God's church (the Jewish Nation) at the time of Christ is described symbolically as "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars... And she being with child [Jesus, she] cried... and pained to be delivered" (Revelation 12:1,2). The Bible then describes Satan's use of the Roman System under the symbol of "a great red dragon...." that stood ready "for to devour her child as soon as it was born" (verse 3, 4). This is the fourth beast of Daniel 7:23 and Revelation 13:1--a footnote in the Apocalypse of the Catholic Douay Bible correctly notes that some of Revelations imagery is probably Imperial Rome. Verse 13 of Revelation 12 indicates that Rome "persecuteth the woman [church] which brought forth the man child (Jesus)." This persecution required that the church "fly into the wilderness... where she is nourished [by the Holy Spirit] for, as you will later see, 1260 years." As Satan's counterfeit church visibly flourished, God's true church went into seclusion.
Clusters of faithful believers retained the truth throughout the Spiritual Dark Ages, but one group stands prominent for maintaining this truth while enduring intense persecution. Known as the Vaudois, or Waldenses, these faithful champions of purity emerged from the dungeons at Constantine's conquest of Rome. Previously imprisoned and tortured under Diocletian rule, and their properties confiscated as the "just labors" of their persecutors, they must now decide whether to join Constantine's new church as it incorporated tenants of paganism into the Christian faith. Those choosing to maintain biblical integrity discovered themselves ostracized by the Roman System under the guise of a Christian church. Fleeing from the presence of their Roman tormentors, they found solace in the wilderness foothills of the Alps.
Possessing manuscripts of the Bible, these saints relocated and terraced the rocky slopes for dwellings and agricultural purposes. Their life of quietude was often interrupted by persecution from the Roman System. This is described in one source, "History of the Waldenses" written by the century-old historian, J. A. Wylie. His original works are republished by Pacific Press Publishing Association (1977) through a photographic process. Wylie writes of their academic system as follows:
"The youth who here sat at the feet of the more venerable and learned of their barbes [ministers], used as their textbook the Holy Scriptures. And not only did they study the sacred volume; they were required to commit to memory, and be able accurately to recite, whole Gospels and Epistles." And because the printing press was unknown, Wylie continues: "Part of their time was occupied in transcribing the Holy Scriptures... which they were to distribute when they went forth as missionaries [throughout Rome's domain]" (Ibid, p 19).
Whether pagan or Christian, the Roman System reveals a history of intolerance for criticism. For upholding the truth, the Waldenses found themselves subject to the wrath of the dragon. As historians trace their plight throughout the Spiritual Dark Ages, it displays a repetitious cycle of persecution to the point of near extinction, then a rest period while their population increased. Monks were unable to effectively convert these saints to the religion of Rome because they possessed a superior knowledge of the Scripture. Wylie describes one such period of persecution in great detail. He quotes the seventeenth century historian Leger. Leger accurately recorded the military conquest of these peaceable saints because he was an eyewitness of the four o''clock, Saturday morning attack of April 24, 1655. His uncle, Antoine Leger, was a victim driven into exile. Wylie writes of atrocities that can not even be duplicated today in the non-Christian tribal wars of Africa.
"Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts." Leger continues, "The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to stanch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and plowed into the soil as men plow manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged; then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die" (Ibid., page 141).
Much more is described in this book, but to spare our delicate psyche, I must stop. These atrocities might lead one to ask: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"--(Psalms 22:1; Mark 15:34). Because of religious persecution within the Christian community, some even question the existence of God. "If God truly exists," they say, "He would intervene and stop such atrocities." They forget that God did intervene in the only way that affords a permanent solution to sin. God became human in the form of Jesus Christ and suffered the penalty of sin, the innocent for the guilty: And "His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men" (Isaiah 52:14). Jesus was an innocent lamb, He too suffered injustice, and was sacrificed that sin may be eliminated from God's universe.
Furthermore, we might be concerned if God did not warn us, but he says: "And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power [but by Satan's]: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practice, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people" (Daniel 8:24). Jesus also itemized the Spiritual Dark Ages as follows: "For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh [of the saints] be saved: but for the elect's [the saints] sake those days shall be shortened" (Matthew 24:21, 21, also see Revelation 7:14). Although the Spiritual Dark Ages of 1260 years officially ended at Napoleon's conquest of Rome in 1798, the printing press was previously invented, Bibles were mass produced, and the Reformation forced the Roman System into a premature defensive position--"Those days shall be shortened" (Ibid.).
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