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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Protesters
By Alan Eyre



"He that will not swear, or speak evil, or lie, or commit injustice or theft, or give himself up to dissoluteness, or take vengeance on his enemies, is called Vaudois and the cry is 'Death to him'."

IN this poem, "La Nobla Leyczon", of 1100 A.D." we are introduced to the controversial and puzzling religious fraternity of the Vaudois or Waldenses. Traditionally the Waldenses have been considered as originating in the work of Peter Waldo, the merchant of Lyons who gave up a prosperous business career to become a "poor preacher". Yet the "Nobla Leyczon" precedes the birth of Waldo by thirty or forty years, and in libraries of Geneva and Cambridge are documents far earlier than Waldo, dating from early in the twelfth century, mentioning the Vaudois, and giving details from their sermons.

The origins of this interesting movement are uncertain, and scholarly discussion concerning them plagued by bias and controversy. Evidence is confusing and contradictory. Yet some definitive points seem to emerge, the first of which is that while in the 14th century they were found only in a number of remote mountain valleys in the Alps, originally they had been spread more widely in southern Europe. In keeping with the opening quotation, it may be as likely that Peter of Lyons was known as Vaudois or Waldo because of his views as that the church derived its name from him. Many medieval "heresies" were named after their founders but some -- the Albigenses, for example - were derived from particular localities or their manner of life.


A Link with Early Christianity

It became the custom of later writers on the Vaudois, like Newman and Froom, to develop the theory of a continuous "succession" of evangelical and Biblical Christianity, unperverted by Romish "antichrist", from the apostolic age through them to the sixtcenth-century Reformation. Though in the form presented by these apologists sound evidence is often lacking, and there are important missing links, yet the theory has been, in the writer's opinion, too radically dismissed by some modern scholars. These have sought to connect all medieval "heresies", including that of the Vaudois, with Catharism and Manicheeism and similar "initiation" religions from Bulgaria and the Orient which undoubtedly had a hold on parts of southern Europe in the Middle Ages.(1) Yet, despite the paucity and dubious reliability of much of the evidence, since it derives from bitter enemies, it seems clear that the Vaudois' attitude to Christianity was not mystical and libertine, as with the Cathari for instance, but based on an essentially pious yet commonsense approach to the Bible.

"We believe that there is one God alone who is Spirit, creator of all things, Father of all, who is over all, whom we adore in spirit and truth, and to whom alone we give the glory for our life, clothing, health, sickness, prosperity and adversity, author of every good; and we fear Him for He searches the hearts.

"We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son in the image of the Father, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the godhead bodily, through whom we recognise the Father, who is our mediator and advocate, and besides whom there is no name given to men by whom we can be saved; through whose Name we invoke the Father."


"We deny that children who have not reached the age of intelligence can be saved by baptism. We deny that another person's faith can profit those who cannot use their own, since the Lord says 'whosoever shall have believed and shall have been baptized shall be saved'. Sacred shrines for prayer are

(1) Manichecism had an ancient Oriental origin, but emerged in a pseudo-Christian form in the early centuries. The Cathari were said to be a sect of the Albigenses. Both showed gnostic tendencies.


unnecessary to Christians, since God when invoked hears as well in a market as in a temple, before an altar as before a manger and hearkens to those who deserve it.

"We affirm that sacrifices, prayers, alms and good works done for dead believers by the living are of no avail to aid any one of the dead in any manner.

"We believe that God is mocked by ecclesiastical chanting because He who is delighted solely by pious affections cannot be called to one's aid by high- pitched sounds or soothed by musical modulations."


Here we have no sons of the Bulgars or the Cathari, but we have a vital link between first-century Christianity and the faith of the Brethren in Christ and the Polish Brethren to be considered later. It is perhaps not a link in a continuous chronological succession, but certainly it is a link in outlook and spirit. It is almost certainly more, for there is one clue of considerable interest in the fact that several surnames characteristic of the Vaudois in the15th century and earlier -- Meier, Treier, Rolet, Huser, Buchar -- are perpetuated for generations among the various groups of Brethren from the I6th century onwards. Other evidence points unmistakably to the conclusion that the movements considered in the following chapters had spiritual and even organic roots reaching back through the centuries to simple Vaudois teachers hammering out on the anvils of conscience and tribulation a Biblical and deeply ethical faith. One realises with astonishment that the plain, robust confessions quoted above are contemporaneous with the darkest period of orthodox medieval scholasticism.

These teachers among the Vaudois were not full-time paid pastors: "some were artisans, the greater number surgeons or physicians; and all were versed in the cultivation of the soil and the nurture of flocks". Being laymen, though ordained for God, there was no rule of celibacy. They received voluntary gifts from the church members to aid them in their work and travels. Of the community's freewill offerings, it is said a third were given to the poor, a third for missions and the remainder to aiding the "barbas" or "uncles" as their spiritual shepherds were affectionately called in studious observance of Jesus' instruction to call none "Father" on earth. High on a col of the Italian Alps west of Pinerolo was their "seminary", Pra del Tor, where the precious hand-written copies of


the New Testament were learnt by heart for transmission beneath tree and rock to other eager listeners. David of Augsburg -- a fanatical enemy-refers to their great devotion to the study of the Scriptures, while even Pope Innocent VIII admits their great sanctity, at the same time promising "remission of all sins" to such as should kill any of the Vaudois, together with the more mercenary offer of all their confiscated property.


For centuries troops harried the Alpine valleys in their hunt for the outlawed Vaudois. In 1393, Val-Louise was depopulated completely and hundreds of infants suffocated in their cradles. At this date there were adherents scattered over a wide area from Geneva on the north to Arles on the south and from Avignon on the west as far as Venice on the east., But by the fifteenth century the greater number who remained were cooped up in the most inaccessible Alpine fastnesses. There were, however, in the lowlands many cells which persisted stubbornly.

No doubt in an endeavour to obtain protection from the incessant pressure of persecution two of the Vaudois leaders sought alliance with the Swiss national reformers and sections of the community merged into the general reformation movement. The "Valdensian" church which the author found in 1963 in Turin, Italy, appeared indistinguishable from the generality of evangelical Protestant sects. There were many others, however, who found a more amenable spiritual home within the community of Brethren, presently to be considered.

The Vaudois, handicapped by their unacceptable views on the nature of man, God, the church and the future, saw only in the instruction of their families any opportunity for perpetuation. To this end they prepared a "Catechism for the Instruction of Youth". Most significantly it began

Q. If one should demand of you, who you are, what would you answer?

A. A creature of God, reasonable and mortal.


Both words were highly significant. The first was by implication an assertion that their understanding of Christianity was based on


common sense exegesis, on the exercise of a person's reasoning faculties, not on blind conformity to authoritarian ecclesiastical decrees. The second speaks for itseIf, its consequence will unfold in due course.