We know little about the life of Waldo of Lyons, the man who started the Waldensian Movement, other than his social class. He was a wealthy merchant, well integrated into the political community of Lyons, in France—a man of influence, a man of the establishment.

We know nothing of his life after he was cast out of the city, of his last years, or of his death around the year 1217. Everything centers around a few years, perhaps only a few months. Yet, what we do know about Waldo is very significant in understanding the Waldensians and their beliefs and practices.

Approximately in the years 1173–1176 Waldo made some decisions that radically changed his life. 1) He commissioned the translation of several books of the Bible from Latin into his local dialect, French-Provencal (French was not yet established as a language).

This decision did not meet opposition. According to a document of the time, he even went to Rome with a friend to present this translation to the pope, and received words of appreciation and praise. 2)He abandoned his business and distributed his goods, reducing himself to a beggar.

This second decision is more unusual. The inspiration for this change is uncertain, but evidently some drastic experience, or experiences, caused Waldo to question the very foundation of his life. According to the different accounts, which are shrouded in legend, his decision may have been as a result of the death of a friend. There is also mentions of his having been deeply moved by the lyrics of a minstrel’s song.

Another element in this second decision was a message from the Gospel: Jesus’ words to the rich man recorded in Mark 10:22, “IF YOU WISH TO BE PERFECT, SELL WHAT YOU HAVE AND FOLLOW ME.” This statement seems to have resolved ...

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