, they said, that every one ought to be subject to those, who are in authority, to obey and love them, to honour them with double honour, with subjection, allegiance, and promptitude, and the paying of tribute to whom tribute is due. The charges of sodomy, sorcery, and the like abominations are

• In a book of the waldenses, called " The Light of the treasure of Faith."

sufficiently confuted by the authentic writings, holy lives, and patient sufferings of this people.

One charge more against them is, that they compelled their pastors to follow some trade. How satisfactory their answer! " We do not think it necessary that our pastors should work for bread. They might be better qualified to instruct us, if we could maintain them without their own labour; but our poverty has no remedy." So they speak in letters published in 1508.*

We have hitherto rather rescued their character from infamy, than delineated its real nature. They appear, on the whole, to have been most unjustly aspersed; and the reader will be enabled to form some idea of their piety and probity from the following testimonies of their enemies.

A pontifical inquisitorf says, " heretics are known by their manners. In behaviour they are composed and modest, and no pride appears in their apparel." Seysillius says, it much strengthens the waldenses, that, their heresy excepted, they generally live a purer life than other christians. They never swear but by compulsion, and seldom take the name of God in vain: they fulfil their promises with good faith; and, living for the most part in poverty, they profess that they at once preserve the apostolical life and doctrine. Lielenstenius, a dominican, speaking of the waldenses of Bohemia, says, " I say that in morals and life they are good; true in words, unanimous in brotherl' love; but their faith is incorrigible and vile, as I have shown in my treatise."

These testimonies, for which I am obliged to the researches of archbishop Usher, seem to me to be important. The first, as far as it goes, is favourable; and the second and third, are exceedingly decisive. Causes and effects are necessarily connected. How could the romanist last quoted suppose, that the faith of men could be bad, whose fruits were so excellent?

* Usher de Christ Eccl. sncc. & statu. t

Could he show any such fruits in the Rorrmn church in general at that time?

We have now seen the fullest testimony to the holiness of the waldenses; and we shall see shortly that the doctrines which they held, were no other than those, which, under the divine influence, we have all along observed to be the constant root of virtue in the world.

Kainerius, the cruel persecutor, owns that the waldenses frequently read the holy scriptures, and in their preaching cited the words of Christ and his apostles concerning love, humility, and other virtues; insomuch that the women, who heard them, were enraptured with the sound. He further says, that they taught men to live, by the words of the gospel and the apostles; that they led religious lives; that their manners were seasoned with grace, and their words prudent; that they freely discoursed of divine things, that they might be esteemed good men. He observes, likewise, that they taught their children and families the epistles and gospels. Claude, bishop of Turin, wrote a treatise against their doctrines, in which ho candidly owns that they themselves were blameless, without reproach among men, and that they observed the divine commands with all their might.

Jacob de Riberia says, that he had seen peasants among them, who could recite the book of Job by heart; and several others, who could perfectly repeat the whole new testament.

The bishop of Cavaillon once obliged a preaching monk to enter into conference with them, that they might be convinced of their errors, and the effusion of blood be prevented. This happened during a great persecution in 1540, in Merindol and Provence. But the monk returned in confusion, owning that he had never known in his whole life so much of the scriptures, as he had learned during those few days, in which he had held conferences with the heretics. The bishop, however, sent among them a number of doc

Voi. IH. 55

tors, you»g men who had lately come from the Sorbonne, which was at that time the very centre of theological subtilty at Paris. One of them openly owned, that he had understood more of the doctrine of salvation from the answers of the little children in their catechism, than by all the disputations which he had ever heard. This is the testimony of Vesembecius in his oration concerning the waldenses. The same author informs us farther, that Lewis XII. importuned by the calumnies of informers, sent two respectable persons into Provence, to make inquiries. They'reported, that in visiting all their parishes and temples, they found no images or ronian ceremonies, but that they could not discover any marks of the crimes with which they were charged; that the sabbath was strictly observed; that children were baptized according to the - rules of the primitive church, and instructed in the articles of the christian faith, and the commandments of God. Lewis having heard the report, declared with an oath, " they are better men than myself or my peo^ pie." Oiuof the confessors of the same king having, by his orders, visited the valley of Fraissiniere in Dauphiny, was so struck with the holy lives of the people there, that he declared, in the hearing of several competent witnesses, that he wished he himself were so good a christian as the worst inhabitant in that valley.

We must add here the testimony of that great historian Thuanus, an enemy indeed to the waldenses, though a fair and candid one.* He is describing one of the valleys inhabited by this people in Dauphiny, which is called the stoney valley. " Their clothing," he says, " is of the skins of sheep; they have no linen. They inhabit seven villages: their houses are constructed of flint stone with a flat rouf covered with mud, which being spoiled or loosened by rain, they smooth again with a roller. In these they live with their cattle, separated from them, however, by a fence; they have besides two caves set apart for particular

* Thuan. Hist. b. 27. p. 16.

purposes, in one of which the)' conceal their* cattle, in the other themselves, when hunted by their enemies. They live on milk and venison, being by constant practice excellent marksmen. Poor as they are, they are content, and live separate from the rest of mankind. One thing is astonishing, that persons externally so savage and rude, should have so much moral cultivation. They can all read and write. They understand French, so far as is needful for the understanding of the bible and the singing of psalms. You can scarce find a boy among them, who cannot give you an intelligible account of the faith, which they profess; in this, indeed, they resemble their brethren of the other val-, leys: they pay tribute with a good conscience, and the obligation of this duty is peculiarly noted in the confession of their faith. If, by reason of the civil wars, they are prevented from doing this, they carefully set apart the sum, and at the first opportunity pay it to the king's taxgatherers."

Francis I. the successor of Lewis XII. received, on inquiry, the following information concerning the waldensesof Merindol, and other neighbouring places; namely, that they were a laborious people, who came from Piedmont to dwell in Provence, about two hundred years ago; that they had much improved the country by their industry; that their manners were most excellent; and that they were honest, liberal, hospitable, and humane; that they were distinct from others in this, that they could not bear the sound of blasphemy, or the naming of the devil, or any oaths, except on solemn occasions; and, that if ever they fell into company where blasphemy or lewdness formed the substance of the discourse, they instantly withdrew themselves.

Such are the testimonies to the character of this people from enemies!

That they are well spoken of by protestants since the reformation, might be expected; and I need not dwell largely upon evidences drawn from this source. Beza, Bullinger, and Luther, testify the excellence of the waldenses. The last mentioned reformer deserves the more to be regarded, because he owns that he once was prejudiced against them. He understood by their confessions and writings, that they had been, for ages, singularly serious and expert in the use of the scriptures. He rejoiced and gave thanks to God, that he had enabled the reformed and the waldenses, to sec and own each other as brethren.*

CEcolampadius and Martin Bucer also, in the year 1530, wrote an affectionate letter to the waldenses of Provence.

After so many testimonies to the character of this people, the evidence of Vignaux, a waldenslan pastor in the valleys of Piedmont, who wrote a treatise on their life and manners, may deserve our attention. " We never mix ourselves," says he, " with the church of Rome, in marriage. Yet roman catholic lords and others prefer our people as servants to those of their own religion, and come from far to seek nurses among us for their children."

It is remarkable that Thomas-Walden, who wrote against WicklifF, says, that the doctrine of Waldo was conveyed from France into England. It may not, perhaps, be thought improbable, that the English, being masters of Guienne for a long time, should have received some beams of divine truth from the followers of Waldo. By the general confession of the romanists, indeed, the protestants and the waldenses were looked on as holding the same principles.

The churches of Piedmont, however, on account of their superior antiquity, were regarded as guides of the rest; insomuch, that when two pastors, who had been sent by them into Bohemia, acted with perfidy, and occasioned a grievous persecution, still the Bohemians ceased not to desire pastors from Piedmont, only they requested, that none but persons of tried characters might be sent to them for the future.

I can only give the general outlines: if the finer and

more numerous lines of this scene could be circumstantially drawn, a spectacle more glorious could scarcely be exhibited to the reader. From the borders of Spain, throughout the south of France for the most part, among and below the Alps, along the Rhine, on both sides of its course, and even to Bohemia, thousands of godly souls were seen patiently to bear persecution for the sake of Christ, against whom malice could say no evil, but what admits the most satisfactory refutation: men distinguished for every virtue, and only hated because of godliness itself. Persecutors with a sigh owned, that, because of their virtue, they were the most dangerous enemies of the church. But of what church? Of that, which in the thirteenth century and long before had evidenced itself to be antichristian. Here were not an individual or two, like Bernard, but very many real christians, who held the real doctrines of scripture, and carefully abstained from all the idolatry of the times. How obdurate is the heart of man by nature! men could see and own the superior excellence of these persons, and yet could barbarously persecute them! what a blessed light is that of scripture! By that the waldenses saw the road to heaven, of which the wisest of their contemporaries were ignorant, who, though called christians, made no vise of the oracles of God! How marvellous are the ways of God! how faithful his promise in supporting and maintaining a church, even in the darkest times! but her livery is often sackcloth, and her external bread is that of affliction, while she sojourns on earth. But let no factious partizan encourage himself in sedition by looking at the waldenses. \\ e have seen how obedient they were to established governments; and that separation from a church, so corrupt as that of Rome, was with them only matter of necessity. The best and wisest in all ages have acted in the same manner, and have dreaded the evils of schism more than those of a defect in discipline. We shall now see what the waldeDses were in point of doctrine and discipline. For their virtues had an evangelical principle, and it is

only to be regretted that the accounts are very scanty on a subject worthy the attention of all, who desire to understand the loving kindness of the Lord.