You Are My Witnesses
The material here following are excerpts and summaries from the book, You Are My Witnesses, which can be ordered for $21.00 from The American Waldensian Society, PO Box 20241, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-0241, 610-317-8870, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
... Substantive Christianity is biblical, or it is nothing. The church, that is, cannot fabricate whatever Christianity it wishes; the church does not define but bears witness to the biblical message. Nor is the Bible a straightjacket which paralyzes the freedom of the Spirit. To the contrary, across the centuries the Bible has been accredited as the inexhaustible expression of the very creativity and transformation generated by the Spirit.
--"Called to Be Witnesses to the Gospel Today," Synod of the Waldensian Church, 1985
The mother of the mother of the reformation
The earliest still existing Protestant denomination
Predating the reformation by 350 years
1170ad The Waldensian Story Begins
1. About 1170 in Lyon France a Rich Merchant is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ
A slender band of twelfth century evangelicals, harassed and excommunicated by the Church, were too much engaged in rediscovering the Bible and circulating it in their native tongue, in preaching and making common cause with the poor than in establishing a record of their origins.
Our story begins therefore with a page from the files of the organization charged with their prosecution -- the Inquisition. The introduction of an Inquisition functionary's "police report" in the thirteenth century gives us the following revealing picture. It is taken from Church archives in Carcassonne, France.
The Waldensians of Lyon arose around the year 1170, founded by a certain citizen of Lyon by the name of Valdesius, after whom his followers took their name. The person in question was a rich man who abandoned all his wealth, determining to observe a life of poverty and evangelical perfection, like the apostles. He arranged for the gospels and some other books to be translated into the common tongue, as well as some texts of Saints Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory, arranged under titles which he called "sentences," and which he read with great zeal, without, however, understanding very much. Full of his own importance and with little education, he ended up by usurping the prerogatives of the apostles. He dared to preach the gospel in the streets, where he made many disciples, both men and women, and compounded the arrogance by sending them out, in turn, to preach.
These people, ignorant and illiterate, went about through the towns, entering houses and even churches, spreading many errors everywhere. They were summoned by the Archbishop of Lyon, who warned them against such defiance, but they refused to fall in line, cloaking their madness by saying that they must obey God rather than people, since God had commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to every living creature.
And thus, they ended up despising the clergy, accusing them of being rich and of living a life of ease -- all the while boldly declaring themselves to be imitators and successors of the apostles! What false profession of poverty and pretended saintly living!
Because of this disobedience and of this arrogant appropriation of a task which did not belong to them at all, they were excommunicated and expelled from their country.
Everything did indeed stem from a certain Valdesius, undoubtedly a man with exceptional vitality, yet seemingly without being overbearing towards his friends. He left no body of written materials, composed no precepts, issued no rules or ordinances. He apparently chose just to live out his faith without demanding that others follow suit. Not a leader, not a self-appointed teacher or model, he was, nonetheless, to become a reference point for many generations of Christians who sought to live as biblical people.
This important fact must be mentioned right at the outset: the Waldensians, unlike the Franciscans, have not embellished the life of their founder with legends and accounts of miracles. They have merely highlighted the important features of his life: his call to and practice of the faith.
His name was Valdesius; in the vernacular, he likely was called Valdès. Tradition has it that he was married and had two daughters, but the story remains essentially obscure. He was a man of considerable wealth, in all probability a merchant, a wholesaler. He had diverse financial interests and was probably involved in the political and administrative affairs of his diocese. Perhaps like businesspeople today, he was enmeshed in the area power structure. Wealthy, he was criticized for lending money at outrageous rates of interest.
Then in the 1170s, something happened to this leading member of the Lyonese establishment -- something which led to a radicalchange in his life. We may never know exactly what the story was. Whatever the story Vaidesius' dilemma was a spiritual crisis and he saw his conversion as an answer to the call of the gospel. An historian has written, "Valdesius was a medieval man who, in his own town, met the Christ of the gospels."
More than the occasion of his crisis, what interests us are the two remarkable consequences:
First, Valdesius decided to have parts of the Bible translated into the vernacular, that is, into the language spoken in and around Lyon. Second, the call to discipleship meant for Valdesius divesting himself of his riches, distributing his goods among those in need, and himself becoming poor.
The great affront to Roman Catholic Church authorities of those times was that laypersons should read and interpret scripture in the vernacular in public.
A vow of poverty on the part of the faithful was not unheard of -witness the monks and hermits who were common in medieval times. But Vaidesius' case was different. His vow did not lead him to a monastery and to a life of contemplation and obedience. He was an ordinary citizen who chose to live among the poor. Further, his renunciation was not an act to earn merit but one to challenge others.
ne of Vaidesius' sayings which has come down to us makes the point. It seems that when he was in the act of distributing the last of his goods a crowd of scoffers gathered in front of his house and made fun of him. Valdesius is said to have replied to his detractors, "Citizens and friends, I am not out of my mind, as you seem to think; I am freeing myself of those who were oppressing me in making me a lover of money more than of God. This act I do for myself and for you: for myself, so that if from now on I possess anything you may indeed call me a fool; for you in order that you, too, may be led to put your hope in God and not in riches."
2. The "Waldensians" and the Freedom to Preach the gospel
Shortly afterwards, a circle of friends and acquaintances was drawn to Valdesius, attracted by his message and above all by the freshness of his experience. There was thus born a modest community which gave itself a very significant name (from Matthew 5), "the poor in spirit." With this name they wished to show that their aim was to build a community like that of the first disciples of Jesus, men and women who sought to take him at his word and obey him.
The striking thing about this early movement was the freedom by which it lived the Christian faith. It was a freedom full of joy and inventiveness. The thought of challenging the Church or rebelling against its authority was to arise later. The "poor in spirit" wished neither to change nor to revolutionize the Christian faith, only to live it in an authentic way. Their movement was one of revival, of which there are many examples from both medieval and modem times, such as the eighteenth century Wesleyan revival in the Church of England.
We should not be misted by their chosen name of the Poor, thinking of them as a band of mendicants roaming the streets. They were men and women drawn from all the social classes, though perhaps the original nucleus was made up of persons who were active in city life, such as merchants and artisans. There were some priests, also, and very soon a number of intellectuals who were attracted by the presence of Durand of Huesca, who was to become the theologian of the group.
The Waldensians were simply people whose studies of scripture rendered them sensitive to the problem of human suffering and converted them to identify with those who had to endure the misery that surrounded them everywhere.
TO PREACH FREELY
What is particularly striking in the inquisitor's report is the sense of obligation and determination to live "as the apostles." Christians, indeed, with a profound sense of mission:
The decision we have taken is this: to maintain, until our death, faith in God and the Church's sacraments; ... to preach freely, according to the grace given by God to us; this we will not cease to do for any cause.
These are words that Durand of Huesca would write. To "preach freely" did not mean to preach in an uncontrolled manner; it meant that God has the liberty to choose in the church who would be God's own witnesses. The preaching of the Waldensians was simple, direct, without any pretense of introducing new doctrine; it was centered upon the call for conversion to God's purposes, good works and an authentic Christian life.
Vaidesius' followers did not hesitate to include women among their preachers, a fact which profoundly shocked the whole clerical and lay establishment of the time. Their mission and behavior were taken literally from the words of Jesus (Matthew 10) when he sent his disciples forth to preach God's rule - going out two by two, dressed in rough clothing, carrying no money, wearing light sandals. From the latter, in fact, the local folk nicknamed the Waldensians scornfully, "the sandaled ones."
The problem for the Roman Church was their commitment to authentic preaching and authentic community.
The problem that the Waldensians created for the Institutional Roman Catholic Church did not lie in their practice of the Christian life but in their commitment to preaching and to authentic Christian community. New times were coming and a new kind of society was in the making: what should be the response of Christians to the call of Jesus? Far from being a marginal product of medieval piety, Vaidesius and his people struck at the heart of the Christian experience. If they were brushed off as an insignificant minority, it is nonetheless true that often in history it is just such minorities who raise the fundamental questions on which the destiny of a society is based.
Two major elements need to be emphasized in order to understand the special character of the movement and its subsequent history.
First of all, the Waldensians wished to preach while remaining a body of laymen and laywoman. They did not set up a religious order, enter a monastery, or name one of their number as leader who would act as "guarantor" for them before the authorities. Jesus, they said, is our leader. It is he who vouches for us. It was not just by chance that the Waldensians in Lombardy used a commercial term to define their movement - societas, a society, a group of partners in a joint enterprise, not an order, but a free association of people who, like merchants setting up a trade organization, have ideas and interests in common.
In the second place, they wished to be part and parcel of the life of the city. They were not hermits seeking the solitude of the desert. Their calling was to be present in the churches, public squares and homes where their message could be heard. They were and wished to remain citizens of Lyon, one of the great cities of Western Europe, on the route of the crusades, where St. Bernard had preached, where a great cathedral, St. John's, was under construction. This urban environment was their world; to it belonged the promise of transformation. Here they chose to live out their discipleship.
3. The Catari & the early Waldensians
All this was not so revolutionary. Indeed, the fresh initiative of Vaidesius and his Waldensians could only meet with the approval of the hierarchy, and at first Archbishop Guichard himself accepted it. But a confrontation was not long in coming, and it was over the question of preaching, which both Vaidesius and Guichard held to be fundamental. Said Guichard, "We bishops are here to do the preaching; it is a part of the task laid down for us as successors of the apostles." "On the contrary," replied the Waldensians, "preaching belongs to everyone who chooses to truly live like the apostles of Jesus."
Just as these first points of tension were emerging in 1179, the sessions of the Third Lateran Council were taking place in Rome. It seemed appropriate, therefore, for Vaidesius and some of his colleagues to journey to the Eternal City, there to put their case before the Church.
The Third Lateran was the first great Council of the Roman Catholic Church, the one in which the new papal direction of Gregory VII was sanctioned. The Church was not only freeing itself from imperial power, but was also acquiring a new sense of self-awareness. It was thus a Council of victory - but it was also one in which there lurked a certain fear. The bishops who came from Languedoc and Provence in southern France reported the menacing advance of the Cathari, who threatened to compromise the new equilibrium.
Catharism originated as an evangelical ferment, similar to many initiatives in medieval France which emphasized biblical motifs like purity and faithfulness. However, under the influence of certain dissident elements from Eastern Europe, in particular the Bogomils, the Cathari movement underwent a distinct change, becoming involved in extremist philosophical speculation. Holding that the world is where the battle between good and evil takes place, and that the believer must move in it by giving up everything material (evil), the Cathari rejected marriage, refused to eat certain foods, scorned riches, and in general practiced a very austere life. The movement spread little by little, thanks to its strong organization and support of the ruling classes in southern France.
Catharism was by no means a simple matter of eastern philosophical thought, but a real and viable religious community of belief and practice, with its own ministers ("bon hommes" who went about doing good), members (the "perfect") and sympathizers, and with rites, ceremonies, sacred books and deliberative assemblies. Since it strongly opposed the clergy's luxurious lifestyle and the power of the Church, it enlisted the sympathetic support of certain nobles, merchants and others who opposed the policies of Gregorian reform. French society in Provence, one of the most advanced in Europe at the time, was virtually won over to the movement.
It was in this context that the Waldensians of Lyon, full of confidence, went to Rome and there were welcomed by the church leadership. They brought with them a copy of their version of the Bible to present to the pope, who, upon receiving the delegation, expressed approval for their intentions, but admonished them that the question of their preaching had to be settled by their local bishop. They were also subjected to a severe theological grilling by an English monk, Walter Map, who managed to make them look ridiculous for their lack of theological sophistication. No formal excommunication was pronounced, however.
In their home city, Valdesius' men and women kept up their preaching - the call to conversion to God's purposes and to living for others - even to the extent of opposing theologically the doctrines of the Cathari. In all this they sought to demonstrate that they were not heretics seeking novelty, but Christians whose life was founded on the good news of Christ.
A certain document (which came to light only in this century) serves to underline Valdesius' awareness of being fully within the body of the Church and his will to struggle for the cause of God's rule. Around 1180, Henri de Marci, a pontifical delegate, was in southern France to organize a campaign against the Cathari, and there encountered Valdesius. The pope's representative proceeded to interrogate Valdesius so as to check his orthodoxy, and then required him to sign a formal declaration of adherence to the Catholic faith. Valdesius' stand was so "Catholic" that he did not hesitate to affix his signature.
The Gospel Speaks Directly to the believer and is not mediated by the Roman Church or any church
It is worth noting that Valdesius inserted in the text a significant expression of his own. For him and his companions, the call to a life of poverty was in consequence of obedience to the command of God; it was not a "counsel of perfection," as with the monks in their obedience to the Church. The fact that he added this particular point was of fundamental importance, even if he was not aware of it at the time. It revealed that for the Waldensians the vocation of poverty came not from the Church, but from the Lord. The sense of the gospel had spoken to him and to these laypeople directly, without intermediaries of any kind.
When the hierarchy, always wary of any lay activity not fully under its control, issued an order forbidding Valdesius to preach, he and the Waldensians refused to obey, citing the words of Peter to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4): Is it right in God's sight for us to obey you rather than God? Here Valdesius is Peter, the apostle who defends the word of God against the weight of religious tradition. Expelled from their city of Lyon, the Waldensians took their mission to the Languedoc region of southern France. Although not yet formally condemned, increasingly they came under strong suspicion.
In their new environment they continued to consider themselves good Catholic Christians. They were zealous missionaries and stirred up questions. They wrote tracts, organized public debates, and preached against Catharism in the market places and the streets. It was not easy for the Cathari leaders, their so-called "good men," to counter the arguments of Valdesius' band. In contrast to the local priests the newcomers, too, were poor. With Bible in hand, they spoke and lived with apostolic conviction and example. Soon a fundamental experience was to transform their community. The Waldensians began to encounter other bands of dissidents beyond the Cathari alone. In the disciples of Pierre de Bruys, those of the monk Henri, and others, they heard criticisms of the Roman Church which were far-reaching - charges that Rome was wedded to a love of power and luxury, that Christian doctrine was being corrupted by such things as the veneration of relics and the saints, prayers for the dead, etc. A critical mentality took root, and, the piety of the Waldensians began to be transformed into radical protest. It is not surprising that ecclesiastical authorities took an increasingly stem position toward the Waldensians, and at length determined to liquidate them as incorrigible dissidents.
The words used against Valdesius' followers by such famous men as Alain de Lille, professor at Montpellier, and by Bernard, the learned monk of Fontcaude, were stinging. Culturally, the Waldensians were accused of being ignoramuses, self-taught chatterboxes who loved to show off without having studied with the doctors of theology. Socially, they were called drifters, spongers, hysterical females. Morally, they were accused of being frauds who pretended to speak for renewal while actually sowing the seeds of rebellion.
1184 Repression Begins (Total Equality Before the Law in Italy was achieved only in 1984 800 years of repression & discrimination)
Then came political repression. In 1184 the French bishops prevailed upon the Council of Verona to include the Waldensians in the list of schismatic movements. In 1190 the Bishop of Narbonne condemned them for heresy. Alfonso of Aragon, whose domain extended to Provence, had them banished from his lands. The Bishop of Toul ordered their arrest and trial before his tribunal.
A DIRECT QUOTE FROM THE INQUISITION
"We have seen these Waldensians at the Council called by Pope Alexander 111; they are simple and unlearned people who take their name from their leader, Valdós, a citizen of Lyon on the Rhône. They presented the pope with a book written in Gallic, containing texts and commentaries on the Psalms and other books from the scriptures.
They insisted that they be granted authorization to preach, judging themselves to be experts, while in fact they were merely conceited, like those birds that are unable to see snares and believe they are free ...
I, who was the least among many thousands of delegates, mocked them because their demands had created an uproar. Called to assist another prelate to whom the Holy Father had entrusted the task of hearing their story, I sharpened my arrows in the presence of many learned men and experts in church law. Two of the Waldensian leaders were brought before me. They had come to dispute the faith, not to search for truth in love, butto close my mouth, to put me into a tight comer as if I had affirmed evil things. I must confess that I felt most uncomfortable, because I feared that on account of my sin, I would be denied the grace of speaking in front of such a large assembly.
The presiding prelate ordered me to proceed in my questioning... To begin, I put to them the most elementary questions ... well-knowing that the donkey which is used to eating only thistles turns down the lettuce:
"Do you believe in God the Father?" They replied, "We do."
"And in the Son?" They replied, "We do."
"And ' in the Holy Spirit?" They replied, "We do."
Then I added, "And in the Mother of Christ?"
And once more they answered, "We do."
At this last response a roar of derision went up and they withdrew, confused, and rightly so, because they had no one to guide them. And yet these same people expect to lead others ...
These people have no settled dwellings, but go around two by two, barefooted and dressed in wool tunics. They own nothing, sharing everything in common, after the manner of the apostles. Naked, they follow a naked Christ. Their beginnings are humble in the extreme, for they have not yet much of a following, but if we should leave them to their devices they will end up by turning all of us out ...
-Walter Map, De nugis curialium, in G. Gonnet, Enchiridion Fontium Valdensium, I (Torre Pellice, 1958), pp. 122-3.
VALDESIUS' TESTAMENT OF FAITH (1180)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and of the blessed and ever Virgin Mary. Be it noted by all the faithful that I, Valdesius, and all my brothers, standing before the Holy Gospels, do declare that we believe and profess openly with all our hearts, having been grasped by faith, that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three Persons, one God and that the divine Trinity in full is one essence and substance, eternal and omnipotent, and that the single persons of the Trinity are fully ... one God as affirmed in the creed ... We firmly believe and explicitly declare that the incarnation of the Divinity did not take place in the Father and in the Holy Spirit, but in the Son alone, so that he who was the divine Son of God the Father was also true man ... In him co-existed two natures, God and man in one person,
'The Waldensians here came up short on two counts. They should have, known that the exact title of Mary, approved by the Council of Ephesus in 43 1, was Mother of God (Theotókos), the only one to guarantee, for the theology of that period, the unity of the person in Jesus Christ, son of God and son of Mary. The title Mother of Christ, on the other hand, had been condemned as Nestorian, not to be used. The second mistake was to extend the formula "believe in" to Mary, whereas official teaching applied the formula only to the three persons of the Trinity. ... and he ate, drank, grew weary, and rested after his journeys ...
We believe in our hearts and confess with our lips one Church, catholic, holy, apostolic and immaculate, apart from which we believe no one can be saved.
We accept the sacraments celebrated in the Church through the invisible and incomprehensible power of the Holy Spirit, even though administered by priests who sin ...
We firmly believe and affirm that the sacrifice, that is, the bread and wine, after its consecration, is the body and blood of Christ; in this sacrifice the good priest adds nothing more and the wicked priest in no way diminishes the sacrifice.
We believe that those sinners who repent in their hearts, confess with their lips and give satisfaction with their works, according to the scriptures, can receive God's forgiveness ...
We firmly believe in the judgement to come, and in the fact that everyone will receive reward or punishment according to what has been done in this flesh. We do not doubt that alms, sacrifice, and other good works benefit the dead.
And since, according to the Apostle James, faith without works is dead, we have renounced this world and have distributed to the poor all that we possessed, according to the will of God, and we have decided that we ourselves should be poor in such a way as not to be anxious for tomorrow, and as not to accept from anyone gold, silver, or anything else, with the exception of clothing and daily food. We have set before ourselves the objective of fulfilling the gospel purposes.
We believe also that anyone in this age who gives alms, does other good works with one's own possessions and observes the Lord's commandments will be saved. Brothers, we make this declaration in order that if anyone should come to you affirming to be one of us, you may know for certain that that person is not one of us if that person does not profess the same faith.
G. Gonnet, Enchiridion Fontium VaIdensium, 1, pp. 32 ff.
THE YEARS OF CRISIS
1. The Lombards
News of Valdesius' movement spread quickly, very soon reaching across the Alps into Lombardy, a most important region in medieval Europe. If Montpellier and Chartres were symbols of thirteenth century culture, Milan and Piacenza were no less examples of renewed economic life. In fact, Lombardy represented an emerging new Europe, where the opposing interests of empire and papacy were to clash.
Criticism of the Church in this bustling region had been common for decades, not only in the aristocratic manner of the Cathari, whose flourishing cells were in all the cities, but in ways even more widespread and popular. A group known as the Patari some years earlier had grown up spontaneously in reaction to an increasingly corrupt clergy. Although by Valdesius' time it had been maneuvered out of existence by a skillful clerical party, there nevertheless remained a certain skillful "patarine" mentality in the cities which was critical of the Church and impatient with its compromises. Present and active, also, were some of the followers of Arnold of Brescia, Abelard's intrepid disciple who had traveled all over Europe making the acquaintance of various dissident groups and who had even started a popular-movement in Rome. It was Arnold who first advanced the notion of a complete separation between religious and political powers.
The Waldensian mission in Lombardy was to be quite different from what had been the case in southern France. Here they did not need to present their message as something new. They sought instead to unify and catalyze the ferment of religious unrest already existent in the experience of Lombard religious dissidence. The Waldensians became a reference point not because they were more numerous or powerful but because they had more lucid ideas.
Thus, in between the sectarian theories of the Cathari and the rigid anticlericalism of the followers of Arnold, Valdesius' people managed to lodge their idea of renewal. Theirs was a broad, straightforward evangelical appeal, not bound to imperial politics and to the struggle against clerical corruption.
We need to note, however, that the witness given by the Waldensians in Lombardy very soon became quite independent of the Lyonese pattern. The Lombards tended to see the apostolic calling as one rooted in community (societas), and not necessarily implying itinerant preaching. They felt that to travel across the countryside preaching was one way of living "as the apostles," but not the only way. Another was to share commitment unselfishly with one's sisters and brothers in the faith. In other words, the Lombard Waldensians reflected the emphasis recorded in Acts 1-4 on Christian community, while their counterparts from Lyon honed in on the missionary message of the Jesus they found in Matthew 10.
It was not by accident that the main point of discussion between the two groups was on the way they should regard work. According to the Lyonese, labor was an impediment to witness and a temptation to accumulate wealth. For the Lombards one's daily task was an instrument of service, the opportunity for concrete witness. The Waldensians of Lyon tended to be pilgrim preachers, bards of conversion not greatly dissimilar from the wandering minstrels of the time. The central figure for the Lombard Waldensians, on the other hand, was the artisan, the woolcarder in a textile shop, the laborer, the worker.
A deep sense of social solidarity was found among the Lombard Waldensians. They possessed considerable organizing ability; their life and witness were well structured, and not, as in Lyon, somewhat euphoric and spontaneous.
Although Valdesius continued to serve as the reference point of the movement, the Lombards, the left wing of the Waldensians, charted a somewhat different path. The more conservative Lyonese current even sought renewed contacts with the Roman Church. Giovanni da Ronco, the Lombard organizer, in the eyes of the aging Valdesius appeared to have betrayed the movement's original ideas and hopes.
Differences among the Waldensians on both side of the Alps and increasing opposition by the Roman hierarchy led to the crisis of 1205: Valdesius broke with the Lombards and severed them from his community. A few years later, following Valdesius' death, Durand of Huesca and some of his group were reintegrated into the Church of Rome, having been given permission to found a religious order which they called the Poor Catholics.
Definitive and Final Condemnation of the Waldensians
All this was taking place around the years 1206-1207, some thirty years after the beginning of the movement of the Waldensians and at a time historians regard as the most delicate and difficult in the period of medieval Christianity. Already at the time of Valdesius' conversion the Cathari represented a certain menace for the Catholic Church, but by the first decade of the thirteenth century the movement was undermining the Church's very foundations, being welcomed by both nobles and merchants alike. The Waldensians, who might have been a counterforce to the Cathari, had already been repudiated. The Church therefore called upon Cistercian monks to launch a major preaching offensive in France against the heresy. But when the plump friars on horseback arrived in Provence to "evangelize" the people, they were hissed and booed out of the towns.
At this point Dominic of Guzman, a Spanish priest, came forward with another suggestion. Let the Church, he said, accept the nonconformists' way of free dissent and mendacity - all the while presenting the gospel message within the traditional rule of obedience to the pope. This would be the way of an exceptional figure, Francis of Assisi, to whom we will turn presently.
Above all there loomed the figure of Innocent III, the pontiff who was transforming the papacy into an absolute monarchy. In his view the Christian religion was no longer to serve the civil authority but was itself to be the power which orchestrated the civil order. He gave his approval to Dominic's slow and patient methods and also to Francis. One of the results of his strategic maneuvering was to win back to the Catholic fold the Waldensian groups led by Durand of Huesca and Bernard Prim.
In the eyes of intransigent bishops, though, led by Henri de Marcy, the Church was not proceeding vigorously enough against the heretics. In 1208, when this view prevailed, a full-scale crusade was launched against the Cathari (by now also called Albigensians, from their city, AN). The kind of Holy War which for decades had been proclaimed against the Muslims, now swept through this part of Christendom, destroying in its wake not only the Albigensians but many Waldensian nuclei as well. For 20 long years Languedoc was subjected to a blood bath which not only wiped out the most advanced culture of the time but introduced into the Church, and from there throughout the West, the rule that any ideological deviation must be crushed by force. Henceforth one of the fixed points in European thought was that "the heretic must die!" He or she whose thinking - religious, political, or cultural - was not in line with that of the authorities must be silenced forever.
In 1215, at a solemn assembly during the Fourth Lateran Council, the policy was given official sanction. Heretics, including the Waldensians, formally condemned by the Council, were to be destroyed by force. Crusades, annual confession and parochial structures all were pronounced instruments of the Church for tightening its control. The centralizing program of Innocent III had its day: the faithful were stripped of their responsibility in the Christian life and made no more than the wards of a watchful clergy.
In 1215 the Waldensian initiative was definitively rejected. The Church had made its choice - one far different from that which the Waldensians had proposed, one which began a ruthless repression against all forms of evangelical dissent in the West. What was to become of the minute Waldensian community scattered from Languedoc to Lombardy? Oppressed by the great political and religious powers, internally divided and partly reabsorbed into the Catholic fold, it seemed destined to disappear within the course of a few years.
Waldensians in Bergamo, Italy
All was not lost, however. In the face of repression intended to obliterate them, the Waldensians were discovering a renewed sense of mission and unity. While Rome was bent on decreeing their death, they responded by making plans for the future and by renewing their commitment.
The evidence for this comes down to us in a document of greatest importance, one of the rare Waldensian documents of the era to survive. It is a letter sent to Waldensians in Germany with information on the outcome of a meeting held in Bergamo in 1218. In it we discover that following a long period of preparatory work, with preliminary meetings and exchange of letters, six representatives of the Lombard Waldensians and six from the Waldensians of Lyon came together in Bergamo to take stock of their situation, to reexamine their respective positions and to explore anew the possibilities for reaching an agreement. The letter reveals that in the course of discussion there emerged, little by little, a consensus, so that a new sense of solidarity was born. The missionary spirit of the Lyonese was no longer seen as a stumbling block, but as complementary to the more concrete work of the Lombards. The sense of the Lyonese Waldensians that they were living in the "last days" thus made common cause with Lombard realism. The meeting in Bergamo represented a point of intersection, a mutual recognition of two lines, both valid.
The meeting was also a fresh point of departure. At Bergamo the societas valdesiana was born. If Valdesius and his preaching at Lyon 50 years before had led to the birth of the Waldensian movement, it was now the Lombards who supplied the organization, structure and framework in which to carry on. From this time forth the Waldensians would be more than a fragmented experience; they would be an organic whole.
The Bergamo meeting focused on a new and alternative Christian way of life; it was popular evangelism's reply to the theology of the Fourth Lateran Council. The theological questions of authority and of the sacraments - the overarching issues of the time - were debated at both Rome and Bergamo.
The chosen way of Rome was that of increasing authority and central power. In her view a church faced with renewal movements risked fragmentation, so that it was necessary to reassert unity around the office of the pope and the priesthood. The binding cord would be sacramental dependence; virtue by definition was obedience.
The chosen way of the Waldensians, on the contrary, was that of community. There was nothing at all to be feared from renewal. For the Waldensians the bond of unity lay not in the sacraments but in their apostolic mission. Christian virtue, they held, was in demonstrating love and care for others. Error was to be corrected by admonition, never by force. This was not for lack of theological clarity; it was repudiation of violence. If the Church wished to be freed from imperial power, the Waldensians argued, it should not itself try to become an instrument of power, but become instead an agent of mission.
One cannot avoid thinking of this contrast in visible, human terms. We can picture a dozen clandestine Christians meeting secretly in a Lombard farmhouse, and we can picture as well a magnificent procession of bishops making their way to the Lateran basilica. Here were two understandings of the Christian faith, two churches - one, that of the "crusaders," the other, that of the "sandaled ones." They no longer faced each other as two hypotheses but as two realities. Which would prevail? The confrontation was about to come very soon. It would not be in the blood-soaked soil of Languedoc, but in Lombardy.
As there are people who, according to the apostle "preserve the outward form of religion, but are a standing denial of its reality" (I Tim. 3), and who claim for themselves the authority to preach, although the same apostle affirms "How shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Rom. 10), we decree that all those who dare to take on the ministry of preaching either in private or in public without having been authorized by either the Holy See or the local bishop, are to be excommunicated. And, in the event that they fail, forthwith, to repent, they shall be subject to further punishment according to the law.
THE WALDENSIANS IN THE ITALY OF THE COMMUNES
1. Between Guelfs and Ghibellines
Waldensian protest was born in a city, and for a number of years the cities of Lombardy were the Waldensian strongholds. It was here that the major gatherings were held to distribute offerings, make key decisions, and assign tasks to the members. In the cities were the more or less clandestine centers where people went to receive biblical and spiritual instruction. None of this was by chance.
Lombardy was a region of both economic expansion and religious dissent. Its great city, Milan, had resisted the attacks of Frederick Barbarossa. Proud of its liberties and of its achievements, it was also the capital of protest, a "heretics' Rome." It was not strange, therefore, that Milan should become the center of Waldensian activity.
As the feudal system in Lombardy began to totter, new social forces were beginning to gather strength and to challenge the Church. The latter's response was contained in the declarations of the Fourth Lateran Council, clearly an affirmation of authoritarianism. Communal society in Lombardy, on the other hand, had not yet fully made up its mind: would it opt for the Guelfs or the Ghibellines - a clerical or secular society? This was the question of the time, and the success of the religious movements, the Waldensians included, was closely tied to it. To be Catholic meant supporting the Church totally, accepting its power and control, upholding papal policy at all levels, including the political, and working in every way to increase the Church's might. It was not simply a matter of making one's confession and believing in transubstantiation, but of backing a political current, the Guelfs. In the same way, anyone opposed to clerical power could not fail to be engaged in antipapal and therefore anti-Catholic politics. Such a person could only belong to the opposition stream, the Ghibellines.
For a time the Ghibelline communal magistrates of thirteenth century Lombardy actually welcomed the activities of the dissenters in their struggle against the clergy. They were obviously glad to have any support they could get, and the dissenters were useful allies. There is considerable evidence of this. Genoa and Piacenza, for instance, in the 1220s refused to legislate any laws against heretics; Cremona was a free zone for Cathari fleeing from campaigns against them; both Bergamo and Rimini banished mayors who had sought to round up dissidents, and freed heretics who had been put in jail; Milan took the unprecedented step of permitting Waldensians to construct a meeting place on a piece of municipal property. The latter, to be sure, was outside the city walls, but its construction was carried on in full light of day.
Even among the nobles there were those who assumed the role of protectors for the dissenters, doing so more or less openly and sometimes to the point of risking excommunication.
The golden years of Waldensian preaching in Lombardy, which coincided with this period of inquiry and experimentation, unhappily were not to last long. The Guelfs gained the upper hand. As more of the communal leaders came under the shadow of Rome, their attitude toward the dissenters changed completely; they accused the latter of always criticizing, creating tension, and fostering an atmosphere of constant ferment. The tacit approval given to the dissenters was withdrawn, and they found themselves subject to harsh repression. Milan initiated a series of court actions against the Waldensians.
The Waldensians, having once been considered good allies, were now seen as too liberal, too independent, too critical. The Ghibelline politicians who had played on the religious unrest in their cities, including the quest for an evangelical style of life, were now succeeded by the Guelf faction, which had no use for dialog with working people who were becoming more and more politically active. This clerical program of the thirteenth century Lombard bourgeoisie was made possible by the new structure which the papacy had created in these same years: the mendicant orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans. Here we meet the most luminous figure in all Italian religious history, Francis of Assisi.
A COMPARISION OF FRANCIS OF ASSISI AND VALDESIUS
The similarities between Francis and Valdesius are so many and obvious that they hardly need to be underlined. Both were city dwellers, merchants at odds with the society of their times; both were gripped in a radical way by the gospel and were propelled by it to a life of poverty.
Each was also on the frontier of the Church, caught up in the struggle between obedience and freedom.
No less evident and substantial, however, were the differences which to the eyes of Rome made of the one a heretic and of the other the very embodiment of sainthood.
Francis was not only an outstanding figure in medieval Christendom; he would be seen as the clearest and most ideal representative of Italian spirituality. Francis succeeded marvelously in interpreting the needs of his generation and of his society, fitting them into traditional Italian religiosity and into the framework of the Church. The need for freedom in the world of the communes found expression in his rediscovery of a faith at once demanding, personal and interior. His criticism of the feudal Church, dominated by bishops and political overlords, became a call to a more fraternal and intimate community life. The need to hear the living gospel, which was felt by so many, was met in his itinerant preaching.
Franciscan piety, with its devotion to the human Christ, its identification with the world of nature, its simplicities which were at times almost countercultural but nevertheless positive and fraternal, elicited sympathy rather than fear. The heritage of humaneness and love of nature present in ancient Roman religion (always present in the Italian soul) was appropriated and transfigured into communion with Christ. This was a piety which reassured the bourgeoisie and the common folk, created inner peace, and allayed conflict. It was the religiosity of a church that draws near to the poor and ministers to them, but does not itself become poor.
All of this was something to be lived not in the monasteries, but in settlements. These new friars built their centers right beside the city walls. They had no intention of spending their time copying old manuscripts or tilling the soil, like the Benedictines. Their vocation was to preach, to teach, to engage in debate and in political activities. Around the Franciscan monasteries grew up clusters of students, congregations, Third Orders, confraternities - new ways constantly invented to live the Catholic faith.
People became convinced that they could be poor, evangelical, and in step with new currents, without going the way of the Cathari, Patari and Waldensians. One's commitment and struggle for renewal of the Church could be satisfied without failing into heresy. Situating itself in direct opposition to the Waldensian movement, just as the Jesuits would do in the Reformation period, the Franciscan movement succeeded within a few decades in delivering the towns and cities to the political control of the Guelfs.
The Italian Roman Catholics assist the most tragic institutions in medieval Christendom: the Inquisition
The Italians did not limit themselves to studying the Waldensian phenomenon; they actively fought it. The first to pen an anti-Waldensian tract was Salvo Burci, a nobleman of Piacenza. Many others followed, such as Rainerio Sacconi, Moneta, Pietro da Verona, Anselmo d'Alessandria, and the militant friars, among whom were ex-Cathari reconverted to Catholicism and thus more Catholic than ever. Their polemics were unremitting in their effort to unmask the Waldensians and to controvert their principles. But the offensive was soon to go even further than words. The Italian friars and Guelf partisans were to become operatives of one of the most tragic institutions in medieval Christendom: the Inquisition.
All of these friars, in effect, doubled as inquisitors, which is to say, they were specialists in tracking down and destroying dissident cells. Clever and ruthless, ready to use espionage, ransom and torture, they arrested and reported anyone whose opinions and beliefs - private as well as public - differed from the official line of the pope.
Here in Lombardy, just as in southern France, the program of winning dissenters back to the Church was accomplished by repression. The disciples of Francis, like those of the violent Dominic, born to humility and the preaching of poverty, became the merciless police agents of the pope. By the middle of the thirteenth century, a promising religious springtime in Italy had come to an end. The Waldensian movement in Lombardy went into decline. But it was to spring up anew, elsewhere.
The Waldensians in Italian cities
Before leaving Italy, we should take note of some of the features of Waldensian group life in the Italian cities during the period we have just covered. First, we should not, obviously, think of Waldensian congregations in the modem sense, for a good deal of their existence was underground and clandestine. Perhaps the words "commune" or "collective" are most appropriate. The new social order in Lombardy was more communal than feudal. Power and initiative no longer rested with feudal lords, but were in the hands of free people who made their own decisions based on interests which were of their own choosing. Waldensian groups were likewise associations of free people with common interests, except that their interests were religious rather than political or economic. There was this fundamental difference, however: the new bourgeoisie, eager to advance socially and economically, drove the new social order; the Waldensians, on the other hand, were workers on the fringes of society.
Fifty years after the conversion of Valdesius we may think of the Waldensian movement as one with a well-defined structure. No longer united only by natural affinity and religious interests alone, the Waldensians were a people with a pronounced program and with specific projects to be carried out. By this time a distinction was made between those who were totally committed to the movement and those whose adherence was limited. Only the former were called "Waldensian" and addressed each other as "sister" and "brother;" the rest, the sympathizers, were called "friends."
In some cases there emerged a certain hierarchy of deacons, presbyters, and bishops. Tighter organization derived from the Waldensians' need to defend themselves against repression. They borrowed from the prevailing pattern in the Roman Church and from the Cathari, with the latter's distinction between the "perfect" and the "believers."
Waldensian group life revolved around a place of meeting which was quite unique - the schola. It was far different from the fine houses where the new, successful businessmen gathered for their meetings or from the great cathedrals and monasteries springing up everywhere and reflecting alike power, prestige, strength and wealth. The Waldensians had their modest little scholae in outlying areas, often clandestine. Such simplicity was dictated not only by prudence but on principle, for the community chose to follow the example of Jesus "who knew not where to lay his head."
Toward a Waldensian theology
In Lombardy, parallel with organizational development, the Waldensian movement began to engage in deep theological reflection. Catholic thought was very clear: outside the Church there was only heresy, a jumble of errors. The Church was the perfect society, the repository of truth, and its bishops were the legitimate successors of the apostles.
Where did this leave the Waldensians? Though rejected by the Roman Church they did not consider themselves to be heretics at all. They accepted the message of the Christian heritage - unlike, for example, the speculative Cathari.
"Just who are you, then, and where are your roots?" the inquisitors would ask, adding "There are only a few hundred of you, tiny groups which have been in existence only for a few decades, while the Roman Church has been present for centuries and counts its faithful among the millions." To answer such questions the Waldensians took a page from church history, from the time of Pope Sylvester, seven centuries earlier.
Ancient tradition declared that in gratitude for a miraculous healing Emperor Constantine in the fourth century gave to Pope Sylvester dominion over the western portion of his empire. This was naturally pure legend, artfully invented in order to prove that the pope had the right to govern the West and that he was not only God's representative but also the heir of imperial power. The legend was backed up by fraudulent documents which at that time were accepted and generally believed without question. How to evaluate this "Donation of Constantine" from a Christian point of view?
Quite naturally the Church's position was that, given her new authority and influence, the Donation had been positive. A good many others, though, saw a negative aspect in the situation, and deplored the fact that the popes had turned their backs on the simple life and had been drawn into an endless circle of riches and vain human pretensions. Of course, the Waldensians agreed with this position; their criticism, however, took them well beyond it. The Donation of Constantine, they declared, not only introduced into the Christian Church an appetite for riches, opening up a life of luxury for the prelates, but it also started the Church down the road of compromise with secular power.
Such a compromise, said the Waldensians, was a betrayal of the apostolic mission, because it meant giving up the kind of life plainly marked out by Christ. Beginning with the time of the Donation, the Church had actually become the Church of the Evil One. The Waldensians were Christians who denounced the compromises associated with the Donation of Constantine and who claimed to live the authentic Christian experience.
The question arose: What had happened during the long period from the time of Constantine to Valdesius? Did an apostolic Christian church exist in those centuries? The Waldensians had two responses. The Church, said some, did not fall into error all at once, but only gradually. Valdesius was sent by God to take up the apostolic task only when it was clear that the prelates had forsaken their calling, disdained preaching and obscured the light of the gospel.
Others said that the Waldensian movement had always existed, albeit in a secret and clandestine guise. In this view Valdesius was not the founder, but quite simply the one who restored the community to its authentic, Christian footing. He was one witness in the long line of believers who modeled themselves after the apostles. In the manner of the times, quite naturally, there were some who added bits of medieval fantasy to the account. A certain Leone was said to be the first Waldensian, a man who was a friend of Pope Sylvester's, who foresaw the dire consequences of the Donation and argued against it, and who thereby had to retire in solitude and suffer persecution. Valdesius was sometimes confused with Leone, spoken of as a priest and called a contemporary of Constantine.
Obviously this is pure legend, but it is important to understand the essence of the Waldensian arguments. In the fourth century, the Church betrayed its true nature when it sought an alliance with ruling powers and succumbed to riches. The history of the Church can be divided into two separate and distinct phases, said the Waldensians, the time of the apostles and martyrs (a time of faithful witness), and that after Constantine (centuries of betrayal).
What actually had happened was far more complex than the Waldensians' perception in the thirteenth century. The transformation of Christianity from a banned to a lawful religion did take place under Constantine, but the jump to becoming the religion of the state was later, at the time of Theodosius. The doctrinal elaboration of the church's new status belongs to the Carolingian period (eighth and ninth centuries). It is then that the papacy made its claim for the temporal power. The thirteenth century Waldensians had no knowledge of this and relied completely on tradition, but their theological interpretation was both clear and remarkable.
What happened to the Church after Constantine? The Waldensians claimed that it did not completely lose its way by Constantine's poison. Despite the betrayal, a faithful remnant, the Waldensians included, would survive. The Church may have betrayed its Christian witness but the light of the gospel was not extinguished outright. This was the essential theological line the Waldensians would pursue for centuries.
Though banished from the cities of Lombardy, the Waldensians did not disappear. They turned up in different settings, adapting their witness to their new surroundings. In general it can be said that by the middle of the thirteenth century they had been forced to leave their city environment and make their way in rural areas. Expelled from the cultural centers by repression, they tended to find refuge in the peripheral places of medieval civilization - in the plains of Germany, in the Alps, and in southern Italy.
WALDENSIANS TOWARD THE BALTIC
In the lands of the Empire
The Waldensians of Lyon had carried their message as far north as Alsace; the major European penetration, however, was the work of the Waldensians of Lombardy.
Waldensian success in preaching north of the Alps can be attributed to a variety of reasons, one of which was political. In the regions of the Empire where the pope had not yet been able to establish a hold, the Gregorian reforms were hindered by the nobles and sometimes even by the clergy itself, because the reforms were not in keeping with their feudal idea of society. In many areas the people were still semipagan and far from ideas expressed in a movement like that of the Patari of Milan.
Economic factors were equally important, since feudalism was the rule and communal society was still some way off. Nobles to whose lands new immigrants came did not bother to ask many questions; they were interested in people who were willing to work hard and show their loyalty, regardless of their faith. There was a minimum of Church organization and control, which favored the spread of dissenters, including Waldensians.
Because so few of their own documents have survived, it is difficult to trace Waldensian penetration except by inference through the reports of Inquisition agents. From the latter we learn that a major Waldensian thrust was in the valley of the Danube. A 1266 report speaks of no less than 40 Waldensian groups, whose "bishop" resided in the south of Austria, in the vicinity of Ansbach. They had close ties with the Lombard Waldensian movement and were reported to be severely critical of the Roman clergy, seeking exemption from the imposition of the Church tithes and calling for a reduction of properties under the control of the Church. We also learn that in Neuhofen the Waldensians maintained a leprosarium.
One of the first repressive actions against the Waldensians beyond the Alps occurred in the middle of the thirteenth century. Later, at the beginning of the fourteenth century 11 Waldensians were sentenced to death in Vienna, their Bishop Neumeister being likewise sentenced in Hamburg. In 1380 an even greater roundup was begun under the inquisitors Martin of Prague and Peter Zwicker, who were commissioned to bring to trial or to force the conversion of Waldensians through much of Europe. Their systematic effort began in Bavaria, proceeded to the region of Erfurt, and by 1392 took them to the province of Brandenburg. At Szczecin the inquisitors tried 400 Waldensians. Their reports speak of activities in various cities of what are now Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and of their success in the city of Bern, Switzerland, in getting 130 suspects to abjure heresy and return to the Church's fold. They reported a similar success in Fribourg, with renunciations by some 50 Waldensians. Another Inquisition diary dated 1392 mentions 12 "most wanted" Waldensian leaders in Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland.
The situation in Bohemia will occupy our attention especially, for it was in this "most Catholic" region of the Empire that the collaboration between the Church's inquisitors and the civil powers was most intense. We find the Waldensians among the German settlers who were seeking more land.
Waldensian Artisans and Merchants
Who were these Waldensians, scattered throughout the Empire, whom the inquisitors pursued so doggedly? Once again, unfortunately, documentation is very meager. We do gather in general, however, that they were among the lower middle classes of the time - farmers and artisans in Bohemia, Brandenburg and the German cities; perhaps small-scale merchants in Switzerland.
A series of crop failures in fourteenth century Bohemia led to not a few Waldensians losing their holdings and becoming indentured to more prosperous farmers. As a general rule, however, they were neither rich nor poverty-stricken, but a hardworking, modest sector of the local population. The 12 leaders mentioned above, for example, were engaged in the crafts as tailors, shoemakers, smiths, and weavers and all belonged to the same class.
A fourteenth century inquisitor has left us a lively account of a Waldensian preacher who went about disguised as an itinerant merchant. Upon his arrival at a local manor all the townspeople, including masters and servants, would gather around while he artfully displayed his various wares - fabrics, jewelry and trinkets. But even as he sold he would make allusions to more precious goods in his possession, to jewels of inestimable value he was in a position to offer. When the curiosity of his audience was kindled, the Waldensian preacher would then speak of the pearl of great price, the gospel of Jesus, and gradually proceed to contrast the way of the gospel with the way of the Church, in its love of power, riches, and luxury.
The story of the itinerant peddler of simple wares ever ready to surprise his audience with the announcement of the gospel, was repeated with great success in the edifying literature of the Waldensians, inspiring poetry and sketches right up to the last century. There is no reason to doubt that the stories are based upon fact, since ties always existed between the world of the Waldensians and that of the merchants, beginning with Valdesius himself. When Waldensians were tried in court they sometimes referred to their initial experiences at the hands of the merchant-teachers.
Waldensians evidently considered this kind of activity as a useful cover which permitted them to travel without creating suspicion. In order to escape the Inquisition the itinerant preachers had to be ready to move around constantly and in great secrecy, thus lending to their lives an air of mystery. Unknown by name, they would arrive in a place, stay a few days, then disappear into the night.
These "apostles," as they were called in the German lands, were regarded as true teachers of life and piety, highly respected by the faithful. A Polish document affirms they were "men who tell the truth," that one could make confession to them in full confidence and that their absolution was valid.
Many were the legends narrated about them of an evening by the fireside. Once a year, it was said, they went to heaven to contemplate the blessed, and one or two had even descended to the gates of hell to ponder the punishment of the damned. In the words of an old Austrian woman, "Our teachers are good; they are saints because they fast and live a life of abstinence ... Their authority derives from God and from the apostles."
Waldensian Family Piety
All of this creates the impression of strong in-group attachments, closely tied to the teachers. Catholics were regarded as outsiders. It was a clandestine world throughout, one that made the most of night meetings in stables and back rooms of little shops. Each generation was careful to transmit the faith to the succeeding one, the young sitting at the feet of elders, who in turn had received instruction from their parents.
The terror of the Inquisition made public preaching, such as the earliest Waldensians had engaged in, impossible: now the Waldensians were constrained to keep the faith alive within the walls of their homes -indeed, within the recesses of their own hearts. Yet if the streets were closed to them, they still had their gatherings in the kitchen, at their washing places by the streams and in their shops. The Lombard schola thus lived again in the Waldensian home, a secure place where teaching and mutual strengthening in the faith could be carried on.
The community was not entirely devoid of means of reaching out beyond the family circle, for the desire to communicate, to teach, and to evangelize was always present. One inquisitor's remark may be typical: "Not one of them, old or young, man or woman, by day or by night ever stops learning and teaching others." He also quotes, in the same vein, one of the Waldensians who had been brought before him: "In our home, women teach as well as men, and one who has been a student for a week teaches another."
Each evening meal was a special occasion for worship. Before the head of the household took his place at the table, he or she would say the grace: "May the God who blessed the five loaves and two fishes for his disciples in the desert, bless this table and its provisions." Then would follow the Kyrie and the Lord's Prayer, with the sign of the cross. After the meal, all would stand, join hands and lift their eyes as the leader repeated the verse from Revelation 7: "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and might be unto our God forever and ever." Then, "May God bless all who do good, bless us with material and spiritual food, and abide with us."
There was also a regular time for worship in the community, centered around a reading and a meditation from a Bible passage. The leader would read a portion of scripture (although it might be necessary to recite it from memory, since a Bible found in one's possession could compromise one before the authorities) and make comment. The latter, likely to be more moral than theological, served to clarify fundamental convictions. The service would end with everyone kneeling and repeating the Lord's Prayer in unison a number of times. This was the only prayer, used deliberately in place of the Ave Maria.
We have a memorable glimpse of what was apparently the deepest point of Waldensian piety - the gathering on the Thursday before Easter to commemorate the institution of the Lord's Supper. It is a picture in stone, the work of an anonymous sculptor whose great work of art in the from of a bas relief at the Cathedral of Naurnburg reflects Waldensian influence. There, just six persons are grouped around Jesus at the table, all local people. They are rustic, simple folk. Christ is distributing the bread among them, some are drinking from a cup, others are eating fish. (It is well known that Waldensians from Provence partook of fish during communion.)
It is not surprising that in these northern lands Waldensian piety emphasized intimate communion with the Lord, personal meditation and prayer. All of this accorded very well with German piety and devotion which they must have absorbed, but with their own noteworthy feature: the focus was not on the Church, on the sacred as such, or on the Virgin Mary, but on Jesus. Waldensian piety was familial rather than sacramental, communitarian rather than individualistic.
By the end of the fourteenth century Zwicker had extended his crusade against the Waldensians all over German lands, and the fourteenth century ended by the light of burning fires - with the Waldensians at the stake. One of the first victims was an old Waldensian woman in Austria, El Feur; condemned to wear the cross of the penitents, on a feast day she was trampled on by the faithful as she lay pinned down at the steps of the church, after which she was burned at the stake. This was the image of the German Waldensian community, seemingly headed for death.
Waldensians and Witches
A part of Europe which has figured little in our story so far is northern France and Flanders.
Even before they were exiled from Lyon, there is evidence of Waldensians in the regions near Toul and Metz (Lorraine). In the following decades, their numbers increased, even in the face of persecution. As in Lombardy, towns flourished where artisans were employed in the textile industry and it was there that Waldensians were to be found with their message of poverty.
In the following centuries Waldensians declined and virtually disappeared, but they still were confused with a veritable hotbed of heresies. Here "Waldensian" lost its character and became synonymous with "heretical," so much so that Joan of Arc was condemned for Waldensian heresy, even though she was by no means a Waldensian.
Dissidents around Arras acquired a certain notoriety at the end of the fifteenth century when they were accused of the "crime of Vauderie" (the Waldensian way). The group, both men and women, was questioned, tortured and sent to the stake by the inquisitors as in many other parts of Europe. The striking aspect of this persecution, which affected nobles and middle classes alike and provoked the intervention of the ruler, was the charge of "Vauderie" leveled against them. "Vauderie" was synonymous with witchcraft; to go to the "Vauderie" meant taking part in a witches' gathering.
One most interesting contemporary treatise, Traité de Vauderie, describes the Waldensian phenomenon as one of the many forms of witchcraft. The Waldensians are accused not only of heresy, but of monstrous connivance with diabolic forces. The idea became so ingrained in the culture that some time later, Theodore di Beza, in Geneva, referring to Reformed people in Piedmont, felt constrained to defend those believers "who unjustly have been defamed with the name of 'Waldensian."'
AN INQUISITOR'S REPORT ON WALDENSIAN OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER ON HOLY THURSDAY (1320)
Question addressed to a Waldensian: If, according to their custom, he could not consecrate the bread and wine, could he bless the bread and wine, if not in the sense of accomplishing a sacrifice or offering, in the sense of a remembrance of the blessing of the bread and wine which Jesus gave when he transformed the bread and wine into his body and blood. He answered that he could not do it.
He said that after nine o'clock when the supper has been prepared, it is the leader who washes the feet of his companions and dries them with a towel which he wears as an apron. Having done this, the leader sits at the table with the others. Then taking the bread, fish and wine, he blesses them, not as an offering or sacrifice, but as a remembrance of the first supper. In so doing he pronounces the following prayer:
0 Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God of our fathers, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has commanded that, in many places and by the hands of the bishops and priests, your servants, offerings and sacrifices should be made unto you: May Jesus Christ, who blessed the five barley loaves and two fishes in the desert and who turned water into wine, bless, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this bread, this fish, and this wine, not as a sacrifice and offering but as a simple commemoration of the most holy supper which Jesus Christ our Lord instituted with his disciples. Lord, I am not worthy to offer with impure hands such a precious gift, nor are my impure lips worthy to receive the most holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Merciful Father, we ask you, nonetheless, to bless the substance of this bread and this wine, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
So direct my soul, body, and all my senses and dispositions by your grace, that in my every gesture I may be worthy to offer to you this holy body which is revered by the angels in heaven, 0 God, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
Having offered this prayer of blessing, the leader eats and drinks such bread, fish, and wine, then gives to all his companions, who in turn eat and drink. And nothing is given to others nor do they wish that the latter know anything of the meal ...
THE WALDENSIAN BASTION IN THE ALPS
To the mountains!
In southern Europe, the Waldensians found particularly favorable conditions in the valleys on the slopes of the Cottian Alps along what is now the Italian-French border.' This region, destined to become one of the major medieval Waldensian centers - and later the sole point of refuge for the Waldensian Church - was at first only one of many areas visited by the itinerant Waldensian teachers.
For a long time it was held that the Waldensians of the Alps were the Waldensians of Lyon who had taken refuge in these mountains. There, it was said, they found hospitality among a population which for centuries had remained faithful to the gospel while the Roman Church had triumphed throughout the West. It was an attempt to show that the Waldensians were directly linked to and successors to the apostolic community - a thesis driven by faith but supported by neither history nor scholarship.
The factors which really led the Waldensians to settle in Alpine villages were more social and political than religious. In the Middle Ages the region was divided into roughly two parts: on the western slopes was the French Dauphiné (so-called because its nobility's coat-of-arms bore a dolphin) and on the eastern side were the lands of the abbey of Pinerolo and the counts of Luserna The Dauphin6, originally an imperial fief, came under French domain, while the Piedmont side came under the influence of the House of Savoy. The political frontiers, however, did not coincide with present-day national boundaries. Parts of the Val Susa, the Val Varaita and the Val Chisone belonged to the French Dauphiné. From the point of view of church administration, the two lands were under the jurisdictions, respectively, of the bishoprics of Embrun and Turin, but the ecclesiastical boundaries did not coincide precisely with the political ones. This created a mosaic in which the interests and power struggles of the kings of France, the dukes of Savoy, the local lords, archbishops, priors and inquisitors intermingled and sometimes even cancelled each other out. The Cottian Alps region in the thirteenth century thus was politically very complex while culturally homogeneous in language, custom, and trade. The area was not entirely peripheral, for the Susa-Briançon route was one of those well-known avenues of trans-Alpine communication at the time.
The region was in economic crisis because it had experienced the full ravages of the Saracen invasions and needed to be repopulated. Thus the authorities were eager to encourage new settlements.
The first evidences of a Waldensian presence in the area date from the beginning of the thirteenth century. The early settlers must have multiplied very rapidly, for the Inquisition was directed against them by the end of the century on both sides of the Alps.
The inquisitorial practices apparently led more to legalized plunder than to full-scale religious repression. Under the threat of trial in courts, the population was kept in constant fear and forced to pay abusive heavy taxes. It was a time of psychological warfare.
The first known person in the region to be burned at the stake was a woman, condemned in Pinerolo in 1312 for adherence to the Waldensian way. The transference of the papal court to Avignon early in the fourteenth century was apparently the signal for a brutal repression against Waldensians in the Dauphin6, for the pope was evidently not disposed to tolerate any expression of dissent so near to his see.
Another incident indicative of the times was the arrest of Martin Pastre, a barba 3 and key organizer among early Alpine Waldensians. News that Waldensians in this remote comer were holding services in the Val Angrogna reached all the way to Pope John XXII, who ordered an inquisitor from Marseilles to go and carry out the necessary punitive measures.
Or again, in 1335 Pope Benedict XII issued an order against Waldensians in the Dauphin6 which resulted in yet another toll of lives. Nor did the situation change when, in 1349, the region was given over to French control.
A period of relative calm apparently followed, but in- the latter part of the century the Inquisition was resumed in full intensity under the direction of a Franciscan, Francesco Borelli. So obsessed was this monk with the pursuit of heretics that it was said that every prison from Embrun to Avignon was filled to overflowing. As a result, Pope Gregory IX himself had to appeal for alms for the hapless prisoners.
The century closed in shame for all of Christendom, with popes in Rome and Avignon recriminating and mutually excommunicating each other, and the faithful not knowing whom to obey. Nor did their respective campaigns against the Waldensians relax in the slightest -with one exception. In that time of abuse and violence, of imprisonments and burnings at the stake, a certain Dominican monk, Vincent Ferreri, sent to the valleys to preach against the heretics, mercifully stopped his preaching and limited his mission to dialog with the people.
Rebels with a cause
If we should try to picture the typical Alpine Waldensian or the movement sympathizer who welcomed the visit of a Waldensian teacher, of whom should we think? Certainly not the pilgrim of Valdesius' own generation, nor the sturdy weaver settled in a city of the Lombard plain. We should have to imagine, rather, a highlander, enclosed in his or her rustic, mountainous little world. Whether a farmer, isolated from the world in the high valleys of Vallouise or Freyssinières, a hired hand in the fields of the counts of Luserna or a shepherd in Pragelato, one thing was sure: he or she would be a person of the soil.
The little towns like Embrun, Pinerolo, and Perosa, nestled in the lower valleys near a castle or cathedral, remained firmly under the control of feudal and church power. Their inhabitants had to make do with a limited degree of tolerance.
Some centuries later, Frederick Engels' definition of the Waldensians in this setting would become well-known. Engels considered the movement to be patriarchal, a heresy which expressed "reactionary tendencies contrary to the movement of history," insofar as it was in opposition to feudal power. In his opinion the Waldensians were nothing more than country bumpkins in their mountain retreats who wanted nothing to do with modem society.
The definition of Alpine Waldensians as essentially reactionary needs to be corrected. There is no doubt that theirs was a patriarchal society; they did oppose feudalism - in the interest of survival, not because they were reactionaries. Even if they do not qualify as revolutionaries (it was not their intention to overturn any social order) they nonetheless can be considered rebels toward the established order, for they claimed to be beyond the jurisdiction of the magisterium of the Church.
Engels' notion of the Waldensians as shepherd folk scattered across the high mountains has no basis in fact. Fourteenth century heresy trials against them took place not only in the high valleys, but much more in the towns on the plain, from Pinerolo to Chieri. These latter folk were not rough mountaineers but artisans, merchants and innkeepers -forward-looking people alert to new ideas. And there were indeed many new religious ideas making the rounds in Piedmont at the time, fed by Cathari refugees who had escaped the crusade of Innocent 111.
It is clear that the Waldensian movement was not limited to the higher mountain regions but reached to villages and towns and their new social classes.
It is further plain that in these Alpine areas the Waldensians were no marginal group but a proactive element, stirring up opposition to the status quo. Indeed, at times they seem to have strayed from the essential pacifism they had inherited and appear to have been drawn into quasi-revolutionary activity. One revealing incident in the middle of the fourteenth century, for example, concerned a local uprising which followed the arrest of the barba Martin Pastre, mentioned above. The people of Angrogna suspected that it was the local priest of San Lorenzo who had informed against their leader, and in their rage they seized the priest and killed him. An inquisitor was sent in to restore order, but the embattled farmers were too much for him, so that he had to beat a hasty retreat.
Certainly it is not unusual to find evidence of direct resistance to the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. The inquisitors Peter of Verona and Conrad of Marburg were assassinated; not a few priests in Bohemia who were caught up in the repression there came to the same end.
Waldensian Theology of the two ways
The importance of the role played by Alpine communities is evidenced by the fact that with the exception of a few texts in Latin, practically all of the Waldensian documents which have come down to us were written in a dialect - some would go so far as to call it a language -derived from Provençal and spoken throughout the whole Waldensian diaspora. It is noteworthy that these records were carefully preserved locally right up to the mid-seventeenth century, when they were transferred for safekeeping to university libraries at Geneva, Cambridge and Dublin, where they remain to this day.
When one looks at these precious little notebooks, the mind does not run to the great libraries of medieval monasteries. Written in a miniscule hand and no larger than a pad to be carried around in one's pocket for economy of space and concealment, it is obvious that these little volumes were not designed for the spacious shelves of a library but for the homes of the hunted - dark kitchens and the back rooms of shops. Written in a plain style for the edification of unpretentious folk, the little volumes were not the literature of the firmly established, but of a counterculture committed. to daily struggle for sheer survival.
The most important documents were translations of scripture. Valdesius himself had begun his own pilgrimage of faith upon having parts of the Bible translated, so that it was quite natural that succeeding generations should be true to his example. Actually, this attachment to the Bible derived from a very precise faith and outlook. In the Waldensians' view the Bible was not a "sacred" book in Latin for use among the learned, but one to be studied and meditated upon day in and day out by all in their own languages. One cannot claim that the Waldensians "gave" the Bible to the medieval church, but they undoubtedly contributed to its wider circulation. It is thought, for example, that the earliest translation of the Bible into the Tuscan vernacular, the so-called Dugentista Bible of the thirteenth century, was derived from the Latin Vulgate version current in Provence, itself likely based upon earlier versions of the Waldensians or their sympathizers.
In addition to scripture, the little notebooks included miscellaneous writings which were read and passed along from hand to hand: sermons, poems, edifying treatises on the Christian life and on the renouncement of possessions.
The Waldensians did not go about making a spectacle of their conversion, despising the created world after the manner of the Cathari. Nor were they obsessed, as were so many Catholics, by the desire to accumulate merit and to do good works to escape purgatory. They acted upon the insight that this earthly pilgrimage means responsibility ventured in light of the judgement of God.
Waldensian piety was eschatological rather than dualistic or ascetic. An example may be found in the long fifteenth century devotional poem, the "Noble Lesson," which begins as follows:
Sisters and brothers, give ear to a noble lesson: We ought always to watch and pray, for the world is nearing the end; we ought to strive to do good works, for the world is nearing the end.
From surviving Waldensian literature what may be called the "theology of the two ways" can be discerned. Life's pilgrimage, the Waldensians taught, will be marked as good or evil, ruled by sin or grace. All are responsible for choices made in life, and the church cannot redeem the choices made. Thus, the Roman Church's doctrines of purgatory, intercessions of the saints and madonnas and the countless masses said for the deceased, all such practices the Waldensians denounced as religious frauds. The Waldensians were conscious of being an autonomous Christian community, distinct from Rome in both doctrine and organization - an altogether different kind of church. The hierarchical structure of the Church with its sacerdotal power had been overcome.
Waldensian theology refused to countenance lying or taking an oath. To do either was to commit mortal sin. This conviction stemmed from strict adherence to Jesus' admonition in Matthew 6. In medieval society, furthermore, to take an oath was not a mere matter of standing on one's word; it was, rather, the very basis of all social relationships. To swear by solemn declaration loyalty to a superior was an act which carried with it a promise of obedience and assistance at every turn. It followed logically that the pope was the summit in the hierarchy of obedience and that he had the right of excommunication or interdiction upon anyone refusing an oath.
The Waldensians' refusal to be bound to any superior by swearing an oath thus led to their living outside the law. Theirs was a radical criticism of the social norms which bound people to one another in a chain of dependencies. The religious and temporal powers immediately realized the implications of this protest and were not slow to repress it.
In general, the Alpine Waldensian way was not very different from that in Germany. Both were founded on closely knit family life in an agricultural setting; both handed down the faith from generation to generation. One Alpine quality, however, which deserves special mention, was its unusual ability to impact the social fabric as a whole. In the valleys there was a lively spirit of critical ferment which awakened conscience and love of freedom even to the point of popular uprising.
Waldensians south beyond the Alps
There were two other southern regions where Waldensians maintained a presence - in Provence and Languedoc of southern France, and in southern Italy. Of the first we have already noted that the crusade of 1208 against the Cathari was followed by decades of repression, inquisition and court trials which virtually destroyed the non-Catholic religious movements. This was not entirely so in the case of the Waldensians, however. At the beginning of the fourteenth century there were enough survivors for the inquisitor Jacques Fournier, who later became Pope Benedict XII, to undertake court trials against them. This was also the region which gave the Waldensians their liturgy of communion on Holy Thursday, thought to be the most important event of their liturgical year.
Documentary evidence is still harder to come by regarding the Waldensian experience in southern Italy. Waldensians were there during the rule of the House of Anjou, when the French kings who opposed the Saracens promoted colonization by settlers from their old fiefs in France.. Other Waldensians in the region of Cosenza gave names to their villages (one was called Guardia Lombarda, later to be called Piemontese) which indicates that they came from Piedmont.
For a time these little groups of religious dissenters must have enjoyed a certain protection from the central government of the region at Naples. They figured prominently in the great struggle between the papacy and the Fraticelli, the most radical wing of the Franciscans.
WATCHING AND PRAYING during the 1400's (FIFTEENTH CENTURY)
Sisters and brothers, give ear to a noble lesson: We ought always to watch and pray, for the world is nearing the end; we ought to strive to do good works, for the world is nearing the end. A thousand and one hundred years are fully accomplished since the coming of the last days was set.' We must desire little, for we are at the very end. We see the signs of the end every day the increase of evil and the decrease of good. These are the perils of which scripture speaks,
'Reference to Constantine's "Donation" to Pope Sylvester I in the fourth century,' which in Waldensian theology was the crucial point, ushering in the "last days."
the gospels and Saint Paul.
No one can know when the end shall be;
therefore we ought the more to be vigilant, not knowing
if death shall seize us today or tomorrow.
But when Jesus shall come at the day of judgement,
all shall receive full payment,
those who shall have done ill, or done well.
But scripture affirms, and we ought so to believe,
that all of the world shall pass two ways -
the good shall go to glory, the wicked to torment.
And any that shall not believe this
should search the scriptures from the beginning.
Since Adam was formed, until the present time,
the reader shall find, if he or she has understanding,
that few are saved.
But every person who would do good
will honor God the Father above all else,
and invoke the help of his glorious Son, the son of St. Mary,
and of the Holy Spirit who leads us in the way.
These three, the holy Trinity,
one God are to be invoked,
full of power, of wisdom, and of goodness.
To this God we must pray without ceasing,
that God give us strength against our enemies,
to overcome them before our end -
they are the world, the devil, and the flesh.
God give us wisdom, accompanied with goodness,
that we may know the way of truth,
keeping pure that spirit which God has given us,
the spirit and body in the way of love
Now after the apostles there were certain teachers
who taught the way of Christ our Saviour,
and who are found even to this day,
known to very few,
who would show the way of Jesus Christ.
They are so persecuted that they are able to do but little.
Many are the false Christians blinded with error
who persecute and hate those who are good,
and let those live quietly who are false deceivers.
But by this we may know that they are not good pastors,
for they love not the sheep, but only the wool.
Scripture says, and we know it to be true,
that if anyone is good, loving Jesus Christ,
that person will neither curse, nor swear, nor lie,
will neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor steal, nor be avenged over the enemy.
Now such a person is a Waldensian, and worthy to be punished, and they find occasion by lies and deceit, to take from him that which he has gotten by his just labor. One that is thus persecuted for the sake of the Lord, takes courage is this, that the kingdom of heaven shall be inherited at death ... This I dare say, and it is very true, that all the popes from Sylvester on, the cardinals, bishops, abbots, and the like, have no power to absolve or pardon any creature so much as one mortal sin. It is God alone who pardons, and no other. This is what pastors ought to do: preach to the people, and pray with them, and feed them with teaching from on high ... May the Lord who made the earth number us to dwell in his house forever.
---"La Nobla Leyczon," in J. Léger, Histoire générale des Eglises Evangéliques des Vallées du Piémont ... (Leyden, 1669), pp. 26ff.
TESTIMONY OF A BARBA'S ASSISTANT (1451)
Having been interrogated on the charges which had been read to him, he answered that it was true that he had once at his home made his confession to a barba, a teacher of the sect called the Waldensians, who had been introduced in his home by Stefano Rigotti, of the parish of Usseglio. Asked what was the name of that barba, he answered that he was called "Big Michael" from Freyssinières; asked if he had seen other barba, he said that he had: one from Meana, near Susa ... Asked if during his life he had seen other barba, he replied yes: one who Was from Manfredonia in Puglia..
Asked as to how he knew they were barba of the so-called Waldensian sect, he said that every year they came to the valleys, and that the people of the valleys and nearby (Roman) parishes made their confession to them, and that when they were leaving the valleys the barba named him as their delegate, along with Francesco Aydetti of Val Perosa. In their name he and Francesco carried out the task of representing them in the valley ... receiving confessions from men and women of the so-called Waldensian sect ... He said that they had collected money from these Waldensians and given it to the teacher in Puglia.
Asked concerning when - month and day - and where he had gone in Puglia and how much money he had taken, he answered that it was in March of 1448 and 1449, and that the sum was 300 ducats. Asked how they had gone to Puglia and managed not to be recognized, he answered that they disguised themselves as merchants, that the two went through the towns offering their merchandise for sale ...
Asked about the teaching he was imparting to the above-mentioned people when he was receiving their confessions and when he was preaching to them, he answered that in their confessions he taught that they should not celebrate any feast day of any saint nor that of the Virgin Mary, that such feasts days of the saints and of Mary were not valid, and that it was not a sin to work on those days. He said that one should not believe in the eucharist, the host, and in the sacrifice at the altar, that at the time of the elevation the host does not become the body of Christ, that it is only bread, and that one should not believe that Jesus was born of Mary as virgin.
Further, that he taught that there are only two ways open to all and which determine whether one will be saved or will be condemned, that one who does good will go to paradise, and one who does evil will go to hell and damnation; purgatory does not exist. Indeed, whoever believes in purgatory is condemned already. Further, charities for the benefit of the deceased should not be done for they make no difference as far as the deceased's salvation is concerned ... Further, Mary, the Son, and the saints have no power to perform miracles or signs or to bestow grace, but only God; that all things performed in churches have no value and no bearing - it would be much better that they should be performed in stables rather than in churches.
Asked about what the barba said when he came to give the sermon, he answered that now and then they met in a home, 50 or 60 of them. Then the barba would come and would deliver his sermon explaining that they should not do to others what they did not wish done to themselves, that they should recite the Lord's Prayer often every day but not the Ave Maria, and that if they wished to give offerings they should do so in this world, for offerings to benefit the dead have no efficacy whatsoever.
-4G. Weitzecker, "Processo di un Valdese nell'anno 145 1," in Rivista Cristiana, IX (188 1), pp. 363-67.
VI. THE WALDENSIAN-HUSSITE "INTERNATIONAL"
The Waldensians & the Bohemian revolution
By the early 1400s, after more than two centuries of witness and martyrdom, the Waldensian movement appeared to be in decline. Relentless extermination had reduced Waldensians to a clandestine few, and it seemed that the movement would be snuffed out. Following the lead of Innocent 111, the Roman Church dominated Europe, although the great body of medieval Christendom was really without life. A tragic question was making itself felt in the conscience of the people: Is this really the church of Jesus Christ, this curia which administers vast wealth, dispenses indulgences and exercises such encompassing power? This was the very question which had been raised by Waldensians all along, their only reply being torture and the stake. Now the question of reform arose not only from known dissidents but also from within the ranks of the Church's theologians, bishops and religious orders.
The work of two figures in widely separated countries now stood out in the struggle for reform-John Wycliff in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia. Wycliff, with good reason, was called "Doctor Evangelicus;" his determination to be faithful to scripture led him to translate and circulate the Bible among the people. Wycliff's work spread to the continent, precipitating the greatest spiritual upheaval of the century -the reform movement of Jan Hus.
Like Wycliff, Hus was a scholar and university professor, keen to put his gifts and his culture to the service of "the least." Week after week at the Bethlehem chapel in Prague he expounded the scriptures, having exceptional gifts as a preacher. Hus' life ended tragically. Ordered to appear before the Council of Constance to defend the actions and given a promise of safe conduct, he was nevertheless taken into custody, condemned for heresy and burned at the stake. A year later the same fate befell his disciple, Jerome of Prague. Hus' death at the stake ignited a real revolution which in the end was to envelop all Bohemia. The Hussite demands were for freedom in preaching, and for an end to the oppressive taxes and to rule by Church courts. Faith was seen as the exercise of personal responsibility, not subjection to the Church. The communion chalice on Hussite banners symbolized insistence on an intensely personal faith.
The Hussite revolution passed through several phases, the first of which was a national and popular uprising which included the nobility. For a time the crusading army called out by Rome was held at bay by the Hussites. A moderate wing, however, made its peace within the Church, having been satisfied by Rome's promise, among others, that laypeople should receive the cup at communion. When the moderates gained the upper hand, a more intransigent group reorganized itself in southern Bohemia near the city of Tabor and there vowed to continue the struggle. The Taborite movement became the Church of the Unity of the Bohemian Brethren (Unitas Fratrum), a church which was to play an important role in the spiritual maturing of central Europe.
Even though it suffered military defeat, the Hussite revolution was an event of major importance in the history of the Christian church. For the first time, a dissenting movement had raised a popular army to defend itself against the constituted authorities. In doing so it resisted the inroads of the crusades, liberating a part of Christendom from papal oppression and from the Inquisition. On the spiritual and theological level, Hus and his disciples demolished Rome's claim to universal jurisdiction in Europe, having founded an alternative Christian church, one based not on obedience to an institution but on the gospel and human solidarity.
The "International" & the Waldensians
In the wake of these events in central Europe, the timid Waldensian groups which had survived persecution began once again to take heart. For their part, the Taborite theologians recognized the importance of the Waldensians' protest and alternative practice of the faith. In one remarkable incident at the Council of Basel the military hero of the Taborite campaign, Procopius the Great, came to the defense of the Waldensians and justified their faith before the Council. Such are the strange paradoxes of history: here a military general defended, before Catholic bishops, Waldensians who were both "heretical" and pacifist!
The Hussites did not accept all of the beliefs and practices of the Waldensians, nor did the latter give up their own tenets in the light of the Taborite revolution. However, the two groups did remain extremely close to one another. The bonds between them were such, for example, that on one occasion the Waldensians in the French Dauphiné raised money for the Bohemian war effort. And at Pæsana a town in the Po valley, a group of Waldensians in the early sixteenth century expected to be liberated by a Bohemian intervention.
The Hussites strengthened the hand of the Waldensians in the field of theology, so critical for future generations. The Prague theologians, in retracing the ground worked over by the Waldensians, brought it within the world of the university. Hussite scholarship and the Taborite Confession of Faith, were translated, summarized and circulated in the Waldensian communities.
A fresh missionary thrust by Bohemian Hussites spread throughout Waldensian communities on the continent, strengthening the ties between the two groups. German Waldensian ministers visited the communities in Bohemia. Together they envisaged an evangelical movement which, beginning in Bohemia, would radiate across the whole of Europe along the axes of the Waldensian diaspora. A. Molnár, the Czech church historian whose research has added so much to our knowledge of the pre-Reformation Waldensian experience, has appropriately called this fifteenth century missionary vision the "Waldensian-Hussite International."
The role of the leaders in the Waldensian communities, meanwhile, was undergoing real change. For the Waldensians the traditional name barba, which freely translated means "uncle," obviously had a controversial ring to it. The barba were ministers who had authority but no power; they were elders, not priests, "uncles" not "fathers" as in the Roman Church. By the fifteenth century, the barba were no longer, as in previous centuries, travelling artisans who fortified contacts between the Waldensian groups scattered throughout the diaspora; they were now truly teachers of faith, and even of culture. To them fell the duty of circulating Waldensian literature, collecting sermon material and writing poems. This is not to say that the barba were to be compared with the humanists of the time. Their collection of books was quite small, suited to those constantly on the move, but such books as they had were well used. The barba were capable of reading theological works in Latin, of studying mathematics, and of knowing enough botany and rudimentary medicine to enable them -to deal with simple diseases.
Their ministerial work was now better organized, less casual than before. Young Waldensians who had gifts and desired to work hard for the community would be apprenticed to an experienced barba for some years. They first became familiar with the various places to visit, mastered languages, and studied the Bible thoroughly, much of the time in clandestine schools. A major school, tradition has it, was located at Pra del Torno deep in the Angrogna Valley. Organization and communication across the barba network must have been very effective, for it was only in rare instances that the Inquisition succeeded in trapping one of these leaders.
Two barba who were indeed caught and martyred deserve special mention -Frederich Reiser, burned at the stake in 1458, and Martino, who suffered the same fate some 40 years later.
Reiser, as his father, was a Waldensian merchant whose work centered around the largest German cities of the time, as Nuremberg, and at Fribourg in Switzerland, where he was continually in contact with Waldensian cells. When Reiser was 25 or so years of age, a friend of his father, convinced that Reiser should give himself entirely to the task of preaching, put him in touch with the Bohemian communities. Ordained as a Taborite minister, Reiser was drawn into the Hussite revolutionary movement.
After the Hussite revolution, in 1435, Reiser began visiting and reorganizing the Waldensian diaspora. From a base in the city of Zapek and with the support of the friendly Bohemian communities, he and his Taborite colleagues managed to cover the entire area from Cracow in Poland to Basel. In the end he was arrested at Strasbourg, condemned and burned at the stake. Two months later that same fate befell a disciple, Matthew Hagen, at Brandenburg, and a few years later Reiser's chosen successor, Stephen of Basel, was likewise put to the torch.
The barba who went by the name of Martino and whose real name was Francesco di Girundino, came from the Italian region of the Marche. His arrest, along with that of a fellow barba, took place in the Chisone Valley in 1492. At his trial he told the story of his life and his journeys as a barba. The son of a barba, he had accompanied his father at first, then other barba, to communities all across Italy.
Through surviving accounts of the itineraries of the barba, the quite astonishing and far-reaching spread of the medieval Waldensian way can be pieced together.
The Relentless Inquisition
Due to the work of Reiser and the encounter with the Taborites, the most dynamic part of the Waldensian movement in the fifteenth century was in the diaspora in the German lands. It was from there that new ideas began to filter toward the south through Switzerland. There were also important communities in the Kingdom of Naples and in the region east of Florence along the Adriatic, which raised up a good many barba. When, for example, the well-known Hussite theologian, Luke of Prague, sought to get in touch with key persons in the Waldensian world, it was to central and southern Italy that he turned, rather than to Germany or even to Piedmont. Waldensians in the latter area, although less prominent at this time, were a compact group. They were to become increasingly more important and were to suffer the next wave of repression.
After only a few decades of relative tranquility under Amedeo VIII, the inquisitors were sent to deal with the Alpine dissidents. In 1450 the whole Val Luserna was placed under interdiction on the charge of having resisted the authorities. Another inquisitorial sweep took place in 1475. Ducal authorities were ordered by Duchess Yolanda, regent for her son, Charles 1, to come to the support of the inquisitors in their actions (threats and fines) against the counts of Luserna themselves, charged with being too lenient toward the Waldensians.
More and more the Waldensians were being persecuted not so much for their religious beliefs as for the economic exploitation which could be gained from them through punitive taxation. In corrupt times Charles I at last called for full-scale military action against the dissidents. On the French side, meanwhile, the papal legate Albert Cattaneo led a crusade against the Waldensians in 1487-89.
The occasion which provoked action by Charles I very likely centered around a local uprising against the counts of Luserna. The fighting took place mainly in Val Angrogna between two disorganized and ill-equipped bands. On one side was the rag-tag feudal militia, and on the other, the poorly-equipped Waldensians who were armed, however, with a steel will. The clashes must have brought biblical images to mind: a Savoyard captain of fortune struck down by a Waldensian rustic's well-aimed sling shot stone; hand-to-hand combat which lasted far into the night, and so forth.
In the end, Charles I agreed to negotiate. When the Waldensians arrived the palace was amazed to discover that they were not the hairy devils or one-eyed monsters of anti-Waldensian propaganda, but sturdy mountain folk. The outcome preserved the status quo, although a gesture of ducal clemency did result in tacit acknowledgement of some rights for the dissenters.
On the French side the story was sheer devastation. There, Philip of Savoy, with the full consent of Charles VIII of France, undertook a merciless and far-reaching crusade against the hapless population. As in other places and times in the Middle Ages, the sweep was under the patronage of the pope and organized by his legate. Like the papal campaigns against the Cathari and the Muslims, the Alpine offensives became organized piracy, full of greedy noblemen, local fanatics bent on their vendettas, adventurers and plunderers everywhere.
Cattaneo prepared his campaign meticulously, choosing his troops carefully and making sure of his backing by local authorities. The Waldensians, meanwhile, tried their usual tactics of temporizing, seeking to defend themselves through appeal to tribunals.
It was in this context that the Waldensians of Pragelato wrote the Declaration of Faith which is included at the end of this chapter one of the Waldensians' most significant statements. The work of a community purified in suffering, it expresses the faith of a mature, responsible Christian people.
Pragelato, right in the path of the crusaders, was invaded and sacked in March 1488. Some of the inhabitants managed to escape further up the mountains, while others were hidden by friends in nearby valleys. Still others gave themselves up in exchange for immunity. At Prali, a pitched battle between the local inhabitants and the crusaders ended when Count Hugo La Palud pulled back his troops.
A fate similar to that of Pragelato was in store for the Waldensians in the valleys of Argentiéres and Vallouise. These folk had been consistently pacifist by tradition, so they did not resist when the invaders came. The geography of the closed-in valleys allowed no opportunity for escape. The crusaders proceeded to level their villages. A few tried to escape massacre by hiding in caves, but they were tracked down and slaughtered. A symbol of this violent and merciless attack was the "barme Chapelue" cave, where scores of women and children were burned alive. Those who managed to flee the area eventually made it to Waldensian enclaves in Piedmont or in the deep south of Italy.
Thus ended an inglorious chapter of papal dominance, an epoch of Hussite revolution on the one hand and of councils of the Church on the other. The age which produced the Cattaneos was also the age of Savonarola, preaching his fiery sermons in Florence. Machiavelli and Erasmus were just young men.
Relentless Inquisition, crusades and pillage had done their efficient work, so that by the end of the fifteenth century a veil of silence hung over much of the Waldensian world. Any evidence of activity during the first years of the sixteenth century came mainly from the sector in southern Europe - from Provence and the Dauphiné in France, and from Calabria and the Luserna Valley in Italy.
Later historians would offer the views that at the time of the Lutheran Reformation the Waldensians were all but extinct and that their revival at the beginning of the sixteenth century was a virtual resurrection. This was not the case. While it was certainly a time of rethinking rather than expansion, the Waldensians were by no means inactive and far from being enfeebled.
Proof of this thesis is that the Archbishop of Turin, Claudio di Seyssel, while on a pastoral visit to the Alpine valleys in 1517, the very year of Luther's protest, recorded the presence of numerous Waldensians practicing their faith. Waldensians at this time were active enough in their missionary endeavors to print and publish tracts in the Italian language (as distinct from their own tongue), daring to circulate them in Piedmont and Liguria. It was against these tracts that the eminent friar De Cassine published his polemics. We can only conclude that a community which had access to that marvelous new instrument called the printing press - invented only a few decades earlier - and which had the ability to raise the necessary funds for a considerable propaganda effort, could hardly be considered at the point of extinction.
A WALDENSIAN DECLARATION OF FAITH (1488)
We true believers of the Val Chisone ask that you, Reverends and Illustrious Lordships, not let yourselves be deceived by the talk of our enemies, and that you should not proceed to our condemnation without having taken cognizance of the truth. We are indeed authentic believers and obedient and faithful subjects of the king. Those who are teachers of our religion, noted for their holiness of life and doctrine, can show you in any synod or general council, on the basis of the authority of the Old and New Testaments, that our way of understanding the faith is authentically Christian, so that we deserve praise rather than persecution.
We do refuse to follow those who betray the rule of the gospel and who forsake the tradition of the apostles, and we are not willing to obey their evil institutions. Instead, we take pleasure in the poverty and innocence which have been the source and strength of true faith. We disdain riches, luxury, and the thirst for power by which our persecutors are possessed.
You state that you have decided to destroy our people and our manner of life. But beware in doing this, lest you offend God and provoke God's anger, and lest, in thinking to do well, you commit a serious crime, the like of which, according to scripture, St. Paul was once guilty.
We put our hope in God and we strive to please God rather than humankind. We do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit. Know, all the same, that all your efforts will be in vain if God does not will them.
THE WALDENSIANS AND THE REFORMATION
Luther and the Waldensians
In the century after Hus it was Martin Luther who opened up the whole question of reform in the church. His intention was not to break the unity of the Church, but to bring about a return to the gospel.
Although Luther was well aware of the work of the Hussites and Waldensians, he first considered them to be rebellious and dangerous schismatics, once exclaiming, "I shall be taken for a Wycliffite or a Waldensian!" - as if this were an absurd eventuality.
What a change followed upon his examination of the dissenters' literature! Seeing so many parallels between the earlier protests and his own protests over papal abuses, the doctrine of purgatory, and the Church's misuse of its authority, he cried out, "We were all Hussites without knowing it!" Partly to make amends for his previous harsh judgment against the pioneers, he wrote his famous preface to the Taborite Confession of Faith and caused it to be circulated widely; in that same preface he referred to the Hussites as "Waldensians."
Luther's theology really went far beyond that of the medieval evangelical movements - not because he was more radical than his predecessors, but because he grasped the fundamental issue of the time: justification by faith.
Luther's struggle was naturally welcomed in the Waldensian world. Before long, scholarly works from Germany were in the hands of a good many barba, where they were read, translated, discussed and circulated to every region. In 1526 an assembly of Waldensians held at Laus, in the Chisone Valley, was so eager to make personal contact with the new movement that it decided to send a discovery team across the Alps. The two chosen for the journey were an older barba, Giorgio, from the group in Calabria and a young man from Angrogna, Martin Gonin, who had been won over by the new ideas and who were ready to undertake the risky task of bookseller.
That journey turned out to be of capital importance for the whole course of Waldensian history. At Aigle, in what is now a part of Switzerland, they encountered the man who was to play a decisive role in the formation of the Waldensian Church, William Farel. From the Dauphiné Farel had been a militant and progressive Catholic, but now was active in spreading the new Lutheran ideas. He had become a fiery and fearless critic of the papacy and superstition. It was he who later insisted before a hesitant Calvin that the scholarly theologian should stay in Geneva to guide the destiny of that newly Protestant city instead of quietly continuing his studies. The young Gonin, after meeting Farel, became convinced that the Waldensian groups should adopt the new way of reform.
Another assembly of barba, held four years later in Mérindol, in Provence, less than fully enthusiastic, decided all the same that it needed more precise information about the new stirrings. So it decided to send another two barba, Morel of Freyssiniéres and Masson of Borgogna, on an exploratory mission. Morel in particular, a good theologian, was already known for his openness to Reformation ideas.
Their plan was not to go all the way to Germany, but to consult reformers in Bern, Basel and Strasbourg. Here the Reformation movement was not led by the nobles but by the middle classes who were becoming increasingly influential in the cities. The leaders were found in the town councils and humanistic circles. The organization of the first Reformation parishes was entrusted to outstanding figures such as Bucer and Oecolampadius.
The Swiss reformers found much to appreciate as they listened to the two barba, finding in them a very biblical spirituality. Still, they expressed some reservation, sensing that the Waldensians seemed to have certain Anabaptist and perfectionist tendencies. They had good reason for this judgment, for in Waldensian thinking one cardinal point had stood out from the beginning: an insistence on a clear separation between civil power and the practice of religion. The Waldensian pair were counselled to rethink their medieval ways of clandestinity, to abandon their dependence on itinerant barba, to leave behind their little scholae and their biblical literalism. In short, the reformers wished the Waldensians to rework their theology and to declare themselves openly a part of the mainstream of the Reformation.
Returning to Provence, and to another assembly at Mérindol the two emissaries found their communities eager to debate but unable to come to any conclusions. Three possible directions were on the table. The first would keep the Waldensians on a conservative path, maintaining the line of the past. The second, found in the young Gonin, supported joining the Reformation movement. The third, the position of Morel, was that of dialog with the reformers. The onrush of events, however, gave the Waldensians little time to work through the several directions in a deliberate manner.
By 1530 the Reformation was no longer a question to be discussed primarily among the theologians. Suddenly it burst out as a popular force, sweeping aside venerable institutions Re a flood. Just five years previously Prussia had become Lutheran; Sweden followed two years later, Basel in 1529. By 1531 military lines were drawn right across Switzerland; the leader of the Reformation in Zürich, Ulrich Zwingli, met his death in pitched battle.
This was also a time when political and military turmoil spared no one. In 1527 Rome itself was sacked by imperial troops; in 1529 the Turks besieged Vienna. Confronted with immense problems in his realm, the young emperor Charles V signed a treaty with the Protestant princes which recognized - provisionally, but as a fact - the Reformation. The Confession of Faith written by Melanchthon, outlining the theological standards of the new movement, thus received sovereign sanction.
How did Piedmont fit into this picture? Although it was just a small comer of Europe which seemed to count for little, its geographical position gave the duchy a key place in the political chess game of the time. Like Flanders in the north, Savoy was situated between the great powers of France and the German empire. The sovereign, Duke Charles III, was a typical prince in the Italian style - skeptical, calculating, and defenseless as his large duchy, which extended all the way from Nice to Lake Geneva. Politically, he was pure Savoyard - agile, never stepping too far in any one direction, always ready to change course at a moment's notice. As he balanced himself between the pope's warnings and the new wave from the north, he might even have wished to follow the lead of the Duke of Saxony - but he didn't dare.
Charles' manner of dealing with his subjects on religious questions was also in character. One day he might decide to send his nobleman, Bersatore di Miradolo, into Provence for a general roundup of all Waldensians. A day later he would issue another order forbidding any harassment of the same people. He was perfectly capable in one moment of vowing to root out every trace of heresy within his domain and in the next of providing for the liberation of the Genevan preacher, Saulnier, arrested in Savoy.
His political undoing, however, came about in 1529. Like all the Italian princes, he was forced in that year to take a stand which put an end to any balancing act. Spain by now had assumed the leadership of the anti-Reformation forces and Savoy had to go along, which meant adopting a repressive policy in religious matters. The assault against the Alpine population triggered the reaction of Bern. The ensuing conflict was to bring an end to the old Duchy of Savoy.
As the largest of the Swiss cantons, Bern had gone over to the Reformation in 1527, soon extending its influence across the southern and western regions of the country - to the Valias, Vaud and the southernmost gateway at Geneva. In a decisive clash with the duke's forces, in 1529, the Bernese armies prevailed so that, by the treaty of St. Julien, Charles forfeited his rights over the Swiss lands and paid a heavy indemnity.
Thus the powerful claws of the bear (Bern's cantonal flag depicted a fierce bear, ready to spring) had not only rent the old duchy, but had opened a way for the Reformation to impact regions to the south.
For the "lords of Bern," the burghers who had come to power, the Reformation was not merely a religious question -. it was a political, economic and social reality, as well.
Zwingli's dream of making Switzerland the center of a revolutionary force which would envelop the lands to the south seemed about to become a reality. The Bernese troops had succeeded in inserting a wedge between Savoy on the east and France on the west, a wedge pointed straight at Provence. To the one side stood the Dauphiné, and to the other, the valleys of Luserna and Saluzzo, regions long since prepared by the Waldensians for a new day. The 20 cannons and 2,000 armed men in Geneva's command some years later were to be more than a wound in the pride of Savoy; they were to be a harbinger of conquest.
This was the international backdrop for the eventful assembly of Waldensians in Val Angrogna in September of 1532, which would thereafter be known as the historic Synod of Chanforan.
We learn from the historian Scipione Lentolo that barba came to Angrogna from all over the Waldensian diaspora with the express intent of "reforming their church." This was not, then, an ordinary meeting of the barba. Today it would be called an "extraordinary" or "constituent" assembly, open to the public so that the Waldensian people could fully participate. No clandestine meeting, its setting was that of an open field, one in which discussions could be held in the full light of day. Only five years separated Chanforan from the assembly at Mérindol, but the two events were worlds apart.
Who could have taken the initiative to convene an assembly of this sort? We do not know for sure, but it could well have been the school of young Gonin activists who would have been capable of transforming a meeting of leaders into a popular decision-making assembly. Gonin and colleagues must have been the ones who invited Saulnier and Farel to interrupt their labors in Geneva to come to Chanforan.
Thanks to the records which were kept, there is no doubt about the theological consensus which was achieved in the course of the debates. The Bible's preeminent place in faith and practice was once more underlined. Sacraments were limited to two - Baptism and the Lord's Supper. It was also decided that the barba should no longer itinerate but be assigned to communities. A good deal of attention was given to problems of a practical nature. Could a Christian rightly seek public office? Was it right to lend money at interest? The answers to such questions generally followed the lines of Morel. In other matters Farel's more radically anti-Catholic influence stood out, as with the call to put an end to confessions, fasts and "meritorious Sundays." In short, wherever Waldensian medieval theology and spirituality showed any remaining traces of Catholic piety, they were to be brought into line with theological foundations more biblical in character.
The synod's readiness to embark on a quite new course was also revealed in a decision to raise money to provide for the translation and publication of the Bible in the French language. The Waldensians were eager to seek a wider audience for their witness than was possible with their old Bible in Provençal, and were anxious to take advantage of the most recent textual studies. The translation task was entrusted to Pierre Robert, called Olivétan, a relative of Calvin's, who withdrew to an Alpine village to do his work. The remarkable translation he produced (for which Calvin himself wrote the preface) has come to be known as the Olivétan Bible, the first of the French Reformation. Printed in Neuchâtal, it was delivered to the Waldensians in 1535.
Behind questions of a theological or practical nature, there was at Chanforan the question of the Waldensians' relationship to the Reformation itself. Waldensians were of one mind in recognizing that the great new movement abroad could not be ignored. But how was it to be done? There were those who wished to be true to the past and to maintain their special traditions, while working in collaboration with the new Reformed currents. For his part, Morel advocated a middle course, one which foresaw a gradual Waldensian assimilation of the reformers' theology. The most radical elements, on the other hand, insisted that the whole thrust and organization of the old Waldensian movement should be fully integrated into the Reformation effort now taking place in the Swiss and French areas. The latter persuasion finally carried the day, doubtless due to the strong personalities of Farel and his companions, who succeeded in convincing the assembly that the new wave of religious ferment sweeping across Europe was just the fulfillment of the long struggle against an unfaithful Church, the very struggle in which the Waldensians had been engaged for centuries.
The decision was not unanimous. The traditionalists, believing that Chanforan could be a dangerous turning point, called for reconsideration. To seek further counsel, the assembly decided to turn to the Bohemian brethren, who had given such useful guidance to the Waldensian diaspora throughout the fifteenth century.
It was thus agreed to send two barba to Mladá Boleslav, where the Unitas Fratrum had its headquarters, to seek advice. The counsel the Waldensian emissaries received was closer to the position of Morel than that of Farel. They were told not to be hasty in giving up so precious a heritage as they had received from their forebearers, to reflect at length before taking any action, to guard against extremism and novelty. To consider the report of the emissaries, a second assembly was held at Prali in 1533; the outcome was reaffirmation of the basic direction taken at Chanforan - integration into the Reformation.
At Chanforan, as at Bergamo in 1218, the Waldensians closed one chapter of an illustrious history and opened another. Now, as three centuries earlier, they knew what they had left behind, while what lay before them was anything but clear. They knew only that they would press on in the quest for a church which was authentically Christian. What was at stake was adherence not to a church, but to a reform movement. Protestant "churches" as such did not yet exist in the year 1530. There were, to be sure, vast areas which had affirmed the Lutheran movement and discovered the gospel, but these same people still awaited a great council, one which would formulate the main tenets of the Reformation. For Waldensians, then, it was not a question of becoming Protestant in the sense of streaming into a church with a confession, a firmly defined theology and a distinct organization - it was a question of taking part in a religious revolution, seeking theological clarity and leaving questions of structure open.
The Waldensians' turning point at Chanforan has been given quite opposing interpretations. According to some, adherence to the Reformation at Chanforan was a decisive step forward on the path of evangelical witness - a deeper commitment to struggle with theology than the medieval Waldensian diaspora had ever achieved. The contemporaries of Chanforan generally read events in this way, not sensing any major break with their past. Nor have most later Waldensian historians treated adherence to the Reformation as a real rupture with the past, since they have seen a spiritual continuity across the whole of the Waldensian experience.
Some Catholic authors, on the other hand, have written a quite negative account of these same years. They profess to find that sixteenth century Waldensians became more rigid in their outlook, forsaking many elements of Catholic faith and piety which had .been present in earlier times. Even among some Waldensians today, there is a certain tendency to view Chanforan with a more critical eye, lamenting in particular the decline of criticism of "Constantinianism" in the Waldensian Church. It is said that there was also at Chanforan a turning away from that kind of Christian discipleship which had been nourished by a literal reading of the Bible.
But these judgments are beside the point. In light of the actual conditions before them, the Waldensians had to choose to become a part of the Reformation or to disappear. The decision taken at Chanforan to give up aspirations for maintaining an independent course and to find renewal within the framework of a wider Protestant movement was a difficult but very clear choice. It was a choice made not "above" history, but in history, as has been the case across the entire Waldensian experience. It was a choice grounded in the realization that faithfulness to the gospel means readiness to yield to transformation's way in history.
THE WALDENSIANS DECIDE TO JOIN THE REFORMATION: THE CHANFORAN DECISIONS (1532)
The following proposals were discussed in the presence of the ministers and people assembled in Angrogna on September 12 in the year of our Lord 1532.
1. A Christian may swear by the name of God without contravention to what is written in Matthew 5, provided that one who so swears does not take the name of God in vain... One may swear before magistrates, because anyone who exercises the office of a magistrate, whether a believer or non-believer, derives that power from God ...
2. No work is called good, but that which God has commanded, and no work is bad but that which God has forbidden ...
5. Auricular confession is not commanded by God, and it has been determined according to holy scriptures, that the true confession of a Christian is to confess to God alone, to whom belongs honor and glory. .
6. God does not forbid a Christian to stop work on Sunday...
7. Speaking is not always necessary during services.
8. Kneeling, established hours, the uncovering of one's head and other external things are not necessary nor required for services. Worship can be performed only in spirit and in truth, as we find written in John 4...
9. The laying on of hands is not necessary...
10. It is not lawful for a Christian to take revenge upon one's enemy in any manner whatsoever...
11. A Christian may exercise the office of magistrate over Christians who have done wrong...
12. There is no certain determination of time for fasting...
13. Marriage is not forbidden to anyone...
15. Enforced lifetime virginity is a diabolical doctrine...
17. Not all usury is forbidden by God. This is clearly so because God only prohibits usury which damages one's neighbor; as the law says, 'Do not do to others that which you do not wish to be done to you....
19. All those that have been and shall be saved have been elected of God before the foundation of the world.
22. The minister of the word of God ought not to itinerate from place to place, except it be for some great good of the church.
23. It is not a thing repugnant to the apostolic communion, that ministers have some possessions for the welfare of their families.
Concerning the matter of the sacraments, it has been determined by the holy scriptures that we have but two sacramental signs left us by Jesus Christ: the one is baptism, the other is the eucharist, which we receive to show that our perseverance in the faith is such as we promised when we were baptized being as children, and moreover, to recall that great benefit given to us by Jesus Christ, when he died for our redemption, and washed us with his precious blood...
- Manuscript 259 of Trinity College, Dublin, in V. Vinay, Le confessioni di fede dei VaIdesi riformati (Torino, 1974), pp. 139 ff.