Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Saint Erlembald, the Warrior
Saint of the Day, Monday, August 3, 1970
I have here to comment on a text from Abbé Profilai’s book on Military Saints:
Saint Erlembald, Milanese lord and intrepid Knight of Christ, year 1075. Erlembald Cotta belonged to an illustrious Milanese family. From a young age he took up a career in arms and although not very robust, he was as brave as a lion. Very rich, the palace he owned in Milan equaled the magnificence of a king’s. However, his heart was not attached to earthly goods but to God.
He intended to enter monastic life but was prevented by the saintly deacon Ariald, who advised him to fight for the Church as a layman. He showed him that the Church was passing through an hour of darkness with the spread of simony and the incontinence of the clergy both errors protected by the civil authorities. Erlembald then headed for Rome, where Pope Alexander, supported by several cardinals, ordered him to return to Milan and help Ariald fight the enemies of Christ and resist to the death if needed. They also gave him, in the name of Saint Peter, a standard the warrior should always have on hand to quell the furor of heretics. The saint held this standard with perfect fidelity for 18 years.
As befitting his dignity, this illustrious lord appeared in public always richly dressed and accompanied by a pompous retinue. However, when praying, he clothed himself in a poor woolen garment. When he walked the streets of Milan, people followed to honor him. If he saw any ragged or sick person in the crowd, he signaled to one of his servants to take him secretly to his palace. There, the noble took care of those wretches with his own hands.
He was as charitable as devoted to the interests of the Church so that Blessed Ariald always said: Ah, except for Erlembald and the Father Nazarius, I can only find people who, with false prudence, advise me to remain silent and give free rein for the simoniacs and impure to carry out the works of the devil. As the Duke had been zealously defending the Cause of God for ten years, Saint Peter Damian, the papal legate, demanded from Archbishop Guido and all the clergy of Milan to make an oath condemning simony. They all swore the oath, but when a seat was vacated, the archbishop made an undignified deal.
Erlembald was sent to Rome to consult with the pope on the problem and returned with excommunication letters addressed to the archbishop. It was on the feast of Pentecost and the prelate managed to gather a huge crowd in the Church. There, holding the papal bull that condemned him, he instigated the people against Ariald and Erlembald. Never, he said, did this city obey the Roman Church. Down with the wretches who want to snatch our longstanding freedom! The populace shouted: let’s kill them soon! As the two servants of God were in the church, clerics attacked Ariald, and laymen took on the knight.
Ariald was badly wounded, but with his military training, Erlembald defended himself so well that no one could approach him. Ariald recovered from his wounds and took a trip to Rome. On the way, a priest handed him over to supporters of the simoniac archbishop, who dragged him to a remote place where he was killed by clerics who horribly mutilated him. Upon learning what happened, Erlembald went to fetch his friend’s remains accompanied by a large crowd and placed them in the Church of St. Celsus.
The following year, Archbishop Guido, reconciled with the Holy See, decided to choose his successor in advance and appointed his secretary, Gotofredo, to occupy his post after his death. But Milan residents, especially peasants, rejected his name with horror. Seeing his plan foiled, Guido sought out Erlembald to try to make a deal with him. But the Duke deemed there was no pardon for such a guilty prelate and had him locked up in the Monastery of St. Celsus.
Fearing for his future, Gotofredo fortified himself in the then-impregnable Castle of Castillon. The Milanese decided to dislodge him and were succeeding when the enemy managed to start a great fire in Milan. In the face of danger, the attackers retreated and would have been defeated had Erlembald, carrying the standard of Saint Peter, not attacked the enemies with such impetuosity as to rout them completely. Pope Saint Gregory VII excommunicated Gotofredo, appointed a new archbishop for Milan, and encouraged the Duke to continue defending the see of Saint Ambrose.
Erlembald fought hard to secure the rights of the legitimate archbishop. Unable to defeat him in battle, their enemies decided to assassinate him. One day, when the Duke of Milan was speaking to the people, the conspirators rushed against him. Though resisting heroically, he was outnumbered. He succumbed to the murderous blows while holding the standard of St. Peter. His death was mourned by all the faithful of the Roman Church, even in the far reaches of England. Everyone was indignant at the disappearance of the fearless Knight of Christ, as Saint Gregory VII called him. Shortly afterward, Blessed Urban II placed Erlembald in the number of saints.
A bust of Erlembaldus Cotta in the Basilica di San Calimero in Milan (photo: Di Giovanni Dall'Orto - Opera propria, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2081041 )
What a beautiful text to comment on! This biography is so rich in facts and aspects that the commentary may run a little long. I will try to be as brief as possible.
First, consider the situation in Italy at that time. It was divided into two currents: one obeyed the Roman Catholic Church, the infallible Seat of St. Peter. The other had some heretical traits, and its followers also had evil customs and practiced simony.
Simony is the act by which a person sells an ecclesiastical office. For example, if a bishop or archbishop has to appoint a vicar or canon, instead of choosing the most worthy, he puts the job up for auction and gives it to whoever pays more.
As people were very generous in the Middle Ages, those positions were very profitable. An ecclesiastical position afforded the possibility of making a lot of money, especially if the post holder was not too honest. So many ambitious people were vying for those positions. Naturally, this went hand in hand with corruption because the individual bought an office for which he had no vocation, so he did not fulfill the obligations of that position. Among other things, he was not chaste. So corruption came in torrents.
Besides, whoever buys a position does so to make money. So you had wheeler-dealers, thefts, the sale of relics and sacred objects, degradation of the cult, etc. But these simoniacs were not isolated cases. Many people supported one another in this way and wanted ecclesiastical positions to be in the hands of people who negotiated like that.
We, who are well acquainted with the management of the secret forces and the Revolution, obviously see this as a kind of rehearsal as they placed people in key positions to control the Church and lead Christendom astray.
However, in that situation, the Church had a consolation: the Order of Cluny, which, among other things, gave rise to a religious current that represented rigorism. It was led by the Holy See, and its greatest exponent was Saint Gregory VII. That current was preceded by a series of popes and had worthy and courageous ultramontane saints who fought heresies, simony and corruption with all their strength.
Some laypeople often favored simony because they bought ecclesiastical positions for family members or received money through those positions. Feudal lords had the right to veto nominations to certain ecclesiastical positions, so they received money not to veto someone or appoint someone they wanted. For them it was a source of income.
Accordingly, a large number of feudal lords supported simoniac and corrupt priests. The religious problem spilled into the political realm. The popes fought the simoniac bishops and deposed them. The bishops refused to abandon dioceses and churches and were supported by feudal lords seeking to protect the corrupt system.
Naturally, good feudal lords were faithful to the pope and stood against corruption. So the religious struggle moved to the political terrain and from it to the military sphere because to obey the pope, the good feudal lords had to expel bad prelates. As the bad feudal lords protected bad prelates, there was a war between good lords and bad lords. It was a war of small proportions because Italy was fragmented into small principalities and bourgeois republics, and each had its internal conflict.
However, that war spread throughout Italy as guerrilla warfare and gave rise to a chaotic situation. The whole of Italy plunged into chaos because fighting groups intertwined—a party from one city allied with its counterpart party in another town, etc.
As the Cluny current strove to advance the Church reform, two saints of exceptional stature appeared in Milan. One of them was Blessed Ariald, a priest deeply opposed to simony who fought it with all the ecclesiastical weapons at his disposal. The other is the extraordinary figure of Duke Erlembald, a somewhat unusual name--at least to our ears-- not easy to pronounce.
The name well indicates the proximity of barbarian blood. It is a Germanic name from the time of the invasions. It probably is a Longobard name because the Longobards occupied Milan, settled there, and had descendants. Erlembald and Ariald are names of a common origin that indicate the same racial background. Ariald appears with an aspect and a vocation different from that of many saints. Many saints canonized by the Church and worthy of all veneration followed a line that is not the one we must follow. Because of this, white heresy people like to present them as the only genuine saints.
Here is how white heretics would like to present the story of St. Erlembald: “From his earliest age, the son of the Duke of Milan revealed a singular horror of bloodshed. When he saw animals being mistreated, he ran to his mother’s lap, saying ‘mom, there’s so much sadness in this life! His mother would then take him to pray next to a statue, where he would cry copiously, finally consoling himself with the idea that everything would come to an end when heaven arrived. The holy young man was frail and had delicate health. Because of this, as a boy, he led a life of many sufferings. He had a sore on his forehead (or something like that), and it smelled bad. After he became a young man, having conceived a horror of earthly things, he resolved to leave everything and consecrate himself to the service of the poor. So he spent his entire life washing the feet of the poor, treating sick animals, and his specialty was to reconcile with one another everyone he met. Hence he was called Erlembald of Peace. He died very old and smiling—he is called the saint of smiles.” White heretics would build a cathedral for that saint.
Note that in the Middle Ages, a saint with this biography could have been an authentic saint. God forbid I should think otherwise because that does make a saint’s life. He would not be a white heresy saint because there is no such thing. To say that a saint is white-heresy is “black heresy”. No saint is white heresy; all saints are perfect, and we owe veneration to them all. What is wrong is to say that holiness is limited to that; that is where the white heresy is. Erlembald, the opposite of that, was a saint too, and here you see him in a very prominent position.
Milan is and has always been one of the main cities in Italy, located in the Po River Valley, a hub of lots of roads, and one of the wealthiest regions in Europe, with very intelligent, cultured, political, and artistic people. The Duke of Milan was one of Italy’s main heads of state. At that time, the Duke of Milan threw his weight around in international politics because the kings of France and the emperors of the Holy Empire were always quarreling, and the political balance shifted in favor of one or the other depending on the support received from Italian cities.
Often, these great princes of small principalities in the North of Italy were decisive on the scales of international politics. Erlembald appears as a healthy, strong, well-groomed, wealthy man who shows himself with pomp in the streets, accompanied by a large entourage and ready to make his power respected by force. Yet he wants to drop all worldly things and become a friar.
For white heretics, that’s when the story begins to catch. But then, Erlembald meets Saint Ariald, the killjoy who gives him the idea--which we deem sublime and white heretics see as aberrant--of remaining in office to use it for a good cause. That is something white heretics do not like. Politicians should never be used to favor church matters. Politics is an earthly, human, mundane thing; a supernatural mind neither likes nor understands politics.
Even worse is to tell a politician that he must use force against corrupt simoniacs. White heretics would like the opposite: that he smile in such a way at the corrupt people that they quit corruption and begin to sing praises to Our Lady. There is no evil; one can undo all evil with a kind little smile. Worse yet, this man goes to St. Peter’s in Rome. White heretics don’t fidelity to Rome that much either. They say, “why bother going all the way to Rome? Stay in the village with your parish priest, the Rev. Fr. Dust. He is so nice! He has limited, rather than big horizons.” So are white heretics.
The pope -- a holy pope -- gives him a standard with Saint Peter on it, saying: This is my standard; go, be my sword in Milan. A white heretic thinks, ”how dreadful, he is unleashing the beast. Here comes the sword to defend the Cause of Christ. Christ, who was all smile (Christ did not smile even once in the Gospel, but a white heretic thinks so). Christ, who was all smiles; all good, who never hurt anyone in his whole life! He wielded a whip to drive the money changers out of the Temple, but that was useless. He never wounded anyone, nor would he ever. Now, this man will shed blood in the name of Christ.”
The story tells how he went in and cut, shredded, arrested, and persecuted priests, and white heretics do not like that because every priest is good. “Where have you seen a bad priest? It is a sin to think so.” As you can see, on one occasion, Erlembald had the whole city against him but stood his ground. He is the opposite of white heresy.
Indeed, he is a saint always supported by another saint, Blessed Ariald. However, according to white heresy theory, it suffices for a saint to appear in a city to convert everyone. Here you see the opposite. The saint enters, and few convert. The battle continues, with popes supporting the bloodshed. We call it sublime, as it is the sword at the service of the law shedding the filthy blood of sinners, ridding the world of the abject presence of men who spread evil. Scripture has this magnificent phrase: “Maledictus qui facit opus Domini fraudulenter, et maledictus qui prohibet gladium suum a sanguine –- “Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully: and cursed be he that withholdeth his sword from blood” (Jeremias 48:10). That is the opposite of what white heretics would say: “cursed be anyone who sheds any blood.”
Worse yet, white heretics do not understand how Milan fails to convert when two saints show up. Instead of converting, residents plan to massacre them. The chief of the heretics (who should be sooo gooood) inadvertently takes the pope’s bull excommunicating him and burns it. He is a little Luther five centuries in advance. Inside his cathedral, he calls for the independence of the Church of Milan. A fight breaks out inside the cathedral. Saint Ariald is defeated, but Saint Erlembald stands with his standard and sword, and no one dares go near him.
White heretics understand, for example, the most sublime martyrdom of Saint Stephen (may God give me a drop of his holiness, and I kneel to thank Him for it). But they neither like nor understand a saint who fights to the end, who is a lion close to whom no one dares to come.
Now, this is our vocation; that is what fills our souls. We are this, and those who are not this do understand us.
To have all possible glories, after a long life of fighting and resistance, St. Erlembald ultimately ends by also having the glory of martyrdom. He is indeed a saint I would like to add to our litany if it were not too long.