When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door of Wittenberg five hundred years ago, the world changed forever. This event is what sparked the Protestant Reformation. However, before Martin Luther, there were many people who, like him, stood for the truth in the face of terrible persecution. Four of these people were Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus and Jerome Savonarola.
Peter Waldo (1100’s)
Around four hundred years before Luther, in Lyon, France, a wealthy merchant was convicted of his sin, sold everything he had and began to teach and preach in the streets of France.
Very little is known about Peter Waldo but we do know that as he studied the Bible he became disillusioned with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and probably founded the group known as the Waldensians. For centuries Waldensians were persecuted unmercifully but their light could not be extinguished and eventually many of them joined with other Protestants during the Reformation.
John Wycliffe (1330-1384)
John Wycliffe was a rector at a church in Lutterworth, England, who did not hide his convictions about the false teaching in the Catholic Church. He is best remembered for translating the Bible from Latin into English so that common people could read it for themselves.
Because of this, Wycliffe faced persecution for most of his life but he was only condemned as a heretic after his death. Forty three years after his death, his body was dug up, burned and the ashes were thrown into the river Swift in the hopes that this would make it impossible for his body to be resurrected when Christ returns. A vain hope!
Jan Hus (1369-1415)
Wycliffe’s writings impacted Jan Hus who was born in Bohemia (modern day Czech). Through reading the Bible and the writings of Wycliffe he discovered the truth and boldly proclaimed the errors in the Roman Catholic Church. He is known as the first Reformer. When he refused to recant his beliefs, he was cruelly burnt at the stake in 1415. The Catholic Church thought that they had silenced him but a century later his teaching impacted Martin Luther.
Jerome Savonarola (1452-1498)
In Italy, another courageous man, Jerome Savonarola opposed the Pope and the priests, teaching that “Rome has perverted the whole of Scriptures!” He was cursed by the pope and hung, meeting his death with cheerful resignation in 1498, less than twenty years before the beginning of the Reformation.
I have only touched very briefly on the lives of these defenders of the truth and I would encourage you to find out more about these men who stood firm in the face of great danger and suffering.
Just, Gustav, Life of Luther, Project Gutenberg Ebook, 2012