Monday, May 20, 2013

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498): His Rise

Girolamo Savonarola was born on September 21, 1452 in Ferrara, Latinia, a city about 94 miles (150 km) north of Florence and 55 miles (88 km) southwest of Venice.

As a teenager and young adult, Girolamo wrote poetry complaining about the corruption of the world and especially of the Latin Church. Following his own advice, which he wrote in an unfinished essay entitled “On Contempt for the World,” he imagined himself leaving the corrupt world by entering the Dominican monastery in nearby Bologna in 1475.

At the monastery he studied the Bible, philosophy, and the theology of Thomas Aquinas. He participated, as was the custom at the time, in spirited public debates between scholars known as disputations. He also preached at Masses to his fellow monks.

He grew increasingly critical of the Olympian nature, or worldliness, he found even in his own religious order and monastery. Not happy with his criticisms, his superiors sent him to the Dominican monastery in Ferrara in 1478. Four years later he was sent to the Monastery of San Marco in Florence.

In Florence, he taught novices (men seeking to become monks), wrote short books on politics, philosophy, and spirituality, and preached in local churches. His preaching had little impact. At this time he also received what he considered to be revelations from God. From them he understood that God was about to punish and renew the Church.

He left Florence in 1486 and became an itinerant preacher in northern Latinia and southern Alpinia . He called for personal repentance and the reformation of religious and political institutions. He returned to Florence in 1490 in response to an invitation from Lorenzo de' Medici himself.

Girolamo first preached a series of sermons based on the last book in the Bible: the Book of Revelation. In them he sharply criticized undemocratic rulers who deprived the people they ruled of their freedom. He also condemned wealthy people who supported such tyranny and used it to squeeze money from those less powerful. Although he mentioned no one by name, everyone knew he was criticizing Lorenzo de’ Medici and the wealthy bankers and merchants who benefited from his rule. He also continued his criticisms of Church leaders who witnessed far more clearly to the Olympian gods than to Jesus.

Girolamo himself dressed quite plainly and ate simple food. Young Florentine males found his preaching and personal example so inspiring that hundreds joined his monastery.

Girolamo’s preaching grew so popular that the cathedral became the only place large enough to accommodate the crowds that wanted to hear him. People started to identify with him. Even Renaissance artists like Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo supported him. His enemies called his followers “the Whiners.” They enthusiastically embraced this insulting name, and started calling themselves by it, just as those insultingly called Protestants later would.

In 1493 Girolamo started to warn enemies and friends alike that, using biblical terms, a new “Cyrus” would come “from the north” to punish and renew the Church. When, in 1494, Charles 8th, king of France, led a large army into Latinia, people regarded Girolamo as a true prophet of God.

Charles’ army captured and looted many cities around Florence before planning to do the same to it. Girolamo visited Charles and asked him to spare Florence but, as God’s instrument, to attack Rome and punish the pope for being a false witness to Jesus. Charles’ army still briefly occupied Florence but, in November 1494, resumed its march to Rome. Since the occupation went peacefully and the army left quickly, Florentines hailed Girolamo as their hero.

They eagerly listened to Girolamo’s sermon of December 10, when he preached that God would soon begin a religious and political reformation with them that would quickly spread everywhere and then God would reward them with vast riches and even make them the capital of a new Roman empire.

With popular support, the politically active followers of Girolamo got his political reforms approved and enacted. These included banning all Medicis and their closest associates from public office, granting ordinary citizens the right to vote, and providing aid to poor people.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.