The Pearl of Great Price

AN INQUISTOR of the 14th century has left us a lively account of a Waldensian preacher who went about in the guise of an itinerant salesman. It seems that upon his arrival at the local manor all the townspeople, including masters and servants, would gather around while he showed his various wares—fabrics, jewelry, and artifacts . . . .

But even as he sold he would make allusion to more precious goods in his possession, to jewels of inestimable value he was in a position to offer. The curiosity of his audience kindled, the Waldensian would then speak of The Pearl of Great Price, the Gospel of Jesus, and gradually proceed to contrast the official Church, in its love of power, riches, and luxury with the purity of the Gospel.

Ties always existed between the Waldensians and merchants, following the example of their merchant founder, Waldo. It is interesting to note, also, that when some of the Waldensians were being tried in court they referred to the Master, who had given them their wares.

Waldensians of the time evidently considered this kind of activity as a useful shield, which permitted them to travel without creating suspicion. In order to escape the Inquisition, the itinerant ministers had to be ready to move around constantly and in great secrecy. Unknown by name, they arrived in a locality, stayed a few days, then disappeared at night.

In Germany they were called “apostles.”. A Polish saying tells us they were “men who tell the truth.”

By the Editors

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

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