The Petrobrussians and the Arnoldists

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” Deuteronomy 32:7

Looking at these groups of Baptists briefly brings to light four from the twelfth century. These congregations were home to some of the boldest Baptist ministers who have ever lived. Peter de Bruys and Arnold of Brescia were both great preachers and great overall leaders of the Baptists.

I know that many critics of our Baptist heritage say, “You have named Montanists, Novationists, Donatists, Vaudois, Cathari, Paterines, Petrobrussians and Arnoldists, but you have not named any group by the title ‘Baptist’, therefore you are just speculating that these were Baptists.” My answer to the critics is we believe that Baptist faith and practice, or a continuation of biblical teachings and distinctives, have existed since the time of Christ. The title Baptist is very important to us because it is the title that God gave His people in the New Testament, but ultimately it is what you believe that determines whether or not you are a Baptist. Therefore what denominational label would you place on someone:

A. Who believed in salvation by grace,
B. Who baptized by immersion upon a profession of faith,
C. Who rejected infant baptism,
D. Who rejected the baptism of anyone coming from the mother of harlots or her offspring,
E. Who believed the Bible to be without error?

The honest answer is: A BAPTIST. According to Ephesians 3:20-21, Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 23:34, Jesus promised the church would stand, suffer and glorify Him THROUGHOUT THE AGES.

In Peter de Bruys and Arnold of Brescia, we clearly see several things. First, we see God’s desire to change people by His grace and then use them in the ministry. Secondly, we see the true character and bravery of these men. They did not just talk the talk, but they also walked the walk. Both men died for what they believed. Many of their followers did also. This was a noble bunch. Thirdly, we see the Roman Church at its lowest point in human history. It had become such a laughingstock among the common populace that discontent was the feeling of the day. So many were disgruntled with the hypocrisy of Rome that when these two men and their preacher friends began to publically herald the pure Gospel, everything from riots to revivals regularly broke out. These two men, and the many baptized believers of their day, truly gave the Devil a black eye, and snatched thousands of souls from his clutches. Rome patiently bided her time until the wretched cult could grab these great men of God and martyr them in a most cruel fashion. History has not forgotten these two men and their influence. Would to God that, like our Bible verse states, we would not let their memory die, but would do everything in our power to share their testimony with the next generation.

1. The Petrobrussians (A.D. 1126)

The sect of the Petrobrussians, followers of Peter de Bruys, born 1093, spread widely in southern France. He was a converted Catholic priest. In doctrine and practice there was close agreement between them and the Waldsenses. Peter de Bruys was an eloquent evangelist, preaching against the foremost doctrines of Romanism. His doctrine was definitely of the Baptist line. He and his followers abhorred the errors of the Roman, universal, Catholic Institution! William Cathcart reported the following in his Baptist encyclopedia:

He [Peter de Bruys] taught that baptism was of no advantage to infants, and that only believer’s should receive it, and he gave a new baptism to all his converts; he condemned the use of churches and alters, no doubt for the idolatry practiced in them; he denied that the body and blood of Christ are to be found in the bread and the wine of the Supper, and he taught that the elements on the Lord’s table are but signs of Christ’s flesh and blood; he asserted that the offerings, prayers, and good works of the living could not profit the dead, that their state was fixed for eternity the moment they left the Earth; like the English Baptists of the seventeenth century, and like the Quakers of our day, he believed that it was wrong to sing the praises of God in worship; and he rejected the adoration of crosses, and destroyed them wherever he found them.

It is said that on a good Good Friday, the Petrobrussians once gathered a great multitude of their brethren, who brought with them all the crosses they could find, and made a large fire of them, on which they cooked meat and gave it to the vast assemblage. This is told as an illustration of their blasphemous profanity. Their crucifixes, and along with them probably the images of the saints, were the idols they had been taught to worship. When their eyes were opened they destroyed them, just as the converted heathen will now destroy their false gods.

His preaching was with great power. He saw multitudes forsake the Roman Catholic Institution, get re-baptized, and follow Christ. Peter’s influence was very powerful. Had the life of this illustrious man been spared, the Reformation probably would have occurred four hundred years earlier under Peter de Bruys instead of Martin Luther, and the Protestant nations of the Earth would not only have had a deliverance from four centuries of priestly profligacy and widespread soul destruction, but they would have entered upon a godly life with a far more scriptural creed than grand old Luther, still in a considerable measure wedded to Romish sacramentalism, was fitted to give them.

One of his friends was Henry of Lousanne, Switzerland, of Henrician fame. Peter de Bruys was eventually burned at St. Giles in 1145, two years prior to the death of Henry. After the death of these men, a cruel persecution arose against all who had followed their doctrine.

Historian Thieleman J. Van Braght in Martyrs Mirror or Bloody Theatre of the defenseless Christians documented this: “…All manner of torment, fire, gallows, and cruel blood shedding, yea so that the whole world was in common on account of it, yet could they not prevent this persuasion from spreading everywhere. And going forth into every country and kingdom, holding their worship secretly as well as openly…”

We see that many great men, some former religionists themselves, preached the Word of God boldly and saw many embrace the truth. This would be the case with Arnold of Brescia.

2. The Arnoldists (A.D. 1135).

Their leader was Arnold of Brescia. Arnold was an educated and talented man. He traveled to France early in life and studied under the renowned Peter Abelard. He left school, returned to Italy, and became a monk. Upon considering Scripture and witnessing the true evil of Roman Catholicism, Arnold began to spread the truth in the streets. He preached against sacramentalism and infant baptism and promoted adult faith and baptism.

He immediately gained a following, who agreed with Arnold that the Roman church was apostate. Rome became alarmed; and in a council, he was condemned to perpetual silence. Arnold was eventually then excommunicated. Arnold fled Italy, and in the Swiss Canton of Zurich, he began his system of Scriptural reform. He returned to Rome full of zeal. A rebellion, coupled with revival, broke out. For ten years, successive popes could not stop this movement against Rome and back to the truth. Finally in A.D. 1155, Arnold was seized, crucified, and burnt. His ashes were scattered over the River Tiber. Rome’s feelings toward Arnold were expressed in the following quotation taken from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

“Forger of heresies,” “sower of schisms,” “enemy of the Catholic faith,” “schismatic, “ “heretic,” such are the terms used by Otto of Freisingen, by the author “Historia Potificalis,” by the Abbot of Clairvaux, by Eugenius III, and Adrian IV to stigmatize Arnold.”

What caused Arnold to embrace the Baptist principles? First was the Bible. It was in the Bible that Arnold learned of salvation by grace through faith. Look up and read Ephesians 2:8-9. Do you remember when you, like Arnold first discovered this truth? It was in the Bible that Arnold learned of scriptural baptism. Can you give biblical reasons as to why baptism is by immersion and for believers only?

The second thing that caused Arnold to embrace Baptist principles was excesses of the clergy. Upon tragic circumstances of any sort, the common man was taught to regain God’s favor by surrendering money and property to the clergy. In short, the deeds of the Nicolaitans had again come to light. Look up and read Revelation 2:6 and Revelation 2:15-16.

The third thing that caused Arnold to embrace Baptist principles was the desecration of the church. The historian Mosheim reported: “The festivals of fools and [donkeys] were established in most churches. On days of solemnity, they created a bishop of fools; and a [donkey] was led into the body of the church, dressed in a cape and four-cornered cap. When the people were dismissed, it was by the priests braying three times like a [donkey,] and the people responded in an asinine tone.”

During this time in history many would die for the Word of God. The “Midnight of the Dark Ages” was well underway.

Gregg Nash
Assistant Pastor
Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church
Martinsburg, WV
Copied from Old Paths Journal

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