Questo articolo è disponibile anche in: Italian English


Good morning Father Angelo Bellon,

my question is not provocative, I want to ask you why did the Catholic Church persecute the Waldensians?

Thank you very much.

I’ll wait for your answer.

Answer from the priest 

Dear friend,

1. The vicissitude of the Waldensians originated from a sincere desire to renew the Church.

Many, in the Middle Ages, confronted by the Church’s wealth and power were disoriented and ended up joining heretical movements.

Among those who wished for a sincere renewal was Peter Waldo and, a few decades later, also St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic.

All of them wished to return to the lifestyle of the early Church, zealous for itinerant preaching and evangelical poverty.

So it was for the group of lay preachers called Waldensians at its beginnings.

However, unlike St. Francis and St. Dominic, they later found themselves in opposition to the Church and indulged in heretical deviations. 

2. The founder of this movement was the rich merchant Peter Waldo, or Valdes, in Lyon.

According to the historians Bihlmeyer and Tuechle: “Peter Waldo – deeply shaken by the reading of the Scriptures, translated at his request by two clerics  in Provençal, and by the legend of St. Alexius – broke every tie with the world, entrusted his properties to his wife and, during the famine of 1176, gave what was left of his fortune to the poor.

Men and women who shared his same ideals followed him.  Implementing the instruction of the Gospel (Mt. 10:5 ff and Lk. 1:1 ff), they set out two by two in apostolic poverty and dressed in a simple habit to perform the itinerant preaching of penance. 

The movement soon spread far away and also reached the Humiliati in Lombardy (Milan), a fraternity of lay weavers and woollen manufacturers, from which a real Order later developed.  

Since the Waldensians, also known as the Poor of Lyon for their origin, dedicated themselves to the preaching of the word of God without the Church approval and appointed themselves as judges of the morality of the clergy, the archbishop of Lyon interdicted their preaching and banished them.

Waldo then addressed Pope Alexander III and personally attended the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179. The pope decided that they could preach only after the Church approval” (The History of the Church, vol. 2, § 114). 

3. So far everything was more or less fine.

I say more or less because Francis and Dominic had the concern to act in medio Ecclesiae, in the midst of the Church and in harmony with it. For this reason, they both appeared before the Pope to act in communion with the Church and to receive the approval to preach everywhere.

4. The two historians go on writing: “They complied with this limitation (not to preach without the Church approval) only for a short time.

The opposition against  the ecclesiastical authority, which they supported recalling the Acts of the Apostles 5:29, resulted in them and other heretics being excommunicated by pope Lucius III during the Synod of Verona in 1184.

The Waldensian «brothers» and «sisters» were forced into a clandestine life, secretly gathering followers and sympathizers among the lay people who sheltered and hosted them, because they, as “perfect”, had given up manual labor and dedicated themselves only to the itinerant preaching and the pastoral care of their followers.

They emitted the triple vow of  poverty, chastity and obedience towards their superiors, that is Waldo himself as the man entrusted by God, «praepositus et pontifex omnium», and towards the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons that he had ordained.

The Holy Scriptures, which they translated into vernacular languages and by them highly recommended for reading, was regarded as the absolute doctrine and legal code.

Later on, the Italian Waldensians distanced themselves from the Church even more, denying, probably under the influence of the Cathars, the purgatory, the importance of the prayer for the dead and of the Requiem Masses, the cult of the saints, the indulgences, the oath, and acknowledging only baptism, the Eucharist and the reconciliation as sacraments” (ibid.).

5. In this regard, they anticipated the Protestants’ mistakes.

In the 16th century, that is in 1500, the Romance-speaking Waldensians joined Calvinism, adhering to Protestantism and completing their separation from the Catholic Church.

As far as the Holy Scriptures are concerned, it is surely right that they are the focal point for Christians. But they are not the only source of the Divine Revelation, nor should they be interpreted according to one’s own will, as the Waldensians instead think. 

6. After their transition to Protestantism, they were harshly persecuted, especially in Calabria, where in 1561 they were massacred on the basis of the principle that required all the inhabitants of a region to belong to one single religion (cuius regio eius et religio). 

7. In Piedmont, where most of the Waldensians still live, it was Carlo Alberto who gave them full citizenship in 1848. 

8. For some of their claims, the Waldensians are today even beyond Protestantism.

I myself have met a young man – son of Catholics, but who had not been baptized yet – who was invited by a Waldensian pastor to join their cult.  After one or two attendances, even though he was not baptized, he was appointed to officiate the Eucharist, with his own bewilderment.

Concerning the hot topics of bioethics, they support personal free will and their position is close to the radical ones. 

9. On June 22nd 2015, while visiting the Waldensians Temple of Turin, Pope Francis apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for the persecutions against the Waldensians during the centuries.

On that occasion someone pointed out that the Waldensians appreciated these apologies, but did not do the same towards the Catholic Church, on whose behalf, they have not always acted like meek lambs.

The Blessed Dominican Antonio Pavoni was stabbed by the Waldensians during the Second Sunday of Easter while he was leaving a church in Bricherasio (Turin) in 1374.

The Blessed Dominican Pietro da Ruffia suffered the same fate; indeed, he was stabbed while he was a host of the Friars Minor in Susa in 1365.

Another Dominican, the Blessed Bartolomeo Cerveri was killed after being stabbed repeatedly by the swords of  five Waldensians in 1466 while he was heading to the parish church in Cervere (Fossano). 

This is all I could tell you.

I bless you and I entrust you to the Lord.

Father Angelo