The Waldensians: From the Editor
THE STORY OF THE WALDENSIANS is a story of devotion to the Scriptures, and of perseverance—a story that should inspire us all. Because of their origins in the distant 12th century, they have been called “the oldest evangelical Church”; because they became an embattled pocket of stubborn “heretics” in the valleys of the Piedmont Alps, unwilling to surrender their beliefs, they have been called the “Israel of the Alps.” The Waldensian story is fascinating, and legendary.
Only a few books have appeared in English about these Alpine Christians since the last century. If you have read, or heard, about the Waldensians before, you are probably aware that they are viewed as one of the evangelical lights in history before the Reformation, along with Wycliffe and Hus.
They are usually claimed as a pre-protestant Protestant movement. Yet, like these others, they were not enemies of the Catholic Church. They were a small group within the Church who desired a closer adherence to the Scriptures and a more consistent walk after the example of Christ and the Apostles. The Medieval Church was filled with such movements.
Though they were generally regular, faithful members of Catholic services (until the Reformation), they seem to have viewed the worldly Church establishment in its wealth and power as corrupt. They held religious meetings in their homes and had traveling spiritual leaders, the mysterious barba, who met with them to instruct them and take their confessions. For such things as these, in times when nonconformity could be an unpardonable sin they became the targets of numerous extermination campaigns. The events surrounding the famous massacre of Waldensians 1655 is a truly gripping drama in Church history.
Medieval movements to get back to Apostolic Christianity were common; it is remarkable, however, that the Waldensians have survived to this day. There were times when the severe persecution of the Inquisition, power-hungry political rulers, and bands of thieving soldiers threatened to erase them from the book of history. Fortunately for the whole Body of Christ this did not happen.
We hope this issue will be a source of strength to you as you read of the perseverance of the Waldensians. They overcame, and it says in Revelation 2:7, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life.”
Our special thanks to Dr. Giorgio Bouchard, President of the Protestant Federation of Italy, and the other contributors to this issue; to Rev. Frank Gibson of the American Waldensian Society, who helped with this project a great deal, and to Dr. Albert de Lange, who assisted us with the pictures.
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #22 in 1989]
From the Archives: Waldensian Legend Concerning the Donation of Constantine to Pope Sylvester (date unknown)
This early document tells in a remarkable and fanciful form the Waldensian story of how the Church had come to compromise with the world. Though The Poor were not around until the 12th century, mention is here made of their presence in the 4th century. They could, however, claim solidarity with ancient Christians who rejected worldly wealth and power.
Remembered by Their Enemies
Most of what we know about the early Waldensians comes from the reports of those who wanted to accuse and eliminate them.the Editors
From the Archives: A Barba of San Martino (1451)
This is an excerpt from a written account of the heresy trial of Filippo Regis. Waldensians were routinely questioned about their knowledge of the elusive barba—the itinerant Waldensian spiritual leaders. Such accounts are often distorted: it is unlikely a barba would have taught to deny the virgin birth, or to deny that “the sons” could perform miracles.the Editors
From A Calabrian Prison (1560)
An excerpt from a letter of Waldensian pastor Giovan Paschale, who was hanged in Rome in 1560.Giovan Paschale