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THE HISTORY OF THE WALDENSES CONTINUED
FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE FOURTEENTH TO THE
CLOSE OP The sevẾNTEENTH CENTURY.
The history of the Waldenses, from the middle of the four
teenth, to the end of the fifteenth century. A. D. 13501500.
In reading the history of every country, says a late noble author, there are certain periods at which the mind naturally pauses, to meditate upon, and consider them, with reference, not only to their immediate effects, but to their more remote consequences. * This remark is as applicable to the history of the christian church as it is to that of any particular country. I have endeavoured to conduct the reader through the mazes and labyrinths of that history, during a period of nearly fourteen hundred years,
in which time we have traversed a dreary wilderness, through a dark and benighted season, until we are at length brought to approach the confines of light-the morning of the Reformation. In entering upon the last chapter of this book, it may be no unprofitable employ, therefore, for us to pause and take a review of the existing state of Europe, at this interesting period, in reference to the great concern of religion. The picture, indeed, has been already
* Fox's History of James II.-Introduction, p. 5. VOL. II.
sketched by an able artist, and, probably, I cannot do better than present it to the reader.
“ The state of religion at this time was truly deplorable. Ecclesiastical government, instead of that evangelical simplicity, and fraternal freedom, which Jesus Christ and his apostles had taught, was now become a spiritual domina. tion under the form of a temporal empire. An innumerable multitude of dignities, titles, rights, honours, privileges, and pre-eminences belonged to it, and were all dependent on a sovereign priest, who, being an absolute monarch, required every thought to be in subjection to him. The chief ministers of religion were actually become temporal princes; and the high-priest, being absolute sovereign of the ecclesiastical state, had his court and his council, his ambassadors to negociate, and his armies to murder-his flock. The clergy had acquired immense wealth ; and, as their chief study was either to collect and to augment
their revenues, or to prevent the alienation of their estates, they had constituted numberless spiritual corporations, with powers, rights, statutes, privileges, and officers. The functions of the ministry were generally neglected, and, of consequence, gross ignorance prevailed. All ranks of men were extremely depraved in their morals, and the pope's penitentiaryhad published the price of every crime, as it was rated in the tax-book of the Roman chancery. Marriages, which reason and scripture allowed, the Pope prohibited, and for money dispensed with those which both forbad. Church-benefices were sold to children, and to laymen, who then let them to under tenants, none of whom performed the duty for which the profits were paid : but all having obtained them by simony, spent their lives in fleecing the flock to repay themselves. The power of the pontiff was so great, that he assumed, and what was more astonishing, he was suffered to exercise, a supremacy over many kingdoms. When monarchs gratified his will
put on a triple crown, ascended a throne, suffered them to call him Holiness, and to kiss his feet. When they disobliged him, he suspended all religious worship in their dominions ; published false and abusive libels, called bulls, which operated as laws, to injure their persons; discharged their subjects from obedience; and gave their crowns to any who would usurp them. He claimed an infallibility of knowledge, and an omnipotence of strength; and he forbad the world to examine his claim. He was addressed by titles of blasphemy, and though he owned no jurisdic. tion over himself, yet he affected to extend his authority over heaven and hell, as well as over a middle place called purgatory, of all which places he said he kept the keys. This irregular church-polity was attended with quarrels, intrigues, schisms, and wars.
Religion itself was made to consist of the performance of numerous ceremonies, of pagan, jewish, and monkish extraction, all which might be performed without either faith in God, or love to mankind. The church ritual was an address, not to the reason, but to the senses of men; music stole the ear, and soothed the passions; statues, paintings, vestments, and various ornaments, beguiled the eye; while the pause, which was produced by that sudden attack, which a multitude of objects made on the senses, on entering a spacious decorated edifice, was enthusiastically taken for devotion. Blind obedience was first allowed by courtesy, and then established by law. Public worship was performed in an unknown tongue, and the sacrament was adored as the body and blood of Christ. The credit of the ceremonial, produced in the people a notion that the performance of it was the practice of piety, and religion degenerated into gross superstition. Vice, uncontrolled by reason or scripture, retained a pagan vigour, and committed the most horrid crimes; and superstition atoned for them, by building and endowing religious houses, and by bestowing donations on the church. Human merit was introduced, saints were invoked, and the perfections of God were distributed by canonization, among the creatures of the Pope.
“ The pillars, that supported this edifice, were immense riches, arising, by imposts, from the sins of mankind; idle distinctions between supreme and subordinate adoration; senseless axioms, called the divinity of the schools; preachments of buffoonery, or blasphemy, or both; cruel casuistry, consisting of a body of dangerous and scandalous morality; false miracles and midnight visions; spurious books and paltry relics; oaths, dungeons, inquisitions, and crusades. The whole was denominated THE HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH, and laid to the charge of Jesus Christ.”* These things premised, we now return to the history of the Waldenses.
About the year 1400, a violent outrage was committed upon the Waldenses who inhabited the valley of Pragela, in Piedmont, by the Catholic party resident in that neighbourhood. The attack, which seems to have been of the most furious kind, was made towards the end of the month of December, when the mountains were covered with snow, and thereby rendered so difficult of access, that the peaceable inhabitants of the vallies were wholly unapprised that any such attempt was meditated; and the persecutors were in actual possession of their caves, ere the former seem to have been apprised of any hostile designs against them. In this pitiable plight they had recourse to the only alternative which remained for saving their lives they fled to one of the highest mountains of the Alps, with their wives and children, the unhappy mothers carrying the cradle in one hand, and in the other leading suchi of
Memoirs of the Reformation in France, prefixed to Saurin's Sermons, translated by Robinson. Vol. I.
their offspring as were able to walk. Their inhuman invaders, whose feet were swift to shed blood, pursued them in their fight, until night came on, and slew great numbers of them, before they could reach the mountains. Those that escaped, were, however, reserved to experience a fate not more enviable. Overtaken by the shades of night, they wandered up and down the mountains, covered with snow, destitute of the means of shelter from the inclemencies of the weather, or of supporting themselves under it by any of the comforts which providence has destined for that purpose; benumned with cold, they fell an.easy prey to the severity of the climate, and when the night had passed away, there were found in their cradles or lying upon the snow, fourscore of their infants, deprived of life, many of the mothers also lying dead by their sides, and others just upon the point of expiring. During the night, their enemies were busily employed in plundering the houses of every thing that was valuable, which they conveyed away to Susa. A poor woman, belonging to the Waldenses, named Margaret Athode, was next morning found hanging upon a tree!
This seems to have been the first general attack that was made by the Catholics on the Waldenses of Piedmont; for, though the former had repeatedly availed themselves of the edicts of emperors, the bulls of the popes, and the promptitude of inquisitorial zeal, to disturb their peace, and put many of them to death, during the three preceding centuries, yet such had been the protection afforded them by the Dukes of Savoy, that the rage of their adversaries was happily restricted to the occasional apprehension of a few solitary heretics, for whose good they never failed to light up the fires as often as opportunity was afforded them. But the outrageous attack that was now made upon them was a novelty, and it made a lasting impression on their minds. They had experienced nothing like it,