Arnold of Brescia

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Arnold of Brescia

(brĕsh`ə), c.1090–1155, Italian monk and reformer, b. Brescia. A priest of irreproachable life, Arnold studied at Paris, where according to tradition he was a pupil of Peter Abelard. He first gained prominence in a struggle at Brescia between the bishop and the city government. Arnold became sharply critical of the church, declaring that secular powers only ought to hold property; he opposed the possession of property by the church because he believed it was being tainted by its temporal power. At the Synod of Sens (1140), dominated by St. Bernard of ClairvauxBernard of Clairvaux, Saint
, 1090?–1153, French churchman, mystic, Doctor of the Church. Born of noble family, in 1112 he entered the Cistercian abbey of Cîteaux, taking along 4 or 5 brothers and some 25 friends.
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, Arnold and Abelard were adjudged to be in error. Abelard submitted, but Arnold continued to preach. Pope Innocent II ordered Arnold exiled and his books burned. In 1145, Pope Eugene III ordered him to go to Rome in penitence. There the people had asserted the rights of the commune and had set up a republic. Arnold was attracted to their cause and became their leader, eloquently pleading for liberty and democratic rights. The republicans under Arnold forced Eugene into temporary exile (1146). Arnold was excommunicated by the pope in 1148 but continued to head the republican city-state even after Eugene III was permitted to reenter Rome. When Adrian IV became pope, however, he took stern measures. By placing Rome under an interdict in Holy Week, 1155, he forced the exile of Arnold. When Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I came to Rome, his forces at the pope's request seized Arnold, who was then tried by the Roman Curia as a political rebel (not a heretic) and executed by secular authorities. To the end he was idolized by the Roman populace.
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Arnold of Brescia


(Latin, Arnoldus de Brixia; Italian, Arnaldo da Brescia). Born at the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century; died June 18, 1155. Italian political leader and fighter against the Catholic Church.

In 1135, Arnold led the struggle of the citizens of Brescia against the bishop, who was also lord of the city. By a resolution of the tenth ecumenical council (1139) Arnold was banished from Italy. In France he joined his teacher Abelard in the latter’s struggle against Bernard of Clairvaux. Because of his sharp criticism of the Catholic clergy, Arnold was banished from France in 1140 and later even from Zürich (where he had fled). In 1143 he returned to Italy and settled in Rome in 1145. Arnold spoke out as the ideologist of the struggle being waged by the people against the Pope of Rome, and he took an active part in the leadership of the Roman Republic, which had been created as a result of an antipapal uprising in 1143. Sharply criticizing the pope and the cardinals for their greed, Arnold preached the evangelical ideals of poverty; he insisted that the clergy be deprived of property and secular power. The teaching of Arnold of Brescia expressed the striving of the burghers to free themselves from the secular power of the clergy and create a modest church. On the pope’s insistence Arnold was compelled to leave Rome in 1155. He was captured by knights of Frederick I Barbarossa, handed over to the pope, and executed.


Bortnik, N. A. Arnol’d Breshianskii. . . . Moscow, 1956. Frugoni, A. Arnaldo da Brescia. . . . Rome, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.