With this post I’m returning to The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent. Here is a passage from his chapter on the “WALDENSES & ALBIGENSES.”
ANTIQUITY of the WALDENSES
… A Prior of St. Roch at Turin [Italy], Marco Aurelio Rorenco, was ordered in 1630 to write an account of the history and opinions of the Waldenses. He wrote that the Waldenses are so ancient as to afford no absolute certainty in regard to the precise time of their origin, but that, at all events, in the ninth and tenth centuries they were even then not a new sect. And he adds that in the ninth century so far from being a new sect, they were rather to be deemed a race of fomenters and encouragers of opinions which had preceded them. Further, he wrote that Claudius [Bishop] of Turin was to be reckoned among these fomenters and encouragers, inasmuch as he was person who denied the reverence due to the holy cross, who rejected the veneration and invocation of saints, and who was a principal destroyer of images. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Claudius plainly teaches justification by faith, and points out the error of the Church in departing from that truth.
The brethren in the valleys never lost the knowledge and consciousness of their origin and unbroken history there. When from the fourteenth century onward the valleys were invaded and the people had to negotiate with surrounding rulers, they always emphasized this. To the Princes of Savoy, who had had the longest dealings with them, they could always assert without fear of contradiction the uniformity of their faith, from father to son, through time immemorial, even from the very age of the apostles.
To Francis I of France they said, in 1544: “This Confession is that which we have received from our ancestors, even from hand to hand, according as their predecessors in all time and in every age have taught and delivered.” A few years later, to the Prince of Savoy they said: “Let your Highness consider, that this religion in which we live is not merely our religion of the present day, or a religion discovered for the first time only a few years ago, as our enemies falsely pretend, but it is the religion of our fathers and of our grandfathers, yea, of our forefathers and of our predecessors still more remote. It is the religion of the Saints and of the Martyrs, of the Confessors and of the Apostles.”
When they came into contact with the Reformers in the sixteenth century, they said: “Our ancestors have often recounted to us that we have existed from the time of the Apostles. In all matters nevertheless we agree with you, and thinking as you think, from the very days of the Apostles themselves, we have ever been consistent respecting the faith.” On the return of the Vaudois to their valleys, their leader, Henri Arnold [Arnaud], in 1689 said, “That their religion is as primitive as their name is venerable is attested even by their adversaries,” and then quotes Reinarius the inquisitor who, in a report made by him to the pope on the subject of their faith, admits, “they have existed from time immemorial.” “It would not,” Arnold continues, “be difficult to prove that this poor band of the faithful were in the valleys of Piedmont more than four centuries before the appearance of those extraordinary personages, Luther and Calvin and the subsequent lights of the Reformation. Neither has their Church ever been reformed, when arises its title of Evangelic. The Vaudois are in fact descended from those refugees from Italy, who, after St. Paul had there preached the gospel, abandoned their beautiful country and fled, like the woman mentioned in the Apocalypse, to these wild mountains, where they have to this day handed down the gospel, from father to son, in the same purity and simplicity as it was preached by St. Paul.”
The doctrines and practices of these brethren, known as Waldenses, and also by other names, were of such a character that it is evident they were not the fruits of an effort to reform the Roman and Greek churches and bring them back to more scriptural ways. Bearing no traces of the influence of those churches, they indicate, on the contrary, the continuance of an old tradition, handed down from quite another source – the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church. Their existence proves that there had always been men of faith, men of spiritual power and understanding, who had maintained in the churches a tradition close to that of apostolic days, and far removed from that which the dominant Churches had developed.
Apart from the Holy Scriptures they had no special confession of faith or religion, nor any rules; and no authority of any man, however eminent, was allowed to set aside the authority of Scripture. Yet, throughout the centuries, and in all countries, they confessed the same truths and had the same practices. They valued Christ’s own words in the Gospels as being the highest revelation, and if ever they were unable to reconcile any of His words with other portions of Scripture, while they accepted all, they acted on what seemed to them the plain meaning of the Gospels. Following Christ was their chief theme and aim, keeping His words, imitating His example. The Spirit of Christ, they said, is effective in any man in the measure in which he obeys the words of Christ and is His true follower. It is only Christ who can give the ability to understand His words. If anyone love Him, he will keep His words. A few great truths were looked upon as essential to fellowship, but otherwise, in matters open to doubt or to difference of view, large liberty was allowed. They maintained that the inner testimony of the indwelling Spirit of Christ is of great importance, since the highest truths come from the heart to the mind; not that new revelation is given, but a clearer understanding of the Word.
The portion of Scripture most dwelt upon was the Sermon on the Mount, this being looked upon as the rule of life for the children of God. The brethren were opposed to the shedding of blood, even to capital punishment, to any use of force in matters of faith and to taking any proceedings against such as harmed them. Yet most of them allowed self-defense, even with weapons; so the inhabitants of the valleys defended themselves and their families when attacked. They would take no oaths nor use the name of God or of divine things lightly, though on certain occasions they might allow themselves to be put on oath. They did not admit the claim of the great professing Church to open or close the way of salvation, nor did they believe that salvation was through any sacraments or by anything but faith in Christ, which showed itself in the activities of love. They held the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in election, together with that of man’s free will.
They considered that in all times and in all forms of churches there were enlightened men of God. They therefore made use of the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard of Clairvaux and others, not accepting, however, all they wrote, but only that which corresponded with the older, purer teaching of Scripture. The love of theological disputation and pamphlet war was not developed among them, as among so many others; yet they were ready to die for the truth, laid great stress on the value of practical piety, and desired in quietness to serve God and to do good.
*Henri Arnaud is among the later Waldensians who had joined the Protestant Reformation in Geneva (Wikipedia).