The Waldensians and Their Scandalous Book

This being Good Friday, let’s remember one thing: the only book that is truly a ‘treasure’ is the one that God has written. And He has written it just for you. It is the only book ever written with a message that can save you! I’ve loved so many books over the years, and still do: all the great classics; they are all my favorites. But I’ve never once found–nor expected to find–salvation in any of them. No, no! The Word of God stands alone in this. Trade everything else you have for this one! Empty your shelves if you must, but lay hold of this treasure and don’t let go:

“Thy Word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet.” Psalm 119:105

I read the most interesting thing about the Bibles of those faithful, sweet-hearted Waldensians. Never heard of the Waldensians? Oh, you need to look into it! Long before Luther and Knox and the Reformation proper–about 300 years before, as a matter of fact!–these dear people were experiencing a ‘Reformation’ of their own. They had pulled away from the evils of a corrupt church to worship on their own in the spirit of the Scriptures. They weren’t trying to start a ‘movement’. They had no plans to force their views on all the world. They just wanted to be left alone to live and worship in peace among themselves. They did so, quietly, in Lyons, France for quite a while. Later they moved up into the Alps of southern France and northern Italy. But that didn’t stop the powers-that-be from viciously hunting them down and persecuting them; almost completely wiping them out.

Oh, but I was going to tell you about their Bibles. Yes. Perhaps 150 years before Wycliffe and others began translating the Bible into common tongues for the common man to read, the Waldensians had already done it. It was a controversial thing to do. It was one of the reasons why they were hounded so. The hierarchies of the church had strictly forbidden translations of any kind. The only sanctioned translation of the Bible was the Latin one, which only priests and scholars could understand. The common, ordinary Christian was not allowed to carry a Bible. In fact, Bibles in many of the cathedrals around Europe were chained to their pulpits and padlocked shut, and only the priests and the elite had the key.

But every Waldensian carried his Bible! It was only a New Testament actually, translated into the Romaunt tongue: the common language of Southern Europe back in Medieval times. Romaunt was the language of troubadours, poets, authors and playwrights and so, of course it was a great scandal.

Though there must have been hundreds–perhaps thousands–of these scandalous books at one time, there are now only six of them left in the world. They say there is a copy in Dublin, Lyon, Grenoble and Zurich and two copies in a museum in Paris. The scarcity of them today has only one explanation: these people wore them out!

Waldensian Bibles were humble little things. J. A. Wylie describes them well in his wonderful work, The History of the Waldensians.

“These were small, plain, portable volumes, contrasting with those splendid and ponderous folios of the Latin Vulgate, which were penned in characters of gold and silver, richly illuminated, their bindings decorated with gems, inviting admiration rather than study, and unfitted by their size and splendor for the use of the people.”

J.A. Wylie The History of the Waldensians, Cassell and Company, London 1860, p 15

“Small…plain…portable volumes…” Don’t you love it? Especially the ‘portable’ part!

You can tell an awful lot about a people, just by looking at their Bibles.

He is Risen! RAS

The Wreck of the Blenden Hall and the Whole Human Race

Lost Ships and Lonely Seas, Ralph D. Paine

Lost Ships and Lonely Seas by Ralph D. Paine, The Century Co. 1921

I spied this treasure years ago during a tour of Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel, CA. Of course I was searching through every volume on every shelf around the house, dying to know just what Jeffers considered a worthy read. And there it was: tucked between a couple of classics and totally unexpected. What’s this? Lost Ships and Lonely Seas? Why had I not heard of that before? Oh, I wanted to step beyond the velvet rope for that one!

“Do you mind if I step across and have a look…”

“Yes I do,” came the frosty reply. Which…is why the man was a docent (whatever that is), and always would be the rest of his life.

I wrote the marvelous title down on the back of a Tor House brochure. It wasn’t hard to locate a beautiful copy at Dave Hess’ great store, The Bookman Wouldn’t you know he’d have it? And now it’s one of my treasures.

Not that it’s any kind of ‘masterpiece’ really. The author’s style is dated and florid and heavy at times. But the content! Seventeen long-forgotten wrecks and tragedies at sea!

My favorite is The Wreck of the Blenden Hall, an East Indiaman, en route from England to Bombay. In 1812, the ship set forth with a full crew of common, everyday sailors and quite a collection of socially prominent individuals: a Commodore’s wife, coming to join her husband; an Army Major and some of his officers; a Navy Lieutenant; a doctor and half a dozen military surgeons; moguls and masters and rulers of the earth.

The ship went down in the East Atlantic, having run aground in a fog off one of the islands of Tristan da Cunha, a little trio of barren volcanic rocks literally thousands of miles from everywhere.

Eighty survivors made it to shore (according to Paine anyway), where they were forced to stay for four long months. They had no food but penguin’s eggs and seal meat. Fresh water was dangerously scarce and, for several days, they had no fire, until flint and steel were found, at last, in a surgeon’s medical satchel. I’ll let you read how it all turned out, but there was one aspect of this great tragedy that is…well…pardon me for this, but I would want to call it “funny” if it weren’t so catastrophic! And so very telling…

In the midst of this desperate fight for survival in the sand, when each and every person, surely, had to do his part, a kind of class warfare erupted. The officers and prestigious passengers, considering themselves superior, began ordering the sailors around, expecting them to do all the menial work, as if everyone were still on board. The sailors, of course, now relieved of their ship, revolted. The shipwreck had leveled the world in their eyes! They vowed to no longer do anyone’s bidding and not to lift a finger to help anyone who didn’t do his (or her) share of the work.

Well, the officers used their rank to threaten them. The passengers kept offering them money for their services; but none of it had the slightest effect. And so our castaways found themselves on the brink of a small civil war, when they so desperately needed to care for each other. The author concludes: “In such a situation as this, when one man was just as good as another, the doctrines of caste and rank should surely have been discarded.”

Oh yes it should have, I said to myself as I finished the episode. And how like the souls-on-board this world of ours today…that is being driven through the fog toward the rocks up ahead!

“Therefore, let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each of you esteem the others as better than yourself.” Philippians 2:3


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