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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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or VALDENSES, a sect of reformers, who made their first appearance about the year 1160. They were most numerous about the valleys of Piedmont; and hence, some say, they were called Valdenses, or Vaudois, and not from Peter Valdo, as others suppose. Mosheim, however, gives this account of them: he says, that Peter, an opulent merchant of Lyons, surnamed Valdensis, or Validisius, from Vaux, or Waldum, a town in the marquisate of Lyons, being extremely zealous for the advancement of true piety and Christian knowledge, employed a certain priest, called Stephanus de Evias, about the year 1160, in translating, from Latin into French, the four Gospels, with other books of holy Scripture, and the most remarkable sentences of the ancient doctors, which were so highly esteemed in this century. But no sooner had he perused these sacred books with a proper degree of attention, than he perceived that the religion which was now taught in the Roman church, differed totally from that which was originally inculcated by Christ and his apostles.

Struck with this glaring contradiction between the doctrines of the pontiffs and the truths of the Gospel, and animated with zeal, he abandoned his mercantile vocation, distributed his riches among the poor (whence the Waldenses were called poor men of Lyons, ) and forming an association with other pious men who had adopted his sentiments and his turn of devotion, he began, in the year 1180, to assume the quality of a public teacher, and to instruct the multitude in the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. Soon after Peter had assumed the exercise of his ministry, the archbishop of Lyons, and the other rulers of the church in that province, rigorously opposed him. However, their opposition was unsuccessful; for the purity and simplicity of that religion which these good men taught, the spotless innocence that shone forth in their lives and actions, and the noble contempt of riches and honours which was conspicuous in the whole of their conduct and conversation, appeared so engaging to all such as had any sense of true piety, that the number of their followers daily increased.

They accordingly formed religious assemblies, first in France, and afterwards in Lombardy; from whence they propagated their sect throughout the other provinces of Europe with incredible fortitude, that neither fire nor sword, nor the most cruel inventions of merciless persecution, could damp their zeal, or entirely ruin their cause. The attempts of Peter Waldus and his followers were neither employed nor designed to introduce new doctrines into the church, nor to propose new articles of faith to Christians. All they aimed at was, to reduce the form of ecclesiastical government, and the manners both of the clergy and people, to that amiable simplicity and primitive sanctity that characterized the apostolic ages, and which appear so strongly recommended in the precepts and injunctions of the Divine Author of our holy religion. In consequence of this design, they complained that the Roman church had degenerated, under Constantine the Great, from its primitive purity and sanctity. They denied the supremacy of the Roman pontiff, and maintained that the rulers and ministers of the church were obliged, by their vocation, to imitate the poverty of the apostles, and to procure for themselves a subsistence by the work of their hands. They considered every Christian as, in a certain measure, qualified and authorised to instruct, exhort and confirm the brethren in their Christian course; and demanded the restoration of the ancient penitential discipline of the church, 1:e. the expiation of transgressions by prayer, fasting, and alms, which the new- invented doctrine of indulgences had almost totally abolished.

They at the same time affirmed, that every pious Christian was qualified and entitled to prescribe to the penitent the kind or degree of satisfaction or expiation that their transgressions required; that confession made to priests was by no means necessary, since the humble offender might acknowledge his sins and testify his repentance to any true believer, and might expect from such the counsel and admonition which his case demanded. They maintained, that the power of delivering sinners from the guilt and punishment of their offences belonged to God alone; and that indulgences of consequence, were the criminal inventions of sordid avarice. They looked upon the prayers and other ceremonies that were instituted in behalf of the dead, as vain, useless, and absurd, and denied the existence of departed souls in an intermediate state of purification; affirming, that they were immediately, upon their separation from the body, received into heaven, or thrust down to hell. these and other tenets of a like nature, composed the system of doctrine propagated by the Waldenses. It is also said, that several of the Waldenses denied the obligation of infant baptism, and that others rejected water baptism entirely; but Wall has laboured to prove that infant baptism was generally practised among them.

Their rules of practice were extremely austere; for they adopted as the model of their moral discipline, the sermon of Christ on the mount, which they interpreted and explained in the most rigorous and literal manner; and consequently prohibited and condemned in their society all wars, and suits of law, and all attempts towards the acquisition of wealth; the inflicting of capital punishments, self- defense against unjust violence, and oaths of all kinds. During the greatest part of the seventeenth century, those of them who lived in the valleys of Piedmont, and who had embraced the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church of Geneva, were oppressed and persecuted in the most barbarous and inhuman manner by the ministers of Rome. This persecution was carried on with peculiar marks of rage and enormity in the years 1655, 1656, and 1696, and seemed to portend nothing less than the total extinction of that unhappy nation. The most horrid scenes of violence and bloodshed were exhibited in this theatre of papal tyranny; and the few Waldenses that survived, were indebted for their existence and support to the intercession made for them by the English and Dutch governments, and also by the Swiss cantons, who solicited the clemency of the duke of Savoy on their behalf.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Waldenses'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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