A Letter From the Poor Lombards to the Poor of Lyons Who Are in Germany (1218)

WE WISH, DEAR BRETHREN, to inform you of the discussions which have been going on for some time with our brethren in France, companions of Valdes, and of the results we have reached together after a long exchange, here in the city of Bergamo in the year of our Lord 1218, in the month of May.

In the first place, regarding the problem of naming leaders in our communities, we agreed to the letter and without dissenting voice that they should be elected; that each community should come together “communitarily,” as it were, to elect a leader, for life or for a fixed term, whichever should result in the greatest usefulness and make for the most harmony and peace . . . .

To our question concerning the ordination of ministers, this was their reply: Ministers should be elected by the community, either among the “Adherents” or the “Friends,” and that they may be ordained for life or for a time, according to what seems most useful for all and that serves the cause of peace.

To our question regarding work associations, the reply of our brethren from across the mountains was this: If anyone wishes to make a vow of poverty, either alone or with others, permit him to do so, as he is answerable to God and His law. . . .

To another of their questions, concerning marriage, we gave this answer: We believe that no one should separate legitimately united marriage partners unless it is with the consent of both husband and wife, or for the cause of fornication. This we asked our brethren from across the mountains to believe and profess.

The last question from us was posed in these terms: If the Church should engage and constrain you to engage in practices which, according to your judgment and belief, you believe one cannot clearly justify on the basis of Scripture, are you obliged to obey? Their reply was that they were not obligated and did not wish us to be so obligated. One point of difference between us and the companions of Valdes, however, concerned the breaking or the sacrifice of the bread. As we have verified, their judgment differs from ours . . . .

In the first place, some of the companions of Valdes maintain that the substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ by the Word of God, adding that the power comes not from men but from God. To this we objected, saying that if the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ by the mere mention of the Word of God, it follows that any person, Jew or pagan, could pronounce the Word of God on the bread and wine and, according to this opinion, it would be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This is absolutely impious, and cannot be sustained by any valid authority and is unreasonable . . . . They have acknowledged that the sacrament cannot be performed by women or laymen, but only by the priest. They also said that no one, good or bad, but only He who is God and man, that is, Christ, can transubstantiate the bread and wine into the body and blood . . . .

Therefore, very dear brethren, we make appeal to your wisdom, not to forget the following: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” and “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” and “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” See to it that in you and yours Jesus grows in power, maturity, wisdom and grace, before God and before all men. This be granted to you by Him who, though being Trinity, remains One and reigns forever. Our Society greets you in Christ. Pray for us. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #22 in 1989]

Some descriptions used in these Archives are derived from those given in the text of Giorgio Tourn’s You Are My Witnesses. These documents are taken from Tourn’s book.
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