committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

Chapter 18

FOURTEEN HUNDRED TO FIFTEEN HUNDRED A.D.

The Climax of Popery

In the fifteenth century corruption in the Romish church reached its greatest extent, and the work of the true children of God within the Roman fold to clean up the apostate system, was more than equalled by the ministry of the true Church of God without the harlot system.

The Protestant Reformation, which will be more fully treated in the following century, can be said to have begun in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries through the work of Walter Lollard, Wycliffe, Huss, and others, and which work was taken up in the following century by Luther, Knox, and others.

However, it must not be imagined that the true Church of God was not witnessing against popery and its antichristian systems during this time; for it was faithfully proclaiming the message against Babylon, the call of the angel in Revelation, "Come out of her, my people," during the entire age of darkness, and did not let up even when the Reformers came forth from the Romish church, but continued to boldly witness against the harlot mother of the Tiber.

Jones says: "But it is presumed the reader will have seen enough in the preceding pages to satisfy him that the opinion, which has so currently prevailed among us, of the almost total extinction of the Christian profession in its purity, at the time of, and for ages preceding, the Lutheran reformation, is altogether a popular error." -- Jones' Church History, p. 324, ed. 1837.

It must not be thought, however, that the true church at the dawn of the Reformation had lost its pristine purity, for it had not, but still faithfully held to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, which had in the beginning of the Gospel age been delivered to the saints.

Benedict (History of the Baptists, p. 308) speaks of "separate and distinct societies" of Sabbath-keeping churches, which were known with the dawn of the Reformation.

Another direct and important testimony is found in a "Treatise on the Sabbath," by Bishop White. Speaking of Sabbath-keeping as opposed to the practice of the church and as heretical, he says:

"It was thus condemned in the Nazarenes and in the Corinthians in the Ebionites and in the Hypsistarii. The ancient Synod of Laodicea made decree against it, chap.29; also Gregory the Great affirmed it was Judaical. In St. Bernard's days it was condemned in the Petrobrussians. The same, likewise being revived in Luther's time, by Carlstadt, Sternberg, and by some sectaries among the Anabaptists, hath both then and ever since, been condemned as Jewish and heretical." (P.8, London, 1635.) -- Lewis, Hist. S. & S., p. 218.

In "Life of Milton," 2nd Edit., pp. 309, 319, is quoted from Dr. Symmons note about the separateness of the Waldenses type of Christians and the Protestant reformer type. Dr. Symmons says, "I call them, as they are called in these official despatches, by the generally-known name of Protestants; but the dissenters from the papal church who occupied the valley of Piedmont, had neither connection nor common origin with those who were properly called Protestants from one of the first acts of their association in Germany. The Waldenses asserted a much more ancient pedigree, and assumed to be of the old Roman church before it was corrupted by the papal innovations." -- Page 375, footnote, Jones' Church History, ed. 1837.

"There were no priests among them, no quarrels about religious worship, no lawsuits: they determined their differences among themselves. None but those who repaired to the neighboring cities knew that there existed any such things as mass or bishops. They prayed to God in their own jargon, and being continually employed they had the happiness to know no vice. . . . Such was the tranquility which the Waldenses enjoyed (for above 200 years) when the reformers of Germany and Geneva came to hear that there were others of the same persuasion as themselves." -- Idem, p. 325.

We shall now endeavor to show through the following extracts from historians of repute, as quoted in the book The Intervening Hand of God, how the Lord has watched over and delivered His people from the armed hosts of the adversary at the dawn of the Reformation.

 

Deliverance from Armed Hosts

"Escaped the edge of the sword." -- Hebrews 11:34.

From one of the centuries when armed ecclesiasticism sought to overrun and subdue every land where the plant of reformed truth was taking root, come stories of deliverance that read like the chapters out of the history of ancient Israel. As the Syrian army before Samaria fled in panic, when the Lord "made the host of the Syrians to here a noise of Chariots, and a noise of horses" (II Kings 7:6), so, more than once, a supernatural terror set to flight invading forces that had expected easy conquest.

 

The Panic-stricken Invaders

It was the old-time view of defending the truth for which Huss was burned at Constance that led Bohemians who loved his memory to take up arms to defend the truth of God. Luther caught the true idea when, at the beginning of his work, he insisted that it was by the Word of God alone that error was to be met. But a hundred years before Luther, this truth was imperfectly recognized, and it must be admitted that the carnal weapons were sometimes drawn in essentially religious conflicts. However, at this special time it was not an ordinary conflict over religion, but a vast scheme of invasion of their whole land, that the Bohemian people were called to meet. And evidently it was not to be allowed by Providence that the forces of intolerance should overrun the region where the early glimmerings of the light of reformation had begun to appear.

Pope Martin had organized a great crusade, which entered Bohemia in June, 1427. Electors, princes, and counts led the invading host, with a special papal legate in charge. The little army of the Hussites, under Ziska, the "one-eyed," went out to meet the invaders. The historian, J. A. Wylie, says: "They were now within sight of them, and the two armies were separated only by the river that flows past Meiss. The crusaders were in greatly superior force, but instead of dashing across the stream, and closing in battle with the Hussites whom they had come so far to meet, they stood gazing in silence. . . . It was only for a few moments that the invaders contemplated the Hussite ranks. A sudden panic fell upon them. They turned and fled in the utmost confusion. The legate was as one who awakens from a dream. His labors were to be crowned with victory, suddenly vanished in a shameful rout." -- History of Protestantism, book 3, chap. 17.

Urged on still by the Pope, a yet greater crusade was organized and entered Bohemia in 1431, "chanting triumph" as they marched. Wylie again says:

"The enemies were encamped near the town of Reisenberg. The Hussites were not yet in sight, but the sounds of their approach struck upon the ears of the Germans. The rumble of their wagons, and their war-hymn chanted by the whole army as it marched bravely forward to battle, were distinctly heard. Cardinal Cesarini and a companion climbed a little hill to view the impending conflict. Beneath them was the host which they expected soon to see engaged in victorious fight. It was an imposing spectacle, this great army of many nationalities, with its waving banners, its mail-clad knights, its helmeted cavalry, its long lines of wagons, and its numerous artillery.

`"The cardinal and his friend had gazed only a few minutes when they were startled by a strange and sudden movement in the host. As if smitten by some invisible power, it appeared all at once to break up and scatter. The soldiers threw away their armor and fled, one this way, another that; and the wagoners, emptying their vehicles of their load, set off across the plain at full gallop.

"Struck with consternation and amazement, the cardinal hurried down to the field, and soon learned the cause of the catastrophe. The army had been seized with a mysterious panic. That panic extended to the officers equally with the soldiers. The Duke of Bavaria was one of the first to flee. He left behind him his carriage, in the hope that its spoil might tempt the enemy and delay their pursuit. Behind him, also in inglorious flight, came the Elector of Brandenburg; and following close of the elector were others of less note, chased from the field by this unseen terror. The army followed, if that could be styled an army which so lately had been a marshaled and bannered host, but was now only a rabble rout, fleeing when no man pursued." -- Idem.-- The comment of the historian Wylie expressed the conviction that must come to every heart:

"There is something more in the facts we have related than the courage inspired by the consciousness of a good cause, and the feebleness and cowardice engendered by the consciousness of a bad one. There is here the touch of a divine finger -- the infusion of a preternatural terror." -- Idem.

 

"Armies of the Aliens" Put to Flight

In 1487 Pope Innocent VIII issued a decree, or bull of extermination, against the Vaudois people of the Piedmont valleys of Italy. Their consistent refusal to accept Romish doctrine, long prior to the Reformation of the sixteenth century, had made them objects of papal hatred.-- The Inquisition had been refused permission to set up its machinery of espionage and torture in the valleys, the people turning its agents back by force of arms. This brought the papal bull ordering total destruction.

Troops came in thousands, eighteen thousand regulars of France and Piedmont, joined by a host of plunderers and brigands who were after the spoils of the happy valley homes. Some of the accounts of deliverance that saved the people from total destruction in this first general persecution of the Vaudois, read like stories from the days of Israel.

The campaign of massacre, watched by a legate named Cattanee (or Cataneo), in behalf of the Pope, began in an attack on the valley of Angrogna. The enemy was breaking the line of the Vaudois defense, at a point behind which were the women and children and aged. Dr. Mauston says:

"Seeing their defenders yield, these families threw themselves upon their knees with many tears; women, and children, and old men united together in fervently crying, `O Die aijutaci! O Lord help us! O my God, save us!' This cry of prayer was the only cry which broke from their heart in their distress, and arose to heaven. But their enemies laughed at it, and seeing this company upon their knees, hastened their advance. My fellows are coming -- they are coming to give you your answer,' exclaimed one of their chiefs, surnamed `The Blace of Mondovi,' because of his swarthy complexion; and immediately, joining bravado to insult, he raised the visor of his helmet, to show that he was not afraid to encounter the poor people whom he insulted. But at the moment a steel-pointed arrow, let fly by a young man of Angrogna, named Peter Revel, struck this new Goliath with such violence that it penetrated into his skull, between his eyes, and laid him dead. His troop, struck with terror, fell back in disorder; a panic seized them; the Vaudois took advantage of the moment, and impetuously rushed forward, hurling their adversaries before them, and, eagerly continuing the pursuit, swept them into the very plain, where they left them vanquished and dispersed. Then, reascending to their families so miraculously delivered, they likewise flung themselves upon their knees, and all together gave thanks to the God of armies for the victory which they had just gained." -- History of the Waldenses, vol. I, pp. 33, 34.-- But the invaders were by no means defeated; they had only been turned back and angered. On they came the next day, fiercer than ever. This time let Wylie tell the story:

"It seemed impossible for their prey to escape them. Assembled on this spot, the Waldensian people had but one neck and the papal soldiers, so Cataneo believed, were to sever that neck at a blow.

"But God was watching over the Vaudois. He had said of the papal legate and his army, as of another tyrant of former days, `I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will cause thee to return by the way which thou camest.' But by what agency was the advance of that host to be stayed? Will some mighty angel smite Cataneo's army, as he did Sennacherib's? No angel blockaded the pass. Will thunderbolts and hailstones be rained upon Cataneo's soldiers, as of old and Sisera's? The thunders slept; the hail fell not. Will earhtquake and whirlwind discomfort them? No earthquake rocked the ground; no whirlwinds rent the mountains. The instrumentality now put in motion to shield the Vaudois from destruction was one of the lightest and frailest in all nature; yet no bars of adamant could have more effectually shut the pass, and brought the march of the host to an instant halt.

"A white cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, unobserved by the Peidmontese, but keenly watched by the Vaudois, was seen to gather on the mountain's summit, about the time the army would be entering the defile. That cloud grew rapidly bigger and blacker. It began to descend. It came rolling down the mountain's side, wave on wave, like an ocean tumbling out of heaven -- a sea of murky vapor. It fell right into the chasm in which was the papal army, sealing it up, and filling it from top to bottom with a thick, black fog. In a moment the host were in night; they were bewildered, stupefied, and could see neither before nor behind, could neither advance nor retreat. They halted in a state bordering terror.

"The Waldenses interpreted this as an interposition of Providence in their behalf. It had given them the power of repelling the invader. Climbing the slopes of the Pra, and issuing from all their hiding-places in its environs, they spread themselves over the mountain, the paths of which were familiar to them, and while the host stood riveted beneath them, caught in the double toils of the defile and the mist, they tore up huge stones and rocks, and sent them thundering down the ravine.

"The papal soldiers were crushed where they stood. Nor was this all. Some of the Waldenses boldly entered the chasm, sword in hand, and attacked them in front. Consternation seized the Piedmontese host. Panic impelled them to flee, but their effort to escape was more fatal than the sword of the Vaudois, or the rocks that, swift as arrow, came bounding down the mountain. They jostled one another; they threw each other down in the struggle; some were trodden to death; others were rolled over the precipice, and crushed on the rocks below, or drowned in the torrent, and so perished miserably." -- History of the Waldenses, chapter 5.

"The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." The Reformation history shows that it was by witnessing and suffering, and not by fighting, that the light of truth was caused to shine. But in these experiences of deliverance we see God's providence in keeping alive the little band of witnesses in the Piedmont valleys until the time of reformation should come.

 

A Covering Cloud

The Vaudois of the Piedmont valleys had been all but exterminated. While the Reformation was spreading in Northern Europe, the papal forces visited the Vaudois villages with fire and sword. The remnant, driven out, had found refuge in Switzerland and southern Germany. After several years of exile, they were endeavoring to return to their homes. Spies sent into the valleys had reported the fields untilled and the villages deserted; and now a pioneer band of eight hundred men was making "the glorious re-entry," as it was ever afterward called.

Against the assaults of their enemies, they had pressed on from lake Geneva, through Savoy, near to their own country. But on the slopes of a mountain called the Balsiglia, they were surrounded by the French and Piedmont troops sent to make an end of them. Their last stand apparently had been made, and now the enemy, with artillery in position, rested as evening drew on, confident that the next morning would deliver the little band to the slaughter. Wylie says:

"Never before had destruction appeared to impend so inevitably over the Vaudois. To remain where they were was certain death, yet whither could they flee? Behind them rose the unscalable precipices of the Col du Pis, and beneath them lay the valley swarming with foes. If they should wait till the morning broke, it would be impossible to pass the enemy without being seen; and even now, although it was night, the numerous camp fires that blazed beneath them made it almost as bright as day.

"But the hour of their extremity was the time of God's opportunity. Often before it had been seen to be so, but perhaps never so strikingly as now. While they looked this way and that way, but could discover no escape from the net that inclosed them, the mist began to gather on the summits of the mountains around them. They knew the old mantle that was wont to be cast around their fathers in the hour of peril. It crept lower and yet lower on the great mountains. Now it touched the supreme peak of the Balsiglia. "Will it mock their hopes? Will it only touch, but not cover, their mountain camp? Again it is in motion; downward roll its white, fleecy billows, and now it hangs in sheltering folds around the war-battered fortress and its handful of heroic defenders. They dared not as yet attempt escape, for still the watch-fires burned brightly in the valley. But it was only for a few minutes longer. The mist kept its downward course, and now all was dark. A Tartarean gloom filled the gorge of San Martino.

"At this moment, as the garrison stood mute, pondering whereunto these things would grow, Captain Poulat, a native of these parts, broke silence. He bade them be of good courage, for he knew the paths, and would conduct them past the French and Piedmontese lines, by a track known only to himself. Crawling on their hands and knees, and passing close to the French sentinels, yet hidden from them by the mist, they descended frightful precipices, and made their escape. `He who has not seen such paths,' says Arnaud in his `Rentree Glorieuse,' `cannot conceive the danger of them, and will be inclined to consider my

account of the march a mere fiction. But it is strictly true; and I must add, the place is so frightful that even some of the Vaudois themselves were terror-struck when they saw by daylight the nature of the spot they had passed in the dark.'

"When the day broke, every eye in the plain below was turned to the Balsiglia. That day the four hundred ropes which Catinat had brought with him were to be put in requisition, and the feux-de-joie so long prepared were to be lighted at Pinerolo. Vaudois had escaped and were gone, and might be seen upon the distant mountains, climbing the snows, far out of the reach of their would-be captors. Well might they sing, "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken, and we are escaped." -- History of Protestantism, book 16, chap. 15.

They reached their own valley of the Pra del Tor, and to their joy found, all unexpectedly, agents of the Duke of Savoy, their prince, with a message of good will, giving authority to bring back their families and fellow believers from all places whither they fled. Thus again the Waldensian people found homes among the mountains that had hidden their fathers away from Rome's wrath in the days of old.
 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved