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I have read about the history of the Waldensians. It appears they were largely honorable in their dealings; unfortunately it is hard to know exactly what they believed prior to their accepting Presbyterianism because their persecutors seem to have destroyed much of their culture.

Today I saw a sermon of Charles Spurgeon on election. In it he makes the claim that Waldensians taught that people were "chosen [for salvation] ... not for any attitude, faith, or holiness that He foresaw in them" which I understand to be equivalent to Calvinism's doctrine of unconditional election.

Here is the quote from the sermon:

I have copied from an old book one of the articles of their faith:

That God saves from corruption and damnation those whom He has chosen from the foundations of the world, not for any attitude, faith, or holiness that He foresaw in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ Jesus His Son, passing by all the rest, according to the blameless reason of His own free will and justice.

Can anyone confirm if Spurgeon's quote comes from a genuine Waldensian document? Are there any clues at all that their belief in God's choice of the elect did not depend on the possibility or probability of faith that He foresaw in them?

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Spurgeon's quote is legitimate, but it comes from a translation of the 1655 Confession of the Waldenses, chapter XI, as reproduced in Philip Schaff's Creeds of Christendom:

XI. That God saves from this corruption and condemnation those whom he has chosen [from the foundation of the world, not for any foreseen disposition, faith, or holiness in them, but] of his mercy in Jesus Christ his Son; passing by all the rest, according to the irreprehensible reason of his freedom and justice.

This confession was probably written by Jean Leger in the midst of the Piedmont persecution. It is partially an abridgment of the 1559 French Confession, and was brought to England by Samuel Morland. Schaff's English text is based on 19th century translations by William Hazlitt and E. Henderson, but he notes a peculiarity related to the text in brackets above:

The words in brackets are given by Hazlitt and Henderson (perhaps from Morland), but are not found in the French of Leger and Hahn.

So the part of the confession that most clearly indicates a doctrine of unconditional election is apparently not found in the original French version. This is perhaps more surprising because the 1559 French Confession does include similar language:

We believe that from this corruption and general condemnation in which all men are plunged, God, according to his eternal and immutable counsel, calleth those whom he hath chosen by his goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ, without consideration of their works [...]. For the ones are no better than the others, until God discerns them according to his immutable purpose which he has determined in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world.

There are earlier Waldensian Confessions floating around on the internet, such as from 1120 and 1544, but Schaff dismisses them as "partly of doubtful origin, and [having] merely historical interest." In any case, they do not have the language in question either.

So it seems unlikely that we would be able to trace the doctrine of unconditional election back to the Waldensians who preceded the Reformation. The task is especially difficult due to a lack of sources, as Gonzalo L. Pita summarizes:

The documentary scarcity and unconnectedness from which we must draw the description of Waldensian beliefs is often aggravated by the fact that the questions, descriptions, and refutations that their opponents presented were frequently made within a set of theological postulates that were either taken for granted or just obliterated for the sake of conciseness. ("Waldensian and Catholic Theologies of History", 87)

  • The 1599 confession is online several places, among which esvbible.org/resources/creeds-and-catechisms/… may be one of the more reliable ones. It includes the statement that John Calvin was primarily responsible for writing it. So the Waldensians presumably accepted God's strong control of history, but might have objected to the stronger language added later. Thank you for this wonderful answer. – disciple Aug 20 '16 at 15:00

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