The Piedmont Waldensians

As papal power continued to grow during the medieval period, there was dissension from several bishops in northern Italy. Of particular importance was Claudius, Bishop of Turin, who tried to rally like-minded bishops to sever ties with Rome. These men followed in the tradition of Ambrose and the church fathers, and had never formally been under papal power. At the time of Claudius’ death (Approximately 840 A.D.), the bishops of Milan and Lombardy did not submit to the papacy. Upon his death, the struggle of these churches with the papacy did not die out, though said struggle did proceed more quietly. That is, until the middle of the 11th century, when the higher ranking clergy of Lombardy finally submitted to Rome.

At this point, other bishops informed the papal legate, Damianus, to his face that “The Ambrosian Church, according to the ancient institutions of the Fathers, was always free, without being subject to the laws of Rome, and that the Pope of Rome had no jurisdiction over their Church as to the government or constitution of it” (James Aitken Wylie, “Let It Shine: The History of the Waldenses” (Clackamas, OR: Mustard Seed Imprints, 2008), 18.). This being the case, these men held strongly to their early church traditions, refusing to submit to the pope, or papal decrees.

With increasing pressure to submit to Rome, a number of protestors fled into the valleys of the Piedmontese Alps. It is here that for another 500 years the church continued to grow and prosper in the mountain villages. These men fled to higher elevations in order to exercise religious freedom, and worshiped God according to the early church model. Around the year 1100, there arose The Nobla Leycon, which funtioned as a confession of faith for these churches long before the Protestant Reformation. They trained pastors and missionaries at a theological school which they had founded in the mountains, set up their own Presbyteries, and sent missionaries to preach the gospel throughout Europe. Though they were more secure in the Alps than they had been on the plain, they still faced opposition from the papacy, fighting 33 wars to defend themselves from the papists between 1487 – 1689 (http://www.waldensiantrailoffaith.org/history.html).

By the Reformation period, the Piedmont Waldensians were growing weak. They assumed that they were the last vestiges of the true church, with the rest of Western Christianity under papal control. However, upon hearing reports of Protestant teaching, the Waldensian churches decided to send Pastor Martin of Lucerna to confirm the rumors, and he returned with good news in 1526 (Wylie, 56.). This led to the Waldensians sending men to meet with the reformers, and to compare theology and practice. The Waldensians also submitted themselves to any point of disagreement with the reformers; here, “The elder Church submitted itself to the younger” (Wylie, 56.).

Image
(Chanforan, photo credit http://italire.bm-lille.fr/fr/A.1.3.html, “Le synode de Chanforan”)

On October 12, 1532 the Synod of Chanforan began in the Italian Alps. This synod included the Piedmont Waldensians and reformers from across Europe (Wylie, 59.). These men met to discuss and debate all points at which they disagreed, and strive for theological unity, standing against the errors of Rome. It was also decided at this synod to translate a version of the Bible into the French vernacular.

It was at the Synod of Chanforan that the Piedmont Waldensians joined the Reformation. God protected this small group of believers, hidden away in the Alps for over 500 years. He saw fit to bring them into union with other Protestants at the time of the Reformation, and the preserving hand of providence can be seen throughout this period concerning the Piedmont Waldensians.

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