The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER FOUR: Collective Extermination of Antichrist Opposers

I. Warring Against the Saints by Council Action

Among all the movements of the Middle Ages that opposed the corruptions of the Roman church and its claim to universal dominion over the consciences and possessions of men, no other body of Christians was subjected to such fearful and continued persecution as were the Waldenses, who are fully treated in Volume I of Prophetic Faith. PFF2 102.1


In vain did the Papacy try time and time again to break the line that connected the Vaudo is with the faith of the early church. Rome could not endure their testimony that they must obey God rather than the church; that Rome is Babylon, and the Papacy is Antichrist. So, lighting her fires and drawing her sword, she waged violent war against them. But their power to resist was strengthened by the prophecies of Daniel, Paul, and John, whose inspired visions pierced the centuries, marked out the conflicts and martyrdoms of the true church, and declared her final triumph. Those prophetic texts became their stay and comfort. They were looked upon as windows letting eternal light into their dungeons, far and near, in the days of gross darkness. PFF2 102.2

Nobly did they keep their evangelical trust. Black clouds gathered, and furious tempests broke. But they watched their lamps while practically all the rest of Christendom stumbled through the night. Among them the mass was not sung. In their midst no image was set up. Excluded from participation in civil rights and natural privileges, they often could not buy or sell. Their goods were confiscated, their houses burned, their lands seized. At last crusades were launched against them, accompanied by ruthless massacres. And what the crusades could not accomplish was left to the Inquisition to accomplish, the horrors of which exceeded the crusades. The Waldenses endured a succession of invasions of their valleys, which had their rise in Rome. The war against them, now authorized by the edicts of councils, which branded them and their Bible translations as heretical, was followed by dreadful collective action. (See symbolic portrayal in Frontispiece.) PFF2 102.3


During the Middle Ages the presence of the Waldenses, under their different names and in various countries of Europe, was brought to light by the fires of the Inquisition. So persistent and effective were these efforts that sometimes assembly for worship had to be abandoned. But the sparks were kept alive in the valleys of the Cottian Alps, whither these exiles for their faith had fled for refuge-the valley fortresses offering resistance to the increasing assaults. As the crusades were launched against them, they at first were slaughtered without resistance. But later they took up arms in their own defense rather than to be helpless spectators to the death and torture of their dear ones. PFF2 103.1

Rome’s efforts to stamp out the fire only scattered the embers over a wider area. But while the bodies of her victims were burned, their words lived on. And a little later the embers blazed forth again in the tremendous fires of the Reformation. The launching of persecution forced dispersion and secrecy, and was the means used of God to spread their doctrine. The Waldenses began traveling in disguise as pilgrims, penitents, or tradesmen, and distributed the Scriptures secretly, making disciples everywhere. Thus the evangel was carried through Europe, winning adherents. In this way the ground was broken up and prepared for the great harvest reaped by the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Thus many Protestant churches are largely the daughters of the old Waldensian church. PFF2 103.2


It was at the Third Lateran Council (1179) that the Papacy aroused itself collectively to extirpate heresy and dissent. 1 Previously, individual members of the system, acting alone or in small groups, had opposed the evangelical truth by force and cruelty. But in the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries Romanism, then in the plenitude of its power, gathered itself together for a determined, united, persistent effort to crush all that opposed its supremacy, and to clear Christendom of “heresy.” 2 Thus began in earnest the warfare against the evangelicals, which came to be seen as the deadly onslaught fore told both by Daniel and John, wearing out “the saints of the Most High,” and prevailing against them. PFF2 104.1

Persecution by Catholic council action now became the rule of procedure, for which collective papal responsibility is inescapable. The extirpation of heretics was the professed object of many of the bulls of the general councils of the West in this period, and of the canons of those councils. Death was decreed, and provision made for accomplishing it. In order that the church might not seem to stain herself with blood, the secular princes must serve as executioners. PFF2 104.2

Joint measures were taken by secular authority, at the instigation of Rome, for the destruction of the heretics. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) enacted a canon for the extirpation of heresy, urged its enforcement with vigor, and subordinated secular authority to the spiritual powers for that purpose. 3 When resistance was encountered, the interdict was employed. If kings would not clear their dominions of heresy, their subjects were to be absolved from all allegiance to them. Thus crusades against the Waldenses and Albigenses were proclaimed, and plenary absolution promised to such as should perish in the holy war. 4 PFF2 104.3


Innocent III was the first to organize overwhelming war against heresy—the dreadful work of extermination being denominated “sacred,” and securing the same privileges and rewards as crusades against the Turks. Opposers were reduced to the silence of the sepulcher. As the fifteenth century drew toward its close, a furious crusade seemed about to accomplish its object. The prophetic “beast” had all but conquered and killed the “witnesses,” as the bull of Innocent VIII (1487) 5 called for the “extirpation of the Waldenses,” to “rise up in Arms against them,... to tread them under foot, as venomous Adders,” until they were “exterminated and destroyed.” 6 PFF2 105.1

But the tribunal of the Inquisition, founded early in the thirteenth century, was the primary papal agency for crushing the alleged errors of the Waldenses, and for carrying forward its covert inquest after heresy, with the secular arm as the servile instrument of the orders of the church. 7 The Dominican monks were made primarily responsible for carrying out this process, and bishops gave themselves to the work of ferreting out the heretics. However, despite the vigorous efforts of the popes to destroy the Waldensian “heresy,” and despite all that the Inquisition could do, it continued to increase. 8 It obviously had a mission to perform in this Middle Age period. PFF2 105.2