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Saturday, August 19, 2017
Date Posted:

Protestants Before Protestantism

Taken from Wylie’s History of Protestantism and edited by Dr Clive Gillis
Dr Clive Gillis

The story of the Albigenses has carried us beyond the date we had previously reached in our series. We return therefore to the middle of the eleventh century and take up the story again from there.

Berengarius of Tours

We find a succession of shining lights. Berengarius of Tours is the first to challenge transubstantiation, a century after French monk, Paschasius Radbertus, had torn the Scripture, "This is my body," from its context, deluding the ignorant to the considerable advantage of the priests.

Wherever Berengarius opposed it there was uproar - in France, Germany, and Italy - from which we may gather how far the doctrine had spread. Berengarius was branded "impious and sacrilegious" and papal councils fought him, including the Councils of Vercelli in 1049, Paris, 1050; Tours, 1055; Rome, 1059; Rouen, 1063; Poitiers, 1075; and again at Rome, 1078.

Twice did Berengarius appear before the famous Hildebrand: first in the Council of Tours when Hildebrand was Papal legate, and again in Rome when Hildebrand was Pope. Though recanting thrice under pressure, Berengarius never gave up. His enemy, Matthew of Westminster (1087), said that, "Berengarius ... being fallen into heresy ... corrupted all the French, Italians, and English". Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury attacked Berengarius over transubstantiation and for holding Waldensian opinions such as that Rome was "the congregation of the wicked, and the seat of Satan." Berengarius died in 1088 grieved by his own weakness in recanting.

Stephen and Lesoie

Earlier at Orleans charitable canons, Stephen and Lesoie, taught of the Spirit and the Word, were betrayed by their disciple Arefaste. Earnestly Arefaste learned from them pure doctrine in order to betray them. The bishops of Orleans met in council with the King and Arefaste as accuser. The council was immediately summoned, presided over by King Robert of France. Stephen and Lesoie stood firm, "as the burning threatened," declaring, "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 but what Rome really hated was their witness to scriptural truths. With 10 or 12 followers they were defrocked in 1022, buffeted and beaten, the Queen herself blinding one of them. As illustrious pioneers of many burnings yet to come in France, they were composed at the stake and departed this life serenely.

The Petrobrussians

In the twelfth century we mention Peter de Bruys and the Petrobrussians of Dauphine, Provence, and Languedoc. De Bruys taught a pure Gospel in the course of twenty years of missionary labours, eventually to be burned by Rome in St Giles. The documents of the Petrobrussians trial reveal their beliefs: baptism avails not without faith; Christ is not literally present in the Sacrament; prayers profit not dead men; purgatory is an invention and the Church consists of believers, not stones. So little wonder their enemy Peter de Clugny condemned them as Waldensians.

Tears of repentance

Later, eloquent Henri, an Italian, gave rise in similar manner to the Henricians. His preaching brought the very priests to tears of repentance. Detractors railed upon him from Lausanne and across southern France, one declaring that a "legion of demons speak through his mouth". Bernard was sent to report. He found empty churches, priests without flocks and Rome`s novelties abandoned and scorned. "How many disorders," says Bernard, writing to the Count of Toulouse, "do we every day hear that Henri commits in the Church of God". Henri was seized, carried before Pope Eugenius III at the Council of Rheims, condemned and imprisoned, his final end being unknown.

Arnold of Brescia

Next Arnold a lay reader of Brescia in northern Italy arose. He preached even more comprehensive reform. Returning to Italy from his studies in France, which were, providentially, unsullied by the prevailing scholasticism, he waged war against Rome imbued as she was with secularism and devoid of even vestiges of spirituality. Clerics were at once churchmen and civil servants."The Church of Christ", said he, "is not of this world". Townsmen of Brescia heard him eloquently denounce priestly pomp, profligacy, and power. He stunned the ecclesiastical authorities. The Bishop of Brescia found his entire flock deserting the cathedral and assembling daily in the marketplace to listen.

Arnold, not content with one mitre falling, attacked the lordly hierarchy spreading out from Rome‘s Seven Hills to the extremities of Christendom. He demanded it retrace its steps, and become again the lowly and purely spiritual institute it had been in the first century. This work was beyond one man so high born Arnold sought help from dignitaries he knew such as Maifredus who at first supported his movement at the Council of Brescia. The bishop of Brescia complained to Innocent II who convoked a General Council in the Vatican, and summoned Arnold to Rome. The summons was obeyed. Again the accusations against him reveal the purity of his preaching. Arnold rejected transubstantiation, and did not believe in baptismal regeneration. Worse he attacked the obscene wealth and ostentation of the Church. The Council, (aware of his connections) condemned him to perpetual silence. Arnold settled in Zurich and sowed seeds to fruit later in the time of Zwingli.

Anti-papal Italy

On Innocent II's death Arnold returned to Rome to find Eugenius III (1144-45) pope. One feels surprise but, as historians Gibbon and MCrie point out, the Italy of those days was perhaps the least Papal of all the countries of Europe. Italian Republics in the Middle Ages exhibited surprising 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". Sedition and tumult were common at the gates of the Vatican and no city was more rebellious than Rome, and no rulers so frequently chased ignominiously from their capital than the Popes. Arnold strove to direct the agitation into a more wholesome channel. He dwelt on past heroes and patriots, the sufferings of the first Christian martyrs, and the humble and holy lives of the first Christian bishops. He urged the Romans to drive out the buyers and sellers who had entered the Temple, separate the spiritual and the temporal jurisdiction. Let Rome`s bishops return to apostolic purity and relinquish their wealth and leave government of the State to the Emperor. "He propounded to the multitude" says Bishop Otho, "the examples of the ancient Romans, who, by the maturity of their senators' counsels and the valour 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.

Arnold in Rome

From 1145-55 Arnold preached in a Rome continually in 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. 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. Hence Arnold‘s influence was great, his party numerous. Had there been virtue enough among the Romans during these ten favourable years, when Rome was essentially in his hands, a great revival might have occurred. But despite Arnolds strivings the Romans were easily stirred into tumult but not awakened into life.

Nicholas Breakspear

The opportunity passed. Adrian IV., Nicholas Breakspear, the only Englishman who ever ascended the throne of the Vatican, quelled 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. 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 as the Lord‘s cause advanced.

Taken from Wylie's History of Protestantism and edited by Dr Clive Gillis.

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