Radical Forerunners to the Reformation: The Waldensians

The Persecuted Waldensians


Unrest and a desire for change

Increasing unrest and desire for both political and spiritual liberty grew throughout the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, and the prayers of God’s children were finally and astonishingly answered in what has come to be called the Protestant Reformation.

J.H.Merle d’Aubigne in his moving and powerful work on the Reformation in England, in a chapter entitled ‘Christ Mightier than Druid Altars and Roman Swords’, writes:

‘Those heavenly powers which had lain dormant in the church since the first ages of Christianity, awoke from their slumber in the sixteenth century, and this awakening called the modern times into existence.’
(J.H. Merle d’Aubigne – The Reformation in England (Banner of Truth) Vol. 1 p.23)

The Waldensians (12th Century on)

About 1170 Peter Waldo (or, Valdes) employed a priest to translate the gospels into French.  As he and many others read the Scriptures they were converted and a great evangelising force was raised up by God.  They taught about the Christ of the Bible and planted many churches, quickly spreading from France to Italy and Germany.

The Waldensian church planters believed they were genuine apostles, and renounced lavish living for a life of devotion to Christ, evangelism and church planting. They rejected Roman Catholic superstitions. Essentially they became a mediaeval apostolic church planting movement!

At first the Roman church tolerated them but as their numbers and influence grew they were first pressurised to not read and teach the Bible privately, then savagely persecuted and executed.

In 1229, at the Council of Valencia, the Bible was forbidden to be read by any except priests and then only in Latin.  The notorious Inquisition began hunting the Waldensians down from the 1230’s onwards. Some of the Inquisitors report that illiterate poor Waldenses were able to recite large parts of the New Testament accurately from memory. They were a Bible people. (see Churchill, The Age of Knights, Authentic p.240)

The Waldensians were in deep trouble right up until the Reformation.  And even as late as the 17th century a cruel persecution overtook them in Western Piedmont in the Southern Alps.  It was only through the courageous and vigorous intervention of Oliver Cromwell and his threat of naval and military action that brought the persecution to a close. Cromwell also championed fund raising on their behalf, personally donating £2000 for their support.  (See S.M. Houghton – Sketches from Church History (Banner of Truth) p.64)

The dominant religious and political organisation of the day was seeking to suppress the Christian faith. Yet when ordinary people discovered the truth of the Bible in their own language lives were changed and churches were planted. The word of God is powerful and can have true and redemptive impact even in the most difficult situations.

You can purchase ‘The Reformation in England’ here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

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One thought on “Radical Forerunners to the Reformation: The Waldensians

  1. Alex Dobbs March 16, 2013 / 10:01 pm

    It is cool to see that activities similar to the reformation occured as early as the 12th century…It was just during the reformation period in the late 15th and 16th centuries that because of the printing press, Luther’s pamphlets spread like wild fire across the world and honorable protest broke out against heretical doctrines and traditions. This story of the Waldensians reminds me that their are countless stories of true martyrs around the world that die for the faith in every generation. Even throughout history there are time periods when certain group of people are led astray by false teachers, it seems to me that there are a small number of true Christians who are filled with the Spirit of God and rise to defend the gospel. I believe there are a multitudes of Christians like this today (and in every generation) who endure severe persecution and execution for standing up for the Gospel and for what is right, but whose stories go unheard. Personally, this story is encouraging and makes me want to ponder how I can more “radically” live out the gospel in complete dependance on God in such a way that would lead to others in my culture persecuting me.

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