A medieval Christian sect challenging orthodoxy with its radical views on poverty and the Church’s corruption.

The Arnoldists were a religious movement that emerged in the 12th century, primarily associated with the teachings of Arnold of Brescia, a charismatic religious leader and reformer. This movement, often considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, was part of the broader spectrum of medieval heresies that challenged the established ecclesiastical authority and sought to reform the Church from within.

Arnold of Brescia, born in the city of Brescia in Northern Italy, was a student of the renowned theologian and philosopher Peter Abelard. Influenced by Abelard’s teachings, Arnold developed a strong critique of the wealth and corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. His ideas gained considerable traction in a period marked by growing discontent with the Church’s opulence and the moral failings of its clergy. The Arnoldists’ also challenged the Church’s authority and questioned its role in temporal affairs, which was particularly provocative given the context of the Investiture Controversy, a major conflict between the papacy and secular rulers over the appointment of bishops and abbots.

In contrast to the established church, the Arnoldists advocated for a return to the apostolic life as described in the New Testament, emphasizing poverty, simplicity, and preaching. They argued that the Church should renounce its worldly possessions and that its clergy should lead lives devoid of material wealth. This stance put them in direct conflict with the Church hierarchy, which owned extensive landholdings and wielded significant temporal power.

The movement’s radical stance on ecclesiastical poverty and its criticism of the Church’s secular power alarmed the ecclesiastical authorities. Arnold was repeatedly condemned by the Church, and his teachings were declared heretical. The Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Eugene III, viewed the Arnoldists as a threat to its authority and moved to suppress the movement.

Despite the opposition, Arnold’s ideas found a receptive audience in Rome, where he became involved in the city’s communal politics. He supported the Roman Commune, a short-lived attempt by the citizens of Rome to establish a republican form of government independent of papal control. Arnold’s involvement in this political movement further exacerbated tensions with the Church.

The Arnoldists’ influence in Rome was short-lived, however. The papacy, with the support of secular allies, eventually regained control of the city. Arnold of Brescia was captured, tried, and executed in 1155. His death dealt a significant blow to the movement, which lacked a central figure of comparable charisma and leadership.

Following Arnold’s execution, the Arnoldist movement gradually dissipated. The lack of a coherent organizational structure and the absence of a successor to Arnold contributed to the movement’s decline. Additionally, the Church’s efforts to combat heresy became more systematic and effective, further undermining the Arnoldists’ ability to sustain their activities.

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