This past weekend, another Reformation blogger introduced me to Peter Waldo. Waldo lived from approximately 1140 to 1205 in Lyon, France, predating John Wycliffe by over a century. I’m just beginning to study Waldo and his followers, the Waldensians, so I’m not prepared to write about him in much detail today. Nevertheless, I want to make a few remarks regarding him, just to get us thinking.
For openers, Peter Waldo came to faith as a result of having scholarly friends translate the Bible into French so that he could read it. Like John Wycliffe and Martin Luther after him, Waldo began questioning Transubstantiation, Purgatory and the opulent lifestyles of Roman Catholic leaders because those teachings and practices failed to line up with Scripture. Are you seeing a trend, by any chance?
Clearly, reading and understanding God’s Word prompted the men to challenge Roman Catholic tradition. Rome, on the other hand, maintains that tradition has equal authority to Scripture. Therefore men like Peter Waldo threatened the Roman Catholic system while encouraging people to trust solely in the Word of God.
But notice that Peter Waldo lived over 300 years before the Reformation officially started. John Wycliffe didn’t even write his denunciation of Transubstantiation until the 1380s, and Martin Luther wouldn’t post his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg door until 1517. History generally doesn’t count him as a part of the Protestant Reformation.
Technically, history is right, I suppose. The Reformation began in earnest because of the 1440 invention of the printing press, which allowed the wide dissemination of Luther’s writings and translations of the Bible into common languages. Yet the Holy Spirit, as far back as Peter Waldo (perhaps farther, though I know of no one earlier) faithfully rose up people to speak against the ways Roman Catholicism corrupted Christianity.
So Peter Waldo reminds us of God’s sovereignty to speak through His Word to give people discernment. Sadly, he and the Waldensians had relatively little influence in Europe (again because the printing press wouldn’t be invented for more than 200 years). But we see that the Lord didn’t leave the world without a witness to the authority of Scripture.
21st Century Christians face growing pressure to embrace Catholicism once again. Dear sisters in Christ, please remember that Peter Waldo courageously stood against Roman Catholicism because of his commitment to God’s Word. His followers endured great persecution for their efforts to purify the Church, as we shall see in coming blog posts. Separating from Roman Catholicism, which refused to accept Scripture as its only authority, cost far too much for us to erase the differences now. I beg you to listen to Peter Waldo and return to God’s Word.