The Church in the Wilderness, part 2

Last month we noted the rise of the Papacy as pagan rites, ceremonies, and philosophy crept into the church. The Bishop of Rome gradually gained more and more power as many bishops from that part of the world looked to Rome for direction and counsel. The emperor moved his capitol from Rome to Constantinople leaving a vacuum which the Roman bishop gladly filled. His objective now was three-fold. Namely: world wide bishop of bishops, temporal monarch, and king of earthly kings all of which he attained by the twelfth century.

Throughout this period of time there remained individuals and groups who refused to be caught up in the terrible apostasy prevailing in the church. They were found in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and England, as well as other parts of the world. “The apostasy was not universal. At no time did God leave His ancient Gospel without witnesses. When one body of confessors yielded to the darkness, or was cut off by violence, another arose in some other land, so that there was no age in which, in some country or other of Christendom, public testimony was not borne against the errors of Rome, and in behalf of the Gospel which she sought to destroy.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 18. The earliest protesters were found in northern Italy. The Diocese of Milan included Lombardy, the Alps, and southern France. These were not under the control of the Roman bishop until the middle of the eleventh century. The See of Rome encompassed only the city of Rome and the surrounding provinces.

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who died in 394, maintained the Bible only as his rule of faith and

Christ as the foundation of the church. For him justification and remission of sins was by the expiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He believed in only two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s supper. For him the bread was only a symbol of Christ’s body. Others believed and taught as did Ambrose: Rufinus first metropolitan of Milan, fifth century, Laurentius Bishop of Milan, sixth, followed by Mansuetus, seventh, and in the eighth, Paulinus Bishop of Aquileia.

Claude, Archbishop of Turin, proclaimed the apostolic faith throughout his diocese which included the Waldensian valleys. He resisted, by both pen and voice image worship, which was rapidly progressing in the church. He refused to accept the primacy of the Roman Bishop and based his belief upon Matthew 16:19.

Claude’s death left no one to carry the torch of truth. As a result, the clergy of Milan finally succumbed to Papal pressures and joined the Papacy. However, there were those who did not accept the Roman Bishop’s offers and moved into the mountains and valleys of the Piedmont, in the Alps. It was here that the Waldenses kept the apostolic light shining all through the long night that was to follow the establishment of the Papacy. They moved here to avoid the corruptions of the Roman church and kept alive the true faith of the Bible. This is attested to by many documents including the Nobla Leycon which sets forth the following doctrines: the trinity, the fall of man, the incarnation, perpetuity of the Law, the need for Divine grace for good works, need for holiness, institution of the ministry, resurrection of the dead, and the eternal bliss of heaven.

They possessed the New Testament in the Romaunt language which was common in southern Europe from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. “The church of the Alps, in the simplicity of its constitution, may be held to have been a reflection of the Church of the first centuries. The entire territory included in the Waldensian limits was divided into parishes. In each parish was placed a pastor, who led his flock to the living waters of the Word of God. He preached, he dispensed the Sacraments, he visited the sick, and catechized the young. With him was associated in the government of his congregation a consistory of laymen. The synod met once a year. It was composed of all the pastors (barbes), with an equal number of laymen, and its most frequent place of meeting was the secluded mountainengirdled valley at the head of the Angrogna.” Ibid.

The Bible was the textbook used by these pastors for teaching the youth, who were required to memorize large sections. After spending some time in this manner many would go to seminaries in Lombardy or Paris where they would evangelize as opportunity afforded. Before becoming pastors, the young were required to spend three years traveling and evangelizing. They often concealed their true mission by posing as merchants offering their wares, and at every opportunity would share a portion of Scripture with someone. These faithful evangelists made their way to France, Germany, Spain, Bohemia, Poland and even to Rome itself. Many lost their lives in this service, as they were discovered by Papal representatives and imprisoned or slain. But the Pope of Rome, becoming aware of the work of these people, saw that if it was allowed to continue, it would sweep away like a flood all that centuries of toil and intrigue had achieved. And so began the terrible crusades to eliminate and destroy this hated group of people. But before we pursue this part of history, we pause to take a look at a few other people or groups that held the same faith.

The first are known as Paulicians, so named because they believed and taught the faith of Paul the apostle, based upon Scripture. They were the remnant that escaped from the apostasy of the eastern church and settled in the mountains by the headwaters of the Euphrates river in Armenia. A man named Constantine received a portion of the New Testament, the epistles of Paul and the four Gospels. The study of these books drastically changed his life, resulting in the founding of a church. As this church began to grow, it came to the attention of the emperor at Constantinople. They were falsely charged with being Manicheans (after one named Manes). On the contrary they believed in the trinity, incarnation, and they renounced the worship of Mary, saints, and the cross. They said that the bread was only a symbol of the body of Christ. The copies of the Scriptures they had were uncorrupted and pure, revealing that they could not have been followers of Manes.

Because of their refusal to accept the tenets and authority of Rome they were severely persecuted and many were burned. “The firmness of their religious adherence to principle was marked by their frequent and ready submission to martyrdom. Hundreds of them were burned alive upon one huge funeral pile: two, out of three more eminent presidents, were severally stoned and cut in sunder with the axe.” George S. Faber, The History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, 59, 60.

Although persecuted they continued to flourish to the end of the eighth century. Taking up the sword in revenge for the persecution by the eastern emperor, they were joined by the Saracens in conducting a civil war. In the end they were driven back into the mountains whence they came. However, many of the Paulicians traveled around the empire evangelizing as they went and winning many converts.

By the end of the tenth century they settled in Europe, particularly in southern Bulgaria, Italy, Germany and France. They became the forerunners of the Albigenses. “When the emigrating Paulicians first appeared in that country, the people were already pre-disposed to resist the papal authority, and were already inclined to maintain what the Pontificials were pleased to call heresy.” Ibid., 262. “During a period of one hundred fifty years, these Christian churches seem to have been almost incessantly subjected to persecution, which they supported with Christian meekness and patience; and if the acts of their martyrdom, their preaching and their lives were distinctly recorded, I see no reason to doubt, that we should find in them the genuine successors of the Christians of the first two centuries. And in this as well as former instances, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” William Jones, The History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, 423.

By this time this movement blended with other believers in the true doctrines and so we turn our attention now to the south of France in the mountains and valleys of Piedmont. It was from this area that men carried the gospel, converting disciples and forming congregations wherever they went. They were joined by barons, cities and provinces. When they came to the attention of Rome, Pope Innocent III began a struggle to exterminate this hated “heretical sect.” Where once stood flourishing towns and villages now there was only a blackened desert. In spite of the terrible persecution, the gospel continued to spread. When men and women were martyred, others took their place and the torch of truth burned even brighter.

Meanwhile, the Pope had been sending millions of crusaders to the Holy Land in an attempt to wrest it from the Saracens, but this failed. Now Pope Innocent III saw a growing menace in the form of the various bodies of true believers such as the Albigenses, Waldenses, and others. He turned his fury back upon these people residing in southern France and northern Italy. “He resolved without loss of time to grapple with and crush the movement. He issued an edict enjoining the extermination of all heretics. Cities would be drowned in blood, kingdoms would be laid waste, art and civilization would perish, and the progress of the world would be rolled back for centuries; but not otherwise could the movement be arrested, and Rome saved.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 39.

As the messengers of death and destruction carried out their evil work, some powerful and rich men, such as Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse became afraid. As the papal crusaders approached his dominion he recanted his faith only to be stripped of his territory and power. On the other hand some wealthy rulers, followers of the true faith, resisted the assaults of the Pope’s crusaders, only to have their people exterminated, holdings destroyed, and often their own lives taken as well. One such was Raymond Roger of Beziers. As the hordes of murderers drew near, he hastened to set up his defenses, but to no avail. He was overcome, all the citizens of his territory were killed, their houses looted and burned to ashes. Having gained control of the Albigenses territory, the Roman power turned to rooting out all heretics.

In 1233, Pope Gregory issued a bull giving the responsibility of establishing the Inquisition to the Dominicans. The Bishop of Tournay was given authority to complete the organization of that tribunal—the terror of Christendom—resulting in the death of so many faithful Christians. A council of Inquisitors was established in every city to seek out those not following the Roman demands. This council consisted of one priest and two laymen. They sought out the heretics in towns, houses, cellars, caves, woods, and fields and denounced them to the bishops. Then the people were tried, burned at the stake, and their dwellings leveled with the ground. Along with the religious extermination of many of the faithful, other cultural forms perished also. Education, liberty, art, and commerce all of which tended to enrich society, were swept away by a power seeking revenge, without regard to what was destroyed along with the hated Protestant heresy. The thirteenth century ended with the complete obliteration of the Protestantism of the Albigenses until the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

“Even during the world’s midnight, when the dark cloud of papal superstition was spread in blackness over the moral sky of the civilized nations, here and there a star was seen, bright, beautiful and peculiar, pouring celestial splendor upon the surrounding gloom. When Popery was the world’s despot—when, with all deceivablness of unrighteousness, the Man of Sin had ascended to the throne of universal dominion—when Rome, under the Pontiffs more than under the Ceasars, was the mistress of the world—when the Pope had successfully maintained his right to dispose of scepters and croziers, kingdoms and continents, according to his sovereign and arbitrary pleasure—when the kings and the chief captains of earth were his sycophants and serving men—even then there were multitudes of the meek and humble followers of our Savior who defied his power and refused to acknowledge his supremacy. And in this, history is the verification of prophecy. The same inspired seer that foretells the rise and reign of the Roman Anti-Christ, also predicts the persecutions and privations of those who, during the night of his dominion, should suffer for the witness of Jesus and the Word of God. The church of God, though cast down, was never destroyed.” William Jones, The History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, P2, P3.

In the middle of the eleventh century Berengarius appeared, the first to oppose the widespread papal teaching of transubstantiation. The bishops were alarmed at this opposition. They held six councils over the next twenty-five years, in which Berengarius’ teachings were discussed and condemned. He recanted three times when faced with the stake. However, upon his return to France he published his former views condemning transubstantiation. He died in his bed in 1088, expressing deep sorrow for his weakness.

We will briefly mention three more reformers: Peter de Bruys whose followers were named Petrobrussians, Henri of Italy whose followers were called Henricians. Both Peter and Henri were eventually seized and imprisoned; Peter was burned and Henri disappeared. We can only surmise what his end was. The third famous champion who battled for truth was Arnold of Brescia. This man labored untiringly to reform his church in Rome and in Germany. He, too, was burned at the stake.

“One is apt, from a cursory survey of the Christendom of those days, to conceive it as speckled with an almost endless variety of opinions and doctrines, and dotted all over with numerous and diverse religious sects. We read of the Waldenses on the south of the Alps, and the Albigenses on the north of these mountains. We are told of the Petrobrussians appearing in this year, and the Henricians rising in that. We see a company of Manicheans burned in one city, and a body of Paulicians martyred in another. We find the Petrini planting themselves in this province, and the Cathari spreading themselves over that other. We figure to ourselves as many conflicting creeds as there are rival standards; and we are on the point, perhaps, of bewailing this supposed diversity of opinion as a consequence of breaking loose from the ‘centre of unity’ in Rome. Some even of our religious historians seem haunted by the idea that each one of these many bodies is representative of a different dogma, and that dogma an error. The impression is a natural one, we own, but it is entirely erroneous. In this diversity there was a grand unity. It was substantially the same creed that was professed by all these bodies. They were all agreed in drawing their theology from the same Divine fountain. The Bible was their one infallible rule and authority. Its cardinal doctrines they embodied in their creed and exemplified in their lives.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 56.

All these men who believed and taught the Biblical apostolic faith were the antecedents of those later called Waldenses and Albigenses. Men who to the best of their ability attempted to develop a true church, whether to reform the present church or to raise up one that followed the Bible and the Bible only as a rule of faith. “Bruno and Berengaraius, Peter de Bruis and Henry his disciple, Arnold of Briscia, Peter Waldo, and Walter Lollard, seem to have been among the principal leaders of the Waldenses in ancient times. They all had numerous followers, who, according to the custom of the times, were called after the names of their leaders. We have the testimony of Mosheim, Robinson, and others, that the Papists comprehended all the adversaries of the Pope and the superstitions of Rome, under the general name of Waldenses. The Albigenses or Albienses, a large branch of this sect, were so denominated from the town of Albi, in France, where the Waldenses flourished.” David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination, 112.

“But here in the twelfth century, at the chair of Abelard, we stand at the parting of the ways. From this time we find three great parties and three great schools of thought in Europe. First there is the Protestant, in which we behold the Divine principle struggling to disentangle itself from Pagan and Gothic corruptions. Secondly, there is the Superstitious, which had now come to make all doctrine to consist in a belief of ‘the church’s’ inspiration, and all duty in an obedience to her authority. And thirdly, there is the Intellectual, which was just the reason of man endeavoring to shake off the trammels of Roman authority, and go forth and expatiate in the fields of free inquiry.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 57,58. And thus, through the development of intellectualism and skepticism, attempting to free themselves from the stranglehold of the authority of the Roman church, men planted the seeds of the French revolution and the age of reason. “The war against the Bible, carried forward for so many centuries in France, culminated in the scenes of the Revolution. That terrible outbreaking was but the legitimate results of Rome’s suppression of the Scriptures. It presented the most striking illustration which the world has ever witnessed of the working out of the papal policy—an illustration of the results to which for more than a thousand years the teaching of the Roman Church had been tending.” The Great Controversy, 266, 267.