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Selected Writings of Girolamo Savonarola

Selected Writings of Girolamo Savonarola: Religion and Politics, 1490-1498

Anne Borelli
Maria Pastore Passaro
Donald Beebe Executive Editor
Introduction by Alison Brown
Foreword by Giuseppe Mazzotta
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Selected Writings of Girolamo Savonarola
    Book Description:

    Five hundred years after his death at the stake, Girolamo Savonarola remains one of the most fascinating figures of the Italian Renaissance. This wide-ranging collection, with an introduction by historian Alison Brown, includes translations of his sermons and treatises on pastoral ministry, prophecy, politics, and moral reform, as well as the correspondence with Alexander VI that led to Savonarola's silencing and excommunication. Also included are first-hand accounts of religio-civic festivities instigated by Savonarola and of his last moments. This collection demonstrates the remarkable extent of Savonarola's contributions to the religious, political, and aesthetic debates of the late fifteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12904-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Giuseppe Mazzotta

    The Italian Quattrocentro is replete with extraordinarily creative personalities who brought forth ideas and ways of thinking destined to change and to shape the face of the modern world. At one end of this century one finds, among others, Alberti and Valla. At the other end there stand, among others, two bitter enemies, a Neoplatonic philosopher, Ficino, and a Dominican preacher, Savonarola.

    Girolamo Savonarola was well aware of the creative, deeply subversive powers of the imagination and, specifically, of the religious and prophetic imagination. He thought of himself as, and was, a preacher-prophet. Of the many biblical prophets he glossed...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Donald Beebe
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxxv)
    Alison Brown

    Savonarola remains an enigma, as controversial in our day as he was in his own. He was born in Ferrara in 1452, the grandson of a learned physician who helped him on his way to acquiring a master of arts degree at the University of Ferrara. At the age of twenty-three, however, he rejected the secular world to become a Dominican friar in the Observant monastery in Bologna, where St. Dominic himself had died and was buried. It was there that he acquired the deep learning reflected in his later sermons, as we can now see from the “Borromeo notebook,”...

  7. Text Sources
    (pp. xxxvi-xxxvii)
  8. Biblical Abbreviations and Equivalencies
    (pp. xxxviii-xxxviii)

    • Amos and Zacharias, Sermon XLIV (The Art of Living Well): Good Friday, 1 April 1496
      (pp. 1-32)

      Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, so great has been the love of God Omnipotent toward rational creatures that, seeing that man had been alienated from Him by the sin of his first ancestor such that he did not know his intended end, He sent His only-begotten Son to take human flesh and suffer on the wood of the Cross to make satisfaction for this sin. From this Incarnation and Passion there have resulted so many advantages and so many favors for the world that human tongue could not recount them.

      First, since man on his own did not know either...

    • Ruth and Micheas, Sermon XXVIII, “The Art of Dying Well”: All Souls’ Day, Delivered 2 November 1496
      (pp. 33-56)

      Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, it is not difficult to prove to man that he has to die, because, without need of any other argument, daily experience demonstrates this to us. But it is very difficult to induce man to meditate on death and to try to engage him so that he is always thinking about death. And the reason is this: that every inclination² follows some sort of knowledge, but not always its own particular knowledge, because natural inclinations follow the extrinsic knowledge with which nature governs them; just so, the natural inclination of a rock, which inclines it...


    • Psalms, Sermon III, “Renovation Sermon”: Octave of the Epiphany, Delivered 13 January 1494[5]
      (pp. 57-76)

      Our intention this morning is to repeat all that we have said and preached in Florence over these past years about the renewal of the Church, which will happenall at onceand soon. We will go through this repetition so that those who have not heard [these things] in the past may understand and know that [this] renewal must certainly occur and soon. And may those who have heard it before and believe be confirmed this morning [in their belief]; may those who have not believed or do not believe be converted; and may those who will not believe,...

    • A Dialogue concerning Prophetic Truth, 1496-1497
      (pp. 77-136)

      Meeting with Girolamo while he is walking in solitude meditating within himself on matters divine, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are introduced under mystical names, as if they were certain unknown foreigners who have set out abroad seeking disputation. There is much discussion with each of them about prophetic truth, concerning those things which have been foretold through him [Savonarola] to the whole Church and especially to the people of Florence in this present year, the one thousand four hundred ninety-seventh from the birth of Christ. Finally, when truth has been established and the disputation completed, they reveal...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)

    • Aggeus, Sermon VII (On Social Order): First Sunday of Advent, 28 November 1494
      (pp. 137-150)

      Dearly beloved in Jesus Christ, since the whole of Christian religion consists in the knowledge of God and of oneself, we can therefore say that this Christian religion of ours consists in something small, although it seems so long and difficult.² This knowledge of God and of oneself resolves itself into love of God and hatred of one’s own self, and Holy Scripture in its entirety tends toward this effect. And so, our teachers in sacred theology say that Holy Scripture has as its object God alone: thus it is short, though it seems long. Let us look at the...

    • Aggeus, Sermon XIII (The Venetian Model for Republican Florence): Third Sunday of Advent, 12 December 1494
      (pp. 151-162)

      Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, granted that the soul of man belongs among spiritual creatures, yet, although his intellect has an infinite capacity, nonetheless, because he has so little natural light, he would not have been able to attain intellectual knowledge of things if God had not given him the body with its active feelings so that he might learn. Therefore, it was necessary to give him a body, through the senses of which the soul could acquire knowledge of things, and thus could have its natural perfection. Nor was it possible within the natural order to give him a...

    • Aggeus, Sermon XXIII (Florence, God’s Chosen City): 28 December 1494
      (pp. 163-175)

      We told you in the preceding sermon, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, that every creature is finite in its being and has its own particular being distinct from the being of every other creature; although one may be worthier than and superior to another,nevertheless,all have a determinate being, and only God has an infinite and endless being. In the same vein, we told you that the virtue of every creature is similarly finite and cannot operate further than its limit extends. Similarly, man’s intellectalso,though very great, has its own limitation, and although the natural light of...

    • Treatise on the Rule and Government of the City of Florence: 1498?
      (pp. 176-206)

      O Magnificent and Eminent Lords, given that many excellent men of high intelligence and superior learning have written at great length and with great wisdom about the government of cities and realms, it appears to me superfluous to compose still more books on a similar matter, since it would serve no other purpose than the multiplication of books, lacking in all usefulness. Nonetheless, since Your Lordships have requested me to write treatises, not on the government of realms and citiesin general,but about the new government of the city of Florencein particular,insofar as I am able, dispensing...


    • Carnival: 16 February 1496
      (pp. 207-221)

      16th February.The Carnival. Fra Girolamo had preached a few days before that the boys, instead of committing follies, such as throwing stones and making huts of twigs, should collect alms for thepoveri vergognosi;³ and as it pleased the divine grace, such a change took place that instead of [indulging in] senseless games, they began to collect alms several days beforehand; and instead of barriers in the streets, there were crucifixes at each corner, in the hands of holy innocents. On this last day of Carnival, after vespers, these troops of boys assembled in the four quarters of Florence,...

    • Palm Sunday Procession/Monte di Pietà: 27 March 1496
      (pp. 222-243)

      As the time of the Passion of our Savior approached, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, in order to show that He was willingly going to suffer, He Himself drew near to the place of the Passion, as this morning’s Gospel relates:Cum appropinquasset Hierosolymis et venisset Bethphage ad montem Oliveti³ [Matt. 21:1], that is, Jesus approached Jerusalem and came to the Mount of Olives within the boundaries of Bethphage, which belonged to the priests. From here He sent two disciples to Jerusalem, saying:“Ite in castellum quod contra vos est”⁴ [Matt. 21:2],that is,“go to the castle opposite you”...

    • Bonfire of Vanities I: 7 February 1497
      (pp. 244-258)

      Prayer to God

      for the promises made by Him to the city of Florence

      Since You, Lord Jesus,

      have chosen us through Your grace,

      inflame our hearts now with Your love.

      Rouse up, my Lord,

      Your power and come;

      show that You are God.

      Lord, why do You still forbear?

      Why do You not bind and bridle

      that incorrigible set

      which upsets¹ the welfare

      of the city of the flower?

      Since You, Lord Jesus, etc.

      You know, sweet Jesus,

      that our city

      no longer has an earthly king

      other than Your goodness.

      So then, may that piety

      which makes us...


    • Silencing
      (pp. 259-289)

      Beloved son, greeting and apostolic blessing:

      We perceive by the account of many that, among other servants of the vineyard of the Lord of Sabbaoth, you perform the greatest labors, concerning which we most heartily rejoice and return praises to the Omnipotent God, Who has supplied such grace to human understanding. We do not doubt that it is by that same divine Spirit Who distributes grace among mortals that you are able both to sow the word of God among Christian people and to increase the fruit a hundredfold. As in recent days, through your letter about this, we have...

    • Excommunication
      (pp. 290-312)

      Fra Girolamo of Ferrara, useless servant of Jesus Christ, to all the elect of God and children of the Eternal Father, wishes grace, peace, and the consolation of the Holy Spirit:

      Because we want, dearly beloved, to imitate our Savior, Who yielded many times to the great wrath and intense fury of the scribes and Pharisees, we have given up preaching until such time as is pleasing to Him. But knowing that the devil does not care about bodies but desires souls and that he goes about inciting this persecution so that while the word of God is held in...


    • Bonfire of Vanities II: 27 February 1498
      (pp. 313-348)

      Because we, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, are on the battlefield to fight against the lukewarm, who go about sowing much evil to the ruin and destruction of souls, for this reason, in previous sermons, we have demonstrated their errors. In the first sermon we showed how the excommunication has no validity for many reasons, which I told you at that time.³ In the second we entered upon a further point, that is, who it was who clearly understood the purpose for which this excommunication had been imposed, and, more particularly, who brought it about; and since the inferences which...


    • Savonarola’s Execution: 22 May 1498
      (pp. 349-354)

      22nd May.It was decided that he should be put to death, and that he should be burnt alive. In the evening a scaffold was made, which covered the wholeringhiera[a raised platform in front of the Palazzo Vecchio] of the Palagio de’ Signori, and then a scaffolding which began at theringhieranext to the “lion”¹ and reached into the middle of the Piazza, towards the Tetto de’ Pisani; and here was erected a solid piece of wood manybraccia[each about twenty-three inches] high, and round this a large circular platform. On the aforesaid piece of wood...

    • Postmortem
      (pp. 355-362)

      Apology of Marsilio Ficino on Behalf of the Many Florentines Deceived by the Antichrist, Girolamo of Ferrara, the Greatest of Hypocrites, to the College of Cardinals

      I know, of course, Worshipful Cardinals, that many in the Sacred Council marvel that one hypocrite from Ferrara has deceived so many otherwise clever and erudite Florentine men for nearly a full five years. And with good reason they wonder exceedingly indeed when they consider that so many great persons have been duped by one particular man. But truly, no mortal man, but the most crafty demon, and not a single demon, but a...

  17. Afterlife
    (pp. 363-368)

    After his arrest, Savonarola was imprisoned in the sardonically namedAlberghettino,the “little hotel,” a maximum-security cell at the top of the Palazzo Vecchio. His adherents, fearful that they, too, might incur the wrath of the populace, absented themselves from council meetings; as a result, the commission selected to interrogate the friar was composed entirely of Arrabbiati and Compagnacci (among them Doffo Spini; see Simone Filipepi’s chronicle, above). Over the course of the following weeks (April 1498), he was subjected to repeated interrogations. His first, autograph “confession” convicted him of nothing, so his enemies resorted to torture, threats of torture,...

  18. Index
    (pp. 369-381)