Today’s installment concludes Arnold of Brescia Versus Saint Bernard,
our selection from General History of the Christian Religion and Church by Johann A. W. Neander published in 1850.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Arnold of Brescia Versus Saint Bernard.
Time: 1130 – 1155
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 guard.
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 fact.”
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 defence 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.
This ends our series of passages on Arnold of Brescia Versus Saint Bernard by Johann A. W. Neander from his book General History of the Christian Religeon and Church published in 1850. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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