2007 Archive Edition - See the Archive Notice on the Project Homepage for more information.
Known also as the Poor Men of Lyons and the Vaudois, the Waldenses formed Christian communities that followed the teaching of Valdes, a French preacher later called Peter Waldo. Some believe the group originated with St. Paul, who is said to have stopped in Lyons on his way to Spain, while others say the group broke away from the Roman fold when Sylvester I accepted temporal power from the emperor in the IV Century. The origins of the Waldenses is sometimes placed in the teachings of Claudius of Turin, a IX Century archbishop who opposed the use of images in worship and preached against pilgrimages and the intercessory power of saints. Some claim the group is an offshoot of the Albigenses. Valdes does, however, seem to have been the main force behind the theology of the Waldenses.
Valdes (d. c. 1205/1218), inspired by the life of St. Alexis, became an itinerant preacher after he had left his wife, settled his daughters in a convent, and disbursed his fortune. He opposed the worldliness of the church and the dualism of the Cathars. He supported translating the Bible into the vernacular. At the Third Lateran Council (1179), Valdes requested ecclesiatical recognition of his followers, who were called Pauperes (Poor Men), and Alexander III approved their vow of poverty but forbade their preaching unless a clergyman invited them to preach. The members of the group continued to preach, and the Council of Verona (1184) excommunicated Valdes and his Pauperes. The group then established its own hierarchy, which, according to Bernard Gui, consisted of bishops, who administered the sacraments of the Eucharist and of penance; of priests, who heard confessions and preached; and of deacons, who looked after the material welfare of the parishes.
The Waldenses denied the validity of sacraments administered by unworthy clerics, even before they formed their own hierarchy. The group remained poor and fasted; they communed once a year. They did not believe in purgatory and rejected the practice of prayer for the dead. They denied the holiness of the physical structures called churches, and they abandoned veneration of the saints and of relics. Extreme pacifists, they refused to kill or to swear oaths.
Waldensesians belonged to communities and dressed in a distinctive style. They were most successful evangelizing among the lower class. They were popular in the south of France; in Spain; in Germany; and in the Italian territories of the Piedmont and Lombardy. They spread into Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary after the Roman church began to persecute them. Some merged with other dissident groups like the Hussites. Innocent III instituted an inquisition against them, and Vincent Ferrer preached against the Waldenses. Most Waldensian communities were suppressed; some of the remaining groups joined Protestant communions. A few Waldensian communities exist today.
Karen Rae Keck
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