a origem dos valdenses
the origins of the waldensians
When we moved to Rome, in 2006, we had a hard time finding a Protestant church to attend. In our search, we found out the obvious: the majority of religious Italians are Roman Catholic. “Roman Protestants” are almost nowhere to be found. Those few churches of protestant tradition that we visited are attended mostly by foreigners. We actually visited two churches that held services in English: the American “Rome Baptist Church” and the Scottish “St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church”, but what we really wanted was a community where Italian was spoken so that we could interact with the locals.
We finally found the “Waldensian Evangelical Church of Cavour Square“. Despite the large and beautiful place of worship, with an excellent location, the church has very few members – most of them gray-haired. It’s a little sad to take part in worship services in which most pews are empty, though we know this is a common phenomenon in Europe. We liked the preaching of the pastor – in Italian – and began to attend that church. Yet, whenever we mention the waldensian church to a friend, questions arise: who are these waldensians after all? Where do they come from? It was in reply to such questions that we recorded the video below when visiting Lyon, in France. Watch it and leave a comment!
– Davi and Rosana Pinto
(If English subtitles are not visible, turn on captions at the right lower corner of the video, after it starts running)
Read the video’s transcript:
Lyon, founded by the Romans more than two thousand years ago, is today France’s second biggest city and an important economical, cultural and gastronomical center. It lies on the Rhone river and has about five hundred thousand inhabitants, or 1.5 million if we consider the whole metropolitan area. In Lyon, came into existence, more than 800 years ago, the group which can be considered the oldest protestant denomination existing today – the Waldensian Evangelical Church. Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Waldensians, but you’re probably familiar with other protestant denominations: Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Assemblies of God and many others.
It was in Lyon that, in the 12th century, around 1170, a rich tradesman called Peter Waldo decided to translate the Bible from Latin to the French dialect spoken at that time; to sell all he had and give it to the poor; and to begin preaching the Gospel in the city streets. In this aspect, what Waldo did was not very different from what St. Francis would do a few decades later, in the Italian city of Assisi, renouncing all material possessions and dedicating himself to the poor. The group led by Waldo became known as “the poor of Lyon” and, afterwards, as the Waldensians. One of their most striking characteristics was their attitude towards the Bible. They were not so interested in interpreting it, as they were in obeying and putting into practice what they understood as God’s commandment to them. They insisted in proclaiming the Gospel, despite the Church’s prohibition. Waldo and his followers were laymen, and, at that time, the clergy had a monopoly on the proclamation and interpretation of the Scriptures.
They were finally banished from Lyon and found refuge in the Alps, in the Italian region of Piedmont. But the Waldensians did not intend to leave the Catholic Church, and for more than three centuries they continued to be part of it, even though having their own practices. Only with the Reformation, in the beginning of the 16th century, did they identify with the teachings of Luther and Calvin and became protestants. In the 17th century, during the religious wars, the Waldensians were expelled from the Alps, where they had been established for centuries, and were almost completely annihilated. Yet they survived the persecution, returned to the Alps and have kept to this day the evangelical faith. They are today one of the main Protestant churches in Italy and are present, in smaller numbers, in countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and the USA.
As we’ve seen, Waldensian history has plenty of remarkable incidents, demonstrating a tradition of faithfulness and commitment to the Gospel even in adverse circumstances. But for us, who live in the 21st century, in post-modern times, what relevance can have what Peter Waldo and his followers began in medieval Lyon in the 12th century? It’s your task to find an answer, but we suspect that the story of the Waldensians can – and should – serve as an inspiration to all of us who, although not being professional religious people, want to embrace a lifestyle that is coherent with our faith in Jesus Christ.
(English translation: Renato Fontes)