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ABOUT the middle of the fifteenth century, there arose in Bohemia and Moravia, a religious society, which assumed the name of UNITAS FRATRUM, (i.e. the Unity of the Brethren,) separated from the established church of those countries, and formed an ecclesiastical constitution, more consonant, both in doctrine and discipline, to the pattern of the church of Christ, as exhibited in the New Testament, and during the first and purest ages of Christianity, than the one which then universally prevailed in Christendom.
This religious Society, though subject to many and great vicissitudes, has never become totally extinct, and still exists in the Renewed Church of the Brethren. The history of this church will form the subject of the following sheets.
But before the author enters upon the principal part of his work, he deems it necessary to present his readers with a brief account of the Rise and subsequent History of the Waldenses the Propagation of the Gospel in Bohemiamthe Labours and Martyrdom of John Huss, and their consequences. A knowledge of these facts will tend to throw considerable light on many subjects, to which the attention of the reader will be directed in the prosecution of the narrative. It will disclose the main spring which originated, matured, and still preserves to the Church of the Brethren much of primitive Christianity, both in doctrine and practice, in government and discipline, and gives to it, in no inconsiderable degree, its peculiar character.
In order to keep these subjects distinct from the work itself, the author designs to treat of them, in separate sections, in the Introduction.
WALDENSES — Their origin-their labours and sufferings--and their
The origin of the Waldenses and their first appearance as a regularly organized society, distinct from the great mass of professing Christians, are points involved in much uncertainty, on account of the total absence of early records on these subjects. They themselves date their origin from the age of the Apostles, asserting that they derived episcopacy from them in an uninterrupted line of succession.
It appears most probable, that they had existed for a considerable time, and become pretty numerous, before they were regularly organized as a religious society, and publicly avowed their secession from the established church. At a very early period of the Christian era, when the leaven of unrighteousness began to work, by corrupting the doctrine, and introducing laxity of discipline in the church, its more pious members, both in the East and West, by degrees formed associations among themselves, for the maintenance of sound doctrine and scriptural practice. Being branded by those in power as schismatics, they were necessitated, in order to avoid persecution, to seek retirement and court obscurity.
The names by which they are mentioned, in the works of ecclesiastical historians, are generally either epithets of opprobrium, given them by their enemies, or appellations derived from their real or supposed leaders. Hence it has happened, that religious sects, whose doctrinal tenets and views of church government were exactly or very nearly the same, were designated by different names in different countries, or their respective names were changed and confounded in the lapse of time. Thus the Cathari (or Puritans) in the West, who arose about the year 250, and the Paulicians in the East, who flourished in the
seventh century, doubtless held nearly the same religious opinions, and separated from the established church in their respective countries, on account of the increasing corruption in doctrine and practice. Thus likewise the appellations of Leonists, Piccards, Albigenses, Vaudois, and Waldenses, were given in different places and periods to the same people.*
But in whatever uncertainty the origin of the Waldenses may be involved, there can be no doubt as to the soundness of their doctrine, and the unblameable tenour of their lives. The former is proved by their Confessions of faith, and the latter is acknowledged even by their enemies. On these points, the testimony of Reinerius Sacho claims peculiar attention; first, because his connection with the Waldenses for a number of years enabled him to speak from personal knowledge; and secondly, because his apostacy and subsequent elevation to the dignity of an inquisitor, in which station he became a cruel persecutor of his former friends, would induce him to represent them in the most odious light. Yet, all the charges he brings against them, amount to nothing more than the heavy crime of opposing the unscriptural and superstitious doctrines and practices of the reigning church, and he is compelled to admit the orthodoxy of their creed, and the rectitude of their lives,
“ Among all sects, or religious parties, separated from the Romish church,” says this inquisitor, “there is not one more dangerous than the Leonists or Waldenses, for the following reasons: first, because this sect is older than
other. It existed, according to some, in the days of Pope Sylvester, in the fourth century, and according to others even in the days of the Apostles. Secondly, because it is widely spread; for there is scarcely a country into which it has not found its way. Thirdly, because while other sects create disgust by their blasphemous doctrines, this has a great appearance of piety, as its members lead a righteous life before men, believe the truths
* Their own historians call them Waldenses, or Wallenses, a term derived from the Latin word, Vallis, a valley, because great numbers resided in the valleys of the Alps and Pyrenees. Some suppose that they received their name from Peter Waldo, a rich merchant at Lyons, who lived in the twelfth century, and of whom more will be said in the sequel.
concerning God and divine things, and retain all the articles of the apostolic faith, only hating the Romish church and clergy.”
The testimony borne by this inquisitor to the orthodoxy of their creed is confirmed by the Confessions of faith, * compiled by themselves, in order to refute the charge of heresy and other accusations brought against them by their enemies.
These documents make it sufficiently evident, that the Waldenses held no doctrines inconsonant with those generally called orthodox, and that the accusation of their enemies, who charged them with maintaining principles of an immoral tendency in private life, and subversive of civil governments, was entirely unfounded. The cause of the hostility against them must be sought for in their protestation against the errors and superstitions of the Romish church, and the usurpation of power over the consciences of men by its hierarchy. They resisted its tyranny on no other grounds than those which, at a later period, caused the Reformers to refuse submission to the Papal see. As far as they had received light, they acted on the Protestant principle, that in matters purely religious, the Bible is the only infallible rule of conduct, and God the sole Sovereign of conscience.
Dating the period when they first seceded from the Roman Catholic communion, and organized congregations of their own, about the year 1150, we find them, for many generations, faithfully adhering to the truth as it is in Jesus, even under the severest sufferings, and zealously propagating that truth, wherever they could find entrance; while their adversaries used every possible means to prevent the spread of their doctrines.
Without attempting to settle the difference between ecclesiastical historians, whether Peter Waldo was the original founder of the Waldensian church, or not, it is certain that he was a distinguished instrument of extending its interests. It will not,
* The necessary brevity of this Introduction does not admit of the insertion of these Confessions. The reader may find them in a work entitled Histoire des Vaudois, written by John Perrin, (who was a Waldensian,) and published at Geneva in 1619. An English translation is inserted in Jones's History of the Waldenses, p. 365—369.