Waldo, Peter

, one of the earliest reformers of the church from Popery, but erroneously said to be the founder of that body of reformed Christians called the Waldenses, was an opulent merchant of Lyons in the twelfth century. The first time when he appears to have opposed the errors of the religion in which he was educated, was about 1160, when the doctrine of transubstantiation was confirmed by pope Innocent III. with the addition that men should fall down before the consecrated wafer and worship it as God. The absurdity of this forcibly struck the mind of Waldo, who opposed it in a very courageous manner. It does not appear, however, that he had any intention of withdrawing himself from the communion of the Romish church, or that in other respects he had any very serious notions of religion. The latter appears to have been produced first by the sudden death of a person with whom he was in company. This^lett very serious impressions on his mind, and he betook himself to reading the scriptures. At that time the Latin vulgate Bible was the only edition of the Scriptures in Europe; but that language was accessible to few. Waldo, however, from his situation in life, had had a good education, and could read this volume. “Being somewhat learned,” says Reinerius, “he taught the people the text of the New Testament.” He was also now disposed to abandon his mercantile pursuits, and distributed his wealth to the poor as occasion required, and while the latter flocked to him to partake of his alms, he also attended to their spiritual instruction, and either translated, or procured to be translated the four gospels into French; and thus the inhabitants of Europe were indebted to him for the first translation of the Bible into a modern tongue, since the time that the Latin had ceased to be a living language.

As Waldo became more acquainted with the scriptures, he discovered that a multiplicity of doctrines, rites, and ceremonies, which had been introduced into the national religion, had not only no foundation, but were most pointedly condemned, in the Bible. On this ground he had no scruple to expose such errors, and to condemn the | arrogance of the pope, and the reigning vices of the clergy, while at the same time he endeavoured to demonstrate the great difference there was between the Christianity of the Bible and that of the Church of Rome. Such bold opposition could not long be tolerated. The archbishop of Lyons accordingly prohibited the new reformer from teaching any more on pain of excommunication, and of being proceeded against as a heretic. Waldo replied, that though a layman, he could not be silent in a matter which concerned the salvation of his fellow-creatures. Attempts were next made to apprehend him; but the number and affection of his friends, the respectability and influence of his connections, many of whom were men of rank, the universal regard that was paid to his character for probity and religion, and the conviction that his presence was highly necessary among the people whom he had by this time gathered into a church, and of which he became the head, all operated so strongly in his favour, that he lived concealed at Lyons during the space of three whole years.

But pope Alexander III. had no sooner heard of these proceedings than he anathematized the reformer and his adherents, commanding the archbishop to proceed against them with the utmost rigour. Waldo was now compelled to quit Lyons; his flock, in a great measure, followed their pastor, and hence, say the ecclesiastical historians, a dispersion took place not unlike that which arose in the church of Jerusalem on the occasion of the death of Stephen. The effects were also similar. Waldo himself retired into Dauphiny, where he preached with abundant success; his principles took deep and lasting root, and produced a numerous body of disciples, who were denominated Leonists, Vaudois, Albigenses, or Waldenses; for the very same class of Christians is designated by these various appellations at different times, and according to the different countries, or quarters of the same country in which they appeared. From the name Waldenses, a corruption of Vallenses, or Vaudois, i. e. those xvho inhabited the valleys of Piedmont, occasion was taken to prove that these ancient churches had no existence till the time of Waldo. Waldo appears to have visited Picardy, propagating his doctrines, and finally, according to Thuanus, settled in Bohemia, where de died in 1179. 1

1 Pmin Hist, dcs Vaudois. Milncr’s Church Hist. Jones’s Hist, of Waldenscs.