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shadowed a long absence : for it was his intention to go
not to Lucca only but far further afield in order to con-
duct a mission to the " infidels," a course towards which
he felt the strongest call. In this sermon he defends him-
self against the charge of raising up dissensions in Florence.
It is true, he says, that sometimes he has had to be a

1 This was the sermon, preached probably on Sunday, 11 January, to
which frequent allusions have been already made. In it he interprets his
vision of the Gladius Domini, the circumstances in which he was impelled
to give utterance to that vision, etc.

" " Iterum atque iterum rogamus ut Sanctitatis vestrae jussu pedem
hinc efferre vetetur. Hoc nobis populoque nostro universo ita gratum
erit ut nihil gratius acceptiusque et salutarius . . . hoc tempore accidere
possit" (Signory to the Pope, 24 December, 1494).


little angry. But now he wishes to become simple Friar
once more. " I renounce affairs of State and do not want
to be mixed up any more with the Six Beans. I will go
to my cell, and do not send for me any more ; so that if
the King of France or the Emperor should come, I shall
not come." But every politician has felt at times this
satiety of the things of the world, Savonarola was
neither the first nor the last to express the conviction
that it is better to be a poor fisherman than to meddle
with the government of men. But the sense of this con-
viction has seldom been sufficiently durable to drive a
statesman into retirement. With Savonarola the mood
soon passed when the prospect of his withdrawal from
Florence was removed. The Lucca question was ulti-
mately settled by the substitution of Fra Domenico da
Pescia for Savonarola as Lent preacher there, the latter
remaining to preach the Lent in Florence. Courteous
letters passed between him and the Anziani, the ruling
family at Lucca. The hope was expressed that he would
come next year, and Savonarola acknowledged that the
call to Lucca impressed him as a Divine summons which
it would be impious to disobey. For the moment, how-
ever, his lot was cast in Florence. All his political en-
thusiasms revived, and all his influence was powerfully
applied to securing the passageof the Law of the Six Beans.
As a counterblast to the advocacy of Savonarola the
opponents of the measure secured the services of a Fran-
ciscan, Fra Domenico da Ponzo, to preach against ap-
peal : the rival pulpits of the Duomo and Sta. Croce
rang with argument and counter-argument. In this war
of sermons we see the first beginnings of that rivalry
between the Franciscans and the Dominican' supporters
of Savonarola which was at last to play so large a part
in the final tragedy. Passion ran so high that, if we may


believe Cinozzi, a proposal was actually carried in the
Signoria to banish Savonarola from the City, but they
did not dare to execute it " because they feared the
people". The intervention of Da Ponzo added a further
complication in that it intensified the uncertainty which
prevailed as to the actual source of Savonarola's authority.
It was not he, but God who spoke through him. But Da
Ponzo, as an accredited minister of the Church, could
also claim to speak with an authority more than human.
Through which of the two was God really speaking ? Was
He in fact speaking through either ? It was determined
to call a Council, really a Pratica, to which were sum-
moned two representatives from each of the religious
bodies, and about a dozen prominent citizens. The ques-
tion for decision was whether Savonarola "had these
things from God or not". It was a Dominican con-
ventual who opened the proceedings by expressing his
sorrow for the dissension and the sedition which Savona-
rola's preaching had aroused in the city. Savonarola,
who was present in person, warmly replied, deploring
that he should be exposed to censure from his own people,
and eventually he reduced the opposition to silence. All
the same, says Cinozzi, ^^ scissio facta est inter nos^' (a
schism arose among us). But the demand for proof had
been made, and the demand for " a sign " — some objective
evidence of the Friar's inspiration — must almost inevitably

At last the advocacy of Savonarola prevailed, and an
appeal from the Six Beans was determined upon. In
March, 1495, a law was drawn up and passed granting a
general amnesty and the right of appeal from the verdict
of the Signoria, not to the Council of Eighty, nor to any
ad hoc committee of eighty or a hundred selected from the
Grand Council, but to the Grand Council itself.


Professor Villari insists with much warmth that this was
not Savonarola's proposal, but something quite different
from it, and he sees in this departure from the Friar's plan
some diabolical scheme on the part of the enemies of the
new Constitution to destroy it. He admits, however, that
in the eyes of contemporaries like Macchiavelli and Guic-
ciardini, Savonarola was the real author of the law of the
Six Beans, and he fails to show that Savonarola himself ex-
pressed any dissatisfaction with the actual court of appeal
which was decided upon, even though it was not such a court
as he had suggested. Indeed in a sermon on Job, i April,
1495, he expressly took credit to himself for having
secured the right of appeal from the Six Beans. The
truth seems to be that what Savonarola really wanted
was a final court of appeal. As to the constitution of
that court he was indifferent, provided it represented the
sovereign authority of the State. His recommendation
of a body of eighty persons was a detail which he was
willing to waive, and on which, after the first sugges-
tion, he did not insist. For it never seems to have
secured any measure of popular support, nor to have
been submitted to serious consideration. The question
at issue throughout was never any other than an appeal
to the whole body of the Grand Council or no appeal
at all.

Savonarola in his zeal for a Constitution did not neglect
to advise practical measures for the relief of the poor. He
advocated the establishment of a Monte di Piet^, or Gov-
ernment pawn-shop, where articles might be pledged at
moderate interest and with adequate security. This
measure was designed to meet the abuses which attended
the prevalent system of borrowing from the Jews, whose
rate of interest on money advanced — 33^ per cent com-
pound interest — was certainly extortionate. The law of


1496, which established a Monte controlled by the Gov-
ernment, enacted that not more than 7^ per cent was to
be exacted on pledges, and that all existing contracts
with Jew money-lenders were null and void. This pro-
vision seems to be far in excess of Savonarola's views on
Jewish usury. In reply to the Anziani of Lucca who
had asked his advice as to the expulsion of the Jews, he
expresses an opinion that in the case of those who have
been parties to usurious transactions on no account can
the privilege be granted to them by Government of re-
pudiating the stipulated interest, " for this is to act ex-
pressly contrary to justice, the cardinal principle of
justice being to render to every man his due". The
preamble of the statute, however, reflected the whole spirit
of Savonarola. It ran : " Blessed be he that cherisheth the
poor and needy ; in the day of adversity the Lord shall
give him freedom ".

Savonarola cannot be accused of being, theoretically an
enemy of the Jews. The effect of his policy, however,
was to lead to the practical expulsion of the Jews from

The Republican Constitution of 1495 was an attempt
to re-establish in Florence the old principles of free
government, in such a form as might satisfy aspiration
for liberty and at the same time ensure an effective con-
trol over the State. But to Savonarola it meant some-
thing more than this. He regarded it as the triumph of
God's kingdom upon earth, and inasmuch as the Floren-
tines had received their Constitution from Savonarola
they had received it from God, whose instrument he was.
Florence to Savonarola was not a republic but a the-
ocracy. The rightful King of Florence was Jesus Christ,
and many an inscription testified to the enthusiasm of
the people for this conception of their polity. But it is


obvious that there lay beneath this conception a grave
danger for Florence and for Savonarola. If Christ was
King of Florence Savonarola was His prophet, the ac-
credited agent through which the will of Heaven was to
be transmitted to the people. Infidelity to the Constitu-
tion which he had recommended and sanctioned became
in his view infidelity to God. Political opponents as-
sumed in his eyes the proportions of impious men in
league with the powers of darkness against the Kingdom
of Heaven. A moderate and sober view of party con-
flicts and political antagonisms was impossible for one
who could see nothing but perverse wickedness in those
who disagreed with him. The very fact that Savona-
rola honestly regarded himself as divinely inspired to
guide the destinies of the State rendered him unfit to
assume the responsibilities of government, tended to
weaken his efforts for spiritual and moral reform, to
identify him with a party and, unduly to exalt him in his
own esteem. To the Florentines it was a source of
danger that their new Constitution should be associated
so closely with an individual whose overthrow, should it
occur, would deal a crushing blow to the constitutional
system with which that individual was so closely identified.
A Constitution must necessarily be ephemeral if it rests
too entirely upon an ephemeral personality. Neverthe-
less, it is marvellous that a man who from his youth
had been an inmate of a cloister should have shown
so much sound political wisdom, should have grasped so
clearly the needs of a State in which he was an alien, and
should have been able to devise measures so suited to
those needs. The Republican Constitution of Savonarola
has earned warm commendation from such a political
thinker as Macchiavelli, who stands before the world as
the embodiment of almost everything against which


Savonarola protested. It was perhaps a mistake that
Savonarola should have plunged at all into the stormy
sea of Florentine politics, but if the plunge had to be
taken he could scarcely have acquitted himself better in
those troubled waters.



THE stormy seas of Florentine politics on which
Savonarola had launched his frail barque were swept
not only by the winds of domestic controversy. They
were also stirred to their depths by the convulsions caused
by the movements of Charles VIII and his French army.
The fierce party conflicts which raged over the proposals
for a new Constitution, for amnesty and for an appeal law
concealed beneath their surface passionate and profound
differences on the subject of foreign policy. Under
Savonarola's influence and guidance Florence had con-
tracted an alliance with France, and if he was to be
believed, Charles VIII was as manifestly the chosen in-
strument of God to eft"ect his purposes in Italy and in
Florence as Savonarola was God's prophet and mouth-
piece divinely called and raised up to accomplish the re-
formation of the State. Thus the adherents of the Friar
constituted the Pro-French party, and the new constitu-
tional arrangements assumed the appearance of a pro-
French policy. The establishment of the Grand Council
and of an appeal court were therefore in a sense a rati-
fication of the Union of the Lilies — the lilies of Florence
and the lilies of France.

But Florence was no exception to the rule that the
foreign policy of States is dictated not by sentiment but
by considerations of material and secular advantage.



Florence, in the midst of the deluge, wanted to be the
one tract of Italian soil which would not be submerged.
She wanted also the restoration of Pisa. These advan-
tages, it was believed, could best be secured by an alliance
with France, and the pro-French feeling was likely to
last precisely as long as a French alliance seemed likely
to secure them. And here the assurances of Savonarola
were precise. Florence would be spared ; Pisa would be
restored. It is true that these promises were conditional
upon Florence doing all those things which Savonarola
told her to do, but if his predictions were not realized
there would arise an irresistible tendency to attribute
their failure not to the moral delinquencies of the Floren-
tines but to the imposture of the prophet. To force upon
Charles, therefore, the course of action which the Friar
had predicted that he would adopt, became a primary
necessity for the maintenance of Savonarola's position.

But Charles, in the prosecution of his enterprise, was
doing, or neglecting to do, many things in a manner
altogether contrary to the expectations which Savona-
rola's assurances had aroused. He had shown no special
care for Florentine interests ; he had done nothing to
secure the restoration of Pisa ; there were grave fears
that on his return from Naples he would again quarter
his army upon Florence with all the possibilities of sack
and destruction which a foreign occupation of the City
involved. The efforts of Savonarola therefore in the
spring and early summer of 1495 were directed to the
twofold object of reassuring the Florentines, and of im-
pressing upon Charles a full sense of his duty. The first
of these aims he sought to accomplish by his Lenten
course of Sermons on the Book of Job : the second by a
series of letters to Charles which were followed up in
June by a personal interview.


The course on Job is largely devoted to a reassertion,
in an extreme form, of the preacher's Divine mission.
The twenty-ninth sermon, preached on the Octave of the
Annunciation (i April) contains that account of his inter-
view with the Virgin which he incorporated into the Coin-
pendiuin Revelationuui. But already, in the fifteenth ser-
mon, of 17 March, he had given a circumstantial narrative
of an embassy which he undertook, on behalf of the Floren-
tines to the very throne of God Himself. He explained
that as he was preparing to set forth, clothed in white gar-
ments, one appeared unto him who said that he must be
otherwise clothed if he was to go forth on behalf of Flor-
ence on such a mission. White robes were a fitting
vesture for the good, but as he was going on behalf not
of the good only but of the whole city, he must wear in
addition to his tvhite robes, black ones for the sinners, and
grey for the lukewarm. Surely the allegory here must
have overcome the supernaturalism of even the extremest
literalist among the congregation, for every one must
have recognized with an understanding smile this caustic
allusion to the factions in the city, the Bianchi, the Neri,
the Bigi, the Whites, the Blacks, the Greys, But this
allegorical exordium soon shades off into a record of
actual experience as he recounts a long conversation be-
tween himself and the Keeper of Heaven's gate, his intro-
duction into the presence of God, and full details of the
interview which then took place. After explaining the
nature of his mission, he offers thanks for the favours
which God had already conferred upon the city, the
liberties which had been granted to her, the privileges
which she enjoyed in being the recipient of a revelation
of future events. True there were some who were un-
thankful for these mercies, who would not believe, and
thus the City was disunited. He implores pardon for


these unbelievers, for these cattivi e ostinati e tepidi who
will not observe the injunctions he has laid upon them.
He secures a promise of God's mercy for such men if
only they will repent, and lead a good Christian life with
prayer and fasting. " And this is my message to you, O
people, on the part of the Lord." But the sin of these
cattivi is so great that some special means must be sought
to placate the anger of God against them. Thus he be-
thinks him of the Blessed Virgin, to whom, as having
been the habitation of the Son of God, God can refuse
nothing. He beseeches her to intercede with God for
these wicked men, and she agrees to do so. A farther
conversation follows between Savonarola and the door-
keeper upon the problem of the efficacy of prayer. How
can prayer be efficacious if God changes not, if the
order of the universe is fixed and finally established ?
With a last invocation to God that if tribulation must
come it may come quickly the sermon ends.

To us who read this sermon to-day, and the more
famous " sermon of the lilies," preached a fortnight later,
the strain of poetic allegory which pervades them through-
out is sufficiently obvious. In some parts of them, as
has been seen, the allegory must have been equally
obvious both to the preacher and his hearers. But there
were other parts undoubtedly of which this cannot be
said : parts where the exalted imagination of the preacher
carried him into those realms of ecstasy where fact and
fancy become indistinguishable. It would be rash to say
that Savonarola did not himself fervently believe that he
had been personally the recipient of the confidences both
of God and of the Virgin. However it may have been
with him, we have ample evidence that many of his
hearers fervently and literally believed this. "The first
of April, 1495," says Landucci, " Fra Girolamo preached


and testified that the Virgin Mary had revealed to him
that the City of Florence was to become more glorious,
richer, and more powerful than ever before, though this
would be after many sorrows. And this he promised
absolutely. And he said all these things as a prophet ;
and the greater part of the people believed him." Lan-
ducci was a simple soul, although he was a chemist, and
the value of his " Diary," written from day to day as
events occurred and under the fresh influence of the im-
pressions which they aroused, lies in its perfect honesty
and good faith. The "greater part of the people" be-
lieved that Savonarola spoke not as an allegorist but as
a prophet : and unquestionably there were times when Sa-
vonarola himself shared this conviction with the people.

But visionary as he was, he was also essentially a
practical man who knew that practical measures must be
added as a reinforcement to visions and exhortations.
In the midst of the agitations caused by the movements
of Charles VIII in Italy Savonarola wrote several letters
to the King, the fourth of which is dated 26 May. Fuller
reference must be made later to the course of Charles'
enterprise, but at the end of May the situation was briefly
this : The almost miraculous success which had attended
the French expedition aroused the alarm of the Italian
States and some of the foreign Powers. In the face of a
federation formed against him which threatened to cut
his communications Charles thought it prudent to with-
draw from Naples on 20 May. A ten days' march
brought him to Rome, where he arrived on i June. It
was therefore at the moment when Charles was on the
march to Rome that Savonarola's letter of 26 May was

He writes in order to admonish Charles as to what is
necessary for his salvation. Charles is of a truth that


one among the Christian Princes whom God has chosen
for carrying out this mystery of the renovation of the
Church, But it was God Himself who had revealed to
the writer that Charles would come, and what would be
the issue of his coming. Therefore he was commissioned
on the part of God now to declare to Charles what was
God's will, lest God withdraw His hand. Charles must
not oppress the people : especially must he refrain from
oppressing the Florentines. Florence, mainly as a con-
sequence of the exertions of the writer, is thoroughly
loyal to the French alliance save for a few who pursue
an opposite policy. She will remain so "with the help
of our preaching and exhortations," for it is the will of
God that there should be this alliance between Florence
and France : it is the will of God that under French pro-
tection the newly won liberties of the State should
flourish, for the new Constitution has been set up, not by
man but by God, and therefore He wills that it should
prosper. Just as God has raised up Charles to be the
instrument of Divine purposes, even so has "God chosen
out this City, has filled her with His servants, and has
resolved to magnify her, and raise her up, and whoso
toucheth her toucheth the apple of His eye. . . . All
this that I have written to you is as true as the Gospel."

In a letter of a later date Savonarola refers directly to
the question of Pisa, and bids Charles, in the name of
God, to give back to P'lorence that which belongs to

In the meantime Charles was advancing steadily
northward and on 13 June was at Siena, but thirty
miles away. Piero de' Medici was in his train. Florence
was once more in a state of panic, for there seemed to be
nothing which Charles was not strong enough to do,
and no man knew what he would do. Already he had se-


cured two instalments of his Florentine subsidy and was
clamouring for a third. Perhaps he was on the march to
secure it by force of arms. Was this the security in the
midst of the troubles of Italy which the Friar had
promised ? Where was the renovation of the Church,
the restoration of Pisa, the extended glory and territory
of the new Republic ? The city threw itself into a state
of defence ; barricades were erected in the streets. If
Charles had indeed come to Florence there can be little
doubt that his coming would have been anticipated by a
popular rising against Savonarola as an alien trickster
who had lured Florence to her ruin. The crisis was big
with Savonarola's fate and he took instant and bold steps
to meet it. Acting under the impulse not of human but
Divine authority ^ Savonarola sought out Charles in his
camp at Poggibonsi (17 June). The Friar is himself
the best witness as to what passed at the interview.
Immediately upon his return he communicated to the
Congregation in the Duomo a narrative of his mission.^
" Eccomi ancora qua " — Here I am again ! — was his
exordium, and in a very human manner he proceeded to
talk of everything but the one thing he was there to
say, holding back his news and keeping his hearers
on tenter-hooks of expectation. At last he came to
the point : " I told him, and I say it here again, that
all the world may know it, that if he did not do
what I have said to him, when that shall come which I

1 Villari and Casanova say that Florence " had recourse once more to
Savonarola " at this crisis. Lucas has it that " the Florentine Government
had recourse," etc., the implication is that he went officially as an ac-
credited ambassador. My statement is based on Savonarola's own words
in his sermon of 24 June: " I have not been your ambassador. I have
had no commission from the Signoria nor from the Ten, although I was
besought to go by some friends."

2 Twenty-second Sermon on Psalms, Wednesday, 24 June.


have announced to him men will remember this Friar"
{si ricordi di questo fratre). He had, he says, repeated
to Charles the substance of his letter of 26 May. The
story of the interview being ended, Savonarola then turned
to his hearers and reproached them as being the true cause
of all these troubles, " Your murmurings have delayed
the accomplishment of what I have foretold. . . . These
Arrabbiati — I know not how otherwise to call them — I use
your own expression — have murmured so much and have
told so many lies that they have made God to be angry.
It is they who delay your welfare, O Florence." The
conclusion is that God has opened the hand of "this
first barber " that he may shave with a razor the head and
the hair and the beard : (Isaiah vii. 20), that is, God has
given to the King of France whatever he has desired in
Italy, "but if he does not do what I tell him, I say to
thee, and all the world shall hear it, that God will with-
draw His hand."

It is improbable, however, that Savonarola would have
effected much towards establishing his position if he had
not had some material results to show from his efforts.
Confident assurances, constant repetitions, his letters and

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Online LibraryE. L. S. (Edward Lee Stuart) HorsburghGirolamo Savonarola → online text (page 12 of 23)