The Passagini: Sabbath Keepers of the Middle Ages (Part 1 of 2)

The Passagini: Italian Sabbath Keepers of the Middle Ages (Part 1 of 2)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the eleventh century, the beginning of religious change sprung up in parts of Europe. From this movement emerged several well-known groups such as the Cathari, Albigenses, and Waldenses. Among the lessor known groups from this period were the Passagini (also spelled Passagii, Passagenes, Passaginos, etc.). They were a Sabbath-keeping group which formed in Italy sometime in the mid to late twelfth century. They are the earliest example of a group which held to the concept of sola scriptura. In this two-part series, we will review some of the events leading up to their appearance as well as their beliefs.

Between 1022 and 1056, a few Roman Church councils condemned newly formed groups in France and Italy as heretics. At that time in history, anyone who did not fully adhere to the teachings of the Roman Church was labeled a heretic. Sometimes they were not given a name while at other times they were mislabeled. Some of them were burned at the stake.

Among these councils were the Council of Rheims, which was held in 1049. It excommunicated new heretics who sprung up in France (also called Gaul). No name is specifically ascribed to them. “…et quia novi haeretici in Gallacianis partibus emergant; cos excommunicavit, illis additis…” (Mansi, 19:742; Landon, 2:71-72).

It appeared that the Roman Church was going to take serious action against these groups, but suddenly their quest was put on pause. For the next one-hundred years or more, the Roman Church was mired in corruption and conflict with the renewed Western Roman Empire. This prevented unified action against these non-conformist groups. They grew and developed their own belief system.

As groups coalesced in certain cities and regions, variations of beliefs developed (likely due to local influences). Some beliefs were held among all these groups. First, they recognized the corruption and moral decay in the Roman Church. Secondly, the average person was disconnected with the institution of the Roman Church; they thought it was not fulfilling its purpose. Third, they wanted a simplified belief system where they could connect to God without the complicated traditions of Rome. This included translations of the Scriptures in their own language.  

The Roman Church and Western Roman Empire mended their feud in about 1179. In 1184, the Council of Verona was held. During it, Pope Lucius III presented a letter to Emperor Frederick I (called Barbarossa). The title of the Epistle was “Against the Heretics” and the subtitle was ‘Ad Abolendam’, which in Latin means to abolish. The Pope called upon ‘his dear son’ Frederick and other secular rulers to suppress the spread of group deemed heretical. An excerpt of the letter is found below:

“We, therefore, supported by the power, and presence, of our most dear son Frederic, the illustrious Emperor of the Romans, semper Augustus, with the common consent of our brethren, and of other Patriarchs, Archbishops, and many Princes, who have assembled from various parts of the world, have, with the general sanction of this present decree, risen up against those heretics, to whom divers names have ascribed the profession of various errors, and, by the tenor of this constitution, with apostolical authority, we condemn all heresy, howsoever it may be named…In the first place, therefore we lay under a perpetual anathema, the Cathari, Patarini, and those who falsely call themselves Humiliati, or poor men of Lyons, Passagini, Josepini, and Arnaldistae; and since some, having a form of godliness, but, as the apostle has said, ‘denying- the power of it’, have assumed to themselves the office of preaching—though the same Apostle says, ‘how shall they preach, except they be sent ?’—we include, in the same perpetual anathema, all who shall have presumed to preach, either publicly, or privately, either being forbidden, or not sent, or not having the authority of the Apostolic See (IE the Roman Church), or of the Bishop of the diocese…” (English translation from Maitland, pp 176-180; Latin found in Labbe, vol 10, pp 1737-1742). To read the entire contents of Pope Lucius’ letter, CLICK HERE.

The Pope accused these peoples of ‘having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it’ (2 Tim. 3:1-5). The Roman Church did not recognize people who preached the gospel message unless they had been sent by their representatives!

Later in this letter, the Pope laid the foundation for the inquisition. Those suspected to be part of these groups would be turned over to Roman Church authorities, such as Bishops, for examination. Those who denied the charges and then were later found to be guilty were immediately turned over to secular judges for punishment. Their goods were confiscated and given to a local congregation which was loyal to Rome.

The decree further called upon all secular rulers to help the cause by seeking out the aforesaid heretics and turning them over to Roman Church authorities. If a ruler did not, then their titles were stripped, their people excommunicated, and lands were taken away from them. 

Lucius’ letter shows the absolute control the Roman Church desired to have over every individual. Moreover, it illustrates the lengths to which this institution would go to impose their will on other people groups. This letter became repeated by later popes and served as a foundational part of the inquisition, which would be formally introduced in the thirteenth century.

This decree set a terrible precedent that would influence Europe for centuries to come. Many thousands of innocent people would die just for being different.

The groups condemned were as follows: Cathars, Patarinos, Humiliati, the poor of Lyons (this was another name for the Waldenses), Passaginos, Josephinos, and Arnoldists. Most of these groups started in northern Italy. One word of caution. While it is convenient, we do not want to lump all these groups together. This was a mistake of past some researchers on this subject. Some of these groups held to some beliefs that definitely contradicted each other.

While several of the groups mentioned in “Ad Abolendum” did not have many or any known Sabbath keepers (at that time), there was one group that was known exclusively to keep the Sabbath and other aspects of God’s law. They were called the Passagani (also called the Passagii and Passagenes, Passaginos, etc).  

In part two of this series, we will look at their beliefs and what happened to them!
CLICK HERE to read part two!

God Bless!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –


Landon, Edward. A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church. Vol. 1. Edinburgh, 1909. pp 60, 150-151.

Landon, Edward. A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church. Vol. 2. Edinburgh, 1909. pp 9, 54-55, 57-59, 92-93, 103-107, 110-112, 145-146.

Maitland, S.R. Facts and Documents Illustrative of the History, Doctrine, and Rites of the Ancient Albigenses and Waldenses. London, 1832. pp 176-180.

Sacrosancta Concilia Ad Regiam Editionem. Philip Labbe and Gabr. Cossartii. Vol. 10. Paris, 1671. pp 1737-1742.

Sacrorum Conciliorum. Nova Et Amplissima Collectio. Editio Novissima. Joannes Dominicus Mansi. Vol. 19. Venice, 1774. pp 742, 849.

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