The Waldesian Heretics

18 Aug

The Waldesian Heretics

Bernard Gui

Early fourteenth century

CONCERNING THE WALDESIAN SECT AND FIRST OF ALL CONCERNING THEIR ORIGINS AND BEGINNINGS.

The sect and heresy of the Waldesians began in about the year 1170 A.D..  Its founder was a certain citizen of Lyons named Waldes or Waldo, from whom his followers were named.  He was a rich man, who, after given up all his wealth, determined to observe poverty and evangelical perfection, in imitation of the apostles.  He caused to be translated into the French tongue, for his use, the Gospels, and some other books of the Bible, and also some authoritative sayings of Saints Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, and Gregory, arranged under titles, which he and his followers called “sentences.”  They read these very often, and hardly understood them, since they were quite unlettered, but infatuated with their own interpretation, they usurped the office of the apostles, and presumed to preach the Gospel in the streets and public places. And the said Waldes or Waldo converted many people, both men and women, to a like presumption, and sent them out to preach as his disciples.

Since these people were ignorant and illiterate, they, both men and women, ran about through the towns, and entered the houses. Preaching in public places and also in the churches, they, especially the men, spread many errors around about them.

They were summoned however, by the archbishop of Lyons, the Lord Jean aux Belles-Mains, and were forbidden such great presumption, but they wished by no means to obey him and cloaked their madness by saying it was necessary to obey God rather than man.

The Waldesians recommend continence to their believers.  They concede, however, that burning passion ought to be satisfied, in whatever shameful way, interpreting the words of the Apostle [Paul}:  “It is better to marry than to burn,” to mean that is is better to appease desire by any shameful act than to be tempted inwardly in the heart.  This doctrine they keep very secret, however, in order not to seem vile to their “believers.”

So then, by this arrogant usurpation of the office of preaching, they became masters of error.  Admonished to cease, they disobeyed and were declared contumacious and then were excommunicated and expelled from that city and their country.  Finally in a certain council which was held at Rome before the Lateran council, since they were obstinate, they were judged schismatic and then condemned as heretics.  Thus, multiplied upon the earth, they dispersed themselves through that province, and through the neighboring regions, and into Lombardy.  Separated and cut off from the Church, mingling with other heretics, and imbibing their errors, they mixed the errors and heresies of earlier heretics with their own inventions. . . .

Eds, James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin The Portable Medieval Reader  R (The Viking Press New York ©1949) PP. 203-204

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