Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Waldenses - Persecuted Christians

EARLY in the eleventh century the Catholic church, the leading religious body of that time, endeavoured to force all Christians to accept her doctrines. Thousands bowed to Rome, but a large body of "protesters" stood out for the Bible. Numbers of the Protestants crossed the Alps, descended the Rhine, and raised the standard of truth in Cologne, where they were branded as heretics and rewarded with the stake. Some found refuge in the Alps, and were later known as the Waldenses. 

The Alps rise abruptly from the plains of Piedmont and form a line of towering magnificence. Pastures and chestnut forests clothe their base, while eternal snows crown their summits. The storms of a thousand winters have torn their sides, leaving caves, valleys, and narrow passes. Through these the fugitive might enter. 

Beyond one rocky portal dark ravines open into seven fertile valleys. 

The first is Luserna, the Valley of Light; then Rora, Valley of Dews ; the third, Angrogna, the Valley of Groans, leads into Pra, the most interesting to us of any of these valleys. It was the holy of holies in the Alpine Sanctuary. 

The faith of the Waldenses, or Vaudois Christians, was founded on the pure teachings of the Bible. To it they strictly adhered. They believed the end of the world was near, and that upon them rested the burden of carrying the gospel to the world. 

It was the custom among this people for the pastors to teach the youth. In the college at Pra, the ministers were the instructors. The students' text-book was the Bible. Not only did they study it, but they were required to memorize whole gospels and epistles, for there was then no knowledge of printing and copies of the Word were rare. Hidden away iu caves and sequestered spots, the pupils spent much time copying the Scriptures. These .manuscripts they later used in their missionary work. 

After leaving their pastors' schools the young men frequently entered the seminaries in the cities of the surrounding countries. Here they became expert scholars. In many instances they made converts of their fellow-students,landlords, and the merchants with whom they traded. The priests dreaded to  meet them in argument. 

To maintain the truth in their own mountains was not the object of the Waldenses. They realized their duty to the world. The vigilance of Roman priest and inquisitor prevented them going boldly forth as ministers. So they stole out from the Alpine passes two and two, clad in their coarse woollen garments and with naked feet, they entered the towns as pedlars. The nature of their work gave them ready entrance to the homes of rich and poor. These men always carried, concealed in their garments or wares, portions of the Scriptures which they had prepared in their student days. Often as an opportunity presented itself they showed the manuscript, and in reverent tones read to their hearers the words of life. Frequently they gave away the priceless portion when they found those desirous of possessing it. 

But they were not long permitted to work undisturbed. Converts were found wherever they went, and Rome was roused to opposition. Sometimes it chanced the pedlars were suspected and arrested. Then pope and prelate only hastened the springing up of the seed they were striving to exterminate, by watering it with the blood of the men . who had sown it. 

Relentlessly were these humble men persecuted. Finding this did not check the progress of the hated religion, the papal armies penetrated to the fountain head, and massacre followed massacre. In one instance 3,000 Vaudois lost their . lives. From one pinnacle, standing at the entrance of the renowned region, hundreds of martyrs were hurled to death. It was of these awful tragedies Milton wrote in his sonnet: 

"Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered saints, whose bones 
 Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold. 
....In Thy book record their groans 
Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold, 
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled 
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans 
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they to heaven." 

None of these things daunted the noble Waldenses. As rapidly as missionaries fell others were sent to fill their places. The martyrdom of those at home spurred the field labourers to redoubled efforts. God was in the movement, and it could not be stayed till the yoke of Rome was broken. 

The world owes much to this people. Resolute in purpose, devoted to their work, courageously facing danger and death, they fulfilled their mission. The shackles which so long had bound God's Word were broken. Since then the minds of many have been purified by studying the Bible, and their lives ennobled by the heroic example of the " Israel of the Alps." 


No comments:

Post a Comment