Girolamo Savonarola.

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^ran0late& from tbe 3-talian






The work ... on The Triumph of the Cross is a witness to my faith"

— (Letter of Savonarola to Pope Alexander VI.)

^ R A R V^-x
/' ^ OF THE \





^ihil obatat.

Joannes Procter, O.P., S.T.L.

Die Maylii 27, 1901.



Herbertus Cardinalis Vaughan,

A rchiepiscopus Westmonast,

Die Mar Hi 28, 1901.


Savonarola was a speaker rather than a writer. His
was the eloquent ministry of the h'ving word, rather
than the calm apostolate of the lifeless pen. He was
more at home when standing in the pulpit of the
Duomo in Florence, facing the panting, throbbing
crowd, numbering thousands, who, with itching ears and
thirsting souls, drank in his every word, as though the
words were dewdrops from heaven, than when sitting at
the little table — which is still preserved in his lowly cell
at San Marco — holding in his emaciated hand a nerve-
less, passionless pen. His great master-intellect and
his large sympathetic heart seemed to long to pour out
their rich pent-up treasures, freely and without stint,
through the channel of his eloquent tongue ; whereas
the hand that would perpetuate his thoughts, by stamp-
ing them upon paper, at times seemed palsied. Out of
the abundance of his heart his mouth preferred to speak.
Still he wrote sometimes ; — it was generally, however,
under moral compulsion, being impelled to do so by cir-
cumstances which he could not control. He was accused
of error by those, or to those at a distance ; his advice was
sought by others who were far away — defence or counsel
had to be committed to paper. For a time he might
not sway the masses, as he would, by the irresistible
magic of his burning words ; then we have the aposto-

«J «J^ O o ,<j


late of the pen. He retired to the sechision of his
monastic cell, and wrote, as his zeal prompted, his
message to his fellow-men. Many of his treatises —
short ones for the most part — exist. We have nis five
books — we might call them chapters, they are so brief —
on " The Simplicity of the Christian Life " ; a treatise
on "Humility"; an exposition of the "Our Father,"
and another of the " Hail Mary " ; ^ commentaries on
some of the Psalms ; an explanation of the Mass,
and of the ceremonies of the Holy Sacrifice ; certain
rules for good Christian living (composed when he
was in prison), and a number of other letters and
booklets. But perhaps the most notable, as well as
the most useful, of his writings are the four little
" Books," as he calls them, which these words are to
introduce to the English-reading public, and which he
himself styles, in the Prologue or Introduction to the
First Book, a defence of " the glorious TRIUMPH OF
THE Cross " over " the profane and foolish babble of
worldly-wise Philosophers ".

Of St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Rome, who was
ever staunch in his loyalty to the memory of the one
who, for a time at least, was the Apostle of his own
native Florence, it is said, that this was one of his
favourite books. The Saint's biographer. Cardinal
Capecelatro, writes : " It is well known that Philip
often read the writings of Savonarola, especially The
Triumph of the Cross, and that he used them for
the instruction of his spiritual children. There are still

^ A translation has recently been published by the Catholic Truth


preserved in the Vallicella, among the books which
belonged to St. Philip, and which were given by him
to the Congregation, five of Savonarola's works." ^

The history and object of The TRIUMPH OF THE
Cross, which may be considered the most important
of the works, if we may so call them, of the great
Florentine Reformer, is given by Echard, the Con-
tinuator of Ouetif, in his Scriptores Ordhiis Prcedica-

The Triumph of the Cross is (he tells us) an
accurate work, and one approved by all learned men.
Savonarola undertook it for this special reason, namely,
that he might clearly show what were his real feelings
as regards the Cat holic Fa ilh an d""tBe Apostolic^^See ;
and that' Be might refute the calumnious accusation of
h eresy and schism , which had been laid to his charge
by his adversaries. It begins thus : " The glorious
triumph of the Cross over the worldly wise and o\'er
wordy sophists, etc.". It is divided into four books,
of which the first treats of th e existence, nature, and
providence of God, a nd pr oves the immQi:taiit^.,QL the
souf^oF manT I n the secon d the author shows, by
various arguments, how t he Christian faith is in accord
with bnjth_anid__reason. He proceeds, in J he third , to
point out that there is nothin p- intrinsically, or extrinsi-
cally, i mpossible in the chief mysteries of the Christian
faithj and that they are not, in any way7 at variance
with reason. TB eTount h book is mainly devoted to an
exp ositi otufti^t he trn i ;h of the religion taught by Christ.

' Life of St. Philip Neri, translated by Father Pope, vol. i., p. 278.
'■^Tome i., p. 885. Edit. Paris, 1719.


It shows that the vagaries of philosophers, as^tr^logers,
idolaters, Jews, Mahometans, and heretics are abso-
lutely oppo sed to rea son.

This work Savonarola wrote in Latin, and it was
printed at Florence in 1497 in quarto. It was reprinted
there, in quarto, in 1524, and afterwards in Paris at the
Ascension Press, in octavo, in the same year. Next it
was published at Basle by Henrici-Pietri, in 1540, in
folio. Then, more accurately, thanks to the zeal of the
famous John Balesdens, by John Maire at Lyons (1633),
in duodecimo. It was also reproduced at Rome by
Cardinal S. Onufrius Antonius Barberini, brother of
Urban VI 1 1., at the Propaganda Press, in duodecimo,
without any date. Finally, another edition was issued
at Grenoble, in 1666, under the care of the famous
companion of Stephen Mency.

But since many of Savonarola's adherents were unable
to obtain a copy, and were unacquainted with the Latin
language, in which it was written, in accordance with
their wishes he translated it into the Etruscan tongue,
not indeed (as he warns his readers in his introductory
letter), word for word, or line for line, but merely giving
the sense and the pith of each chapter, and sometimes
(to make a special point the more convincing to his
readers), omitting some passages and adding others.^
He says that he did this advisedly, lest it should be pur-
posely, and maliciously, mis-translated by another. This
was edited at Florence in the year 1497, in quarto, and to

^ This will account for some few slight and unimportant verbal varia-
tions from the original Latin edition in the present English translation,
which, though it has been compared with the Latin, has been made from
the Italian version.


it a Preface was written by Domenico Benevieni, a Floren-
tine noble, who was Canon Theologian of St. Laurence's
in the same city. In this Preface Benevieni defended
the author in a very able manner. This version was
reprinted at Venice, by Bernard of Bindoni, in 1 531, in
octavo, and again, in octavo, in 1547.^ It must be
noticed that the seventh chapter of the Fourth Book of
the Latin edition was taken out of its place, and inserted,
by Theodore Bibliandrus, in his collection of works
written against the Mahometan errors. It is to be found
in the second part of the Basle Folio editions of i 543 and
1550, under the title: " Commentatiuncula Savonarolse
Mahumeticam sectam omni ratione carere ostendens ".

In his Etude sur Jerome Savojiarole, the Reverend Pere
Bayonne, O.P.,^ adds to what we have already said, that
the brother of Urban VIII., Cardinal Onufrius Antonius
Barberini — a Capuchin — wishing to vindicate his (Sa-
vonarola's) innocence, left by will, dated 23rd of August,
1646, 500 gold crowns to bring out a reprint of THE
Triumph of the Cross, and his commentary on
the Miserere. The heirs of the Cardinal gave this
commission, as we have seen, to the Propaganda Press ;
and these two works accordingly appeared. They were
sufficient to dispel all the illusions of those who still
suspected the author of heresy and of hostility to the
Holy See.

The same writer also quotes M. Perrens as saying that
the Society of Jesus printed The Triumph of the Cross

^ Many other editions were afterwards printed In Italy and elsewhere,
which are not mentioned by Echard.
- Page 339. Edit. Paris, 1879.


in their Aiuials of iJie Propagation of the Faith (vol. ii.,
p. 21 1). The most recent edition is one which appeared
in 1899. ^t was piibh'shed, both in Latin and Itah'an, on
parallel pages, at Siena, under the title " Trionfo DELLA
Croce di Fra Girolamo Savonarola, edito per la prima
volte, nei due teste originali Latino e Volgare, per cura
del P. Lodovico Ferretti de' Predicatori ". I would here
acknowledge, with thanks, my indebtedness to the
Reverend Editor of this valuable edition. He has kindly-
put his work at my service in editing the translation
which these words introduce to the English reader.

This is the book which is now presented to the reader
in an English form. It is the first time, as far as I can
ascertain, that it appears, in its entiret}^ in English.^
I say in its entirety. In reality, there are two para-
graphs omitted in the eighth chapter of the Third Book,
the omitted paragraphs being denoted by asterisks.
The reason of the omission is, that the author treats of
a physical question of some delicacy ; and, as, since
Savonarola's day, the views of scientists on the subject
have changed, it has been designedly left out. I may
add, however, that the omission does not in any way
affect the author's argument.^ I am fully aware that a
work was published, some years ago, purporting to be an

' An imperfect edition in English appeared in 1661. A copy is to be
found in the Cambridge University Library. It was " printed by John Field,
printer to the University, Cambridge," under the title, " The Truth of the
Christian Faith; or, The Triumph of the Cross, by Hieronymus Savona-
rola, done into English out of the author's own Italian copj^ " ; and it
was dedicated '' To the much honoured Francis S. John, Esq. ".

^' The alphabetical Index at the end of this translation is not found in
either the Latin or the Italian edition. It is added for the convenience
of the English reader.


English translation of the four books, and that the Rev.
Father Lucas, S.J., in his recent biographical study, F^^a
Girolanio Savonarola, calls his readers' attention to it
as ''an English translation of THE TRIUMPH OF THE
Cross ".^ I have the book before me as I write, and I
cannot agree with the learned Jesuit in accepting this
mutilated and eviscerated English version as a transla-
tion of Savonarola's Triumph of the Cross, nor
do I think that the Florentine Dominican would, were
he able to do so, give either his Nihil Obstat or his
Iinprimatur to the work as a reproduction of his own
words, or as the full profession of his own creed. The
title of the book is "The Triumph of the Cross,
by Jerome Savonarola, translated from the Latin . . .
by O'Dell Travers Hill, F.R.G.S. " ; it was published
in London in 1868. It is NOT a translation oi The
Triumph of the Cross. It is, apparently, onl)- a
translation of certain portions of the book which would
prove palatable to the class of readers for whom the
"translation" was clearly intended. Whole chapters
have been dropped out, evidently without the slightest
compunction, certainl}- without the least explanation.
In some of the chapters which appear, lengthy passages
have been omitted without the shadow of hesitation.
Truly, it is Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
It is no more a translation of the great Dominican's
famous defence of his orthodoxy — as The Triumph
of the Cross was intended to be — than the garden-
fence of a suburban London villa is a reproduction
upon English soil of the Wall of China, or than

1 Page 235.


Primrose Hill is an English replica of the Alps. If the
books of Catholic Apologists are to be " translated " in
this wa}', what is to prevent a Unitarian from giving us
in English an edition of the Bible without any allusion
direct or indirect, to the Blessed Trinity ? Or what is to
hinder an Agnostic from reproducing the Gospels in our
mother-tongue, without any reference to the Central
Figure, around whom the whole of the sacred writings
revolve ?

The " translator " tells us in his Preface that " this
book is free from all sectarian feeling or prejudice ".
No doubt it is. But why? Everything "sectarian"
in The Triumph of the Cross has been left out
in the " translation ". He speaks of " its freedom from
all sectarian spirit, from all scholastic quibblings"; and
concludes that " its close consecutive reasoning, its
earnestness, convince us that its author was a man far
in advance of his age". If the unbiassed reader will
peruse the pages of this translation, from first page to
last, from the opening chapter of the First Book to the
closing chapter of the Fourth, and compare the doctrine
of the four books with the teaching of any book written
by any recognised Catholic Apologist, in any tongue,
in this twentieth century, he will find that, in a sense,
the words of the Preface are true, and that . Savonajola ,
writing in the fifteenth century^ wns " j p^ advance of his
_agg^' ; that he was one with the Catholic writers of this
twentieth age. If he will pursue his reading still
further, and compare the true TRIUMPH OY THE CROSS
with the works of the Catholic Apologists of the middle,
and earlier, nay the earliest ages, he will find that
Savonarola was behind his age, as well as being in


advance of it. There are no '' ages " in the history of
the Catholic Creed of the Cathoh'c Church. Like
Jesus Christ, the Church and the Church's teaching are
" yesterday, to-day, and the same for ever "} Savona-
rola's teaching in this profession of his creed — the
creed in which he lived, in which he died, and which
he preached through life and with his dying breath —
is the cree d of the (^f i ^holic Church in all places and
in all times. " This is My Covenant with them, saith
the Lord. My Spirit that is in thee, and the words
that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of
thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out
of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from
henceforth and for ever." '^

The translator of what I cannot but call the Psetido
Triumph of the Cross, but which he ascribes to
Savonarola, professes on the title-page that it is '' trans-
lated from the Latin " ; and in the Preface he assures
his readers that " this translation has been made from
a valuable copy, printed with all the abbreviations
peculiar to Savonarola's manuscript, found in the
Archives of Sion College ". Where, then, does the
fault lie? Who is responsible for the omissions?^ Is

1 Heb. xiii. 8.

- Isa. lix. 21.

■^ In addition to the instances which I shall give later on, the reader
will look in vain in Mr. Travers Hill's translation for the reference to
'' the blessed Mother of God, the Virgin Mary," the " Host," " Chalice,"
" Mary," and " Relics," which will be found in chapter ii. of the First Book
in this translation (and in the original, which Mr. Hill professes to reproduce
in English). In the following chapter he will also fail to find Savona-
rola's words about " Virgins," " the Eucharist," " the Veneration of the
Cross," and "the reverence due to Mary and the Saints'". In the


the defect — or are the defects, for their name is
" Legion " — in the original, or in the " translation " ?
Let us see. There is only one Latin copy of THE
Triumph of the Cross in the Sion College Archives,
and, as the translator says, it is " a valuable copy ". It
lacks the first page ; otherwise it is complete. The loss
of the title-page, however, matters little, as the edition
is recorded at the end of the book : " Venuvidatiir in
aedibus Ascensianis. Typog. Ascensiana, MDXXIIII."
Truly " a valuable copy," printed in Paris by a certain
J. B. Ascensius in the year 1524, only twenty-six years
after the author's tragic death. It is not the first
edition. This, as we have seen, appeared in Florence
in 1497, the year before he died. Still it is an early
edition. There is another copy of this Ascension
Press edition of 1524 in the library of the British
Museum. A third copy, belonging to the library of

eleventh chapter of the Second Book the subjects of cloistral-life, fasting
and watching, and the three vows of religious, which are found in the
original, are suppressed in the " translation ", In the thirteenth chapter
of the same Book, after the words " born of the Virgin Mary," the author
adds, " Whom He wishes to be reverenced (qicani vtilt adorari) as the
true Mother of God " ; the translator omits the words. Later on, in the
same chapter, Savonarola, writing of the Blessed Sacrament— " My Body
and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine " — says : " They shall
most devoutly venerate It'\ (In the Italian edition Savonarola expresses
it " they shall adore It as God "), not so the " translator " ; nor does he
insert Savonarola's words : " My Virgin Mother shall be honoured," which
immediately follow the reference to the Blessed Sacrament. The pro-
fession of faith in the Roman Catholic Church, which the reader of this
volume will find at the end of the tenth chapter of the Third Book, and
which begins : " Therefore, the Catholic faith most fittingly," etc. (see
page 127), is ignored completely by Mr. Hill, but is found word for word
in Savonarola's original work. In one place (Book ii., chap, xiii.) the
words, relating to the Eucharist : " In Ipsius Corpus et Sanguinem trans-
piutari " are rendered " represent His body and blood " !


the Dominican Fathers at Woodchester, h'es on my
desk as I write these words. It is a small octavo
volume bound in vellum, and besides The TRIUMPH
OF THE Cross, it contains several other treatises of
the Florentine Dominican. The inscription at the end,
with the date, corresponds to the Sion College copy.
The space at my command will only allow me to call
attention to two or three discrepancies between the
original, the " valuable copy " found in the Archives
of Sion College, and the book which claims to be a

In the original Latin edition, the Third Book contains
eighteen chapters ; in the translation only fifteen
chapters appear. There is no explanation given, either
in the Preface or in the body of the work, of the reason
of the omission, nor is it stated that these three chapters
are omitted. The chapters which are absolutely ignored
in the pseudo-translation are those which appear in the
original, and in this present translation, as chapters xv.,
xvi., and xviii. If the reader will refer to them, he
may perhaps form his own opinion as to the reason
of the omission from what purports to be a translation.
These chapters contain what the translator would pro-
bably call " sectarian " teaching ; they embody the
" sectarian spirit," from which, he tells us, The
Triumph of the Cross is free. The first of the
three omitted chapters treats of the Sacraments, and
teaches that there are seven, even as does the Catholic
Catechism of to-day. Following the argument of St.
Thomas, the au thor shows the need of each, of the
seven Sacraments, from the analogy between the life
of the body and the spiritual life of the soul In the


following, or sixteenth chapter, which the translator,
on his own responsibility, evidently puts under a ban
of excommunication from an English home, Savonarola
treats of what the scholastics call " the matter and
form " of the Sacraments, and explains, in terse and
clear words, the meaning and object of each of these
seven channels of grace to the soul. This chapter is
" sectarian " indeed. Hence, we may presume, its
eradication, its being pulled up root and branch from
English soil ; hence its elimination from English pages ;
hence its absolute extermination, as far as English
readers are concerned. Savonarola wrote it in Latin,
and reproduced it in Italian, but we will have no popery
and no popish doctrine in our pure English tongue !
We have it, however, at last, in this translation, as we
have had it from the beginning in the chapter of the
original to which I allude. Baptism, Confirmation,
Holy Eucharist, Penance (or Confession), ._ Extreme
Unction, Holy Orders, Matrimony — all are there, with
their object, their meaning, their " matter and form,"
as the scholastics would call their component parts,
their mode of administration, and their effects upon
the human soul in time and in eternity.

Finally, in the third of the proscribed chapters — the
eighteenth in the original work — we have a dissertation
on the Ceremonies of the Church. Savonarola shows
with what wisdom they form part of the Church's
discipline, and how they answer to a demand of the
soul of man in his worship of the Most High. The
author explains, too, some of the practices of the
Catholic Church, which, in our days, as in his own, are
often misrepresented or misunderstood.


The unprejudiced reader may draw his own con-
clusions as to the reason of the omission of the three
chapters from the book we have been referring to, and
which appear, probably for the first time in English,
in the pages which follow this Introduction. The
Twenty-fifth of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican
Creed declares : " There are two Sacraments ordained
of Christ our Lord . . . Baptism and the Supper of
the Lord ". Savonarola says there are seven. The
Twenty-eighth Article professes that " transubstantiation
. . . cannot be proved in Holy Writ ; it is repugnant
to the plain words of Scripture ". Savonarola, on the
contrary, holds that the Catholic doctrine can be
proved, and that it is clearly taught in Holy Writ by
Jesus Christ the Divine Teacher. The Thirty-fourth
Article attaches little importance to ceremonies, and calls
in question the need of outward uniformity in the
services of the Church. Savonarola has an entire
chapter written in their defence and explanation, in
which he speaks of crucifix and images, of devotion to
the Mother of Jesus, of the consecration of churches,
of lighted candles, of sacred vessels, and even of holy
water. What then ? The Articles are right ; Savona-
rola must be wrong ; he must be " sectarian ". Then
leave out the sectarianism ; omit the chapters in which
he treats of subjects which are distinctly and essentially
Catholic, It is the old story. They will make Savo-
narola a Protestant, or, at least, a herald of Protestant-
ism, a precursor of Luther and Calvin, a harbinger of
the Reformation, whether he will or no. Whereas, as
every reader of his history and writings must know,

he was of ral-hnlirg^l-hp mng;t r.athnlir — Catholic



in life, Catholic in death, Catholic to the heart's

I must leave it to the calm unbiassed judgment of
the reader to decide whether this kind of translation
is fair ; whether it is just to the memory of the great
Dominican whom so many. Catholics and non-Catholics
alike, profess to revere; whether it is just even to the
English-reading people, to the vast majority of whom
original works written in Latin or Italian are sealed books,
and who have consequently to depend upon the fidelity
and accuracy of a translation. If the translator had pro-
fessed to give an expurgated edition of The Triumph
OF THE Cross ; if he had told his readers that he had
eliminated everything that was " sectarian " ; if he had
undertaken to give selections from the work, in defence
of Christianity ; if he had professed to reproduce, in
more modern English, the translation published by the
Cambridge University Press in 1 66 1, to which I have
referred — this we could understand ; but to call a book
with several chapters ruthlessly discarded, " THE
Triumph of the Cross translated from the Latin "
— this, assuredly, it is beyond the power of words to
condemn. The translator of the Cambridge edition of

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