Antipapal Movement: Arnold Of Brescia

A History Christianity

Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi

Antipapal Movement: Arnold Of Brescia

Author: Neander, Johann A. W.

St. Bernard And The Second Crusade, A.D. 1145-1155

During the first half of the twelfth century - a period marked by

conflicting spiritual tendencies - in Italy began a work of political and

religious reform, which has ever since been associated with the name of its

chief originator and apostle, Arnold of Brescia, so called from his native

city in Lombardy. He was born about the year 1100, became a disciple of

Abelard - whose teachings fired him with enthusiasm - and entered the


Although quite orthodox in doctrine, he rebelled against the

secularization of the Church - which had given to the pope almost supreme

power in temporal affairs - and against the worldly disposition and life then

prevalent among ecclesiastics and monks. His own life was sternly simple and

ascetic, and this habit had been strongly confirmed by the ethical passion

which burned in the religious and philosophical instructions of Abelard. With

the popular religion Arnold had earnest sympathy, but he would reduce the

clergy to their primitive and apostolic poverty, depriving them of individual

wealth and of all temporal power.

The inspiring idea of Arnold's movement was that of a holy and pure

church, a renovation of the spiritual order after the pattern of the apostolic

church. He conformed in dress as well as in his mode of life to the

principles he taught. The worldly and often corrupt clergy, he maintained,

were unfit to discharge the priestly functions - they were no longer priests,

and the secularized Church was no longer the house of God.

Arnold dreamed of a great Christian republic and labored to establish it,

insomuch that his ideal, never realized in concrete form, either in church or

state, took, and in history has kept, the name of republic. His eloquence and

sincerity brought him powerful popular support, and even a large part of the

nobility were won to his side. But of course, among those whom his aims

condemned or antagonized, there were many who spared no pains to place him in

an unfavorable light and to bring his labors to naught. In the simple story

of his career, as here told by the great church historian, his figure appears

in an attitude of heroism, which the pathos of his end can only make the

reader more deeply appreciate. Through all this agitation is heard the voice

of St. Bernard urging the religious conscience and better aspiration of the

time, preaching the Second Crusade, and speeding its eastward march with

earnest expectation - his high hope doomed to perish with its inglorious


Arnold's discourses were directly calculated by their tendency to find

ready entrance into the minds of the laity, before whose eyes the worldly

lives of the ecclesiastics and monks were constantly present, and to create a

faction in deadly hostility to the clergy. Superadded to this was the

inflammable matter already prepared by the collision of the spirit of

political freedom with the power of the higher clergy. Thus Arnold's

addresses produced in the minds of the Italian people, quite susceptible to

such excitements, a prodigious effect, which threatened to spread more widely,

and Pope Innocent felt himself called upon to take preventive measures against

it. At the Lateran Council, in the year 1139, he declared against Arnold's

proceedings, and commanded him to quit Italy - the scene of the disturbances

thus far - and not to return again without express permission from the Pope.

Arnold, moreover, is said to have bound himself by an oath to obey this

injunction, which probably was expressed in such terms as to leave him free to

interpret it as referring exclusively to the person of Pope Innocent. If the

oath was not so expressed, he might afterward have been accused of violating

that oath. It is to be regretted that the form in which the sentence was

pronounced against Arnold has not come down to us; but from its very character

it is evident that he could not have been convicted of any false doctrine,

since otherwise the Pope would certainly not have treated him so mildly -

would not have been contented with merely banishing him from Italy, since

teachers of false doctrine would be dangerous to the Church everywhere.

Bernard, moreover, in his letter directed against Arnold, states that he

was accused before the Pope of being the author of a very bad schism. Arnold

now betook himself to France, and here he became entangled in the quarrels

with his old teacher Abelard, to whom he was indebted for the first impulse of

his mind toward this more serious and free bent of the religious spirit.

Expelled from France, he directed his steps to Switzerland, and sojourned in

Zurich. The abbot Bernard thought it necessary to caution the Bishop of

Constance against him; but the man who had been condemned by the Pope found

protection there from the papal legate, Cardinal Guido, who, indeed, made him

a member of his household and companion of his table. The abbot Bernard

severely censured the prelate, on the ground that Arnold's connection with him

would contribute, without fail, to give importance and influence to that

dangerous man. This deserves to be noticed on two accounts, for it makes it

evident what power he could exercise over men's minds, and that no false

doctrines could be charged to his account.

But independent of Arnold's personal presence, the impulse which he had

given continued to operate in Italy, and the effects of it extended even to

Rome. By the papal condemnation, public attention was only more strongly

drawn to the subject.

The Romans certainly felt no great sympathy for the religious element in

that serious spirit of reform which animated Arnold; but the political

movements, which had sprung out of his reforming tendency, found a point of

attachment in their love of liberty, and their dreams of the ancient dominion

of Rome over the world. The idea of emancipating themselves from the yoke of

the Pope, and of reestablishing the old Republic, flattered their Roman pride.

Espousing the principles of Arnold, they required that the Pope, as spiritual

head of the Church, should confine himself to the administration of spiritual

affairs; and they committed to a senate the supreme direction of civil


Innocent could do nothing to stem such a violent current; and he died in

the midst of these disturbances, in the year 1143. The mild Cardinal Guido,

the friend of Abelard and Arnold, became his successor, and called himself,

when pope, Celestine II. By his gentleness, quiet was restored for a short

time. Perhaps it was the news of the elevation of this friendly man to the

papal throne that encouraged Arnold himself to come to Rome. But Celestine

died after six months, and Lucius II was his successor. Under his reign the

Romans renewed the former agitations with more violence; they utterly

renounced obedience to the Pope, whom they recognized only in his priestly

character, and the restored Roman Republic sought to strike a league in

opposition to the Pope and to papacy with the new Emperor, Conrad III.

In the name of the "senate and Roman people," a pompous letter was

addressed to Conrad. The Emperor was invited to come to Rome, that from

thence, like Justinian and Constantine, in former days, he might give laws to

the world.

Caesar should have the things that are Caesar's; the priest the things

that are the priest's, as Christ ordained when Peter paid the tribute money.

Long did the tendency awakened by Arnold's principles continue to agitate

Rome. In the letters written amidst these commotions, by individual noblemen

of Rome to the Emperor, we perceive a singular mixing together of the

Arnoldian spirit with the dreams of Roman vanity; a radical tendency to the

separation of secular from spiritual things which if it had been capable

enough in itself, and if it could have found more points of attachment in the

age, would have brought destruction on the old theocratical system of the

Church. They said that the Pope could claim no political sovereignty in Rome;

he could not even be consecrated without the consent of the Emperor - a rule

which had in fact been observed till the time of Gregory VII. Men complained

of the worldliness of the clergy, of their bad lives, of the contradiction

between their conduct and the teachings of Scripture.

The popes were accused as the instigators of the wars. "The popes," it

was said, "should no longer unite the cup of the eucharist with the sword; it

was their vocation to preach, and to confirm what they preached by good works.

How could those who eagerly grasped at all the wealth of this world, and

corrupted the true riches of the Church, the doctrine of salvation obtained by

Christ, by their false doctrines and their luxurious living, receive that word

of our Lord, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' when they were poor themselves

neither in fact nor in disposition?" Even the donative of Constantine to the

Roman bishop Silvester was declared to be a pitiable fiction. This lie had

been so clearly exposed that it was obvious to the very day-laborers and to

women, and that these could put to silence the most learned men if they

ventured to defend the genuineness of this donative; so that the Pope, with

his cardinals, no longer dared to appear in public. But Arnold was perhaps

the only individual in whose case such a tendency was deeply rooted in

religious conviction; with many it was but a transitory intoxication, in which

their political interests had become merged for the moment.

The pope Lucius II was killed as early as 1145, in the attack on the

Capitol. A scholar of the great abbot Bernard, the abbot Peter Bernard of

Pisa, now mounted the papal chair under the name of Eugene III. As Eugene

honored and loved the abbot Bernard as his spiritual father and old preceptor,

so the latter took advantage of his relation to the Pope to speak the truth to

him with a plainness which no other man would easily have ventured to use. In

congratulating him upon his elevation to the papal dignity, he took occasion

to exhort him to do away with the many abuses which had become so widely

spread in the Church by worldly influences. "Who will give me the

satisfaction," said he in his letter, "of beholding the Church of God, before

I die, in a condition like that in which it was in ancient days, when the

apostles threw out their nets, not for silver and gold, but for souls? How

fervently I wish thou mightest inherit the word of that apostle whose

episcopal seat thou hast acquired, of him who said, 'Thy gold perish with

thee.' Oh that all the enemies of Zion might tremble before this dreadful

word, and shrink back abashed! This, thy mother indeed expects and requires

of thee, for this long and sigh the sons of thy mother, small and great, that

every plant which our Father in heaven has not planted may be rooted up by thy

hands." He then alluded to the sudden deaths of the last predecessors of the

Pope, exhorting him to humility, and reminding him of his responsibility. "In

all thy works," he wrote, "remember that thou art a man; and let the fear of

Him who taketh away the breath of rulers be ever before thine eyes."

Eugene was soon forced to yield, it is true, to the superior force of the

insurrectionary spirit in Rome, and in 1146 to take refuge in France; but,

like Urban and Innocent, he too, from this country, attained to the highest

triumph of the papal power. Like Innocent, he found there, in the abbot

Bernard of Clairvaux, a mightier instrument for operating on the minds of the

age than he could have found in any other country; and like Urban, when

banished from the ancient seat of the papacy, he was enabled to place himself

at the head of a crusade proclaimed in his name, and undertaken with great

enthusiasm; an enterprise from which a new impression of sacredness would be

reflected back upon his own person.

The news of the success which had attended the arms of the Saracens in

Syria, the defeat of the Christians, the conquest of the ancient Christian

territory of Edessa, the danger which threatened the new Christian kingdom of

Jerusalem and the Holy City, had spread alarm among the Western nations, and

the Pope considered himself bound to summon the Christians of the West to the

assistance of their hard-pressed brethren in the faith and to the recovery of

the holy places. By a letter directed to the abbot Bernard he commissioned

him to exhort the Western Christians in his name, that, for penance and

forgiveness of sins, they should march to the East, to deliver their brethren,

or to give up their lives for them. Enthusiastic for the cause himself,

Bernard communicated, through the power of the living word and by letters, his

enthusiasm to the nations. He represented the new crusade as a means

furnished by God to the multitudes sunk in sin, of calling them to repentance,

and of paving the way, by devout participation in a pious work, for the

forgiveness of their sins. Thus, in his letter to the clergy and people in

East Frankland (Germany), he exhorts them eagerly to lay hold on this

opportunity; he declares that the Almighty condescended to invite murderers,

robbers, adulterers, perjurers, and those sunk in other crimes, into his

service, as well as the righteous. He calls upon them to make an end of

waging war with one another, and to seek an object for their warlike prowess

in this holy contest. "Here, brave warrior," he exclaims, "thou hast a field

where thou mayest fight without danger, where victory is glory and death is

gain. Take the sign of the cross, and thou shalt obtain the forgiveness of

all the sins which thou hast never confessed with a contrite heart." By

Bernard's fiery discourses men of all ranks were carried away. In France and

in Germany he travelled about, conquering by an effort his great bodily

infirmities, and the living word from his lips produced even mightier effects

than his letters.

A peculiar charm, and a peculiar power of moving men's minds, must have

existed in the tones of his voice; to this must be added the awe-inspiring

effect of his whole appearance, the way in which his whole being and the

motions of his bodily frame joined in testifying of that which seized and

inspired him. Thus it admits of being explained how, in Germany, even those

who understood but little, or in fact nothing, of what he said, could be so

moved as to shed tears and smite their breasts; could, by his own speeches in

a foreign language, be more strongly affected and agitated than by the

immediate interpretation of his words by another. From all quarters sick

persons were conveyed to him by the friends who sought from him a cure; and

the power of his faith, the confidence he inspired in the minds of men, might

sometimes produce remarkable effects. With this enthusiasm, however, Bernard

united a degree of prudence and a discernment of character such as few of that

age possessed, and such qualities were required to counteract the multiform

excitements of the wild spirit of fanaticism which mixed in with this great

ferment of minds.

Thus, he warned the Germans not to suffer themselves to be misled so far

as to follow certain independent enthusiasts, ignorant of war, who were bent

on moving forward the bodies of the crusaders prematurely. He held up as a

warning the example of Peter the Hermit, and declared himself very decidedly

opposed to the proposition of an abbot who was disposed to march with a number

of monks to Jerusalem; "for," said he, "fighting warriors are more needed

there than singing monks." At an assembly held at Chartres it was proposed

that he himself should take the lead of the expedition; but he rejected the

proposition at once, declaring that it was beyond his power and contrary to

his calling. Having, perhaps, reason to fear that the Pope might be hurried

on, by the shouts of the many, to lay upon him some charge to which he did not

feel himself called, he besought the Pope that he would not make him a victim

to men's arbitrary will, but that he would inquire, as it was his duty to do,

how God had determined to dispose of him.

With the preaching of this Second Crusade, as with the invitation to the

First, was connected an extraordinary awakening. Many who had hitherto given

themselves up to their unrestrained passions and desires, and become strangers

to all higher feelings, were seized with compunction. Bernard's call to

repentance penetrated many a heart; people who had lived in all manner of

crime were seen following this voice and flocking together in troops to

receive the badge of the cross. Bishop Otto of Freisingen, the historian, who

himself took the cross at that time, expresses it as his opinion "that every

man of sound understanding would be forced to acknowledge so sudden and

uncommon a change could have been produced in no other way than by the right

hand of the Lord." The provost Gerhoh of Reichersberg, who wrote in the midst

of these movements, was persuaded that he saw here a work of the Holy Spirit,

designed to counteract the vices and corruptions which had got the upper hand

in the Church.

Many who had been awakened to repentance confessed what they had taken

from others by robbery or fraud, and hastened, before they went to the holy

war, to seek reconciliation with their enemies. The Christian enthusiasm of

the German people found utterance in songs in the German tongue; and even now

the peculiar adaptation of this language to sacred poetry began to be

remarked. Indecent songs could no longer venture to appear abroad.

While some were awakened by Bernard's preaching from a life of crime to

repentance, and by taking part in the holy war strove to obtain the remission

of their sins, others again, who though hitherto borne along in the current of

ordinary worldly pursuits, yet had not given themselves up to vice, were

filled by Bernard's words with loathing of the worldly life, inflamed with a

vehement longing after a higher stage of Christian perfection, after a life of

entire consecration to God. They longed rather to enter upon the pilgrimage

to the heavenly than to an earthly Jerusalem; they resolved to become monks,

and would fain have the man of god himself, whose words had made so deep an

impression on their hearts, as their guide in the spiritual life, and commit

themselves to his directions, in the monastery of Clairvaux. But here Bernard

showed his prudence and knowledge of mankind; he did not allow all to become

monks who wished to do so. Many he rejected because he perceived they were

not fitted for the quiet of the contemplative life, but needed to be

disciplined by the conflicts and cares of a life of action.

As contemporaries themselves acknowledge, these first impressions, in the

case of many who went to the crusades, were of no permanent duration, and

their old nature broke forth again the more strongly under the manifold

temptations to which they were exposed, in proportion to the facility with

which, through the confidence they reposed in a plenary indulgence, without

really laying to heart the condition upon which it was bestowed, they could

flatter themselves with security in their sins.

Gerhoh of Reichersberg, in describing the blessed effects of that

awakening which accompanied the preaching of the crusader, yet says: "We doubt

not that among so vast a multitude some became in the true sense and in all

sincerity soldiers of Christ. Some, however, were led to embark in the

enterprise by various other occasions, concerning whom it does not belong to

us to judge, but only to Him who alone knows the hearts of those who marched

to the contest either in the right or not in the right spirit. Yet this we do

confidently affirm, that to this crusade many were called, but few were

chosen." And it was said that many returned from this expedition, not better,

but worse than they went. Therefore the monk Cesarius of Heisterbach, who

states this, adds: "All depends on bearing the yoke of Christ not one year or

two years, but daily, if a man is really intent on doing it in truth, and in

that sense in which our Lord requires it to be done, in order to follow him."

When it turned out, however, that the event did not answer the

expectations excited by Bernard's enthusiastic confidence, but the crusade

came to that unfortunate issue which was brought about especially by the

treachery of the princes and nobles of the Christian kingdom in Syria, this

was a source of great chagrin to Bernard, who had been so active in setting it

in motion, and who had inspired such confident hopes by his promises. He

appeared now in the light of a bad prophet, and he was reproached by many with

having incited men to engage in an enterprise which had cost so much blood to

no purpose; but Bernard's friends alleged, in his defence, that he had not

excited such a popular movement single-handed, but as the organ of the Pope,

in whose name he acted; and they appealed to the facts by which his preaching

of the cross was proved to be a work of God - to the wonders which attended

it. Or they ascribed the failure of the undertaking to the bad conduct of the

crusaders, themselves, to the unchristian mode of life which many of them led,

as one of these friends maintained, in a consoling letter to Bernard himself,

adding, "God, however, has turned it to good. Numbers who, if they had

returned home, would have continued to live a life of crime, disciplined and

purified by many sufferings, have passed into the life eternal."

But Bernard himself could not be staggered in his faith by this event. In

writing to Pope Eugene on this subject, he refers to the incomprehensibleness

of the divine ways and judgments; to the example of Moses, who, although his

work carried on its face incontestable evidence of being a work of God, yet

was not permitted himself to conduct the Jews into the Promised Land. As this

was owing to the fault of the Jews themselves, so too the crusaders had none

to blame but themselves for the failure of the divine work. "But," says he,

"it will be said, perhaps, how do we know that this work came from the Lord?

What miracle dost thou work that we should believe thee? To this question I

need not give an answer; it is a point on which my modesty asks to be excused

from speaking. Do you answer," says he to the Pope, "for me and for yourself,

according to that which you have seen and heard." So firmly was Bernard

convinced that God had sustained his labors by miracles.

Eugene was at length enabled, in the year 1149, after having for a long

time excited against himself the indignation of the cardinals by his

dependence on the French abbot, with the assistance of Roger, King of the

Sicilies, to return to Rome; where, however, he still had to maintain a

struggle with the party of Arnold.

The provost Gerhoh finds something to complain of in the fact that the

Church of St. Peter wore so warlike an aspect that men beheld the tomb of the

apostle surrounded with bastions and the implements of war.

As Bernard was no longer sufficiently near the Pope to exert on him the

same immediate personal influence as in times past, he addressed to him a

voice of admonition and warning, such as the mighty of the earth seldom enjoy

the privilege of hearing. With the frankness of a love which, as he himself

expresses it, knew not the master, but recognized the son, even under the

pontifical robes, he set before him, in his four books On Meditation, which he

sent to him singly at different times, the duties of his office, and the

faults against which, in order to fulfil these duties, he needed especially to


Bernard was penetrated with a conviction that to the Pope, as St. Peter's

successor, was committed by God a sovereign power of church government over

all, and responsible to no other tribunal; that to this church theocracy,

guided by the Pope, the administration even of the secular power, though

independent within its own peculiar sphere, should be subjected, for the

service of the kingdom of God; but he also perceived, with the deepest pain,

how very far the papacy was from corresponding to this its idea and

destination; what prodigious corruption had sprung and continued to spring

from the abuse of papal authority; he perceived already, with prophetic eye,

that this very abuse of arbitrary will must eventually bring about the

destruction of this power. He desired that the Pope should disentangle

himself from the secular part of his office, and reduce that office within the

purely spiritual domain; and that, above all, he should learn to govern and

restrict himself.

But to the close of his life, in the year 1153, Pope Eugene had to

contend with the turbulent spirit of the Romans and the influences of the

principles disseminated by Arnold; and this contest was prolonged into the

reign of his second successor, Adrian IV. Among the people and among the

nobles, a considerable party had arisen who would concede to the Pope no kind

of secular dominion. And there seems to have been a shade of difference among

the members of this party. A mob of the people is said to have gone to such

an extreme of arrogance as to propose the choosing of a new emperor from among

the Romans themselves, the restoration of a Roman empire independent of the

Pope. The other party, to which belonged the nobles, were for placing the

emperor Frederick I at the head of the Roman Republic, and uniting themselves

with him in a common interest against the Pope. They invited him to receive

the imperial crown, in the ancient manner, from the "senate and Roman people,"

and not from the heretical and recreant clergy and false monks who acted in

contradiction to their calling, exercising lordship despite of the evangelical

and apostolical doctrine; and in contempt of all laws, divine and human,

brought the Church of God and the kingdom of the world into confusion. Those

who pretend that they are the representatives of Peter, it was said, in a

letter addressed in the spirit of this party to the emperor Frederick I, "act

in contradiction to the doctrines which that apostle teaches in his epistles.

How can they say with the apostle Peter, 'Lo, we have left all and followed

thee,' and, 'Silver and gold have I none'? How can our Lord say to such, 'Ye

are the light of the world,' 'the salt of the earth'? Much rather is to be

applied to them what our Lord says of the salt that has lost its savor.

'Eager after earthly riches, they spoil the true riches, from which the

salvation of the world has proceeded.' How can the saying be applied to them,

'Blessed are the poor in spirit'? for they are neither poor in spirit nor in


Pope Adrian IV was first enabled, under more favorable circumstances, and

assisted by the Emperor Frederick I, to deprive the Arnold party of its

leader, and then to suppress it entirely. It so happened that, in the first

year of Adrian's reign, 1155, a cardinal, on his way to visit the Pope, was

attacked and wounded by followers of Arnold. This induced the Pope to put all

Rome under the interdict, with a view to force the expulsion of Arnold and his

party. This means did not fail of its effect. The people who could not bear

the suspension of divine worship, now themselves compelled the nobles to bring

about the ejection of Arnold and his friends. Arnold, on leaving Rome, found

protection from Italian nobles. By the order, however, of the emperor

Frederick, who had come into Italy, he was torn from his protectors and

surrendered up to the papal authority. The Prefect of Rome then took

possession of his person and caused him to be hanged. His body was burned,

and its ashes thrown into the Tiber, lest his bones might be preserved as the

relics of a martyr by the Romans, who were enthusiastically devoted to him.

Worthy men, who were in other respects zealous defenders of the church

orthodoxy and of the hierarchy - as, for example, Gerhoh of Reichersberg -

expressed their disapprobation, first, that Arnold should be punished with

death on account of the errors which he disseminated; secondly, that the

sentence of death should proceed from a spiritual tribunal, or that such a

tribunal should at least have subjected itself to that bad appearance.

But on the part of the Roman court it was alleged, in defense of this

proceeding, that "it was done without the knowledge and contrary to the will

of the Roman curia." "The Prefect of Rome had forcibly removed Arnold from the

prison where he was kept, and his servants had put him to death in revenge for

injuries they had suffered from Arnold's party. Arnold, therefore, was

executed, not on account of his doctrines, but in consequence of tumults

excited by himself." It may be a question whether this was said with

sincerity, or whether, according to the proverb, a confession of guilt is not

implied in the excuse. But Gerhoh was of the opinion that in this case they

should at least have done as David did, in the case of Abner's death, and, by

allowing Arnold to be buried, and his death to be mourned over, instead of

causing his body to be burned, and the remains thrown into the Tiber, washed

their hands of the whole transaction.

But the idea for which Arnold had contended, and for which he died,

continued to work in various forms, even after his death - the idea of a

purification of the Church from the foreign worldly elements with which it had

become vitiated, of its restoration to its original spiritual character.

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