The Waldensians

The Waldensian movement was founded on material poverty in as much as it sprang from the merchant Valdes of Lyon's radical conversion and renunciation of wealth in the early 1170s. Valdes advocated a life devoted to preaching and supported by donations, much like the Franciscans who followed not long afterwards. But the early Waldensians called for preaching by all believers, even women, and had the Scriptures and other works translated into the vernacular. The Waldensians met and preached in private homes and also travelled from town to town preaching apostolic poverty. Eventually they

30 See the works by A. Brenon, J. Duvernoy, Y. Hagman, B. Hamilton, L. Kaelber, and M. Lambert in the bibliography, and Chapter 12 in this volume.

31 On Cathar women, see works by A. Brenon in the bibliography.

32 See Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade.

formed their own communal houses, including those for the Waldensian sisters.

The Waldensians justified their evangelical call by a reading of Scripture that claimed that the Spirit's calling and Jesus' commissioning (Mark 16.15) did not need to be controlled by the hierarchy and that obedience was owed to God alone (Acts 5.29). The apostles, they said, were not formally educated, and Mary Magdalene and other women spread the good news. Inquisition records evidence Waldensian women preaching in houses and also publicly. They worked as healers and some apparently assumed sacerdotal functions.

Insistence on public preaching led the Waldensians to confrontations with the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1179, Pope Alexander III approved the Waldensians' voluntary poverty but refused to allow them to preach without their bishop's permission. That refusal alienated the group from the hierarchy; they continued to preach, nonetheless, and in 1184 the Waldensians along with the Humiliati, the Arnoldists and the Patarenes were condemned in Ad abolendam, a decree issued at Verona by Pope Lucius III and backed by Emperor Frederick I. The early Waldensians differed from Rome not because of doctrine, but primarily over the question of obedience, brought to a head in the controversy about preaching.

Innocent III was keen to recruit and authorise preachers faithful to Rome in order to counter the dissidents. A group of Waldensians led by Durand of Huesca sought reconciliation with Rome, and in 1208 Innocent III confirmed the propositum conversationis of these 'Catholic Poor' provided that they swore a formula of Catholic belief.33

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