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than oppose thy will and show myself ungrateful for thy goodness. ... Think not that I have not endured the deepest affliction in separating myself from you. Never, since I was born, have I suffered such bitter mental torment as at the moment when I abandoned my own father to make the sacrifice of my body to Jesus Christ, and to surrender my will into the hands of those whom I had never seen. You complain of the secresy of my departure, I should rather say, my fight. In truth, I suffered such grief and agony of heart when I left you, that, if I had betrayed myself, I verily believe that my heart would have broken, and I should have changed my purpose. In mercy, then, must loving father, dry your tears, and add not to my pain and sorrow. To be Cæsar, I would not return to the world; but, like you, I am of flesh and blood; the senses wage a cruel war with the reason, and I would not give vantage to the devil. The first days, the bitter days, will soon be over. As a man of strong mind, I beseech you, comfort my mother, and both of you send me, I entreat you, your blessing.' 3
Savonarola, like all men, especially Italian men, of his temperament, sought expression for his passionate feelings in poetry. The able editor of his few poems, M. de Rians, assigns his earliest ode, De Ruinâ Mundi,' to some period a year or two before his flight to Bologna. It breathes the same sensitive horror of the awful moral spectacle around him, and already Rome is the centre and source of all wickedness :
La terra è si oppressa da ogni vizio
If this first poem revealed the stern aversion of his heart to the sins of the world, his second, “On the Ruin of the Church, showed no less his vivid imagination, already revelling in that allegorical significance which he assigned to every word of the Scripture, and in the boundless symbolism of the Church. The Ode is a string of brilliant material images, each of which has its latent spiritual meaning: jewels, diamonds, lamps, sapphires,
• The letter may be read in Latin in the Epistolæ Spirituales published by P. Quetif; in Italian, in Burlamacchi; in French, in M. Perrens ; in our own tongue, in both the English Lives.
• Poesie di Savonarola. Firenze, 1847.
white robes, golden zones, white horses. But Italy lost no poet by the elevation of Savonarola to be her greatest preacher. Girolamo's verses are hard and harsh ; all his higher odes are utterly deficient in the exquisite music, the crystalline purity of Petrarch; his more lowly and familiar stanzas, if they have the rudeness want the simple fervour of St. Francis, still more the vigour of Jacopone da Todi. We fear his poetry itself would hardly have disenchanted the popular ear from the profane and pagan, but light and festive, carnival songs of Lorenzo de' Medici. Savonarola's poetry is to be sought in his sermons and even in some of his treatises.
There could be no doubt that Savonarola would equal the austerest sons of St. Dominic in the congenial virtues of the cloister. Yet though sternly submissive to the rigorous rules of his Order as to fastings and mortifications, there does not always appear that extravagance of asceticism in which some of the older anchorites and the more famous monks luxuriated and gloried. He has no special aspirations after peculiar filth and misery; and, throughout his teaching, the advice to others on these subjects, though in harmony with the rules of his Church, has a tone of moderation and good sense; bodily austerities are but subordinate, of low esteem, in comparison with the graces and virtues of the heart and soul. No breath of calumny ever attainted the personal purity of Savonarola. When he was the spiritual lord of Florence, if he condescended now and then to notice imputations of interested motives, of covetousness or spiritual extortion, it was to reject them with a defiant scorn, with an appeal to his own lofty disdain of wealth, to his known and lavish charities to the poor. He might have been, but disdained to be, wealthy. He was even above that more fatal and common avarice of his Church; he sternly condemned the prodigal expenditure of wealth on magnificent buildings, on church ornaments, the golden censers, the jewelled pixes, the rich embroidered vestments: he would still be the simple, self-denying monk, not the splendid churchman.
In his obedience he was a mild brother of his Order; as yet a humble disciple, he was in all respects strictly subordinate to his rule, and to the authority of his superiors. In his studies alone he struggled with gentle pertinacity for some freedom, which he at length obtained. He submitted to the common discipline of the Order, the study of the Fathers, of scholastic theology with all its subtle perplexities and all its arid dialectics : but his heart rebelled ; and dwelt with still increasing interest and exclusiveness on the Holy Scriptures. But it was not his heart alone which found its rest and consolation in the simple truths and peaceful promises of the Gospel. It was the bold and startling imagery, the living figures, the terrible denunciatory language, the authoritative rebukes of sin in the name of a terrible and avenging God, the awful words of God himself, as uttered and avouched by the ancient prophets, which clave to his memory, kindled his soul, and became at length his own, as he supposed, not less inspired language. His was not anxious searching of the Scriptures, in order to find out the way for the salvation of his own soul.” As to that way he had implicit faith in the doctrines and in the authority of the Church. He had the simple conviction that this was by faith and holiness of life, faith inspired by grace, of which holiness was the necessary manifestation. But the Bible he felt, by the terrific power of its language, by the deep meaning of its phrases and imagery, and by its direct application to the state of existing things, could alone shake the perishing world around him, and beat up the universal wickedness which comprehended the people, the clergy, the Pope himself. At first indeed his mind was in the fetters of his earlier and colder studies. According to the usage of his Order he was commissioned to visit many of the cities of Lombardy, to administer spiritual instruction, to exhort, to hear confession, and in every ordinary way to promote religion. In 1482, six years after his admission into the Dominican order, he was at Ferrara, his native city. He went there with reluctance, for no man is a prophet in his own country, and he compares himself with unsuspected irreverence to the Carpenter's son, to whom his native Nazareth paid but slight respect-a singular illustration of his prescience of his own high powers and destiny, as well as of his simplicity.6 Ferrara was threatened with war by the Venetians. Most of the Dominicans were ordered by their superior to retire from their convent in Ferrara, S. Maria dei Angeli. Among those who were sent to Florence was Fra Girolamo. He was received in the magnificent convent of the order, San Marco, hereafter to be the scene of his glory, and his fate. The name of Fra Girolamo was already not without celebrity, but it was for his learning and for his sanctity. Many stories were abroad of conversions which he had wrought, hardly less than preternatural; the number of his disciples in later days threw back the halo of miracle around many of his earlier acts. voyage from Ferrara to Mantua he had been shocked by the blasphemies and obscenities of the rude boatmen. After half an hour of his earnest catechising, eleven of them threw themselves at his feet, in profound contrition, confessing their sins, and imploring absolution.
5 There are four copies of the Scriptures in different libraries at Florence, annotated by the hand of Savonarola. The notes themselves are in a kind of short hand; but there is an interpretation in the MSS. The passage extracted by M. Perrens is genuine Savonarola-a record of the wild dreams which crossed his slumbering or his waking imagination, in the prophetic significance of which he seemed to have implicit faith.–Appendix, tom. i. p. 458.
Florence witnessed the first recorded instance of his public preaching. By the admission, it may almost be said, by the boast of his admiring biographers, this first attempt was a total, it might seem a hopeless, failure, such as might have crushed a less ardent man. He was appointed to preach the Carême (the course of Lent sermons) in the great church of San Lorenzo. The expectation was high; his countenance was known to be fine and expressive ; his form, though slight, was
* In his beautiful letter to his mother, published by F. Marchese, Archivio Storico, p. 112; no one who reads this, and no more than this, can doubt the perfect sincerity of Savonarola.
full of grace and strength. But his voice was thin and harsh; his delivery unimpressive, his gestures rude and awkward ; his language, not yet disembarrassed of dry scholastic form, heavy and dull. His audience dwindled down to a still diminishing few; not twenty-five persons lingered in the vacant nave. His superiors, whether in kindness, or suspecting his slumbering powers, sent him during two consecutive years (1484–5) to preach at San Gemignano. Still all was cold and ineffective; a scanty and listless audience, or vacant aisles. He retired to Florence and reassumed the humble office of reader; it might seem that his career of fame and of usefulness was closed for
On a sudden, at Brescia, he burst out; appalling, entrancing, shaking the souls of men, piercing to their heart of hearts, and drawing them in awestruck crowds before the foot of his pulpit. The secret was in the text-book of his sermons.
It was the Apocalypse of St. John. Aut insanum inveniet aut faciet : such was the axiom of no less a person than Calvin on the study of this mysterious book; an axiom probably not much known to those who hold the peculiar doctrines of the French reformer among ourselves. If we receive, according to the letter, the account of this Brescian sermon, its causes and its consequences, as related in the life by Burlamacchi, it might be adduced as illustrating the wisdom of the great Genevese reformer. Not only in preaching on the chapter concerning the 23 (24) elders, did he declare that one of the elders had been commissioned to reveal to him the terrible doom which awaited Italy, and especially the city of Brescia ; not only did he summon Brescia to repentance, for “fathers would see their children massacred and dragged through the streets' - a scourge which would fall upon the city during the lifetime of many there present; but besides this, it was averred by Fra Angelo of Brescia that, on the night of the Nativity, in the convent of Brescia (the sermon had been preached on St. Andrew's Day), Fra Girolamo had stood in an ecstasy for five hours, entirely motionless, with his face shining so as to illumi