The Waldenses Yesterday and Today

July 1, 2015 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)

The following is excerpted from In the Footsteps of Bible Translators. This book follows in the exciting footsteps of Bible writers and translators across Great Britain and Europe. Please see the end of this report for more information about this book.
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In the Footsteps of Bible Translators
On the morning of March 30, 2003, we drove to the Piedmont area of northwest Italy where some of the Waldenses were located going back to at least the 11th century and probably much earlier and where they were bitterly persecuted by the Roman Catholics until the 18th century. The term “Waldenses” refers to “people of the valleys,” and there are four major valleys in the Cottian Alps that formed the historic home of these Waldensians: Val Germanasca, Val Chisone, Val Angrogna, and Val Pellice. To the north is Switzerland and to the west, France. We drove part way up two of these valleys. Even today there are not many roads and those that do exist do not go all the way up the valleys. In particular, we visited the following towns and villages: Torre Pellice, Villar Pellice, Luserna, Gianavella, Bobbio Pellice, Rora, Lorenzo, Chanforan, and Serra.

All of these valleys were scenes of terrible massacres during the 15th to 17th centuries. The cruelties perpetuated against the Bible believing Christians were vicious. The following brief account of a just few of these fearful acts is given by a Waldensian pastor:

“There is no town in Piedmont under a Vaudois pastor, where some of our brethren have not been put to death ... Hugo Chiamps of Finestrelle had his entrails torn from his living body, at Turin. Peter Geymarali of Bobbio, in like manner, had his entrails taken out at Lucerna, and a fierce cat thrust in their place to torture him further; Maria Romano was buried alive at Rocco-patia; Magdalen Foulano underwent the same fate at San Giovanni; Susan Michelini was bound hand and foot, and left to perish of cold and hunger at Saracena. Bartholomew Fache, gashed with sabres, had the wounds filled up with quicklime, and perished thus in agony at Fenile; Daniel Michelini had his tongue torn out at Bobbio for having praised God. James Baridari perished covered with sulphurous matches, which had been forced into his flesh under the nails, between the fingers, in the nostrils, in the lips, and over all his body, and then lighted. Daniel Revelli had his mouth filled with gunpowder, which, being lighted, blew his head to pieces. Maria Monnen, taken at Liousa, had the flesh cut from her cheek and chin bone, so that her jaw was left bare, and she was thus left to perish. Paul Garnier was slowly sliced to pieces at Rora. Thomas Margueti was mutilated in an indescribable manner at Miraboco, and Susan Jaquin cut in bits at La Torre. Sara Rostagnol was slit open from the legs to the bosom, and so left to perish on the road between Eyral and Lucerna. Anne Charbonnier was impaled and carried thus on a pike, as a standard, from San Giovanni to La Torre. Daniel Rambaud, at Paesano, had his nails torn off, then his fingers chopped off, then his feet and his hands, then his arms and his legs, with each successive refusal on his part to abjure the Gospel” (Muston’s history of the Waldenses).

For me it was very exciting to be in this part of Italy, because I have wanted to visit here ever since I first read of the Waldenses and began collecting histories about them for my library many years ago. Even though the current Waldensian churches are spiritually dead, for the most part, and have apostatized from the faith of their ancient fathers, it is still fascinating to stand in the same general location where such powerful events of church history occurred.

Though the weather was beautiful there was a lot of smog or haze of some sort in the air and we were unable to get good pictures of the surrounding mountains. The towns are beautifully situated, some in the foothills at the edge of the Italian Alps and some up in the mountains. At the Waldensian church in Torre Pellice a man let us in to see the interior, but he couldn’t speak English and we could not communicate with him in an effective manner. He did get across to us that the church is currently having a conference in affiliation with Operation Mobilization (which is evidence of OM’s great compromise). We could not get a good photo of the front of the church, because of a white curtain that was hanging down in front of the pulpit. The man would not allow us to remove it, because it had something to do with the ongoing conference.

Outside of the Waldensian church in Rora there is a list of the pastors going back to 1555, and one of them wrote a well-known history of the Waldenses. Henri Arnaud, who pastored the church from 1692-94, authored “Authentic Details of the Valdenses, in Piemont and Other Countries.”

ANGROGNA VALLEY

We spent the night at a bed and breakfast some miles away, and in the morning we drove back to the Waldensian valleys. The air was clearer and we could see the peaks to the north and west and could get a better feel for the beauty and ruggedness of the place. It was not difficult to imagine how the Waldenses could sometimes hold off large military forces by fortifying steep defiles and narrow passes.

The Angrogna valley is where hundreds of Waldensian mothers and children were smothered in a cave where they had fled in an attempt to escape their persecutors. It was in this valley, too, that the ancient Waldenses had a Bible school to train preachers and missionaries. It was called “Collegio dei Barba,” or the school of the Barbes. This was the name of the Waldensian pastors. It means “uncle” and refers to a position of authority and endearment. It has also been speculated that the name was used to hide the fact that they were church leaders. The restored stone building of the school still stands near Pra Del Torno. In the village of Odin is the Chanforan Monument built to commemorate the 1532 conference at which the Waldenses accepted the Protestant reformation. Also in the Angrogna valley is a cave where the Waldensians gathered for worship in times of persecution. Excellent models of the monument, cave, and school can be seen in the Waldensian museum in Valdese, North Carolina.

WALDENSIAN MUSEUMS

The first museum we visited was up the Angrogna valley in the little town of Serra, about 2,000 feet up into the mountains from Torre Pellice. The museum is situated in a small building that was once a school and is located across from the Waldensian temple. A man was working next to the church, cutting and splitting wood, and he told us (in Italian and sign language) to go to a house down the lane for the key. A woman gave us the key to the museum and also to the church, so we were able to go through them at our leisure and take all of the photos we wanted. The little museum contains artifacts pertaining to Waldensian women of about 150 years ago, such as wool spinning tools and traditional clothing and pictures of scenes of old methods of washing clothes, cooking, and farming.

Next we drove back down to Torre Pellice and went through the Waldensian museum there. It is closed on Mondays, but Brother Brown had called the museum and had been told that they would let us in, which they did. The museum has pictures and displays that describe eight centuries of Waldensian history, but the thing that was glaring by the mere brevity of its appearance was information about the Catholic persecutions! There was a hint of the bygone persecutions here and there, but there was nothing substantial about it or about Rome. There were copies of some of the old Waldensian histories that contain this information, but the history itself was largely missing in the museum displays. In glass cases, the museum displays copies of the histories by Leger (1669), Gilly (1825), and others. It also has a 1607 edition of the Diodati Italian Bible on display.

There are seven other small Waldensian museums in the valleys that we did not have time to visit. These are at Odin, Rora, Praly, Rodoretto, Massello-Balsiglia, San Germano, and Pramollo.

According to the pamphlet “Museums in the Waldensian Valleys,” only two of these might have any documents or information pertaining to Waldensian persecutions. These are the ones at Praly and at Massello-Balsiglia. The one at Praly “shows the development of this valley with special attention to the dramatic events of the 16th and 17th centuries up to 1848, which put an end to the long ordeal endured in Piedmont by the Waldensians.” The museum at Massello-Balsiglia focuses on the forced exile to Switzerland in the winter of 1687 and the victorious return in 1689. We were not able to visit these museums, so I do not know for sure what they contain beyond the brief description given in the aforementioned pamphlet.

The museum at Rora has old farm implements and stone working tools pertaining to the nearby quarry. The one at Rodoretto is devoted to the illustration of local peasant and mountain village life. It has farming and mining equipment as well as reproductions of interiors of a bedroom, kitchen, pantry, dining room, and a classroom. The museum at San Germano focuses on the condition of women during the 19th century and early part of the 20th. The one at Pramollo, located in the village of Pellenchi near Rua, has a re-creation of an old school interior. The museum at Odin is near the Chanforan monument and is also an old school with its original furniture.

HEAVEN IS A METAPHOR

Brian interviewed the woman who is in charge of the Waldensian museum and of “il barba,” the office that gives guided tours to Waldensian sites in the valleys. Her views epitomize the apostasy of the Waldenses today.

Brian’s question: “The Waldenses today are more ecumenical than they used to be, is that right?”

Waldensian lady’s answer: “[Yes] more ecumenical than when the Catholics used to shoot them. We still think there are very deep differences between Catholics and Protestants, but we don’t think these differences are bad in themselves. We think as long as we respect one another and accept the differences, we can have advantages [even though] we have confrontations.”

Brian’s question. “How do the Waldensian Christians teach that someone gets to heaven?”

Waldensian lady’s answer. “In the United States, you have many different kinds of Baptist churches. Here, the Italian Baptists would never ask this question. Because they agree with us that heaven is a paradox, a metaphor. We believe that the main task we have is to live our life and when we are dead, God will think about us. I don’t think there is a warm hell and a blue heaven. Universal judgment is the main message of the New Testament. Just try to be faithful to your vocation that God calls you to.”

A WALDENSIAN NEW TESTAMENT AT CAMBRIDGE

In April 2005 I visited the Cambridge University Library to examine Waldensian materials. Through the auspices of the Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary I was able to obtain a Readers Card to use the rare book room. My objective was to examine the materials that were deposited here in the 17th century by Samuel Morland, Oliver Cromwell’s ambassador to the Waldenses in northern Italy. Morland was assigned the task of assisting these people who were still enduring centuries-old persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. During the course of his visit, Morland gathered together all of the Waldensian theological writings that he could find that had not been destroyed in the persecutions and deposited them in the Cambridge University Library.

One of the things that he collected was a copy of a 14th century Waldensian New Testament in the Romaunt (Provencal or Occitan) language which predated French. It was the language of the troubadours and of men of letters in the Dark Ages. Its small size and vernacular language identifies it immediately as a missionary Bible used by “dissidents” in contrast to the large, ornate Catholic Bibles in Latin. It is a hand-sized volume and was written in clear black writing with the chapter numbers and book titles in red. It is embellished somewhat (though not extravagantly) with artistic designs in yellow, red, purple, and green. The volume, which was rebound at the library in 1972, does not contain the entire New Testament. I do not know if it was ever a complete New Testament but it is obvious that some of it has been lost. Currently it has the following books in this order: Matthew (beginning with chapter 8), a small part of Luke, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians-Philippians, 1 Timothy 3-6, part of 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews 11, Acts, James (one page), 1 Peter, and 2 Peter (chapter 1 and part of 2). It has some marginal cross references and was thus intended as a study Bible.

A WALDENSIAN NEW TESTAMENT AT TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN

On June 29, 2006, I visited Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, to examine the Waldensian New Testament there.

In contrast to the copy of the Waldensian New Testament at Cambridge, the one at Dublin contains the entire New Testament, plus the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Cantica (Song of Solomon), Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus. It is quarto size (6 X 8 inches) and has been rebound in leather. The black lettering is skillfully done, with illuminations in red, green, gold, and blue ink. Cross references are included in the margin in pale red. The Roman numeral chapter numbers are written in red and green. The books of the New Testament are in the standard order for the Latin Bible -- the four Gospels, Paul’s Epistles, Acts, the General Epistles, and Revelation. This New Testament has been in the possession of Trinity College since the time of the Restoration of the monarchy; prior to that it was in the library of Archbishop Ussher.

Textually, the two Waldensian Bibles that I have examined so far follow the Latin New Testament. For example, they omit the word “God” in 1 Timothy 3:16 but contain the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7.

WALDENSES YESTERDAY AND TODAY

The modern Waldenses are modernistic and ecumenical, and today they trace their history only to Peter Waldo. Their more noble forefathers, the ones who endured Rome’s persecutions, traced their origin to apostolic times. For example, following is the testimony of Waldensian Robert Olivetan (c. 1506-1538), in the preface to his French Bible, 1535: “...since the time of the apostles, or their immediate successors, the torch of the gospel has been lit among the Vaudois, and has never since been extinguished.”

While the term “waldensian” (referring to their location in the valleys and mountains) was a catchall term something like “Baptist” or “fundamentalist” today and while there was a wide variety of doctrine and practice among the Waldensians, it is also true that there were many Waldenses who practiced believer’s baptism. Baptist historian William Jones (1762-1846) gave a vast amount of evidence proving that many Waldenses rejected infant baptism. See his book “The History of the Christian Church, from the Birth of Christ to the Eighteenth Century; including the very interesting account of the Waldenses and Albigenses,” 2 volumes, London, 1819. (The book is included in the
Fundamental Baptist CD-ROM Database, available from Way of Life Literature.)

Let me give one example. A Waldensian confession of faith written in 1544 for the king of France stated:

“We believe that in the ordinance of baptism the water is the visible and external sign, which represents to us that which, by virtue of God’s invisible operation, is within us -- namely, the renovation of our minds, and the mortification of our members through [the faith of] Jesus Christ. And by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God’s people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life.”

While this statement does not prove that these Waldenses practiced immersion as the mode of baptism, it does prove that they were not pedobaptists, because it is quite impossible for an infant to “previously profess and declare faith and change of life.”

By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Waldensians had become doctrinally and spiritually weakened, and they joined forces with the German and French Reformed Protestants. By then most of them had adopted infant baptism and other unscriptural Protestant practices.

They have grown increasingly weaker in modern times and
TODAY THE WALDENSES ARE ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF ECUMENICAL AND THEOLOGICAL APOSTASY.

In 1975, the Waldensian churches in Italy merged with the liberal Methodists. Jointly, church membership is roughly 30,000, but that includes those who have been baptized as infants and who do not practice their faith. The Waldensians are members of the radically liberal World Council of Churches (WCC). (The Sixth WCC Assembly in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1987, began with pagan sacrifices offered by North American Indians who danced around a “sacred” fire.)

The book “You Are My Witnesses: The Waldensians across 800 Years” (Torino, Italy: Claudiana Editrice, 1989), which I purchased at the Waldensian Museum in Torre Pellice, leaves no doubt about the apostasy of the present-day Waldenses. Consider the following facts:

In 1947, they formed the Agape ecumenical center, the building of which “ended definitely the church’s conservative tilt” and “created the critical mass which led the church into far more liberal, and even radical, years” (“You Are My Witnesses,” p. 277). Since the early 1980s, Agape “has been hosting ecumenical conferences for homosexuals” (p. 303). This was, in fact, “the first institutionally-sanctioned initiative of its kind in Italy.”

In 1962, the Waldensian synod voted to ordain women as pastors, and today 14% of the pastors and roughly 50% of the theological students are females (p. 298).

In 1968, Waldensians helped establish the Lombardini center in Milan, Italy. It “was perhaps the most Marxist in all Italian Protestantism” and “in theology it was pronouncedly Barthian” (p. 282).

Waldenses participated in the founding of the Federation of Protestant Youth-Young Adults in Italy (FGEI) in 1969. “At the outset its interest was primarily revolution; it would widen its scope to include the issues of peace, the environment, and feminism.” This is important, because “over its first 20 years FGEI schooled at least half of the church’s future pastors, leaders and directors of specialized ministries” (p. 281).

Valdo Viney, former dean of the Waldensian Seminary, says that the time for traditional evangelism “is over and that it is now necessary that Waldensians be a critical leaven within Italian Christianity and culture” (p. 283).

It was a Waldensian pastor, Renzo Bartalot, as director of the Italian Bible Society, who was a major force behind the 1985 interconfessional (meaning the Roman Catholic Church was involved) translation of the modernistic
Good News for Modern Man into Italian (p. 284).

The advanced apostasy of the Waldensian churches is described in the following paragraph, which is near the end of the book “You Are My Witnesses” --

“Culturally, Italy is a pluralistic society, in which all confessions can live peaceably side by side, believers and non-believers, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Who better than the ancient Waldensian Church, now rooted across the peninsula and Sicily, can symbolize this opening to pluralism, to legitimize it and give it an historical perspective as old as the nation?” (p. 293).

This sounds like the syncretistic, all-encompassing “one world harlot church” that we read about in Revelation 17, and the Waldenses, having rejected their glorious heritage, are right in the middle of it.
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The above is excerpted from In the Footsteps of Bible Translators. This book follows in the exciting footsteps of Bible writers and translators across Great Britain and Europe. It is the result of firsthand research into the history of ancient Bibles such as the Waldensian, the Wycliffe, the Tyndale, the King James, and the Luther German. Look over the author’s shoulder as he examines this history at Trinity College, Dublin, and Cambridge University Library to view two of the seven surviving copies of the ancient Waldensian New Testament; Lollard’s Tower, where Bible-believing Christians were imprisoned; Lutterworth, where John Wycliffe translated the first English Bible and where his bones were burned after his death; Little Sodbury Manor, where William Tyndale lived; Fulham Palace, where Tyndale tried unsuccessfully to get permission from ecclesiastical authorities to translate the English Bible; St. Dunstan’s in the West, where Tyndale preached before he went overseas; St. Paul’s Cross, where Bibles were burned in England; Smithfield, where Bible believers were burned; St. Magnus the Martyr Church, where translator Miles Coverdale is buried; Hampton Court Palace, where King James I approved the translation of a new English Bible; the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey, where portions of the KJV were translated; Oxford and Cambridge Universities, where other portions of the KJV were translated and where many memorials to the translators can be found; the British Library, where one can see copies of ancient Bibles such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, which is the earliest extant portion of Scripture in the English language, a handwritten Wycliffe Bible, one of only three existing original Tyndale New Testaments, and the Sinaiticus Greek Codex; Southwark Cathedral, where KJV translator Lancelot Andrewes is buried; Guildford, where KJV translator George Abbot is buried; Islip, where KJV translator John Aglionby is buried; St. Peter’s Kirk in Leiden, the Netherlands, where the Pilgrims worshipped before debarking for America; the Bible Museum in Amsterdam, where ancient European Bibles and artifacts pertaining to the history of the Bible are housed; Vilvoorde, Belgium, where William Tyndale was martyred; the Erasmus Museum, Brussels, where Erasmus worked on the third edition of his Greek New Testament; the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, German, which houses many copies of the ancient Gutenberg Bible as well as fascinating displays pertaining to the history of writing and printing; the Crime Museum, Rothenburg, Germany, with its massive collection of artifacts about law and crime in Europe dating back to the 12th century, including instruments of torture that were used by the Roman Catholic Church; Zurich, where Zwingli led in the Protestant Reformation and where Baptists were drowned by the Protestants; Piedmont, Italy, where the Waldensians held the New Testament faith in their mountain strongholds and suffered greatly for resisting Rome’s authority; and Rome itself, where portions of the New Testament were written and where the false “church” attempted to keep the Bible out of the hands of the common people. This is history that every child of God will appreciate. Illustrated with 94 photos taken on location in the places described above. 158 pages. Available from www.wayoflife.org.

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