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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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WALLENSES, or ALBIGENSES, the Vaudois, or inhabitants of the beautiful valleys of the Alps, between Italy and Provence. Many have supposed that they derived their name from Peter Waldo, or Valdo, a merchant of Lyons, in the twelfth century, and one of their leaders and patrons; but their history has been traced considerably farther back, which has led others to suppose that, on the contrary, he derived his name from them, as Peter the Waldensian, or Peter of the Valleys. The learned Dr. Allix, in his "History of the Churches of Piedmont," gives this account: For three hundred years or more, the bishop of Rome attempted to subjugate the church of Milan under his jurisdiction; and at last the interest of Rome grew too potent for the church of Milan, planted by one of the disciples; insomuch that the bishop and the people, rather than own their jurisdiction, retired to the valleys of Lucerne and Angrogne, and thence were called Vallenses, Wellenses, or, The People in the Valleys. From a confession of their faith, of the early date, A.D. 1120, we extract the following particulars:

1. That the Scriptures teach that there is one God, almighty, all-wise, and all-good, who made all things by his goodness; for he formed Adam in his own image and likeness; but that by the envy of the devil sin entered into the world, and that we are sinners in and by Adam.

2. That Christ was promised to our fathers, who received the law; that so knowing by the law their unrighteousness and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ, to satisfy for their sins, and accomplish the law by himself.

3. That Christ was born in the time appointed by God the Father; that is to say, in the time when all iniquity abounded, that, he might show us grace and mercy, as being faithful.

4. That Christ is our life, truth, peace, and righteousness; as also our pastor, advocate, and priest, who died for the salvation of all who believe, and is risen for our justification.

5. That there is no mediator and advocate with God the Father, save Jesus Christ.

6. That after this life there are only two places, the one for the saved, and the other for the damned.

7. That the feasts, the vigils of saints, the water which they call holy, as also to abstain from flesh on certain days, and the like, but especially the masses, are the inventions of men, and ought to be rejected.

8. That the sacraments are signs of the holy thing, visible forms of the invisible grace; and that it is good for the faithful to use those signs or visible forms; but that they are not essential to salvation.

9. That there are no other sacraments but baptism and the Lord's Supper.

10. That we ought to honour the secular powers by subjection, ready obedience, and paying of tribute. On the subject of infant baptism, they held different opinions, as Christians do in the present day.

For bearing this noble testimony against the church of Rome, these pious people were for many centuries the subjects of a most cruel persecution; and in the thirteenth century, the pope instituted a crusade against them, and they were pursued with a fury perfectly diabolical. Their principles, however, continued unsubdued, and at the Reformation their descendants were reckoned among the Protestants, with whom they were in doctrine so congenial; but in the seventeenth century the flames of persecution were again rekindled against them by the cruelty of Louis XIV. At the revocation of the edict of Nantz, about fifteen thousand perished in the prisons of Pignerol, beside great numbers who perished among the mountains. They received, however, the powerful protection and support of England under William III. But still the house of Saxony continued to treat them as heretics, and they were oppressed by a variety of cruel edicts.

When Piedmont was subjected to France in 1800, the French government, Buonaparte being first consul, placed them on the same plan of toleration with the rest of France; but on the return of the king of Sardinia to Genoa, notwithstanding the intercession of Lord William Bentinck, the old persecuting edicts were revived in the end of 1814; and though they have not been subjected to fire and faggot as aforetime, their worship has been restrained, and they were not only stripped of all employments, but, by a most providential circumstance only, saved from a general massacre. Since then they have been visited by some pious and benevolent Englishmen; and the number of Waldenses, or Vaudois, has been taken at nineteen thousand seven hundred and ten, beside about fifty families residing at Turin.

Mr. Milner very properly connects this people with the Cathari, or Paulicians, of the seventh century, who resided chiefly in the valleys of Piedmont, and who, in the twelfth century, according to this valuable historian, received a great accession of members from the learned labours and godly zeal of Peter Waldo, a pious man of unusual learning for a layman at that period. His thoughts being turned to divine things by the sudden death of a friend, he applied himself to the study of the Scriptures, and was, according to Mr. Milner, the first who, in the west of Europe, translated the Bible into a modern language. Waldo was rich, and distributed his wealth among the poor, and with it the bread of life, which endeared him to the lower classes; and it was probably the great increase of these pious people, in consequence of his exertions, which brought upon them the horrible crusade in the next century. This was, however, wholly on account of their pretended heresies,—their bitterest enemies bearing testimony to the purity of their life and manners. Thus a pontifical inquisitor, quoted by Usher, says, "These heretics are known by their manners and conversation; for they are orderly and modest in their behaviour and deportment; they avoid all appearance of pride in their dress; they are chaste, temperate, and sober; they seek not to amass riches; they abstain from anger; and, even while at work, are either learning or teaching." Seysillius, another popish writer, says of them, "Their heresy excepted, they generally live a purer life than other Christians." Liclenstenius, a Dominican, says, "In morals and life they are good; true in words; unanimous in brotherly love; but their faith is incorrigible and vile, as I have shown you in my treatise." But most remarkable is the testimony of Reinerus, an inquisitor of the thirteenth century: "Of all the sects which have been, or now exist, none is more injurious to the church, (that is, of Rome,) for three reasons:

1. Because it is more ancient. Some say it has continued from the time of Silvester; others from the time of the Apostles.

2. Because it is more general. There is scarcely any country into which this sect has not crept.

3. Because all other heretics excite horror by the greatness of their blasphemies against God; but these have a great appearance of piety, as

they live justly before men, and believe rightly all things concerning

God, and all the articles which are contained in the creed."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Waldenses'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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