The name "Arnoldists" comes from a man named Arnold. He was born in Brescia (of Italy) but the date is unknown. He was executed by the Roman church in Rome, in 1155 A.D. After his death his followers were called "Arnoldists." Some of the historians believe he never separated from the Roman church and therefore was a reformer. Others believe he did and therefore was a Baptist. I cannot tell but do believe that many of his followers did separate from Rome and became Baptists. You judge the matter righteously.
Many traits belong to the Baptists. True Baptists, by whatever name they may be called, have always had as a trait, a love for religious liberty. We and our ancestors have always believed that the government should not control the churches. We have also held that the government should not be a church government, as such. More than any one man in the twelfth century, Arnold of Brescia loved religious freedom. It would be easy to see that many Baptists would espouse this cause. It seems probable that they also were responsible for the views he held.
Orchard's Sketch of Arnold of Brescia
All of the church historians give nearly the same account of Arnold, quoting the same sources. At this point let us look at Orchard's account:
"A reformer now appeared in Italy, and one 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 learning and talents he excelled most. This was ARNOLD OF BRESCIA; a man allowed to have been possessed of extensive erudition, and remarkable for his austerity of manners; he traveled into France in early life, and became a pupil of the renowned Peter Aberlard. On leaving this school, he returned into Italy, and assumed the habit of a monk, began to propagate his opinions in the streets of
Brescia, where he soon gained attention. He pointed his zeal at the wealth and luxury of the Roman clergy. The eloquence of Arnold aroused the inhabitants of Brescia. They revered him as the apostle of religious liberty, and rose in rebellion against the bishops. The church took an alarm at his bold attacks; and in a council (1139,) he was condemned to perpetual silence. Arnold left Italy, and found an asylum in the Swiss canton of Zurich. Here he began his system of reform, and succeeded for a time, but the influence of Bernard made it necessary for him to leave the canton. This bold man now hazarded the desperate experiment of visiting Rome, and fixing the standard of rebellion in the very heart of the capitol. In this measure, he succeeded so far as to occasion a change of the government, and the clergy experienced for ten years a reverse of fortune, and succession of insults from the people. The pontiff struggled hard, but in vain, to maintain his ascendancy. He at length sunk under the pressure of the calamity. Successive pontiffs were unable to check his popularity. Eugenius III withdrew from Rome, and Arnold, taking advantage of his absence, impressed on the minds of the people the necessity of setting bounds to clerical authority; but the people, not being prepared for such liberty, carried their measures to the extreme, abused the clergy, burnt their property, and required all ecclesiastics to swear 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." The people were brave, but ignorant of the nature, extent, and advantages of a reformation. The people imbibed, and long retained the color of his opinions. His sentiments also were influential on some of the clergy in the Catholic church. He was not devoid of discretion, he was protected by the nobles and the people, and his services to the cause of freedom; his eloquence thundered over the seven hills. He showed how strangely the clergy in vice had degenerated from the primitive times of the church. He confined the shepherd to the spiritual government of his flock. It is from the year 1144, that the establishment of the senate is dated, as the glorious era, in the acts of the city. Arnold maintained his station above ten years, while two
popes, either trembled in the Vatican, or wandered as exiles in adjacent cities. "The wound appeared unto death," but the pope having mustered his troops, and placing himself at their head, soon became possessed of his official dignity. Arnold’s friends were numerous, but a sword was no weapon in the articles of his faith.
In 1155, this noble champion was seized, crucified, and burnt. His ashes were thrown into the river. "The clergy triumphed in his death; with his ashes, his sect was dispersed; his memory still lives in the minds of the Romans." Thus, the deadly wound was healed. Though no corporeal relic could be preserved to animate his followers, the efforts of Arnold in civil and religious liberty were cherished in the breasts of the future reforming spirits, and inspired those mighty attempts, in WICKLIFFE, HUSS, and others."
His memory was long and fondly cherished by his countrymen, and his tragical end occasioned deep and loud murmurs; it was regarded as an act of injustice and cruelty, the guilt of which lay upon the pope and his clergy, who had been the occasion of it. The disciples of Arnold; who were numerous, obtained the name of ARNOLDISTS; these separated from the communion of the church of Rome, and long continued to bear their testimony against its numerous abuses."1
With his love for liberty all Baptists will agree. That the corruption of the Roman popes and clergy was great we also agree. That this man was a great man and an able man we all agree.
Was Arnold a Baptist?
William Wall writes: "Also the Lateran council under Innocent II, 1139, did condemn Peter Bruis, and Arnold of Brescia, who seems to have been a follower of Bruis, for rejecting infants' baptism."2
William Jones quotes Dr. Allix: "But there was a still more heinous thing laid to his charge, which was this: He was unsound in his judgment about the sacrament of the altar and infant baptism - (in other words, he rejected the popish
doctrine of transubstantiation and the baptism of infants)."3
Comments here seem appropriate. If Wall is correct in saying Arnold was a disciple of Peter de Bruys, then certainly he was a Baptist, or held many of their views for Peter was a Baptist. The fact that Arnold rejected the popish fable of transubstantiation and the evil doctrine of infant baptism would move him deeply into the Baptist camp.
Orchard quotes St. Bernard, the Catholic, against Arnold: "The sentiments of Arnold on the ordinance is thus established, Bernard, whose influence occasioned Arnold's leaving Zurich, accuses his followers of mocking at infant baptism. He also received a like accusation from Evervimus, in Germany, who said the Arnoldists condemn the (catholic) sacraments, particularly baptism, which they administer only to the adult. They do not believe infant baptism, alleging that place of the gospel, whoever shall believe and be baptized shall be saved."4 (Sounds Baptistic to me)!
S. H. Ford comments about Arnold: "He was a Baptist. For holding just what Baptists now hold, and for no other charge, he was arrested, condemned, crucified, and then burned, and his ashes thrown into the Tiber… The Arnoldists, the Henricians, and Petrobrusians we have found, and by their enemies, showed them to be Baptists."5
John T. Christian writes of the Arnoldists: "By the year 1184 the Arnoldists were termed Albigenses, a little later they were classed as Waldenses. Derckhoff, one of the German writers on the Waldenses affirms: There was a connection between the Waldenses and the followers of Peter de Bruys, Henry of Lausanne and Arnold of Brescia, and they finally united in one body about 1130 as they held common views."6
We conclude our study of the Arnoldists with a quote from Thieleman J. van Braght that deals with the doctrine of the Arnoldists and Arnold's martyrdom:
ARNOLD, A LECTOR AT BRESCIA, AFTER MUCH
PERSECUTION, BURNT AT ROME, FOR HIS VIEWS
AGAINST INFANT BAPTISM, THE MASS, ETC.,
A. D. 1145
"In our account of those who opposed infant baptism, the twelfth century, we made mention, for the year 1139, of one Arnold, a lector at Brescia, in Italy, and stated, that, having been instructed by Peter Abelard, he, besides the doctrine he maintained against the mass and transubstantiation, also taught against infant baptism; on account of which Pope Innocent II commanded him to be silent. Thereupon he fled into Germany or Switzerland, where for a time he continued to teach. Thence, after the death of the aforesaid pope, he came to Rome. But obtaining there an incredible number of followers, and being severely persecuted by the Popes Eugenius and Adrian, he fled to the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who delivered him into the hands of the pope; and thus he finally, at Rome, placed to the stake, burnt to ashes, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber, lest the people should show him honor. It is recorded that this occurred A. D. 1145, after he had, as is reckoned, strenuously maintained the above doctrine for about six years.
Abraham Mellinus, writing of the belief of Arnold, says: "He also taught quite differently concerning the sacrament of the altar, and (notice), of infant baptism, from that which was taught in the Roman church at that time. He doubtless, in this respect, held the views of Peter de Bruis and Henry of Toulouse (of whom we shall speak afterwards), rejecting transubstantiation, and denying that the mass is a sacrifice for the living and the dead, and that (notice again) either baptism or the faith of others saves infants."
NOTE: Abraham Mellinus, who states this concerning the belief of Arnold, was a preacher of the Calvinistic church, in St. Anthony's Polder, and, consequently, himself an advocate of infant baptism. Nevertheless, he distinctly says of Arnold, whom he recognized as a pious martyr, that he taught quite differently concerning infant baptism, and also that this baptism and the
faith of others do not save children, etc., the opposite of which the Romanists maintained."7
Notes on Chapter 14
1 A Concise History of Baptists, pages 148-152.
2 The History of Infant Baptism, Volume 2, page 261.
3 History of the Christian Church, page 280.
4 A Concise History of the Baptists, pages 152-153.
5 The Origin of the Baptists, pages 57-58.
6 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 67.
7 Martyrs Mirror, page 292.
Baptist History Notebook
Baptist History Homepage