The elect, or true Christians, have existed under different names at different times, viz.: the Novatians, Donatists, and Paulicians in the Middle Ages. The Albigenses, Cathari, and Waldenses were the most prominent societies who separated from the Catholic Church. They resembled each other very much in their doctrine and life. They were all agreed about the principles of the gospel.

Peter Waldo gathered together a church in the year 1160. The Waldenses existed before the time of Waldo. Already in the year of 1120 they had published a work against the papal antichrist, in which they pointed out the false doctrines of the Catholic Church. They presented this as one reason why they had separated from the church. But Waldo did much to increase their number and activity. He was a rich merchant from Lyons, France. As he was reading the Holy Scriptures, he was seized with a holy longing after the apostolic church. He sold his property, distributed the money to the poor, and preached a pure practical Christianity. Many left their homes and became teachers. At first, they did not think of separating from the Roman Church, but they were at last compelled to do so, seeing they in no wise could agree with it.

In 1532 they separated themselves fully from the papal church, adopting a short confession of faith. This common faith contained, however, the same doctrines which they had believed and followed for four hundred years. They were subjected to persecutions in 1332, 1400, and 1478. But after this time during about two hundred years they suffered a series of the most bloody persecutions. They were, especially in the middle of the seventeenth century, tormented in the most cruel manner. Yet their enemies did not succeed in subduing these brave mountaineers. In their extreme distress they defended themselves, and resisted successfully the armies of the Duke of Savoy. But their resistance against the government never went farther than necessity drove them. At the close of the seventeenth century they had to flee from the country of their fathers, overwhelmed by the superior force of their enemies.

Some of them went to Switzerland and others to Germany, but the longing after the mountains of their own country caused them to return. In 1689 they gathered from all quarters in Switzerland under the leadership of Henry Arnold. After a bloody and adventurous campaign they again obtained possession of their native country. They are said to have fought not less than eighteen battles against the French, and to have lost only thirty men. It was, however, not before 1848 that they obtained the same rights as their Catholic fellow citizens.

As a consequence of their incredible activity, the gospel was proclaimed in Italy in most of their cities. They sent out evangelists, partly clergymen, partly intelligent laymen. They worked diligently, preaching the word, scattering tracts, and organizing Protestant churches.

Life and Doctrine of the Waldenses

Waldo rendered great service by translating the Bible into the French language. This he did by the help of two clerical friends. He spent a large share of his property for the writing of numerous copies, which he distributed. His preaching fell like a kindling spark into many hearts, and before long they would burn like himself to proclaim the precious gospel to those who had not yet tasted its sweet comfort. Thus many obtained a living knowledge of the true Saviour, and experienced a genuine change of heart. In 1184 Waldo and his followers were excommunicated by the pope. They had to flee from their country, but they proclaimed the word of God more freely and publicly, diffusing it in their travels to all parts of the world. Many of the Cathari and other scattered believers united with them, and soon Protestants who were ready to sacrifice their lives for the faith of the Waldenses were found in France, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Bohemia, and Hungary.

Westermeyer says further of the Waldenses: “We rejoice to find in the doctrine of the Waldenses the purest evangelical profession, and before its clear light the errors and abuses of the ruling church disappeared. All the erroneous doctrines of the church originated from the fact that other writings were accepted besides the Scriptures. The Waldenses affirmed positively that the Scriptures contained everything necessary to salvation. Nothing but the revelation of God should be received as an article of faith. They found in the Scriptures only one God and one mediator, Jesus Christ. They would know nothing of the merits and worship of the saints. Christ, said they, is our advocate. He pleads for us before we give ourselves to Him. He wants every soul to seek refuge in Him alone.

“They rejected most decidedly all those works by which the people burdened themselves in the established church, such as monastic vows, fasting, offering for the living and dead. Faith in Christ was the only way to obtain remission of sins and eternal life. Consequently the sale of indulgences looked to them as a terrible abuse.

“If the true church was found anywhere, it was with the Waldenses. This not only their doctrine but also their life testifies. Their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures was admirable. Before their missionaries were admitted to office, they had to learn at least the gospels according to Matthew and John, and the epistles of the New Testament, besides many portions of the writings of David, Solomon, and the prophets.”

The following are testimonies from their enemies: “They are mostly rude, uneducated people. They are often dressed in the skins of animals, and live in miserable huts and caves. Yet they can all read and write. We found peasants who could repeat the book of Job by heart. Others could repeat all of the New Testament, and every boy among them had a clear idea of their faith.”

A friar who had been sent out to lead them back to the Roman Church came back much astonished, and acknowledged that in all his life he had not learned so much of the Scriptures as he had in those few days he had been conversing with the heretics.

The word of God brought forth blessed fruit in those simple hearted people. Even their enemies were compelled to bear excellent testimonies of their uprightness. One of the clerical ambassadors who had received the commission to search for them and persecute them said:

“The heretics are known by their manners. Their conduct is quiet and modest, and no pride is seen in their dress” Another says: “In their manners and life they are upright, truthful in their words, and of one accord in brotherly love, but their faith is obstinate and unsound.”

Still another says: “They do not try to gather riches but are satisfied with the necessities of life,” “Their women are modest, not talebearers. They shun folly and levity.” People that receive such testimonies from their bitterest enemies must indeed have lived very exemplary lives.

When they got up and when they went to bed, as well as before and after meals, they kneeled down before the Lord and offered up their supplication and thanksgiving. After each meal they instructed and exhorted one another. They showed faithfulness in all their affairs of life. Marriage was considered holy, and was never entered upon without the consent of the parents. They brought up their children in an excellent way. They understood how to leave their faith and uprightness as an inheritance to their posterity. “Keep your eyes on your daughters,” they said; “keep them at home, and let them not wander about. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was seduced when she was seen of strangers. Those who decorate their daughters are like those who put dry wood on the fire that it may burn better.”

For the rest they were very submissive, and took care of their everyday work with the greatest faithfulness. They were known as hardworking people, and their manner of living was exceedingly plain. They were enemies of all extravagance and debauchery. Consequently their men were sought for servants, and their women for nurses and servant girls.

The Waldenses believed that the Roman Church was the great harlot spoken of in Revelation 17. They rejected all the ordinances introduced since the ascension of Christ. They rejected the doctrine of purgatory and the feasts ordained by the church. Baptism was performed by immersion, which was used by the Catholics also at that time. They rejected infant baptism and maintained that it could be of no use for infant children because they could not believe.

The Waldenses were also called Insabbati. One writer says: “They would not observe the holy days. For this reason they were falsely accused of breaking the Sabbath and therefore were called Insabbati.”

Another writer says: “They were called Insabbati, not because they were circumcised, but because they kept the Jewish Sabbath.”

The following paragraph from history shows plainly that they kept the seventh day:

“When the king of France, Louis XII, was informed of the terrible crime whereof the Waldenses were accused by their enemies, he sent his own confessor with another man to the province of Provence to look into the matter. When they returned, they said that they had visited all the parishes where they lived and examined their meeting houses, but they found no images or things pertaining to the mass nor any of the ceremonies belonging to the Roman Church. Much less could they discover any trace of those crimes wherefore they were accused. On the contrary, they kept the Sabbath, practiced baptism like the apostolic church, and instructed their children in the Christian articles of faith and the commandments of God. When the king heard this report he said: They are indeed better people than I and my people.’“