« Arnobius the Younger Arnold of Brescia Arnold, Carl Franklin »

Arnold of Brescia


Life to 1139 (§ 1)

Banished from Italy (§ 2)

Political Activity in Rome (§ 3)

Condemnation and Death (§ 4)

Arnold of Brescia, church reformer of the twelfth century, was born at Brescia, but the year is not known; he was executed at Rome 1155.

Life to 1139.

At an early age he devoted himself to the priesthood. Like many young Italians of his time he studied in France and became a pupil of Abelard. His scientific culture is particularly praised, and Abelard’s keen criticism of tradition helped no doubt to loosen the bonds which connected Arnold with the existing church authority. Some years later he appears again in his native city, having meanwhile been ordained priest. The Historia pontificalis calls him canonicus regularis and abbas apud Brixiam. The views to which he clung to his death were already fixed in his mind. The Church must resign worldly power and worldly possessions; priests, having worldly possessions, forfeit salvation; their necessary support they must obtain from the tithes, and the laity, who withheld from the priests what belonged to them, come in for a share of Arnold’s criticism. His austere asceticism and powerful eloquence gained him great authority, which rendered his opposition formidable to Manfred, bishop of Brescia, and the latter accused him at a synod held in Rome in 1139. Arnold was banished from Italy and had to vow solemnly not to return without papal permission.

2. Banished from Italy.

A revolution now took place in Brescia, and the “evil-minded consuls, hypocritical and heretical men” , were expelled from the city by the knighthood. Arnold meanwhile had gone to France, where he assisted Abelard against Bernard of Clairvaux, and so the condemnation passed by Innocent II. in 1140 on Abelard concerned him likewise; they were to be separated and kept in monastic prisons. Arnold, however, remained unmolested for the time being, because of a conflict between the king and the curia. Bernard was at first against the king, but afterward he acted as mediator, and thus after a short time Arnold had to leave France. He went to Zurich, where he soon had a following. A letter of Bernard (cxcv.) to Bishop Herman of Constance [written 1140] caused his expulsion, but he soon found a safe refuge, for another letter of Bernard’s (cxcvi.) to Cardinal Guido—probably the cardinal deacon Guido who was active as papal legate in Bohemia and Moravia between 1142 and 1145—received Arnold into his retinue and honored him with his society. Arnold returned to Italy shortly after the death of Innocent (1143), and Eugenius III. (1145–53) received the fugitive again into the communion of the Church after a promise to do penance.

3. Political Activity in Rome.

Rome was at that time the theater of great struggles. Toward the end of the life of Innocent II. the community had created a senate and appointed a patrician in place of the city-prefect dependent on the pope. Eugenius escaped these unpleasant relations by going to France, and Arnold developed great public activity. He attacked the cardinals, and even the pope. A new element now comes out in him according to the Historia pontificalis, which makes him say that those should not be tolerated who wish to enslave Rome, the mistress of the world, the source of liberty. He took up the idea of reclaiming for Rome her ancient powerful position in the world. He entered into close relations with the Roman community which had become a republic and had promised to protect him against every one. Eugenius sought to get possession of Rome by force of arms, and in their distress the Romans looked to King Conrad, who, however, had no thought of realizing their hopes, though he was is no position to help the pope in an effective manner. An agreement was made in 302November, 1149, according to which Rome acknowledged the supremacy of the pope, but the government of the city remained in the hands of the senate. Arnold exercised his influence as before. When Frederick I. became ruler, Eugenius obtained his promise of a campaign against Rome. But the Arnoldists also applied to him in a writing, the strange contents of which may be regarded as an echo of Arnolds sermons. It declares that clerics who in spite of the gospel and the canonical rules claimed for themselves the right of confirming the emperor are successors of Julian the Apostate; the Donation of Constantine is a heretical fable, which even the everyday Roman ridicules; as the empire belongs to the Romans, who should hinder them from electing a new emperor? It is possible that such eccentric schemes repelled the more prudent elements. At the elections of November 1, 1152, the Arnoldists seem to have been defeated, for the senate is soon found in negotiation with the pope, and he was enabled to make his entrance in December. A little later Frederick promised to subdue the Romans.

4. Condemnation and Death.

When Adrian IV ascended the papal throne December 5, 1154, he demanded of the senate the expulsion of Arnold, which for the time being was not heeded. But an attack made upon a cardinal gave opportunity, shortly before palm Sunday, 1155, to pronounce an interdict on Rome,—a hitherto unheard-of proceeding. The depression which already existed in the city was enhanced by this measure, and on Wednesday the senate appeared before the pope and obtained the removal of the interdict by swearing to expel Arnold and his adherents. Arnold’s fate was now decided. Banished from Rome, he found indeed a refuge with the viscounts of Campagnatico, but, urged by the pope, Frederick induced them to hand him over to Adrian. The city-prefect, as Rome’s criminal judge, delivered him to the gallows, had his body burned, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. He died lamented even by men who, like Gerhoh of Reichersberg, by no means agreed with him. The great cause of his death was no doubt his opposition to the worldly power of the pope. But he was also regarded as a heretic. That he held false doctrines regarding baptism has not been substantiated; but he declared that the sacraments administered by priests not leading an apostolic life were invalid, and herein one could see a rejection of the official Church and hence a heresy. That Arnold left many followers is evident from the Historia pontificalis, and in the great bull of excommunication of Lucius III. (1184), Arnoldists are mentioned. Thenceforth only isolated notices concerning them are found; they were probably lost among the Waldensians.

S. M. Deutsch.

Bibliography: Sources are: Otto of Freising, De gestis Friderici, i. 27-28, ii. 21, in MGH, Script., xx. (1868) 338-491 and ed. G. Waitz in Script. rer. Germ., Hanover, 1884; John of Salisbury, Historia pontificalis, xxxi., in MGH, Script., xx (1868) 515-545; Gunther, Ligurinus, iii., in MPL, ccxii.; Gerhoh of Reichersberg, De investigatione antichristi, xlii., in MPL, cxciv.; Boso, Vita Hadriani IV., in J.M. Watterich, Pontificum Romanorum vitæ, ii. 324-325, Leipsic,1862; Gesta di Federigo I. in Italia (Publications of the Istituto Storico Italiano), Rome, 1887. Consult also F. Odorici, Storie Bresciane, iv., Brescia, 1858; W. von Giesebrecht, Arnold von Brescia, Munich, 1895; idem, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, iv., v., Brunswick, 1880-88; G. de Castro. Arnold da Brescia, Leghorn, 1875; W. Bernhardi, Jahrbücher des deutschen Reichs unter Konrad III., Leipsic, 1883; E. Vacaudard, Arnauld de Brescia, in Revue des questions historiques, xxxv. (1884) 52-114; A. Hausrath, Arnold von Brescia, Leipsic, 1891.

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