Waldensians: what exactly did they believe?

I’m moderately familiar with the Waldensians; I know only that they were Italian Protestants from medieval times.

But recently I made a surprising discovery: I had found my maternal grandmother’s maiden name on the list of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, and this fit with genealogical DNA testing I’d already had done, which showed my mother’s family is of Spanish Jewish descent.

But a few days ago, I found her maiden name on another list as well: Waldensian Christians persecuted by the Catholic church!

My grandmother, though Catholic, behaved very strangely for a Catholic: she had a dread of crucifixes; she lit candles on Friday nights before dinner; she had nothing “Catholic” in her home other than a very large Catholic Bible; she refused to eat pork, saying it was “dirty, full of worms”, and she never went to Mass or otherwise took part in any Catholic activities (although my mother and her brother were baptized and received their first holy communion.)

I’m wondering what exactly the Waldensians believed and practiced, because if they held any OT practices, this could have made them seem indistinguishable from Jews as well. I have read that Waldensians often sheltered Jews during the persecutions by the Catholic church, so perhaps they became united in some ways??

Anyone know anything detailed about their actual beliefs and rituals, if any?

It’s a complex and controversial subject. The consensus today among scholars is that the medieval Waldensians were not much like Protestants in their theology. We have accounts (though their accuracy is sometimes questioned) of confrontations between Waldensians and Protestants in the sixteenth century. In particular, the Waldenses do not seem to have had anything remotely corresponding to the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. They seem to have privileged the practical parts of the New Testament (the Pastoral Epistles, James, etc.), rather than the doctrinal texts (Romans, John, etc.) that the Protestants loved. They also valued celibacy. It appears that the early Waldenses didn’t differ much from Catholic doctrine–after their desire to preach and teach was rejected (for largely non-doctrinal reasons) by the Catholic Church, some of them submitted and those who continued their activities became increasingly critical of the authority and sacramental system of the Church.

I do not recall that the Waldensians engaged n practices that were considered “Judaizing,” but I could be wrong. Furthermore, in the sixteenth century the Waldenses became Protestants (after, as I noted, some disagreement and resistance). The Calvinists sent in pastors who indoctrinated the Waldenses in the new doctrines and turned them into proper Protestants. For the past 450 years or so they have basically been Presbyterians.

If you want to know more, I would recommend two scholars in particular: Euan Cameron and Gabriel Audisio. They have rather different perspectives (I think Audisio is from a Waldensian background himself).

Gabriel Audisio, *The Waldensian Dissent *(Cambridge University Press, 1999)
Ibid, *Preachers by Night: The Waldensian Barbes *(Brill, 2006)
Euan Cameron, *The Reformation of the Heretics *(Oxford University Press, 1984)
Ibid, *Waldenses: Rejections of Holy Church in Medieval Europe *(Blackwell, 2000)
Ibid, “The Waldenses,” in The Medieval Theologians, ed. G. R. Evans (Blackwell, 2000)


Thanks, Edwin, for that info! I tried doing a Google on them, but it did not turn up much.

So, they were basically Catholic outwardly, but had some differences with the church on authority and sacramental issues? That’s interesting, because my uncle (mother’s brother) had issues with those very two things too (but then, I guess a lot of Catholics do these days!) He used to say (to anyone who would listen, lol), “I don’t need to go to a priest for him to forgive my sins, I can ask directly to God Himself!”

I also remember a girl I went to school with whose last name was “Calabria”. I forget how the subject arose in school, but someone asked if she was Catholic, and she replied, “No, our family has always been Protestant”. I remember thinking that was odd, because almost every Italian I knew was Catholic.

And not long ago, on an Italian genealogy website, I learned that Italian Jews often adopted as a surname, the town their family lived in (Calabria is a town in Italy.) So now I’m wondering if she was really Jewish, even though she said she was Protestant.)

Its all very confusing!

There are still Waldensians in Italy, they have a kind of “union” ( without a “fusion” ) with Italian Methodists, but I don’t know what their specific beliefs are ; in the 16th century there were contacts between some Lutherans and them, and they “accepted” the Reform ; so they must be some Protestants of some kind …
since they are a very small minority ( which is the case for Italian Protestants in general ) many Waldensians marry … Catholics, both churches have, together, thought the matter over and have developed a way of conducting these weddings … ( I think there are even several possibilities when one of the spouses is a Catholic and the other one a Waldensian … )

As I said, they united with the Calvinists in the 16th century. They are generally referred to as “Italian Presbyterians” today.


Yes, in French we say they are “Reformed”, which corresponds to “Presbytarian” in English-speaking countries …

Just look at this link


Here is an entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia.


I hope this helps.

The link is dead:mad:

Very interesting information. I was so surprised to see this topic come up, because awhile ago I started a thread on a Baptist Forum entitled: “Pre-Reformation Sources for the practice of Believer’s Baptism.”

One of the Baptist members told me to search for the “Waldenses.”

I did a search for Waldenses and found a website for Historic Baptist Documents which includes the WALDENSES CONFESSION OF FAITH of 1120 and 1544.

The Pre-Reformation Waldenses Confession of 1120 contains fourteen Statements of Faith. Statement 12 defines Sacraments, and Statement 13 acknowledges Baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) as Sacraments.

12. We consider the Sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary that believers use these symbols or visible forms when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity of observing them.

  1. We acknowledge no sacraments [as of divine appointment] but baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Also of interest:

“8. And we also firmly believe, that there is no other mediator, or advocate with God the Father, but Jesus Christ. And as to the Virgin Mary, she was holy, humble, and full of grace; and this we also believe concerning all other saints, namely, that they are waiting in heaven for the resurrection of their bodies at the day of judgment.”

The Post-Reformation Waldenses Confession of 1544 contains twelve Statements of Faith and differs from the Pre-Reformation Confession of 1120: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper are no longer called Sacraments, but Ordinances.

Also, the Virgin Mary is not mentioned in the Post-Reformation confession.

". . . . .7. We believe that in the ordinance of baptism the water is the visible and external sign, which represents to as that which, by virtue of God’s invisible operation, is within us - namely, the renovation of our minds, and the mortification of our members through [the faith of] Jesus Christ. And by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God’s people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life.

  1. We hold that the Lord’s supper is a commemoration of, and thanksgiving for, the benefits which we have received by His sufferings and death - and that it is to be received in faith and love - examining ourselves, that so we may eat of that bread and drink of that cup, as it is written in the Holy Scriptures. . . . . ."


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