THIS chapter will extend from the introduction of christianity to about the time of the reformation under Luther and his associates.
All sects trace their origin to the Apostles, or at least to the early ages of christianity. But many, and especially the powerful ones, have labored hard to cut off the Baptists from this common retreat. They have often asserted and taken much pains to prove that the people now called Baptists originated with the mad men of Munster, about 1522. We have only to say to this statement, that it is not true. And notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, we still date the origin of our sentiments, and the beginning of our denomination, about the year of our Lord twenty-nine or thirty; for at that period John the Baptist began to immerse professed believers ill Jordan and Enon, and to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord’s Anointed, and for the setting up of his kingdom.
But before we proceed, any farther, it is proper that the terms Baptist and Anabaptist should be defined.
A Baptist is one, who holds that a profession of faith, and an immersion in water are essential to baptism. An Anabaptist is one who is rebaptized.
The name of Baptist we admit is significant and proper; but that of Anabaptist we reject as slanderous, and no ways descriptive of our sentiments and practice; and when our opponents accuse us of Anabaptism, we always understand the charge as the language either of ignorance or malice. In one sense there were never any Anabaptists in christendom, and yet according to historians there have been multitudes in different ages and countries. All, who ever administered baptism a second time, did it upon the supposition that the first baptism was imperfect. No party of christians ever held to two baptisms, or presumed to repeat the baptismal rite, after it had been, in their opinion, once properly administered. In this sense there never have been any Anabaptists, although multitudes have rebaptized, or, in other words, performed in a right manner, what, upon their principles, had been improperly done.
According to Robinson there have been six sorts of christians, who have been called Anabaptists, as different from one another, as can well be imagined. The first placed the essence of baptism in the virtue of the person baptized; the second placed it in the form of words pronounced in the administration; the third in the virtue of the administrator; the fourth in the consent of the person baptized; the fifth in dipping; and the sixth in both a profession of faith and an immersion.
By all of these classes multitudes were rebaptized, and yet no party acknowledged themselves Anabaptists; for they all thought that there was one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and that their own. The Catholics most eagerly contend that pope Sylvester baptized Constance the Great into the faith of the Trinity at Rome, and the evidence seems respectable.
It is however certain that he was baptized at Nicomedia just before his death, mid it is supposed by Eusebius, into the Arian faith. Both affirm they baptized him; neither says he was rebaptized, because neither accounted the other a valid baptism. Probably, some Catholic writers express the matter exactly as it was. Sylvester baptized the emperor, and Eusebius rebaptized him. They affirm the same of the emperor Valens, and denominate both these emperors Anabaptists.
Dionysius and his followers in Egypt, the Acephali, Novatus of Rome, Novatian of Carthage, all the Novatian churches, Donatus and his numberless followers, called after him Donatists, of whom there were four hundred congregations at one time in Africa, all rejected the baptism administered by those, who have since been called Catholics, whom they reputed heretics, and whose churches they called habitations of impurity, and all such as came from those churches to them they rebaptized.
In the year 325, the council of Nice decreed, that all who came over to the established church, from the Paulianists, both men and women, should be rebaptized, while proselytes from the Novatians or Puritans were admitted by the laying on of hands. The reason for this difference was, that the Novarians baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while the Paulianists, who denied the Trinity, omitted this form.
For a long time the Catholics rejected the baptism of the Arians, and the Arians in return rejected theirs. Both parties rebaptized their proselytes, and all practiced dipping.
These are a few of the many facts, which might be adduced to show that Anabaptism, as it is improperly called, is not peculiar to the Baptists.
According to the common acceptation of the term, her imperial majesty Catherine III late empress of all the Russias, was an Anabaptist. “For it is strictly true,” as an elegant and accurate historian observes, “that in the year 1745, Peter, afterwards Czar Peter III espoused Sophia Augusta, princess of Anhalt Zerbst, who, upon being rebaptized, according to the rites of the Greek church, was called Catherine Alexiefna, and so on.” Thus much for the general subject of rebaptization. Whatever notions of impiety people may now attach to the practice, it is certain that all parties have been more or less guilty of it.
We shall now turn our attention to that class of Anabaptists, with whom we claim relation, and who would now be considered Baptists, by whatever name they were formerly called. This is the sixth class in Mr. Robinson’s list of rebaptizers. They have ever held, that a personal profession of faith, and an immersion in water are essential to baptism.
Christians of these sentiments have existed in every age, and their number has been larger than their friends generally imagine, or than their opposers are ever willing to acknowledge. The first christians were undoubtedly all Baptists, and we believe they will all be Baptists again, when they are all brought to keep the ordinances of Christ as they were first delivered to the saints. For almost three centuries baptism was in the main rightly administered by all parties, for they all required a profession of faith, and all immersed.
We do not pretend that the primitive saints were called Baptists; an went under the general denomination of Christians, and when they began to the off into parties, they took the names of the men by whom they were led.
It is not the history of a name, but the prevalence of a principle, of which we are in search. No denomination of Protestants can trace the origin of its name farther back than about the time of the reformation, and most of them have originated since that period. And I suppose it was about this time that our brethren began to be called Baptists. And I am inclined to think that they assumed the name in opposition to that of Anabaptists, with which their enemies were continually reproaching them. But that all the primitive christians would have been called Baptists, if sentimental names had then been in use, and that there always has been a people on earth, from the introduction of Christianity, who have held the leading sentiments by which they now are, and always have been peculiarly distinguished, is a point which I most firmly believe, and which I shall now attempt to prove.
I know that all denominations take this ground, and attempt to prove that their sentiments have existed from the Apostles through every age. The Catholic pretends that his church is of Apostolic origin, and was founded by St. Peter, and he can easily prove that a very large portion of the christian world, has, for many centuries, been and now is of his belief. The Churchman pleads that all the first christians were Episcopalians, and that Bishops Paul, Peter, Timothy, and Titus, governed the churches; and he moreover supposes that Paul’s parchment, which he left at Troas, contained his episcopal authority. The Presbyterians, Independents, Congregationalists, Quakers, Methodists, and all contend that their churches are built after the Apostolic model. And even the Shaking Quaker, although he can make no good pretension to Apostolical succession, yet claims relation to the hundred and forty and four thousand who have not defiled themselves with women. I am not about to dispute the pretensions or proofs of any one sect in christendom. It is not my object to show what is not true respecting them, but what is true respecting ourselves. The Episcopalian can find Bishops, and the Presbyterian Elders or Presbyters among the primitive christians, and the Congregationalist and Independent, have good grounds for saying that the Apostolic churches were of their belief respecting church government. The Baptists believe in Episcopacy and Presbyterianism or eldership, when explained according to their sense of the terms. They hold to the zeal of the Methodists, and the inward light of the Quakers, when regulated and explained according to their sense of propriety and correctness. With most denominations they find something with which they agree. But in the article of baptism they differ from all. While their brethren all around admit infants to baptism, they have always confined the rite to professed believers, and a baptism without an immersion is, in their opinion, “like a guinea without gold.”
The Baptists have been distinguished from other sects, not only in their views of the subjects and mode of baptism, but they have always held to other sentiments peculiar to themselves, and which they consider essential important truths, but which their opponents have branded with the name of dangerous errors or damnable heresies.
The supporters of believer’s baptism have, under every form of government, been the advocates for liberty; and for this reason, they have never flourished much except in those governments where some degree of freedom has been maintained. Arbitrary states have always oppressed them, and driven them for refuge to milder regions. “They cannot live in tyrannical states, and free countries are the only places to seek for them, for their whole public religion is impracticable without freedom.” In political changes they have always been friendly to the cause of liberty, and their passion for it has at different times led some into acts of indiscretion, and scenes of danger. But with a few exceptions, we may say in truth, that the Baptists have always adhered to their leading maxim, to be subject to the powers that be; and all the favor they as christians have asked of civil governments has been, to give them their Bibles, and let them alone. The interference of the magistrate in the affairs of conscience, they have never courted, but have always protested against. Classical authority and priestly domination, they have ever opposed and abhorred, and the equality of christians as such, and the absolute independency of churches, they have most scrupulously maintained. Learning they have esteemed in its proper place; but they have also uniformly maintained, that the servants of God may preach his gospel without it. The distinction between their ministers and brethren is less than in almost any other denomination of christians; whatever abilities their ministers possess, they reduce them to the capacity of mere teachers; and they consider all not only at liberty, but moreover bound to exercise, under proper regulations, the gifts they may possess, for the edification of their brethren.
We have thus endeavored to define the term Anabaptist, and have shown that it never has been admitted by any party as a significant term, but has always been considered slanderous and improper. We shall frequently make use of it in the following sketches, but it must be understood, that we use it as a word, which custom has made necessary.
We have also attempted to give a brief definition of the term Baptist, and have at the same time exhibited some of the leading principles and features of the people to whom it is applied. We shall endeavor to give some few sketches of the history of that class of christians, whom we consider Baptists, or who have maintained the ordinances of Christ as they were first delivered to the saints. This chapter embraces a period of about fifteen hundred years; most of which time the church was in the wilderness, and for that reason we cannot expect to learn much respecting her. No human pen has recorded her history with any degree of correctness, but it is registered on high, and will be exhibited in the great day of accounts, In travelling down the records of a worldly sanctuary we get a glimpse now and then of the friends of godliness, and we generally behold them destitute, afflicted, and tormented. Some of the saints mistook the time of their Lord’s coming, and ventured out from their obscure retreats, in hopes to meet him in his providential dealings, but they generally met with disaster and death. Antichrist sent his archers into the wilderness to hunt the disciples of Jesus, and by them some reports have been communicated of their character and situation. But after all, we know but very little of the real church of Christ, for the long lapse of many hundred years. We have very ample accounts of the antichristian church through all her movements; and the affairs of some of the saints in Babylon are very minutely detailed. But the history of the uncorrupted church, which maintained the worship and ordinances of Christ, while all the world was wondering after the beast, is covered with obscurity, and probably lost in oblivion.
From the New-Testament account of the primitive christians, we are led to think they were Baptists. But we will quote the accounts given of them by two authors, and then the reader may judge for himself. Mosheim was no friend to the Baptists, and yet he has made many important concessions in their favor; and in relating the history of the primitive church, he has given a description, which will not certainly apply to his own church, the Lutheran, nor to any sect in christendom except the Baptists. “Baptism,” he observes, “was administered in the first century without the public assemblies, in places appointed for that purpose, and was performed by immersion of the whole body in water.” By this account it appears that the first christians went “streaming away (as Dr. Osgood would say) to some pond or river” to be baptized. Respecting church discipline, the same writer observes: “The churches in those early times were entirely independent, none of them subject to any foreign jurisdiction, but each one governed by its own rulers and laws. For though the churches, founded by the Apostles, had this particular deference shown them, that they were consulted in difficult and doubtful cases, yet they had no juridical authority, no sort of supremacy over the others, nor the least right to enact laws for them. Nothing on the contrary is more evident than the perfect equality that reigned among the primitive churches,” 2 and so on. “A bishop, during the first and second century, was a person who had the care of one christian assembly, which at that time was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house. In this assembly he acted not so much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a faithful servant, ” 3 and so on. “There was,” says Robinson, “among primitive christians, an uniform belief that Jesus was the Christ, and a perfect harmony of affection. When congregations multiplied, so that they became too numerous to assemble in one place, they parted into separate companies, and so again and again, but there was no schism; on the contrary all held a common union, and a member of one company was a member of all. If any person removed from one place to reside at another, he received a letter of attestation, which was given and taken as proof; and this custom very prudently precluded the intrusion of impostors. In this manner was framed a catholic or universal church. One company never pretended to inspect the affairs of another, nor was there any dominion, or any shadow of do. minion, over the consciences of any individuals.
Overt acts were the only objects of censure, and censure was nothing but voting a man out of the community.”
Let any candid man compare the different denominations of christians of the present day with these descriptions of the primitive church, and he will, we think, be at no loss to determine which comes the nearest to it.
But Mr. Robinson goes farther, and determines the matter just as a Baptist believes. “During the three first centuries, christian congregations all over the east subsisted in separate, independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time they were Baptist churches, and though all the fathers of the four first ages down to Jerome were of Greece, Syria, and Africa, and though they gave great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one record of the baptism of a child till the year 370, when Galates, the dying son of the emperor Valens, was baptized by order of a monarch, who swore he would not be contradicted. The age of the prince is uncertain, and the assigning of his illness as the cause of his baptism indicates clearly enough that infant baptism was not in practice.”
But the primitive Baptist churches, in process of time, became corrupted with many errors, and with infant baptism among the rest. And when Constantine established christianity as the religion of his empire, errors, which before had taken root, soon grew up to maturity, the christian church as established by law became a worldly sanctuary, and those who would maintain the gospel in its purity were obliged to separate from the great mass of professors, and retire to the best refuges they could find. We have shown in the Review of Ecclesiastical History, that the church of Rome and the Greek church have ever comprehended the great majority of those, who have borne the christian name. But from these two extensive establishments multitudes have dissented. The dissenters have been of every possible description and character, and it may be truly said of every religious absurdity and fantastical opinion, that there is nothing new under the sun, for they have all been broached and maintained in former times.
All dissenters were denounced heretics, and in many cases the name was not misapplied; but on the other hand it is certain, that for many centuries we must search among reputed heretics, for what little of godliness remained on the earth.
Mr. Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, under the head Greek Church, has entered largely into the history of dissenters from that wide spread community, and the following sketches collected from different parts of the article, contain the substance of what he has said respecting them. “The first founders of the dissenting sects were primitive christians, who would not conform. They had, as an ancient writer says, neither head nor tail, neither princes nor legislators, and consequently no slaves; they had no beginning nor no end, and in this respect they answered one of their nick names, which was Melchisedecians, for like Melchisedec they were without father, without mother, without beginning of days or end of life. The church thought them enthusiasts and blasphemers. The truth is, they followed no one, but acted as their own understandings ordered them, as good men in all ages have always done.” “This large body of dissenters was resident in the empire from the first establishment of the church in the fourth century to the destruction of it in the thirteenth. They were named Massalians and Euchites, the one a Hebrew, the other a Greek name, and both signifying a people that pray, for they placed religion, not in speculation, but in devotion and piety. Euchite among the Greeks was a general name for a dissenter, as Waldensian was in the Latin church, and as Nonconformist is in England.” “Some of these dissenters dogmatized as the established clergy did, and they became Manichean, Arian, and Athanasian Euchites.
Others were named after the countries where they most abounded, as Bulgarians, Macedonians, Armenians, Phrygians, Cataphrygians, Galatians, Philippopolitans, or, as it was correctly sounded in the west, Popolicans, Poblicans, Publicans. Others were named after some eminent teacher, as Paulicians, and Paulianists from Paul of Samosata, or, says the princess Comnena, from Paul and John the sons of Callinices, Novatians, Dormtists, Artemonites, and many more were of this class.”
The first council of Nice took notice of two sorts of dissenters, the Cathari or Puritans, and the Paulianists. “The first held the doctrine of the Trinity, as the Athanasians in the church did; but thinking the church a worldly community, they baptized all that joined their assemblies by trine immersion, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy-Ghost, on their own personal profession of faith, and if they had been baptized before, they rebaptized them. The latter baptized by dipping once in the name of Christ, and though they varied from the Arians, yet they all thought Christ only a man.”
The Cathari or Puritans would, according to this author’s account, now be called Predestinarians or Calvinists; and the Paulianists would be entitled to the appellation of Arminians and Socinians.
Dr: Mosheim, in speaking of the Greek dissenters, says truly, “that the accounts, which have been given of them, are not in all respects to be depended upon; and there are several circumstances, which render it extremely probable, that many persons of eminent piety and zeal for genuine christianity, were confounded by the Greeks with these enthusiasts, and ranked in the list of heretics, merely on account of their opposing the vicious practices and the insolent tyranny of the priesthood, and their treating with derision that motley spectacle of superstition that was supported by public authority. In short, the righteous and the profligate, the wise and the foolish, were equally comprehended under the name of Massalians, whenever they opposed the reigning superstition of the times, or looked upon true and genuine piety, as the essence of the christian character.” The sum of the matter seems to be, that the established Greek church held both the subject and the mode of baptism as the first institution prescribed for four or five hundred years, losing the subject by degrees, but retaining the mode to this day: and that the bulk of the dissenters, perhaps all, retained both the subject and the mode, always dipping, and never dipping any but on their own personal profession of faith.”
Much the same may be said respecting the number and character of dissenters from the church of Rome. Some separated, because the leading party had become corrupt, and others to follow reveries of enthusiastic zeal. The Novatians appear to have been among the earliest dissenters of the former kind. In the third century, when the primitive simplicity of the gospel was fast going into decay, a great separation took place at Rome, and multitudes bore a noble testimony against the prevailing corruption of the times. At Rome, these dissenters were called Novatians, from Novatus, one of the chief managers of the affair. They called themselves Puritans, or, as the Greeks translated the word, Cathari; and they intended by the name to signify the fact, that they separated from the rest, because their morals were impure. As yet, all baptized by immersion; and the Novatians or Puritans rebaptized all, who came over from the prevailing party. They were of course Baptists.
Milner acknowledges that the Novatians were the most respectable of all the dissenting churches; notwithstanding he complains much of their narrow bigotry in things of no moment. Mosheim, always disposed to be the advocate of the great body which he calls the church, has, amidst his severe strictures on the Novatians, given them a character, which all evangelical christians cannot but in the main approve. “This sect,” says he, “cannot be charged with having corrupted the doctrine of christianity by their opinions; their crime was that by the unreasonable severity of their discipline, they gave occasion to the most deplorable divisions, and made an unhappy rent in the church. They considered the christian church as a society where virtue and innocence reigned universally, and none of whose members, from their entrance into it, had defiled themselves with any enormous crime; and, of consequence, they looked upon every society, which readmitted heinous offenders to its communion, as unworthy of the title of a true christian church. It was from hence also, that they assumed the title of Cathari, i.e. the pure; and what showed still a more extravagant degree of vanity and arrogance,” (this language is perfectly understood by all the advocates for believer’s baptism) “they obliged such as came over to them from the general body of Christians, to submit to be baptized a second time, as a necessary preparation for entering into their society.” The church, whose tranquillity the Novatians disturbed, was, according to Mosheim’s own account, in a most deplorable condition. “Her rulers were sunk in luxury and voluptuousness, puffed up with vanity, arrogance, and ambition, possessed with a spirit of contention and discord, and addicted to many other vices.” All nonconformists know what is meant by the crime of disturbing the church.
It is generally admitted by all who have written their history, that the Novatians laid it down as a fundamental principle, that no apostate or heinous offender, should be readmitted into their communion, however genuine his repentance might appear. This maxim unquestionably deserves the name of “unreasonable severity.” It was probably suggested by the corruptions of the times, and we cannot suppose it was long maintained. The Catholic party tax Novatian with being the parent of an innumerable multitude of congregations of Puritans all over the empire. And it is probable that the people, who were afterwards called Waldenses, were his descendants. “Great numbers,” says Robinson, “followed the example of Novatian, and all over the empire, Puritan churches were constituted and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterward, when penal laws obliged them to meet in corners and worship God in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names, and a succession of them continued till the reformation.” “It is impossible to prove that the nonconformists of early times baptized their children; on the contrary, it is certain some of them did not.”
In other countries, within the jurisdiction of the church of Rome, we meet with many dissenters, who appear to have maintained the peculiar sentiments of the Baptists. Spain, which was long one of the main pillars of the papal power, and in which the bloody inquisition has displayed all the terrors of its sanguinary spirit, was once a land of piety, where a good degree of freedom was enjoyed. As the established church sunk into corruption, the pious dissented from it, and for a time were permitted, without much molestation, to enjoy their peculiar opinions. But in process of time, the inquisition, with its solemn horrors, like death, put all under its feet, and dissenters were either terrified into conformity, or dispersed into other countries.
While dissenters were permitted to reside in Spain, they were called, in general, Anabaptists. They baptized converts from pagans and Jews, and rebaptized all Catholics, who came over to their communion, and they baptized none without a personal confession of faith. The Paterines of Italy were, for a time, a numerous and flourishing sect.
Different accounts are given of their doctrinal sentiments. They were charged by their enemies with being Manicheans; this charge, however, was often brought against the most pious and orthodox. Mr. Robinson thinks they were Unitarians, but it is not probable they all rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. They were sometimes called Gazari, which is a corruption of Cathari or Puritans. But Patrini or Paterines, was the name by which they were generally distinguished. In Milan, where this name was first used, it answered to the English words vulgar, illiterate, low-bred; intimating what was a fact, that these despised christians were of the lower order of people. It is remarkable of the Paterines, that in their examinations, they were not accused of any immoralities, but were condemned for speculations, or rather for virtuous rules of action, which all the world counted heresies. They said — a christian church ought to consist of only good people — that it was unlawful to kill mankind — that the church ought not to persecute any, even the wicked — that there was no need of priests, especially wicked ones. In these and other reasons and rules they all agreed, but in doctrinal speculations they widely differed.
As the Catholics of those times baptized by immersion, the Paterines, by what name soever they were called, as Manicheans, Gazari, Josephists, Arnoldists, Passagiaes, Bulgarians or Bougares, made no complaint of the mode of baptizing: but, when they were examined, they objected vehemently against the baptism of infants, and condemned it as an error.
They said, among other things, that a child knew nothing of the matter, that he had no desire to be baptized, and was incapable of making any confession of faith, and that the willing and professing of another, could be of no service to him. The great Waldensian body demands our next attention, and in giving their history we shall comprehend that of most of the other Baptist dissenters in the dark ages of popery, for they all appear to have been in some measure connected with it. The Waldenses are, by all parties of Protestants, considered to have been witnesses for the truth, through all the dark reign of superstition and error.
And the Waldensian heresy, was by the Catholics counted the oldest in the world and the most formidable to the church of Rome. These people, for a number of centuries, had their chief residence in the valleys of Piedmont, and from thence, in process of time, they spread over most of the countries of Europe.
Piedmont is a principality of Italy 175 miles long and 40 broad, bounded north by Vallais, east by Milan and Montferrat, south by Nice and Genoa, west by France and Savoy. This country was formerly a part of Lombardy, afterwards it was subject to the king of Sardinia, but in 1800 it was conquered by France. Piedmont lies at the foot of the Alps, and contains many high mountains, among which are rich and fruitful valleys, as populous as any part of Italy. Turin is the capital. But we must distinguish between the principality of Piedmont and the valleys which were famous for the Waldenses, between the common inhabitants and the established religion of the country, and the faithful witnesses for the truth, which resided here from time immemorial.
The church of Rome is the established religion of the principality of Piedmont, and has been from early times; but several causes contributed to render the establishment, for many centuries, more mild and less troublesome to dissenters here, than in other parts of the papal dominions.
The bishop of Turin, the capital of Piedmont, was not a Metropolitan, till 1515. No bishops before were subject to him, At present, there are in the principality of Piedmont, eight bishoprics. Of these only three are suffragan to the archbishopric of Turin. One of them was not erected into an episcopal see till the year 1388, nor another till 1592, and one hath only seven parishes in it. Three of the remaining five are subject to the archbishop of Milan; one is an exempt, and subject only to the pope, and the other is united to another province. This is the modern arrangement; but in the middle ages, what few bishops there were, considered themselves in the province of Milan, and subject to the archbishop; but as their bishoprics were in different states, none of which suffered the incumbents to exercise temporal dominion, except in particular cases on their own lordships, and generally not there, it is easy to infer that episcopacy in Piedmont was not materially injurious to the liberties of the people.
Under these circumstances the Waldenses enjoyed a degree of repose, and maintained the pure worship of God, in the remote ages of idolatry and superstition.
It is supposed by President Edwards that the ancient Waldenses dwelt mostly in five rallies on the southern side of the Alps, which were begirt around with high and almost impassable hills, and if any local residence is ill. tended in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, this mountainous retreat promises most of all others to be the one.
But it is evident these people dwelt in many other val. lies, on both sides of the Alps, in France and Italy, and were dispersed in many places in all the surrounding country. But the cruel inquisitors at length found their way to the happy asylums of these faithful witnesses, multitudes were slain, and others were dispersed in almost all the European kingdoms.
It will be proper, before we proceed any further, to give some account of the beginning of the Waldenses, and of the manner in which they received their name. And respecting the origin of this body of christians, two leading sentiments have prevailed. The papists date their origin in the twelfth century, under the famous reformer Peter Waldo. With this account Moshiem and some others seem to agree. The papists are interested in disputing the antiquity of the Waldensian sect, and dating its origin as late as possible; for if they can prove that they had no existence until the twelfth century, they thence infer that the church of Rome prevailed universally from the early ages up to that time. But Protestants generally of all classes contend that the Waldenses are of much higher antiquity than the time of Peter Waldo of Lyons; but they are not all agreed respecting the time and circumstances of their origin.
Robinson and Milner consider Claude, bishop of Turin, the founder of the sect of the Waldenses. The former calls him the Wicklift of Turin, and the latter the christian hero of the ninth century. This famous reformer was a native of Spain. He was chaplain to the emperor Lewis the Meek, who preferred him to the bishopric of Turin, where he distinguished himself by his zeal against images, relics, pilgrimages, and crosses, all of which abounded ill his diocese. Three or four French monks wrote against him as a blasphemer and a heretic; and his own people were so refractory that he went in fear of his life. He bore a noble testimony against the prevailing errors of his time, and was undoubtedly a most respectable character. He was alive in the year 859. He denied the supremacy of the bishop of Rome; but it is also said that he expressed a great respect for catholicism, and opposed schism and heresy with all his might. 13 Thus fir the history of Claude of Turin appears plain; but respecting the effects of his ministry in Turin and other parts of Piedmont different opinions are entertained.
But it appears evident he was a man of evangelical zeal; that he was the means of promoting the cause of the dissenters in Piedmont, while he himself remained in the establishment; that he laid down principles in his preaching, which he did not carry through in his practice, a thing very common for reformers of his character; that his disciples reasoned consequentially on the principles of their master, and after his death, if not before, renounced the communion of the church of Rome, together with all the pompous and superstitious appendages with which it was surrounded.
But I cannot think that Claude of Turin was the founder of the sect of the Waldenses. They doubtless profited by his ministry, and received great accessions from his converts; but from the suggestions of both enemies and friends, I must believe that there was a body of christians in the valleys of Piedmont and in the recesses of the Alps, of the same character of the Waldenses, long before the time of Claude.
Dr. Allix, in his history of the churches of Piedmont, gives this account of the origin of the Waldenses: That 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 rallies of Lucern and Angrogne; and thence were called Vallerises, Wallenses, or the People of the Valleys. President Edwards, as quoted by Mr. Merrill in his Miniature History of the Baptists, has the following observations respecting these ancient witnesses for the truth: “It is supposed that these people first betook themselves to this desert, secret place among the mountains, to hide themselves from the severity of the heathen persecutions, which were before Constantine the great, and thus the woman fled into the wilderness from the face of the serpent, as related in Revelation.” etc.
Cranz, in his history of the United Brethren, as quoted by Ivimey, has the following statement respecting the origin of the Waldenses. “These ancient christians, (who, besides the several names of reproach given them, were at length denominated Waldenses, from one of the most eminent teachers, Peter Waldus, who is said to have emigrated with the rest from France into Bohemia, and there to have died) date their origin from the beginning of the fourth century; when one Leo, at the great revolution in religion under Constantine the great, opposed the innovations of Sylvester, bishop of Rome,” etc. The cruel Reinerus, who spent much time in examining these people, observes, that “some aver their existence from the days of Sylvester, 16 and others from the very time of the Apostles.” This account the inquisitor seems to have taken from the Waldenses themselves, and it appears highly probable, that it is in substance correct. Their doctrine had existed from the time of the Apostles, and they, as a body, had probably existed from the time of Sylvester, when the church sunk into superstition and formality, and the pious retired from the pompous parade of a worldly minded throng.
I might quote concurring testimonies of the high antiquity of the Waldensian christians. Some popish writers own that they never submitted to the church of Rome, and all acknowledge, that all her cruel laws and persecuting measures, could never extirpate them.
The before mentioned inquisitor pretends, that there had been more than seventy sects of heretics, of which, through the grace of God, all were extinct, except four, Manicheans, Arians, Runcarians, and Leonists, or the poor men of Lyons, another name of the Waldenses.
From all we can learn it appears, that the recesses of the Alps and the Pyrenees, together with the adjoining hills and rallies in France, Spain, and Italy, were distinguished retreats of the faithful friends of God, in the darkest ages of the christian world. Mr. Robinson with his usual singularity, observes “that Greece was the parent, Spain and Navarre the nurses, France the step-mother, and Savoy the jailer of this class of christians called Waldenses.” The Waldenses received their name either from the rallies which they inhabited, or from Peter Waldo or Valdus of Lyons, in France. From the Latin vallis, came the English valley, the French and Spanish valle, the Italian valdesi, and the low Dutch valleye. The word for valley in the language of Piedmont is vaux, and the inhabitants of valleys were hence called vaudois, the name, which the people now in question gave themselves. But English and Latin writers used the term Vallenses instead of vaudois, which was, in process of time, changed into Waldenses and then into Waldensea, which last term, all at present agree to use. This account of the origin of the name Waldenses is highly probable, and would seem to admit of no dispute, were it not for Peter Waldo, a famous reformer of the twelfth century. This eminent man was a wealthy merchant of Lyons, in France, who, upon his embracing the truth, quitted his mercantile employment, distributed his wealth among the poor, procured a translation of the Scriptures in the French language, became a zealous and successful preacher of the gospel, had many disciples and followers, who formed religious assemblies first in France and afterwards in Lombardy, and in a short time throughout the other provinces of Europe. His followers were sometimes called Leonists, or the poor men of Lyons, but generally they were denominated Waldenses. And Mosheim asserts that the whole sect of the Waldenses received their name from Waldo. But Dr. Maclaine, his translator, asserts the contrary, and contends that Waldo derived his name from the true Valdenses or Waldenses of Piedmont. But leaving the dispute about the manner in which the Waldenses received their name, it is certain that they had existed as a distinct and peculiar people, many ages before Waldo, that his numerous followers united with them in promoting the cause of godliness, that they all, together with all others of their character, were henceforward denominated Waldenses; and that besides the name of Waldenses, they had many more which were taken from their peculiar sentiments, their habitations, their circumstances, their connections, their teachers, their own infirmities, or the inventive malice of their enemies. Bruno and Berengarius, Peter de Bruis and Henry his disciple, Arnold of Briscia, Peter Waldo, and Walter Lollard, seem to have been among the principal leaders of the Waldenses in ancient times. They all had numerous followers, who, according to the custom of the times, were called after the names of their leaders. We have the testimony of Mesheim, Robinson, and others, that the papists comprehended all the adversaries of the pope and the superstitions of Rome, under the general name of Waldenses. The Albigenses or Albienses, a large branch of this sect, were so denominated front the town of Albi, in France, where the Waldenses flourished. 20 The term Cathurl or Puritans, was also frequently applied to the Waldensian christians, as it was to evangelical dissenters in other countries. Whenever, therefore, in the following sketches, the terms Berengarians, Petrobrusians, Henricians, Arnoldists, Waldenses, Albigenses, Leonists, or the poor men of Lyons, Lollards, Cathari, etc. occur, it must be understood that they intend a people, who agreed in certain leading principles, however they might differ in some smaller matters, and that all of them were by the Catholics comprehended under the general name of Waldenses.
Most of our information respecting the character of the Waldenses must be taken from the accounts of their enemies, and therefore every favorable hint concerning them will be the more likely to be true. I have not been able to obtain Moreland’s and Allix’s histories of the Waldenses; I must therefore avail myself of the labors of those who have consulted them, and shall, for the present, quote mostly from the third volume of Milner’s Church History, and Ivimey’s History of the English Baptists. These writers appear to have consulted with much attention all the records which shed any light on the history of this ancient people of God.
Evervinus of Steinfield, in the diocese of Cologne, wrote to Bernard, a little before the year 1140, a letter preserved by Mabillon, concerning certain heretics in his neighborhood. He was perplexed in his mind concerning them, and wrote for a resolution of his doubts to the renowned abbot, whose word was a law at that time in christendom. Some extracts of this letter are as follows. “There have been some heretics discovered among us near Cologne, though several of them have, with satisfaction, returned again to the church. One of their bishops and his companions openly opposed us in the assembly of the clergy and laity, in the presence of the archbishop of Cologne, and of many of the nobility, defending their heresies by the words of Christ and the apostles.
Finding that they made no impression, they desired that a day might be appointed for them, in which they might bring their teachers to a. conference, promising to return to the church, provided they found their masters unable to answer the arguments of their opponents, but that otherwise they would rather die, than depart from their judgment. Upon this declaration, having been admonished to repent for, three days, they were seized by the people in the excess of zeal and burnt to death; and what is very amazing, they came to the stake, and bare the pain, not only with patience, but even with joy. Were I with you, Father, I should be glad to ask you, how these members of Satan could persist in their heresy with such courage and constancy, as is scarce to be found in the most religious believers of christianity. Their heresy is this: they say, that the church is only among themselves, because they alone of all men follow the steps of Christ, and imitate the apostles, not seeking secular gains, possessing no property, following the pattern of Christ, who was himself perfectly poor, and did not allow his disciples to possess anything. Ye (say they to us) join house to house and field to field, seeking the things of this world; so that even those who are looked on as most perfect among you, namely, those of the monastic orders, though they have no private property, but have a community of possessions, do yet possess these things. Of themselves they say, we, the poor of Christ, who have no certain abode, fleeing from one city to another, like sheep in the midst of wolves, do endure persecution with the apostles and martyrs; though our lives are strict, abstemious, laborious, devout, and holy, and though we seek only what is necessary for the support of the body, and live as men who are not of the world. They do not believe infant baptism to be a duty, alleging that passage of the gospel, whosoever shall believe, and be baptized, shall be saved. They put no confidence in the intercession of saints, and all things observed in the church, which have not been established by Christ himself or his apostles, they call superstitious. They do not admit of any purgatory after death; but affirm, that as soon as the souls depart out of the bodies, they enter into rest or punishment, proving their assertion from that passage of Solomon, which way soever the tree falls, whether to the south or to the north, there it lies, whence they make void all the prayers and oblations of believers for the deceased. Those of them, who have returned to our church, told us, that great numbers of their persuasion was scattered almost every where, and that among them were many of our clergy and monks.”
St. Bernard, the furious adversary of the Waldenses, amidst all his railing accusations against them, has given them a character much better than christians in general have given him. He condemns their scrupulous refusal to swear at all, which, according to him, was one of their peculiarities. He upbraids them with the observance of secrecy in their religious rites, not considering the necessity which persecution laid upon them. He finds fault with a practice among them of dwelling with women in the same house without being married to them; though it must be owned, he expresses himself as one, who knew very little of the manners of the sect. From the strength of prejudice, and from the numberless rumors propagated against them, he suspects them of hypocrisy; yet his testimony in favor of their general conduct seems to overbalance all his invectives. “If, (says he) you ask them of their faith, nothing can be more christian; if you observe their conversation, nothing can be more blameless; and what they speak they prove by deeds. You may see a man for the testimony of his faith, frequent the church, honor the elders, offer his gift, make his confession, receive the sacrament; what more like a christian? As to life and manners, he circumvents no man, overreaches no man, and does no violence to any.
He fasts much, he eats not the bread of idleness, he works with his hands for his support. The whole body, indeed, are rustic and illiterate; and all whom I have known of this sect are very ignorant.”
Egbert, a monk, and afterwards abbot of Schonauge, tells us, that he had often disputed with these heretics, and says, “These are they who are commonly called Cathari or Puritans. They are armed with all those passages of holy scripture, which in any degree seem to favor their views; with these they know how to defend themselves, and to oppose the catholic truth, though they mistake entirely the true sense of scripture, which cannot be discovered without great judgment. They are increased to great multitudes throughout all countries, their words spread like a cancer.
In Germany we call them Cathari; in Flanders, they call them Piphles; in France, Tisserands, 21 because many of them are of that occupation.” “It appears,” says Milner, “that their numbers were very considerable in this century (the twelfth;) but Cologne, Flanders, the South of France, Savoy, and Milan were their principal places of residence.”
This people, says the same writer, continued in a state of extreme persecution throughout this century. Galdinus, bishop of Milan, who had inveighed against them during the eight or nine years of his episcopacy, died in the year 1173, by an illness contracted through the excess of his vehemence in preaching against them.
Reinerus, an apostate and persecutor of the Waldenses in the thirteenth century, writes, that amongst all sects none is more pernicious than that of the Poor of Lyons, for three reasons: 1st. Because it is the most ancient. Some aver their existence from the days of Sylvester; others from the very time of the apostles. 2d. Because it is so universal; for there is scarcely a country into which this sect has not crept. 3d. Because all others render themselves detestable by their blasphemies; but this has a great appearance of godliness, they living a righteous life before men, believing right concerning God, confessing all the articles of the creed, only hating the pope of Rome, etc.
The same inquisitor owns that the Waldenses frequently read the Holy Scriptures, and in their preaching cited the words of Christ and his apostles concerning love, humility and other virtues; insomuch that the women who heard them were enraptured with the sound. He further says, that they taught men to live by the words of the gospel and the apostles; that they led religious lives; that their manners were seasoned with grace and their words prudent; that they freely discoursed of divine things, that they might be esteemed good men. He observes, likewise, that they taught their children and families the epistles and gospels.
Jacob de Riberia says, that he had seen peasants among. them, who could recite the book of Job by heart; and several others, who could perfectly repeat the whole New Testament.
The bishop of Cavaillon once obliged a preaching monk to enter into conference with them, that they might be convinced of their errors, and the effusion of blood be prevented. This happened during a great persecution in 1540, in Merindal and Provence. But the monk returned in confusion, owning that he had never known in his whole life so much of the Scriptures as he had learned during those few days in which he had held conferences with the heretics. The bishop, however, sent among them a number of doctors, young men, who had lately come from the Sorbonne, which was at that time the very center of theological subtlety at Paris. One of them openly owned, that he had understood more of the doctrine of salvation from the answers of the little children in their catechism, than by all the disputations, which he had ever heard.
Heretics, an ancient inquisitor observes, are known by their manners and words; for they are orderly and modest in their manners and behavior.
They avoid all appearance of pride in their dress, they neither wear rich clothes, nor are they too mean and ragged in their attire. They avoid commerce, that they may be free from falsehood and deceit. They live by manual industry, as day-laborers or mechanics, and their preachers are weavers and tailors. They seek not to amass wealth, but are content with the necessaries of life. They are chaste, temperate, and sober. They abstain from anger. They hypocritically go to the church, confess, communicate, and hear sermons, to catch the preacher in his words. Their women are modest, avoid slander, foolish jesting, and levity of words, especially falsehood and oaths.
But notwithstanding the enemies of these ancient saints made so many reluctant acknowledgments of their worth; yet they looked upon them as vile heretics, fit objects for ecclesiastical vengeance, and the more pious and devout they were, the more dangerous they became to the church of Rome, whose abominations they opposed.
The Waldenses rejected the whole economy of the priesthood, and laughed at the distinctions between the clergy and laity; yet they had pastors whom they called Barbs, which is a contraction of Barbanus, and signifies first, an uncle, and then it was used figuratively for father, guardian, tutor, etc.
The Waldenses were often accused of worshipping their pastors or barbs; a charge which they easy refuted. They were at the same time complained of for obliging them to follow some trade. Both these charges put together prove, that these people made gods of their pastors, and then obliged them to work for their living. “We do not think it necessary, (said they) that our pastors should work for bread. They might be better qualified to instruct us, if we could maintain them without their own labor; but our poverty has no remedy.” So they speak in letters published in 1508. Nothing, says Milner, can exceed the calumnies which were cast on these innocent people. Poor men of Lyons, and dogs, were the usual terms of derision. In Provence they were called cut-purses; in Italy, because they observed not the appointed festivals, and rested from their ordinary occupations only on Sundays, they were called insabathas, that is, regardless of sabbaths. In Germany, they were called gazares, a term expressive of everything flagitiously wicked. In Flanders they were denominated turlupius, that is, inhabitants with wolves, because they were often obliged to dwell in woods and deserts. And because they denied the consecrated host to be God, they were accused of Arianism, as if they had denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Rapin, in relating the transactions of the councils of Henry II gives the following account of these people: “Henry ordered a council to meet at Oxford in 1166, to examine the tenets of certain heretics, called Publicani.
Very probably they were disciples of the Waldenses, who began then to appear. When they were asked in council, who they were? they answered they were christians, and followers of the apostles. After that, being questioned upon the creed, their replies were very orthodox as to the trinity and incarnation. But (adds Rapin) they rejected baptism, the eucharist, marriage, and the communion of saints. They she wed a great deal of modesty and meekness in their whole behavior. When they were threatened with death, in order to oblige them to renounce their tenets, they only said, Blessed are they that suffer for righteousness’ sake.” There is no difficulty, Mr. Ivimey judiciously observes, in understanding what were their sentiments on these heretical points. When a monk says, they rejected the eucharist, it is to be understood that they rejected the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation; when he says, that they rejected marriage, he means, that they denied it to be a sacrament, and maintained it to be a civil institution; when he says, that they rejected the communion of saints, nothing more is to be understood, than that they refused to hold communion with the corrupt church of Rome; and when he says, that they rejected baptism, what are we to under. stand but that they rejected the baptism of infants? These were the errors for which they were branded with a hot iron in their foreheads, by those who had “the mark of the beast, both in their foreheads and in their hands.” We can give but a very brief account of the persecutions which the Waldenses suffered and of the success which attended their exertions.
They underwent the most dreadful persecutions; and every means which malice and cruelty could invent, was used to exterminate them and their principles from the earth. The crusade against them consisted of five. hundred thousand men. More than three hundred gentlemen’s seats were razed, and many walled towns destroyed. The subjects of Raymond, earl of Toulouse, and of some other great personages in his neighborhood, so generally professed the Waldensian doctrines, that they became the peculiar objects of papal vengeance. The inhabitants of Toulouse, Carcassone, Beziers, Narbonne, Avignon, and many other cities, who were commonly called the Albigenses, were exposed to a persecution as cruel and atrocious as ally recorded in history.
Rainerus indeed owns, that the Waldenses were the most formidable enemies of the church of Rome, “because,” saith he, “they have a great appearance of godliness; because they live righteously before men, believe rightly of God in all things, and hold all the articles of the creed; yet they hate and revile the church of Rome; and in their accusations they are easily believed by the people.”
It was reserved to Innocent III than whom no pope ever possessed more ambition, to institute the inquisition, and the Waldenses were the first objects of its cruelty. He authorized certain monks to frame the process of that court, and to deliver the supposed heretics to the secular power. The beginning of the thirteenth century saw thousands of persons burned or hanged by these diabolical devices, whose sole crime was, that they trusted only in Jesus Christ for salvation, and renounced all the vain hopes of self-righteous idolatry and superstition.
About the year 1400, the persecutors attacked the Waldenses of the valley of Pragela. The poor people seeing their caves possessed by their enemies, who assaulted them during the severity of the winter, retreated to one of the highest mountains of the Alps, the mothers carrying cradles, and leading by the hand those little children, who were able to walk. Many of them were murdered, others were starved to death, a hundred and eighty children were found dead in their cradles, and the greatest part of their mothers died soon after them. In the valley of Loyse, four hundred little children were found suffocated in their cradles, or in the arms of their deceased mothers, in consequence of a great quantity of wood being placed at the entrance of the caves and set on fire. On the whole, above three thousand persons belonging to the valley were destroyed, and this righteous people were in that place exterminated. The Waldenses of Pragela and Fraissiniere, alarmed by these sanguinary proceedings, made provision for their own safety, and expected the enemy at the passage and narrow straits of their valleys, and were in fact so well prepared to receive them, that the invaders were obliged to retreat. Some attempts were made afterwards by the Waldenses of Fraissiniere to regain their property, which had been unjustly seized by their persecutors. The favor of Lewis XII of France was exerted towards them; yet they could never obtain any remedy.
The princes of Piedmont, who were the dukes of Savoy, were very unwilling to disturb their subjects, of whose loyalty, peaceableness, industry, and probity they received such uniform testimony. A fact, which seemed peculiarly to demonstrate their general innocence, must be noticed. Their neighbors particularly prized a Piedmontese servant, and preferred the women of the valleys above all others, to nurse their children. Calumny, however, prevailed at length, and such a number of accusations against them appeared, charging them with crimes of the most monstrous nature, that the civil power permitted the papal to indulge its thirst for blood. Dreadful cruelties were inflicted on the people of God; and these, by their constancy, revived the memory of the primitive martyrs. Among them Catelin Girard was distinguished, who, standing on the block, on which he was to be burned at Revel, in the marquisate of Saluces, requested his executioners to give him two stones; which request being with difficulty obtained, the martyr holding them in his hands, said, “when I have eaten these stones, then you shall see an end of that religion for which ye put me to death,” and then he cast the stones on the ground.
But our limits forbid our pursuing any farther an account of the sufferings of these people. It is sufficient to observe, that their enemies were far from accomplishing their designs. Archbishop Asher observes, that as the persecution about Stephen proved for the furtherance of the gospel in other parts of the world, so was it here. Insomuch that Eneas Sylvius, afterwards pope Pius II confessed, that neither the decrees of popes, nor armies of christians could extirpate the Waldensian sect.
Various accounts mention their dispersion abroad, and the papists complain much of their infesting most parts of their dominions and disturbing the peace of the church.
We learn from Fox, on the authority of Robert Guisborne, that in the time of Henry II about the year 1158, two eminent Waldensian preachers or barbs, Gerhardus and Dulcinus, came into England to propagate the gospel; and archbishop Usher, from Thomas Walden, says, that “several Waldenses, that came out of France, were apprehended, and by the king’s command were marked in the forehead with a key or hot iron,” “Which sect (says William of Newbury, in his history of England) were called the Publicani, whose original was from Gascoyne; and who, being as numerous as the sand of the sea, did sorely infest both France, Italy, Spain, and England.”
Archbishop Usher informs us on the authority of Matthew Paris of Westminster, that “the Berengarian or Waldensian heresy had, about the year 1180, generally infected all France, Italy, and England.” Guitmond, a popish writer of that time, also says, that “not only the weaker sort in the country villages, but the nobility and gentry in the chief towns and cities, were infected therewith; and therefore Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, who held this see both in the reigns of William the Conqueror and of his son William Rufus, wrote against them in the year 1087.” The archbishop adds from Poplinus’ history of France, that “the Waldenses of Aquitain did, about the year 1100, during the reigns of Henry I, and Stephen, kings of England, spread themselves and their doctrines all over Europe,” and mentions England in particular. From the recesses of the Alps and Pyrenees and the adjoining rallies, these people were driven out by heretic hunters, and were obliged to seek refuge in other countries. Wherever they went, light increased and persecution raged. The word of God, says Milner, grew and multiplied, in the places were Waldo planted churches, and even in still more distant regions. In Alsace and along the Rhine, the gospel was preached with a powerful effusion of the Holy Spirit; persecutions ensued, and thirty-five citizens of Mentz were burned at one fire in the city of Bingen, and at Mentz eighteen. The bishop of Mentz was very active in these persecutions, and the bishop of Strasburg was not inferior to him in vindictive zeal; for, through his means, eighty persons were burned at Strasburg. Every thing relating to the Waldenses resembled the scenes of the primitive church.
Numbers died praising God, and in confident assurance of a blessed resurrection; whence the blood of the martyrs again became the seed of the church; and in Bulgaria, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Hungary, churches were planted, which flourished in the thirteenth century, governed by Bartholomew, a native of Carcassone, a city not far distant from Toulouse, which might be called in those days the metropolis of the Waldenses, on account of the numbers who there professed evangelical truth. In Bohemia in the country of Passaw, the churches were reckoned to have contained eighty thousand professors in the former part of the fourteenth century.
Almost throughout Europe Waldenses were to be found; and yet they were treated as the off scouring of the earth, and as people against whom all the power and wisdom of the world were united. But “the witnesses continued to prophesy in sackcloth,” and souls were built up in the faith, the hope, and the charity of the gospel. “From the borders of Spain, (says the same writer) throughout the south of France, for the most part among and below the Alps, along the Rhine, on both sides of its course, and even to Bohemia, thousands of godly souls were seen patiently to bear persecution for the sake of Christ, against whom malice could say no evil, but what admits the most satisfactory refutation; men distinguished for every virtue, and only hated because of godliness itself.
Persecutors with a sigh owned, that, because of their virtue, they were the most dangerous enemies of the church.”
One quotation more from Mr. Milner, shall close this part of the narration.
From the year 1206, when the inquisition was first established, to the year 1228, the havoc made among helpless christians was so great, that certain French bishops, in the last mentioned year, desired the monks of the inquisition to defer a little their work of imprisonment, till the pope was advertised of the great numbers apprehended; numbers so great, that it was impossible to defray the charge of their subsistence, and even to provide stone and mortar to build prisons for them. Yet so true is it that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, that in the year 1550, there were in Europe above eight hundred thousand who professed the religion of the Waldenses.
It is proper that we should now take notice of some of the evidences on which we ground our opinion, that many, if not most of the Waldenses, were Baptists. We have already seen that one of the grievous sins, which their enemies laid to their charge, was denying infant baptism. We shall exhibit in one view, the substance of what can be gathered from different historians on this subject.
Chessanion, in his history of the Albigenses, has given the following very candid account of this matter. “Some writers (he says) affirm, that the Albigenses approved not the baptism of infants; others, that they entirely slighted this holy sacrament, as if it were of no use either to great or small.
The same may be said of the Waldenses, though some affirm that they have always baptized their children. This difference of authors kept me sometime in suspense before I could come to be resolved on which side the truth lay. At last considering what St. Bernard saith of this matter in his sixty-sixth homily, on the 2d chapter of the Song of Songs, and the reasons he brings to refute this error and also what he wrote ad Hildefonsum Comitem sancti Egidii, I cannot deny but the Albigenses, for the greatest part, were of this opinion. And that which confirms me yet more in this belief is, that in the history of the city of Treves, there were some, who denied that the sacrament of baptism was available to the salvation of infants; and one Catherine Saube, who was burnt at Montpelier, in the year 1417, for being of the mind of the Albigenses in not believing the traditions of the Romish church, was of the same mind respecting infant baptism; as it is recorded in the register of the town-house of the said city of Montpelier. The truth is, (continues Chessonion)they did not reject the sacrament and say it was useless, but only counted it unnecessary to infants, because they are not of age to believe, nor capable of giving evidence of their faith. That which induced them, as I suppose, to entertain this opinion is, what our Lord says, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This statement is in part at least corroborated by Dr. Wall in his History of Infant Baptism; and as he was desirous of establishing the contrary opinion, his concessions in our favor are certainly of weight. Speaking of the Petrobrussians, whom he calls a sect of the Waldenses, he says, “withdrawing themselves about the year 1100, from the communion of the church of Rome, which was then very corrupt, they did reckon infant baptism as one of the corruptions, and accordingly renounced it, and practiced only adult baptism.” Part 2. Chap. 7. Section 5, 6, 7.
Mosheim, in his Ecclesiastical History, speaking of Peter de Bruis, who was a celebrated itinerant preacher, and who was burnt to death by an enraged populace at St. Giles, in the year 1130, says, “It is certain that one of his tenets was, that no persons whatever were to be baptized before they were come to the full use of reason.” The testimony of Mr. Brandt, respecting the antiquity of these churches and of their sentiments respecting baptism is of importance to our argument. He says, that “the errors and crafty inventions of popery had never been able to find a passage to these people; since being shut up in their rallies, separate from the rest of the world, and conversing chiefly among themselves they had retained a great deal of the simplicity and purity of the Apostolic Doctrine: That this antiquity of the doctrine of the Waldenses, is acknowledged even by their greatest enemies. Some of them likewise rejected infant baptism.”
To corroborate this last clause many things are produced by Dr. Allix in his remarks on the ancient churches of Piedmont. “The followers of Gundulphus in Italy were many of them examined by Gerhard bishop of Cambray and Arras upon several heads in the year 1025. It seems as if these people were surfeited with the vicious and debauched lives of the Romish clergy, and did rather choose to go without any baptism, rather than have it administered by such lewd hands, or that they had agreed to have it performed privately in their own way. Let things have been as it would, it is plain they were utterly against infant baptism.”
In a little time after this, lived the noted Arnold of Brescia, a follower of Berengarius, who eminently opposed the Romish corruptions. And amongst some notions imputed to him, it is observed, “there was yet a more heinous thing laid to his charge, which was this; that he was unsound in his judgment about the sacrament of the altar and infant baptism.” This excellent man was condemned, hanged, and his body burnt at Rome, and the ashes case into the Tiber. But there is a letter of Everinus to St. Bernard, a little before the year 1146, wherein he speaks clearly of a sect which approved of adult baptism upon believing and strenuously opposed infant baptism. The words of the letter are, “They make void the priesthood of the church and condemn the sacraments besides baptism only, and this only in those who were come to age, who, they say, are baptized by Christ himself, whosoever be the ministers of the sacraments.
They do not believe infant baptism, alleging that place of the gospel, whosoever shall believe and be baptized, shall be saved,” The same learned gentleman gives us an extract taken by Claudius Caissord in the year 1548, out of an old man, uscript of Rainerus a friar, wrote by him 296 years before, against the Waldenses, wherein he has these words, “They say, that when first a man is baptized, then he is received into this sect. Some of them hold, that baptism is of no advantage to infants, because they cannot actually believe.” Dr. Wall allows, that the Lateran council under Innocent II 1139, condemned Peter Bruis and Arnold of Breseia, who seems to have been a follower of Bruis, for rejecting infant Baptism. Bishop Bossuet, a Catholic, complaining of Calvin’s party, for claiming apostolical succession through the Waldenses, observes, “You adopt Henry and Peter Bruis among your predecessors, but both of these, everybody knows, were Anabaptists.” “The Waldenses,” says Francowitz, “scent a little of Anabaptism; but they were nothing like the Anabaptists of our times.” “Yes,” replies Limborch, “to say honestly what I think, of all the modern sects of christians, the Dutch Baptists most resemble both the Albigenses and the Waldenses, but particularly the latter.” The following passage from Robinson, though somewhat lengthy, I will take the liberty to transcribe, as it must be gratifying to the reader, to hear what an account a sulky enemy could give of one of these ancient christians: Reinerus thus describes the manner in which the Waldenses insinuated their principles into the gentry: “Sir, will you please to buy any rings, or seals, or trinkets? Madam, will you look at any handkerchiefs, or pieces of needle-work for veils? I can afford them cheap.” If, after a purchase, the company ask, “Have you any thing more? “ The salesman would reply, “O yes, I have commodities far more valuable than these, and I will make you a present of them, if you will protect me from the clergy.”
Security being promised, on he would go: “The inestimable jewel I spoke of is the word of God, by which he communicates his mind to men, and which inflames their hearts with love to him. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee named Nazareth; “ and so he would proceed to repeat the remaining part of the first chapter of Luke.
Or he would begin with the thirteenth of John, and repeat the last discourse of Jesus to his disciples. If the company should seem pleased, he would proceed to repeat the twenty-third of Matthew, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat…Wo unto you, ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. ..Wo unto you, ye devour widows’ houses” “And pray,” should one of the company say, “against whom are these woes denounced think you? “ he would reply, “Against the clergy and the monks. The doctors of the Roman church are pompous both in their habits and their manners, they love the uppermost rooms, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and to be called Rabbi, Rabbi. For our parts, we desire no such Rabbies. They are incontinent; we live each in chastity with his own wife. They are the rich and avaricious, of whom the Lord says, “Wo unto you rich, for ye have received your consolation; “ but we “having food and raiment are therewith content.” They are voluptuous and devour widows’ houses; we only eat to be refreshed and supported. They fight and encourage war, and command the poor to be killed and burnt, in defiance of the saying, “he that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword.” For our parts, they persecute us for righteousness’ sake. They do nothing, they eat the bread of idleness; we work with our hands. They monopolize the giving of instruction, and “wo be to them that take away the key of knowledge; “ but among us women teach as well as men, and one disciple as soon as he is informed himself teaches another. Among them you can hardly find a doctor, who can repeat three chapters of the New Testament by heart; but of us there is hardly man or woman, who doth not retain the whole. And because we are sincere believers in Christ, and all teach and enforce a holy life and conversation, these scribes and Pharisees persecute us to death, as their predecessors did Jesus Christ.” Father Gretzer, the first editor of the complete book of Reinerus, has put in the margin against the above, these words: “This is a true picture of the heretics of our age, particularly Anabaptists.” Happy for the Anabaptists, indeed, (says Robinson) if they can affirm all that with truth of themselves, which the old Waldensian preaching pedlar affirmed of himself and his company.”
To recapitulate the sum of the preceding extracts, we find that the Waldenses, by whatever name they were called, were constantly, for the space of many centuries, charged with the heinous crime of denying infantbaptism, and that the reasons which they gave for so doing, as taken from the mouths of their enemies, were many of them verbatim, and all of them in substance, just such as the Baptists now give. Have not then the Baptists good reasons for believing that the Waldenses were generally of their sentiments?
I admire the piety of Mr. Milner, and every evangelical christian has reason to respect his memory; and to his laborious researches, I am indebted for many of the preceding sketches respecting these ancient witnesses for the truth; but in his account of their baptism, his prepossessions in favor of the rites of his own church, lead him to state the matter in a manner peculiarly vague and unfair. He seems much at a loss to know how to support his own theory, and satisfy his own mind.
But he at length concludes, “I cannot find any satisfactory proofs that the Waldenses were, in judgment, Antipedobaptists strictly!” But soon after, as if dissatisfied with this statement, he observes, “I lay no great stress on the subject, for the Waldenses might have been a faithful, humble, and spiritual people, as I believe they were, if they had differed from the general body of christians on this article.” 29 Thus he at last reluctantly gives up the matter in favor of the Baptists.
But Dr. Mosheim, notwithstanding all the hard names which he has bestowed on the Baptists, has, in the following passages, put this matter beyond all doubt or disputation. “The true origin,” says he, “of that sect which acquired the denomination of the Anabaptists, by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived the name of Mennonists from the famous man, to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is, of consequence, difficult to be ascertained.” This we look upon as a most important concession by one of our most powerful adversaries. This account utterly refutes the long repeated, slanderous story, that the Baptists originated with the madmen of Munster in 1522. “This uncertainty,” continues the doctor, “will not appear surprising, when it is considered, that this sect started up, all of a sudden, in several countries, at the same point of time, under leaders of different talents and different intentions, and at the very period when the first contests of the reformers with the Roman pontiffs drew the attention of the world, and employed the pens of the learned, in such a manner, as to render all other objects and incidents almost matters of indifference. The modern Mennonites not only consider themselves as the descendants of the Waldenses, who were so grievously oppressed and persecuted by the despotic heads of the Roman church, but pretend, moreover, to be the purest offspring of these respectable sufferers, being equally averse to all principles of rebellion, on the one hand, and all suggestions of fanaticism on the other.”
In the above quotation it is acknowledged that the origin of the Baptists is hid in the remote depths of antiquity; in the following passage the same subject is amplified and more fully explained. “It may be observed that the Mennonites (that is, the Baptists of Germany) are not entirely mistaken, when they boast of their descent from the Waldenses, Petrobrussians and other ancient sects, who are usually considered as witnesses of the truth, in the times of universal darkness and superstition. Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany, many persons, who adhered tenaciously to the following doctrine, which the Waldenses, Wickliffites, and Hussites had maintained, some in a more disguised, and others in a more open and public manner, viz. That the kingdom of Christ or the visible church he had established upon earth, was an assembly of true and real saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous, and also exempt from all those institutions, which human prudence suggests, to oppose the progress of iniquity, or to correct and rearm transgressors. This maxim is the true source of all the peculiarities that are to be found in the religious doctrine and discipline of the Mennonites; and it is most certain that the greatest part of these peculiarities were approved of by many of those, who, before the dawn of the reformation, entertained the notion already mentioned, relating to the visible church of Christ.” This grand maxim, which is thus acknowledged to be the true source of all the peculiarities of the Mennonites, and of all the ancient Waldenses, is most fairly stated, and when stripped of the verbose attire, with which the learned doctor has arrayed it, is, by every Baptist, most heartily adopted.
This maxim goes to exclude all the inventions and traditions of men, and infant baptism among the rest. With this maxim in his heart, and his Bible in his hand, a Baptist marches forward in his religious course, and leaves the world and worldly christians, to dispute among themselves about the traditions of the fathers, and rites, which God has never commanded.
But strange to tell, this maxim the great Mosheim calls a fanatical principle, productive of errors, chimeras, tumults, seditions, etc. Well might Robinson say, that a Baptist day-laborer understands liberty better than this learned historian and divine. It seems evident enough from the tenor of Mosheim’s writings, that he could not comprehend how a man could be a good citizen, and yet hold, that magistrates, as such, have nothing to do with the kingdom of Christ. It is this grand maxim with its appendages, and not rebaptizing, that hath occasioned most of the persecutions, which our brethren have endured in ancient or modern times.
A few general observations shall close this chapter, which has already been extended to a greater length than was at first intended.
The Waldenses, like the scriptures, have been resorted to by all parties of protestants in defense of their peculiar sentiments. The papists accused the protestants of being a new sect, whose principles had no existence till the days of Luther. This charge they all denied, and each party went to rumaging to find predecessors, and trace a line of succession down to the apostles. The corruptions of popery stood as a mountain in the way, and there was no alternative but to find a by-path through the land of the Waldenses. This circumstance induced many learned men of different communities, to investigate the history of this people with more care and attention, than it is any ways likely they would otherwise have done.
They doubtless had no thought of helping the cause of the Baptists, who were, at the time of these altercations, universally despised and trodden under foot. But it has so happened, that these researches have furnished us with important evidence, which was not intended for our use; and it now appears plain, that of all parties the Baptists have the best claim to the ancient Waldenses as their predecessors.
But the same researches which have assisted the Baptists in their inquiries into the character of the Waldenses, have caused them much perplexity and trouble. For the researchers having each one a different standard set up, went in quest of a people who would conform to it. The natural consequence was, that they were all tempted to mould the character of the Waldenses to suit their views. The pious Milner is a notable example of this kind. But a number of older writers, who do not seem to have thought of the Baptists, nor in the least suspected that they would derive any advantage from their statements, have told without reserve all that the accusers of these people said of their rejecting infant baptism, and they have also stated their arguments in favor of the baptism of believers and of them only. “Little,” says Robinson, “did the old Waldenses think, when they were held in universal abhorrence, and committed every where to the flames, that a time would come, when the honor of a connection with them, would be disputed by different parties of the highest reputation. So it happened, however, at the reformation, and every reformed church put in its claim.” Uninterrupted succession was the cause of these different claims, but all attempts to prove such a succession have proved ineffectual. “Protestants by the most substantial arguments have blasted the doctrine of papal succession; and yet these very protestants have undertaken to make proof of an unbroken series of persons of their own sentiments, following one another in due order from the apostles to themselves. The papal succession is a catalogue of names of real and imaginary men, of christians and atheists, blasphemers and saints. The Lutheran succession runs in the papal channel till the reformation, and then in a small stream changes its course. The Calvinist succession, which includes the Presbyterians and all sects which originated from Geneva, is a zig-zag, and it is made up of men of all principles and all communities, and, what is very surprising, of popes, arians, and anabaptists, exactly such men as Calvin and his associates committed to the flames for heresy. “The doctrine of uninterrupted succession is necessary only to such churches as regulate their faith and practice by tradition, and for their use it was first invented.” But a Baptist has not the least trouble about what is called a lineal or apostolical succession. His line of succession is in faithful men, and it is a matter of indifference with them, when or where they lived, by what name they were called, or by whom they were baptized or ordained. But one thing is certain, that if any thing has been omitted or done wrong, they are sure to correct it according to their views of the apostolical model.
One observation farther, respecting the Waldenses, ought not to be omitted. Some have attempted to prove that they were all Pedo-baptists, and others, that they were all Baptists. Both, in my opinion, attempt to prove too much. That many and probably most of them were Baptists, or would now be esteemed such, I think has been clearly proved; but it is evident that others baptized their children, and some of them fell in with Calvin’s party at Geneva, soon after the commencement of the reformation. Some of them appear to have been like the Quakers, and rejected baptism altogether. Some were Arians, Unitarians, etc. Some are represented as a turbulent faction in the church, while others had wholly separated from it. Some, we find, engaged in political struggles and in scenes of war, while others would not swear at all, nor bear arms in any case, nor shed human blood. This circumstance seems to cast a gloom over the character of the Waldenses, but it admits of an easy and satisfactory explanation.
We have shown that the terms Waldenses and Albigenses were, by the papists, generally applied to all the adversaries of the pope and the tyranny and superstitions of Rome.
The term Waldenses was most generally used and answered very nearly to that of Nonconformist in England, which every one knows comprehends a multitude of sects, among whom there exists a great variety of opinions and practices. Considering then the term Waldenses as a general name for a dissenter, it is easy to conceive that it would comprehend a great variety of characters; and it is a well known fact that this term was applied without any distinction, to the righteous and profligate, to the wise and foolish, to the orthodox and heterodox, to the sober christian and the turbulent incendiary. The adversaries of Rome dissented for different reasons, some for conscience’ sake, and others from political motives, some were christians and others were not; but it is always found that an infidel is as anxious for liberty of conscience as a christian. These things make it necessary to distinguish between the evangelical Waldenses, who are usually considered as the ancient witnesses for the truth, and that promiscuous assemblage of dissenters, to whom the papists misapplied the name.
The people properly called Waldenses were remarkable for the purity of their morals and the simplicity of their faith, their enemies themselves being judges; and so far from engaging in any political struggles, many of them would not in any case bear arms nor shed human blood. Others seem to have believed in defensive war, and when their enemies came to molest them in their valleys and obscure retreats, they assembled at the defiles of the mountains, and with bows and arrows disputed their passage, and often repelled them.
It has often been the lot of christians to be charged with tumults and seditions in which they had no hand, but which they heartily abhorred. It has also often happened, that they have had officious patrons and defenders, who have done them more hurt than good. There is a remarkable example of this kind in the history of the Waldenses. In the beginning of the twelfth century, these people were very numerous in the southern parts of France, and particularly in the dominions of Raymond, count of Toulouse. They appear to have emigrated hither from the other side of the Alps. Raymond strongly protected his Waldensian subjects, though there seems no evidence that he understood or felt the vital influence of their doctrine. At this time the horrid inquisition was just established, and its cruel instruments were dispersed in different countries. But this bloody engine met with violent opposition, and in many cases the inquisitors were apprehended and confined, and some were murdered either by an enraged populace, or by the secret contrivances of princes. Two inquisitors were sent into the dominions of Raymond, who met with rough treatment, and one of them was murdered, and Raymond was considered the author of his death. This circumstance furnished pope Innocent with a specious pretence for executing his bloody purposes; a holy war was undertaken against Raymond and his subjects, and multitudes of the innocent Waldenses were slain and dispersed, in revenge for one rash act of their patron, which was committed without their knowledge or desire.
Among the people properly called Waldenses, there was doubtless some diversity of opinion as it respects matters both of faith and practice. But it is certain from the testimony of both friends and enemies, that many of them rejected infant baptism, and held, that professed believers were the only subjects of the baptismal rite. It is, on the other hand, evident, that some of them baptized their children, but all were obnoxious to the Church of Rome, and sorely felt the weight of her revengeful hand. But “as thunder storms drive timorous animals together for shelter,” so the storms of persecution induced these christians to associate together for their common safety and mutual edification in the things of God.
Some further information respecting the Waldenses will be given in the accounts which will follow in the next chapter. And it will be found that wherever they prevailed infant baptism was opposed, and the baptism of believers was maintained.