Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 29

The Forerunners of the Reformation

In a former chapter we brought down the line of witnesses for the truth of God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the great Albigensian war, during which so many of them were slain. We have also brought down the history of the papacy to its humiliation and fall in Boniface VIII. and to its banishment from the throne of St. Peter with all its traditional majesty and glory in Clement V. We will now return to the chain of witnesses which we believe has been maintained unbroken since the earliest times; though the silver line of God's grace has often been so overlaid and obscured that it became difficult to trace its path. Still, it was ever bright to the eye of God, and the mirror on which His own grace and glory were reflected.

The First Great Schools of Learning

The rise of public schools or academies in the twelfth century, and the increase of intellectual activity, no doubt contributed greatly to the weakening of the papacy and the feudal aristocracy. This led the way to the rise and the establishment of the third estate in the realm — the middle classes — and to commercial enterprise. The enlightenment and the liberties of Europe from this period steadily advanced. Schools were erected almost everywhere, the thirst for knowledge increased. "The kings and princes of Europe seeing what advantages a nation may derive from the cultivation of literature and the useful arts, invited learned men to their territories, encouraged a taste for information and rewarded them with honours and emoluments." But with such an increase of mental activity, many wild and dangerous doctrines and opinions were taught. Scholastic theology, Aristotelian philosophy, sacred and civil law, had their place and reputation by turns. It was about this time the middle of the twelfth century — that the great universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris were founded; with many others on the continent. Greek and Hebrew were studied and lectures given in the way of expositions and commentaries on the holy scriptures, which the Lord could use in blessing to the students, and through them to others.

"To impose some restraint," says Dean Waddington, "on this great intellectual licentiousness — to revive some respect for ancient authorities — to erect some barrier, or at least some landmark, for the guidance of his contemporaries, Peter the Lombard published his celebrated "Book of the Sentences." Having studied for some time in the famous school at Bologna, he proceeded to Paris for the purpose of prosecuting his studies in divinity. The Book of the Sentences is a collection of passages from the Fathers, especially from St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine — a sad mixture, no doubt, of truth and error; but the Lord is above all and could use His own word, though intermixed with fashionable subtleties, for the conversion and blessing of souls. It long retained an undisputed supremacy in the theological schools, and its author was raised to great honours.

The Real Worthies of Ecclesiastical History

The true pioneers of the Reformation, and the real worthies of ecclesiastical history, are difficult to discover. In humility of mind, and not seeking the praise of men, they walked before the Lord, quietly doing His will. Their ministrations of sympathy, their deeds of charity, their desire to lead souls to the Saviour, their endeavours to spread the knowledge of His word, are features of character but little observed by the eye of the historian. And the deeper their piety, the greater their obscurity. But they have their reward; their record is on high. Multitudes of God's saints during the long dark night of the middle ages thus fulfilled their mission, and passed off the scene without leaving a trace of their usefulness in the annals of time. Not so the pompous prelate, the wonder-working saint, the intriguing rapacious cardinal, the noisy polemics, and the whole host of proud ambitious enthusiasts; the pages of the annalist are principally consecrated to such.*

{*Waddington, vol. 3, p. 363.}

After a careful examination of the prominent characters which appear on the page of history from the twelfth century to the Reformation, they seem to fall into three distinct classes: 1, Literary men; 2, Theologians; 3, Reformers, or protestants. By noticing these in order we shall have the forerunners of the Reformation fairly before us.

Literary Men

The chief of this class were such men as Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and our English Chaucer. Soon after the founding of colleges, and the great uprising of the human mind, these four "stars of literature" arose almost simultaneously. It pleased God, in His infinite wisdom, to use the writings of these men, and many others, for the exposure of the evils of the Romish system, and for the weakening of its power. And while many of lesser note, and for smaller crimes, suffered bonds, imprisonment, and death, these writers were allowed, not only to escape the vengeance of the church, but to pursue their own course. Their attractive literary productions gave them such favour generally, that the priests were afraid to molest them. Thus, in the providence of God, the hitherto half-concealed corruption of morals which prevailed among the clergy, monks, and every order of the system, was brought out into broad daylight; under the veil of popular poems, pleasant tales, and satires, the corrupt state of the whole ecclesiastical system was exposed. The unbridled passions and the unblushing immoralities of the court of Avignon, and the vices of the clergy generally, became the chief subject of song and jest in almost every country in Europe. But neither the poetry nor the prose of such writers is fit to be repeated in the pages of our "Short Papers."

Dante, who is considered the father of Italian poetry, and celebrated chiefly for his imaginative description of purgatory, hell, and heaven, died A.D. 1321. Petrarch, who was some years younger, had even a greater reputation for prose; less is said of Boccaccio, his writings being of a grosser character. Chaucer is well known in this country as the author of "Canterbury Tales." He was born in 1328, and died in 1400. But enough of this class, we now turn to

The Theologians

Robert Grostete, or Greathead, an English prelate of the twelfth century, will illustrate what we mean by a theologian, and protester, though not, strictly speaking, a reformer. Like many others in all ages, his views of reformation extended only to the discipline and administration of the church, not to the uprooting and the pulling down of the incurably false thing as in the sixteenth century. He strongly held a high view of the papacy, though he might speak of individual popes as antichrist, because of their immorality or rebellion against Christ. But the anti-christian character of the papacy was not yet known, and the grand fundamental truths of Christianity but indistinctly apprehended. Grostete was born at Stradbroke, in Suffolk, about the year 1175. After having studied at Oxford, he went to Paris, which was then the fashion, as the Paris University was the most renowned in Europe. There he studied both Greek and Hebrew, and completely mastered the French language. According to the ideas of the age, he was considered a consummate theologian and philosopher.

In the year 1235, when he was sixty years of age, he became bishop of Lincoln, and laboured with an almost intolerant zeal and earnestness for the reformation of his diocese, which was one of the largest in England. He is said to have been much occupied in the study of the holy scriptures in their original languages, and owned their sovereign authority. This was a great advance on the past, and in the right direction; still, there were glaring inconsistencies as we now contemplate them. He was at first greatly captivated with the new orders — the Dominicans and Franciscans — because of their apparent sanctity; but he lived to discover their hypocrisy, and to denounce them as the deceivers of mankind. True reform denounced the existence, not merely the abuses, of the orders to be entirely opposed to the word of God. At the same time he was a bold, pious, and energetic man. He lifted up his voice against the blasphemous assumption of Innocent III., when he proclaimed himself to be the vicar, not merely of St. Peter, but of God. "To follow a pope," he said, "who rebels against the will of Christ, is to separate from Christ and His body; and if ever the time should come when all men follow an erring pontiff, then will be the great apostasy." The rapacity of the Roman court, the abuse of indulgences, the bestowal of patronage on unfit and undeserving persons, were amongst the evils against which he contended. A bishop so active, so zealous, and so fearless, was sure to create many enemies. He was accused of magic by his contemporaries, and of daring presumption by the pope. He barely escaped martyrdom. Through the Lord's tender mercy and care of His servant, he died in peace, in the year 1253.*

{*Milner, vol. 3, p. 188. J.C. Robertson, vol. 3, p. 431. D'Aubigné, vol. 1, p. 99.}

Roger Bacon, a man of superior genius and penetration, who had a clear perception of the state of things, both in the schools and in the church, deserves a brief notice, though there is not much evidence of his genuine piety and love of evangelical truth. He is said to have been the greatest of English philosophers before the time of his celebrated namesake. About the year 1214, he was born near Ilchester, in Somersetshire.

After studying at Oxford and Paris, he became a Franciscan friar at the age of thirty-four. His knowledge of physical science — astronomy, optics, mechanics, chemistry — as well as of Greek and oriental learning, exposed him to the popular but dangerous reputation of a magician. His researches placed him immensely in advance of his monastic superiors, who found a convenient refuge for their ignorance in charging the friar with dealings in magic. He was greatly persecuted, and was many years confined in a loathsome dungeon.

Though he speaks with great respect of the holy scriptures, he strangely contends for an alliance between philosophy and Christianity, reason and faith. He denounces the sophistry of the fashionable learning of his time, and complains that the original languages of the Old and New Testament were neglected; that children got the knowledge of scripture, not from the Bible itself, but from versified abridgements; that lectures on the "Sentences" were preferred to lectures on scripture. In this way he exposed the ignorance, the superstition, and the idleness of the religious orders, and so brought down upon himself the charge of heresy and the censures of the church, though he lived and died a strict Roman Catholic, probably about the year 1292. His last work was a compendium of theology.

Thomas Aquinas, the "angelic doctor," was the most renowned of the schoolmen in the thirteenth century, and the truest type of a theologian. He was descended from an illustrious family, and born in the neighbourhood of Naples about the year 1225. He entered very young into the Dominican order, greatly against the will of his nearest relations, and studied at Cologne and Paris. In 1257 he was professor of theology in Paris; but died at the early age of fifty and was canonized by the pope. When his collected writings were published at Rome, in the year 1570, they extended to seventeen folio volumes.

The ecclesiastical doctors of our own day tell us — for we are wholly unacquainted with the writings of such authors — that among the best known of his works are, the "Sum of Theology," a commentary on the four Gospels, and on other books of the Old and New Testament; an elaborate commentary on the "Sentences" of Peter Lombard, the great textbook of the schools; his expositions of Aristotle; and a treatise in favour of the Catholic faith, and against the Greek church. But notwithstanding the greatness of his learning and the number of his books, it is to be feared that he was a stranger to the saving doctrine of justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law; though, when on his death-bed, he showed great signs of piety, similar to that of Augustine. So that we may hope he belonged to the saved remnant of the schoolmen in those days. We rejoice in the conviction that there will be a saved remnant in heaven from all classes — emperors, kings, popes, and philosophers, which will manifest the sovereignty and the power of the grace of God in all ages, and to all classes of men. The riches and the glory of the grace will be to His praise for ever.

Bonaventura, a native of Tuscany, entered into the order of the Franciscans in the year 1243 at the age of twenty-one. He completed his studies at Paris, and with such success, as to acquire the title of the "seraphic doctor." He died in 1274, as cardinal-bishop of Albano. His works were less voluminous than his contemporary, Thomas Aquinas, and less intellectual, but more devotional. "His works," it is said, "surpass in usefulness all those of his age, in regard to the spirit of the love of God and christian devotion which speaks in him, that he is profound without being prolix, subtle without being curious, eloquent without vanity, ardent without inflation; his devotion is instructive, and his doctrine inspires devotion." On being asked, when dying, from what books he had derived his learning, he answered by pointing to the crucifix, and he was in the habit of referring to the scriptures rather than to St. Francis, the founder of his order. But we must wait a little longer before we find the all-important doctrine of justification through simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ taught by the learned. Bonaventura as a theologian represents the mystics. He might have been the author of the "Imitation of Christ," said to be written about this time by Thomas a Kempis. But never was book so misnamed. It begins with self, and ends with self. The internal emotions of the soul absorb the mystic. It is monastic Christianity. The love of Christ is purely unselfish: He laid down His life to save His enemies. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And faith can say, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Rom. 5; Gal. 2)

Duns Scotus was a doctor of great celebrity; but his birthplace and early life are enveloped in obscurity. Dean Waddington says, without question, "This doctor died in the year 1308. He was a native of Dunse, in Scotland, and a Franciscan." He was a dialectician and styled the "subtle doctor." He boldly ventured to impugn some of the positions of the great St. Thomas, which gave rise to a controversy between the Dominicans and the Franciscans that lasted hundreds of years, engaged the attention of popes and councils, as it even still divides the schools of the Latins. The principal points of theological difference between these great doctors were, "the nature of divine co-operation, and the measure of divine grace necessary to a man's salvation," with what is called the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. The Dominicans maintained that the holy virgin was not exempt from the taint of original sin; the Franciscans supported the immaculate conception.*

{*Mosheim, cent. 4, chap. 3.}

William of Ockham, so called from his native place in the county of Surrey, had studied at Paris, under Duns Scotus and became a famous doctor of the Franciscans. According to the custom of the schools, he was distinguished by high sounding titles, such as the "singular and invincible doctor." But he was more of a metaphysician than a theologian. He boldly attacked the papal pretensions on many points, but especially as to temporal dominion and "the plenitude of power." He denied the infallibility of the pope and the general councils; and maintained that the Emperor was not dependent on the pope, but that the Emperor has the right of choosing him. These anti-papal opinions soon spread in all directions, and made their way to all classes through the agency of the mendicant friars. When threatened with the highest censures of the church, he found a shelter at the court of St. Louis, who greatly favoured the Franciscans. "Defend me with your sword," said William to the king, "and I will defend you with the word of God." He died under the sentence of excommunication at Munich, in 1347.*

{*J.C. Robertson, vol. 4, p. 77. For lengthy accounts of such men and their writings, see Knight's Biographical Dictionary.}

Reflections on the Schoolmen

Enough — yes, we say enough — of the scholastic doctors and the philosophical divines for our present purpose. To wade through a number, and select a few as genuine specimens, is dry and wearisome work. But they form a certain link in the chain of events between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries which has its importance; and the reader will see what is meant by the general term of "the schoolmen" at that period of our history. One salutary lesson we may at least learn from the examples before us, and that is, the utter darkness and perplexity of the mind, however great the learning and study, when the word of God, in its divine simplicity, is not known and believed. One single text, "The just shall live by faith," when used of God in the hands of Luther, was sufficient to clear away the darkness of the middle ages, while the seventeen volumes folio of Thomas Aquinas, and all the other folios of all the great schoolmen, only deepened the gloom of ignorance and perplexity as to the knowledge of God and the way of salvation. The greatest development of the natural powers of the human mind leads no guilty sinner to the cross of Christ — to the precious blood which alone cleanseth from all sin. The enemy of souls, taking advantage of the growing celebrity of the Aristotelian philosophy, seduced the best of the doctors to believe that the most important work they could be engaged in, was the reconciling of the teaching of Christ with the decrees of the Greek philosopher, lest the scholars should think more highly of the latter than the former. Such was the miserable work of the best of the schoolmen at that time; but no doubt many of simpler minds, who were not blinded by the subtleties of logic, found the way of truth and salvation amidst the darkness, though much perplexed and bewildered.

The church of Christ was scarcely visible in Europe about this time, with the exception of the churches of the valleys; there the true light continued to burn, and thousands found "the more excellent way," notwithstanding the union of the powers of earth, both secular and ecclesiastical, to extinguish it. But there was the true building of God, and the gates of hell could never prevail against the works of His hands. We now turn to renew our acquaintance with the Waldenses and other Protestants of that time.

The Waldenses

Our history naturally reverts to the fatal crusade against the Albigenses in the thirteenth century. That once beautiful region, in some respects the richest and most civilized province in the spiritual empire of St. Peter, we have -seen depopulated and desolated. The peaceful inhabitants had presumed to question the dogmas of the Vatican and the authority of the priesthood, which was sin unpardonable against the majesty of Rome. The edicts of Innocent, the sword of De Montfort, the fires of Arnold, the treachery of Fouquet, and the Inquisition of Dominic, did their terrible work. But the combined powers of Europe, with fire and sword and suffocating dungeons, failed to touch the root of that which Innocent called heresy. The divine, vital principle of Christianity was far, far beyond his reach. The sword may hew down the branches, and the fire may consume them; but the living root is in the truth and grace of God, which can never fail. The spirit of Christianity is stronger than the sword of the persecutor, and the arm on which faith leans is more powerful than the combined forces of earth and hell. The weakness of the papacy was manifested in its apparent triumphs in Languedoc. The heretics, as Jezebel thought, had been drowned in blood, but a bleeding remnant was spared, in the good providence of our God, to bear testimony in every part of Europe to the injustice, the cruelties, and the spiritual despotism of papal Rome.

The exiles from the south of France who had escaped the sword went forth to the utmost limits of Christendom preaching the doctrines of the cross, and testifying with holy indignation against the falsehoods and corruptions of the dominant church. In different parts of France, in Germany, Hungary, and the neighbouring regions, the sectaries appeared in great numbers. And the popes found many of the kings little inclined to exert themselves for the suppression of the Cathari, as they were called, or the various religious sects. It is also more than probable that many of the persecuted about this time sought a place of rest in the quiet valleys of Piedmont. The more secluded of these regions appear to have been a secure asylum for the witnesses of God until the fourteenth century. Though known to Claudius, bishop of Turin, in the ninth century, they seem to have escaped notoriety and conflict till about the thirteenth, if not later. But as the darkness of popery thickened around them, the brightness of their example became more seen and felt. Calumnies were invented, and the godly Waldenses were singled out as reprobate schismatics. They were spread over the valleys on both sides of the Cottian Alps — Dauphiny on the French side, and Piedmont on the Italian side, of the mountains.

From time immemorial these Alpine regions had been inhabited by a race of Christians who continued the same from age to age; who never acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff, and who had been through all periods of ecclesiastical history, a pure branch of the apostolic church. But their peaceful retreats, their happy homes, their simple worship, and their industrial habits were soon to be invaded and desolated by the Roman inquisitors. The tragedy begins. From the fifteenth to the present century, their history is a narrative of sanguinary struggles for existence, with few intervals of repose. They were often driven to desperation, yet the church of the valleys lived through it all. Like the flaming bush, it has burned but has not been consumed. Its stronghold was not merely the Alpine mountains, but the truth of the living God.

Waldensian Persecutions

In the year 1380, a monk inquisitor, named Francis Borelli, was appointed by Clement VII. to search out the heretics in the valleys of Piedmont. Armed with this papal bull, the communes of Fraissiniere and Argentiere were ransacked for heretics. In the space of thirteen years, one hundred and fifty Waldenses were burned at Grenoble, and eighty around Fraissiniere. There was now a double motive for persecution a law was made that half the goods of the condemned should go to the inquisitors' court, and the other half to their temporal lords. Thus avarice, malice, and superstition were united against the unoffending peasants. But these burnings were too few and too far between to satisfy Rome's thirst for the blood of God's saints.

In the winter of 1400, the massacre extended from Dauphiny to the Italian valley of Pragela. The poor people, seeing their mountain caves possessed by their enemies, fled over the Alps. But the severity of the season and the coldness of the heights proved fatal to nearly all who had escaped from the hand of slaughter. Many of the mothers were carrying their infants and leading by the hand the little children who were able to walk. But cold and hunger speedily brought relief. One hundred and eighty babes are said to have died in the arms of their mothers, and were soon followed, with other children, by their broken-hearted mothers. No estimate can be formed of the numbers that perished by the tyrannies and cruelties of Rome. But heaven guesses not at their number, or even at their names. The martyred parents and the children have their record and reward eternal in the heavens; while their persecutors have had time to gauge their guilt and feel their punishment these four hundred years in the place of hopeless woe. In allusion to such scenes, the noblest of our poets composed the following sonnet:

"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 flee the Babylonish woe." — MILTON.

The fires of persecution were again kindled in the valley of Fraissiniere, in the year 1460, by a monk of the order of Friars Minor, armed with the authority of the Archbishop of Embrun. Debarred from social intercourse, driven from their places of worship, beset with enemies, they had no resource, no refuge, but. in a good conscience and the living God. The inquisitors did their cruel work.

In Piedmont, the Archbishop of Turin laboured much to promote the persecutions of the Waldenses. Their charge against them was that they made no offerings for the dead, valued not masses and absolutions, and took no care to redeem their relations from the pains of purgatory. But the princes of Piedmont, who were the dukes of Savoy, were unwilling to disturb their subjects, of whose loyalty, peaceableness, and industry, they had received such good accounts. Yet every method which fraud and calumny could invent was practised against them. The priests at length prevailed, and the civil power permitted the dragon host to indulge its thirst for blood.

About the year 1486 the memorable Bull of Innocent VIII. gave unlimited powers to Albert de Capitaneis, archdeacon of Cremona, to carry confiscation and death into the infected valleys. An army of eighteen thousand was raised, and precipitated into the mountain retreats of the Waldenses. Driven to despair, and availing themselves of the natural advantages of their situation, they defended themselves with wooden clubs and crossbows — the women and children praying — and turned into confusion this great military force.

The house of Savoy — which was established in supreme authority in Piedmont about the middle of the thirteenth century — had acted in a mild and tolerant way towards the proscribed people; but, sad to say, the regent-mother, like Theodora and Irene, during the minority of her son, is the first to sign a state-paper for their persecution. She called upon the authorities of Pignerol to assist the inquisitors to compel the heretics to return to the bosom of the church — a worthy daughter of her mother Jezebel! But not a single one of the inhabitants could be forced to return to the arms of Rome. The sword was now let loose upon them; and soon were the streams of the valleys tinged with the blood of the saints. Subsequent edicts of the sons were more tolerant. They began to speak of their Waldensian subjects, not under the obnoxious appellation of heretics, but as religionists, men of the valleys, and faithful vassals; whom they recognized as privileged subjects because of ancient stipulations.

So far Rome had utterly failed to accomplish her cruel and fiend-like object. She had determined to exterminate these obstinate opponents of popery, but faithful witnesses of the truth; and to eradicate their very name from the valleys. But, wonderful to say, neither the individual executions nor the indiscriminate slaughters, the secret treachery nor the open violence, could prevail for their extinction. But Jezebel still plots; and the tiara and the mitre generally proved too strong for the crown.

Waldensian Missionaries

With the twofold object of spreading the pure truth of the gospel, and of finding new and more peaceful settlements, many of them about the close of the fourteenth century left their native valleys and settled in Switzerland, Moravia Bohemia, various parts of Germany, and probably in England. But the most extensive of these colonies was formed in Calabria in the year 1370. Being peaceable in their manners, industrious in their habits, and strictly moral in all their ways, they soon gained the confidence of their landlords, and the affections of their neighbours. The lords of the country saw their lands enriched and fertilized by the superior husbandry of the new colonists, and granted them many privileges.

They were allowed to invite pastors from the parent church in the Alps, and to introduce schoolmasters for their children. But such temporal and spiritual prosperity, with so much social comfort, was an intolerable grievance to the evil eye of popery. The priests growled and murmured exceedingly. They complained to the landlords that the strangers did not conform to the rites of the Romish church; that they had no masses said for the repose of their dead, that they were heretics. The lords, however, were not disposed to listen to the priests. "They are a very just and honest people," said they, "all know them to be temperate, industrious, and in their words peculiarly decent. Who has ever heard them utter a blasphemous expression? And as they enrich our lands and pay their rents punctually, we see no reason to condemn them."

In every country and in every age the priests of Rome have been the greatest enemies to the pure, simple, religion of the Bible; to education, toleration, light, liberty, and every social improvement. Their power, their interests, their sensuality, and every evil passion, are necessarily exposed and undermined by the introduction of light or the toleration of liberty. But the temporal interests of the lords led them to protect their tenants, and maintain them in their privileges. We have here one of the mysterious passages in divine providence, over which the mind loves to dwell a little. For nearly two hundred years these Nonconformists were allowed to remain and multiply in the districts of Calabria, in the very neighbourhood of Rome itself. But at length the pope listened to the complaints of the priests, and the dark cloud, which had long been gathering over the peaceful plains of Calabria and Apulia, burst upon them with all its fury.

The Dark Year of 1560

About the year 1560, Pope Pius IV. was seized with a fit of great zeal against the spread of heresy. It was reported to have taken deep root in several parts of Italy, besides the valleys of Piedmont. The subalpine communities and all infected districts were placed under papal interdicts. Another crusade was preached, and great preparations made for the complete extermination of the heretics. The Spanish Viceroy of Naples, commanding the troops in person, and assisted by an inquisitor and a number of monks, entered the Waldensian settlements in Calabria. Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, marched with an armed force on Piedmont; and the French King on Dauphiny. "The poor men of the valleys," with their wives and children, now saw themselves exposed to the hostile power of the French King on the one side of the Alps, and to that of the Duke of Savoy on the other. The industrious tillers of the ground in Calabria, with their ministers, schoolmasters, and families, were surrounded by the troops of the Spanish Viceroy.

Thus prepared for the slaughter of the saints, the Waldenses were commanded to banish their ministers and schoolmasters, to abstain from the exercise of their own forms of worship, and to attend the services of the Romish church. They nobly refused. Orders were now given for confiscation, imprisonment, and death. The merciless sword of persecution was openly unsheathed and did not return to its scabbard for more than a hundred years. The awful work of blood and carnage began. Two companies of soldiers, headed by the pope's agents, went on slaying, burning, ravaging the defenceless peasantry in Calabria, until the work of extermination was nearly completed. A remnant cried for mercy, for their wives and children, promising to leave the country and never to return; but the inquisitors and monks knew not how to show mercy. The most barbarous cruelties were inflicted on many, the whole apparatus of pagan persecutions was revived, until the Protestants were exterminated in the south of Italy. One of their chief ministers, Lewis Paschal, who affirmed that the pope was antichrist, was conveyed to Rome, where he was burned alive, in the presence of Pius IV., that he might feast his eyes with the sight of a heretic in the flames. But the piety and the sufferings of Paschal excited the pity and the admiration of the spectators.

Hundreds of Waldenses in the valleys perished on the scaffold, or at the stake, the villages swarmed with ruffians who, in the name of officers of justice, plundered the helpless inhabitants, and haled them to prison, until the dungeons were choked with victims. The plains were deserted; the women, children, feeble, and aged, were sent for refuge to the heights of the mountains, to the rocks and the forests. The men, taking advantage of the nature of the country, determined on resistance. Every man and boy that could handle a weapon were formed into small brigades, and so planted as to defend themselves against the troops. The duke was not much inclined to carry on such a guerrilla warfare and shortly withdrew his soldiers; but only for a little while. According to ancient treaties, the men of the valleys had certain rights and privileges, which their sovereigns were reluctant to violate, but too often yielded to the importunity and the misrepresentations of the Romish hierarchy. From the following dates the reader will see how brief were their periods of rest: — "The years 1565, 1573, 1581, 1583, and the period between 1591 and 1594, are memorable as dates of religious and civil conflict. But never did the majesty of truth and innocence stand out more brightly to view than during the tempests of persecution which raged at intervals for the next hundred years and more."*

{*Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 21, p. 543.}

The testimony of Dr. Beattie, who visited the Protestant valleys of Piedmont, Dauphiny, and the Ban de la Roche, about forty years ago, is to the same effect. "But the fierceness of the persecution seemed only to increase the measure of their fortitude.... Although marked as the victims of indiscriminate massacre, of lawless plunder, of torture, extortion, and famine; their resolution to persevere in the truth remained unshaken. Every punishment that cruelty could invent, or the sword inflict, had expended its fury in vain; nothing could subvert their faith or subdue their courage. In defence of their natural rights as men — in support of their insulted creed as members of the primitive church in resistance of those exterminating edicts which made their homes desolate, and deluged their altars with blood — the Waldenses exhibited a spectacle of fortitude and endurance that has no parallel in history."*

{*Scenery of the Waldenses, William Beattie M.D. See also a lengthy account of the Waldenses in Milner's Church History, vol. 3.}

Having brought down the history of the witnesses to the sixteenth century, we will now leave them, in the hope of meeting them again, when we reach that period in our general history.