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known also in ecclesiastical history as Valdenses, and sometimes as Vaudois. Two theories have been broached to account for the origin of the name-the one that it is derived from Peter Waldo, the Lyonnese reformer; and the other that it is derived from “vallis,” a valley, the Valdenses or Waldenses being inhabitants of the valleys of Piedmont. Waddington, in his History of the Church, has given the authorities for both these theories.
- Doctrines. — The doctrinal views of the Waldenses agree essentially with those of the Reformers of the 16th century. W. Carlos Martyn, in his History of the Huguenots, thus states their doctrinal tenets:
- The Waldenses, or Vaudois, hold the Holy Scriptures to be the sources of faith and religion, without regard to the authority of the fathers or to tradition; and though they principally use the New Test., yet, as Usher proves from Reinier and others, they regard the Old also as canonical Scripture. From their greater use of the New Test., their adversaries charged them, however, with despising the Old Test.
- They hold the entire faith according to all the articles of the Apostles’ Creed.
- They reject all the external rites of the dominant Church excepting baptism and the sacrament of the Lord’s supper; as, for instance, temples, vestments, images, crosses, pilgrimages, the religious worship of the holy relics, and the rest of the Roman sacraments; these they consider as inventions of Satan and of the flesh, full of superstition.
- They reject the papal doctrine of purgatory, with masses or prayers for the dead, acknowledging only two terminations of the earthly state heaven and hell.
- They admit no indulgences nor confessions of sin, with any of their consequences, excepting mutual confessions of the faithful for instruction and consolation.
- They hold the sacraments of baptism and of the eucharist to be only symbols, denying the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as we find in the authoritative book of the sect concerning antichrist, and as Ebrardus de Bethunia accuses them in his book Antihceresis.
- They hold only three ecclesiastical orders-bishops, priests, and deacons; other systems they esteem mere human figments; that monasticism, now in great vogue, is a putrid carcass, and vows the invention of men; and that the marriage of the clergy is lawful and necessary.
- Finally, they denounce Rome as “the whore of Babylon,” deny obedience to the papal domination, and vehemently repudiate the notions that the pope has any authority over other churches, and that he has the power either of the civil or the ecclesiastical sword.
- History of their Persecutions. — That Peter Waldo (q.v.) became intimately associated with the already existing Waldenses there is no doubt. Among the simple inhabitants of the Piedmont valleys, he found those who sympathized with him in his religious sentiments and practices. So general and wide-spread became the so-called heresy that Innocent III, one of the proudest and most bigoted of the Roman pontiffs, determined to crush it out — “exterminate the whole pestilential race” was the language of which he made use. The commission he gave to the authorities, who knew no law above that which went forth from St. Peter’s, was to burn the chiefs of the Vaudois, to scatter the heretics themselves, confiscating their property, and consigning to perdition every soul who dared to oppose the haughty mandate of the pope. How these commands of his holiness were carried out history is a faithful witness. Joined with him in his relentless persecution of the Waldenses was Dominic, the father of the Inquisition, the prime article in whose creed came to be that it was a crime against God and the Church to keep faith with heretics.
For many years, however, the inhabitants of the more secluded valleys and fastnesses escaped the storms of persecution, and it was not until towards the close of the 14th century that the vengeance of their relentless foes reached this class of the Waldenses, and multitudes perished, victims of the fierce storm of wrath which was poured out on their once-peaceful homes. With but few intervals, all through the 16th and 17th centuries, Rome did not cease in her cruel endeavors to exterminate the hated rebels against her authority. Vast numbers of the sufferers from the papal policy of extirpating the Reformed faith, in France and other countries, fled to these secluded valleys of Piedmont, hoping, in places inaccessible to their enemies, to escape from their pitiless wrath. But the seasons of tranquility were short; and when the tempest broke forth again, it seemed to be with tenfold fury. It was in vain that Protestant nations appealed to the dukes of Savoy to put a stop to the persecutions of the emissaries of the pope. They were appeals made to men who dared not face the ire of Rome.
In 1560 commenced one of those dreadful outbursts of the Church’s rage against these humble, earnest Waldenses. We are told that “the population of the valleys still remaining faithful to the religion of their forefathers, the sword was openly unsheathed and the scabbard thrown away. An armed force, commanded by a chief whose name was in terrible contrast with his character the count de Trinity, poured into the proscribed territory. But a Spirit stronger than the sword upheld the Waldenses, and an arm more powerful than that which assailed them fought on their side. The villages near the plains were deserted; the women, the children, the feeble and the aged, were sent for refuge to the heights of the mountains, to the rocks, and to the forests. Every man and boy who could handle a weapon planted himself against the invaders, and a successful guerilla warfare was carried on by small brigades of peasants against the veteran troops that were let loose upon them. Greater exploits and instances of more enduring fortitude were never recounted than those which have immortalized the resistance offered by the Waldenses to their oppressors.”
In 1655 the persecution raged again, and if all the Protestant powers of Europe had not interposed, a complete annihilation of the Waldenses would have been the result. The blood of John Milton was stirred by the story of the barbarous treatment to which they were subjected, and through his influence, Cromwell issued one of those mandates which foreign powers had been compelled to respect. A few years of comparative rest were succeeded by another storm of persecution, which burst upon them under the administration of Victor Amadeus, the duke of Savoy, stirred up by France and Rome to make one more effort to exterminate the hated heretics; and the effort was well-nigh successful, for it is said that “during three years and a half the exercise of the ancient religion of the Waldenses had to all appearance ceased in Piedmont.” But after the lapse of two or three years, in 1689 several hundreds of them, who had been driven into exile, returned, and the fortunes of the duke of Savoy having undergone a change, he now craved the help of those who had been such severe sufferers at his hands. The account of this campaign by their devoted pastor and leader, Henri Arnaud (q.v.), is one of the most thrilling passages of history in any age.
Such has been the history of the Waldenses all through the ages — subject to untold suffering from persecution; then enjoying, in the quiet valleys of Piedmont, comparative tranquility for a time; then assailed by their ever- relentless foe, the Roman Catholic Church, which has spared no pains, by fire and slaughter, and the horrors of the Inquisition, to put an end to the unfortunate victims of their violence. While Napoleon was emperor, in common with all his subjects, they were tolerated in the exercise of their religious rights; but when the house of Savoy was again in possession of their ancestral domains, the old persecuting spirit was revived, for, however just and inclined they might be to be tolerant, there was a power behind the throne whose authority was supreme — the power of the ancient foe of the dwellers in the valleys of Piedmont, the pope of Rome.
III. Present Condition. — At last came what, to the down-trodden Waldenses, must have been their “year of jubilee” the year 1848 when, for the first time in all their long and sadly eventful history, full liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience was accorded to them by Charles Albert. Everywhere they could settle in Italy, and not be molested in the enjoyment of their religious faith. From Turin, which had been the seat of their operations, they wished to remove to Florence. Ten years, however, must elapse before they could take this step, but they were years of preparation to enter upon the evangelistic work which the Waldensian Church was to undertake; in Italy. In 1859 the dominions of king Victor Emmanuel embraced nearly all Southern Italy, except the Papal States, and now toleration of religion was allowed everywhere, and the time had come when the Waldensian Church could establish its headquarters in Florence.
Thither, in May 1860, the Vaudois Synod decided to remove its theological school; and the next autumn the two professors, Revel (so well known in America) and Geymonet, with eight pupils, took up their residence in the Palazzo Salviati, once the mansion of an archbishop of Florence, and so utilized every part of the spacious building that they secured for their work not only a college with convenient class-rooms, but also a chapel capable of holding three or four hundred hearers, rooms for their families, rooms for preparatory school- work, and a suitable place to set up the printing press which they had brought from Turin. From the Salviati Palace, as a center of operation, the Waldensian Church has sent forth the missionaries of the Cross in all directions. The college and preparatory schools are still among the valleys of Piedmont. Students who propose to engage in missionary labors as fast as they are educated at La Tour, the seat of the Waldensian college, are transferred to the theological school at Florence, there to receive their special training for ‘their future work. The press also has proved a most efficient helper in giving the pure Gospel to Italy.