This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Arnold Denounces Clerical Money and Power.
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 priesthood.
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 was 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 result.
This selection is from General History of the Christian Religion and Church by Johann A. W. Neander published in 1850.
Johann A. W. Neander was a German theologian and historian.
Time: 1130 – 1155
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 affairs.
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.
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