A Brief Sketch of the Ancient Waldenses

"Let us look for a people that have existed from the apostles to the present. It cannot be expected that in a few minutes we could do justice to such a subject, but let us try for a few moments. Let us read:

"There was no difference in point of doctrine between the Novatianists and other Christians. What peculiarly distinguished them was their refusing to readmit to the communion of the church those who, after baptism, had fallen into the commission of heinous crimes, though they did not pretend that even such were excluded from all possibility or hopes of salvation. They consider 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, that is, the pure; and what showed still a more extravagant degree of vanity and arrogance, they obliged such as come 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." Mosheim, century 3, part 2, chapter 5, sec. 18.

The people mentioned in this quotation separated from the Catholic party A. D. 251, and while Novatian was the most conspicuous among their ministers, and the people were called after his name, it is often the case that he is said to be the founder of his sect, and that it started up at the time before mentioned, but the fact that when he withdrew there were churches and ministers scattered over the whole country at the same time, it is evident that he was not the founder of the sect called Novatianists, but these these churches which had kept the ordinances and the doctrine pure from the apostles until the time of the separation, simply refused to follow the Catholic party into the thousand and one new things she was beginning to indulge. We are not dependent on Novatian or any other one minister for a succession of baptism, for, at the time of the separation, there were many ministers and churches for baptism to have come through to us.

But let us hear the same historian again, who, by the way, is not a Baptist, but a Lutheran. He says:

"Among the sects that troubled the Latin church during this (12th) century, the principal place is due to the Catharists, whom we already had occasion to mention. (Then he refers us to the same we have just read.) This numerous faction, leaving their first residence, which was in Bulgaria, spread themselves throughout almost all the European provinces, where they occasioned much tumult and disorder; but their fate was unhappy, for, wherever they were caught, they were put to death with the most unrelenting cruelty." Mosheim, century 12, part 2, sec. 4.

He says these were the same people he had already mentioned, and then refers us back to the quotation we first made, so that we cannot be mistaken if we say they have come down from the third to the twelfth century, and are known by our historian as the same people. Their doctrine was that no persons, whatever, were to be admitted to baptism before they were come to the full use of their reason. We also find them in the eleventh century under the name of Paulicians. They reject infant baptism.

But again:

"The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptists, by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites 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, extremely difficult to be ascertained. This uncertainty will not appear surprising, when it is considered that this sect started up all of a sudden, 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." Mosheim, century 16, part 2, chapter 3, sec. 1.

If this witness was a Baptist, he might be accused of being partial; but as he is not, he is not very likely to be anxious to show that the Baptists have existed ever since the apostles.

I wish to hear him again and will read from the same chapter.

"For it must be carefully observed that, though all those projectors of a new, unspotted and perfect church, were comprehended under the general name of Anabaptists, on account of their opposing the baptism of infants, and their rebaptizing such as had received the sacrament in a state of childhood in other churches, yet they were, from their very origin, subdivided into various sects, which differed from each other in points of no small moment."

From this we are to learn that there were other sects during the dark ages that opposed the Roman Catholic church that differed very materially from our people, yet they were frequently classed with them on account of their opposition to the Catholic church. It is in this way, no doubt, that our people have been often misrepresented as being guilty of all the doctrines and practices that were entertained during their history, when, as Dr. Mosheim observes, they differed from others on those points.

I now introduce another witness, who is by no means a Baptist, and his testimony must be good. It is Bishop Newton, and he, in his work, is not writing a history, but is proving the authenticity of the scriptures by the fulfillment of the prophesies. He says:

"But the true witnesses, and, as I may say, the Protestants of this age (12th century) were the Waldenses and Albigenses, who began to be famous at this time, and, being dispersed into various places, were distinguished by various appellations.

Their first and proper name seemeth to have been Vallenses, or inhabitants of the valleys; and so one of the oldest writers, Ebrad, of Bethune, who wrote in the year 1212: "They call themselves Vallenses, because they abide in the valley of tears, alluding to their situation in the valleys of Piedmont. They were called Albigenses from Alby, a city in the southern part of France, where also great numbers of them were situated. They were afterwards denominated Valdenses, or Waldenses, from Peter Valdo or Waldo, a rich citizen of Lyons, and a considerable leader of the sect. From Lyons, too, they were called Leonists, and Cathari from the professed purity of their life and doctrine, as others since have had the name of Puritans. As there were a variety of names, so there might be some diversity of opinion among them; but that they were not guilty of Manicheism and other abominable heresies, which have been charged upon them, is certain and evident from all the remains of their creeds, confessions and writings." (pp. 513-514.)

I am glad Bishop Newton said this, for if he had been a Baptist, he might have been partial, but, being a Pedobaptist, he cannot be accused of being prejudiced in favor of the Waldenses. It is sometimes said by our opponents that the Waldenses were not free from some very grievous errors, but this writer exonerates them.

But let us read from him again:

"Much hath been written in censure and condemnation of this sect, both by enemies and friends, by Papists and Protestants. If they have been grossly misrepresented and vilified on one side, they have been amply justified and vindicated on the other; but I will only produce the testimony of three witnesses concerning them, whom both sides must allow to be unexceptionable, Reinerious, Thuanus, and Mezeray. Reinerious flourished about the year 1254, and his testimony is the more remarkable, as he was a Dominician, and inquisitor general. "Among all the sects, which still are or ever have been, there is not any more pernicious to the church than that of the Leonists. And this for three reasons. The first is, because it is older, for some say that it hath endured from the time of Pope Sylvester; others from the time of the apostles. The second, because it is more general, for there is scarce any country wherein this sect is not. The third, because when all other sects beget horror in the hearers by the outrageousness of their blasphemies against God, this of the Leonists hath a great show of piety, because they live justly before men, and believe all things rightly concerning God, and all the articles which are contained in the creed; only they blaspheme the church of Rome and the clergy, whom the multitude of the laity is easy to believe." (pp. 515-516.)

The witness just quoted was once a member of the Waldensian church, and apostasized from it, and became one of their most violent persecutors. His testimony is good, as he is an enemy, and from what he says, no doubt this people have existed from the apostles to the present time, and that they were what is now denominated "Hardshell" Baptists.

If this be true, then we have had no founder of our church but Christ and the apostles, and we have had a connection of baptism all through the dark ages until now. They have been known by many different names, at different times and in different localities, but it is very evident that they were the same people all the time. Let us see if history will bear us out in that idea.

"These Puritans, being exposed to severe and sanguinary persecutions for dissent, from age to age, were compelled to shelter themselves from the desolating storm in retirement; and when at intervals they reappear on the page of contemporary history, and their principles are propagated with new boldness and success, they are styled a new sect, and receive a new name, though in reality they are the same people." Religious Encyclopedia, p. 1147.

This is, no doubt, a correct statement concerning them, and it corroborates other historians on the same subject.

But I wish to read again from this same writer. On the next page he says:

"Hence it is hardly to be wondered at that 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 sought to find predecessors, and to trace a line of succession up to the apostles. The perversions of heresy on the one hand, and the corruptions of popery on the other, left no alternative but to find that succession among the Waldenses."

It seems from this statement that all Protestants, until recently, claimed that the Waldenses were their predecessors, and were willing to claim that they had an existence from the apostles. I now wish to introduce Bishop Newton again on this subject. He says:

"Here only some of the principle instances are selected; but this deduction, short and defective as it is, evidently demonstrates, however, that there hath not been that uninterrupted union and harmony which the members of the church of Rome pretend to boast to have been before the Reformation, and at the same time it plainly evinces that they betray great ignorance, as well as impertinence, in asking the question, 'Where was your religion before Luther?' Our religion, we see, was in the hearts and lives of many faithful witnesses; but it is sufficient if it was nowhere else, that it was always in the Bible." (p. 526.)

You see how the Bishop agrees with our former witness, that Protestants claimed that their religion, before Luther, was among the Waldenses. And he says the members of the church of Rome betray great ignorance and impertinence when they ask where our religion was before Luther. It is very evident that Bishop Newton, although a High Churchman, believed that the Waldenses have existed from the apostles.

But we are often told that those people were not Baptists, for among all the names they had, they were not called Baptists before the Reformation.

Let us see if that is true. Listen at us read:

"But here again it was a Roman Bishop, Stephanus, who, instigated by the spirit of ecclesiastical arrogance, domination and zeal without knowledge, attached to this point of dispute a paramount importance. Hence, toward the close of the year 253, he issued a sentence of excommunication against the bishops of Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Cilicia, stigmatizing them as Anabaptists, a name, however, which they could justly affirm they did not deserve by their principles, for it was not their wish to administer a second baptism to those who had already been baptized, but they contended that the previous baptism, given by heretics, could not be recognized as a true one." Neander, vol. 1, p. 318.

You see, then, that they were called Anabaptists long before the Reformation.

Now, from the sketches I have quoted to you, and many others that I might refer to, I claim that there has been a people all along, from the apostles, that have preserved the ordinances of the church. I claim that they are our people, and that it is easy to trace them through the dark ages by their blood. I know the Lord did set up a church on earth, and I know, if his word is true, it still exists, for the prophet said it should never be destroyed, but it should stand forever. They have always baptized those who came to them from other sects. We do the same yet, for the same reasons that they did.

I believe that Christ has a church in the world, but I do not believe he has forty-seven different churches. I do not believe any man has the right to start up a church and call it the church of Christ. If he has not, then, if he should set up an institution and call it a church, it is not, and, if it is not, it has no right to administer baptism.

- Elder Lemuel Potter, "Lectures on the Communion," 1886.

Go Back to the Primitive Baptist Library Page

Go Back to the Ancient History of the Primitive Baptist Church

Copyright c. 2001-2011. All rights reserved. The Primitive Baptist Library.




This page maintained by: Robert Webb - (bwebb9@juno.com)