GIVING & SHARING NEWSLETTER March, 1991 No. 14
Waldenses, Vallenses, Albigenses
One of the most interesting periods of church history is the “church of the wilderness” in the Alps during the Middle Ages, from about A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1500. Before the days of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, scattered in remote valleys of the Alps bordering France, Switzerland and Italy, groups of Bible believers rejected papal rule and held out for hundreds of years against Catholic efforts to exterminate them. Sometimes called “Waldenses” after a great leader, Peter Waldo, “Albigenses” after the city of Albi in France, or “Vallenses” because many lived in the valleys of Piedmont in northern Italy, this non-homogeneous remnant of God’s Church clung to Bible truths during a very dark period of history.
Some Waldenses apparently kept the Sabbath. Because of intense persecution from the Catholic Church, many were killed, and many recanted their faith. In the 1530s, all but a few survivors of this ancient area of believers officially gave up former beliefs and adhered to the Swiss Reformation. Before this, offshoots had spread to Bohemia and England to keep alive the “light that shines in darkness.”
Hardback reprints of several very interesting books of the Waldensian period are: The Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont and of the Albigenses, by Peter Allix, two volumes, originally published in 1690 and 1692. The other books are: An Inquiry into the History and Theology of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, by George Stanley Faber, 1838; The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont, by Samuel Morland, 1658; and History of the Waldenses, by J.A. Wylie, 1870.
As I perused these fascinating books, I was struck by the difference between the original Waldensian message and the message often heard from the Church of God today. Waldensian teachings slammed right to the point. They called the Catholic Church a pagan idolatrous heathenish system of evil and corruption, part of Antichrist and Babylon. Waldenses would not be popular today. I’m not too concerned about whether or not the Waldensians kept the Annual Sabbaths, or some of the other doctrines I hold dear. I rejoice when I read where they were right on many truths. In an age when one had to either acquiesce to the Catholic Church, be quiet, or flee, I admire the courage and fortitude of the Waldensians, who are in many ways examples for us.
Paulicians Preserve Bible Truths
Where did the Waldenses come from? Can their history be traced back to the first century? Overall, Waldensian history is clouded and very controversial. There were many false brethren among the true brethren. I am sure only God knows who were His. Many today, from Seventh Day Adventists to Baptists, claim the Waldenses as their spiritual ancestors.
The trail of the remnants of the faithful New Testament Church is hard to follow. Most of the historical literature we have about them was written by their persecuting enemies. Later works were written by liberals who had given up many former beliefs. Yet, from the scanty records we have of Nazarenes and Ebionites of Palestine, Paulicians of Armenia, Bogomils of Bulgaria and Macedonia, Waldenses (also called Vallenses or Albigenses) of the Alps, Bohemian Brethren, and Lollards in England, there is a continuous line of believers with similar doctrines who were against the established Roman Catholic Church.
The Key of Truth, A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia, edited and translated by Fred C. Conybeare, 1898, gives the remarkable history of the Paulicians from their own writings. The Key of Truth describes the beliefs and practices of the Paulicians, also known as Pauliani, from about A.D. 600-1200. (A photocopy of this intriguing book is available from Giving & Sharing.)
The 37 points of Paulician belief are very interesting. They claimed to be the true, apostolic Church. They taught that the Church consists of all baptized persons who preserve the apostolical traditions handed down by Christ. Repentance, Baptism, and the Body and Blood of Christ are necessary for salvation. All true baptism must be preceded by repentance and faith. Therefore, Paulicians held, infant baptism is invalid, and the Latin, Greek and Armenian Catholic Churches who had accepted infant baptism thereby lost their Christianity and became a Satanic mimicry of the true faith. If any of them, even their patriarchs, would rejoin the true Church, they must be baptized. The candidate for baptism must be of mature age, as was Jesus of Nazareth, and personally request baptism.
Paulicians were against the Trinity belief, which they knew is unscriptural. Mary was not a perpetual virgin, and she cannot intercede for us, for Christ is our only intercessor. The idea of Purgatory is false and vain, for there is one last judgment for all, for which the quick and the dead (including saints) wait. Images, pictures of Christ, crosses, incense, candles, etc., were condemned as idolatrous and unnecessary, alien to the teaching of Christ.
Contrary to their false accusers, the Paulicians were not dualists who derived their doctrines from the teaching of the Manicheans. Satan is simply the adversary of man and God. Likewise, Paulicians did not reject the Old Testament. They held that the Ten Commandments ought to be obeyed. At least one group of Paulicians, known as Pauliani, kept a Quartodeciman Passover, that is, an annual Passover on the 14th day of the first Hebrew month. Conybeare also says that there is indication they also kept the seventh-day Sabbath. Contrary to false reports, Paulicians did not reject the Epistles of Peter. They held that the Church does not rest on Peter alone, but on all the apostles.
For the Paulicians, there was but a single grade of ecclesiastical authority, the individual elect believer, who had the authority to bind and loose. Paulicians were very much against monks, who were often their worst persecutors. They believed that the scriptures and a knowledge of divine truth are not to remain the exclusive possession of orthodox priests. Early Paulician leaders were called merely “companions in travel,” (Acts 19:29).
Paulicians to Bogomils to Albigenses (Waldenses)
Mid-seventh Century Paulician leader Constantine of Manali, was stoned to death, and his successor, Simeon Titus, was burned alive. Persecution and forced deportation led many Paulicians to Bulgaria and Macedonia, from whence sprang Bogomils (equivalent to the Greek Theophilus, “lover of God”) in the early 10th Century. From 1150 onward, Bogomilism spread westward into Serbia, Bosnia, and even Italy and France. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica article “Bogomils” says, “The Cathar or Albigensian movement was, in all probability, not simply an offshoot of Bogomilism but rather a revival of earlier heterodox trends in western Europe, to which Bogomilism gave a more coherent and systematic form. However, from the middle of the 12th Century Bogomilism certainly exerted a direct and paramount influence upon the doctrines and the ritual of the Cathars [puritans], and by the early 13th century the [so-called] dualistic communities of southern Europe formed a single network [emphasis mine], stretching from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.”
As we have seen, even today false reports continue to circulate that the Paulicians, Bogomils and Albigenses or Waldenses were dualistic in their belief. Historians Allix and Conybeare go to great lengths to refute this misconception. A dualist believes that the visible, material world was created by the devil, so we should have as little contact with the world as possible. Also, the dualist believes that the good God is the creator of the world to come. The truth is, that the Bible says that Satan is the “god of this world,” II Corinthians 4:4 (see also Ephesians 2:2). False doctrines and a false gospel have taken over the vast majority of professing “Christian” churches, Galatians 1:4-9, making them children of the devil. The whole world is in wickedness. This is what Paulicians, Bogomils and Waldenses taught. They also advocated living a clean life separate from the filth of the flesh. They had to live somewhat isolated, because they were persecuted so much by the state church. Is it any wonder that Catholics, who claimed that the whole world was “Christian” under their own sway, made false accusations that these “heretics” were dualists?
Waldensian doctrine was distinguished from some of the extremely ascetic beliefs of Cathars. According to the Catholic inquisitor Sacconi in about A.D. 1250, Waldenses held that the gospel forbids taking of oaths, that capital punishment is not allowed to the civil power, that any layman may officiate at the Lord’s Supper, and that the Roman Church is not the Church of Jesus Christ, but the scarlet woman of the Apocalypse, the Antichrist, whose precepts should not be obeyed, especially in appointing fast days.
A 12th Century Waldensian manuscript, cited by Allix (pages 177-178), shows that the law of Jesus Christ was nothing but “a renewal and perfecting of the old [Testament] Law; that the Law only forbade fornication and adultery, but that the Gospel forbids even wanton looks; that the Law gave way to divorce, whereas the Gospel forbids the marrying of one that is divorced, and forbids divorce itself . . . .” Here is a description of the character of the Waldenses: “If a man who loves those that desire to love God and Jesus Christ; if he will neither curse, nor swear, nor lie, nor whore, nor kill, nor deceive his neighbour, nor avenge himself of his enemies, they presently say, ‘He is a Vaudes; he deserves to be punished!’: and by lies and forging, ways are found to take away from him what he has got by his lawful industry.”
In 1532 at Chanforans in the Angrogne Valley, the majority of the Waldensians formed an alliance with the Swiss and German “Reformers,” the Protestant followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin. They ceased to be an independent movement, and, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica says (article “Waldenses”), they “became absorbed in the general movement of Protestantism.” Previously, they had been disturbed by Luther’s teaching about freewill, i.e., justification by faith alone. Waldenses originally taught that we should perform good works through virtue imparted from God. Now they succumbed to Luther’s salvation by faith only. Early Waldenses had believed that predestination was a part of God's foreknowledge. Now they gave in to Calvin’s anti-Biblical predestination teaching that you are assigned to heaven or hell before your birth.
Steve Wohlberg visited the modern Waldenses in 1994, who number 30,000 members. He visited the “Church of the Cave,” where Waldensians hid during times of persecution. As Wohlberg quoted the prophecy in Revelation 12 about the woman who fled into the wilderness, he told his Waldensian guide that we believe that this applies to the Waldensians. His guide had never heard this prophecy. When he asked her if Waldensians still apply the Scriptures of Daniel and Revelation to Rome, she replied, “No.” When Wohlberg asked if they still look forward to the second coming of Jesus, she replied, “Our people live for today” (The Inside Report, June 1994, page 3).
Only a handful of Waldenses refused to form solidarity with the Protestants. As the Britannica article notes, “Scattered bodies of Waldenses in Germany influenced, and afterwards joined, the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren.” The Waldenses of Northern Italy continue to exist as a Protestant denomination, whose beliefs are a far cry from the Early Church.
In modern times, there is a most disturbing parallel to the doctrinal tragedy of Chanforans. There is a wholesale movement in Sabbath-keeping groups towards doctrinal liberalization and joining the Protestant movement. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the Worldwide Church of God. Beginning in 1974, the WCG has changed many of its doctrines, such as divorce and remarriage, Pentecost, tithing, healing, etc.
With the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, doctrinal change has accelerated under the leadership of Joseph W. Tkach. The February, 1991 Sabbath Sentinel, published by the non-denominational Bible Sabbath Association, records public statements by Michael Snyder, WCG assistant director of public affairs, on a December 13, 1990, Christian radio station program. Snyder affirmed that the Worldwide Church of God now believes that we are saved by grace through faith alone. He stated, “Salvation cannot be worked out . . .”, that Sabbath- keeping is not a test commandment, and that Sunday observance is not a mark of the beast. In an equivocal statement, Snyder said that the Trinity is not a divinely revealed concept, but affirmed his belief that the Holy Spirit is a divinity.
A major foundation of Protestantism is Luther’s false belief that we are saved by grace through faith alone. In translating Romans 3:28, Luther added the word “only” (sola in Latin, or alein in German). Because the Epistle of James destroys Luther’s “faith alone” heresy, Luther called it “an epistle of straw.” However, the Eternal is going to severely judge those who add to, or take away from, His precious Word, Revelation 22:18-19, Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32. Repentance, faith, and obedience must all work in conjunction. James 2:24 and surrounding verses show that faith alone is insufficient. It is not a coincidence that in both instances where Paul speaks of justification and salvation by faith, Paul does not say “by faith alone,” or “by faith only.” Paul always ties faith with the law, Romans 3:31, Ephesians 2:8-10. It is not faith OR works, but faith AND works. The Worldwide Church of God has aligned itself with Protestantism by accepting the basic false tenet of Lutheran dogma.
The truth is, we are justified, made right with God, not by keeping the law, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Once justified, we are sanctified, and walk with God, by the kind of faith that produces works of righteousness. My Bible, contrary to statements by the Worldwide Church, says that believers should “work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” Philippians 2:12-13.
As a final step in the renunciation of the faith of their fathers, Waldensians muted their renunciation of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of terming Rome the “mother of harlots” and the “anti-Christ,” Waldensians became Protestants, who cannot openly condemn the Church of Rome, because she had become, by this time, their mother!
Likewise, this has happened to the Worldwide Church of God, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. They preach smooth things instead of calling a spade a spade. They even ridicule anti-Catholic books such as Hislop’s Two Babylons. Mr. Snyder, official spokesman for the WCG, said, “We don’t presently attempt to trace any complete linear path [of the Worldwide Church] back to the first century.” In other words, they are no longer interested in the history of the true Church. The WCG is not even interested in its own recent history, as it has buried old literature and teachings of the past. If they were to look into Waldensian history, they would see that its early periods were marked by a zeal that is unmatched in modern times. And if they would look into late Waldensian history, they would see the handwriting on the wall pointing to themselves.
History repeats itself. Now, it’s Chanforans, all over again. Yet, by the Eternal’s mercy, a faithful remnant remains. Ω