Printer Friendly

Savonarola--prophet of the new age of Christianity.

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) is one of the most fascinating characters in Church history. Known for his vehement denunciation of political and religious corruption, Savonarola is on one hand praised by the Protestants and the critics of the Church, yet he has been so far misunderstood by Catholics, mainly for his refusal to submit to the controversial Pope Alexander who condemned the friar for heresy. Catholic historians often characterize Savonarola as an overzealous fanatic, fundamentalist, or dictator who overstepped the bounds of moderation and Christian charity. Savonarola's time is perhaps the most bustling period in history, and it isn't easy to distill the truth from the murky ferment of Renaissance which launched the course of our modern history.

The insightful 1902 essay "Savonarola" (Twelve Types) by G. K. Chesterton is a good introduction. It pointed out a curious psychological fact for which no name has been found --that "ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilization potentially the end of man." Not unlike in Savonarola's time, even today few men want to be saved from the "calamity of contentment." Savonarola tried to clean the "palace of Renaissance" of all the filth. He was condemned, burned at the stake, and his message was misunderstood.

Girolamo Maria Francesco Matteo Savonarola was born third of seven children. Jerome's father Nicolo was an incapable merchant, and as an amateur philosopher he relied mostly on the income of his father, a renowned physician Michele Savonarola who was made a Knight of Jerusalem by pope Nicholas. The famous physician and university professor was employed at the court of Ferrara, and despite becoming quite rich, he was a pious and charitable man. The family was held together by Elena, a firm masculine woman of bad temper, but Savonarola's letters reveal not only her virtues and loving care, but also his deep affection towards his mother.

Bright Jerome was chosen to continue the family's medical tradition. Michele devoted himself to the scientific and medical development of his grandson's intellect and Nicolo instructed his son in Scholastic philosophy. Jerome attended a grammar school where he learned poetry and he later studied medicine at the Ferrara university, but he was so fascinated by the works of Thomas Aquinas that he also, like his father, neglected medical training, occupying himself by studying the Scriptures and philosophy, playing sad music on his lute, and composing poems and essays describing the ruin of the world and church. His pensive mood is the key to understanding Savonarola's character. He was a withdrawn and sensitive child, and later he fell in love with a girl who rudely rejected him, but his melancholy was mainly the reflection of the times and it was immensely intensified by the dire historical circumstances in which Italy, Europe and the Church found themselves.

After 16 years of war the Marquess of Ferrara subdued all his adversaries by force and treachery. The jealousy of Milan and Venice kept northern Italy in the state of perpetual warfare and soon the divided Ferrara plunged again into civil war. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 threatened the very existence of Christendom. The steady Turkish expansion was slowed down by Skanderbeg and Hunyadi, but the Turks eventually took Hungary and besieged Vienna, before being decisively defeated at Lepanto in 1571. It was mainly through the effort of the popes that the Turks were resisted, while the mostly stupid and greedy European kings and aristocrats were fighting each other.

After the "Babylonian Captivity" of papacy in Avignon (1309-1377), at the end of the reign of the Bohemian Emperor Charles IV, the papacy returned to Rome, but immediately after Charles' death followed the scandalous Great Schism (1378-1412) with anti-popes, resulting in the first major division of Christendom by the Hussites in Bohemia. The Church was in shambles, divided all the way to its head. [1]

In 1420, Pope Martin V found Rome dilapidated, and the restoration policy of Nicholas V set the course of history. As bad as several of the Renaissance popes were, they all followed this policy, lavishly building churches and palaces. Even the worst of the popes, Alexander VI, wasn't really worse than the corrupted aristocracy whose Machiavellian politics the popes had to oppose. Modern history has dismissed the myths exaggerating the depravity of Alexander. Nevertheless, immorality, nepotism, simony and lavishness gave the Roman church a bad reputation and the scandalous behavior of popes and cardinals needed to be corrected.

The Italian potentates ignored all these circumstances, choosing to entertain themselves and to pacify their subjects by frequent carnivals and festivities, sometimes right after they slaughtered their rivals, in streets still covered with blood. It was during the festival of St. George in 1475, when all his family went to attend the celebrations, that Jerome ran away to the monastery of St. Dominic in Bologna seeking silence and peace. Savonarola announced he came to do penance and asked to be given the lowliest menial tasks.

The convent drudge inspired the brother monks by humility and obedience. His superiors soon noticed Girolamos's extraordinary learning and mental gifts and assigned him to instruct the novices. Eventually the learned Dominican who never stopped self-educating was promoted to a preacher and in 1481 he was sent to Ferrara, but another war erupted and he was ordered to go to Florence, never seeing his family again. The war was between greedy Venice and pope Sixtus, who desired to increase his nephew's dominion. The besieged Ferrara was reduced by famine and surrendered. Fra Hieronymus, whose Greek name means "sacred name", joined the convent of San Marco.

Medieval Florence resisted imperial authority, and politically it was a deeply divided city. It rose out of the municipal wars, blood-feuds, and invasions by the Free Companies, which kept Italy in perpetual anarchy. [2] Dante described Florence in his Inferno (c. 1300) as a place of avarice, pride and extravagance--"throughout Hell thy name is spread. " Petrarch revived 'humanitas', the old Roman idea championed by Cicero that literacy would not only enhance one's own humanity, but would result in overall improvement of mankind. In 1349, the Black Death decimated and further corrupted Florence, as Boccaccio documented in his Decameron. Family and society collapsed all over Europe. Afterwards, even prostitution was seen as an acceptable means to restore the population and economy, and the Church turned a blind eye, since it was a lesser of a variety of evils. Florence especially became known for the worst of the vices, including sodomy.

Advancements in arithmetic and accounting resulted in the birth of capitalism, and the banking fortunes of the Medici transferred Florence into a rich city. Cosimo Medici's money rebuilt Rome and Florence's prestige rose with the Council of Florence, called in 1438 in Ferrara to negotiate a union between the Eastern and Western Churches. The desperate 700 member Byzantine delegation of patriarchs and intellectuals led by Emperor John VIII Palaiologos grudgingly accepted all theological conditions imposed by Roman papacy and formally the whole Church was united. Nevertheless, the West failed to live up to the bargain and Byzantium was abandoned. [3]

Under the leadership of Savonarola, St. Mark's became the most prominent of all Italian monasteries, with the first public library in Italy and the bustling population of monks from as far as Germany. The valuable collection of Latin and Greek books, brought by the Byzantine emigres and later by merchants and book hunters, turned Florence into the hub of Renaissance. The beauty and prosperity of Florence under Lorenzo the Magnificent became legendary, but there were ugly mold-filled cracks under the veneer of magnificence.

The young aristocrats, dumbfounded by Byzantine books, turned knowledge into sham erudition, the newly discovered Platonism was threatening the Aristotelian foundation of theology and science, and Greek paganism challenged Christian decency. Fanatics even asked the pope to canonize Plato. Lorenzo, the patron of arts, was a ruthless politician who embezzled the funds of the Republic and confiscated the charitable dowry endowment that prevented poor girls from falling into prostitution. Artistically, Lorenzo is credited with the invention of Canti Carnascialeschi, the focus of his carnivals. These obscene songs promoted sensualism and profligacy, and corrupted the Florentine youth.

It was under these circumstances that Savonarola was invited to preach the Lenten sermons, but his sophisticated audience quickly deserted him. Rather than the sound Scriptural doctrine and plain Christian morality, the paganized aristocrats expected stunning orations modeled after Ficino's Platonic Academy, full of verbal elegancy and lavish philosophical quotations, with an occasional obscenity or a coarse joke, like their favorite preacher Fra Mariano delivered to entertain his audiences. Savonarola gained widespread recognition after his preaching missions in Lombardy and Genoa and he gradually gained an increasing crowd of followers, who flocked to St. Mark's to hear his passionate prophetic preaching.

Despite Savonarola's increasing popularity with ordinary Christians, his sermons against impiety, immorality, corrupt clergy, gambling, astrology, taxation of poor, avarice and usury raised the brows of bankers and merchants, and finally they were noted also by Pope Alexander VI, who kept mistresses and fathered illegitimate children, and whose insatiable greed for gold was well-known. There is no excuse for the pope's behavior by today's standards, but, facing the equally immoral and treacherous behavior of the popes' political opponents, one can at least try to understand the complexities and the evil nature of the medieval politics described by Machiavelli, who seemingly praised the politics of the evil princes, dismissing Savonarola's intellectual humanistic approach as useless.

Likewise, it is understandable why Savonarola hoped for the intervention of the French King Charles VIII whose invasion of Italy he predicted. Lustful Sixtus appointed many worldly cardinals, but the rigged election of an even more scandalous Innocent VIII in 1484 was a huge disappointment. [4] In 1492, these cardinals elected a shrewd Spanish lawyer and administrator Alexander VI, also amid corruption rumors. But Savonarola's hopes that Charles would restore or reform the Church were dashed, and after the French retreated all they accomplished was the spread of syphilis all over Europe. [5]

The 1494 French invasion aroused the Florentines and the tyrannical Medici were expelled, but the people had no capable leaders and, despite his desire to abstain from politics, the extremely popular Savonarola was eventually drawn into being a de-facto ruler, whose sermons were taken as law and orders. A new constitution was drawn, government and the legal system were established, pornographic paintings and quasi-artistic vanities like obscene carnival costumes and playing cards were burned, loose women and lewd dancing were banned, and bawdy carnivals were turned into religious festivities, all with Savonarola's expert advice. Savonarola was accused of being a destroyer of art, but his philosophy insightfully addressed true beauty, pure Christian art, and modesty, including practical advice for artists and women. The difference between the secular Medici pornography and true Christian art can be seen in the works of many artists who adopted Savonarola's advice, starting with Botticelli and Michelangelo.

The old political factions soon reappeared, the most prominent being the rich anti-Medici Arrabbiati (Enraged), who called the pro-Savonarola party Piagnoni (Snivellers). Savonarola asked for fair elections without vote tampering and condemned both the party spirit and tyranny.

"Tyrant signifies a man of the worst kind, ... an enemy to God and to man. The tyrant is proud, lustful, and avaricious; ... he has the germ of every vice of which man is capable. Likewise his senses are perverted ... he corrupts magistrates, robs widows and orphans, oppresses the people, and favors those that incite him to defraud the Commune. He is devoured by suspicion, and has spies everywhere; he desires all to seem bashful in his presence, and be his slaves; hence where is a tyrant, no man may act or speak freely."

Savonarola tried to unite all Florentines by proclaiming Jesus Christ the King of Florence (6], but the divided city was seen by the rest of the Italian potentati, including the pope and the politically appointed cardinals, as easy pickings and the subject of their next annexation or conquest.

The Arrabbiati, who viciously mocked Savonarola and attempted to kill him several times, became the pope's ally, and exaggerated reports reached Rome about the friar's passionate sermons. The pope summoned Savonarola on the pretext of learning about his prophecies, but all knew the real reason --once out of the security of his convent it would be easy to eliminate or imprison the inconvenient friar. Arrabiatti were plotting to bomb the cathedral during Savonarola's preaching. Savonarola politely excused himself and the pope politely accepted, but appointed a Lombard superior to oversee the unification of St. Mark's with a Lombard monastery under the papal auspices. Savonarola firmly replied that it was the desire of all his brothers to remain independent of the hostile Lombards. The pope next tried an approach, which usually works with most men, offering Savonarola the cardinals' hat, but he indignantly refused to be silenced and the pope finally accused Savonarola of heresy, at the same time threatening Florence with an interdict, scaring the merchants and bankers.

The gloves were off, and while Savonarola acknowledged proper papal authority, he refused to obey unjust commands based on calumny and lies, contrary to Scriptures and Christian charity, citing many examples and theological authorities. Excommunicated Savonarola knew that he wasn't heretical and his only hope was now that a general council would declare Alexander's election null and put an end to all his scandals. The principle of Conciliarism was known since the Council of Constance, the largest medieval gathering, where John Hus was burned and which finally ended the Great Schism. Afterwards it was believed that a heretical or scandalous pope could be deposed. [7] Savonarola wrote letters to five European kings hoping for such a council, but his letters were intercepted and ignored.

The famous ordeal by fire was a provocation, which Savonarola saw through, but, facing the increasingly hostile crowds, couldn't avoid. Before the cowardly challenging Franciscans appeared, the sudden storm put an end to the spectacle, and the mob, maddened by Arrabbiati, attacked St. Mark's. Savonarola was arrested, and the subsequent trials with prolonged tortures, during which he presumably admitted his guilt, were a shameful fraud. [8] The execution of Savonarola and his two brothers on a gibbet resembling a cross was the final act of humiliation which Savonarola faced with super-human strength, prompting many devout followers to collect his ashes and burned body parts and venerate them every year on May 23.

The papal prelate who oversaw the execution closed St. Mark's, confiscated the precious library, and exiled many brothers. Leading Piagnoni were also accused, and those who couldn't bribe the prelate were summoned to Rome. Crude pamphlets about the "madmen" defending the "treasonous friar" were circulated, an astrologer from Sienna proved by stars that Savonarola was destined from birth to be a heretic, and the jealous philosopher and astrologer Marsilio Ficino, who previously had been accused of heresy, now accused "Sevonarola" before the College of Cardinals of being an Antichrist, deliberately twisting Savonarola's name. Saevus-Nero-la, meaning "Terrible Nero." The rabid Arrabbiati now ruled Florence, and to further intimidate Savonarola's followers, they let loose a donkey in the Duomo cathedral on Christmas Eve and clubbed it to death.

Pope Alexander was hoping to annex Florence for his son Cesare, Venetian troops led by Medici were advancing, and the Duke of Milan offered to protect Florence for a large annual sum of money. Government officials were replaced, and Arrabbiati were forced to adopt Savonarola's policies and ideas. Hoping to maintain democracy, the new secretary Machiavelli reorganized the army and Florence became the strongest state in Italy. [9]

It was the Medici who annexed Rome, Lorenzo's son became Pope Leo X, and when another Medici became Pope Clement VII, Rome was sacked and looted by the German-Spanish army of Emperor Charles V in 1527, because the Medici allied themselves with the French. The Florentines saw this as the fulfillment of Savonarola's prophecies. Piagnoni again expelled the Medici, and proclaimed Christ the King of Florence, but the Medici quickly regained power. Using Shakespeare's words, "The heaven set spies" upon Europe, and "Fortune, visible an enemy" was threatening "divers deaths in death." [10]

Few other men in history have caused so much controversy as Savonarola. [11] Luther declared him a Protestant martyr, but Savonarola never preached Luther's misconstrued doctrine of salvation without the works. [12] Pope Alexander banned Savonarola's writings under the pain of ex-communication and it was a crime to possess them. They were later re-examined and found to be not only Catholic, but the precursor to the modern Catholic doctrines, which reconciled religion with liberty and faith with reason. Michelangelo devoutly read them, and St. John Fisher, St. Catherine Ricci, and St. Philip Neri all considered Savonarola a saint. [13] The learned Byzantine monk Maximos the Greek, who also listened to Savonarola's sermons and saved his ashes, took Savonarola's ideas to Russia hoping to reform its church and politics, only to be kept in prison by the tsar for thee decades. [14]

Not much is left of Savonarola's legacy in Florence where the Medici splendor dominates, except an unimpressive piazza with a statue mostly ignored by Italians and tourists. Savonarola, the best educated man of his time, rebuffed intellectual snobs and showed a deep affection for the simplicity of ordinary devout Christians, very much like Chesterton, who later expressed this as his "common man" idea. Paradoxically, in the midst of wanton Florentine beauty, Michelangelo's unfinished statues of four Slaves today best represent the human spirit emerging from the unfinished marble of Renaissance.

A fierce exponent of democracy, which he equated with Christianity, Savonarola prophesied the "new younger and wiser world." The troubled European history culminated in the monstrous tyrannies of the 20th century. A depraved imagination and hedonism is surrounding us again. If we are not careful, our hard-fought-for Western democracy, which sprung from Savonarola's Christian Republic, may also disappear. Savonarola was one of the pillars of the true reformation of the Church, and had the corrupt popes, kings, cardinals, and aristocrats, who badly discredited Christianity, listened to his sermons, there would not have been a need for the scandalous schism and widespread apostasy. Christianity reanimated by faith and love, and, fortified by reason and good works, could have dramatically altered the troubled course of history. To defy the heaven's spies and to thwart the ill-fortune, Savonarola's message ought be understood and proclaimed again.

Endnotes:

(1) There were 3 concurrent popes and Christendom was divided into the Roman obedience (northern Italy, Hungary, England, Ireland, Poland and Scandinavia), Avignon obedience (France, Spain, Scotland and southern Italy), and the uncertain 'protestant' Europe demanding reform (Bohemia, Germany, Netherlands).

(2) The Blind King John of Luxembourg and his son, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia, fought in Italy, hoping to restore papacy and to unite Christendom. Charles realized the futility of the effort, and facing the hostile Germans who joined forces with Edward III against the French and himself, focused instead on rebuilding and strengthening his native Bohemia, which became a stabilizing force in Europe. Nevertheless, as an emperor and the King of Romans, and a devout Christian, Charles IV was deeply interested in Italy and Rome, corresponding with Italian humanist Petrarch and others. The prosperous Bohemia became a model for the Habsburgs and emperor Frederic III built his Wiener Neustadt imitating Charles' beautiful Prague. The Free Companies were mercenary armies, often looting as they travelled, and the rich merchant Italy was their focus. The merchants were busy making money and relied on mercenaries for protection. The most famous condottiere John Hawkwood who employed the new war tactics of Edward III died in Florence and was buried in the Duomo. Fie became quite rich by playing the various cities against each other, selling his protection services.

(3) Encouraged by astrologers, Frederick III, who in 1452 crossed the Alps to be crowned the last King of Romans, saw the fall of Constantinople as an excellent opportunity to assume the title of the universal ruler of Christendom, hoping to absorb also the weak papal authority under his newly enlarged office of the universal Byzantine-like Emperor of all Christians. The Russian tsars had their own imperial desires.

(4) Savonarola was a spiritual advisor to simple nuns and to noble women with whom he corresponded, writing long letters, almost sermons. Of them was a remarkable woman Countess Caterina Sforza, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, whose first two husbands were assassinated. Seven months pregnant she determinedly tried to sway the corrupt papal election in 1484 by leading the army of her husband on horseback to restore anarchy into which Rome degenerated after Sixtus's death. It was her progeny that ruled Florence until its extinction in 1743 with Anna Maria Ludovica who donated all the Medici art and treasures to the city of Florence.

(5) In 1492 Savonarola had two intense visions. The night before his last Advent sermon it was his famous "Gladius Domini super terram cito et velociter ..." vision in which the hand of God holding a sword struck the world with wars and pestilence. The French-ltalian wars continued after Savonarola's death, Turks attacked Venice, defeated Flungary at Mohacs, etc., and the whole subsequent history of Europe with numerous wars and revolutions culminated in the monstrous 20th century wars and atrocities. The French soldiers contracted syphilis in Naples, where the returning sailors of Columbus' expedition spread it among the female population. The first European epidemic, which was especially virulent, was recorded in 1495 following the temporary retreat of the French army. In France it was known as the Neapolitan plague, in Italy it was called the French disease. Effective treatment wasn't available until penicillin was discovered in 1943. (The current name was adopted after shepherd Syphilis who was stricken with the French disease for an act of impiety in the popular 1530 poem by the Italian physician Fracastoro.) In Savonarola's Good Friday vision a black cross "Crux Irae Dei" rose above Rome, and a golden cross "Crux Misericordiae Dei" rose above Jerusalem and all the nations flocked to adore it, a curious prefigurement of the modern Divine Mercy devotion which starts on Good Friday.

(6) Christ's kingship features prominently in the New Testament. (Mark 1:15, John 1:49 & 18:37, 1Cor 15:25, Eph 1:20-22, Rev 15:3 etc.) His "reign" was announced by archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:32-33), and Christ acknowledged himself as King before Pilate. Charlemagne's imperial coronation seemed to have fulfilled St. Augustine's concept, (his grandsons never lived up to the principle), but, a number of truly Catholic kings and rulers also adopted the spirit of the Scriptures in their kingdoms, starting with St. Wenceslas of Bohemia, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis IX, St. Edward the Confessor, or later John Sobieski of Poland. History has proved that Augustine's concept was flawed. The Church doesn't mandate a particular form of government, but it can point our errors or problems. Pope Leo XIII criticized the flaw of the American democracy, its separation of Church and State, in his Longiqua Oceani (1895), and this was reiterated by Pius X's Vehementer Nos (1906). Pius XI explicitly declared the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 Quas Primas as an answer to the godless nationalism and naturalistic Darwinian politics which ignored religion and sound ethics, these being the true cause of WWI and WWII. (A few years ago I attended a lecture by a distinguished professor of history, an unbeliever, who dwelt for an hour on the "Darwinian nature" of European pre-WWI politics, as if this were still a desirable evolutionary model today.) In 1969 pope Paul VI elevated the feast to a solemnity, and renamed it to "D. N. lesu Christi universorum Regis", extending Christ's kingship universally. (Presumably not in the sense of material universe, including the controversial ephemeral extra-terrestrials, but rather in the universal imperial sense of the Byzantine emperor.) Curiously, the encyclicals don't mention Savonarola, and the various available histories also miss Savonarola's first attempt in history to formally institute Christ's Kingship as a modern political solution.

(7) At the end of the Great Schism the Church was traumatized and Conciliarism was the only way to restore the Church and its credibility. However, the theologians and cardinals realized the complex difficulties with respect to papal infallibility and teaching authority, and the powers of synods and general councils. The Scholastic teaching of Aquinas understood the pope's power as the head of a council, not in opposition to it, nor acting individually. It became a Dominican theological tradition that popes may err when speaking individually, but could not err when speaking in conjunction with a council or the counsel of the Church. The Dominican teaching was reiterated at the First Vatican Council in 1869.

(8) It was erroneously asserted that the challenge was given by Savonarola. In the absence of the effective papal authority an unhealthy rivalry between the religious orders and their preachers developed. Savonarola was critical not only of corrupt clergy, but also of the erroneous doctrines they preached. A Franciscan preacher Fra Francesco di Puglia attacked Savonarola in his Lenten sermons, calling him a heretic and a false prophet, and challenged Savonarola to prove his doctrines through the ordeal by fire. (There were previous attacks and confrontations, even challenges, and while Savonarola had previously agreed to publicly debate Fra Francesco, he ignored the silly challenges, but the Franciscan refused to debate and fled the city.) The pope banned Savonarola from preaching, he obeyed, and the 1498 Lenten mission was given by Savonarola's brother Fra Domenico, who saw this as a personal challenge, and strongly believing in Savonarola's doctrines, Domenico accepted the ordeal. Savonarola reproved Domenico but the jealous Franciscans and the crafty Signory, the state authority, saw this as an excellent way to get rid of the troublesome friar, and they eventually duped Domenico to signing a document agreeing to the ordeal. The plans were to immediately exile Savonarola and his monks after Domenico would inevitably perish in fire. The pope also knew about the arrangement. The Franciscans deliberately failed to show up and honor the agreement, hoping the eager Domenico would try to prove Savonarola's doctrines by walking into the fire alone. Afterwards the Signory approved an annual pension of sixty lire to Franciscans for the next 20 years, proving their complicity in the plot. Likewise, Savonarola withstood the tortures, the signature admitting his guilt had to be falsified, and the prosecutor Ceccone, like Judas, received only 30 ducats instead of 400 for bungling the trials.

(9) The Prince had the most profound influence on European politics. It was banned in 1559 by pope Paul IV. Dictators and politicians since Cromwell to Stalin all read it, analyzed it, and acted accordingly. Historians are finally beginning to see Machiavelli's Prince not so much as a cynical handbook for tyrants, but rather an irony and the criticism of tyranny. Referring to Savonarola, Machiavelli wrote to his friend that his idea of an ideal preacher would be one who could teach the way to hell, because that would show the true way to paradise, "to learn the way to the Inferno and thus to avoid it." Machiavelli was a republican democrat who admired Savonarola and he put the "unarmed prophet" alongside of Moses. He wrote in his Discourses that "one must speak of such a man with reverence" and that Savonarola's doctrine shows "prudence and the virtue of his heart." Machiavelli also wrote that the severest blow to Savonarola's reputation was the malfeasant execution of five prominent Piagnoni for high treason--"the law was not observed." Machiavelli adopted Savonarola's advice, got rid of the deceitful mercenaries who often played various sides and extorted all, and relied on the loyal citizens' militia.

(10) (The Winter's Tale, Act 5, Scene 1.) Shakespeare's "coasts of Bohemia" and his curious medieval division of Europe into Sicily (Southern Italy held by the French) and Bohemia (imperial power of Charles IV representing Christendom) still puzzles historians and literary critics. The play is deeply allegorical, but suffice it to say that in his division Shakespeare not only faithfully described the medieval history of Europe but prophesied the fate of Europe. One cannot but wonder whether Shakespeare also, being an Englishman, but first a Christian and European, had an antipathy towards the corrupt Renaissance Rome, not unlike Savonarola.

Charles I (1268-1282), the Angevin king of Sicily and Naples, had a grand scheme for a Mediterranean empire under the French auspices, succeeding the declining Byzantine empire. Sicily maintained independence by offering its crown to Peter III of Aragon, Naples continued to be ruled by the Angevins. King Ladislas (1386-1414) established order in his Neapolitan kingdom and began a vigorous unification campaign in central Italy, buying the States of the Church from pope Gregory XII, only to be opposed by Florence's international banker Giovanni Medici, the richest man in Italy, whose successors eventually controlled Rome. The marriage of Sicily, which since the ancient Roman times represented Greek and Byzantine culture, with Bohemia also "trained in childhood" in similar fashion, and "there rooted betwixt them then such an affection", would clearly indicate Shakespeare's preference--"The heavens continue their love." (Camillo, Act 1, Scene 1)

(11) There was a deep divide between Platonists like Ficino, and Aristotelians, the conflict escalated when Galielo made fun of pope Urban VIII by calling him Simplicius. Both the French Huguenots and Catholics claimed Savonarola's legacy. During the Counter-reformation Jesuits considered Savonarola more dangerous than Luther's teaching and incited pope Paul IV to ban his works again. The Medici were also hostile, Florentine archbishop Alessandro Medici banned Savonarola's works in 1583 to eliminate the resurgence of the Savonarola cult. As early as 1500 appearance of half-crazed raging prophets who imitated Savonarola's preaching further damaged his credibility, all these unlearned maniacs were put to death. While many Piagnoni men remained skeptical, a number of religious women like St. Maria Maddalena de Pazzi either venerated Savonarola or claimed to have raptures and visions of Savonarola. The friars of San Marco obstinately kept his memory, calling Savonarola a Martyr, Prophet, Virgin and Doctor to the dismay of their Medici bishops. The Dominicans were steadfastly defending Savonarola and his teaching against false accusations. Popes Clement VIII and Benedict XIV considered canonizing Savonarola. The 19th century Risorgimento movement and the New Piagnoni twisted Savonarola's ideas and Mussolini later declared him the first fascist. Sturzo's 1919 Popular Party advanced Savonarola's social justice doctrine. After WWII the Christian Democratic movement became a dominant force in Italian politics drawing on Savonarola's ideas, (the mayor of Florence even maintained a cell in San Marco), until it also disintegrated from the sins Savonarola preached against--greed, worldly ambition and the neglect of common good.

(12) Since his youth Savonarola adopted a motto by which he lived all his life and which appeared in many forms in his sermons and writings--"Tanto sa ciascuno, quanto opera. " ("As much as one knows, so much one does.") Savonarola's entire life was based on love and works. Love or charity, the measure of all things, which is the gift of God, and which sweetly fulfills the whole law of God, works marvelous things and conquers all things. One who has charity can always conduct himself well and interpret all laws correctly. Savonarola gave examples, Christ's love of men being the highest form, but even uneducated priest's sincere concern for the wellbeing of sinners, (like St. John Vianney), or even unskilled mother's love and her subsequent works or sacrifices when caring for her children, or the love of the caring nurse and physician. Naturally, it is best when the priest, mother or physician has skill and knowledge, but it is love and charity that motivates him or her to acquire as much skill and knowledge as he can, and use them when caring for his patient or charge. It is in this sense we can say that "love teaches him everything, and will be the measure and rule of all the measures and rules of medicine. He will endure a thousand fatigues ..., will enquire into everything, and will order his remedies and see them prepared, and will never leave the sick man. If instead gain be his object, he will have no care for the sufferer, and his very skill will fail him.... Behold what love can effect. "

(13) Many artists starting with Botticelli adopted Savonarola's advice and shunned secular art and especially pagan pornography which masqueraded as art. Pope Julius II who hated Alexander VI allowed Raphael to paint Savonarola in Disputa del Sacramento, and may have considered his canonization. Sacred Church music resulting in the masses of Palestrina originated in the fusion of Florentine musicianship influenced by Savonarolan aesthetics. St. Philip Neri was educated in San Marco and the practices and the music of his Oratory in Rome, oratorios and laude, can be traced back to Savonarola--"All that I have of good I owe to (your) fathers of San Marco."

(14) It was T.G. Masaryk who stressed the fact in his profound work The Spirit of Russia'.

Peter Hala was born and educated in Czechoslovakia. In 1980, his family managed to escape the communist regime and came to Canada. He works at the University of Alberta in computing, automation, and control systems. His interests and hobbies include history, philosophy, mathematics, literature, music, and various outdoor pursuits.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Catholic Insight
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Girolamo Savonarola
Author:Hala, Peter
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jul 1, 2014
Words:5550
Previous Article:A brief historical overview of papal diplomacy.
Next Article:Racist origins of eugenics and its expression in modern environmentalism.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters