Archive for the ‘Waldensians’ Tag

Courage in Christ   Leave a comment

Imagine Europe in the 12th century. The Roman Catholic Church was the only recognized church and attempting to be other than Catholic generally held a death sentence. The Roman Catholic Church reserved unto itself, with the weight and power of the secular authorities behind it, the right to determine what Christians could believe and how they could practice their faith. It taught dogmas that were not found anywhere in the Bible and, yet, expected dogmatic obedience. They ruthlessly persecuted any groups that deviated from its structure, no matter how peacefully the group might seek to live.

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Peter Waldo was a wealthy merchant who renounced his wealth and property around 1173. Possessed of a New Testament translated into his native tongue, Waldo came to believe he was meant to preach what he had read in the Bible and that wealth was an encumbrance to preaching. He formed a band of other similarly minded folk and they began preaching in Lyon, teaching lay preaching, voluntary poverty, and strict adherence to the Bible.

In 1179, Waldo and one of his disciples appeared by Pope Alexander III to explain their faith, which touched on issues already being debated among some Church clerics — universal priesthood, the gospel in the common language, and the issue of voluntary poverty. The Third Lateran Council condemned Waldo’s ideas, but not the movement itself and the leaders were not excommunicated.

The Waldensians continued to preach according to their own understanding of the Scriptures and by the early 1180s, they had been excommunicated and forced out of Lyon. The Roman Catholic Church declared them heretics for their contempt for ecclesiastical authority and teaching false doctrine.

Instead of giving up what they believed, the Waldensians developed a system of traveling from town to town and holding secret meetings of small groups for the purpose of confessing sin and holding service. When Peter Waldo died, the group continued and so did the persecution. In 1211, more than 80 Waldensians were burned as heretics in Strasbourge. In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull for the extermination of the movement, which was very successful in scattering the group, driving many of them into the Alps.

When news of the Reformation reached the alpine regions, the Waldensians decided to seek fellowship with nascent Protestantism. In 1532, the Waldensians issued a Confression of Faith with largely Reformed doctrines. However, the group’s long history of avoiding entanglements with the government led to accusations of sedition in 1545. Nearly 30 villages were destroyed and thousands of Waldensians were killed. In 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded the Waldensians to attend Mass or sell their lands in the lower valleys and remove to the upper alpine region. With just 20 days to obey, the Waldensians abandoned their homes and fields, waded through icy waters, climbed frozen peaks and joined their impoverished brethren in the upper valleys. By spring, the Duke recognized he’d failed to force the Waldensians to conform to Catholicism, so he tried a black flag exercise. He claimed there was an uprising and sent troops into the upper valleys to quell the populace. He required the local populace to quarter troops int heir homes and then he ordered a general massacre that involved looting, rape, torture and murder. Some 1700 Waldensians were slaughtered in what became known as the Piedmont Easter.

Despite the intense persecution, the Waldensians survived. One arm of the movement followed Henri Arnaud in fighting back against their persecutors, while another arm developed into the Swiss Brethren. More on that later.

You would need a tremendous amount of courage to go against the most monolithic organization of your time in order to obey what you recognize as a higher power – God Himself. For too often, modern era Christians compromise what they believe in order to get along with the world. The Waldensians did not. Every after four centuries of persecution, they continued to hold to their beliefs and some of their spiritual descendants went even further in clinging to what they knew to be right even when it was deadly inconvenient.

More on that in later posts.

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