Containing the conclusion of this Treatise.
THESE are the observations I thought myself obliged to make upon the ecclesiastical history of the ancient Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, to evidence their apostolical succession. If in this undertaking I have not been able to clear some points, the fault thereof is to be charged on those who have persecuted them to the highest degree of outrage and cruelty, and who have spared none of their monuments of antiquity, but such as they thought might some way or other make these believers odious and abominable to those of the Romish communion. However, I hope that an equal reader will meet with some satisfaction from these my endeavors, and will easily conclude from these remarks, that the cause of that implacable hatred of the Pope and his Clergy, against the Churches of Piedmont, was nothing else but the design of extirpating a race of people, whose zeal for the purity of the Gospel engaged them to upbraid the Church of Rome with her corruptions in matters of faith, her idolatry, her false and superstitious worship, and her horrid tyranny.
And forasmuch as my design is not to abuse my reader, I neither pretend to excuse all the errors which some of the members of these Churches may have held, nor indeed to justify them altogether, in all the articles which might have been objected against them, during the time of almost six hundred years, wherein the Romish party has opposed them. I am persuaded, that all good men will have that equity and kindness for these Churches, which the Doctors of the Romish Church do so dexterously make use of themselves, upon occasion of any indictments formed against the primitive Church, in those times that were nearest to the Apostles, by those that have attacked them; or when the question is concerning errors found in the writings of the most ancient Doctors or Fathers of the Church. Should any do otherwise, they would declare themselves thereby to be in opposition to natural equity and the principles of charity, especially since after all it cannot be denied, but that the body of these Churches have always preserved amongst them whatsoever is necessary to the constitution of a true society of Christians.
The Church of Rome herself furnisheth us with an excuse for some of the errors they had in common with the Christians of old, when she owns, that for all them they did not cease to be true Churches. Some of these errors are such, as that they of the Church of Rome are ready to apologize for these Churches in that behalf; and there be others again, wherein though they have not the approbation of many Protestant Churches, yet can they defend themselves with their agreeing therein with other Christian communions, whom the Protestants own for true members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
I cannot but represent to the reader the particular character which the author of the Noble Lesson has given us of these Churches, viz. their constancy in suffering the persecution of the Church of Rome, and indeed this is their true character in a most eminent and illustrious degree; for scarcely is there a Church to be found in the world, that ever had the advantage of having borne the cross of Christ, as the Church of the Valleys of Piedmont have done. Never did the Church of Rome give in a more incontestable evidence of her own antichristianism, than by her insatiable thirst after the blood of those Christians, who renounced her communion these six hundred years last past, for to allay which, she has made the blood of these poor innocents to run down every where like rivers, exterminating by fire and sword those who were not moved by the empty noise of her anathemas: so that for so great an interval of time the Waldenses have always been in the condition of sheep led to the slaughter, by their continual and uninterrupted martyrdom maintaining and adorning the religion of our Savior, which the Church of Rome did no longer profess, but in mode and way adapted to her corrupt worldly interests, and to the design she had of making it a stalking horse to the pomp, lordliness, and tyranny of her Pope and Clergy.
Whatsoever reflections they of the Church of Rome may pass upon God’s seeming to have abandoned these poor and helpless Churches to the rage and fury of their cannibal party, I am fully persuaded, that they who have never so little made it their study to consider the conduct of Providence towards the primitive Church, will not at all be offended at this seeming desertion of the Waldenses, and abandoning of them to the outrageous cruelty of their persecutors, nor look upon the seeming triumphs of the apostate Church as a mark of the weakness of the truth professed by these people. And indeed, notwithstanding the extreme rigour of their persecutions, we find, that God hath tenderly preserved them until the Reformation; and though he has often exposed them to the rage and barbarous usage of their persecutors, yet withal has from time to time sent them such deliverances, which have continued them until this day: these their persecutions, like those of the Apostles, having only served to procure martyrs to the glorious truth of the Gospel, and to disperse throughout all places the knowledge and good savor thereof, which the Romish party, treading in the steps of the ancient synagogue, did so cruelly persecute.
Without doubt this was the reflection Luther made upon this account, when he was so far from being offended at the rumor his adversaries had spread concerning him, that by means of the close pursuit of Leo X. he had no place left to hide his head, save amongst the Picars, who were a colony of the Waldenses, settled in Bohemia, he openly declared, that he was not in the least troubled at this their report; for after he had more exactly informed himself of their belief, and having searched into the design and intent of those black calumnies charged upon them, he owned them for his brethren, and commended them for faithful Christians: and though at that time he did not agree with them in all things, as being not himself wholly freed from the impurities of the Church of Rome, yet he writes to them with such an affection and esteem, as abundantly shews the respect he had for those who for so long a time had opposed the corruptions of the truth.
It was upon the same account that Conrad Pellican, one of the most learned men that had a hand in the Reformation, undertook in the year 1543, at Zurich, publicly to read the works of the Waldenses, that is to say, those pieces which since have been published by the author of Fasciculus verum expetendarum, and by Lydius, which contain their apologies presented to King Vadislas. By this means he gave to his auditors an occasion and sure means to refute the ridiculous cavillings of the Papists, who were very desirous, as they are still, to fix the epocha of the Reformation to the year 1517, in pointing out to them a whole body of a Church, which, in spite of all the opposition of the Romish party, had always maintained the truth, and preserved it in a sufficient degree of purity, whilst the Church of Rome made use of her utmost endeavors to corrupt it, to serve her own base designs.
The learned and famous Usher followed the steps of these great men, in his undertaking to justify the Waldenses, and to make out their succession, with so many marks of exactness and diligence, and in having prompted those that have conversed with him, and who have inherited of his light and spirit, earnestly to desire that the history of these Churches might be more and more cleared.
Let the Bishop of Meaux then, if he please, think the Protestants might be ashamed to go and look for their ancestors among the Waldenses, and to hunt for them in the caverns of the Alps. His declamations shall never be able to make us forego a jot of that tender veneration and respect we have most justly conceived for this nursery and seed-plot of martyrs, and for those triumphant troops, who have so generously lavished away their blood in the defense of truth, against all the efforts, all the machinations, and all the violences of the Romish party. The judgment of St. Hilarius, expressed in his writing against Auxentius, may be sufficient to arm us against all the cavils of those who will needs have, that it was impossible that ever their Church should lose its purity, or that the same should be preserved by these Churches, reduced to caverns and mountains. Unum moneo, cavete Antichristum. Male enim vos parietum amor coepit, male ecclesiam Dei in tectis aedificiisque veneramini; male sub his pacem ingeritis. Anne ambiguum est in his antichristum sessurum? Montes mihi et sylvae et lacus et carceres et voragines sunt tutiores; in his enim Prophetae aut manentes, aut demersi Dei spiritu prophetabant, p. 316. Oper. Hilarii.
“One thing I must warn you of, beware of Antichrist. It is ill done of you to fall in love with walls; it is ill done of you to reverence the church of God in buildings and edifices; you do ill to rest in these things. Or, can you question, that it is on these Antichrist will fix his throne? Give me mountains, forests, pits, and prisons, as being far the safer places; for in these it was that the Prophets prophesied from the spirit of GOD.”