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Statue of Peter Waldo at the Luther Memorial at Worms, Germany
Peter Waldo, Valdo, or Waldes (c. 1140 – c. 1218), also Pierre Vaudès or de Vaux, is believed by many to have started the Waldensians. This was a Christian spiritual movement of the Middle Ages. People are still alive in southern Europe who come from this movement. Because not much was written down about Waldo while he was alive, people do not agree how important he was to the Waldensians, because it may have been around before his leadership. Also, the French historian Thuanus thought Waldo died in the year 1179.
Life and work
Not many details are known about the life of Waldo. Some sources say that he was a rich man who sold clothes, and that he was a merchant from Lyon. Also, sources say that he had some education. Sometime not long before the year 1160 he was inspired by some events. One of these was hearing a sermon on the life of St. Alexius. Another was when saying that one did not believe in transubstantiation (which is the belief that, during Communion, the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ) became a crime for which one could be punished by death. A third event was the sudden death of a friend during an evening meal. After this, he began living a radical Christian life. He gave his property to his wife. He gave the rest of his things to the poor.
At about this time, Waldo began to preach and teach publicly about his ideas of living simple lives and about poverty. He taught that "No man can serve two masters, God and money", (see Gospel of Matthew 6:24) and strongly criticized things done by the Pope and things taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the things taught by the Catholic Church that he criticized were purgatory and transubstantiation. He said that the Roman Catholic Church was the prostitute from the book of Revelation. By 1170, many people were following him. These people were called the Poor of Lyon, the Poor of Lombardy, or the Poor of God who would spread their teaching abroad while dressed up as peddlers. Often called the Waldensians (or Waldenses), they were different from the Albigensians or Cathari.
The Waldensian movement had lay preaching (people who were not preachers or priests for a living preached), people who were poor by choice, and strictly obeying the Bible. Between 1175-1185, Waldo either had a cleric from Lyons translate the New Testament of the Bible into the language that most people spoke, the Arpitan (Franco-Provençal) language, or translate it himself.
In 1179, Waldo and one of his followers went to Rome, where they were welcomed by Pope Alexander III, and the Roman Curia. They had to explain what they believed in front of a panel of three clergymen, including issues which were then debated within the Church. These included the idea that all people were priests, teaching the gospel in the language most people spoke, and people living poor, simple lives on purpose. The results of the meeting were inconclusive, and Waldo's ideas, but not the movement itself, were condemned at the Third Lateran Council in the same year, although the leaders of the movement had not been yet excommunicated (kicked out of the Church).
Sent away from Lyon, Waldo and his followers moved to the high valleys of Piedmont, and in France, in the Luberon. Finally, Waldo was excommunicated by Pope Lucius III during the synod held at Verona in 1184, and the doctrine of the Poor of Lyon was again condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 where they are mentioned by name for the first time, and called heresy. The Roman Catholic Church began to persecute the Waldensians, and many were tried and sentenced to death in different European countries during the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. The Waldensians survived by moving the Alps and hiding there. Centuries after his death, the Waldensian denomination joined the Genevan or Reformed branch of the Protestant Reformation.
- Audisio, Gabriel, The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival, c.1170 - c.1570, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. (1999) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521559847
- William Jones, History of the Waldenses, (London: 1816) volume 2, pg 12
- Jean Paul Perrin, History of the Old Waldenses Anterior to the Reformation, (New York: 1884) pg 21
- Jones, vol 2, pg 8
- M. Aston, Faith and Fire: Popular and Unpopular Religion, 1350-1600, (London, 1993) p.18.
- Perrin, pg 22
- JA Wylie, History of the Waldenses, (London: 1848), pg 17
- Jones, vol 2, pg 10