The Thyatira Era is documented to a much greater extent than any preceding era. We are focusing on an area rich in history, concerning its ties with the apostolic Church. These areas, especially southern France, had been originally evangelized by Peter, John, and Paul. Lazarus and others spent the remainder of their lives serving in these areas. We will discover that some remnants from the apostolic era had continued there for many centuries.
Some historians try to identify representatives from the Bogomils or Paulicians as the primary source of knowledge of the truth in this area of Europe. Certainly, they did a commendable work throughout much of Europe, especially in light of the constant, severe persecution they endured.
However, the main “connecting link” was primarily the surviving threads of believers and teachings of the apostolic Church that fled to the wilderness of this region many centuries earlier. As leaders were called, trained and prepared by God, they were not operating in a vacuum. Portions of the Church of God continued to survive here for many centuries, disseminating knowledge of the truth. This served to give the emerging Thyatira Era a “jumpstart.” No doubt, some of these surviving elements were to be traced to the first century Church. But in most cases they were traced back to the time of the Church’s flight into the wilderness, subsequent to the Council of Nicea—essentially the second wave of the true Church’s influence in Southwestern Europe.
The Roots of the True Church in the Valleys of the Alps
We now consider some of the claims of the groups which had fled here in the fourth century for refuge, according to Revelation 12:6. Also, some claim to have originated from the first-century apostolic Church in that region. The next two pages contain some amazing quotes compiled from A History of The True Religion by Dugger and Dodd, chapters 9, 10, 11, and 20. The narrative will continue after the presentation of these interesting accounts. (The italics are sometimes original and sometimes added, generally to highlight key points of doctrine or of time-setting.)
A correct understanding of the foundations of this vibrant Thyatira Era hinges upon the appreciation of these incredible roots. The Vaudois, or Waldenses—the earlier historians considered them to be one-and-the-same—existed for many centuries before the time of the Thyatira Era, as will be demonstrated.
Notice this insight into the grudging respect held for the Waldenses, even by their enemies: “Some of the popish writers themselves own that this people never submitted to the Church of Rome. One of the popish writers, speaking of the Waldenses, says, ‘The heresy of the Waldenses is the oldest heresy in the world. It is supposed that they first betook themselves to this place among the mountains, where they existed before Constantine the Great, and thus the woman fled into the wilderness, from the face of the serpent (Revelation 12:6)…The people being settled there, their posterity continued from age to age; and being, as it were, by natural walls, as well as by God’s grace, separated from the rest of the world, they never partook of the overflowing corruption’” (Edward’s History of Redemption, period 3, part 4, sec. 2).
“Multitudes however, fled like innocent and defenseless sheep from these devouring wolves. They crossed the Alps, and traveled in every direction, as Providence and the prospect of safety conducted them, into Germany, England, France, Italy, and other countries. There they trimmed their lamps, and shone with new luster. Their worth everywhere drew attention, and their doctrine formed increasing circles around them…” (Jones’ Church History, p. 208, ed. 1837).
“The fleeing Christians who escaped from the wrath of the Roman church and state, found a haven in the mountains and valleys of the north of Italy, and the south of France, in main, although they fled into all nations wherein they could find an entrance and protection from the persecutions of the papacy. Though these Christians were known by many names for various reasons in their new homes, yet the predominating name for them seems to have been ‘Vaudois,’ which means ‘Valley Dwellers.’ From the fact they dwelt in the valleys of the mountains they received the name ‘Valley Dwellers,” or, in the native tongue, ‘Vaudois.’ The Vaudois, known as such by the world, but holding to the true Bible name, were persecuted for the true faith. They observed the seventh day of the week, according to the commandment, immersed for believers’ baptism, and kept the Passover, or the Lord’s Supper, once a year, in the first month” (Persecutions and Atrocities on the Vaudois, pp. 348-349).
Here is what Gilly says about these thirteenth-century “Valley Dwellers,” having fled the papal church’s wrath in its early centuries, still abiding under the protection of the Almighty in the Waldensian wilderness:
“They occupy a mountain district…and yet from this secluded spot, have they disseminated doctrines, whose influence is felt over the most refined and civilized part of Europe. They [had]…simple virtues, and retain the same religion, which was known to exist there more than a thousand years ago. They profess to constitute the remains of the pure and primitive Christian church…” (Excursions to Piedmont, p. 259).
In his History of the United Brethren, Crantz speaks of these Christians in this way: “These ancient Christians date their origin from the beginning of the fourth century, when one Leo, at the great revolution in religion under Constantine the Great, opposed the innovations of Sylvester, Bishop of Rome. Nay, Rieger goes further still, taking them for the remains of the people of the valleys, who when the Apostle Paul, as is said, made a journey over the Alps into Spain, were converted to Christ” (p. 16).
“‘Their enemies confirm their great antiquity. Reinerius Saccho, an inquisitor, and one of their most implacable enemies, who lived only eighty years after Waldo, admits that the Waldenses flourished five hundred years before that preacher…Gretzer, the Jesuit, who also wrote against the Waldenses, and had examined the subject fully, not only admits their great antiquity, but declares his firm belief that their…discipline, government, manners, and even the errors with which they have been charged, show that the Albigenses and Waldenses were distinct branches of the same sect, or that the former sprang from the latter’” (Dr. Rankin’s History of France, vol. III, p. 198, 202; Jones’ Church History, p. 233).
In a confession of their faith, one Waldense member stated, “…declaring that they proffered the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and comprehended in the Apostles’ Creed, and admitted the sacraments instituted by Christ, and the ten commandments, etc…They said they had received this doctrine from their ancestors, and that if they were in any error they were ready to receive instruction from the word of God” [only the true Church has ever expressed this claim—both then and now—hence, another way to identify it] (Jones’ Church History, p. 355, ed. 1837).
“The Reformers held that the Waldensian Church was formed about 120 AD, from which date on they passed down from father to son the teachings they received from the apostles. The Latin Bible, the Italic, was translated from the Greek not later than 157 AD” (Allix, Churches of Piedmont, Ed. 1690, p. 177; Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated).
“The Waldenses were among the first of the people of Europe to obtain before the Reformation, the possession of the Bible in Manuscript of their native tongue. They had the truth unadulterated, and this rendered them the special objects of hatred and persecutions…Here for a thousand years, witnesses for the truth maintained the ancient faith…in a most wonderful manner it (the Word of Truth) was preserved through all ages of darkness” (Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, p. 42).
“The method which Allix has pursued in his History of the Churches of Piedmont, is to show that in the ecclesiastical history of every century, from the fourth, which he considers a period early enough for the enquirer after apostolic purity of doctrine, there are clear proofs that doctrines unlike those which the Roman church holds, and conformable to the belief of the Waldensian and Reformed churches, were maintained by theologians of the north of Italy down to the period when the Waldenses first came into notice. Consequently the opinions of the Waldenses were not new to Europe in the eleventh or twelfth centuries, and there is nothing improbable in the tradition, that the Subalpine Church persevered in its integrity in an uninterrupted course from the first preaching of the Gospel in the valleys” (Gilly, Waldensian Researches, pp. 118-119).
These quotes reinforce the fact that strong ties existed between the Church of God at the beginning of the Thyatira Era and the Church that sought refuge in the wilderness as previously discussed. Indeed, this was the same Church whose roots went back to the apostolic era, as echoed in the last quote. These quotes also emphasize that not only did those of the true Church know who they were, but their enemies knew as well. Thus, we have sampled some of the many ties to the apostolic Church in this area.
The New Resurgence of God’s Church—In Thyatira
By way of background, the ancient city of Thyatira was a city of merchants and weavers. As we might expect, the era of Thyatira was likewise based upon this same craft and industry. In these Middle Ages, southern France, where the era began to blossom, was a center of the textile industry in Europe.
About 1104, a man from this region began to preach repentance throughout Languedoc and Provence. Christ had begun the resurgence of His Church in this fourth of seven Church eras—Thyatira. This era’s first leader and probable apostle was Peter de Bruys. For nineteen years, this man preached with great strength and persuasiveness, such that he was able to silence the Catholic priests and officials sent to hinder or threaten him. A new phenomenon occurred: Some of the Catholic priests in the area were converted into the Church of God. This especially occurred under the leadership of Henry of Lausanne, a successor of Peter de Bruys. Since Henry had been a Catholic monk before conversion, he well understood Catholic theology and convincingly refuted every aspect of it before many listeners. Thus he carried on Peter’s tradition of winning converts from the Catholics—even their officials. It should be pointed out that Peter rarely passed up opportunities to destroy symbols of Catholic idolatry in the form of crosses, altars and steeples—reminiscent of Gideon during the period of the judges. This fact is known primarily due to the charges brought against him by the Catholics, as recorded by the Abbot of Clugny (Dictionary of Sects and Heresies, p. 423 from and including The History of the Church of God, p. 6).
Concerning the powerful and persuasive style of both Peter and Henry and the fact they were both apostles, the Abbot of Clugny sarcastically retorted to them: “‘Has the whole world been so blinded…[that it should] have to wait so long for you, and choose Peter of Bruis and Henry, his disciple, as exceeding recent apostles, to correct the long (standing) error’” (ACBCC, les. 51, p. 6).
The world had known the followers of Peter de Bruys as “Petrobrusians” and the followers of Henry as “Henricians.” Yet they identified themselves as the Church of God. Although Peter was burned to death in about 1125 and Henry later died in prison in about 1149, the resurgence of the Church was not to be undermined. In spite of the temporary eclipse caused by the death of these leaders, Christ was preparing an apostle to do the greatest work since the time of the original apostles up to that time. The man He chose was Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant of Lyons. He, as Peter de Bruys, had not been called in a vacuum, as far as familiarity with the Church was concerned, since the Dauphiny region had been thoroughly evangelized for a long period.
Upon the death of a close friend, Waldo was shocked into reality. He gave much of his wealth to the poor, following the precept of Matthew 19:21. Christ saw his sincere diligence and proceeded to open his mind to the truth. During this time, Waldo invested a portion of his wealth into translating the Scriptures into the vernacular. He devoted much effort and intensity into studying the Word of God, much as Constantine of Mananali had done five centuries earlier, when Christ opened his mind. Waldo’s wife and children believed he had lost his mind at this time, and sought to separate from him, not understanding the concept of true conversion. History indicates that he and his wife were later reconciled (ACBCC, les. 51, p. 6).
Revelation 2:19 begins the description of Thyatira: “I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first.” The Church of God has long taught that this refers to the resurgence in this era, under the leadership of Peter Waldo.
The following summary offers fascinating insight and explains many of the factors making Waldo the ideal candidate for carrying out this phase of Christ’s Work:
“Waldo brought the same practical common sense that had made him successful as a businessman to the organization and Work of the Church. He had the education and experience, which so few in God’s Church had (I Cor. 1:26). Jesus Christ had probably guided that experience, unknown to Waldo, long before his conversion. As he preached, others united themselves and their efforts to his. They became, as it is said, ‘as many co-workers for him.’ They dedicated their lives and their property to the spread of Christ’s gospel. This little group became known as the ‘Poor Men of Lyons.’ But that was not the name of the Church. They called themselves the Church of God, or simply Christians” (ibid., p. 6).
One final comment should be made concerning the derivation of the name “Waldenses.” This name is the one commonly used to identify the resurgence of the true Church during the Thyatira Era. This is correct, but it is important to keep in mind these two central points: (1) The Waldenses or Vaudois had existed for many centuries before the Thyatira Era began and (2) the Waldenses were not named after Peter Waldo. This is more fully covered in the next brief quotes completing this topic. This is intentionally stressed here because many church historians fail to make this distinction, in spite of all the information to the contrary.
From A History of The True Religion by Dugger and Dodd, chapter 15, we read, “From E. Comba’s work, Guild Hall Library, London, we get the following. ‘The Waldenses objected to being called after Peter Waldo. They teach that we are a little Christian flock, falsely called Waldenses.’ Further they say, ‘We are proud of working,’ and reproached the Roman clergy with idleness.”
“These people were numerous in the valleys of Piedmont. Hence the name Vaudois, or Vallenses was given them, particularly to those who inhabited the valleys of Luverne and Argorgne. A mistake arose from similarity of names, that Peter Valdo, or Waldo, was the first founder of these churches. For the name Vallenses being easily changed into Waldenses, the Romanists improved this very easy and natural mistake into an argument against the antiquity of these churches, and denied that they had any existence till the appearance of Waldo” (Townsend’s Abridgment, p. 405).
The Main Work in Thyatira
Waldo began to preach in about AD 1161, and his efforts made much headway. Since the Word of Christ was clear and understandable, this servant and his growing army of workers needed only to present these words to the people in their everyday language. Of course, much of their success depended upon their conviction and power of persuasion, and momentum continued to grow. More sets of the Scriptures were painstakingly copied. The immediate areas around Provence were thoroughly evangelized. From this point, Waldo and his workers ventured into the area of Picardy, in northern France, with continuing success. Upon resistance from local officials, they moved on to Flanders and Holland with greater success.
The initial nineteen years of Waldo’s ministry proceeded without any great persecution by the Roman Catholics. When the Archbishop of Lyons forbade the “Poor Men” from continuing to preach, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men,” echoing Peter’s instruction and example from Acts 5:29. Then they were cited to appear before Pope Alexander III and Waldo stated his accomplishments of presenting to the people the Scriptures in their common language. Strangely, the Pope agreed to Waldo’s continuance of this, but left the final decision to the Lateran Council of 1179. But this council condemned Waldo and his “Poor Men” by declaring that “the Roman Church cannot endure your preaching!” Waldo’s representatives, who appeared before that council, responded, “Christ sent us. If you were His Church you would not hinder us.” So Waldo and his co-workers continued to preach wherever they went. It took the Archbishop of Lyons five and a half years, and a new pope, to finally drive them away from his domain of Lyons (ACBCC, les. 51, p. 7).
One particular group in Italy, that broke away from the Catholic Church, asked Peter Waldo to become their leader. With this group, a second branch of the Waldenses was established in Italy. A college, located in the Angrogna Valley in the French Alps near Turin, was founded to train ministers. This college became the headquarters of the Work and the expanding Church of God of this time. At the college, small booklets were written and multiple copies were produced. All the copying had to be laboriously done by hand, occupying many volunteers in that task. The literature was given free to the public. Tithes and offerings from many countries paid the cost of the college and the literature produced. As the Work expanded into many different countries, different translations of the Bible were made—in the vernacular of the people.
Mature men, at about the age of twenty-five, were those chosen to be students at the college. After attending classes for three or four years these men were ready for the full-time Work. If their fruits showed that Christ had called them into the ministry, they were ordained by the laying on of hands. The ranks of the ministry were established according to the biblical practice. This meant that elders and deacons were ordained according to the needs of the work to be done. Pastors and evangelists were ordained among the seasoned ministers.
Many considered Peter Waldo to be an apostle, although he refused to be called anything greater than chief elder. Waldensian ministers were called “barbes” (uncles) to help conceal their identity as ministers. In their journeys and assignments, these ministers traveled in pairs—a younger minister with an older one. In this case, the older was able to instruct the younger, and pass on the benefits of experience and wisdom gained through many years in such service (ibid., p. 9).
Memory Preserves Bible!
Consider this astonishing fact: Due to the scarcity of Bibles and the danger of being apprehended for carrying one, ministers were generally required to commit to memory the gospels of Matthew and John, all the letters of Paul, and the Psalms and Proverbs. In addition, youths were taught in their early years at school and at home to memorize entire chapters and, later, entire books of the Bible as insurance against the loss of their written scriptures, which were sought out by the Catholics to be destroyed by fire. In given regions, different youths would be assigned different books in order to protect the entire set of Scriptures (A Short History of the Waldenses in Italy, Sophia Bompiani from The History of the Church of God, pt. 7).
This quote, from Pegna’s Directory of the Inquisitors, in Jones’ Church History, pertained to the Waldensians’ incredible knowledge of the Scriptures. Jacob de Riberia says that he had seen peasants among them who could recite the book of Job by heart, and several others who could perfectly repeat the whole New Testament. Consider this incredible quote in testimony to the extraordinary dedication of these brethren:
“The bishop of Cavaillon once obliged a teaching monk to enter into conference with them, that they might be convinced of their errors, and the effusion of blood might be prevented. This happened during a great persecution in 1540, in Merindol and Provence. But the monk returned in confusion, owning that he had never known in his whole life so much of the Scriptures, as he had learned during those few days, in which he had held conference with the heretics. The bishop however, sent among them a number of doctors, young men, who had lately come from the Sorbonne, at Paris, which was renowned for theological subtilty. One of them openly owned, that he had understood more of the doctrine of salvation from the answers of the little children in their catechism (question and answer sessions), than by all the disputations which he had ever heard (at the University at Sorbonne or elsewhere)” (True History of the True Religion, ch. 15).
WALDENSIAN EMBLEM: Above is a representation of the Waldensian emblem or coat of arms dating from the tenth century. Note how the fourth star, which represents the Thyatiran Era of the Church, aligns with the candlestick in the center. Seven stars represented the angel or messenger of each given era, while seven candlesticks represented each of the seven Church eras (see Rev. 1:20). This emblem shows how the Waldensians of Thyatira understood they were part of the fourth in a succession of seven eras of the true Church.
During the time they were allotted, the Waldensians truly beamed forth the light of truth to a world in darkness.
The Passagini, as some brethren were called in the Italian Alps in about 1200, were noted for observing Old Testament law, excluding the sacrificial rituals. They kept the Sabbath and the festivals (Mosheim’s Eccl. History, part 2, ch. 5, sec. 14, p. 127). And as recorded here: “The Waldenses recognized that they were the true successors of the apostolic church. They kept the Sabbath, also the yearly Passover. And each September or October (in God’s seventh month—see Lev. 23), they held at the headquarters church a great ‘conference.’ As many as 700 persons attended from afar. New students were chosen, ministerial assignments were made, and crowds gathered daily to listen to sermons. What could this gathering have been but the Feast of Tabernacles!” (ACBCC, les. 51, p. 11).
Emphasis on Character
In discussing the conduct of God’s people at this time: “The early Waldenses practiced overcoming and education in every walk of life. They were obedient, clean, honest. Even their enemies acknowledged they could find no fault with their lives. They would not lie or swear…nor do anything to others which they would not have done to themselves…They dressed and acted modestly…They were chaste, temperate in all things, in control of their emotions, diligent, continually keeping busy, founding their whole teaching on the Bible. Their enemies marveled” (ibid., p. 10).
Their persecutors knew that these believers were far more obedient and honest than any of their fellow Catholics and would use these attributes to single them out: “‘Whosoever refuses to curse, to swear, to lie, to kill, to commit adultery, to steal, to be revenged of his enemy, they say he is a Validois [French for Waldenses], and therefore they put him to death’—Voltaire’s Gen. History, ch. 69” (A True History of the True Religion, ch. 13).
As Waldo proceeded north, he appointed Arnold Hot to be pastor of Albi. Arnold’s followers were called “Arnoldists,” not to be confused with those associated with Arnold of Brescia in Italy in about 1140. Waldo also sent Joseph and Esperon into Dauphiny and Provence, and the people of their districts were named, after their respective leaders, “Josephines” and “Esperonists.” The papal bull of 1184 anathematized these groups, as well as the Poor Men of Lyons and the Humiliated (the Italian group that had previously left the Catholic Church to become Waldenses). Others anathematized were the Passagines (Waldenses of the Alps), Cathars (ascetic puritans, loosely associated with the true Church, although some of these did become converts) and Paterines (Italian Cathars).
Regions dominated by religion during the Middle Ages.
Besides all the elements of God’s Church being anathematized by the pope, the civil leader in 1194, over Provence and the areas to the west, decreed against them. These “Waldenses, Zapatati or Inzabbati [keepers of God’s Sabbath] who otherwise are called the Poor Men of Lyons” were considered worthy of punishment and thus ordered to leave his district. Yet the lesser officials and general population essentially protected God’s people.
Then, in a response to these decrees, “In 1207, as chief spokesman for all the Albigenses, Arnold Hot expounded these theses: that the Roman Church was antichrist, and that Christ did not establish the Mass. With him were ‘Ponticus Jordanus, Arnoldus Aurisonus, Philabertus Castrensis and Benedictus Thermo.’ Not many years after, holding firmly to their faith, Arnold and several associates were marched to the stake and burned” (ACBCC, les. 51, p. 11).
The Albigensian Crusade
POPE INNOCENT III
Most powerful of all the popes; instituted the Inquisition; organized the Albigensian Crusade (1208) to extinguish virtually all Christians in southern (Provencal) France.
In 1208, Pope Innocent III organized the Albigensian Crusade, backed by much of northern, pro-Catholic France. The civic leaders in most areas of southern France had been sympathetic to the Waldenses. They refused to murder their best citizens at the whimsical decrees of the corrupt Roman Catholic clergy. Thus, the church also turned its wrath against the general population of these southern regions, who were rejecting the civil domination of Rome—the great whore of Revelation 17 expected all civil authority to obey her. This Albigensian Crusade, beginning in 1209, destroyed the Provencal civilization, the most brilliant in Europe.
“When it was over, after 20 bitter years, that civilization had been completely destroyed. South France had become a backward region completely subject to Paris and Rome.
“The infamous Inquisition was then set up to complete the job by eliminating religious objections. Papal bull decreed severe punishment against any person suspected of even sympathizing with ‘heretics.’ Confiscations, imprisonments, burnings and every imaginable form of persecution continued for more than a hundred years. Thousands died. In the city of Montsegur alone, 200 persons were burned in one day.”
What It Meant to Be a True Christian
For centuries, being a member of the Church of God meant facing the real possibility of losing one’s life. Shown below are just a few of the various ways men have used to torture and kill God’s people.
Eaten alive by wild animals
Waldo and many of his co-workers had moved into Germany and Bohemia, continuing to evangelize in spite of the intense persecution of the Inquisition. For the first 19 years (1161-1180), Waldo’s work was centered around Lyons and reached much of southern France. During the next 19 years (1180-1199), it expanded to virtually every region of Europe—with great success. For the next 19 years (1199-1218), Satan moved his church, with much wrath, against the Work that God was doing through His Church.
Note the following sequence of events, during the most momentous and perilous times that the Church had seen in many centuries—on the heels of tremendous success. “When the Lateran IV Council of 1215 forbade the reading of the Bible in the vernacular, it virtually closed the door on the evangelistic Work of God’s Church. And Jesus Christ allowed it!
“By 1218, Waldo now dead and the Waldenses divided, the Work became ineffective. About 1215 also, the pope instituted the Franciscans (Preaching Friars) and Dominicans (Minor Friars) to combat more forcefully the Lombard Humiliated and the Poor Men of Lyons, respectively. In 1233, the Inquisition was put in their charge.
“The Council of Toulouse, 1229, strengthened the rule against reading the Bible—the Inquisition enforced it by torture and fire! (In 1242 the Council of Tarragona even prohibited the clergy of the Roman Church to read the Bible!)
“The one additional [19-year] cycle (1218-1237) allowed to headquarters and College now drew to a close. Gregory IX issued another bull against the Waldenses in 1231. From 1231 to 1233 a general persecution raged in Germany, cutting short the Work in Holland. By 1235, persecution on a large scale began at Milan, original seat of the Lombard Waldenses. The archbishop ‘razed their school’—apparently the College—but left the people free! On the French side of the Alps, killing and burning reached the Valley Louise in 1238. The Thyatira Work was through!” (ibid., p. 15).
Now to review Revelation 2:20-21, with a further description by Christ of the Thyatiran era: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”
It is overwhelmingly clear that this “Jezebel” of the Middle Ages—the Roman Catholic Church—continually strove to bring God’s servants into her communion. Some of the Waldenses, in a weakened condition and coerced by fear of persecution, compromised with this “woman” and thus began to commit spiritual fornication with her. They did this by appearing to keep Sunday or by appearing to submit to her by allowing her priests to “baptize” their infant children. But notice here what Christ said to those Thyatirans who totally and completely separated themselves from Jezebel’s idolatrous practices in Revelation 2:24-25: “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”
As the next four centuries passed, only a few did not compromise. Most eventually merged with the Protestants, who came out of their parent church in protest!
Where the Saints Have Trod
It would now be helpful to recap some of the incredible examples of those who held fast in the face of unthinkable adversity. We are fortunate to have on record some of these accounts as prime examples of those who held fast to God’s Way, with uncompromising passion. These quotes are derived from A History of the True Religion, ch. 16-17.
Concerning Biblias, a female martyr, during the persecution at Lyon and Vienne, it states, “The fact was pressed upon her to acknowledge that the Christians ate their children. In her torture she recovered herself, it is said, and awoke as out of a sleep, and, in answer to their interrogations, thus remonstrated: ‘How can we eat infants—we, to whom it is not lawful to eat the blood of beasts?’” (Jones’ Church History, p. 106).
Of the persecution against the Vaudois of La Guardia, Wylie says: “Enticing the citizens outside the gates, and placing soldiers in ambush, they succeeded in getting into their power upwards of sixteen hundred persons. Of these, seventy were…tortured, in the hope of compelling them to accuse themselves of practicing shameful crimes in their religious assemblies. No such confession, however, could the most prolonged tortures wring from them. ‘Stefano Carlino,’ says M’Crie, ‘was tortured till his bowels gushed out’ and another prisoner, named Verminel, ‘was kept during eight hours on a horrid instrument called the hell, but persisted in denying the atrocious…[slander]’” (Wylie, Hist. of the Waldenses, p. 115).
“Everything relating to the Waldenses resembled the scenes of the primitive church. Numbers died praising God, and in confident assurance of a blessed resurrection; whence the blood of the martyrs became again the seed of the church…Almost throughout Europe Waldenses were then to be found; and yet they were treated as the off-scouring of the earth, and as people against whom all the power of wisdom of the world were united…” (Townsend’s Abridgment, pp. 405-409).
“‘But it was reserved to Innocent the Third, than whom no pope possessed more ambition, to institute the inquisition; and the Waldenses were the first objects to its cruelty. He authorized certain monks to frame the process of that court, and to deliver the supposed heretics to the secular power. The beginning of the thirteenth century saw thousands of persons hanged or burned by these diabolical devices, whose sole crime was, that they trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, and renounced all the vain hopes of self-righteousness, idolatry and superstition…’” (ibid., p. 416).
“‘The French barons, incited by the motives of avarice which Innocent suggested, undertook the whole work with vigor. The Waldensian Christians then had no other part to act, after having performed the duty of faithful subject…but to suffer with patience the oppressions of Antichrist. Three hundred thousand men, induced by avarice and superstition, filled the country, for several years with carnage and confusion.’ ‘The castle of Menerbe on the frontiers of Spain, for want of water, was reduced to the necessity of surrendering to the pope’s legate. A certain abbot undertook to preach to those who were found in the castle, and exhort them to acknowledge the pope. But they interrupted his discourse, declaring his labor was to no purpose. Earl Simon and the legate then caused a great fire to be kindled, and burned 140 persons of both sexes. These martyrs died in triumph, praising God that he had counted them worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. They opposed the legate to his face and told Simon, that on the last day when the books should be opened, he would meet with the just judgment for all his cruelties. Several monks entreated them to have pity on themselves, and promised them their lives, if they would submit to the popedom. But the Christians “loved not their lives to the death:” only three women of the company recanted’” (ibid., p. 421-2).
Through Much Tribulation
The following account is lengthy, but is included for its unique and invaluable expressions by Jacob Hutter, a leader in God’s Church during the ongoing persecutions of the 1500s. His group were Waldenses from numerous Alpine villages who had been mercilessly driven out (partly due to their refusal of military conscription) by King Ferdinand of the House of Hapsburg—succeeding Charles the Great in the fourth revival of the Holy Roman Empire. This group, numbering two to three thousand, consisted of various Alpine nationalities, who took refuge in Moravia. Soon after their arrival, King Fredrick ordered their expulsion. Then, as part of a diabolical plan, he withdrew his orders. After Hutter’s group had built hundreds of homes and other structures, Fredrick reinstated his expulsion order, this time using military force. These afflicted peoples were once again mercilessly driven from their homes. The account continues with the following quotes from Martyrology, an old book by George Van of London as quoted in A History of the True Religion, ch. 19.
“‘The dense forests on the confines of Moravia afforded them a hiding place. Amid the dark alleys and shades, the minds of the wanderers were animated to patience, constancy, piety and devotion, by the exhortations of their leader. “Be ye thankful unto God,” ran the words of Hutter, “that ye are counted worthy to suffer persecutions and cruel exile for his name. These are the rewards of the elect in the prison-house of this world, the proofs of your heavenly Father’s approbation. Thus did his people Israel suffer in Egypt, in exile, and in persecutions: some in torments, in sufferings, and in martyrdoms, enjoyed the favor of their Lord. Sadness be far from you; put aside all grief and sorrow, reflect how great the rewards awaiting you for the afflictions ye now endure.” Hutter further addressed the following epistle to the marshal, in the name of all.’
“‘We brethren—who love God and his word, the true witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ, banished from many countries for the name of God and for the cause of divine truth, and have hither come to the land of Moravia, having assembled together and abode under your jurisdiction, through the favor and protection of the most high God, to whom alone be praise, and honor, and laud for ever: we beg you to know, honored ruler of Moravia, that your officers have come unto us, and have delivered your message and command, as indeed is well known to you.’
“‘Already have we given a verbal answer, and now we reply in writing: viz., that we have forsaken the world, an unholy life, and all iniquity. We believe in Almighty God, and in his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who will protect us henceforth and for ever in every peril, and to whom we have devoted our entire lives, and all that we possess, to keep his commandments, and to forsake all unrighteousness and sin. Therefore we are persecuted and despised by the whole world, and robbed of all our property, as was done aforetime to the holy prophets, and even to Christ himself. By King Ferdinand, the prince of darkness, that cruel tyrant and enemy of divine truth and righteousness, many of our brethren have been slaughtered and put to death without mercy, our property seized, our fields and homes laid waste, ourselves driven into exile, and most fearfully persecuted.’
“‘After these things we came into Moravia, and here for some time have dwelt in quietness and tranquility, under thy protection. We have injured no one, we have occupied ourselves in heavy toil to which all men can testify. Notwithstanding, with thy permission, we are driven by force from our possessions, and our homes. We are now in the desert, in woods, and under the open canopy of heaven: but this we patiently endure, and praise God that we are counted worthy to suffer for His name. Yet for your sakes we grieve that you should thus so wickedly deal with the children of God. The righteous are called to suffer; but alas! woe, woe, to all those who without reason persecute us for the cause of divine truth, and inflict upon us so many and so great injuries, and drive us from them as dogs and brute beasts. Their destruction, and punishment, and condemnation draw near, and will come upon them in terror and dismay, both in this life, and in that which is to come. For God will require at their hands the innocent blood which they have shed, and will terribly vindicate his saints according to the words of the prophets.’
“‘And now that you have with violence bidden us forthwith to depart into exile, let this be our answer. We know not any place where we may securely live; nor can we longer dare here to remain for hunger and fear. If we turn to the territories of this or that sovereign, everywhere we find an enemy. If we go forward, we fall into the jaws of tyrants and robbers, like sheep before the ravening wolf and raging lion.’
“‘With us are many widows, and babes in their cradle, whose parents that most cruel tyrant and enemy of divine righteousness, Ferdinand, gave to the slaughter, and whose property he seized. These widows and orphans, and sick children, committed to our charge by God, and whom the Almighty hath commanded us to feed, to clothe, to cherish, and to supply all their needs, who cannot journey with us, nor, unless otherwise provided for, can long live—these, we dare not abandon.’
“‘We may not overthrow God’s law to observe man’s law although it cost gold, and body and life. On their account we cannot depart; but rather than they should suffer injury we will endure extremity, even to the shedding of our blood. Besides, here we have houses and farms, the property that we have gained by the sweat of our brow, which in the sight of God and men are our just possession: to sell them we need time and delay. Of this property we have urgent need in order to support our wives, widows, orphans, and children, of whom we have a great number, lest they die of hunger…We complain of this injury before God and man, and grieve greatly that the number of the virtuous is so small. We would that all the world were as we are, and that we could bring and convert all men to the same belief, then should all war and unrighteousness have an end.’”
The reader is left to ponder this stunning statement from the history of the Church of God!
Major Events in the Late Thyatira Era
To summarize events of the 1300s through the 1500s, we will first examine a Waldenses minister in Germany named Echard. He came in contact with the true Church as a persecutor, much like Paul and Simeon had been. During the fourteenth century, Echard martyred many hundreds in Germany. Following his conversion, his ministry was as fervent as his persecuting. After preaching the gospel with great passion, he too was apprehended and burned as a martyr.
The City of Thyatira
As an overview of the Thyatira Era, we find the major labor of God’s Church during this time was to translate, copy and make known the Scriptures. Most of the manuscripts that the Catholics had confiscated and stored, in monasteries and cathedrals, were ultimately traceable to the work of God’s Church. Few scholars in the Middle Ages had the ability to read Hebrew and Greek, so they used the Waldensian version, written in Provencal.
Meanwhile, the Waldensians in the Netherlands became known as the Lollards, and were also reaching out to surrounding areas. A chief Waldensian minister, Walter the Lollard, with his brother Raymond, carried the gospel into England with much success (ACBCC, les. 52, pp. 3-4).
A major breakthrough occurred in the late 1300s, as John Wycliffe, an English theologian, Oxford professor and eminent scholar, undertook the process of translating the Bible into English. (Though not in God’s Church, he condemned and exposed the Catholic’s deliberate plot to limit the Bible’s availability.) His followers and associates soon completed the project after his death, distributing Bibles throughout England (ibid., pp. 4-5).
In the 1400s, the Lollards became a driving force in England, making use of Wycliffe’s translation and the revised translations. They preached the gospel there, as Waldo had done in Provence three centuries earlier. God’s Church had not disappeared, although it had been greatly hindered in continental Europe.
In the 1450s, another major breakthrough occurred—the art of printing with movable type was developed in Germany. The famous Gutenberg Bible was one of the first books printed. Printing quickly spread to Holland, England and all over Europe. The New Testament version in greatest demand in all Europe was the vernacular version derived from none other than the Waldenses’ version. The impulse to spread the Word of God, resulting in the invention of printing, was primarily a result of the momentum of the Work of God in the Thyatira Era. The demand for more Bibles was an immediate effect of that Work. God’s people were instrumental in this way. Although the Protestants take credit for this, this is incorrect, since the Protestant Reformation did not start until about 1517.
The Reformation Comes
The inevitable Reformation followed in the wake of such dedicated scholars as Erasmus in the early 1500s. By diligently editing a number of Greek manuscripts, he compiled the most accurate New Testament to that date. His criticism of his own religion, Catholicism, was unrelenting and outspoken. He was driven by a desire to reform the Catholic Church. His criticism was not heeded within, but it did make an impact without.
In contrast to the Waldenses, whose unquestionable conduct impressed friend and foe alike, the Catholic Church was scandalous and corrupt at every level. The practices of simony (offices and positions for sale) and indulgences (permission to sin in advance, for a price) was too much for some Catholics, such as Martin Luther. Erasmus was the catalyst, but Luther proved to be the force behind the Reformation, which was essentially the breakaway of the daughters from mother Rome, in protest.
Luther and the Sabbath
It is interesting to note that Luther had admired the Waldenses for quite some time. Their effect upon him was much greater than most history books acknowledge. Notice this quote from A History of the True Religion, ch. 20:
“Luther himself, while it is said believed in and practiced the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, did not prescribe it in his articles of faith for his followers, in the copies that we now have access to. However, it has been said that in his original thesis, Luther advocated the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, but that his colleagues objected on the grounds that it was an unpopular doctrine, which would have a tendency to repulse supporters of the Reformation who were not as pious as they should have been, but were of great assistance against the usurpations of the papacy.”
Also notice this quote pertaining to Luther’s commentary on Exodus 16:4, 22-30, regarding the Sabbath:
“Hence you can see that the Sabbath was before the Law of Moses came, and has existed from the beginning of the world. Especially have the devout, who have preserved the true faith, met together and called upon God on this day.”—Translated from Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Commentary on the Old Testament), in Sämmtliche Schriften (Collected Writings), edited by J.G. Walch, Vol. 3, col. 950 [St. Louis edition of Luther’s Works, 1880]).
“Luther said of the Waldenses ‘that among them he had found one thing [in particular] worthy of admiration, a thing unheard of in the popish church, that, laying aside the doctrines of men, they meditated in the law of God day and night, and that they were expert, and even well versed, in the knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Jones’ Church History, p. 263).”
“‘The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others), with all their zeal and learning, were babes in spiritual knowledge when compared with the Waldenses, particularly in regard to the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and its institutions, laws, and worship in general’” (ibid., p. 326).
Persecution Comes to an End
Four centuries of intense persecution finally took its toll on the Waldenses. During the late 1500s, a greater degree of religious freedom had come to exist in Britain. By the 1600s, the door started to open for emigration to America. But in much of Europe, the outlook was still grim for surviving Christians.
Jones says of the extermination of the Churches of the Waldenses in the Piedmont valleys: “‘I professed to give the history of the churches of Piedmont and other places commonly designated as Waldenses and Albigenses, not of individuals; and as I considered these churches to have been utterly dispersed and scattered by a series of persecutions which terminated in the year 1686, I consider myself to have brought the subject to its legitimate close’” (Jones’ Church History, Preface, p. IX, ed. 1837).
Thus closes the Thyatira chapter. The Waldenses, the Lollards—the Church of God in various locations—completed a great work. Much evidence remains for consideration. We must not ignore or forget the great lessons of the suffering of the Church in the wilderness! Undoubtedly, many thousands of saints from this era are now dead in Christ, awaiting resurrection.