Savonarola, Jerome

, a celebrated Italian monk, was born at Ferrara in 1452. In 1466 he became a Dominican at Bologna, and afterwards preached at Florence, but with very little success, and left the place. In 1489 he was invited by Lorenzo de Medici to return to Florence, where he became a very popular preacher. By pretensions to superior sanctity, and by a fervid eloquence, he hurried away the feelings of his hearers, and gained an ascendancy over their minds by his prophecies, which were directed both against church and state. Having by these means acquired a powerful influence, he began to despise the patronage of Lorenzo, and avoided his presence. After the death of Lorenzo, he placed himself at the head of a popular party in Florence, who aimed at the establishment of a free constitution. Savonarola seems to have promised them something between a republic and a theocracy. By such means his party became very formidable; and to flatter them yet more, he denounced terrible judgments to the court of Rome, and to the rest of the Italian states. In 1498 many complaints having been carried to Rome, in which he was accused of having reproached, in his sermons, the conduct of that court and the vices of the clergy, he | was publicly excommunicated, which at first he regarded so far as to abstain from preaching, but finding that silence was considered as submission, and would ruin his cause, he resumed his function, and renewed his invectives against the pope and the court of Rome. But when the pope Alexander threatened to interdict the city, the magistrates commanded him to desist from preaching. At length he procured the assistance of a friar of his own convent, named Fra. Domenico da Pescia, who proposed to confirm his master’s doctrines by the ordeal of xvalking through the flames, provided any one of their adversaries would do the same. The challenge was accepted by a Franciscan friar, and a day was appointed for the trial. Savonarola, finding that the adverse party were not to be intimidated, proposed that Domenico should be allowed to carry the host with him into the fire. This was exclaimed against by the whole assembly as an impious and sacrilegious proposal. It was, however, insisted upon by Domenico, who thereby eluded the ordeal. But the result was fatal to the credit of Savonarola, who was deserted by the populace, apprehended and dragged to prison, and condemned to be first strangled and then burnt, which sentence was put into execution on the 23d of May, 1498.

Various opinions have been entertained of this man’s real character. Some of the friends of liberty and protestantism have considered him as a man who had elevated views and good intentions, though perverted by a spirit of fanaticism; and there seems no reason to doubt that he was really a friend to the liberty of Florence, and felt an honest indignation at the profligacy of the court of Rome, and the corruption of the catholic church. For these last reasons, some have even admitted him among the reformers and martyrs. But his title to this honour seems very questionable, and the character of a leader of a party is as discernible in his conduct as that of a reformer. There are a great number of his sermons remaining, and other works in Latin and Italian, most of them on religious subjects. His life, inserted in Bates’ s “Vitse Selectorum,” was written in Latin by John Francis Picus de Mirandola, prince of Concordia. Queti published an edition of it, to which he added notes, with the Latin translation of some of Savonarola’s works, and a list of them. 1

1 Tiraboschi. Roscoe’s Lorenzo. Gen. Dict.