From the Archives: Waldensian Legend Concerning the Donation of Constantine to Pope Sylvester (date unknown)
In the time of Constantine, Pope Sylvester accepted from the king a treasure, whereupon his colleagues protested, saying, “Has not the Lord given us a precept not to possess temporal and material goods? Indeed, did He not say to his disciples that they should ‘take neither gold, nor silver, nor money in their purse, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor yet staves,’ and that ‘the workman is worthy of his hire?’ And did He not also say, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me?’ It was indeed so, and we know that Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee.’ ”
This same Sylvester, however, spoke otherwise to his brethren: “If you do not go along with me, I will cast you in exile.” Upon hearing this his brethren rejoiced, saying among themselves, “Let us praise God, for if indeed earthly benefits are forbidden to us, He will reward us in heaven, for has He not said that ‘every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life?’ ”
In the night, as they continued the controversy with Sylvester, a voice sounded from heaven, saying, “Today poison has been introduced into the Church of God.” Upon hearing this voice, the Poor were confirmed in their position with renewed courage, and they were expelled from the synagogue. Thus was the word fulfilled which said, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
And in this wise were the Poor scattered over all the earth. But as they were going, they said to Sylvester, “We leave to you the earth; we shall look to heaven.”
They pledged themselves to live in poverty, and for a long time their numbers increased. However, the envy of false Christians was unleashed against them and they were persecuted to the ends of the earth, their enemies declaring, “Let us break their bands asunder.”
Our adversaries are indeed lying, for when they claim that the faithful are persecuted only by pagans they are misinterpreting the Scripture. It is very clear that the prophets were not put to death by the heathen, but by their own countrymen. Was not John the Baptist beheaded by Herod? And Jesus Christ Himself, who came to His own and His own received Him not was He not killed? And were not James His brother and many other disciples who were persecuted?
All this was written to serve as a warning to us, to give us examples, as also in the case of Paul. It is thus evident that God’s elect must suffer persecution from all sides, from pagans, from their countrymen, from false Christians, and from the whole world, according as our Lord has said: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” When it is said “all” it means “without exception.”
It is therefore evident that the saints will be persecuted by their brethren to the end of the world. They will not, however, be utterly destroved. The power of the evil ones has limits, nor does faith fear menaces.
Know ye this, moreover: When the servants of Christ all seemed to have disappeared because of persecution, there rose up, together with a companion, John, a man whose name was Peter of Walle, called the Lyonese, for he was from the city of Lyons. Our adversaries think ill of him because he was expelled from the synagogue. The truth is that he came out as a shoot from a plant watered by the Holy Spirit, and little by little he prospered.
It is said that he was not the founder but the restorer of our community. He was driven out of the synagogue not by the judgment of God, but by men, as happened to others.
This is the man who was the teacher of those called Waldensians, and afterwards, the Poor of Lyons, since they resided for a long time in that city.
Copyright © 1989 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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