History tells us that in the dark ages, the Waldenses spread themselves all over Europe, but were everywhere treated as “the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things.” Each succeeding generation seemed to increase in hatred towards these unfortunate people, and gave vent to its pent up fury with increased energy.
Mr. Jones says, “During the dark ages which succeeded the invasion of Europe by the barbarous nations, when feudal anarchy distracted the civil governments and a flood of superstition had deluged the church, Christianity, banished from the seats of empire, and loathing the monkish abodes of indolence and vice, meekly retired into the sequestered valleys of Piedmont. Finding there a race of men unarrayed in hostile armor, uncontaminated by the doctrines and commandments of an apostate church, unambitious in their temper, and simple in their manners, she preferred their society, and among them took up her abode.”
The civil authorities in the Koman empire had long since become subject to the dictates of the Romish hierarchy, and when a ruler was not in entire accord with the will of the pope, he was promptly deposed, and another who was willing to carry out the pope’s wishes was enthroned. Multitudes of “Waldenses fled from the hand of persecution like defenseless sheep before the devouring wolves.” They crossed the Alps and traveled in every direction, as Providence and the prospect of safety conducted them, into Germany, England, France, Italy, and other countries. There they trimmed their lamps and shone with new lustre.” The storm which threatened their destruction only scattered them, and everywhere they went, their principles took deep root, and their numbers multiplied.
A.D. 1194. The following decree was issued in the year 1194, by Idlefonsus, who declared himself, ”King of Arragon, by the grace of God”: “Forasmuch as it has pleased God to set us over his people, it is but fit and just, that according to our might we should be continually solicitous for the welfare and defense of the same; wherefore we, in imitation of our ancestors, and in obedience to the canons which determine and ordain heretics, as persons cast out from the sight of God and all Catholics, to be condemned and perecuted everywhere, do command and charge that the Waldenses, Inzabati, who otherwise are called the Poor of Lyons,’ and all other heretics who cannot be numbered, being excommunicated from the holy church, adversaries to the cross of Christ, violators and corrupters of the Christian religion, and the avowed enemies of us and our kingdom and all our dominions. Whosoever, therefore, from this day forward, shall presume to receive the said Waldenses, and Inzabati, or any other heretics of whatsoever profession, into their house, or to be present at their pernicious sermons, or to afford them meat or any other favor, shall thereby incur the indignation of Almighty God, as well as ours, and have his goods confiscated, without the remedy of appeal, and be punished as if he were actually guilty of high treason. And we strictly charge and command, that this our edict and perpetual constitution be publicly read on the Lord’s days by the bishops and other rectors of churches, in all the cities, castles, and towns of our kingdom, and throughout all our dominions: and that the same be observed by vicars, bailiffs, justices, etc., and all the people in general; and that the aforesaid punishment be inflicted on all transgressors.
“We further will, that if any person, noble or ignoble, shall in any part of our dominions find any of these wicked wretches, who shall be known to have had three days’ notice of this our edict, and that do not forthwith depart, but rather are obstinately found staying or lingering; let such know that if they shall anyway plague, despitefully use or distress them, wounding them unto death and maiming of them only excepted, he will in so doing perform nothing but what will be very grateful and pleasing to us, and shall be so far from fearing to incur any penalty thereby, that he may be sure rather to deserve our favor. Furthermore we give these wicked miscreants respite, though that may seem somewhat contrary to reason and our duty, till the day after All Saint’s day; but that all those who either shall not be gone by that time, or at least preparing for their departure, shall be spoiled, beaten, cudgelled, and shamefully ill-treated.”
A.D. 1224. These edicts not being sufficient to exterminate the Waldenses, the pope issued one edict after another declaring that “We shall not suffer these wretches to live.” These measures, though severe and continuing for years, failed to have the desired effect in ridding the country of the Waldenses, and the pope found it necessary to appoint a standing tribunal, if possible, in every country where they were known to exist. The inquisitors were armed with every imaginable power to punish all persons who dared to think differently to the pope and his successors.
A.D. 1260. Hunted like vile criminals, but unwilling to give up their principles, which were dearer to them than life itself, these persecuted and down trodden Waldenses finally found a home in Calabria, where they continued until the reformation of the sixteenth century when they were put to death. Mr. Orchard, p. 159, says, “The straightened circumstances of the Vaudois (Waldenses) in Pragella, suggested the propriety of seeking a new territory; this they obtained on their own terms of liberty in Calabria, a district in the north-east of Italy. This new settlement prospered, and their religious peculiarities awakened displeasure in the old inhabitants; but the land-lords, well pleased with their industry, afforded them protection. This colony received fresh accessions from time to time of those who fled from persecutions raised against them in Piedmont, and continued to flourish when the Reformation downed on Italy when they were barbarously murdered.”
Mr. Orchard further says: “These plain facts allow us to conclude that Italy must have, in parts, enjoyed the lamp of truth from apostolic days. That the Cathari, or Puritan churches, continued for ages is acknowledged of the views of which we have spoken. Such churches were strengthened by the Baptists of Bulgaria, whose sameness of views admitted their incorporation. (1) When these congregations became too large to assemble in one place, they parted and held separate assemblies, in perfect unity with each other. (2) They owned the Scriptures as a rule of conduct, and administered the ordinance of baptism to (3) believers by one (4) immersion. (5) They maintained church discipline even on their ministers, as examples are recorded. (6) They were always found on the side of religious liberty, and considered the oppressing clergy the locusts which darkened and tormented the world,”.
Were these Waldenses Baptists? It will be seen from the last quotation that they possessed the following characteristics which have distinguished the Baptists in all ages:
First. These churches were independent congregations.
Second. They owned the Scriptures as their rule of conduct.
Third. They administered baptism to believers only.
Fourth. They administered baptism by one immersion. NOTE.—This one immersion is to distinguish from the three immersions, as practiced by the Catholic church at that time.
Fifth. Their ministers were amenable to the discipline of the local churches.
Sixth. They were the advocates of religious liberty.
That these were Baptist churches there can be no doubt.
“Whenever an occasion has arisen for its necessity, the Baptists have always published to the world, an abstract of their faith drawn from the teachings of the Scriptures. These articles have not always expressed the whole of their faith, but just so much as the necessities of the case demanded, and sufficient to cover any disputed doctrines, which the occasion might require. In the year 1120, the Waldenses put forth the following Confession of Faith, which was published by their historian, John Paul Perrin. I quote from Jones’ Church History, p. 276:
”CONFESSION OF FAITH OF THE WALDENSES.
”1. We believe and firmly maintain all that is contained in the twelve articles of the symbol, commonly called the apostle’s creed, and we regard as heretical whatever is inconsistent with the said twelve articles.
“2. We believe that there is one God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“3. We acknowledge for sacred canonical Scriptures the books of the Holy Bible. (Here follows the title of each, exactly conformable to our received canon, but which it is deemed on that account, quite unnecessary to particularize.)
“4. The books above mentioned teach us— That there is ONE GOD, almighty, unbounded in wisdom, and infinite in goodness, and who, in his goodness, has made all things. For he created Adam after his own image and likeness. But through the enmity of the devil, and his own disobedience, Adam fell, sin entered into the world, and we became transgressors in and by Adam.
“5. That Christ had been promised to the fathers who received the law, to the end that, knowing their sin by the law, and their unrighteousness and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ to make satisfaction for their sins, and to accomplish the law by himself.
“6. That at the time appointed of the Father, Christ was born—a time when iniquity everywhere abounded, to make it manifest that it was not for the sake of any good in ourselves, for all were sinners, but that He, who is true, might display his grace and mercy towards us.
“7. That Christ is our life, and truth, and peace, and righteousness—our shepherd and advocate, our sacrifice, and priest, who died for the salvation of all who should believe, and rose again for their justification.
“8. And we also firmly believe, that there is no other mediator, or advocate with God, the Father, but Jesus Christ. And as to the Virgin Mary, she was holy, humble, and full of grace; and this we also believe concerning all other saints, namely, that they are waiting in heaven for the resurrection of their bodies at the day of judgment.
“9. We also believe, that, after this life, there are but two places—one for those that are saved, the other for the damned, which (two) we call paradise and hell, wholly denying that imaginary purgatory of Anti-christ, invented in opposition to the truth.
“10. Moreover, we have ever regarded all the inventions of men (in the affairs of religion) as an unspeakable abomination before God; such as the festival days and vigil of saints, and what is called holy-water, the abstaining from flesh on certain days, and such like things, but above all, the masses.
“11. We hold in abhorrence all human inventions, as proceeding from Anti-christ, which produce distress and are prejudicial to the liberty of the mind.
“12. We consider the sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary that believers use these symbols or visible forms when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without those signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity of observing them.
“13. We acknowledge no sacraments (as of divine appointment) but baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
“14. We honor the secular powers with subjection, obedience, promptitude and payment.”