Peter Waldo was very good at his job. He had amassed quite a fortune buying and selling goods in Lyons, France. He had a wife and daughters and seemed to be the kind of person that all young men would endeavor to become. In an attempt to put his money to work for him he began lending it out to the poor and needy in the community but he did so not out of charity but out of a passion to see himself richer and more influential. He charged high interest and used his money in a way that would make him richer at the gradual cost of his soul and the lives of those around him. He was happy with this life for many years and continued in his usury and ambivalence for quite some time. But in the year 1170 he finally failed to elude his own conscience and the voice of God that whispered in his ear. He went to a priest to find some way to mend his tattered soul and apply some soothing balm to his sin-ridden self.While he was in the church he heard a reading from the scripture that he had never heard before and it would be the one that changed his life and the lives of those he touched from then on. The line from the reading that stuck like dust in his eye was: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast..." Peter was suddenly shocked that he had never heard such a line before and he used his considerable wealth to hire two priests to translate Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John into the vernacular of Lyons.
When Peter read what they had translated he was further shocked by the Lord and Savior he found hidden in the pages thereof. He studied these texts so thoroughly and devotedly that he could soon recite the majority of them from memory. Finally, Peter could stand the tension no longer and he did something radical so that he might freely follow after the Lord he found in the scriptures but missed in his everyday life--he gave a sufficient amount of his property and money to his daughters and his wife and then he sold the rest and gave the money away to the poor. In doing so, he understood himself to be purchasing his freedom from Mammon--from those powers that manipulated and held him in bondage for years. Once when Peter was addressing a crowd he said,"Friends, I am not out of my mind, as you may think. Rather I am avenging myself upon these enemies of my life who have enslaved me, so that I cared more for gold pieces than for God and served the creature more than the Creator." He took to preaching in the streets where anybody and everybody could observe his voluntary poverty and be convicted by his stunning repentance and steady redemption. Soon, there was a whole group of people following after Peter who took up voluntary poverty and street preaching. They called upon their audiences to abandon anything and everything that was an obstacle between them and their Creator.
The people who followed Peter soon became known as the Waldensians and they were notable for their commitments and convictions. They were orthodox in their theology (they were never found to insist upon error in their theology) and professed faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. They insisted upon voluntary poverty--it was of no value if it was coerced. They taught all who would listen not to take any oath or swear by any power because they had been so taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Finally, they forbade violence of any kind for any purpose. Peter was brought before the pope to answer for his loud preaching--he was not ordained in the eyes of the Vatican--and his voluntary poverty. They felt he was a nuisance and a distraction from the work of the Church. They commanded him to stop preaching and to stop sharing the scripture in the vernacular of Lyons. He wanted to be obedient to the Church that he loved and through which he had found God but he felt that his higher calling was to "preach the gospel to every creature"and that his higher loyalty was to God--the one who had founded the Church. So, he disobeyed the commands of the pope and he was labeled a heretic and excommunicated. After Peter's death the Waldensians would continue to suffer persecution and repression even as they continued to follow their callings to preach liberation from the powers of this world that would enslave us all.