Home/ Historical Writings / Church & Denominational History / James Aitken Wylie / The History of Protestantism
The History of Protestantism
by 'James Aitken Wylie'
Book 1 Progress From the First to the Fourteenth Century
Chapter 11 Protestants before Protestantism
Berengarius The First Opponent of Transubstantiation Numerous Councils Condemn him His Recantation The Martyrs of Orleans Their Confession Their Condemnation and Martyrdom Peter de Bruys and the Petrobrusians Henri Effects of his Eloquence St. Bernard sent to Oppose him Henri Apprehended His Fate unknown Arnold of Brescia Birth and Education His Picture of his Times His Scheme of Reform Inveighs against the Wealth of the Hierarchy His Popularity Condemned by Innocent II. and Banished from Italy Returns on the Pope's Death Labors Ten Years in Rome Demands the Separation of the Temporal and Spiritual Authority Adrian IV. He Suppresses the Movement Arnold is Burned
IN pursuing to an end the history of the Albigensian crusades, we have been carried somewhat beyond the point of time at which we had arrived. We now return. A succession of lights which shine out at intervals amid the darkness of the ages guides our eye onward. In the middle of the eleventh century appears Berengarius of Tours in France. He is the first public opponent of transubstantiation.  A century had now passed since the monk, Paschasius Radbertus, had hatched that astounding dogma. In an age of knowledge such a tenet would have subjected its author to the suspicion of lunacy, but in times of darkness like those in which this opinion first issued from the convent of Corbei, the more mysterious the doctrine the more likely was it to find believers. The words of Scripture, "this is my body," torn from their context and held up before the eyes of ignorant men, seemed to give some countenance to the tenet. Besides, it was the interest of the priesthood to believe it, and to make others believe it too; for the gift of working a prodigy like this invested them with a superhuman power, and gave them immense reverence in the eyes of the people. The battle that Berengarius now opened enables us to judge of the wide extent which the belief in transubstantiation had already acquired. Everywhere in France, in Germany, in Italy, we find a commotion arising on the appearance of its opponent. We see bishops bestirring themselves to oppose his "impious and sacrilegious" heresy, and numerous Councils convoked to condemn it. The Council of Vercelli in 1049, under Leo IX., which was attended by many foreign prelates, condemned it, and in doing so condemned also, as Berengarius maintained, the doctrine of Ambrose, of Augustine, and of Jerome. There followed a succession of Councils: at Paris, 1050; at Tours, 1055; at Rome, 1059; at Rouen, 1063; at Poitiers, 1075; and again at Rome, 1078: at all of which the opinions of Berengarius were discussed and condemned.  This shows us how eager Rome was to establish the fiction of Paschasius, and the alarm she felt lest the adherents of Berengarius should multiply, and her dogma be extinguished before it had time to establish itself. Twice did Berengarius appear before the famous Hildebrand: first in the Council of Tours, where Hildebrand filled the post of Papal legate, and secondly at the Council of Rome, where he presided as Gregory VII.
The piety of Berengarius was admitted, his eloquence was great, but his courage was not equal to his genius and convictions. When brought face to face with the stake he shrank from the fire. A second and a third time did he recant his opinions; he even sealed his recantation, according to Dupin, with his subscription and oath.  But no sooner was he back again in France than he began publishing his old opinions anew. Numbers in all the countries of Christendom, who had not accepted the fiction of Paschasius, broke silence, emboldened by the stand made by Berengarius, and declared themselves of the same sentiments. Matthew of Westminster (1087) says, "that Berengarius of Tours, being fallen into heresy, had already almost corrupted all the French, Italians, and English."  His great opponent was Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, who attacked him not on the head of transubstantiation only, but as guilty of all the heresies of the Waldenses, and as maintaining with them that the Church remained with them alone, and that Rome was "the congregation of the wicked, and the seat of Satan."  Berengarius died in his bed (1088), expressing deep sorrow for the weakness and dissimulation which had tarnished his testimony for the truth. "His followers," says Mosheim, "were numerous, as his fame was illustrious." 
We come to a nobler band. At Orleans there flourished, in the beginning of the eleventh century, two canons, Stephen and Lesoie, distinguished by their rank, revered for their learning, and beloved for their numerous alms-givings. Taught of the Spirit and the Word, these men cherished in secret the faith of the first ages. They were betrayed by a feigned disciple named Arefaste. Craving to be instructed in the things of God, he seemed to listen not with the ear only, but with the heart also, as the two canons discoursed to him of the corruption of human nature and the renewal of the Spirit, of the vanity of praying to the saints, and the folly of thinking to find salvation in baptism, or the literal flesh of Christ in the Eucharist. His earnestness seemed to become yet greater when they promised him that if, forsaking these "broken cisterns," he would come to the Savior himself, he should have living water to drink, and celestial bread to eat, and, filled with "the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," would never know want again. Arefaste heard these things, and returned with his report to those who had sent him. A Council of the bishops of Orleans was immediately summoned, presided over by King Robert of France. The two canons were brought before it. The pretended disciple now became the accuser.  The
canons confessed boldly the truth which they had long held; the arguments and threats of the Council were alike powerless to change their belief, or to shake their resolution. "As to the burning threatened," says one, "they made light of it even as if persuaded that they would come out of it unhurt."  Wearied, it would seem, with the futile reasonings of their enemies, and desirous of bringing the matter to an issue, they gave their final answer thus "You may say these things to those whose taste is earthly, and who believe the figments of men written on parchment. But to us who have the law written on the inner man by the Holy Spirit, and savor nothing but what we learn from God, the Creator of all, ye speak things vain and unworthy of the Deity. Put therefore an end to your words! Do with us even as you wish. Even now we see our King reigning in the heavenly places, who with His right hand is conducting us to immortal triumphs and heavenly joys." 
They were condemned as Manicheans. Had they been so indeed, Rome would have visited them with contempt, not with persecution. She was too wise to pursue with fire and sword a thing so shadowy as Manicheism, which she knew could do her no manner of harm. The power that confronted her in these two canons and their disciples came from another sphere, hence the rage with which she assailed it. These two martyrs were not alone in their death. Of the citizens of Orleans there were ten,  some say twelve, who shared their faith, and who were willing to share their stake.  They were first stripped of their clerical vestments, then buffeted like their Master, then smitten with rods; the queen, who was present, setting the example in these acts of violence by striking one of them, and putting out his eye. Finally, they were led outside the city, where a great fire had been kindled to consume them. They entered the flames with a smile upon their faces  Together this little company of fourteen stood at the stake, and when the fire had set them free, together they mounted into the sky; and if they smiled when they entered the flames, how much more when they passed in at the eternal gates! They were burned in the year 1022. So far as the light of history serves us, theirs were the first stakes planted in France since the era of primitive persecutions.  Illustrious pioneers! They go, but they leave their ineffaceable traces on the road, that the hundreds and thousands of their countrymen who are to follow may not faint, when called to pass through the same torments to the same everlasting joys.
We next mention Peter de Bruys, who appeared in the following century (the twelfth), because it enables us to indicate the rise of, and explain the name borne by, the Petrobrussians. Their founder, who labored in the provinces of Dauphine, Provence, and Languedoc, taught no novelties of doctrine; he trod, touching the faith, in the steps of apostolic men, even as Felix Neff, five centuries later, followed in his. After twenty years of missionary labors, Peter de Bruys was seized and burned to death (1126)  in the town of St. Giles, near Toulouse. The leading tenets professed by his followers, the Petrobrussians, as we learn from the accusations of their enemies, were that baptism avails not without faith; that Christ is only spiritually present in the Sacrament; that prayers and alms profit not dead men; that purgatory is a mere invention; and that the Church is not made up of cemented stones, but of believing men. This identifies them, in their religious creed, with the Waldenses; and if further evidence were wanted of this, we have it in the treatise which Peter de Clugny published against them, in which he accuses them of having fallen into those errors which have shown such an inveterate tendency to spring up amid the perpetual snows and icy torrents of the Alps. 
When Peter de Bruys had finished his course he was succeeded by a preacher of the name of Henri, an Italian by birth, who also gave his name to his followers the Henricians. Henri, who enjoyed a high repute for sanctity, wielded a most commanding eloquence. The enchantment of his voice was enough, said his enemies, a little envious, to melt the very stones. It performed what may perhaps be accounted a still greater feat; it brought, according to an eye-witness, the very priests to his feet, dissolved in tears. Beginning at Lausanne, Henri traversed the south of France, the entire population gathering round him wherever he came, and listening to his sermons. "His orations were powerful but noxious," said his foes, "as if a whole legion of demons had been speaking through his mouth." St. Bernard was sent to check the spiritual pestilence that was desolating the region, and he arrived not a moment too soon, if we may judge from his picture of the state of things which he found there. The orator was carrying all before him; nor need we wonder if, as his enemies alleged, a legion of preachers spoke in this one. The churches were emptied, the priests were without flocks, and the time-honored and edifying customs of pilgrimages, of fasts, of invocations of the saints, and oblations for the dead were all neglected. "How many disorders," says St. Bernard, writing to the Count of Toulouse, "do we every day hear that Henri commits in the Church of God! That ravenous wolf is within your dominions, clothed with a sheep's skin, but we know him by his works. The churches are like synagogues, the sanctuary despoiled of its holiness, the Sacraments looked upon as profane institutions, the feast days have lost their solemnity, men grow up
in sin, and every day souls are borne away before the terrible tribunal of Christ without first being reconciled to and fortified by the Holy Communion. In refusing Christians baptism they are denied the life of Jesus Christ." 
Such was the condition in which, as he himself records in his letters, St. Bernard found the populations in the south of France. He set to work, stemmed the tide of apostasy, and brought back the wanderers from the Roman fold; but whether this result was solely owing to the eloquence of his sermons may be fairly questioned, for we find the civil arm operating along with him. Henri was seized, carried before Pope Eugenius III., who presided at a Council then assembled at Rheims, condemned and imprisoned.  From that time we hear no more of him, and his fate can only be guessed at. 
It pleased God to raise up, in the middle of the twelfth century, a yet more famous champion to do battle for the truth. This was Arnold of Brescia, whose stormy but brilliant career we must briefly sketch. His scheme of reform was bolder and more comprehensive than that of any who had preceded him. His pioneers had called for a purification of the faith of the Church, Arnold demanded a rectification of her constitution. He was a simple reader in the Church of his native town, and possessed no advantages of birth; but, fired with the love of learning, he traveled into France that he might sit at the feet of Abelard, whose fame was then filling Christendom. Admitted a pupil of the great scholastic, he drank in the wisdom he imparted without imbibing along with it his mysticism. The scholar in some respects was greater than the master, and was destined to leave traces more lasting behind him. In subtlety of genius and scholastic lore he made no pretensions to rival Abelard; but in a burning eloquence, in practical piety, in resoluteness, and in entire devotion to the great cause of the emancipation of his fellow-men from a tyranny that was oppressing both their minds and bodies, he far excelled him.
From the school of Abelard, Arnold returned to Italy not, as one might have feared, a mystic, to spend his life in scholastic hair-splittings and wordy conflicts, but to wage an arduous and hazardous war for great and much-needed reforms. One cannot but wish that the times had been more propitious. A frightful confusion he saw had mingled in one anomalous system the spiritual and the temporal. The clergy, from their head downwards, were engrossed in secularities. They filled the offices of State, they presided in the cabinets of princes, they led armies, they imposed taxes, they owned lordly domains, they were attended by sumptuous retinues, and they sat at luxurious tables. Here, said Arnold, is the source of a thousand evils the Church is drowned in riches; from this immense wealth flow the corruption, the profligacy, the ignorance, the wickedness, the intrigues, the wars and bloodshed which have overwhelmed Church and State, and are ruining the world.
A century earlier, Cardinal Damiani had congratulated the clergy of primitive tunes on the simple lives which they led, contrasting their happier lot with that of the prelates of those latter ages, who had to endure dignities which would have been but little to the taste of their first predecessors. "What would the bishops of old have done," he asked, concurring by anticipation in the censure of the eloquent Breseian, "had they to endure the torments that now attend the episcopate? To ride forth constantly attended by troops of soldiers, with swords and lances; to be girt about by armed men like a heathen general! Not amid the gentle music of hymns, but the din and clash of arms! Every day royal banquets, every day parade! The table loaded with delicacies, not for the poor, but for voluptuous guests! while the poor, to whom the property of light belongs, are shut out, and pine away with famine."
Arnold based his scheme of reform on a great principle. The Church of Christ, said he, is not of this world. This shows us that he had sat at the feet of a greater than Abelard, and had drawn his knowledge from diviner fountains than those of the scholastic philosophy. The Church of Christ is not of this world; therefore, said Arnold, its ministers ought not to fill temporal offices, and discharge temporal employments.  Let these be left to the men whose duty it is to see to them, even kings and statesmen. Nor do the ministers of Christ need, in order to the discharge of their spiritual functions, the enormous revenues which are continually flowing into their coffers. Let all this wealth, those lands, palaces, and hoards, be surrendered to the rulers of the State, and let the ministers of religion henceforward be maintained by the frugal yet competent provision of the tithes, and the voluntary offerings of their flocks. Set free from occupations which consume their time, degrade their office, and corrupt their heart, the clergy will lead their flocks to the pastures of the Gospel, and knowledge and piety will again revisit the earth.
Attired in his monk's cloak, his countenance stamped with courage, but already wearing traces of care, Arnold took his stand in the streets of his native Brescia, and began to thunder forth his scheme of reform.  His townsmen gathered round him. For spiritual Christianity the men of that age had little value, still Arnold had touched a chord in their hearts, to which they were able to respond. The pomp, profligacy, and power of Churchmen had scandalized all classes, and made a reformation so far welcome, even to those who were not prepared to sympathize in the more exclusively spiritual views of the Waldenses and Albigenses. The suddenness and boldness of the assault seem to have stunned the ecclesiastical authorities;
and it was not till the Bishop of Brescia found his entire flock, deserting the cathedral, and assembling daily in the marketplace, crowding round the eloquent preacher and listening with applause to his fierce philippics, that he bestirred himself to silence the courageous monk.
Arnold kept his course, however, and continued to launch his bolts, not against his diocesan, for to strike at one miter was not worth his while, but against that lordly hierarchy which, finding its center on the Seven Hills, had stretched its circumference to the extremities of Christendom. He demanded nothing less than that this hierarchy, which had crowned itself with temporal dignities, and which sustained itself by temporal arms, should retrace its steps, and become the lowly and purely spiritual institute it had been in the first century. It was not very likely to do so at the bidding of one man, however eloquent, but Arnold hoped to rouse the populations of Italy, and to bring such a pressure to bear upon the Vatican as would compel the chiefs of the Church to institute this most necessary and most just reform. Nor was he without the countenance of some persons of consequence. Maifredus, the Consul of Brescia, at the first supported his movement. 
The bishop, deeming it hopeless to contend against Arnold on the spot, in the midst of his numerous followers, complained of him to the Pope. Innocent II. convoked a General Council in the Vatican, and summoned Arnold to Rome. The summons was obeyed. The crime of the monk was of all others the most heinous in the eyes of the hierarchy. He had attacked the authority, riches, and pleasures of the priesthood; but other pretexts must be found on which to condemn him. "Besides this, it was said of him that he was unsound in his judgment about the Sacrament of the altar and infant baptism." "We find that St. Bernard sending to Pope Innocent II. a catalogue of the errors of Abelardus," whose scholar Arnold had been, "accuseth him of teaching, concerning the Eucharist, that the accidents existed in the air, but not without a subject; and that when a rat doth eat the Sacrament, God withdraweth whither He pleaseth, and preserves where He pleases the body of Jesus Christ."  The sum of this is that Arnold rejected transubstantiation, and did not believe in baptismal regeneration; and on these grounds the Council found it convenient to rest their sentence, condemning him to perpetual silence.
Arnold now retired from Italy, and, passing the Alps, "he settled himself," Otho tells us, "in a place of Germany called Turego, or Zurich, belonging to the diocese of Constance, where he continued to disseminate his doctrine," the seeds of which, it may be presumed, continued to vegetate until the times of Zwingle.
Hearing that Innocent II. was dead, Arnold returned to Rome in the beginning of the Pontificate of Eugenius III. (1144-45). One feels surprise, bordering on astonishment, to see a man with the condemnation of a Pope and Council resting on his head, deliberately marching in at the gates of Rome, and throwing down the gage of battle to the Vatican "the desperate measure," as Gibbon calls it,  "of erecting his standard in Rome itself, in the face of the successor of St. Peter." But the action was not so desperate as it looks. The Italy of those days was perhaps the least Papal of all the countries of Europe. "The Italians," says M'Crie, "could not, indeed, be said to feel at this period" (the fifteenth century, but the remark is equally applicable to the twelfth) "a superstitious devotion to the See of Rome. This did not originally form a discriminating feature of their national character; it was superinduced, and the formation of it can be distinctly traced to causes which produced their full effect subsequently to the era of the Reformation. The republics of Italy in the Middle Ages gave many proofs of religious independence, and singly braved the menaces and excommunications of the Vatican at a time when all Europe trembled at the sound of its thunder."  In truth, nowhere were sedition and tumult more common than at the gates of the Vatican; in no city did rebellion so often break out as in Rome, and no rulers were so frequently chased ignominiously from their capital as the Popes.
Arnold, in fact, found Rome on entering it in revolt. He strove to direct the agitation into a wholesome channel. He essayed, if it were possible, to revive from its ashes the flame of ancient liberty, and to restore, by cleansing it from its many corruptions, the bright form of primitive Christianity. With an eloquence worthy of the times he spoke of, he dwelt on the achievements of the heroes and patriots of classic ages, the sufferings of the first Christian martyrs, and the humble and holy lives of the first Christian bishops. Might it not be possible to bring back those glorious times? He called on the Romans to arise and unite with him in an attempt to do so. Let us drive out the buyers and sellers who have entered the Temple, let us separate between the spiritual and the temporal jurisdiction, let us give to the Pope the things of the Pope, the government of the Church even, and let us give to the emperor the things of the emperor namely, the government of the State; let us relieve the clergy from the wealth that burdens them, and the dignities that disfigure them, and with the simplicity and virtue of former times will return the lofty characters and the heroic deeds that gave to those times their renown. Rome will become once more the capital of the world. "He propounded to the multitude," says Bishop Otho, "the examples of the ancient Romans, who by the maturity of their senators' counsels, and the valor and integrity of their youth, made the whole
world their own. Wherefore he persuaded them to rebuild the Capitol, to restore the dignity of the senate, to reform the order of knights. He maintained that nothing of the government of the city did belong to the Pope, who ought to content himself only with his ecclesiastical." Thus did the monk of Brescia raise the cry for separation of the spiritual from the temporal at the very foot of the Vatican.
For about ten years (1145-55) Arnold continued to prosecute his mission in Rome. The city all that time may be said to have been in a state of insurrection. The Pontifical chair was repeatedly emptied. The Popes of that era were short-lived; their reigns were full of tumult, and their lives of care. Seldom did they reside at Rome; more frequently they lived at Viterbo, or retired to a foreign country; and when they did venture within the walls of their capital, they entrusted the safety of their persons rather to the gates and bars of their stronghold of St. Angelo than to the loyalty of their subjects. The influence of Arnold meanwhile was great, his party numerous, and had there been virtue enough among the Romans they might during these ten favorable years, when Rome was, so to speak, in their hands, have founded a movement which would have had important results for the cause of liberty and the Gospel. But Arnold strove in vain to recall a spirit that was fled for centuries. Rome was a sepulcher. Her citizens could be stirred into tumult, not awakened into life.
The opportunity passed. And then came Adrian IV., Nicholas Breakspear, the only Englishman who ever ascended the throne of the Vatican. Adrian addressed himself with rigor to quell the tempests which for ten years had warred around the Papal chair. He smote the Romans with interdict. They were vanquished by the ghostly terror. They banished Arnold, and the portals of the churches, to them the gates of heaven, were re-opened to the penitent citizens. But the exile of Arnold did not suffice to appease the anger of Adrian. The Pontiff bargained with Frederic Barbarossa, who was then soliciting from the Pope coronation as emperor, that the monk should be given up. Arnold was seized, sent to Rome under a strong escort, and burned alive. We are able to infer that his followers in Rome were numerous to the last, from the reason given for the order to throw his ashes into the Tiber, "to prevent the foolish rabble from expressing any veneration for his body." 
Arnold had been burned to ashes, but the movement he had inaugurated was not extinguished by his martyrdom. The men of his times had condemned his cause; it was destined, nevertheless, seven centuries afterwards, to receive the favorable and all but unanimous verdict of Europe. Every succeeding Reformer and patriot took up his cry for a separation between the spiritual and temporal, seeing in the union of the two in the Roman princedom one cause of the corruption and tyranny which afflicted both Church and State. Wicliffe made this demand in the fourteenth century; Savonarola in the fifteenth; and the Reformers in the sixteenth. Political men in the following centuries reiterated and proclaimed, with ever-growing emphasis, the doctrine of Arnold. At last, on the 20th of September, 1870, it obtained its crowning victory. On that day the Italians entered Rome, the temporal sovereignty of the Pope came to an end, the scepter was disjoined from the miter, and the movement celebrated its triumph on the same spot where its first champion had been burned.
Saturday, February 25th, 2017
the Seventh Week after Epiphany
Search Historical Writings