ARNOLD, OF BRESCIA
Seven hundred years, seven hundred years,
Since Truth and Rome together strove;
Since Heaven beheld Italia’s tears,
And ARNOLD spoke the words we love!
He spoke; – and Italy arose,
Thrilled by her prophet’s voice of flame;
Religion triumphed o’er her foes,
And Freedom sung her ARNOLD’S name
But ah, the Martyr’s voice was hushed,
His ashes strewed the Tiber’s flood;
Truth, Freedom, Right, by Power were crushed,
And Rome was drunk with holy blood! -J.N. BROWN.
About the year 1137, a reformer appeared in Italy, who proved himself a powerful opponent to the Church of Rome; and who, in fortitude and zeal, was inferior to no one bearing that name, while in talents and learning he excelled most. This was Arnold, of Brescia; a man remarkable for force of piety and austerity of manners.
In early life he had traveled into France, and studied under the renowned Peter Abelard. On leaving this school, he returned into Italy, assumed the habit of a monk, and began to propagate his opinions in the streets of Brescia, where he soon gained attention. He especially directed his zeal against the wealth and luxury of the Roman clergy, and his noble eloquence soon roused the inhabitants of Brescia, who revered him as the Apostle of religious liberty, and rose in rebellion against the tyranny of the bishops. The Romish Church took alarm at his bold attacks, and in a Council condemned him to perpetual silence.
Arnold now left Italy, and found an asylum in the Swiss canton of Zurich. Here he began his system of reform, which was never more needed. For a while he was successful, converting even the Pope’s Legate; but the influence of the famous Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, made it necessary for him to leave the canton.
The bold man now conceived the plan and hazarded the desperate experiment of visiting Rome, and fixing the standard of reform in the very heart of the capital. In this measure he so far succeeded as to win over the Senate and effect a popular change of the government. The Pontiff struggled hard to maintain his ascendancy, but at length sunk under the pressure. Eugenius III withdrew from Rome, and Arnold, taking advantage of his absence, impressed on the people the necessity of setting bounds to clerical authority. Arnold’s sentiments were influential among the people, and on a few of the clergy. But not being prepared for freedom, they carried their measures to an extreme, abused the clergy, and burnt their property. They required all ecclesiastics to swear allegiance to the new constitution. “Arnold,” says Gibbon, “presumed to quote the declaration of Christ, that his kingdom was not of this world. The abbots, the bishops, and the Pope himself, must renounce their state, or their salvation.”
At length, in 1155, the Pope laid an interdict on the city. As the sword was no weapon in Arnold’s panoply, the noble champion retired to Tuscany. There he was seized, brought back to Rome, condemned, crucified, and burnt. His ashes were thrown into the Tiber.
The clergy triumphed in his death, and with his ashes, it was thought, that his sect was dispersed. Yet his noble spirit of religious freedom did not die, but was cherished with his memory in the hearts of reforming spirits in future generations, such as Wickliffe, Huss, and their compeers. And even his immediate followers did not become extinct, for the ARNOLDISTS are often met with in ecclesiastical history as a body who were worthy of his name, and of our high respect.
Many very decisive facts show Arnold to have been a Baptist. Bernard accuses his followers of mocking at infant baptism. Evervinus, in Germany, also says “the Arnoldists condemn the [Catholic] sacraments, particularly baptism, which they administer only to the adult; alleging that place, whoever shall believe and be baptized shall be saved.” And, in a word, Arnold himself was formally condemned by the Lateran Council for rejecting infant baptism.