When the Roman Empire disintegrated the church assumed the role of major educator and introduced its own type of education. Secular schools had almost vanished. But the education provided by the church was poor, and the subjects of reading and writing were almost ignored. It was at this time that education became considered as a preparation for service to the church or royalty. By the beginning of the 7th century the educational system in Europe was in shambles. The clergy was responsible for education, but many of them could not read or write. Then as the Middle Ages progressed the church continued to grow in power and influence. If a secular ruler wanted to establish a school it was with few exceptions set up in a church, cathedral, or monastery. At first the secular rulers stimulated educational activity, but when the political power shifted away from the secular rulers to the Catholic Church in the 9th and 10th century the church assumed the dominating role in education. This continued until the church’s power and influence peaked in the 13th century.
Even though the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was filled with pagan philosophy the idea that truth was revealed in Christ, and that faith in Him was the key to Christianity survived. A group known as the Waldenses who lived in the Alpine valleys of the Piedmont put God at the center of their education and worship. They trace their beginnings to Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant who gave away his possessions around 1173 A.D. They continued to preach and teach the Bible, uninfluenced by the church or state. They were always persecuted, but always survived. In the 13th century Pope Innocent III made a desperate attempt to annihilate them. However, the persecution gave them new strength and their doctrines passed to Wycliffe and Huss, through whom they became a factor in producing the Reformation. Surviving into the 20th century, they have been regarded as the most ancient and the most evangelistic of the medieval sects.
The Waldenses considered the scriptures to be binding for all time and not rendered obsolete by changing circumstances. They were well versed in the scripture and maintained its supremacy over the traditions of men. Their goal was to hold fast to the character of the original Christian teachings and doctrine.
By David Keller