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

Breaking News: America was discovered by the Vikings!!

Here come the Vikings!

Ah, but is it church history? It is according to Leigh Churchill, who in his 2004 volume, ‘The Age of Knights & Friars, Popes & Reformers’ (Authentic, UK) notes that it was Christian leaders from Scandinavian countries who were the first Europeans to ‘discover’ North America.

Leaders of Denmark, Norway and Sweden had all embraced the Christian faith by the 11th Century. The government of Iceland declared Christianity to be the national religion in 1000AD. Greenland received missionaries in the same year and, while the message was resisted by its founders, the second generation of Viking settlers in Greenland embraced the Christian faith.

As the drive to colonise new islands continued, it was one of these Vikings who led the exploration of what is now Newfoundland, Canada.

Our hero’s name? ‘Leif the Lucky!’ (that’s true!). To those familiar with the story he will, of course, be remembered as the son of ‘Erik the Red’ (also true)!

He called the newly found ‘island’, ‘Vinland’, or Wineland, because of the profusion of vines there. The first group of settlers built houses and spent a winter there. Other groups from Greenland followed.

‘Many small pioneering parties made temporary settlements in Vinland – most in fact used Leif’s vacant houses – but they invariably returned to Greenland within a few years of their arrival. The days of Viking exploration were at an end, and this last outpost was just too far from the rest of the Norse world to really blossom.

Within twenty years the Norsemen left Vinland for the last time; none of them had any idea of the significance of the colony that never quite happened…It was to be five hundred years before Europeans again set foot upon its shores, but it is fascinating to reflect that Christianity was first brought to the New World by these ancient Viking seafarers, themselves the first generation of converts among their people.’ (Churchill, p. 3)

For those of us not familiar with early American Christian history, this ‘breaking news’ may come as a surprise. Our earliest picture of Christianity coming to North America tends to have been one in which a thoroughly decent, modest English puritan held the Bible in one hand and tentatively raised his other hand half way up to heaven, pointing men to God. However, we may need to revise that picture and replace our puritan friend with a hairy, war-like bearded Viking booming out both the wrath and mercy of God!

© 2008 Lex Loizides