Page images
PDF
EPUB

sovereigns : what cardinals were his friends? He was at length asked whether he had said that the Pope was not a Christian ; had never been baptized; was no true Pope? His answer was, that he had never said these things. He had written them in a letter which he had burned, and which was the draft of those he had proposed to write to the Kings. He was asked if he had spoken the truth, and the whole truth. As he made no further answer, Romolino commanded that he should be stripped, to be hoisted by the cord. He fell on his knees, in an agony of fear, and exclaimed— God, thou hast caught me (colto); I confess that I have denied Christ, I have told lies. O Signory of Florence, bear me witness, that I have denied him for fear of torture; if I must suffer, better that I suffer for the truth. What I have said I received of God—God grant me repentance for having denied thee from fear of torture.' In the meantime he was stripped. He threw himself again on his knees, showed his arms distorted, and went on to say—“Oh God, I have denied thee for fear of torture.' Hauled up, he said, “ Jesus aid me, now thou hast caught me' (colto). When he was hung up by the cord, they asked him why he had said so—For good reason --- lacerate me not so; I will speak the truth, surely, surely.' • Why hast thou denied just now?' 'Because I am mad.' When set down, he said, "When I see the instruments of torture I lose myself; when I am in a room, with a few quiet persons, I speak better. In these few heart-rending sentences is to us the key to the whole of Savonarola's confession. The imploring pardon of Jesus for having denied him speaks volumes. After that there is nothing that he will not admit-nothing that he will not recant-confessions betrayed to him by his fellow sufferers; his contumelious vituperations of the Pope, the falsehood of his visions, his schism, his letters to the Kings to summon a General Council, his pride and madness, his factious turbulence in Florence, his cold recommendation to mercy of the five of the Medici faction who were put to death. And yet his priestly judges were not satisfied. The next day there was another examination and again torture. The main object seems

to have been to extort confession about his intercourse with the Kings concerning the Council and the deposition of the Pope, still more his connections with the cardinals inimical to Alexander, especially the Cardinal S. Pietro in Vincula and the Cardinal of Naples.

There is a frightful official brevity in the notice which closes the examination.

A dì xxii di Maggio detto
Fra Girolamo,
Fra Domenico,

a ore 13 furono degradati, e poi arsi in piazza

de' Signori. Fra Silvestro,

}

Though hastening to the melancholy end, we must be somewhat more particular. On the evening of the 22nd the sentence of death was communicated to him. According to the usage a certain James Nicolini was to pass the night with Savonarola. 'I come not,' he said, “to urge resignation on one who has converted a whole people to virtue.' Girolamo calmly answered, • Do your duty.' He refused to sup, lest the process of digestion should interrupt his serious meditations.

He prayed fervently and long, laid his head on Nicolini’s lap, and slept quietly. Nicolini was astonished that he smiled and talked in his sleep.

The feebler Domenico heard his sentence with calmness; his last words were a wish that the works of his master, bound, should be placed in the library of the convent, and another copy in the refectory, to be read during meals. The visionary somnambulist Maruffi broke down; he had neither the courage of the martyr nor the resignation of the saint. In the morning they were conducted to the chapel, and received the Holy Communion. Plenary absolution offered in the Pope's name was humbly accepted by the victims of his cruelty. Savonarola spoke a few touching words, imploring the pardon of God for any sins he might have committedany scandal he might have occasioned. The Ringhiera was connected by a wooden bridge with the place of execution ; the planks were so badly laid, that wanton and cruel boys thrust pointed sticks through the crevices to prick their feet.

The place was crowded to see the men who but now had been adored, bound to the gibbets and burned. They were stripped of their clothes, with only a long woollen shirt- their feet naked. The Prior of Santa Maria Novella and the Bishop of Vaison, both Dominicans of their own order, had the office of degrading them. They were clad again in their sacerdotal robes, which were then ignominiously stripped off — I separate you,' said the bishop, from the church militant and the church triumphant. Not from the church triumphant,' said Savonarola,

that is beyond thy power.' The sentence of death was read by Romolino. Silvestro died first- all he said was, “Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit.' Then followed Domenico, with quiet courage. Savonarola had to witness their sufferings, of which he could not doubt that himself was the cause. Did he think them victims or glorious martyrs ? He died full of confidence in his own innocence—firm, calm, without the least acknowledgment of guilt — with no word of remonstrance against the cruelty of his enemies—at peace with himself, in perfect charity with all. A moment the flames were blown aside and showed the bodies untouched a miracle,' shouted his partisans, while his enemies mocked the miracle of a moment. In vain their ashes were cast into the Arno, lest the remains of the martyrs should become objects of worship. Bones were found, or supposed to be found ; and even splinters of the gibbets became the treasures of succeeding generations.

Savonarola died, so wrote his admiring biographer, from this cause only, because he was hated by the wicked, beloved by the holy. That he died because he was a preacher of righteousness in an age and in a church, at the very depths of unrighteousness, who will deny? His absolutely blameless moral character, his wonderful abilities, his command of all the knowledge of his time, his power of communicating his own holiness to others, even his rigid authority as regards the great doctrines of his church, who will impeach ? Let any one read in Italian,

[ocr errors]

1. Una hæc perditionis caussa Hieronymo, displicuisse nequissimis, placuisso sanctissimis.'-Pico Mirand. in Præfat.

and he will not be unrewarded, the “Trionfoo della Croce,' and determine this point for himself. His other practical works, as on the Simpleness of the Christian Life, if not of equal excellence, are as faultless and devout.

We have not disguised what, from our point of view, seems to detract from the grandeur, the heroic, the saintly, the true Christian grandeur of Fra Girolamo. It was a monkish reformation which he endeavoured to work, and therefore a reformation which could not have satisfied the expanding mind of man. But it was the monkish reformation of a church which still professed to believe monasticism to be the perfection of Christianity, a higher gospel than that of Christ. We have touched on his extravagances of religious passion, the rigour of his puritan asceticism. But not only was he an Italian; he was of a church in which, as witness the lives of half the saints (look especially to S. Francis), those extravagances had been held up as the very consummation of holiness. If he was a religious demagogue, and mingled too much in secular affairs, how many, not of the worst only, but of the best in the history of his church, would disdain to elude the imputation! Above all he did not discern the dim line which distinguishes the mission of a preacher of righteousness from that of a prophet of the Future; he did not, in his ecstatic fervour of zeal, discriminate between the ordinary and the extraordinary gifts of divine grace; yet his church believed herself to be endowed with a perpetual gift of miracle—with a perpetual, if more rarely exercised, gift of prophecy. How many who had prophesied smooth things of her, or even harsh things, had been canonised! It was not because they were untrue that Savonarola's predictions were presumptuous, impious, but because they were unwelcome. Had Charles VIII. descended the Alps

? Dr. Madden expresses his surprise that the book was never translated into English ; but, though his bibliographical labours are the best part of his book, he is mistaken. We have before us a small volume, printed at Cambridge, by John Field, Printer to the University, 1661: The Truth of the Christian Faith ; or the Triumph of the Cross of Christ. By Hier. Savonarola. Done into English out of the Author's own Italian copy, &c. The fine poetic preface is left out.

on the Pope's side, Girolamo's prediction had been a revelation from heaven. We

may

believe the whole to have been hallucination-part a fond perversion of unmeaning words by his partisans, part mere human sagacity-some fortunate guesses, or prophecies which wrought their own accomplishment, but all their real criminality to Rome was their hostility to Rome. This was felt in his own day (the re-action was almost immediate); and it has been felt by the better part of the Roman Catholic Church at all times. There has been a strong demand for that highest homage to man, his canonisation. It was said to have been contemplated even by Julius II. ; if we are to trust Dr. Madden, it has been thought of in our own time. How far it would tax theological subtlety to reconcile the excommunication, the murder of Savonarola (we can use no milder term), by one Infallible Pope, his sanctification by another, is no concern of ours.

But Italy, Rome, the Church, repudiated the reformation, the more congenial and less violent reformation of Savonarola. A wider, more complete Reformation - a Reformation on different principles became more and more necessary and inevitable. It was only by the re-action of the more formidable revolution of the North, that the South at length conformed to some of the views of the reformer of Ferrara. In truth the Roman Catholic Church owes a debt of gratitude to Luther, only inferior to our own. Had Luther never lived, Loyola had never been endured ; but for the Confession of Augsburg, the Council of Trent had not sat—that Council which, however fatal and irremediable the evil which it wrought by petrifying the opinions and superstitions of the middle ages into doctrines, did infinite service to the discipline, to the decency, to the religion of the Roman Church. The Reformation of Luther worked wonders even where Luther was repudiated as a son of perdition.

But Luther was a renovator of the Church, including, as did his Reformation, the secession of half Christendom, little foreseen by the Florentine prophet ; had he foreseen it, he had hid his face in sorrow. His own renovation was to be a renovation

« PreviousContinue »