Sweet Lands of Liberty
By D Fowler
Part 1 – The Right Place at the Right Time
Peter Waldo - Valdez in some languages – was rich, by twelfth century standards. He felt compelled to give it all to the poor. A chance meeting with a monk changed things a bit.
The exact day is uncertain, but around 1170 he visited a monastery to give some money. They were discussing what Waldo planned to do. “I feel the need to give all to the poor. It is not possible that a rich man should enter Heaven, is it?” Waldo asked.
“I was just copying that Scripture,” the monk responded. “Our Lord’s disciples asked Him the same. He said with man it was impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”
Waldo ruminated on that thought for a moment. “But, it is still a sin to keep it for oneself when others are suffering; as with the rich man and Lazarus,” he countered.
“True, but Zaccheus didn’t give away all that he had, only half,” the monk returned. “Our Lord says ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” They spoke for a few more minutes.
Waldo thought about this exchange. He took it as a symbol from Heaven, as this was the first place where he’d gone to bestow a large sum of money. He’d preach the priesthood of the believer, and attempt to get the Bible into vulgar tongues. But, he told those of Lyons of a more important message, though. “God desires mercy, and not sacrifice,” he pointed out. And, “With God, all things are possible.” He didn’t insist on poverty, but that the rich and landed gentry should help the poor, and not be selfish. He also used Ephesians 2:10, wherein he noted that one was saved to do good works, but was not saved by them. Salvation was by grace through faith, as the previous verses said.
Because Waldo chose this route without saying one had to give all their money to the poor,, more nobles took note. This caused him to be evicted from Lyons faster than he might have been, in 1177, soon before he considered getting permission to preach full time. (1) They were afraid of his power. However, the Count of Savoy allowed him to stay; Waldo seemed of a kindred mind, so he asked to speak with him. The Count himself was rather monastic.
Waldo told Count Humbert III of faith, and personal repentance, when he first visited him, but the count had other concerns.
“What I wish is a blessing. I want a son,” the count said. “I have despaired for so long for a male heir. It was for this I wished to speak with Anthelm.(2) I know his works. What more can you do for me than he could?”
“With God, all things are possible,” Waldo said. “It is not by might Anthelm can do anything, nor can I. But God can do miracles. His Word says that He inhabits the prayers of His people. But, He desires mercy, and not sacrifice. It is not in the Church hope is to be found, but in Him, in His death, and the power of His resurrection,” Waldo concluded. “Pray, without ceasing, as a humble man before his Lord, not through a priest, as they are mere men, too, and can do nothing. Pray as one for whom He died, personally, for you may go boldly before the throne of grace. I, too, shall pray for you. And, I can guarantee you will have a son.” Waldo explained, “I can say this is true, becuas eif you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”
After a fair amount of urging, and with Anthelm ailing, the count agreed to trust in God alone, and not in the blessings of Anthelm. A year later, on that day in 1178, a son was born; finally, Humbert III had a male heir. The birth was seen as a miracle.(3) While Waldo steadfastly refused to accept the child being named after him, Humbert III still named the child Peter, after Waldo. He would be Pietro II when he began to reign.
Waldo not only had a place where he’d be tolerated; he’d have had that regardless.(4) He had a major patron; a supporter in a position of power.
Waldo and a friend were exiting Rome a short time later. To companions waiting for him, he uttered these words: “He blessed us.”
“And?” came the expectant query.
Waldo threw up his hands. They had not been taken seriously; even with how the Count of Savoy had been blessed.
“That’s it. The Pope, who is supposed to be the successor to Peter, blessed our lifestyle, but refused to allow us to preach.” Waldo paced back and forth. “I told him that our Lord Himself commanded that when one who did not travel with them cast out devils in His name, the man was not to be forbidden. He still refused. He would not even hear what I had to say about the trial by ordeal; it is pure folly. It has none of God’s mercy.”
Waldo sighed, and looked up. Why were the authorities so insistent on controlling the masses with their own preaching? And, couldn’t they see the needs of the poor?
“If they will not reform, we shall preach anyway, no matter what they say.” As they prepared for bed, he considered how that might be done.
A few years passed. Waldo was forbidden to preach in Lyons, but Savoy had become an ideal Waldensian breeding ground, though Provence and other regions saw increasing numbers, too. A grateful Humbert III gave Waldo some access to his son. Savoyard money allowed Waldo to have pieces of Scripture transcribed more easily. As the 1180s wore on, Waldo’s attempts to reform the Church, even with the influence of nobles in Savoy and a few outside, were not working. It more openly became a revolt.
The Pope, Lucius, had had enough. He excommunicated Waldo for going against Papal authority and preaching on his own, and teaching others to do likewise.
Humbert III promised his protection, and urged him to proclaim the Pope to be the one in rebellion; as the Pope grew more antagonistic toward Waldo, he was more antagonistic toward Savoy, as well. He hoped to use Waldo’s influence.
Instead of entering into what he termed “Worldly politics,” Waldo ordered nailed to church doors, at various places in Savoy, a list of a dozen reasons why excommunication did not scare him. Much of it was backed up with Scripture, such as being afraid not of the person who can kill the body, as “Neither Pope nor Church has power over the soul, only Christ, as the individual is what matters to Him.”
He did quickly, as word of his excommunication spread. Ninety-five of them were either nailed to doors or given to people the following Sunday. Many date that Sunday in 1183 as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.(5) And, while Frederick I – the Holy Roman Rmperor – was disturbed, he had other things on his mind. However, a slight delay in leaving on a Crusade may have given him a couple more years, and further affected history. (6)
Part 2 – Building Organizations – Church and State
Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem had led the Pope to call for the Third Crusade. A 10% tax was levied in England and parts of France. The tax was very unpopular.
Waldo could stay in Savoy, but traveled outside a fair amount, too. He taught followers to be “missionaries” to other parts of Europe. They and their children often memorized whole epistles or books. With Savoyard protection, they got a few more pieces of Scripture and a little more help than they might have. The people would sometimes carry scrolls under their robes, hidden until they were sure the person they spoke to could be trusted. They served as merchants and traders, giving them reason to be traveling.(7)
Through Humbert III’s connections, people that knew Hebrew or Greek could be brought to Savoy. This was one of the major benefits as he did more than just tolerate Waldo, though all having more money helped. Shortly after Waldo’s excommunication, Scripture from the Byzantine Empire was procured – far away, so officials from Rome would have less chance of knowing what had been done. One of Waldo’s more learned disciples was able to begin translating the Greek New Testament from procured texts, a couple at a time,(8) while a Jewish scholar was used to translate the Hebrew Old Testament.(9)
A writer on the life of Waldo later wrote:
“It was almost a very rudimentary seminary, with Waldo as one of few teachers… People were taught to go into the highways and byways of Europe, and inform peasants that they need not rely on Sacraments or tradition, but that they could rely on God’s Holy Word and put their faith in Him for salvation…. God loved them, and while He was just, He also longed to show them mercy by simple faith, something the Catholic Church was not teaching.… The group grew fast, a few tried to plant churches, as they had some money…. Providence caused Waldo to be working at a time when the focus was on recapturing Jerusalem….”
One interesting test came with this tax. Papal leaders in England sent an Englishman to inquire about the tithe. If he was steadfastly against it, they might be able to arrest him.
Waldo said the error was in the Church’s view. They saw themselves as representatives of God on Earth. However, as he responded:
“Render unto Caesar that which be Caesar’s, and unto God that which be God’s. The Church is no church; they have neither proper doctrine, nor control over souls as they claim….. They do have secular authority. Their fight for Jerusalem is that of a secular nation. Just as Abraham sought a city made without hands, so should we seek a city which is not of this world, whose foundation is Christ. So, this tithe may be given to Caesar. However, the government should be supporting the poor of this world first, not the military. They therefore err in this.”
Legend has it that the Englishman converted on the spot. Far more plausible is that the fellow simply chose to report no fault with Waldo, though his conversion is possible.
What is certain is that, with Savoyard support, protection, and money, they had a better organization than they might have had. However, they still faced the possibility of being wiped out, if they didn’t have a way to establish more churches of their own. Right now, all they had were itinerant preachers, with something of an education system, and a few churches scattered through Europe.
Humbert III had listened as Waldo preached. In 1185, he finally decided to allow Waldo to use a church, with a couple more being started later. He still took the sacrament of last rites in March, 1189, but he’d also allowed Waldensians freedom to worship, stating, “My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, and Him alone, as my Redeemer. It was He who brought Waldo here, to give me the son I longed for, it is He who Waldo has preached. There is no reason why they should not be allowed their own buildings, instead of preaching in the streets here.”
When word reached Rome, Vatican officials were furious. Frederick I, the Holy Roman Emperor, considered trying to mount a force against Savoy. However, it was decided against, when Pietro II’s regent promised to back the papacy. It would have been much too small, given Savoy’s power as an independent state, and – most importantly – the distraction of planning the Crusade.
For now, Frederick finally led a large group down the Balkans and through Anatolia, after a short delay caused by the shock of Humbert’s statement near his death. There was nearly a disaster for the Crusaders. In early June, 1190, Frederick suffered what today would be called a transient ischemic attack. He was able to move completely normally after a couple minutes. However, he was slowed a little, and would have a couple more before he died.(10) If this had happened while he was bathing weeks later, he might have drowned, which would have greatly altered things.
As it was, Frederick remained in control of the Crusade, but an aide would be with him at all times, even while bathing. It was a good thing. Frederick’s leadership was needed to prevent the new English king, Richard I, from clashing with Phillip II of France. It would still be rough for the Crusaders, but now, at least they had a chance. Of course, facing Saladin, that didn’t mean they could automatically take Jerusalem; not even with Richard and Phillip both in Sicily till spring of 1191, when they would finally arrive.
(1) He considers getting permission to preach a bit before he did in OTL because he feels he has more support, with more nobles pushing him. But, he must still get permission.
(2) Which he did OTL; Anthelm “blessed him three times.” Whether it is merely Waldo’s presence, or Anthelm also being ill, is for the reader to decide, as such things would be lost to history, anyway, most likely.
(3) As he was in OTL.
(4) OTL, Savoy tolerated him, perhaps because of Humber III’s own monastic lifestyle. Here, having received the blessing from God, through Waldo’s encouragement, it’s not a huge jump to have him become a supporter.
(5) A little earlier, as he went for permission to preach earlier.
(6) Meaning he won’t drown in this TL.
(7) As in OTL according to a few websites, but with slightly greater resources, and a few more wealthier people willing to listen.
(8) TTL’s version of Erasmus. Though this might seem a little fast, given when Erasmus started his work compared to Luther in OTL, it isn’t much. And, like Erasmus, he doesn’t have all the Scriptures at once at his disposal.
(9) There were a number of Jewish scholars throughout Europe; France was relatively tolerant at this point, but they still might have jumped at the chance to go to Savoy.
(10) It’s not certain why he drowned; it might be that he just wasn’t a good swimmer. However, a small TIA like this would render him unable for long enough to have caused the drowning, if it affected the correct part of the brain. It’s quite plausible with his age anyway. And yet, he’d still be an able leader, just slower in some things as a result. So, he reaches that place where he drowned in July, instead.