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The Waldensians (Waldenses, Vallenses, Valdesi or Vaudois) are followers of a Christian movement that was formed in Europe before the Reformation. The establishment of the Waldensians is credited to Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant, who was convicted to give away his riches around 1173 in order to preach the gospel truths and call for an adherence to the Bible as the only rule of faith.
The Waldensian movement was characterized from the beginning by lay preaching. There were 3 groups of Waldensians: 1-Sandaliati that received sacred orders and were to prove the heresiarchs wrong. 2-Doctores that instructed and trained missionaries. 3-Novellani that preached to the general population.
Between 1175 and 1185, Waldo commissioned the translation of the New Testament into the vernacular—the Arpitan (Franco-Provençal) language. In the twelfth century, the movement spread to the Cottian Alps, or modern France and Italy.
The main beliefs of the Waldensians are: The atoning death and justifying righteousness of Christ, the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the fall of man, the incarnation of the Son of God and the necessity of obeying all the commandments of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:2-17).
The Waldensians rejected many teachings of the Catholic Church that were contrary to the Bible. Regarding priesthood, they believed that bishops should not have royal rights and that no one should kneel before them. They believed in the universal priesthood of all believers. And they declared that according to the Bible, the church should not prohibit the marriage of clergy.
Regarding church ordinances, they condemned the sacraments of the church and the doctrine of transubstantiation. They also denied the practice of infant baptism and taught that the “ablution which is given to infants profits nothing. They opposed the practice of oaths and prayers for the dead and declared that the doctrine of purgatory is the “invention of the Antichrist.” They believed that prayer could be offered in a church, or a barn and that holy water was no more efficacious than regular water.
Regarding specific observances, they viewed church relics as unholy for they were no different from any other bones. In addition, they saw no real value in the act of pilgrimage. As for fasting, they believed that there was no need to abstain from eating meat on certain days as the Catholic Church ordained.
Because the Catholic Church changed God’s moral law (second and fourth commandments, Exodus 20) and opposed other major biblical doctrines, the Waldensians regarded the Catholic Church as the harlot of the Apocalypse (Revelation 17) and considered the Papal power as the Antichrist of Rome (Revelation 13).
Roman Catholic Opposition
The Catholic Church examined the Waldensians’ beliefs at the Third Lateran Council (1179) and condemned the members as heretics. In 1184, at the Synod of Verona, under the auspices of Pope Lucius III, the members were excommunicated. In 1211, more than 80 Waldensians were burned as heretics at Strasbourg by the orders of Pope Innocent III during the Fourth Lateran Council. In 1215, the pope officially declared the Waldensians as heretics.
This was followed by several centuries of persecution that nearly destroyed the movement. In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull for the extermination of the movement’s heresies. Alberto de’ Capitanei, archdeacon of Cremona, organized a crusade to fulfill this order. This persecution caused the members to flee to more hospitable places. Consequently, their beliefs spread to the far parts of Europe.
In the 16th century, the Waldensians joined the Protestant reformation, led by the early Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger. They joined the Protestants with the Resolutions of Chanforan on the 12th of September 1532.
Early Sabbath Keeping Group
This movement was called Insabbatati, Sabati, Inzabbatati, or Sabotiers. Historians like Melchior Goldast wrote that the name insabbatati was given to them because they observed the seventh day sabbath according to the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11).
Jesuit Inquisitor Francis Pegne cited in Nicholas Eymerich famous work the Directorium Inquisitorium that “many used to think it [insabbatati] came from Sabbath, and that they [Waldenses] observed the Sabbath.” Also, in the 12th century, Inquisitor Moneta of Cremona railed against the Waldenses for seventh day sabbath keeping. In addition, Johann Gottfried Gering in 1756 in his Compendieuses Church and Heretic Lexicon defined Sabbatati (a sect of the Waldenses) as those who kept the sabbath.
The early Waldenses’ seventh day Sabbath keeping is also identified from their very own early prose tracts, which show an exposition on the Ten Commandments and their explanation on the 4th commandment that defended their sabbath observance.
In His service,