1902 Encyclopedia > Arnold of Brescia

Arnold of Brescia
Italian religious revolutionary
(c. 1100 - 1155)

ARNOLD OF BRESCIA, remarkable as a forerunner of the Reformation and assailant of the Pope's temporal power, was born about the beginning of the 12th century, and became a priest in his native city. The fame of Abelard's eloquence induced him to repair to France for the sake of becoming his disciple. On his return he bitterly attacked the temporal dominion of the Pope and the wealth of the clergy, advocating the secularisation of all ecclesiastical property. He is said to have also impugned the current doctrine of the sacraments, but this appears to have been an invention of his adversaries. Persecuted in Italy, he returned (1140) to Abelard, and incurred the enmity of the latter's great antagonist, St Bernard, whose he acquired great influence. A popular insurrection at Rome (1146) encouraged him to proceed to that city, where he appeared __ a political agitator, preaching the deposition of the Pope and the restoration of the ancient republic. He became exceedingly popular, and aided in expelling the Pope from the city, but no practical effect appears to have been given to his plans. The Romans obtained, however, a free constitution on a different model. Upon their demanding the confirmation of this at the accession of the new Pope, Adrian IV. (the Englishman, Nicholas Breakspear), it was refused unless upon condition of their delivering up Arnold. The demand being indignantly rejected, the city, for the first time in history, was laid under an interdict. The consequent suspension of all religious services so powerfully affected the people as to occasion a tumult, which compelled Arnold to take refuge in a castle in Campania(1155). A new emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, had meanwhile been elected, and was on the way to his coronation in Rome. By him Arnold was arrested and delivered up to the Pope, and the Roman constitution suppressed. Arnold was hanged, his body burned, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. In history he ranks with Rienzi and Savonarola. His enemies have been his biographers, and they are unanimous in acknowledging his eloquence, his personal influence, and his perfect disinterestedness. Allowing for a romantic attachment to antiquated political forms, he was as a politician greatly in advance of his age. The best proof of his truly prophetic insight into the needs of his country is that, although he left no writings and no disciples, his name is to this day a popular cry in Italy. It is also the subject of, perhaps, the only truly national Italian drama, a tragedy by Niccolini. (Franke, Arnold von Brescia ; Guibal, Arnaud de Brescia et les Hohenstauffen; Gregorovius, Rom im Mittelalter, vol. iv.) (_. G.)

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