Members of a movement, founded by Valdes of Lyons, which was inspired by the ideal of evangelical poverty and later deviated into an antisacerdotal heresy.
Evangelical Movement. Disregarding the legendary accounts that have obscured the movement, the origins of Waldensianism are easy to discern. Valdes (Valdesius), a merchant of Lyons who had amassed a great fortune, renounced his possessions in 1173, and having decided to observe the ideal of poverty, began to preach to the people. He employed two clerics to translate the Gospels and other texts for his use. The name Peter, which appears only in 1368, was attributed to him with symbolical overtones. Valdes and his disciples went to Rome on the occasion of the Third lateran council (1179). alexander iii received them favorably, approved their vow of poverty, but reminded them that laymen were forbidden to preach without authorization. The pope's entourage, however, was much less gracious and ridiculed their doctrinal ignorance. It was at this time that Valdes made a profession of faith, accepting Catholic dogmas in their entirety, renewed his vow of poverty, and pledged himself to accept only such alms as were sufficient for the needs of each day.
In the beginning, Archbishop Guichard of Lyons had tended to be favorable to the newly formed fraternity. But his successor, John Bellesmains (1182–93), expelled them from Lyons probably over the issue of preaching,
and denounced them to the pope. At the Council of Verona (1184), lucius iii condemned the Waldenses, also known as the Poor of Lyons, as heretics. After his condemnation, Valdes's later career is unknown. A contemporary group, called the Humiliati, an evangelical movement among the wool workers of Milan, were also condemned at Verona. The followers of this movement joined the Waldenses to form the sect of the Poor Lombards.
Heresy. The Poor Lombards and the Poor of Lyons found it impossible to live in harmony, and in 1205 the two groups separated. Although a conference of the two groups was held at Bergamo in 1218, the Poor of Lyons and the Lombards were unable to reconcile their points of view regarding the respect due to Valdes and the subject of the Eucharist, on which the Poor of Lyons held that only a priest could consecrate.
Certain Waldenses had remained close to the traditional beliefs. After a contradictory meeting in Languedoc (1207), Durandus of Huesca and his companions sought to return to the Catholic faith and to achieve recognition of their rule with its common life and absolute poverty. innocent iii reconciled them (December 1208), then took the Poor Catholics of Durandus under his protection (1212). The Lombard Bernard Prim also subscribed to a profession of faith, joined to a vow of poverty (June 1210), and became the head of a community of reconciled Poor Lombards. Durandus of Huesca and his companion, Ermengaudus, wrote polemical works against the cathari (Dondaine, Durand, 233–239, 257–259). Prim took part also in these controversies in Languedoc.
Despite internal divisions, the heresy spread rapidly through the cities of Provence, the Dauphiné, Burgundy, the Franche-Comté, Lorraine, Alsace, Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia, and the Midi. The Waldenses, however, were always far less numerous than the Cathari. At the beginning of the 14th century, Waldenses from the Diocese of Vienne sought refuge in Languedoc. They moved also into the Alpine valleys of the Dauphiné and Piedmont (c. 1330), where they converted the inhabitants.
Organization. The hierarchy, described by the inquisitor bernard gui, seems to have been an exceptional case. At the head were bishops or maiorales, who administered the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist; then came the priests who preached and heard confessions; and finally the deacons who gave material help to the bishops and priests. No mention of this organization is to be found in other texts. In the Dauphiné, all the ministers, the "masters," were called barbes (uncles) to indicate that they were considered venerable. They were generally men of little education and of humble condition, who lived an itinerant life, preaching in secret, hearing the confessions of the faithful, and imposing fasts and the recitation of the Our Father as their penance. The faithful were to keep from doing evil and from harming their neighbor.
At the end of the 12th century, the Waldenses were rebuked for usurping the office of preaching and rejecting the authority of unworthy priests, for wearing sandals, refusing to take oaths, and for categorically forbidding the killing of any man. But contempt for the power of the Church, which was the basis of the heresy, led the Waldenses into a much more radical attitude. In their view, priests of the Roman Church had lost their authority; churches were useless; religious chants, superfluous; and it was futile to observe the feasts of the saints and to pray to them. They also violently attacked the doctrine of purgatory and its consequences, and scoffed at indulgences.
Later Development. The Waldenses continued to form a compact and homogenous group in the valleys of the Piedmont and the Briançonnais. In 1403, vincent ferrer preached effectively among them for three months. The Waldenses, pursued by the inquisition, were subjected especially to confiscations and fines. Though protected in the reign of Louis XI (1461–83), they were the object of the crusade of 1487–88, but by 1509 were allowed to live in peace. Later, however, they were again severely persecuted at the instigation of civil authorities (1545, 1555–59). The French Waldenses, reduced in numbers, transferred allegiance to the Reformation churches. The Waldenses of the Piedmont, however, stood their ground, and their history included the insurrection of 1655. In 1848, the act of emancipation granted them equality with Catholics. Torre Pellice, in the province of Turin, became the center of their activities; a Waldensian university, established in Florence in 1860, was transferred to Rome in 1922.
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