Ellen G. White Writings

<< Back Forward >>

«Back «Prev. Pub. «Article   Article» Next Pub.» Forward»

The Review and Herald

June 1, 1886

Visit to the Vaudois Valleys

By Mrs. E. G. White

Ever since our visit to the Piedmont Valleys last December, we have had a deep interest for this people, and have felt a great desire to visit them again. Arrangements were accordingly made, and last Thursday, April 15, W. C. White and wife and myself left Basel for a second visit to this place. These valleys are located in the northwestern part of Italy, in what is known as the Cottian Alps. The scenery through which we passed in crossing the range of Alps in southern Switzerland, was varied, and in many places truly sublime. As we climbed carefully up the side of the mountains towering in solemn grandeur toward heaven, we could look down hundreds of feet into the abyss below, and listen to the music of the foaming river as it rushed impetuously along its channel and dashed violently against the rocks at our feet. Above us, from the tops of the highest peaks, came tumbling down the tiny rills and larger cataracts, leaping from point to point, and breaking into fine, vail-like spray ere they reached the bottom.

As we beheld the wonderful works of the Master Architect, feelings of reverence and awe were awakened in our souls, and we could but wonder how any one can look upon such scenes and say, “There is no God.” I fail to comprehend how it is possible for any to be so bound about with narrow ideas as to look upon the works of God in nature, and not adore and reverence the God of nature. My heart was lifted up in praise to him as I viewed scenes which seemed calculated to bind the mind of the beholder to the infinite Creator.

We left Basel at seven o'clock in the morning, and at eight in the evening arrived at Milan. This, the largest city of northern Italy, is beautifully located on the flourishing plains of Lombardy. These plains at the present time embrace an area of nine thousand square miles of land which is in many respects the most productive of any in Europe. The summers are hot and dry, but the means for irrigation are ample. It is said that the “meadows yield as many as twelve crops in the year, their growth being unretarded by winter.” Wine, fruit, and silk culture, together with the raising of wheat, corn, hay, and sheep, form the principal occupations. The richness of the country, together with its general location, has ever rendered it the “apple of discord” among the various nations of Europe.

For a number of years Milan was the capital of the kingdom of Italy, and since the fourth century it has surpassed Rome in extent, and in many respects in importance also. Here was the head of the church founded by St. Ambrose, whose diocese maintained its independence of the popes until the middle of the eleventh century. His diocese included not only the flourishing plains of Lombardy, but also the plains and mountain valleys of Piedmont, and the southern provinces of France. Although it is not to be supposed that the light of this people was entirely undimmed by the surrounding darkness of their age, still their faith was essentially Protestant, and in strong opposition to the Roman creed. When at last they were induced to yield their independence, it was amid popular tumults which plainly showed with what regret they laid their liberties at the feet of the Roman power. Nor was this submission universal. Although the plains were conquered, the mountains were not. Quite a company refused to yield their rights under any consideration. Some of these crossed the Alps into France, there to meet a martyr's death; while others sought refuge in the valleys of the Piedmontese Alps, where they were enabled through much hardships and suffering to maintain the faith of their Fathers. In this latter class, their early persecutions, and present condition, we are most interested, and we shall speak of them more fully hereafter.

But to return to Milan. Here we were obliged to stay all night, and as the train did not leave till 10:30 the next morning, we improved the time in visiting some of the various places of interest. Chief among these is the Cathedral, which, next to St. Peter's at Rome, is the largest church in Europe. Built entirely of white marble, and adorned as it is on the exterior with three thousand marble statues, ninety-eight Gothic turrets, and a tower three hundred and sixty feet high, one cannot fail to be impressed with its grandeur and immensity, and the artistic skill displayed in its design and execution. And yet we could only look upon it as a vast pile of extravagance.

The building was begun in 1386, and yet it is not completed. Additions and repairs are constantly being made. While some parts are comparatively new and attractive in appearance, others have become dingy and unattractive by the dust of centuries. Ascending a wide flight of red granite steps in front, we entered through one of five doors into the temple. As we passed up and down the wide aisles, we could not make it seem like a place in which to worship God. The mind is continually diverted by the surroundings. The immense weight of the stone roof is supported by fifty-two massive pillars twelve feet in diameter. The floor is laid with different-colored marble mosaics. The windows and walls are adorned with high-colored pictures, painted by the finest Italian artists. These paintings represent scenes in Bible history and in traditional church history. It seemed to me that I never saw such a gorgeous combination of colors as was displayed in the purple and scarlet robes represented as worn by some of the kings and mighty men of earth.

We were asked by one in long garments if we wished to see the relics of the saints, a privilege which we could have had, as we afterward learned, only by the payment of one dollar each. But we had no desire to see the bones of dead men called saints,—men, who, while claiming holiness, might have been the most corrupt at heart. The ignorance and superstition of all classes is worked upon until they are made to believe that these bones possess marvelous power, and by this means a large revenue is annually brought into the treasury. The Lord knew the weakness of men, and their desire to venerate dead men's bones and things of no value; therefore when Moses and Aaron, the leaders of ancient Israel, died, the Lord hid them so that the people would not be tempted to commit idolatry over them, as the Romanists do over their senseless relics. The Lord's plan was that the living God alone should be exalted; but the Roman Church has turned this reverence from the Creator to the creature, and Satan is satisfied.

From one corner of the building a staircase ascends to the roof and tower, where in a clear morning the finest views of the Alps are obtained. The ascent to the top is made by five hundred steps. This journey I was not able to undertake, but the rest of the company did; and while they were gone, I had an excellent opportunity to walk about and take observations.

Men and women, youth and children, were constantly coming and going. On entering, each would dip his fingers reverently into a marble basin of “holy water” which stood by each door, and would make the sign of the cross on his forehead and breast; then, passing quietly to the seats in front of the altar, where were the images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, would there repeat his prayers in silent reverence. Old men who were tottering on the brink of the grave would cross themselves and bow low before the various images of Christ, the apostles, and the saints. I had never witnessed anything of the kind except in the heathen Chinese Joss houses, and this seemed to me but a little above the pagan worship. How I longed to lift my voice in this grand old building, and point the poor deluded souls to God and heaven! I was forcibly reminded of the words of Paul at Athens when he exclaimed, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” The people are enveloped in the blackest clouds of error and superstition, and are kept thus by their teachers. Deprived as they are of the light shining from the word of God, their religion consists of a round of ceremonies as verily as did the corrupted religion of the Jews, which Christ in his day so strongly condemned.

Stationed in various parts of the room, were numerous confessional boxes. Before the open window of one of these a woman was kneeling, and confessing her sins to the priest within, while others sat on the seats waiting their turn to confess. This made my heart ache. It was placing a man with like passions as themselves in the place of Christ. Indeed it is for the interest of such teachers to keep the Bible from the people, for it condemns everything of this kind. It plainly states that there is only one mediator, whereas Luther states that “this only was taught and practiced [in the Roman Church] to wit, the invoking of the Virgin Mary and other saints as mediators and intercessors, much fasting and praying, making pilgrimages, or running into monasteries,” etc., “and while we were doing such things we dreamed we were meriting heaven.” Again he says: “We were scandalously led astray in the papacy; for Christ was not painted out in so mild a character as he is by the prophets and apostles.” “We were all taught that we must ourselves make satisfaction for our sins, and that, at the Judgment, Christ would call us to an account in respect of our penances, and the amount of our good works.... And because we could never do penances and works enough, and felt nothing else but terrors and fears before his wrath, we were directed to the saints in heaven as them that should be mediators between us and Christ. We were taught to call upon the mother of Christ, that she would beseech him, by the breasts wherewith she nursed him, to put away his anger and show mercy. If she were not sufficient, then the apostles and other saints were to be invoked, till at last we came to saints whose sanctity was unknown, nay, who for the greater part never existed, as St. Anne, St. Barbara, St. Christopher, St. George, and such like.” “I had none other knowledge of Christ, than to form him in my mind as sitting on a rainbow, and to account him as a rigorous Judge. For that we had no true knowledge of Christ, we fell away from him, and cleaved to the saints, and called on them to be our patrons and mediators.”

It is with such teachings as these that Christ is belied and misrepresented, and wicked men are exalted by the Church of Rome. Here before me was a deluded people opening the secrets of the heart to a man of like infirmities as themselves. Deprived of the word of God, they are kept in ignorance of the fact that salvation can be obtained only through Jesus Christ, and are taught to believe that it can be obtained through the forms and ceremonies which the Church itself has invented. Doing penance is confounded by them with Christian repentance. Instead of teaching the people to look to Christ alone for pardon through faith in his merits, the priests professedly grant it to them through penitential works. Fasting and mortification of the flesh is enjoined, while the inward work, the regeneration of the heart, which constitutes true conversion, is deemed unnecessary. It is easier to the natural heart to confess and do penance than to put away sin; therefore there are few who do not choose to gratify unholy passions at the expense of a little confession and penance. I never felt more deeply the value of the word of God, and the necessity of opening it to the people, than I did when I saw these poor souls worshiping—they knew not what.

How the Roman Church can clear herself from the charge of idolatry we cannot see. True, she professes to worship God through these images; so did the Israelites when they bowed before the golden calf. But the Lord's wrath was kindled against them, and many were slain. God pronounced them impious idolaters, and the same record is made today in the books of heaven against those who adore images of saints and so-called holy men.

And this is the religion which Protestants are beginning to look upon with so much favor, and which will eventually be united with Protestantism. This union will not, however, be effected by a change in Catholicism; for Rome never changes. She claims infallibility. It is Protestantism that will change. The adoption of liberal ideas on its part will bring it where it can clasp the hand of Catholicism. “The Bible, the Bible, is the foundation of our faith,” was the cry of Protestants in Luther's time, while the Catholics cried, “The Fathers, custom, tradition.” Now many Protestants find it difficult to prove their doctrines from the Bible, and yet they have not the moral courage to accept the truth which involves a cross; therefore they are fast coming to the ground of Catholics, and, using the best arguments they have to evade the truth, cite the testimony of the Fathers, and the customs and precepts of men. Yes, the Protestants of the nineteenth century are fast approaching the Catholics in their infidelity concerning the Scriptures. But there is just as wide a gulf today between Rome and the Protestantism of Luther, Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper, and the noble army of martyrs, as there was when these men made the protest which gave them the name of Protestants.

Christ was a protestant. He protested against the formal worship of the Jewish nation, who rejected the counsel of God against themselves. He told them that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men, and that they were pretenders and hypocrites. Like whited sepulchers they were beautiful without, but within full of impurity and corruption. The Reformers date back to Christ and the apostles. They came out and separated themselves from a religion of forms and ceremonies. Luther and his followers did not invent the reformed religion. They simply accepted it as presented by Christ and the apostles. The Bible is presented to us as a sufficient guide; but the pope and his workers remove it from the people as if it were a curse, because it exposes their pretensions and rebukes their idolatry.

At half past ten o'clock Friday morning we left Milan for Turin, where we arrived at half past one, and remained till three. Among the cities of northern Italy, Turin stands next to Milan in population and importance. For several years it was the capital of Italy and the residence of the king. It is one of the most modern-looking cities we have seen in Europe. It is noted for the regularity of its construction; for its long, broad, straight streets, wide squares, and numerous gardens. In some of the principal streets there are four rows of shade trees. Between the two center rows is a broad highway for carriages, while between the two outside rows are wide walks for foot travelers. In the business part of the town, the second story of many of the buildings projects over the sidewalk, forming a broad archway, where one is protected from the sun, the rain, and the cold.

The first question which arises in my mind as we enter one after another of these large cities, is, Would not this be a good place to present the truth? But here, as in Milan, we are told that the people are nearly all Catholics. The time was, however, when this was not the case. It was here in the ninth century that Claudius contended so valiantly for the doctrines of the Christian Church. The mantle of Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, descended upon him, and, grasping the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, he waged a battle which did much to delay, although it could not prevent, the final overthrow of his church. The influence of his pen was felt where his voice could not be heard, and was a mighty instrumentality in preserving, even in the Waldensian valleys, then a part of his diocese, the first principles of the Christian religion.

A three hours’ ride from Turin brought us to our destination at Torre Pellice. Here we found a cordial welcome at the home of Eld. A. C. Bourdeau. Sabbath I spoke to the little company of Sabbath-keepers who assembled. Although the day was rainy, some came on foot three miles from their home in the mountains. All seemed to feel that Jesus was present by his Spirit to strengthen and encourage. The impression made upon my mind as I viewed the expensive cathedral at Milan with the cold, frozen formality of its worshipers, was such that I never felt better satisfied with holding meetings in a humble place, and I never felt more grateful for the opportunity of speaking words of comfort and hope than on this occasion. I tried to hold up before the little company gathered together the importance of possessing repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the sinners only hope. Here, free from all outward display to charm the senses, we were able to worship God in simplicity and the beauty of holiness.

Sunday afternoon we rode five miles to Villar Pellice, where Bro. Bourdeau has been holding meetings a few weeks. Although it was very rainy, the hall was literally packed, and many could not find even standing room, and had to go away. The congregation was composed of intelligent-looking people, and the peasant women looked neat and modest in their white bonnets with heavily fluted fronts. Tears were in many eyes as I directed their attention to the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, and the destruction of Jerusalem which symbolized the final destruction of the wicked. The very best attention was given throughout. We look for much good to result from the meetings now being held in this place. Of these and our further labors in the valleys, we will speak more fully in our next.

Torre Pellice, Italy.

«Back «Prev. Pub. «Article   Article» Next Pub.» Forward»