The Waldenses were Bible-believing Christians who remained separate from Rome during the Dark Ages and who were bitterly persecuted for their faith. The name Waldenses in English is from the French Vaudois, Vallenses in Latin, and Valdisi in Italian, and these words mean "men of the valleys." They refer to several valleys in Europe where these Bible loving and practicing people lived.
Why and How Their History Is Questioned or Attacked
The enemies of the true and historic position on the Waldenses will often slander the motives of those who hold that the Waldensian history is ancient. They explicitly and implicitly charge that those with this "trail-of-blood"(i) view alter history in order to preserve their historic position. On the other hand, the English separatists and others who deny this position, have their own bias against the truth of the Waldensian testimony. This understanding of the Waldenses is questioned or attacked under four primary influences: (1) the view that the truth came out of Roman Catholicism during the Reformation, (2) the undermining or elimination of a manifestation of the perpetuity of the church ("Baptists come from the line of the first century New Testament church, originating with Christ"), making room for an English Separatist view ("Baptists originated out of the Reformation") of Baptist history, (3) abolishing the evidence of an old and consistently used received text for a history of the preservation of Scripture, and (4) the predisposition toward catholic church "scholarship." Perhaps the question is: Who is fabricating or inventing a history? Our contention, of course, is that the English separatists are. They have a bias that is not based upon Biblical presuppositions as those who teach a pre-Reformation Baptist history. A very sad reality is that the English Separatist colleges and seminaries purposefully leave out the abundance of evidence for a pre-twelfth century orthodox Waldenses, essentially fitting their history with their bias. It is not the politically or theologically "correct" view of history.
The Reformation Baptists (English Separatists) and others (some Catholics) would argue that the Waldenses were a kind of cultic group of pseudo-Christians that arose with Peter Waldo in the twelfth century, who have little to no connection with the first century Jerusalem church. On top of this, they contend that the Waldenses had unorthodox beliefs that refute their legitimacy. These arguments manifest the nature of interpreting historical material. Anyone can piece together any history he wishes for any person or group. One will see a definite historical bias in data dating from the long period of Roman Catholic dominance, during which time they often destroyed the writings of the true Christians and kept them so preoccupied with persecution that they did not have the opportunity to leave a thorough historical record. The Roman Catholics, however, left plenty of "evidence" from their point of view, in many cases creating a "fake" history that would show them to be the true descendants of the Lord Jesus Christ, a position that one can easily see is false by examining the source document for Christianity, the Bible. Romanism contradicts Scripture, so it cannot be the posterity of Christ. Historians should take note and look elsewhere in historical record for the true church, discarding the position endorsed by the long time state church.
Evidence of Who They Were
Evidence of their Pre-Twelfth Century History
Par Jean Leger in his General History of the Evangelical Churches in the Piedmontese Valleys (1669) wrote concerning their Confession of Faith to Francis I in 1544 (p. 163): "This Confession is that, which we have received from our ancestors, even from hand to hand, according to their predecessors, in all times and in every age, have taught and delivered."
Robert Olivetan (c. 1506-1538) in the preface to his French Bible, 1535, writes: "[S]ince the time of the apostles, or their immediate successors, the torch of the gospel has been lit among the Vaudois, and has never since been extinguished."
William Gilly in his Waldensian Researches during a second visit to the Vaudois of Piemont (1831) summarizes (on pp. 118, 119) the work of Pierre Allix (1641-1717) in his Some Remarks upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of the Piedmont, first published in 1690: "The method which Allix has pursued, in his History of the Churches of Piedmont, is to show that in the ecclesiastical history of every century, from the fourth century, which he considers a period early enough for the enquirer after apostolical purity of doctrine, there are clear proofs that doctrines, unlike those which the Romish Church holds, and conformable to the belief of the Waldensian and Reformed Churches, were maintained by theologians of the north of Italy down to the period, when the Waldenses first came into notice."
J. A. Wylie, Presbyterian historian, in his History of Waldenses (1860), on p. 3 writes: "Their traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious belief. The Nobla Leycon [Noble Lesson], which dates from the year 1100, goes to prove that the Waldenses of Piedmont did not owe their rise to Peter Waldo of Lyons, who did not appear until the latter half of that century (1160). The Nobla Leycon, though a poem, is in reality a confession of faith, and could have been composed only after some considerable study of the system of Christianity, in contradistinction to the errors of Rome."
Evidence of their Orthodoxy
They were separatist, New Testament Christians who continued from the first century, but were they orthodox? Some groups of these were not, as is the nature of churches, passing along the truth to another generation, but some departing from the faith. The Waldenses as a whole should not be judged according to an evaluation of the least orthodox of them. If someone were to document the nature of Christianity today by looking at the worst examples, they would not get an accurate picture of what was happening today. Reinerius Saccho, a persecutor of the Waldenses in the 13th century, had lived with the Waldenses 17 years previously, and in 1250 he was ordered by the pope to make a list of their errors. The original Latin of his catalog of errors can be found in Remarks upon the Churches of the Piedmont by Allix. Following is a summary of what he said they believed:
1. They rejected the Roman church, believing it to be the whore of Babylon. 2. They claimed that Rome erred in yoking with the secular government in the days of Constantine. 3. They rejected the mass and claimed that the bread is only symbolic. 4. They rejected infant baptism because babies cannot believe. 5. They rejected the Catholic priests and bishops. 6. They rejected extreme unction, saying it is a curse rather than a sacrament. 7. They rejected purgatory, believing that the dead go either to heaven or hell. 8. They rejected prayers to the dead. 9. They did not believe in the prayers of the saints. 10. They rejected confession of sins to a priest, believing that sins should be confessed only to God.Others have expressed their similar beliefs, including William Jones in his The History of the Christian Church, from the Birth of Christ to the Eighteenth Century; including the very interesting account of the Waldenses and Albigenses (1819), with similar quotes from Aeneas Sylvius, who was an inquisitor against the Waldenses in Bohemia and later became Pope Pius II.
One should also consider these Confessions of Faith of the Waldenses from 1120 and 1544.
Evidence of their Bible
Frederick Scrivener, one of the 19th century’s greatest textual scholars, says that the old Latin version was likely translated from Greek around 150 AD.
Allix in Churches of Piedmont (1690) on p. 37 says that the old Waldensians used "texts of Scripture of the ancient Version called the Italick."
Frederick Nolan (1784-1864) spent twenty-eight years studying the history of the Italic version and he writes in 1815 in his classic volume, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate or Received Text of The New Testament: "In fine, a very short process enables us to prove that the tradition which supports the authority of this text has continued unbroken since the age of the apostles. The coincidence of the Vulgar Greek of our present editions with the old Italic translation, enables us to carry up the tradition to the times of St. Jerome. . . . The particular manner in which the Western Church delivers its testimony, in confirmation of that of the Greek Church, seems almost decisive in evincing the permanence and purity of the text of Byzantium. The Brescia manuscript, which contains this testimony, possesses a text which, as composed of the old Italic version, must be antedated to the year 393, when the new version was made by St. Jerome."
In the preface (pp. xvii, xviii [not found online]), Nolan writes: [T]he author thence formed a hope, that some remains of the primitive Italick version might be found in the early translations made by the Waldenses, who were the lineal descendants of the Italick Church; and who have asserted their independence against the usurpations of the Church of Rome, and have ever enjoyed the free use of the Scriptures. In the search to which these considerations have led the author, his fondest expectations have been fully realized."
Another translation associated with the Waldenses was the Tepl Bible, which came from Bohemia. Martin Luther used this as one of his resources when he translated the Bible into German in the early 16th century. Emilio Comba in his History of the Waldenses of Italy: from their origin to the Reformation  (pp. 190-192) says that the Tepl was a Waldensian translation. Comba cites two authorities, Louis Keller and Hermann Haupt, and states that the Tepl was based on old Latin manuscripts rather than Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.
John T. Christian writes in his The History of Baptists: "There had been more than one translation of the Bible into German before Luther’s time. The Baptists used with great power their heritage of the Waldensian Bible, and they hailed with delight Luther’s translation of the Bible. Their own leaders, such as Hatzer and Denck, translated the Scriptures out of the originals into the vernacular of the people. Among the skilled artisans, journeymen and better situated peasants of the early sixteenth century, there were not a few who could read sufficiently to make out the text of the German Bible, whilst those who could not read would form a circle around those who could, and the latter, from the coigne of intellectual advantage, would not merely read, but would often expound the text after their own fashion to their hearers."
Par Jean Leger, Waldensian pastor in the 17th century, in his General History of the Evangelical Churches in the Piedmontese Valleys (1669), wrote: "I say 'pure' because all the ancient exemplars, which formerly were found among the Papists, were full of falsifications, which caused Beza to say in his book on Illustrious Men, in the chapter on the Vaudois, that one must confess it was by means of the Vaudois of the Valleys that France today has the Bible in her own language. This godly man, Olivetan, in the preface of his Bible, recognizes with thanks to God, that since the time of the apostles, or their immediate successors, the torch of the gospel has been lit among the Vaudois (or the dwellers in the Valleys of the Alps, two terms which mean the same), and has never since been extinguished."
We look at Scripture and God says He would preserve His church (Mt. 16:18) and His Words (Mt. 4:4; 5:18; 24:35). When we look at history, knowing God’s veracity and power, we assume that His churches would continue, following His preserved Words. We reject the bias of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. They claim that His church used Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. His church instead used the text received by the churches, having been passed down to succeeding generations. Those copies culminated in a printed edition of Scripture, the textus receptus, which is the basis for the standard English translation, the King James Version. The New Testament in the Greek language in which it was written and passed down through Christ's churches represents God’s perfectly preserved Words in fulfilment of His promises.
(i) English Separatists mock the history presented in B. H. Carroll’s little booklet Trail of Blood, which is a brief presentation of the fulfillment of Matthew 16:18 in history. Several fuller editions of this history are found in the many Baptist histories which remain in print. Beginning with the presupposition that the Lord would preserve His churches, B. H. Carroll presents a history of groups who existed that remained separate from Roman Catholicism and were loyal to the Word of God, leading all the way to the Anabaptists, separatists before and during the Reformation that affiliated neither with the reformers or the Catholics.