Errors about the Waldenses Found in Great Controversy chapter 4
By Dirk Anderson, Oct. 2021
In 1859, SDA pioneer John Andrews was the first Adventist to publish a book claiming the Waldenses were Sabbath-keepers. In 1884, Ellen White included some of Andrews' research in the forerunner to the Great Controversy, the Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4. This placed her seal of approval on Andrews' theory. Mrs. White wrote in the Great Controversy that the Waldenses observed the seventh day Sabbath:
"Through ages of darkness and apostasy there were Waldenses who denied the supremacy of Rome, who rejected image worship as idolatry, and who kept the true Sabbath. Under the fiercest tempests of oppositions they maintained their faith."
Is this true? Did the Waldenses observe the Sabbath and keep the "true Sabbath" for centuries?
SDA Dilemma - Lack of Historical Evidence
SDA professor Samuele Bacchiocchi spent many years researching the Sabbath. Even with access to the restricted vaults of the Vatican library, he never found any evidence that the Waldenses observed the Sabbath:
"I spent several hours searching for an answer in the two scholarly volumes Storia dei Valdesi--(History of the Waldenses), authored by Amedeo Molnar and Augusto Hugon. These two books were published in 1974 by the Claudiana, which is the official Italian Waldensian publishing house. They are regarded as the most comprehensive history of the Waldenses. To my regret I found no allusion whatsoever to Sabbathkeeping among the Waldenses."3
Notice, he researched the highest-regarded volumes of Waldensian history, written by the Waldenses themselves, not their enemies or critics. In those volumes, he could find no evidence of Sabbath-keeping. Bacchiocchi is not the first Seventh-day Adventist to search in vain for evidence of the Waldenses keeping the Sabbath.
In 2017, SDA professor P. Gerard Damsteegt wrote an article promoting the idea that the Waldenses kept the Sabbath. He notes that he and his students researched for "several years" in search of "evidence of Sabbathkeeping among the Waldensians."4 Damsteegt admits that the "only evidence one finds comes from the mouths of their inquisitors."5 Thus, in all the years of research by SDA professors and their students, the only evidence ever discovered is a single reference from the mouth of a persecuter of the Waldenses!
Catholic Inquisitor's Testimony - Does it Prove the Waldenses Kept Sabbath?
According to Damsteegt, the Catholic inquisitor Moneta, in a treatise written against the Cathars and Waldenses, gave various proofs that Sabbath-keeping was for Jews. Based on this, Damsteegt leaps to the conclusion that "Moneta’s treatise clearly shows that a sizable group of Waldensians and Cathars in northern Italy and southern France during the thirteenth century were worshipping on a day other than Sunday, namely, the seventh-day Sabbath."6
There are three problems with this conclusion:
Waldenses in Bohemia Kept the Sabbath?
In an attempt to demonstrate more reliable evidence of Waldensian Sabbath-keeping, SDA professor Damsteegt has claimed "Sabbathkeeping among Waldensians was most widespread in Bohemia and Moravia," citing a fifteenth-century manuscript which supposedly contains reports of the "Waldensians in Bohemia" of whom "not a few celebrate the Sabbath with the Jews."11 This seems like exactly the evidence Seventh-day Adventists have been searching for, until one examines the context more closely. First of all, the source cited is from a book written in 1890 by a German Catholic named Johann Döllinger. It appears to be a collection of earlier works, some of which are in Latin. The book attacks a wide variety of sects, including, but not limited to, Adamites, Albigenses, Cathars, Habrawansky, Lombards, Passagii (condemned as Sabbath-keepers), Pathareni, and Waldenses. In the section Damsteegt quoted about Sabbath-keeping, the Waldenses are not even mentioned.12 The title of the section is:
"A summary of the impious and pharisaic religion of the Picards." 13
Therefore, the section Damsteegt quoted from is not even about the Waldenses. It is about the Picards. Who are the Picards? According to the Encyclopedia:
"Picards - A heretical group of semisecluded communities in Bohemia since the late 14th century. The name originated either as a Slavicized version of Beghards (see beguines and beghards), or from those supporters of the movement who immigrated to Bohemia from Picardy, France, due to the Inquisition in the early 1400s."14
According to the same Encyclopedia, from a religious background, the Picards consisted of Taborites and Adamites. They were not Waldensians. Some of their beliefs differed quite dramatically from the Waldenses. For example, the Taborites were known for their violence, literally attacking church property. This is very different from the approach of the Waldenses. Another contrary example is that of the Adamites, who wore no clothing in their religious services and believed in unrestricted marriages. Again, this is far different from the Waldenses who were admired for their purity. Thus, while all the sects within the Picards claimed to believe the Bible and believed the Catholic Church to be corrupt, the Picards were clearly distinct from the Waldenses. This is confirmed by the very book Damsteegt quoted from. On page 686 of Döllinger's book one can read: "The Moravians of the Valdens (Waldenses) say that sin is the fuel of sin, the greatest, yet forgivable. The rest of Picards do not hold this." This quote is important for two reasons:
Damsteegt has taken a quotation about the Picards out of context and used it to claim the Waldenses kept the Sabbath. The evidence does not support this. While a few of the Picards (perhaps the Cathars among them) may have held to a belief in the seventh-day Sabbath, there is simply no evidence any Waldensians held to that belief. Döllinger's book is over 700 pages of papist attacks against the Waldenses and other sects. If the Waldenses had been keeping the Jewish Sabbath, certainly the Catholics would have severely attacked them for such a practice. However, the book's silence on this subject speaks volumes.
Insabbati - Does this Label Prove the Waldenses Kept the Sabbath?
SDA professor Damsteegt has claimed:
"Swiss historian Melchior Goldastus (1576–1635) commented on Emperor Frederic II’s Constitution of 1220 against heretics. He reasoned that the label insabbatati was used to describe heretics during the thirteenth century 'because they judaize on the Sabbath,' that is, they kept the Sabbath like the Jews. He mentioned that the 'Valdenses' were often called 'Insabbatati,' indicating that during that time there were Waldenses who kept the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) as a day of rest."15
First, it should be noted that Goldastus, writing 400 years after-the-fact, offered more than one possibility for the meaning of Insabbatati. In the same footnote quoted by Damsteegt, Goldastus also notes that the word could refer to the "upper part of the shoes, which they call the Sabbatum" (parte fue fotularis, quem Sabbatem appellant, deferre folebant). There are, in fact, many theories as to the meaning of insabbatati. Here are the most predominant ones:
Döllinger's book on sects indicates the Waldenses were called insabbatati because the Waldenses wore "the spiritual sign of a shield in the upper part of their shoes."16 SDA scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi laments:
"Unfortunately the term insabbati has no connection to Sabbathkeeping. As Adventist Church Historian, Daniel Augsburger explains in the symposium The Sabbath in Scripture and History, the Waldenses were often called insabbati, not because they kept the Sabbath, but because they wore sandals. 'The Latin word for sandals is sabbatum, the root of the Spanish zapato and the French sabot. The sandals were an outward sign of their being imitators of the apostles in living the vita apostolica and the justification of their preaching the gospel.' In other words, the Waldenses were often called insabbati-(sandal-wearers), because many of them wore sandals cut away at the top in their itinerant ministry of preaching the Gospel."17
J.M. Cramp writes:
"To the Inzabatati the name was given because so many of them belonged to the lower classes, who wore sabots, or wooden shoes; or as others suppose, because they refused to observe saints' days, holding that the Christian Sabbath [Sunday] is the only feast day of the Church, whence they were called Inzabatati, or Sabbath-men."18
Harvey Newcomb writes, "They were called Insabbathists, or Sabbath breakers...they were supposed by the Papists to do so, because they would not keep the saints' days as they [the papists] did."19 William Jones concurs: "Because they would not observe saints' days, they were falsely supposed to neglect the Sabbath also, and called Inzabbatati or Insabbathists."20
In conclusion, it would appear many scholars today agree with the SDA historian Ausburger, that insabbatati refers to shoes and not to the Sabbath. Even if it did refer to the Sabbath, it most likely meant those who did not keep the Catholic feast days. It could not have meant Sabbath-keepers for the simple reason that the Waldenses were never known for keeping the Jewish Sabbath. The next section will demonstrate that.
Waldenses were Known as Sunday-Keepers
The Waldenses were not Old Testament Christians. J.M. Cramp informs us the Waldenses "refused to obey any laws relating to religion which were not to be found in the New Testament."21 Since the Sabbath commandment is found in the Old Testament, and not the New Testament, then according to Cramp, the Waldenses would refuse to obey that law. This fact is supported by one of the laws of the Waldensian community, which states: "We are to cease from working on no day except the Lord's Day--that the holidays of saints are to be rejected--and that there is no merit in observing the fasts instituted by the Church [of Rome]."22
Despite the fact that many histories have been written about the Waldenses, there is a complete absence of historical evidence of Sabbath-keeping. No serious history of the Waldenses mentions Waldensian Sabbath-keeping. J. A. Wylie, from whom Ellen White copied substantially, never mentions the Waldenses keeping the Sabbath in his book, The History of the Waldenses.
A Waldensian researcher in Italy was contacted and asked if the Waldenses ever kept the Sabbath. Here is his response:
"The Waldensians did not keep the Sabbath and were not guardians of the 'Sabbath Truth' as you call it. ... We can therefore say very clearly that the Waldensians were not Seventh-day Sabbath keepers and they were not persecuted for keeping Saturday as the Sabbath!" (click here to read the entire letter)
My name is T. , Waldensian Minister in Italy, in charge - by our Board, to answer to your letter. If you are interested in the Waldensian Churches in Italy (North, Center, and South Italy) and in Uruguay and Argentina, in past and present you can try to find and study the following books: 1) Giorgio Tourn, You are my witnesses - The Waldensians across 800 years , Claudiana Editor 1989 - Distributed in North America by P.O. Box 37844 - CINCINNATI, OH 45222 (USA). 2) Prescot Stephens, The Waldensians Story - A study in Faith, intolerance and survival, The Book Guild Ltd - Lewes, Sussex, 1998. The Waldensian Churches are Reformed Presbyterian Churches: they were called in Latin: Mater Reformationis (=Mother of the Reformation) as they were before an old Middle Ages movement, but NOT a Church . They adopted the Huguenot Confession of faith, so called "De la Rochelle" of 1559 (but really of the Paris Synod, their first Huguenot General Assembly), but in 1655 the Waldensian Churches had its own Confession of Faith, hurriedly drafted in Italian immediately after the massacre of the Waldenses called "Piedmonts Easters". This was simply a shortened version in Italian of the Huguenot Confession of faith of 1559: it confirmed that in theology the Waldenses were in the mainstream of Presbyterian Calvinism . It is still the basis to this day of Waldensian beliefs, which the Candidates have to undersign in front of the General Assembly before becoming Ministers in our churches. The Waldensians did not keep the Sabbath and were not guardians of the "Sabbath Truth" as you call it. The Waldensians never followed the Seventh-day Adventist but they follow more: Romans 14,5-8 then other truths. We can therefore say very clearly that the Waldensians were not Seventh-day Sabbath keepers and they were not persecuted for keeping Saturday as the Sabbath! They were persecuted, from 1535 (when they joined the Reformation) to 1848 (when they received religious freedom), because of their Reformed-Calvinistic (Protestant) faith in Christ. With my best regards, yours, T . - Waldensian Minister in Italy https://lifeassuranceministries.org/studies/waldenses.html
For years, SDA scholars have scoured the world's libraries searching for any shred of evidence to prove Ellen White was correct. Many, like Bacchiocchi, resigned themselves to the fact that evidence does not exist. Here are the conclusions that can be drawn:
Damsteegt concedes that one group of Waldenses "observed Sunday as the Lord’s day" but continues to insist on the existence of a second group "that kept the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible."23 However, his argument relies on a Catholic inquisitor writing to both the Cathar and Waldenses, a questionable interpretation of Insabbatati that even his fellow SDA scholars reject, and a mention of Sabbath-keeping among the Picards, who were a different sect than the Waldenses. There is simply not enough evidence to verify the existence of this second group. In summary, there is no compelling historical evidence that any Waldensian group ever kept the Sabbath.
1. Ellen White, Great Controversy (1888), 65, 577.
3. Samuele Bacchiocchi, "A Reply to Criticisms Part I 'The Use of Ellen White's Writings in Interpreting Scripture'", Endtime Issues 87, (August 1, 2002).
4. P. Gerard Damsteegt, "Were the Waldensians Sabbath Keepers?" Adventist World, (Sep. 6, 2017), https://www.adventistworld.org/were-waldensians-sabbath-keepers.
7. Ellen White, Great Controversy (1888), 62.
8. Gabriel Audisio, The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival c. 1170 - c. 1570 (Edinburgh, Cambridge University Press, 2004), 75-77.
9. Ibid., 76.
10. Gregorius, of Bergamo, Collectio Rev. Occitan, doc. 35 (~1250, Royal Library of Paris).
11. Damsteegt citing Johann Döllinger, Beiträge zur Sektengeschichte des Mittelalters (Munich: Beck, 1890), Vol. II, 662.
12. Johann Döllinger, Beiträge zur Sektengeschichte des Mittelalters (Munich: Beck, 1890), Vol. II, 661-663. In fact, the Waldenses (Valdensium) are mentioned 11 pages earlier, and in passing.
13. Ibid., 661. In the original Latin: "Summarium impiae et pharisaicae Picardorum raligionis."
15. P. Gerard Damsteegt, "The Ancient Waldenses: Did the Reformation Predate Luther?" (2017), Faculty Publications, 529, https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/pubs/529. Damsteegt is quoting from a footnote on page 303 of Robert Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches (Cambridge, 1792).
16. Döllinger, Beiträge, 7. Latin: Insabbatati dicti sunt, quia olim de principio sui Valdenses perfecti spirituale Signum in inodum scuti in parte superiori sotularium deferebant.
17. Bacchiocchi, Endtime Issues.
18. J.M. Cramp, Baptist History from the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Close of the Eighteenth Century (London: Elliot Stock, 1868), 90.
19. Harvey Newcomb, The History of the Waldenses, 3rd ed. (Boston: Sabbath School Society, 1849), 11.
20. William Jones, The History of the Christian Church (Philadelphia: R. W. Pomeroy, 1832), 308.
21. Cramp, Baptist History, 91.
22. Jones, History, 245.
23. Damsteegt, "The Ancient Waldenses."
Note: The word Sabbath, as used by the Waldenses, was a reference to Sunday (the Lord's Day):