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Proto-Protestantism, also called pre-Protestantism or pre-Reformation movements,[1] refers to individuals and movements that propagated ideas similar to Protestantism before 1517, which historians usually regard as the starting year for the Reformation era. Major representatives of proto-Protestantism include Peter Waldo (c. 1140 - c. 1205), John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), Jan Hus (c. 1369 - 1415) and the movements they started.

Peter Waldo and the Waldensians

In the early 1170s, Peter Waldo founded the Waldensians. He preached for strict adherence to the Bible, for simplicity and poverty, against Catholic dogmas, like purgatory and transubstantiation which led to conflicts with the Roman Catholic Church. He initiated, and contributed to, a translation of the New Testament into the vernacular, the Arpitan (Franco-Provençal) language.

The Waldensians had adopted ideas that in the late 1130s, Arnold of Brescia, an Italian canon regular, had developed in a first attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church. His teachings on apostolic poverty gained currency among Arnoldists. By 1215, the Waldensians were declared heretical and subject to persecution.

John Wycliffe and the Lollards

John Wycliffe (1320s-1384) was an English theologian and professor at the University of Oxford who developed many ideas similar to those later promoted in the Reformation. He rejected papal authority over secular power, translated the Bible into vernacular English, and preached anticlerical and biblically-centred reforms. Wycliffe's teachings were spread by his followers, known as Lollards.

Lollards claimed that the office of the papacy didn't have a scriptural basis, rejected transubstantiation and stressed the importance of scripture.[2]

Jan Hus and the Hussites

Beginning in the first decade of the 15th century, Jan Hus, a Czech Catholic priest and professor who was influenced by John Wycliffe's writings, founded the Hussite movement. He was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. After his execution, a revolt erupted. Hussites defeated five continuous crusades proclaimed against them by the Pope.

Later on, theological disputes caused a split within the Hussite movement. Utraquists maintained that both the bread and the wine should be administered to the people during the Eucharist. Another major faction were the Taborites, who opposed the Utraquists in the Battle of Lipany during the Hussite Wars. There were two separate parties among the Hussites: moderate and radical movements. Other smaller regional Hussite branches in Bohemia included Adamites, Orebites, Orphans and Praguers.

Berengar Of Tours and Berengarians

Berengar studied under the celebrated Fulbert at Chartres, and returned to Tours after 1029. Berengar of Tours rejected transubstantiation.

Pope Leo IX excommunicated Berengar in 1050 and later was imprisoned by king Henry I.[3]

Less influential early reformers

Throughout the Middle Ages, there were many Christian sects, cults and movements whose teachings foreshadowed later Protestant movements.[4] Some of the main groups were:

  • Paulicians - an Armenian group (6th to 9th centuries) who sought a return to the purity of the church at the time of Paul the Apostle. The Paulicians were adoptionist, held to a dualistic cosmology and were generally influenced by the religion of Manichaeism.
  • Tondrakians - an Armenian group (9th to 11th centuries) who advocated the abolition of the Church along with all its traditional rites.
  • Bogomils - a group arising in the 10th century in Bulgaria,[5] Macedonia[] and the Balkans who sought a return to the spirituality of the early Christians and opposed established forms of government and church. The Bogomils were heavily dualist, and bore similarities both to the Paulicians and to the ancient Gnostics.
  • Arnoldists - a 12th-century group from Lombardy who criticized the wealth of the Catholic Church and preached against infant baptism and the Eucharist.
  • Petrobrusians were 12th-century followers of Peter of Bruys in southeastern France who rejected the authority of the Church Fathers and of the Catholic Church, opposing clerical celibacy, infant baptism, prayers for the dead and organ music.
  • Henricans were 12th-century followers of Henry of Lausanne in France. They rejected the doctrinal and disciplinary authority of the Church, did not recognize any form of worship or liturgy and denied the sacraments.
  • Cathars, or Albigensians -- self-identified as Good Christians, the Cathars were a 12th-14th century sect influenced by the teachings of the Bogomils and Paulicians. Aside from their Gnostic influences, they rejected the spiritual authority of the priesthood and the efficacy of the sacraments. Catharism was heavily suppressed following the Albigensian Crusade, during which the majority of Cathars were killed.
  • Brethren of the Free Spirit - a term applied in the 13th century to those, primarily in the Low Countries, Germany, France, Bohemia and northern Italy, who believed that the sacraments were unnecessary for salvation, that the soul could be perfected through imitating the life of Christ, and that the perfected soul was free of sin and beyond all ecclesiastical, moral and secular law.
  • Apostolic Brethren (later known as Dulcinians) - a 13th- to 14th-century sect from northern Italy founded by Gerard Segarelli and continued by Fra Dolcino of Novara. The Apostolic Brethren rejected the worldliness of the church and sought a life of perfect sanctity, in complete poverty, with no fixed domicile, no care for the morrow, and no vows.
  • Fraticelli, or Spiritual Franciscans -- An extreme group of Franciscans, active from the 13th to 15th centuries. The Fraticelli held that the Catholic hierarchy had become corrupt and illicit by way of its wealth and worldliness, and that everyone who was a part of it was damned.
  • Neo-Adamites - a term applied in the 13th to 15th centuries to those, including Taborites, Picards and some Beghards, who wished to return to the purity of the life of Adam by living communally, practicing social and religious nudity, embracing free love and rejecting marriage, and rejecting individual ownership of property.
  • Girolamo Savonarola - Savonarola's devotees, the Piagnoni, kept his cause of republican freedom and religious reform alive well into the following century, although the Medici--restored to power in 1512 with the help of the papacy--eventually broke the movement. Some Protestants consider Savonarola to be a vital precursor of the Reformation.

See also


  1. ^ Introduction to Protestantism
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Broadbent, E.H. (1931). The Pilgrim Church. Basingstoke: Pickering & Inglis. ISBN 0720806771.
  5. ^ Brockett, L. P. (1879). "The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia: or, The Early Protestants of the East - an Attempt to Restore Some Lost Leaves of Protestant History".

Further reading

  • Barnett, S. J. (1999). "Where Was Your Church before Luther? Claims for the Antiquity of Protestantism Examined". Church History. Cambridge University Press. 68 (1): 14-41. doi:10.2307/3170108. ISSN 0009-6407. JSTOR 3170108.
  • Stephen D. Bows: Reform before the Reformation : Vincenzo Querini and the religious Renaissance in Italy, Leiden [et al.], 2002.
  • Walter Rügert: John Wyclif, Jan Hus, Martin Luther: Wegbereiter der Reformation Konstanz, 2017.
  • E. H. Broadbent: The Pilgrim Church, Pickering & Inglis, 1937.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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