Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)

Chapter 10: Waldensean Period (Continued)

A.D. 1110. Petrobrusians. About the year 1110, in the South of France, in the provinces of Languedoc and Provence, Peter de Bruys appeared, preaching the gospel with great power, and inveighing against the ritualistic forms of worship as practiced by Catholics. Great numbers were said to have been converted to his doctrines, which he continued to preach for twenty years, when he was burned at Giles, a city of Languedoc, in France, in the year 1130. Mosheim says this was done by an enraged populace, who were instigated by the Romish clergy, whose traffic was in danger from the enterprising spirit of this reformer. Nothing so stirs up the Romish clergy as opposition to their masses. If ”mass is the creative principle of popery,” ignorance and superstition is best calculated to nourish it.

Mosheim gives the following five tenets as a part of the system of doctrine as held by Peter de Bruys.

First. That no persons were to be baptized before they had the full use of their reason.

Second. That it was an idle superstition to build churches for the service of God, who will accept a sincere worship wherever it is offered; and that therefore such churches as had already been erected were to be destroyed.

Third. That the crucifixes as instruments of superstition deserved the same fate.

Fourth. That the real body and blood of Christ were not exhibited in the eucharist, but were merely represented in that holy ordinance by figures and symbols.

Fifth. And lastly, that the oblations, prayers and good works of the living, could in no respect be advantageous to the dead.

It is not likely that Peter de Bruys opposed the use of building for the worship of God, but merely the building of fine churches, and enriching them with costly furniture and paintings, which custom had been introduced by Constantine the Great, when he blended Christianity with pagan worship. Mr. Orchard speaks of Peter de Bruys as having united with the Albigenses, and becoming one of their chief ministers, and of his people as rebaptizing such as came to them from the Catholics. So instead of starting a new sect, this reformer allied himself with the Anabaptists. Great numbers were said to have held to the faith of Peter de Bruys, and they were known as Petrobrusians. The place where de Bruys commenced his ministry is now known as Dauphine. He afterwards extended his labors into other provinces and kingdoms, besides those of Languedoc and Provence, where he commenced his labors.


A.D. 1135. Within five years after the martyrdom of Peter de Bruys, Henry of Lausanne, a city in Switzerland, appeared as a reformer. He had been a monk and a hermit, but when the light of divine truth broke upon his mind, he quit the monastery and hermitage and entered the ministry. He met with a success similar to that which attended the ministry of de Bruys. He declaimed with great fervor against the vices of the Romish clergy, and the superstitions of that church. The effect of his ministry is better seen by quoting from Bernard, a Catholic, who, writing to the Count of St. Giles, says: “How great are the evils which we have hoard and known to be done by Henry, the heretic, and what he is still every day doing in the churches of God! He wanders up and down in your country in sheep-clothing, being a ravenous wolf, but according to the hint given by our Lord, we know him by his fruits. The churches are without people—the people without priests—priests without reverence —and lastly, Christians without Christ. The life of Christ is denied to infants, by refusing them the grace of baptism, nor are they suffered to draw near unto salvation, though our Saviour tenderly cried out on their behalf.”

There is no doubt that Henry held to the same views of doctrine which characterized the Albigenses. The same writer, Bernard, states that the Albigenses were called Henricians from their leader. Of his doctrinal sentiments, however, but little is known. “All we know is that he rejected infant baptism; censured with severity the corrupt and licentious manners of the clergy; treated the festivals and ceremonies of the Catholic church with the utmost contempt, and held private assemblies, in which he explained and inculcated his peculiar sentiments.”

Benedict, in his History of the Baptists, p. 65, says: “Bishop Bossuet, the great Catholic controversialist, complaining of Calvin’s party for claiming apostolical succession through the Waldenses, observes: ‘You adopt Henry and Peter Bruys among your predecessors, but both of them, everybody knows, were Anabaptists.'”

The Catholic clergy were so incensed against Henry on account of his doctrinal views, and because he inveighed against their corrupt and licentious practices, that they “seized and carried him before Pope Eugenius III., who assembled a council at Rheims, in which he presided in person, and having received a number of accusations against Henry, committed him, in the year 1158, [A.D. 1158.] to a close prison in which he soon ended his days.”


This chapter would be incomplete were I to make no mention of Arnold of Brescia, and of those who held to his views, though there is little to say of them for but little is known. That little, however, shines with the lustre of the true faith, and their name, because of the intrepid courage of their leader and because as far as is known, his followers held to no heretical views, should be preserved in the annals of our history.

A.D. 1137. About the year 1137, a reformer, who was endowed with more than ordinary talent and learning, and who proved a powerful opponent to the Romish clergy, appeared in Italy. This was Arnold of Brescia. He inveighed in the strongest terms against the union of church and State, and against clerical orders, declaring that a shepherd should confine himself to the spiritual needs of his flock. His bold advocacy of religious liberty alarmed the Catholic party, and in a council (1139) he was condemned to perpetual silence. But it was not in the power of councils to close his mouth simply by issuing decrees. He went at once to the canton of Zurich, in Switzerland, and commenced his efforts for reformation. Driven from this place he went to the seat of the Vatican and raised the standard of reformation in the imperial city. He impressed upon the people the necessity of setting bounds to clerical authority, and sought by his eloquence and logic to divorce church and State. He was so successful in this that the people were aroused, and being unaccustomed to such freedom of speech, they were excited to that degree that they abused the Romish clergy, destroyed their property and “required all ecclesiastics to swear to the new constitution.”

There is no intimation that Arnold encouraged his followers to go this far, but when people long oppressed by an iron rule are aroused, they are not easily restrained, and are apt to go to extremes. Enthusiasm arose to such a pitch that the pope found it necessary to withdraw from Rome. “Arnold maintained his station above ten years, while two popes trembled in the Vatican, or wandered as exiles in the adjacent cities.” The Romish hierarchy, however, soon rallied. The pope regained his power. This intrepid champion of religious liberty was crucified, his body burned to ashes, and the ashes thrown into the river Tiber.

Arnold had been condemned by the Lateran council in 1139, for rejecting infant baptism. He condemned the use of sacraments as held by the Catholics, and denied that baptism had any saving efficacy. He also opposed the union of church and State, or church establishments, and taught that “nothing should be left to the ministers of the gospel but a spiritual authority and a subsistence drawn from tithes, and from the voluntary oblations and contributions of the people.”

Those who embraced Arnold’s doctrinal views were called Arnoldists. As far as we have been able to learn, their doctrines were in accord with those held by Baptists.

Lyonists, or The Poor of Lyons.

In the year 1160, there lived in the city of Lyons, France, a rich merchant by the name of Peter Waldo. This man employed a priest to translate the four gospels, with other books of the Bible, from the Latin into the French language. He had no sooner read these sacred books with proper care and attention, than he perceived that the religion which was taught in the Romish church differed wholly from that taught by Christ and the apostles. Shocked at the glaring contra- diction between the teachings of the Bible and the practices of the Romish church, this man abandoned his mercantile pursuits, distributed his wealth among the poor, entered at once upon the duties of a teacher, and commenced to instruct the multitudes in the simpler principles of Christianity.

The archbishop of Lyons, and other dignitaries of the Catholic party, at once commenced a vigorous opposition to the views of this new leader, but without avail. The simplicity of the doctrines which this man taught, together with the spotless purity of the lives of his followers, with their noble contempt for riches and honors, commended Waldo and his followers to the confidence of the people, and soon churches were established, first at Lyons, and afterwards in other parts of France, and in Lombardy, whence they propagated their faith in other provinces of Europe.

We have already seen that a church, of which Irenaeus was pastor in the year 200, existed here years before this. But this primitive church had long since become extinct, and its doctrines perverted until even the form of religion was lost in the gilded show of a semi-pagan Christianity.

Moaheim states that the Waldenses derived their name from Peter Waldo, but Waldo’s followers were not known by the name of Waldenses in the town where his work begun, but were called the “Poor of Lyons.” Sometimes they were denominated Lionists. “Reiner Sacco speaks of the Lionists as a sect that had flourished above five hundred years (back to 750), while he mentions authors of note among them who make their antiquity remount to the apostolic age.” Dr. McLaine, in Mosheim’s history, says: “We may affirm with the learned Beza, that these people (the Waldenses) derived their name from the valleys they inhabited; and hence Peter of Lyons was called in the Latin Valdus, because he adopted their doctrine.” Mr. Orchard says there were Waldenses five hundred years before Peter Waldo. Jones’ Church History, p. 257, says, “It is also proved from their books, that they existed as Waldenses before the time of Peter Waldo.”

“When those severe measures emanated from the Emperor Honorius against rebaptizers (A.D. 413), the Baptists left the seats of opulence and power, and sought retreats in the country, and in the valleys of Piedmont—which last place in particular became their retreat from imperial oppression. ” They were from this time called Valdenses, or Waldenses.

It is a well known fact, and it has been fully established in the preceding pages that the Albigenses rebaptized all who came to their communion from the Catholics, and Mr. Orchard says: “The Albigenses,” whose religious views had been a considerable time established, “gave their entire support to Waldo, so soon as he appeared in public.”

Waldo’s religious sentiments spread so rapidly that Pope Alexander III heard of it, and not only anathematized the reformer and his followers, but ordered the archbishop to proceed against them with the utmost vigor. The result was that Waldo himself was concealed by his friends in the city of Lyons for three whole years. He then retired to Dauphiny, “where he preached with abundant success, and great numbers of disciples were made to his faith who were denominated Lionists, Vaudois, Albigenses, or Waldenses; for the very same class of Christians is designated by these various appellations at different times, and according to the different countries or quarters of the same country in which they appeared.”
Persecuted at Dauphiny, Waldo retired into Picardy and from thence he was driven to Germany, where he preached successfully. He finally settled in Bohemia. Numbers of his disciples fled from persecutions to the valleys of Piedmont, taking with them an open Bible. Severe persecutions followed, but “the blood of the martyrs” is again “the seed of the church,” and the scattered disciples carried the word of God everywhere. Churches were planted in Bulgaria, Croatia, Dalmatia and Hungary (see Jones’ Ch. Hist., p. 261), which flourished throughout the thirteenth century. In Bohemia, and the country of Passau, it has been computed that there were not less than eighty thousand of these Christians in the year [A.D. 1315.] 1315. In short, says the historian, Jones, “we shall find in the sequel, that they spread themselves throughout almost every country in Europe; but they were everywhere treated as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things.”

It has been distinctly stated of the Petrobrusians and “Poor of Lyons” or Leonists, the disciples of Peter Waldo, that they allied themselves with the Albigenses. While we have no account of the regular baptism, either of Peter de Bruys, or Peter of Lyons (Waldo), yet the very fact of their union with the Anabaptists is sufficient evidence on this point. The Waldenses, Albigenses, Paterines, Paulicians, Donatists and Montanists were all known as Anabaptists, from the fact that they rebaptized all who came over to them from the Catholics. They denied the appellation Ana-baptists, however, for they did not recognize Catholic immersion as baptism in any sense. From the days of Constantine the Great, all Christians who held the faith of the Albigenses, or Waldenses, administered baptism to all who came to them from the Catholics.

A.D. 1175. In the year 1175, the Lyonists were included with the Albigenses in a decree issued by the pope for their suppression. I quote from Orchard’s Bap. Hist., p. 199, “To suppress the heresy that was strengthened by Waldo’s ministry, the pope sent a cardinal and three bishops, in 1176, as commissioned inquisitors against the believers—Lyonists, Paterines, Good Men, etc., with a creed requiring all persons suspected of heresy, to subscribe to its contents. One of its articles ran thus: ‘We believe that none are saved, except they are baptized; and that children are saved by baptism, and that baptism is to be performed by a priest in the church.’ Many Albigenses refusing the terms were burnt in different cities in the South of France. The commissioners on examining those people found them to deny the utility of infant baptism.”

Quite a number of popes were designated by the name Innocent, and each one, it appears, tried to exceed his predecessor in acts of cruelty, and Innocent VIII was no exception. This man was promoted to the Tiara in 1484, and at once commenced to issue his bulls for the suppression of the Waldenses. “We have heard,” said the pope, “and it has come to our knowledge, not without much displeasure, that certain sons of iniquity, followers of that abominable and pernicious sect of malignant men called ‘the Poor of Lyons,’ or ‘Waldenses’, who have so long ago endeavored, in Piedmont and other places, to ensnare the sheep belonging to God, to the perdition of their souls, having damnably risen up, under a feigned pretense of holiness—being given up to a reprobate sense and made to err greatly from the way of truth—committing things contrary to the orthodox faith, offensive to the eyes of Divine Majesty, and which occasion a great hazard of souls, etc.” The pope then threatened to ”tread them under foot as venomous vipers,” and proceeded at once to carry out his threat of extirpation. “An army was soon raised by Albert, the pope’s legate, and marched directly into the valley of Loyse. The inhabitants apprised of their approach fled to their caves at the tops of the mountains, carrying with them their children, and.whatever valuables they possessed, as well as what they thought necessary for their support. The lieutenant finding the inhabitants all fled, and that not an individual appeared with whom he could converse, had considerable trouble in finding their retreats, when causing quantities of wood to be placed at the entrance of their caves, he ordered the same to be set on fire. The consequence of this inhuman conduct was, four hundred children were suffocated in their cradles, or in the arms of their dead mothers, while multitudes to avoid death by suffocation, or being committed to the flames, precipitated themselves headlong from their caverns upon the rocks below, where they were dashed to pieces; if any escaped death by the fall, they were immediately slaughtered by the soldiers. It appears more than three thousand men and women belonging to the valley of Loyse, perished on this occasion. Measures equally ferocious were adopted against the inoffensive inhabitants of other valleys, and with a like cruel success. So effectual were the papal measures that the inhabitants were wholly extirpated in the above named valleys, and these abodes were afterwards peopled with new inhabitants.”

A.D. 1484. Mr. Jones, quoting from Perrin’s History, corroborates the above testimony, and says that “not one family of Waldenses subsequently resided in the valley, which proves that all the inhabitants of both sexes died at that time.”

There can now be no doubt that the Albigenses, the Poor of Lyons and the Waldenses were one and the same people. From this time on to the end of the Waldensean period, in 1686, we find these Christians most generally known by the terms Waldenses or Anabaptists. At the close of the Waldensean period the prefix ana begun to be dropped, except when applied in a sense of derision, and they were afterwards simply called Baptists.

Author of the “Compendium Of Baptist History”. Please inform the Editor of the AHB (via the Contact page) if you have biographical information on this author. Thank you.

Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)