Arnold of Brescia

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Arnold of Brescia

The Italian religious reformer Arnold of Brescia (ca. 1100-1155) preached a doctrine of absolute poverty and called for the Church to abandon economic and political power.

Arnold was born at Brescia, and little is known of his youth. He became an Augustinian canon regular and later prior of the monastery in Brescia. He first established himself as a severe critic of the Church in the rebellion against Bishop Manfred, the political ruler of Brescia. On this occasion Arnold outspokenly attacked all forms of ecclesiastical worldliness and corruption. Denounced as a schismatic by the bishop to Pope Innocent II, Arnold soon after heard his proposals for reform condemned by the Second Lateran Council (1139), which banished him from Italy.

Arnold went to France, where he became involved in the conflict between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard, taking the side of the latter and possibly becoming his student. In 1140 the Council of Sens condemned Abelard and Arnold for doctrinal error, but whereas Abelard submitted to its decision, Arnold did not. He went to Paris, where he opened a school in which he continued his attacks on clerical corruption. He also continued his polemics against Bernard, who retaliated by arranging for Arnold's expulsion from France.

After a brief period in Switzerland and Bohemia, Arnold arrived in Rome in 1145, intending to reconcile himself to the Church and promise obedience to the pope, Eugenius III. But Rome was seething with political instability. Innocent II had died in 1143 in the midst of the crisis surrounding the establishment of a republican government, and a successor, Lucius II, was killed while leading a force against the republicans. Eugenius III had established a truce with the new republican regime, but it proved to be short-lived, and he was forced to flee in 1146. Amid this antipapal turmoil, Arnold's intention to submit to Church authority evaporated, and he began preaching to the populace, calling for an end to clerical corruption and papal politics and for a total reform of the Church. Himself an ascetic, Arnold preached a doctrine of absolute poverty. For Arnold, the gospel taught that all worldly goods belonged to laymen and princes but never to Christians. He thus implied that clergy owning property had no power to perform the Sacraments—a heretical implication which brought down upon him the implacable hostility of the Church. He was excommunicated on July 15, 1148.

Yet Arnold's preaching proved to be very effective among students, the lower clergy, and the poorer classes. A strong-willed and charismatic figure, he acquired such a large following that his movement took on political significance. Arnold's fortunes were tied to those of the republic; from it he received political protection, and to it he gave his learning, eloquence, and following. To control this evangelical and republican movement, Pope Adrian IV, who succeeded Eugenius III in 1154, became allied with the German king Frederick I (Barbarossa). When Frederick took Rome by force in 1155, the republican party was destroyed, and Arnold was seized as a political rebel. He was executed by secular authorities, and his ashes were thrown into the Tiber to prevent their being venerated as relics.

Arnold's career, however, was more that of a religious reformer than of a political agitator or revolutionary. His influence on republicanism was negligible, but his moral and religious teachings spread throughout Italy and abroad and were taken up by various lay and evangelical movements in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Further Reading

The best biography of Arnold is George William Greenaway, Arnold of Brescia (1931), which has a good bibliography. Contemporary sources bearing witness to Arnold's career include The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa by Otto of Freising, edited and translated by Charles Christopher Mierow and Richard Emery (1953); and Memoirs of the Papal Court by John of Salisbury, edited and translated by Marjorie Chibnall (1956). Extended treatments of Arnold's career are presented in Pasquale Villari, Mediaeval Italy from Charlemagne to Henry VII (1910), and in Ferdinand A. Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages (6th ed., 3 vols., 1953-1957). □

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Radical Church reformer; b. Brescia, Italy, c. 1100; d. Rome, 1155. Arnold studied at Paris under peter abelard and later joined the canons regular of st. augustine, becoming prior of the monastery in Brescia. There he advocated a radical reform of the Church, emphasizing the necessity of absolute clerical poverty and the abandonment of wealth and temporal power by the Church. In 1139, when his reform proposals were condemned by the second lateran council, Arnold was banished from Italy. He took refuge in France and helped his former master, Abelard, defend himself at the Council of Sens in 1141. They were unsuccessful, for by a decree of July 16, 1141, innocent ii upheld the Council's condemnation of Arnold and Abelard and ordered them to be confined in separate monasteries. Soon after this, however, Arnold was teaching in the schools of Mont Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. When bernard of clairvaux persuaded the French king to expel him from France, Arnold took refuge in Zurich and later in Bohemia. In 1145 he was reconciled with Pope eugene iii, but the reconciliation was short-lived. Arnold soon broke with the pope and allied himself with a rebel political party in Rome that sought to abolish the pope's temporal power. Arnold was excommunicated once more on July 15, 1148. Pope adrian iv continued the struggle against Arnold and his allies. In 1155 Arnold was finally expelled from Rome and fell into the hands of the Emperor frederick i barbarossa, who committed him to the prefect of Rome for trial as a rebel. The prefect condemned Arnold to be hanged, his body to be burned, and his ashes to be thrown into the Tiber. Arnold was executed in 1155.

The Arnoldist movement, which survived Arnold's death and which became overtly heretical, stressed apostolic poverty for the clergy, as did other heretical movements of the 12th century. The Arnoldists went further, however, and repudiated the power of the hierarchy entirely, denied the jurisdictional powers of the Church, and held as invalid the Sacraments administered by clerics possessed of any worldly goods. They were condemned by the Council of Verona in 1184.

Bibliography: otto of freising, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, ed. and tr. c. c. mierow and r. emery (New York 1953). john of salisbury, Memoirs of the Papal Court, ed. and tr. m. chibnall (New York 1956). a. frugoni, Arnaldo da Brescia nelle fonti del secolo XII. (Rome 1954). a. fliche, Catholicisme 1: 849850.

[j. a. brundage]

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Arnold of Brescia (brĕsh´ə), c.1090–1155, Italian monk and reformer, b. Brescia. A priest of irreproachable life, Arnold studied at Paris, where according to tradition he was a pupil of Peter Abelard. He first gained prominence in a struggle at Brescia between the bishop and the city government. Arnold became sharply critical of the church, declaring that secular powers only ought to hold property; he opposed the possession of property by the church because he believed it was being tainted by its temporal power. At the Synod of Sens (1140), dominated by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Arnold and Abelard were adjudged to be in error. Abelard submitted, but Arnold continued to preach. Pope Innocent II ordered Arnold exiled and his books burned. In 1145, Pope Eugene III ordered him to go to Rome in penitence. There the people had asserted the rights of the commune and had set up a republic. Arnold was attracted to their cause and became their leader, eloquently pleading for liberty and democratic rights. The republicans under Arnold forced Eugene into temporary exile (1146). Arnold was excommunicated by the pope in 1148 but continued to head the republican city-state even after Eugene III was permitted to reenter Rome. When Adrian IV became pope, however, he took stern measures. By placing Rome under an interdict in Holy Week, 1155, he forced the exile of Arnold. When Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I came to Rome, his forces at the pope's request seized Arnold, who was then tried by the Roman Curia as a political rebel (not a heretic) and executed by secular authorities. To the end he was idolized by the Roman populace.