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sermons; but still more to Thomas Aquinas. He may at first only have sought in the cloister, as he declared in one of his later sermons, his two dearest objects—liberty and rest, freedom from domestic cares, the perfection, or, at least, the security, of his own moral and religious being. But his letter to his father, written at the time of his flight to Bologna, is far better evidence of his motives at that time than sentences scattered about his later sermons. It was on April 24, 1475 (he was then twenty-two years and a half old), that Savonarola deserted for ever his father's house, and knocked for admittance at the door of the Dominican convent in Bologna. The Dominican order boasted among its disciples St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the Schoolmen, the object of the young man's ardent study; and if profound religion survived—the religion which, while it trained the intellect by the scholastic learning, left free scope to zealous passion and even to excursive imagination within the bounds of Church theology-it was in the cloisters of the order of Preachers. Two days after, the young man sent to his father his memorable letter, in which the calm, deliberate determination of the youthful ascetic is exquisitely touched with the tenderness of a loving son :
You who know so well how to appreciate the perishable things of earth, judge not with the passionate judgement of a woman ; but, looking to truth, judge according to reason, whether I am not right in abandoning the world. The motive which determines me to enter into a religious life is this: the great misery of the world, the misery of man; the rapes, the adulteries, the robberies, the pride, the idolatry, the monstrous blasphemies by which the world is polluted, for there is none that doeth good, no not one. Many times a-day have I uttered this verse with tears,—
'Heu fuge crudeles terras ! fuge littus avarum.' I could not support the enormous wickedness of most of the people in Italy. Everywhere I saw virtue despised, vice in honour. When God, in answer to my prayer, condescended to show me the right way, could I decline it? O gentle Jesus, may I suffer a thousand deaths rather
* There is a vague story, resting on but slight authority, that Savonarola was the victim of a tender but honourable passion for a beautiful female.
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 Epistole 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
• 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.
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 desting, as well as of his simplicity. 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.
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.