High up in the Piedmont Valley are mazes of cold, damp but secure caves that often served as a refuge for the Waldensians. In times of intense persecution, these people of the valleys would gather together in their mountain hideouts, huddling for shelter in the dim and dank caves that crisscrossed the mountains. These caves were not only a place of refuge but a place of worship as well and here shut in by the cold stone walls, in a place of perfect peace and silence they sang their hymns and praises to God and spent time in simple but earnest congregational worship and prayer.
The Waldensians’ motto was Lux Lucet in Tenebris, light shining in the darkness and theirs was a light that burned steadily without waxing or waning for centuries, even in the face of terrible persecution. They chose to fiercely guard their commitment to the word of God and were willing to bear the cost that came with that commitment. Often that cost was to leave behind their homes and livelihoods to flee into the wild and rugged regions of the Alpine valleys.
Here they braved the most grueling conditions and their children had to learn the hard lessons of self-sacrifice, frugality, and resilience. Waldensians raising children especially embraced these values and these lessons became the keystone of the training they offered their children. From a young age, they were trained in the scriptures, trained to endure privation and hardship to the end that they might be able missionaries for God amidst people held fast in the fetters of falsehood.
Yet even in their high mountain strongholds, the Waldensians were not immune to the fires of persecution breathed against them by Papal Rome. One of the most chilling and yet poignant examples of this is the story of the massacre of the Waldensians that took place atop the mighty Casteluzzo mountain, one of the bloodiest and most horrific acts of genocide ever committed against a group of people.
And yet even in the face of such strong persecution, the Waldensians refused to bow their knees to the darkness and error of the Papacy, they refused to be bullied into submission. In his poem “Invictus”, William Ernest Henley wrote:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
The poem is a testament to the man who, instead of allowing his circumstances to mold him, takes hold of his circumstances, and by his grit and fortitude, molds them. To a great extent, this was the spirit of the Waldenses, the spirit that made them a light shining in the darkness.
Jeremiah 12:5 says “If you have run with the footmen and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” How we master the simple trials of daily life will determine how we face the much larger trials that lie ahead. Today, we live in a time of relative peace and enjoy the freedoms of civil and religious liberty, freedoms many of us take for granted. In this time of peace and safety, what does our spiritual life look like? and if the tide were to turn, how would we fare?