Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Europe

The origins of the Waldensians

One thing that is clear is that there were Waldenses before Peter Waldo, thus it cannot be said that he founded the Waldensian movement, or church. Waldenses, Vaudois in French, means “people of the valleys,” referring to the valleys in the Alps which form the border between France and Italy.

Peter Waldo, Pierre de Vaux in French, means “Peter of the valleys”. Research into his background has not turned up any trace that he originated from Lyon. The city of Lyon is near to the Alps and it is possible that he originated from among the Christians in the alpine valleys, then left to seek his fortune in the big city.

He made his fortune, but it appears his heart was not at rest. He heard the call of God to repentance and forsook all he had gained. Beginning around 1170, he held meetings in his home where he distributed both natural and spiritual food to the poor, having had the Word of God translated into their language. Then he went to Rome to seek approval of the Pope to continue this work of evangelism. The Pope refused to authorize what he was doing and at this point Peter Waldo appears to have realized there was no future for evangelical Christianity in the Roman church.

From here on the details get  murky. He sought the believers in the alpine valleys, but did not remain there long. Perhaps he rekindled the missionary fervour of the Christians in those valleys. Subsequent history mentions appearances of Peter Waldo in other parts of Europe and of itinerant Waldensian missionaries everywhere. Despite living in an era of persecution, Peter Waldo travelled and preached among the common people without being betrayed.  He died a natural death in Bohemia in 1217.

Wonderful as the story of Peter Waldo may be, it does not tell how the Waldensian church began. The excerpt from the article on Antichrist that I posted Saturday dates from at least 50 years before Peter Waldo and reveals a church already well established.
The Antichrist writing dates from the time of Pierre de Bruys; it is possible that he was the writer. Pierre de Bruys was a former Roman Catholic priest who became a very effective evangelist after his conversion. He was active from 1117 to 1131, when he was burned at the stake. There is a section of this writing which gives the “reasons for our separation from Antichrist.”

Another possibility would be Henri, a former Benedictine monk, who preached the same doctrine as Pierre de Bruys from 1116 to 1134. Henri died in prison in 1148. Or the writer may have been someone unknown to history. We mostly know Pierre and Henri to us through the records of their persecutors.

The Antichrist writing says the spirit of iniquity had been active for centuries in the Roman church, but lacked power to suppress all its opponents. It wasn’t until the 11th century that the Roman Catholic church controlled the secular authorities and could use them to eliminate their opponents. Persecution became much more acute, culminating in the Albigensian crusade (1209 to 1229) and the Inquisition in France which began in 1233.

The history of persecution by the Roman Catholic church began long before the year 1,000; it just wasn’t as thorough. The Roman church saw heretics everywhere. Some of them may well have been groups with non-Biblical beliefs and practices. Many of them, though, were genuine evangelical Christians, teaching and living the peaceful doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is from these Christians, in ways lost to history, that the Waldensian church had its origins.

© Bob Goodnough,

Missionary hymns

I think the old missionary hymns leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. Those references to carrying the gospel to every dark land  – was there a deliberate inference that lands where white people dwell are more enlightened and the lands where darker skinned people dwell are in spiritual darkness? I fear that idea seemed self-evident to white people 100 to 200 years ago.

It’s not so evident today and I think we should stop singing those hymns. I don’t believe that we should stop missionary activity, but perhaps the greater need in our day is right under our noses. While Christianity has taken root on other continents, it is in danger of being uprooted in Europe and North America.

That leads me to the other concern I have with the old missionary hymns – many of them take it for granted that missionary activity can only happen in lands that are across the ocean waves.

Churches in Nigeria have taken note of the increase of unbelief, paganism and idolatry in Europe and North America and are sending out missionaries to do what we seem to have forgotten how to do. In our nearest city, Saskatoon, three Nigerian denominations have placed missionaries and are establishing congregations.

I wonder what kind of missionary hymns they sing in Nigeria?

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

Why isn’t this happening today?

A.D. 1199.— It is stated that at this time the Albigenses, who were one church with the Waldenses, had so increased in the earldom of Toulouse, that, as the papists complained, “almost a thousand cities were polluted with them.”

With this the lord of St. Aldegonde concurs, when he says: “That notwithstanding Peter de Bruis was burnt as a heretic at St. Gilles, near Nimes, the doctrine nevertheless was spread throughout the province of  Gascony, into the earldom of Fois, Querci, Agenois, Bourdeloicx, and almost throughout all Languedoc, and the earldom of Jugrane, now called Venice. In Provence also this doctrine was almost universally accepted, and the cities, Cahors, Narbonne, Carcasonne, Rhodes, Aix la Chapelle, Mesieres, Toulouse, Avignon, Mantauban, S. Antonin, Puflarens, and the country of Bigorre were filled with it, together with many other cities which were favourable to them, as Tarascon, Marseilles, Perces, Agenois, Marmande, and Bordeaux; whereby this doctrine spred still further, from the one side into Spain and England, from the other into Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Dalmatia, and even into Italy.

“Indeed, in such a manner did this doctrine spread that however sedulously the popes and all their minions exerted themselves, aided by the princes and secular magistrates, to exterminate them, first by disputations, then by banishment and papal excommunication and anathemas, proclaiming of crusades, indulgences and pardons to all who would commit violence upon them, and finally by all manner of tortures, fires, gallows, and cruel bloodshedding, yea, in such a manner that the whole world was in commotion on account of it; yet they (the papists) could not prevent the ashes from flying abroad, and becoming scattered far and wide, almost even to all the ends of the earth.”

The above seems marvellous, but it is not marvellous with regard to the Lord God, with whom nothing is wonderful or impossible. In the meantime, we see how God permitted this grain of mustard seed of the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, to grow up a large tree, and this in the midst of their persecutions. Oh, the great power, wisdom, and love of God, who never forsakes His people!

-The Martyrs Mirror, page 290

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