Waldensians -Who were they? How did they start?
It is said that Pedro Valdo was a wealthy merchant from Lyon who was married and had two daughters. Being a devout man and a practicing Catholic, in 1177 after the sudden death of an acquaintance he asked a theologian friend to give him advice on the Scriptures as to what he should do to please God. In response, his friend quoted the Gospel of Matthew 19:21, where Jesus said to the rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your goods and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and, come, be my follower”.
The legend goes on to say that Valdo took this advice to heart. Thus, after providing for the sustenance of his wife and placing his two daughters in a convent, he commissioned two priests, Etienne d’Anse and Bernard Ydros, to translate the Gospels and other books of the Bible into the vernacular – the Occitan – spoken in the regions of Provence and Dauphiné (southeast of France). Then he distributed the rest of his possessions among the poor and began to study the scriptures. In addition, he preached in the streets of Lyon, inviting the inhabitants to awaken spiritually and return to Christianity as he understood it in the Scriptures. It is said that he emphasized Jesus’ statement: “You cannot serve two masters, God and Money”.
He got the Gospels and other books of the Bible translated into common speech and dared to preach on the streets, where he made many disciples, both men and women.
Since Valdo had been well known as a prosperous businessman, many people listened to him and soon he had a group of followers. They were happy to hear the comforting message of the Bible in their own language, because until then the translation and production of each copy of the Bible had a high cost: hand-copying each Bible demanded a monk a minimum of 3 years. Many people agreed to give up their assets and dedicate themselves to teaching the Bible in the language of ordinary people. They came to be known as the “Poor of Lyon”. For them, any Christian, man or woman, could preach as long as he had sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures.
That secular preaching made that in 1179 Pope Alexander III, to whom Valdo himself had appealed, forbade Valdo and his followers to preach without the permission of the local bishop. Historical records indicate that, faced with this ban, Valdo responded to the hierarchy using the words of the Acts of the Apostles: “We have to obey God as ruler rather than men.”
Valdo and his associates continued to preach despite the threat of excommunication and persecution. Thus, Pope Lucius III excommunicated them in 1184 and the Bishop of Lyon expelled them from the diocese.
The edict of excommunication, which was extended against them in 1181, forced them to leave Lyon, which was beneficial to their cause.