Waldensianism and English Protestants: The Construction of Identity and Continuity

Title: Waldensianism and English Protestants: The Construction of Identity and Continuity
Authors: Goldberg-Poch, Mira
Date: 2012
Abstract: In 1655 and again in 1686-1689, the Waldensians of Piedmont were massacred by the Duke of Savoy after he issued edicts forbidding the practice of their religion. The Waldensians were later followers of the medieval religious movement of the Poor of Lyons, declared heretical in 1215. The Waldensians associated with the Reformation in 1532, and thus formed a link with diverse groups of Protestants across Europe. In the periods immediately surrounding both massacres, an outpouring of publications dedicated to their plight, their history, and their religious identity appeared, a large number of which emerged in London. On both occasions, the propaganda gave rise to international sympathy and encouraged international intervention, eventually provoking the Duke to rescind the edicts that had instigated the massacres. While most contemporary scholars consider the Waldensians to have been fully absorbed into Protestantism after 1532, it is clear from the writings of both the Waldensians and their sympathizers that they considered themselves a separate entity: the inheritors of a long tradition of dissent from the Catholic Church based on their own belief in the purity of the Gospel. The Waldensian identity was based on a history of exclusion and persecution, and also on a belief that they had transmitted the true embodiment of Christianity through the centuries. The documents that were published surrounding the massacres address the legitimacy of the Waldensian identity based on centuries of practice. English and continental Protestants identified with the Waldensians, who provided ancient ties and legitimacy to their ‘new’ religion, and the Waldensians adopted that identity proudly, all the while claiming continuity. Protestants also used the Waldensians in propagandist documents, most often to justify political or religious actions and ideologies. The continuity of Waldensianism through the Reformation became crucially important for the wider umbrella of Protestantism as a legitimizing factor for the movement. This thesis investigates the claims of continuity and finds that while the Waldensians underwent a dramatic change in religious doctrine to conform to the Reformation, their belief in the continuity of their religious identity can be validated by examining religion from a socio-cultural perspective that takes aspects other than theology into consideration.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/23525
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