Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) had A\ in his well-furnished library some of the very scarce Waldensian manuscripts. He was known for his reverence for antiquity, his personal qualities,_and for the charm of his "marvelous" learning. He is best remembered as an authority in sacred chronology that was taken into the margin of the Authorized Version and is still printed in the English Bible. There is a painting of Ussher in the Uffizi Art Gallery in Florence a portrait which was dis covered only about two years ago.1
The Waldensian manuscripts were mentioned in 1635 by an Englishman, W. Brereton, to whom Ussher showed "the whole books of the Waldenses, which are very rare; they cost him £22; they are in octavo about ten or twelve vol." 2 Nine of these manuscripts were in the Waldensian dialect, two in French, and one in Latin. These were, however, not all the manuscripts.
Some of these manuscripts came into Ussher's hands through a French counselor. Before reaching Ussher, they were obtained in 1605 in the Waldensian valley of Pragela (in the Cottian Alps) by D. Vignaux, who turned them over to the synod of the Waldensian valleys; the synod in turn sent them to historian Jean- Paul Perrin for his Histoire des Vaudois, published in 1618. From Perrin the manuscripts went to a French lawyer, who sold them to Ussher for the afore-mentioned sum.
And what happened to them after the death of Ussher? Nine of them were' stored in the Trinity College Library at Dublin,3 where they remained, untouched and unknown, for almost two centuries. One reason why they escaped the historians' eyes was that they were catalogued as Spanish and French manuscripts. In 1865, librarian J. H. Todd identified them as genuine Waldensian manuscripts; but he found only seven of them; another one was found by T. K. Abbot in 1892, and a ninth one (the oldest) came to the" attention of M. Esposito in 1950.4
Dublin was not the only library to harbor Waldensian manuscripts. Six other texts were kept at Cambridge, where they also remained untouched for nearly two centuries; librarian Henry Bradshaw discovered them there in 1862 and ascertained that the six manuscripts had come from the Waldensian valleys through Morland. It was none other than the powerful Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, who had sent Morland to the Duke of Savoy, whence Morland brought the manuscripts to Cambridge in 1658. There are all together thirty different Waldensian manuscripts known; twenty-five of them are in their dialect and the others in French and Latin.5 The twenty-five Waldensian texts have been located: nine in Dublin, six in Cambridge, five in Geneva, two in Zurich, one in Carpentras, one in Dijon, and one in Grenoble (the three latter are in France).
The first historian to make use of these manuscripts was Perrin, in 1618, as stated above. Others who used them also were Leger, Raynouard, Todd, Montet, Salvaiani, and de Stefano. But there still does not exist a reliable, complete edition of these writings. One of the greatest problems is to date them. Some of the best paleographists such as Forster, who has given us such a superb edition of the Noble Lesson, the most important of the Waldensian poems in existence had to give up as far as the dating of these texts was concerned. The oldest of the manuscripts, the one which was found by M. Esposito, is thought to have been written in 1375, because it contains on the back page a list of Easter dates from 1376-1400.6 That the Inquisition in its pitiless repression destroyed not only the homes but also the manuscripts is recognized by Catholics themselves.
The available Waldensian texts and it is a remarkable characteristic are replete with Bible quotations and passages from the church Fathers, as well as a discussion of the Lord's Prayer. In this connection it is reported that the Waldensians used to recite the Lord's Prayer fifty times before meals and .fifty times after meals.7 The Bible was indeed often read and quoted. The so-called Waldensian Lyons version came into existence by the initiative of Peter Waldo, of Lyons, founder of the twelfth-century Vaudois movement. Waldo entrusted the translation of the New Testament to Etienne d'Anse, who dictated the text to Bernard Ydros.8
In the thirteenth century this Lyons New Testament version was lost track of, but it was replaced then by a Cathari version based on the Vulgate. The Waldensian manuscripts, scant as they are, do not tell the whole story of the Waldensians their martyrdom, their courage, their Biblical teachings, and their interest in the prophecies. The Tnquisition saw to it that the spiritual heritage of this brave mountain people was erased as thoroughly as possible. Yet these manuscripts, in their scant simplicity, especially the beautiful Noble Lesson, render in moving terms their unbounded confidence in God. The unknown author of that poem ex presses above all the faith of his people in the fast-approaching end of the world the hope of the soon-returning Christ:
"O Brethren, give ear to a noble Lesson. We ought always to watch and pray, For we see the World nigh to a conclusion. We ought to strive to do good works, Seeing that the end of this World approacheth."
1 N. A. Gordon, Dictionary of National Biography, 1909, p. 70; G. Maxwell, History of Trinity College, Dublin, 1946, p. 57. The Florence portrait is cited for the first time by Marion Esposito, Revue d'Histoire Eccles., Louvain, 1951, p. 129.
2 N. Brereton, Travels, 1844, vol. I, pp. 143, 144.
3 Cf. Esposito, op. cit., 1940, p. 145.
4 Esposito, "Sur quelques manuscrits de 5 'ancienne litterature des Vaudois du Pieinont " Revue d'Histoire Eccles., pp. 127-160; p. 130.
5 One of the best appraisals of these texts is by E. Montet, Hist. litt. des Vaudois du Pieinont, Paris, 1885. A more recent study is by Ernesto Comba, Storia dei Valdesi, 1935, and A. de Stefano, Civilta medievale, Palermo, 1944.
6 Esposito, Revue d'Histoire Eccles., p. 133.
7 Cf. on the Glosa sobre lo pater nostre, in E. Vancard, Diet, de theol. cath., 1923, vol. VII, col. 2030, and E. Montet, op. cit., pp. 76, 77, cited by Esposito, Revue d'His toire Eccles., p. 140.
8 Dondaine, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 1946, r. 218; this author has.been able to shed more light on the teachings of the Waldenses. Cf. Esposito, Revue d'Histoire Eccles., p. 142.