The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

Publishers of Protestant, Reformed Christian Literature

The Government of the Kingdom of Christ.— Part III.
by Rev. James Moir Porteous.
(Published in 1888.)

Chapter III:
The Waldenses.

"Faithful to death, be yours the crown of life
Who,'mid the darkness deepening into night
Held fast the Word of God, amid such strife
Of superstition, and th' o'ermastering might
Of priestcraft standing in the place of God."


O N the ancient great high road between Italy and France there lie the magnificent valleys of the Cottian Alps. Some thirty miles south-west of Turin, they gather around the lofty summit of Monte Viso. Lofty walls of mountains form amphitheatres of great extent, hung in the gorgeous tapestry of bright green pastures and steady forests of pine. The snows of their summits shine in a purity and brilliancy almost impossible to be described, unless when veiled in volumes of cloud. The silence of these vales is that of a solemn sanctuary, only broken by the dash of the torrent or sweeping of the wind. These valleys throughout their entire extent, were once peopled by those who loved and served the Lord Jesus Christ. This was truly a place prepared of God an ark where God hid His Noahs, and lifted them above the surging flood of the Papacy. Long after the plains at their feet had surrendered their liberties, those of the Vaudois mountaineers were fearlessly maintained. Through persecutions almost unparalleled they held fast the possession of their faith, although every succeeding century of persecution reduced the limits of their territory.

The Waldenses were formerly found throughout the whole province of Dauphiny in France; now they are confined within the valleys of Piedmont. These, situated at the eastern base of the Cottian Alps, between Monte Viso and the Col de Sestriere, extend twenty-two miles north and south, and eighteen east and west. They are generally described as three only — viz., the Val Lucerna, through which flows the river Pelice; the Val Perosa, on the river Glusone; and the Val Martino, watered by the torrent Germanasca. To these the two smaller valleys, the Val di Rora and the Val d'Angrogna, must be added. La Tour, their capital, stands in Val Lucerna. These valleys, as their armorial legend proclaims, had, from a remote antiquity, 'the light shining in darkness' ( Lux lucet in tenebris ); a distinguishing honour above those Churches which, as that of Geneva, can only say, 'After the darkness light' (Post tenebras lux ).

'On approaching this territory from Pinerolo and Bricherasio the scene is varied and magnificent. To the right, on the top of one of the undulating hills which separate the Val Lucerna from the Val Perosa, lies the commune of Prarustino, with its white church peeping out gracefully at intervals from the forest of chestnut and walnut trees. To the left, over the dark mountain chain which intervenes between Lucerna and the valley of the Po, Monte Viso is seen rising in pyramidal form, crowned with virgin snow, like a watchful sentinel keeping guard over the peaceful valleys beneath. In the background the valley rises abruptly towards the main ridge of the Alps, and the practised eye can discern the altitude, by the varied hues on the mountain side, so peculiar to these Alpine regions.' Scarcely a vineyard or a meadow there, scarcely a precipice, which has not associated with it a tale of infamy and of blood; scarcely a mountain pass in that land of mountains that has not proved a new Thermopyl�, nor a torrent whose waters have not been dyed with the blood of its martyrs. 'The Crag of Castellazzo, which frowns above the hamlet of St Margueritta, in the Val Lucerna, still proclaims the slaughter of the innocents, who were precipitated from its summit to the plain below. Rora is celebrated to this day for the martial achievements of its hero Gianavello; as also the Balceglia, in Val Martino, for the memorable defence of the intrepid Arnaud and his followers; while the Val d'Angrogna is famed for its barricades, behind which the Vaudois defied all the efforts of their enemies.' (Dr. Stewart).

These spots cannot be looked at or thought of by a Christian heart, without impressing the mind, prompting to unite with the Waldenses in grateful adoration. They sing —

"For the strength of the hills we bless Thee, our God, our fathers' God
Thou hast made Thy children mighty, by the touch of the mountain sod;
Thou hast fixed our ark of refuge where the spoiler's foot never trod
For the strength of the hills we bless Thee, our God, our fathers' God.

"We are watchers of a beacon, whose light must never die;
We are guardians of an altar, 'midst the silence of the sky.
The rocks yield founts of courage, struck forth as by the rod;
For the strength of the hills we bless Thee, our God, our fathers' God.

"For the shadow of Thy presence round our camp of rock outspread,
For the stern defiles of battle, bearing record of our dead;
For the snows and for the torrents, for the free heart's burial sod
For the strength of the hills we bless Thee, our God, our fathers' God."

— Mrs. Hemans.


Being the descendants and representatives of the primitive Church of Italy, no date can be given to their origin, any more than to other early Churches. Documents, as well as human beings, were everywhere destroyed by Papal Rome in her mad determination to exterminate these Christian witnesses. That failing, she strove to represent them as heretical dissenters, who had their origin from Peter Waldo of Lyons.

Waldo derived his name from these his native valleys, as have also the designations Vallenses, Valdesi, and Vaudois. The valleys were called Vaux, the inhabitants Vaudois — those who dwelt in the Vaux. So Valdesi, or Vallenses, had regard to the word val orvallis, andvalle.

The ambition and corruption of the Papacy forced resistance from upper Italy into the chain of the Alps. In the eighth century that resistance increased, until the existence of the Vaudois was fully revealed. Within these valleys the successive corruptions of the Papacy were long unknown. When known, they protested against 'the variety of things invented, an horrible heresy' — condemning the Church of Rome in departing from the purity of the faith. They spoke of it not as 'the Catholic,' but as 'the Roman Church.' To the Catholic the Vaudois still adhered; from the Roman they were compelled in fidelity to separate. Peter De Bruys was the precursor of Waldo. He was born in the Val Louise of Dauphiny. Their doctrines had much in common. Writers nearest to Waldo do not speak of the Vaudois as the disciples of that reformer. Their most ancient manuscripts declare that they have maintained the same doctrine 'from time immemorial, in continual descent from father to son, even from the times of the apostles.' Their confession, 'The Nolla Ley�on,' dating A.D. 1100, claims that ancient origin. Ecbert, in A.D. 1160, spoke of them as 'perverters' who had existed during many ages. Reinerus, the Inquisitor, a century later, declares they are 'most dangerous,' because 'most ancient,' 'for some say that it has continued to flourish since the time of Sylvester, others from the time of the apostles.' Rorenco, grand prior of St. Roch, commissioned to inquire, states 'that they were not a new sect in the ninth and tenth centuries.' And Campian, the Jesuit, that they were reputed to be 'more ancient than the Roman Church.' Not one of the Dukes of Savoy ever contradicted their assertion, that they were 'the descendants of those who preserved entire the apostolic faith in their valleys.' Their inaccessible and remote valleys received fugitive Christians, and thus the doctrine of the cross was early received and faithfully preserved.

In the twelfth century the Vaudois Church came prominently into view. At that period, Peter Waldo, having become a rich merchant of Lyons, returned, and excited a powerful influence upon his brethren. His piety and zeal were manifest. The Scriptures were translated into the vulgar tongue. He powerfully promoted the preaching of the gospel. These exertions were accompanied by the power of the Spirit of God.


That ancient Church, in all its history, proclaims undying love for the pure truth of God, and enmity to Rome. There are no human records that are so full of thrilling interest as these which tell of their struggles and victories as witnesses for Christ; and none that more clearly convict the modern Church of Rome as being 'the man of sin, and son of perdition' — the greatest foe of God and man. Their history is one of the brightest, purest, and most heroic in the annals of mankind. For five centuries did they experience the most unrelenting persecution. Urban II. declared, in A.D. 1096, that the valleys were infested with heresy. During the period that elapsed from that date to 1209 when Otho IV. anathematised them, the Waldenses had become very numerous.

Their first persecution dates from A.D. 1300 to 1500. This was carried on by the Duchess of Savoy, and her son, the Duke of Savoy. A Bull of extermination was given against them by Innocent VIII in 1487, enjoining all temporal powers to take up arms for their destruction. This Bull was executed by an army worthy of such an infamous cause. In that first struggle God gave the Waldenses a pledge of His protecting care. 'A dense and dangerous mist, such as sometimes unexpectedly appears in the Alps, settled down upon them (the persecutors) just at the very moment when they were in the paths most full of difficulty and of peril. Ignorant of the locality, marching apprehensively, uncertain of the route which they ought to take, and not able to advance except singly, over rocks, upon the brink of precipices, they gave way before the first assault of the Vaudois, and not being able to range themselves in order of battle, they were easily defeated,' ('Israel of the Alps,' vol. i pp. 31, 34).

The second general persecution dates from A.D 1560 to 1561 in which the Count de la Trinit� was, by the Waldenses, successively defeated. But they were now restricted to their valleys, and horrible brutalities filled the whole of Europe with indignation. Sovereigns interposed on their behalf. Cromwell, in particular, was zealous and active in their service. Morland, his youthful plenipotentiary, thus addressed Charles Emmanuel:- 'The most serene Protector himself adjures you to have compassion on your own subjects in the valleys, so cruelly maltreated. Misery has followed the massacres; they wander upon the mountains; they suffer from hunger and from cold; their wives and children drag out their lives in destitution and consuming affliction. And of what barbarities have they been the victims! Their houses burned; their members torn, scattered about, mutilated, sometimes even devoured by the murderers! Heaven and earth shudder at it with horror! Were all the Neros of past and future times to view these fields of carnage, infamy, and inexpressible atrocities (let it not wound your royal highness), they would conclude that they had never seen anything but what was good and humane, in comparison with these things! I say it without offence to your majesty. O God! Sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth, avert from the heads of the guilty the just vengeance which so much bloodshed calls for.' In later times the Emperor Napoleon befriended them. The storm was lowered, but still broke forth with more terrific violence in a third and a fourth persecution, under which they resolved to abide by and to defend their native villages, until by treachery and barbaric cruelty they were fearfully reduced. At last they were totally expelled the valleys, from A.D. 1686 to 1687. The history of their sufferings and of their glorious return under Arnaud in 1689 from Geneva, must be read in detail to be thoroughly appreciated. The succeeding story of their conflicts, expulsions, and colonisation, is not less full of thrilling interest, until their civil and political emancipation during the reign of Charles Albert, A.D. 1847 to 1850.

To two English Christians, General Beckwith — who devoted twenty years to their service — and Dr. Gilly, not only the Waldenses, but the whole Church of Christ owe grateful feelings, in being the instruments of healing, in some measure, the deep wounds inflicted by barbaric Rome. Even under Victor Emmanuel they were badly treated till thus emancipated. The Waldenses have been destroyed by persecution in all the countries once occupied by the Vaudois — in Bohemia, in Provence, and in Calabria. The churches of Saluces, of Bagella, and of Barcelonnette exist no longer. The only churches of the Waldenses that continue to this day are those in the valleys of Piedmont, which remain under the sceptre of the house of Savoy.' Here, however, are not mere ruins, but a people — a Church — and industrious and devoted citizens, an honour to their country.' To think of their past and their present, cannot but stimulate to utter anew that majestic meditative prayer of Milton:-

"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold
Even them who kept Thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones.
Forget not: 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.
Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant. That from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learned Thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe."


Now, it is a most interesting fact that this witnessing Church — that has existed from the most remote antiquity — that has survived the fiercest series of persecutions to which Christians have ever been exposed — and that is now enabled to enter in at the door the Lord has opened in Italy has ever been essentially presbyterial in her administration.

Dr. Gilly, while endeavouring to prove them Episcopalian, admits that 'their discipline is now Presbyterian, very much resembling that of the Church of Scotland' ('Hist.' vol. i. pp 540, 541). Œnius Sylvius, afterwards Pope Pius II, declared of them that 'they deny the hierarchy, maintaining that there is no difference among the priests (presbyters) by reason of dignity of office.' Professor Raignolds, an eminent Episcopalian, states that 'the Waldenses taught that all pastors, whether styled bishops or priests, have one and the same authority by the Word of God.' George Mauzel, one of their own devoted ministers, writing in A.D. 1530 to Œcolampadius, declares that the different orders of bishops, priests, and deacons did not exist in their ministry,' ('Scot's Continuation of Milner,' p. 139). Peter Heylin, a prelatist, declares 'that they had fallen upon a way of ordaining ministers among themselves, without having recourse to the bishop, or any such superior officer, as a superintendent.' Leyssel, Archbishop of Turin, after he had visited that part of his diocese in 1520, said that 'those whom they judge to be the best among them they appoint to be their prlests — (i.e., presbyters) — to whom, on all occasions, they have recourse as to the vicars and successors of the apostles.'

As other Presbyterian Churches, the Waldenses held by all its essential features. Their senior barbas or pastors, who performed particular duties for the sake of order, claimed no authority by divine right, but were subject to the Synod. Heads of families not only elected the elders and barbas who formed the consistory or session, they also elected those sent to represent them in the Synod. Ordination was conferred by the whole company of the presbyters laying on of hands, and prayer. As every pastor was required to take his turn in the work of evangelising, under the guidance of a senior barba, the experience gained must have been of great value in the settled work of the pastorate, and his return must have been a season of delight to those who had meanwhile upheld him with their prayers. Very few of them, in old times, were married men. This was not on account of any vow, but because of their poverty, mission tours, warfare, and danger. Pastors were changed every three years, except the aged barbas. Their preaching and other exercises of devotion were similar to other churches that were reformed. The Vaudois, however, in a low voice, repeated the prayer that preceded and followed the sermon. Hymns were sung only in private. Their confession was issued in A.D. 1120, comprising fourteen articles. Their doctrines may be thus summed up: 'The absolute authority and inspiration of the Bible — the Trinity in the Godhead — the sinful state of man, and free salvation by Jesus Christ; but, above all, faith working by love.'

The 'travellers' were missionaries who, in various ways, sought an entrance for Christ into the homes and hearts of men. Here was one method pursued with advantage in the Italian plains:-

'"Oh! lady fair, these silks of mine are beautiful and rare,
The richest web of the Indian loom, which beauty's self might wear;
And these pearls are pure and mild to behold, and with radiant light they vie:
I have brought them many a weary way — Will my gentle lady buy?

'"Oh! lady fair, I have got a gem, which a purer lustre flings
Than the diamond flash of the jewelled crown on the lofty brow of kings:
A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue shall not decay,
Whose light shall be as a spell to thee, and a blessing on the way!"

'The cloud went off from the pilgrim's brow as a small and meagre book,
Unchased by gold or diamond gem, from his folding robe he took:
"Here, fair lady, is the pearl of price, may it prove as such to thee
Nay, keep thy gold — I ask it not; for the Word of God is free!"

'And she hath left the old grey halls where an evil faith hath power,
And the courtly knights of her father's train, and the maidens of her bower;
And she hath gone to the Vaudois vale, by lordly feet untrod,
Where the poor and needy of earth are rich in the perfect love of God.'

In all essentials, the government of the Waldensian Church was by associated elders or the presbytery. This apostolic government was exhibited by them in other lands as well. They established themselves in Lombardy in the end of the twelfth century. In the thirteenth, they were found even in Rome. Congregations were formed in Geneva, Florence, Aquila, &c. A colony from the valley of Pragella settled in Calabria in the fourteenth century (1370). Exterminating crusades cut them off, or drove them from place to place, but did not cause them to give up their Bibles, or their Bible principles.

It is, notwithstanding, maintained that the prelatic form of government anciently prevailed amongst them, and that the change to Presbytery took place about 1630, when the clergy came from France to Switzerland, to replace the pastors who had been mostly cut off by plague. This is a mere unsupported theory. No such organic change is hinted at by historians, although the discipline was then somewhat relaxed. A manuscript dated 1587, deposited in the University of Cambridge, tells that their council or synod was held in the month of September, that 140 barbas assembled at one time, and that they had always their consistories. Although bishops are mentioned in their manuscripts, this word is always in the plural. One says, 'Among the powers which God has given to His servants as belong to their station is the election of rulers (regidors), and priests (preires).' The term regidor is not equivalent to prelatic bishops, as the subjects ruled are the people, not the presbyters. Reinerus Sacco, an apostate Waldensian barbe, afterwards an inquisitor, declared that, so far back as the thirteenth century, prelatic authority was not recognised by them. Among the 'blasphemies' which he ascribes to them, is the affirmation, 'that prelatic names, such as pope, bishop, and the like, are to be reprobated; that obedience has to be given not to the prelates, but to God; that no man is greater than another in the Church, for all ye are brethren.'


In 1842 Dr. Stewart found that efforts were made to introduce a modified Episcopacy. Under the title of perpetual moderator, one minister was to hold no cure of souls, but to manage the affairs of the Church, and be the organ of official communication with the government. But this met with favour neither from pastors nor people.

The Consistoire is composed of the pastor, of the elders elected by the heads of families in their respective quarters, and of deacon for relieving the poor, and repairing the temple. The Synod is composed of all pastors or ministers, who are or have been employed; of two laymen from each parish, having one vote between them; and of two laymen who were members of the last table. It meets yearly. Then once in five years, because of the paucity of transactions necessary, and the cost of letters patent from government, amounting to �50. Without this the Synod could not be held; The Table must put a list of subjects to be attended to, a month previous, before the Minister of the Interior for the information of Government; and the Intendant of Pinerolo, with his secretary, is present to watch the deliberations. All strangers are excluded, the Synod meeting with closed doors. Still the Synod excites much interest, a copy of its proceedings being read by each pastor from the pulpit. The Table — a kind of Commission of Assembly — is composed of three ministers, the moderator, his adjunct the secretary, and two elders. Formerly there was a regular gradation of kirk-session, presbytery, and synod, the two presbyteries being called the colloques or classes; and still the consistoire, or kirk-session, exists as a local court in each parish, and the synod as a court of review. There are no licentiates or probationers. After a student has finished his course, and is examined, if found qualified he is ordained as a minister. Formerly the ordination was at Geneva, or some other college. Now the ceremony takes place once a year, in the valleys. Every candidate, before receiving imposition of hands, signs the Confession. The pastor alone has the cure of souls. He is elected by the heads of families by ballot. The call is then signed by the consistoire. The parishes are divided into two classes. The first are these four — Maneglia, Macel, Rodoretto, and Prali. These being in mountainous regions, only young men possessed of physical energy are eligible. The dangerous nature of these positions may be imagined from the fact, that only a few years ago the pastor of Rodoretto, with his whole family, were destroyed by an avalanche of snow which swept away the presbyt�re or manse. The other parishes are Rora, Brobio, Villario, La Torre, St. Giovanni, Angrogna, Prarustina, Germano, Pramol, Pomaretto, Villa Secca, and Turino. In these sixteen parishes, in 1844 there was a population of 26,920. Of these, 22,450 were Protestants, and 4,468 Roman Catholics, the latter receiving every possible advantage from Government.

A capital sum of �13,000 has been raised by the Pan-Presbyterial Council, to which the congregations have added �4000, so that now pastors and professors have from �80 to �94 per annum. There are 36 ordained ministers, 5 evangelists, 63 teachers, and 15 colporteurs. These minister to 42 churches and 35 stations; and in the latter are 3,616 communicants, who contribute 50,000 francs. During the eighteenth century the Church was much restricted, condemnation for life to the galleys being the penalty for giving up Popery for the Gospel. Since 1826 spiritual life has revived, and since 1848, when toleration was secured, evangelistic work has been successfully prosecuted.

A liturgy appears to have been anciently used, a copy of which is at Geneva. A modern one received the sanction of the Synod in 1839. In addition to public and family prayers, it contains a burial service — introduced by foreign influence — along with their Confession of 1655, and the formularies of ordination. This liturgy is not intended to do much more than the Directory appended to the Westminster Confession. Extempore prayers, as well as spoken sermons, are still the rule. When a lady took her prayer-book to church, the people said, 'Poor thing, she does not yet sufficiently understand French to follow the prayers without a book.' The organ is not used, more from want of means (Dr. Stewart thinks) than of inclination, the church of La Torre having had one, and the custom being general on the Continent in all Presbyterian Churches. Baptism, except in cases of severe illness, is administered during public worship; and the Lord's Supper is dispensed eight times a year. After reading the words of institution, and fencing the tables, the minister first communicates, then the elders. After that the men pass before the table in single file, and then the women, and partake of the elements standing. Discipline seems not to have been rigidly maintained, and this led to a secession in 1831. It is confined to the parish of San Giovanni, where the former pastor held Socinian views, the Table refusing to allow the people then to communicate in other churches. The small secession is therefore ascribed to harshness and tyranny. Now, however, the pastors all hold and preach the evangelical faith.

The Vaudois are very poor. During five months of the year they reside in wooden chalets in the higher Alps for the pasturage of their cattle. In winter they live among their cattle; because of the scarcity of fuel. Though not so eminent for piety as their ancestors, they are the most moral, religious, and Bible instructed people in Europe. Impurity is very rare.


under direction of five commissioners, reaching from Mount Blanc to the extremity of Sicily, divides Italy into five districts or presbyteries: — 1. PIEDMONT-LIGURIA, from which Pinerola is detached as a Waldensian parish; 2. LOMBARDY-VENICE-EMILIA, 3. TUSCANY; 4. The MARCHES-ROME-NAPLES; 5. CALABRIA-SICILY. Its operations embrace 44 churches, 38 stations, 126 localities, 119 labourers, 4,061 members, 606 admissions, 2,434 Sunday school scholars, and �373 contributions in 1886.


carefully considered by Presbyteries, Conference, and Synod, was carried almost unanimously — 67 ayes, 3 abstentions, and not a single no.

The ARTICLES, as finally adopted, are:

I. The Evangelical Waldensian Church and the Free Christian Church of Italy, convinced that the multiplicity of evangelical denominations at work in Italy forms an obstacle to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ among us, resolve to unite, so as to form henceforth one and the same Church. II. The ordained pastors and evangelists of the Free Church to have the same rights and duties as the ordained pastors and evangelists of the Waldensian Church. III. The Synod of the Waldensian Church to continue to act as the General Assembly of the United Church, till the time shall have come to crown the ecclesiastical edifice with the General Assembly. IV. The Waldensian Table to continue to represent the Church before the law, as it has represented it till now. V. The United Church conserves the name of the evangelical Waldensian Church, leaving, however, to individual congregations the power to call themselves simply the Evangelical Church of ......, and expressing the desire that the day may come when the great increase of its numbers or its union with other Italian evangelical denominations will admit of its taking the name of the Evangelical Church of Italy. VI. On the union of the two churches being officially proclaimed; the individual congregations of the Free Church and the Waldensian Church, comprised within the limits of a district, to unite simultaneously, so as to form the District Conference (Presbytery). VII. For the constitution and convocation of the District and the General Conferences, the rules prescribed by the existing Directory of the Waldensian Church to be used provisionally. VIII. On the union being formed, the Directory to be submitted to a revision on the part of the District and the General Conferences. IX. The Theological School of the Waldensian Church in Florence remains the school of the United Church in dependence on the Synod. When means will admit of it, the Theological School of the Free Church in Rome to be transformed into a school for teacher-evangelists, where students, furnished at least with the inferior diploma, will be admitted, and which will be dependent on the Committee of Evangelisation. X. Candidates for the ministry, duly licensed in respect of their theological acquirements, to be examined prior to their ordination, as to their convictions and religious sentiments, by the pastors of the Church. XI. Candidates in theology, prior to ordination, must sign the existing Confession of Faith of the Waldensian Church; but it is necessary that the first General Conference of the United Church take steps to prepare a "Declaration of Principles," shorter and simpler, on the basis of the "Declaration of Principles" of the Free Church and the Confession of Faith of the Waldensian Church, for the use of the members of the Church. XII. As regards material interests, the Administrations, whose duty it is, to occupy themselves with the prompt arrangement of affairs in conformity with article 4th.

— Report to be had from J. Forbes Moncrieff, C.E., Edinburgh.