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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 ever.
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
nate the whole church.? From this time Savonarola was no longer a preacher, he was a prophet. Already, by his own account, he had struck this chord at San Gemignano, but with a feeble hand, and it had not vibrated to the hearts of his hearers : he had preached the scourging, the renewal of the Church, and that quickly ; but he had preached it not by divine revelation, but as an inference from the Scriptures. This more sober statement might seem to comprehend his preaching at Brescia, and all the period of four years (1486–1490) which elapsed before his return to Florence. But the study of the Apocalypse, and the congenial study of the Prophets of the Old Testament, neither found Savonarola mad, nor drove him to madness, if we take madness in its ordinary and vulgar sense. Yet if to be possessed by one great, noble, and holy aim, and in the exclusive and absorbing pursuit of that aim sometimes to pass over the imperceptible boundary of prudence and reason : if conscious of the undoubted mission of all good men, and especially of all in holy orders, or who wore the cowl of the monk, to denounce with peculiar authority the divine wrath against human wickedness, and to summon the Church to repentance, he forgot at times--or thought suspended in his own behalf—the ordinary laws of Divine Providence; if he did not reverently admit that the All-Wise jealously reserves in the mysteries of his own councils the times and the seasons ;' if he at times lost his Christian patience, and no longer uttered in humble expostulation, Holy and True, how long ? and imagined that he saw the sword already bare, and heard
? Burlamacchi, apud Mansi, p. 533.
• A prophecy of such ruin to Brescia might have been hazarded at any time with no doubtful chance of its veracity. No city was so often besieged, few suffered such frequent desolation. It was said to have been fulfilled in the storming by the French some years after.
• . E andando a San Gemignano a predicarsi, comincia a predicarne, e in due anni ch' io vi predicai, proponendo queste conclusioni che la chiesa aveva a essere flagele lata, rinorata, e presto. E questo non avero per rivelazione, ma per ragione dello Seritture. E cosi dicevo, e in questo modo predicai a Brescia, e in molte altri luoghi di Lombardia qualche volta di queste cose, dove stette anni circa a quattro. --Processo. Baluz. Miscell. iv. 529.
it summoned to go through the land -- if these things are insanity, so far must be admitted the madness of Savonarola. But as that madness in no way whatever lessens his responsibility, if it tempers our astonishment, and permits our cool judgement to trace the causes of his failure, and to a certain degree of his fatal end, so it gives full scope to our admiration of that which assuredly entitles him (by a much better claim than doubtful miracles, seen by blind disciples) to canonization in the esteem of the wise and good. Girolamo Savonarola was the apostle and martyr of truth in an age and land, in which truth was more contemptuously trodden under foot than in most periods of the Christian Church.
During the whole of the obscure period of four years, during which we dimly trace the movements of Savonarola in the cities of Lombardy, before his second and final establishment in Florence, his fame was becoming more acknowledged not only as the preacher, or, it may be, the prophet, but as a man of profound thought, clear and subtle solution of theological difficulties, wise counsel, and grave authority. At a council of his order holden in Reggio, he displayed those qualities so entirely opposite to the accomplishment of a passionate and fanatic preacher. It is said that the famous Pico di Mirandola, the uncle of the prophet's future disciple and historian, who was present at the council, was so impressed with his transcendant abilities, as to speak strongly in his favour to his friend Lorenzo de' Medici. Yet there seems no evidence that Savonarola, when he settled in Florence more than three years afterwards, received any invitation from Lorenzo ; it was almost an accidental arrangement of his superior which sent him again, as the humble reader, to the convent of St. Mark. Neither did the Order, nor did Savonarola himself, nor did Lorenzo, on the news of his arrival, foresee that in that lowly friar, who travelled on foot, and almost sunk under fatigue at the village of Pianora, eight miles from Bologna, Florence was to behold the restorer of her liberties, the ruler of her popular mind, the spiritual lord who should hold theocratical sway over her for
several years in the name of God and of Christ.
Later legend embellishes his journey by a celestial companion, who attended him to his inn, fed him with refreshing meat and wine, and guarded him to the gate of S. Gallo.
Lorenzo the Magnificent had now been for many years the Lord of Florence. His age has been called the Augustan age of Italian letters (strangely enough in the native land of Dante, Ariosto, and Tasso), but he resembled Augustus in more than his patronage of poets and philosophers, --in the skill with which, like his grandfather Cosmo, he disguised his aristocracy under republican forms. On his contested character we must not enter; nor inquire how far he compensated to Florence, for the loss of her turbulent, it must be acknowledged, her precarious, liberties, by peace, by wealth, by splendour, by the cultivation of arts and of letters; by making her the centre and the source of the new civilization of the world.
Since the failure of the Pazzi conspiracy, Lorenzo had maintained his temperate but undisputed sway in Florence. His only danger was from without, and this he had averted by his wisdom and courage, by his bold visit to the court of his mortal enemy, the King of Naples; he had brought back peace to imperilled Florence, security to his own government. But the Pazzi conspiracy is so fearfully illustrative of the state of Italian, of Papal morals, at the time when Savonarola began his career, that it must not be altogether passed by. The object of that conspiracy was not the freedom of Florence, though it was to overthrow the power of the Medici. It was the substitution of the rule of another faction and family, through the authority of the Pazzi. The revolution was deliberately planned at Rome in the Papal counsels; the Pope's nephew was the prime mover, the leading agent an archbishop, its means foul murder. The place of that murder was the great church of Florence, the time of that murder the celebration of the Mass, the signal for that murder the elevation of the Host, the presentation to the adoring people (as all believed) of the God of mercy and of love. Lorenzo saw the dagger
driven home to the heart of his brother Giuliano; but escaped himself by a strange accident. The ruffian to whom his death was assigned, a man whose hands were dyed with a hundred murders, and who was inured to the death-shriek of innocent men, scrupled at his task ; he would not murder in a church! A priest was easily found with none of those compunctious visitings; but the priest's hand was feeble and unpractised, and Lorenzo came off with a slight wound. The Pope's complicity is beyond all doubt.
A confession of one of the ruffians was published, from which it appeared that the Pope had repeatedly declared against bloodshed, as unbecoming his office; but after this special protest, he had given these merciless men, who all the while declared that without blood their plot must fail, his full sanction. Nor was this all. The Bull of Sixtus IV. (we presume that it bore the awful prelude, 'in sempiternam memoriam,' for the eternal memory of man), his Bull of excommunication against the Florentines for their vengeance against the murderers, still glares in the eyes of posterity. Of the murder in the church, of the murder at the elevation of the Host, there is not one word of abhorrence. It is treated as a mere ordinary fray between two Florentine factions; but on the hanging the Archbishop of Pisa, the murderer, taken in the fact, of whose guilt it was impossible to entertain the shadow of a doubt; on his execution the Bull assumes all its denunciatory terrors : it is the most awful sacrilege, a crime deserving the most dreadful torments here and hereafter. And Sixtus IV., against whose character there were other most foul charges, it may be calumnies, but charges published at the time at Rome, and throughout Italy; Sixtus, who almost began that system of princely nepotism, the foundation not of estates but of principalities for his needy, rapacious, and too often profligate relatives, was the head of the Christian world, when the holy Savonarola cast his eyes abroad upon that Church, in which he hoped to find the spirit, the sanctity of the Lord and his apostles. The successor of Sixtus IV. was Innocent VIII. (Cibo).