The name of a proto-Protestant Christian sect that arose in
the south of France late in the twelfth century C.E. Peter Waldo,
a prosperous merchant from Lyon, appeared about 1170 as a
wandering preacher. He soon built a substantial following in
the same region in which the heretical Albigensians had their
centers. However, the Waldensians were a Bible-centered,
theologically orthodox group. The Albigensians had adopted
a Gnostic religious system that rested somewhat upon that of
Manichaeism, with its extreme dualism (a belief that God and
evil exist as two equal and opposing forces) and severe asceticism.
Waldo’s complaints were against much of the undisciplined
behavior of priests, and a number of ‘‘unbiblical’’ practices
such as pilgrimages, worship of saints, and church wealth,
all of which arose as items on the agenda of protestants in the
sixteenth century.
Waldensianism’s adherents were divided into two classes
‘‘Christ’s paupers,’’ who left their secular lives behind; and the
‘‘friends’’ who accepted Waldo’s teachings but remained in
their secular lives. This division was similar to the two levels of
membership among the Cathari. As the movement spread to
Italy and Germany, it was carried by wandering preachers who
went out in pairs.
After a generation in which the church attempted to win
them back to the fold, the Waldensians began to experience
persecution about the second decade of the thirteenth century.
A number were burned in southern France and Germany, but
in Italy they were able to survive by retreating into the Alpine
mountain valleys. The group survived primarily in Italy, where
they aligned themselves to the sixteenth-century reformation.
In the last half of the twentieth century, they emerged as a recognized
group in Italy and the Methodist Church of Italy recently
merged with them.
During the Middle Ages the spokespersons of the Roman
church believed that, like the Albigenses, the Waldensians had
a diabolical element in their religion, and from time to time
they were classed with the various secret societies that sprang
up in medieval Europe, such as the Templars and the Rosicrucians.
Although the Waldensians possessed an internal doctrine
and disciple accepted by the inner core of adherents, their
beliefs and practices were more of an ethical nature and were
in no manner associated with the occult or magic.
Westin, Gunnar. The Free Church through the Ages. Nashville,
Tenn. Broadman, 1958.

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