committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER II.

Paulicians in France and Italy—General View of the Reform Movement—Various Names given to the Reformers—
Sentiments held by them—False Charge of Manich?sm—Their Activity—Reinerus Saccho’s Account

 

We have glanced at the Paulicans—their labors—their sufferings—and their various dispersions.   Many of them sought a home in Italy and France, about the close of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century. There they met with congenial spirits. Right-minded men in those countries had protested from time to time, though unavailingly, against Romish encroachments. The coming of the Paulicians inspired them with fresh courage, and from the middle of the eleventh century we read of a succession of valorous attacks upon those errors, superstitions, and vices, which not only abounded in less enlightened parts, but disgraced even the metropolis of Christendom.

These dissidents formed a numerous and compact body in Italy, where the Papal yoke chafed the necks of the people and made them restive. Had it not been for the support derived from the Imperial power, Italy would have been Protestant before the Reformation. The success of Arnold of Brescia was an impressive warning. In the year 1143, he established a new form of government in Rome, which wrested the civil power out of the hands of the Popes, and compelled them to content themselves with the management of ecclesiastical affairs. That the attempt was ill-advised, because society was not sufficiently prepared for it, seems evident; but the continuance of the new order of things for eleven years, and the alacrity with which the people adopted an anti-Papal policy, were remarkable signs of the times.

Peter of Bruys began his career as a reformer in the year 1104, and laboured twenty years in the good work, chiefly in the South of France. He was followed by Henry of Lausanne, who preached the Word of God with great success in the same district.

In the year 1170, Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, renounced his secular engagements, and devoted himself to the revival of religion. He procured a translation of the New Testament into the French language, and spent his life in toilsome journeys among the people, during which he circulated portions of the Scriptures, preached, and by other methods sought to promote true godliness. Being joined by a number of like-minded men, their united efforts produced an extensive reformation. The “Poor Men of Lyons,” as they were called, because they sacrificed worldly prospects and lived in poverty, became a numerous and formidable body. But persecution scattered them. Waldo himself escaped to Bohemia, and died there. Many of his followers settled in the same country.

Almost everybody has heard and read of the Waldenses. We will not occupy valuable space with any account of the disputes respecting their origin. Some trace them to Peter Waldo, or to some other person of a similar name. Others maintain that their name is derived from the Latin word “Vallis,” whence Vallensis, and by a slight corruption, Valdensis, in the plural, Valdenses, and then Waldenses. The valleys of Piedmont and other Alpine districts, secluded from general observation, had given shelter for several ages to numbers of protesters against Romish corruptions. There they studied the Scriptures, cultivated practical piety, and served God according to the dictates of their consciences. There is no doubt that they sympathized heartily with the religious movements which were going on in other parts of Europe. In persecuting times their valleys were welcome places of refuge.

We have said that the South of France was the scene of the efforts of Peter of Bruys and Henry of Lausanne. Other reformers rose up in the same district. Toulouse and Albi were the towns about which they chiefly clustered. From the latter was derived the term “Albigenses.”

Many other appellations were used to designate the reforming sects of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. An inquirer is apt to be misled by them. He wonders at their divisions, and he asks, What were the diversities of opinion or of practice by which they were distinguished from one another? But he asks in vain. The fact is, that the numerous names and descriptions found in imperial edicts and decrees of councils refer to parties who held substantially the same views. The occupations in which many of them were engaged, the places where they lived, or some peculiarity in their manners, furnished the distinctive titles which appear in ecclesiastical histories. Thus, they were called Cathari, or Lure, because they pleaded for personal holiness and a pure church; or Humiliati, because of their modest deportment. The Arnaldish?were the followers of Arnold; the Speronist? of Speron. The Garatenses, Albanenses, Bagnoroli, Roncaroli, and Concorrezenses, were inhabitants of the towns from which those appellations were derived. To the Inzabatati that name was given because so many of them belonged to the lower classes, who wore sabots, or wooden shoes; or, as others suppose, because they refused to observe saints’ days, holding that the Christian Sabbath is the only feast day of the Church, whence they were called Inzabatati, or Sabbath-men. Those who lived in Southern France were often called Texerants, weavers, a large number of them gaining their livelihood by that trade. But all these names, and many more, were given to persons in Italy, France, Ger?many, Spain, and Flanders (for they were found in all those countries), whose religious views and practices were sub?stantially the same. We say “substantially,” because it is not to be supposed that they agreed with each other in every minute particular. The freedom which they claimed in separating from the Roman Church was still further indulged among themselves. They would “call no man Master.” But the diversities of opinion which might pre?vail among them were perfectly consistent with unity in regard to the essential truths of the Gospel.

However they might differ from one another on matters of small moment, they were “of one heart and one soul” in opposing the abominations of the Papacy. They held the Pope to be Antichrist, and they regarded the Church of Rome as the mystical “Babylon,” spoken of in the Book of the Revelation, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” They maintained that the true Church consists only of believers. They pleaded for the transla?tion of the Scriptures into all modern languages, that men might read “in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.” They derided the ceremonies of Romish worship—the holy water, the incense, the bowing and kneeling, the ringing of bells, &c.—and taught that God is to be wor?shipped with “pious affections.” They read and studied the Divine Word continually, so that many of them could repeat large portions of it from memory, and all were skilful in illustrating and defending their sentiments by appropriate quotations from Holy Writ. They denied the authority of bishops, the validity of the numerous distinctions of rank among the clergy, and the lawfulness of ecclesiastical titles. They denounced tithes. They declaimed against donations and legacies to churches or monasteries. They rejected councils. They abhorred image-worship and the reverence paid to relics. They did not believe in transubstantiation. They would not confess to the priests, saying that confession was to be made to God only. They laughed at dedications, consecrations, exorcisms, blessing of salt, spices, and candles, and other superstitious rites, regarding them as fitter themes for ridicule than for reasoning. They would not pray to any saints. They held purgatory to be a fable, and they knew that it was a profitable one to the priesthood. They mocked at penances, indulgences, and all such trumpery. In a word, they acknowledged no authority in the Church but that of the Lord Jesus Christ; and they refused to obey any laws relating to religion which were not to be found in the New Testament.

The ecclesiastical historians charge many of them with Manich?sm. But we ought to be careful how we entertain that charge. The evidence on which it is founded is derived from the writings of their enemies (their own books have been industriously destroyed), or from statements made by renegades, who saw that the more monstrous the picture which they drew of their former associates, the more acceptable it would be to the priesthood. It may be admitted that some of them indulged in foolish, perhaps injurious speculations, mainly derived from the old Gnostic notions, “intruding into things which they had not seen.” It is well known, too, that most of them were distinguished by such peculiarities as refusing to take oaths or to bear arms. But the errors of a few ought not to be imputed to all; and it deserves to be considered, that when the Church had substituted trash for truth and form for power, there was a strong temptation to get to the farthest possible remove from her. It might be innocently enough believed, that whatever was denounced and opposed by Rome was therefore worthy of regard; and in that twilight period it was difficult to see all things clearly.

Another thought or two may be added. Even if it be granted that Manich?n speculations prevailed among some of these sects, it is not to be supposed that they were understood by the mass of their adherents, who were unquestionably incompetent to engage in controversies of that kind. They knew something of faith in the Lord Jesus; they could trust, and love, and obey; and they could exemplify all Gospel brotherly-kindness: but as for discussions respecting the “two principles,” the nature of souls, and such like matters, they were altogether out of their reach. Nor is it to be imagined that their teachers enlarged on such topics in their public ministrations, for that would have spoiled their usefulness. It is further to be considered, that the same writers who bring forward the charge of Manich?sm, do also accuse the Cathari of horrible and not-to-be-mentioned crimes, which were said to be perpetrated by them in their religious assemblies—just as the heathen, in the first age of the Church, propagated similar calumnies against the Christians. The accusations were equally baseless in both cases, and were met in both by indignant denial. But if one accusation is manifestly outrageous and unfounded, may not the other be? Are we not entitled to the inference that there was, at the least, gross exaggeration, if not malicious libel? And, finally, is it credible that those who avowed and manifested unlimited deference to the Word of God should have been led astray by the fantasies of the Manich?n theory?

The reader may be surprised that we are saying nothing about the Baptists. Let him be patient. We are working our way towards them. In fact, many of those of whom we have just spoken advocated Baptist sentiments, and will have to be mentioned again before the account of this period is closed. But we think it preferable to give first a general outline of the history of all the dissenting parties.

The old writers bitterly complain of the activity of those who were called heretics. They could not understand it. The priests celebrated mass, heard confessions, at?tended to their various parochial duties, and were satisfied. As for the monks, if they fasted, meditated, prayed, punished themselves, or ,said they did, that was sufficient. The authors we are speaking of had no sympathy with the yearnings of Christian compassion for souls, and thought such efforts as the sectarians employed extremely irregular and troublesome. Human nature is the same everywhere and at all times. “They do exceedingly trouble our city,” said the men of Philippi. The Jews of Thessalonica inflamed the mob by telling them that the men who “had turned the world upside down” had come to their city. Sleeping sinners wished not to be aroused. False teachers, administering opiates to souls, look upon truth-tellers as intruders and foes, and raise the hue and cry against them.

Our Lord and His Apostles experienced such treatment. The faithful in succeeding ages shared like sufferings. But they quailed not, nor did they desist. They delivered the message entrusted to them, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear.

This is attested by all the records. The Cathari in Germany, France, and Italy, in the early part of the twelfth century, and the Lollards of England in the fifteenth, were equally guilty of the unpardonable crime—in Rome’s eyes? of endeavoring to save their fellow—men from sin and hell, by directing them to the only Saviour. They saw them “perishing for lack of knowledge.” They saw the pretended spiritual father giving his children a stone for bread, a serpent for a fish, and a scorpion instead of an egg, so that the people were dying for want of food. God had given them the “bread from heaven,” and they were under orders to distribute it to the starving, “without money and without price.” They spent their lives in obeying the command. In the exercise of their pious zeal they sometimes exposed themselves to great dangers. Reinerus Saccho, who will be mentioned presently, tells of one of the Cathari who swam over a piece of water in the depth of winter for the purpose of conveying a knowledge of the truth, as he understood and believed, to a person who lived on the opposite side.

Their zeal was guided by judgment. Preaching occupied the first place in their esteem. Whenever they could gain the public ear, they gathered congregations, and proclaimed “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God,” striving to convince men of the vanity of their hopes, and to lead the sinner from self and the creature to the finished work of Jesus. As it was in the days of our Lord Himself, many thousands of the “common people” heard them gladly. Like their Master, they “went about doing good.” While some itinerated from place to place, preaching as they could find opportunity, others visited houses and entered into familiar conversation with the inmates. To do this more effectually they carried with them packs of merchandise, like the peddlers of these times, and thus frequently contrived, during the disposal of their wares, to excite in the minds of their hearers an earnest desire to obtain that wisdom which is “better than rubies.” Nor was this all. They established schools in many places, in which religious instruction was freely given; and it is said that not unfrequently they sent their own youth to the University of Paris, where they received the best edu?cation the world at that time afforded, and returned to their friends well qualified to meet Romish disputants and fight them with their own weapons. Another method adopted by them was the preparation of books. Those among them who were able composed treatises, which were copied (for printing was not invented till the middle of the fifteenth century) and circulated as widely as the means they possessed would allow. Thus great good was accomplished. But their books have perished. With the exception of “The Noble Lesson,” a precious Waldensian treatise, which is ascribed to the twelfth century, and which forcibly exposes the follies and frauds of Rome, the publications which were issued by these early reformers have been destroyed. Such was the policy of the false church—to stifle thought, prevent discussion, and exact blind, uninquiring obedience.

Reinerus Saccho wrote a book against the Waldenses, under which title he evidently referred to the several bodies of alleged heretics then existing. This was about the year 1250. He said that he had belonged to the Waldenses about seventeen years, but had rejoined the dominant church. He received an appointment as inquisitor, doubtless because his knowledge of the sentiments and practices of his former associates eminently qualified him for that hateful office. In one part of his work he gives the following account of the manner in which the peddlers introduced religious topics among the families they visited:—

“The heretics employ very cunning methods, by which to insinuate themselves into the society of the noble and great. They do it in this way. One of them takes with him some suitable articles of merchandise, such as rings or dresses, and offers them for sale. When they have bought what they choose, and ask the man if he has anything else to sell, he answers, ‘I have more precious jewels than these; I would give them to you, if you would promise not to betray me to the clergy.’ The promise being given, he proceeds:—‘I have a gem so brilliant, that a man may know God by it. I have another, whose glow lights up the love of God in the heart of him who possesses it,’—and so forth, speaking of the gems figuratively. Then he recites some chapter of the New Testament, such as, the first of Luke—‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God,’ &c., or the Savior’s discourse in the thirteenth of John. When he observes that his hearers are beginning to be pleased, he quotes a passage from Matthew—‘The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,’ &c.—‘Woe unto you, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven,’ &c., or that of Mark—‘Woe unto you, for ye devour widows’ houses,’ &c. If he is asked to whom those threatenings apply, he answers, ‘To the clergy and the monks.’”

“Then he compares the state of the Roman Church with, their own, saying, ‘The teachers of the Roman Church are proud and pompous; they love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi: but we desire no such rabbis. As for them, they are incontinent; but all our teachers are married, and live chastely with their wives. They are rich and covetous, as it is said, “Woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation;” but we, having sufficient food and clothing for our support, are therewith content. They themselves fight, and they excite others to war, and they give orders to kill and burn Christ’s people, to whom it was said, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword:” but we suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake. They eat the bread of idleness, “working not all;” but we work with our own hands. They pretend to be the only teachers, as it is said, “Woe unto you, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge,” &c.; but among us, the women as well as the men teach, and he who has been a disciple but seven days can instruct another. Among them there is scarcely a teacher to be found who can recite three successive chapters of the New Testament; but almost every man and woman among us can recite the whole of it; and because we hold Christ’s true faith, and teach a holy life and doctrine, they persecute us to death, as the Scribes and Pharisees persecuted Christ.’”

“‘Moreover, they say and do not, and they bind heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, but will not touch them themselves with one of their fingers; but we do all that we teach. They compel men to observe human tradition rather than God’s commands—such as fasts, feasts, and many other things, which are human institutes: but we teach that the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles is to be kept, and that only.’”

“Having talked in this way, the heretic adds—‘Consider now, which is the better state and the better faith—ours, or that of the Roman Church—and make your choice.’ And thus many a one is turned aside from the Catholic faith, takes the heretic into his house, conceals him there month after month, and is confirmed in his perversion.”1

In this passage Saccho represents the Waldensian as doing all in his power to inflame the hatred of the people against the priesthood, and would have us believe that that was the main object in view. There can be no doubt that much was said on those occasions that was calculated to induce distrust and avoidance of the Romish clergy. But the pious peddler did not stop there. No! His aim was to guide souls to Christ, and numbers were led by those conversational sermons to renounce fleshly confidence and seek peace through the blood of the Cross. With that necessary addition to the statement, Saccho’s narration may be taken as trustworthy. It is pleasing to reflect that many of our Baptists ancestors were so honorably and usefully employed. The same spirit animated their successors several centuries afterwards. Gretser, the Jesuit (he died A.D. 1636), who edited Saccho’s book, placed this note in the margin of the account which has been now quoted—“A true picture of the heretics of our age, especially of the Anabaptists.”

1  Biblioth. Maxima, xxv. p. 273.

 
 
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