Arnold of Brescia

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Arnold of Brescia, bust by G. Marini (1871), Pincio , Rome
Arnold Monument in Brescia (1882), statue by Odoardo Tabacchi

Arnold von Brescia (* around 1090 in Brescia ; † 1155 ) was an Italian regular canon and preacher . With regard to church reform , he took the view that the secular clergy , too, should, following the example of the monks, practice dispossession and celibacy and renounce any political power. Arnold was one of the leaders of the Roman Commune and was executed in 1155 during Friedrich Barbarossa's move to Rome .

Arnold von Brescia is one of the most controversial figures of the 12th century. This is not least due to the sources: there are hardly more than half a dozen reports about him, practically all from the pen of his enemies.


First appearance and exile

In the late 1130s Arnold, at that time probably abbot of a community of Augustinian canons , supported the commune of Brescia in their fight against the secular overlord of the city, Bishop Manfred von Brescia, taking the view that the secular clergy should also follow the example of the Monks practice dispossession and celibacy and renounce political power, since only in this way would worthy men become priests. This demand was by no means new in his time: for example, the northern Italian Pataria movement had already demanded a worthy, sinless, non- possessive and celibate clergy . In the course of these events Arnold was reported to the Pope and convicted in 1139 at the Second Lateran Council . He had to leave his hometown and went into exile in France.

Stay in France

In France Arnold sought the closeness of the theologian Abelard . Arnold is said to have lived in dire poverty in the French capital and went from door to door with his students begging for alms . Bishop Otto von Freising reported that Arnold had been a student of Abelard even before his exile, but the correctness of this statement has been doubted several times.

It is possible that he defended Abelard, who was accused of heresy, at the Council of Sens on May 25, 1141 against Bernhard von Clairvaux . In any case, the following papal condemnation of July 16, 1141 hit both Abelard and Arnold.

After John of Salisbury, Arnold disregarded the papal verdict and continued Abelard's teaching activities with St. Hilarius on Genovevaberg in the autumn / winter of 1141 . Only the intervention of Bernhard von Clairvaux with the French king ended Arnold's stay in France.

Arnold had found an equal opponent in Bernhard. The two men were alike in their ascetic way of life and in their goal of reforming the church and the clergy. Both of them impressed with the power of their sermons, even across language barriers; only the means they preached for carrying out church reform were diametrically opposed. While Arnold sought to reform the church by withdrawing the clergy from the world, Bernhard spoke out in favor of encouraging the clergy to carry out internal reform by positioning them at the top of the social hierarchy.

Stay in Zurich and with Cardinal Guido

Arnold went to Zurich in the Diocese of Constance . Here he must have found refuge with the canons of St. Martin am Zürichberg , especially since this convent was particularly open to reforming the clergy. In Zurich, too, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of Arnold's sermon, especially since (contrary to the assumptions of historians of the 18th and 19th centuries) he was only present in the city for a very short time; However, a few indications suggest that he might have had a certain following among the region's aristocrats. In any case, his work did not last long, as a letter from Bernhard von Clairvaux soon reached the Bishop of Constance in which he warned the bishop against Arnold in sharp words: “Oh, if his teaching were as sensible as his life is strict! If you want to know, he is a person who neither eats nor drinks, who only starves with the devil and thirsts for the blood of souls. "(Ep. 195, 1)

The letter seems to have had an effect; In any case, we learn from another letter from Bernhard to a certain Cardinal Guido that Arnold is now staying with him. Apparently this is the cardinal who visited Bohemia as a papal legate . Bernhard warns the cardinal about "Arnold von Brescia, whose speech is honey and whose teaching is poison, who has the head of a dove and the tail of a scorpion." (Ep. 196, 1) Cardinal Guido, however, seems to have been less impressed by Bernhard's words as the Bishop of Constance, and in his entourage Arnold came to Rome around 1143 or 1145/46 .

Roman commune and death

In Rome, a communal movement based on the model of Pataria had formed in northern Italian cities since the beginning of the 1140s . However, the situation here differed from that in northern Italy in three main points from the start:

  • The secular overlord of Rome was not just any bishop or prince, but the Pope, which made the conflict between commune and bishop a problem of a European dimension, which sooner or later also had to call the emperor onto the scene.
  • The Roman Commune was financially dependent on the pilgrims . The prerequisite for this income, however, was the papacy itself, because only its presence in the city drew these pilgrims here. During the years of the uprising, this led to the strange situation that the Pope and the commune agreed on a peace just on the holidays around Easter and Christmas, while the commune was otherwise ready to fight.
  • In contrast to other municipalities and with dedicated recourse to ancient size, the Roman Commune formed a Senate , which is reflected in its letters to King Conrad III. expressed.

In this situation, Arnold von Brescia stood up for the commune with his demand for the clergy to withdraw from secular business. “Priests who have goods, bishops with fiefs and monks with property are condemned.” It was not long before he became an active supporter of the commune. He polemicized against the papal curia : "This exchange office and murder pit"

After several popes were unable to resolve the conflict with the commune, Pope Hadrian IV, after taking up his pontificate , recognized Arnold of Brescia as the person who stood in his way the most. The Pope occupied Rome with an interdict at Easter 1155 and demanded Arnold's banishment. After some tumult, the Romans finally complied with this demand on the Wednesday before Easter, March 23rd. Arnold had to leave the city and fled to Tuscia . There he was captured by the troops of the cardinal deacon Oddo Frangipane , but was freed by a vice count of Campagnatico , who took him up with him.

In the meantime, Friedrich Barbarossa was approaching with an army. The Pope sent him three cardinals to S. Quirico in Tuscany to negotiate the modalities of an imperial coronation. The papal ambassadors demanded, among other things, the extradition of Arnold. Then Barbarossa sent troops to Campagnatico; they were able to take one of the vice-counts prisoner and thus obtained Arnold's surrender. This was given to the cardinals and hanged in an unknown location in June 1155. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered in the Tiber so that his followers would not have any relics left to worship.

The harsh approach against Arnold found many critics among contemporaries, such as Gerhoch von Reichersberg .


The term "Arnoldists" is problematic. Although this has been the name of a group since 1184 in papal and imperial edicts against the heresies of the time, it remains questionable whether they are really supporters of the teachings of Arnold of Brescia . The arguments put forward mainly by Arsenio Frugoni for such a derivation of the Arnoldists from Arnold have already been questioned by Francesco Cognasso and more recently by Grado Giovanni Merlo. A final decision is difficult to make on the basis of the available sources, according to Schmitz-Esser 2007. Arnaldus de Villanova's students were also called Arnoldists.

What is undisputed, however, is that the term "Arnoldists" has played a central role in the history of reception of Arnold of Brescia at least since the Counter-Reformation , since Arnold became the forerunner of contemporary opponents such as Martin Luther , Ulrich Zwingli or Johannes, especially for Catholic authors such as Cesare Baronio and Jakob Gretser Calvin will.

Reception history

Arnold von Brescia made the thesis of the poverty of the church, which still seems modern today, to a popular topic of historical considerations, especially in modern times. Numerous pictures of Arnold have established themselves, among which there is no doubt that Arnold's view of the unity of Italy in the 19th century led to his greatest fame. Here he was immortalized in a tragedy by Giovanni Battista Niccolini ( translated into German by Bernhard von Lepel in 1843, 1845 ). A statue was erected for him in Brescia in 1882, the unveiling of which led to a "dispute over the monument" (Frugoni). However, since fascism at the latest, Arnold of Brescia's importance for daily political use was on the decline, which resulted in his scientific (but no less targeted) analysis.

In Switzerland, especially in Zurich, Arnold was received extensively from the 16th century; His stay in Zurich, which is documented in the sources, meant that he was not only recognized as a forerunner of Zwingli, but also as a founder of the Swiss will for freedom: Wilhelm Tell and even the Rütli oath were influenced by him. The famous Johann Jakob Bodmer dedicated two plays to his famous fellow citizen, which further fueled the cult of Arnold von Brescia in Zurich.

In 1859 the Liceo classico Arnaldo in Brescia was named after him.

The socialist research approach has the greatest impact on our picture today. Friedrich Engels Arnold mentions a bourgeois reformer of Luther's style, who has little in common with the social reformist ideas of Thomas Müntzer , but this image developed in the 19th and 20th centuries in socialist research (e.g. by Karl Kautsky ) a social reformer. Even today, Arnold's teaching is often associated with ideas of social reform (as most recently in Strothmann 1997), but recent research shows that the sources do not necessarily suggest this view (Schmitz-Esser 2004). Among the reception pictures, the designations as schismatics and church reformers are most likely to reflect historical reality.



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  • Gerhard B. Winkler (Ed.): Bernhard von Clairvaux. Complete Works. Latin / German, 6 vols. Innsbruck 1990–1995.
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  • Gerhoh of Reichersberg: De investigatione Antichristi liber I . In: Libelli de lite imperatorum et pontificum saeculis XI. et XII. conscripti . Part 3. Edited by Ernst Dümmler, Ernst Sackur u. a. Hanover 1897, pp. 304–395 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  • Erwin Assmann (Ed.): Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 63: Gunther the poet: Ligurinus. Appendix: Solimarius (fragment). Hanover 1987 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  • Marjorie Chibnall (Ed.): Ioannis Saresberiensis Historia Pontificalis. John of Salisbury's Memoirs of the Papal Court (Medieval Texts). London 1956.
  • Adolf Hofmeister (ed.): Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 45: Ottonis episcopi Frisingensis Chronica sive Historia de duabus civitatibus. Hanover 1912 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
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  • Bishop Otto von Freising and Rahewin : The deeds of Friedrich or more correctly Cronica. Translated by Adolf Schmidt and ed. by Franz-Josef Schmale . Darmstadt 1965. (Selected sources on German history in the Middle Ages 17th Freiherr vom Stein commemorative edition)
  • Walter Map : De nugis curialum (Anecdota Oxoniensia. Texts, Documents, and Extracts chiefly from Manuscripts in the Bodleian and other Oxford Libraries). Edited by Montague Rhodes James . Oxford 1914.

Secondary literature

  • Martin Gabathuler: Arnold of Brescia. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . November 26, 2002 , accessed March 29, 2020 .
  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: Arnold von Brescia in the mirror of eight centuries of reception. An example of Europe's handling of medieval history from humanism to today. Vienna / Berlin / Münster 2007. (LIT story 74)
  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: An example of border crossing in the 12th century: Arnold von Brescia. In: Ulrich Knefelkamp, ​​Kristian Bosselmann-Cyran (Hrsg.): Border and border crossing in the Middle Ages. Berlin 2007, pp. 243-255.
  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: Giuseppe Mazzini in the 12th century. On the reception of Arnold of Brescia in Italy between 1750 and 1850. In: Römische Historische Mitteilungen. 47 (2005), pp. 369-394.
  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: Arnold of Brescia in Exile: April 1139 to December 1143 - His Role as a Reformer, Reviewed. In: Laura Napran, Elisabeth van Houts (eds.): Exile in the Middle Ages. Selected Proceedings from the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 8-11 July 2002. Turnhout 2004, pp. 213-231.
  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: In Urbe, quae caput mundi est. The emergence of the Roman commune (1143–1155). On the influence of Arnold of Brescia on the politics of the Roman Senate. In: Innsbruck historical studies. 23/24 (2004), pp. 1-42.
  • Jürgen Strothmann: Arnold von Brescia. Christianity as a social religion. In: Theology and Faith. 87 (1997), pp. 55-80.
  • Grado Giovanni Merlo: Heresis Lumbardorum e Filii Arnaldi: note su Arnaldismo e Arnaldisti. In: Nuova Rivista Storica . 78 (1994), pp. 87-102.
  • Ingrid Baumgärtner : Arnold von Brescia. In: Lexicon for Theology and Church. 3. Edition. Freiburg / Basel / Rome / Vienna 1993, p. 1022.
  • Grado Giovanni Merlo: La storia e la memoria di Arnaldo da Brescia. In: Studi Storici. 32/4 (1991), pp. 943-952.
  • Maurizio Pegrari (Ed.): Arnaldo da Brescia e il suo tempo. Brescia 1991.
  • Grado Giovanni Merlo: Eretici ed eresie medievali. Bologna 1989. (Universal Paperbacks Il Mulino 230)
  • Raoul Manselli: Arnold of Brescia . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 1, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-7608-8901-8 , Sp. 1005 f.
  • George William Greenaway: Arnold of Brescia. Cambridge 1978 (1st edition 1931).
  • Francesco Cognasso: "Filii Arnaldi" (Per l'interpretazione di un passo di Ottone Morena). In: Aevum. 32: 184-187 (1958).
  • Arsenio Frugoni: Arnaldo da Brescia nelle fonti del secolo XII. Turin 1989 (1st edition 1954). (Einaudi Paperbacks 192)
  • Naum Abramovic Bortnik: Арнолд Брешианский - борец против католической церкви (Eng .: Arnold von Brescia - Fighter against the Catholic Church). Moscow 1956.
  • Arsenio Frugoni: La fortuna di Arnaldo da Brescia. In: Annali della scuola normal superiore di Pisa. 24, 2nd series (1955), pp. 145-160.
  • Pietro Fedele: Fonti per la Storia di Arnaldo da Brescia. Rome 1938. (Testi medievali per uso delle scuole universitarie 1)
  • Aldo Ragazzoni: Arnaldo da Brescia nella tradizione storica. Brescia 1937.
  • Antonino de Stefano: Arnaldo da Brescia ei suoi tempi. Rome 1921.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz:  Arnold of Brescia. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 1, Bautz, Hamm 1975. 2nd, unchanged edition Hamm 1990, ISBN 3-88309-013-1 , Sp. 232-233.

Plays and novels

Web links

Commons : Arnaldo da Brescia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedemann needy: The Staufer. Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-89678-288-6 , p. 19.
  2. Eberhard Büssem, Michael Nehrer: Workbook History - Middle Ages (3rd to 16th Century) - Repetitorium. Tübingen / Basel 2003, ISBN 3-7720-8028-6 , pp. 109, 142.
  3. ^ Jacques Le Goff (ed.): Fischer world history. Volume 11: The High Middle Ages. Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 106.
  4. ^ Jacques Le Goff (ed.): Fischer world history. Volume 11: The High Middle Ages. Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 106.
  5. S. Schmitz-Esser 2007, p. 530 f.
  6. Biographical information on Leo Tepe on the pages of the city ​​of Lahnstein