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Girolamo Savonarola | Execution of Savonarola

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Girolamo Savonarola, born September 21, 1452, in Ferrara, was an Italian Dominican monk, preacher, and critic. And reformer of Catholic religious and social mores. Indeed, he was Niccolo Savonarola’s son, a local aristocracy member. And Elena Bonaccorsi, originally from Mantua.

Girolamo Savonarola was the monk who came to hold absolute power in Florence and dared to criticize the Church, the Pope, and the Roman Curia; he was arrested, tried by an inquisitorial tribunal, tortured, and sentenced to death for heresy. 

In his twenties, he published his first work, De ruina Mundi, in which he criticized the corruption and decadence of the mores of the society of his time. A man of deep piety, not lacking in extremism and fanaticism. Girolamo Savonarola believed himself to be a prophet and identified his life with that of Jesus Christ.

Who was Girolamo Savonarola?

As a young monk, he immersed himself deeply in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Scripture. He quickly demonstrated a capacious mind that allowed him to memorize most of Scripture.

Born into a wealthy family in Ferrara, Italy, in 1452, Girolamo Savonarola was an intelligent young man with a penchant for learning the Dominican rules. 

In 1474, after listening to a monk’s sermon, he went to Bologna. When he entered a Dominican monastery without his parent’s knowledge, he wrote his second critical work, this time against the Church. In which he openly expressed the enteric demand for a regeneration of the clergy, who, in his opinion, had lost their appointed function. As mediators between God and man. So, he chose the Dominican order because he preferred St Thomas Aquinas.

Biography of Girolamo Savonarola

Full name:Girolamo Savonarola
Year of birth:1452 AD
Year of death:1498 AD
Place of birth:Ferraria, Papal States
Father's name:Niccolo Savonarola
Death cause:Martyrdom

Why is Girolamo Savonarola important?

Between 1494 and 1498, Savonarola brought about dramatic political and social changes. His preaching became more prophetic. Emphasizing the return of Christ, he called Florence to live as the new Jerusalem. His moral reform infiltrated political reorganization as he worked to establish a “Christian republic,” much like Calvin later did in Geneva.

Girolamo Savonarola became known even in Florence in 1490, already famous and of great importance for his teaching, but his preaching catapulted him to the center of Florentine reform and politics. From the cathedral in Florence, Savonarola often used to preach to thousands of people in plain language, with powerful imagery and simple scriptural language.

He proclaimed the saving grace of Christ with biblical authority. While simultaneously criticizing and dismantling the immoral practices of political and ecclesiastical leaders.

Girolamo Savonarola

Savonarola fought not only against evil and ostentatiously opulent lifestyles. But also against ancient pagan worship and, consequently, against art insufficiently penetrated by Christian spirituality. The monk, gifted with exceptional oratorical talent, captivated the masses. He was frightening them with apocalyptic visions.

According to historical sources, Savonarola, due to excessive religious fanaticism, which today we would call fundamentalism, burned on the “pyre of vanity” in Piazza Signoria the instruments of sin: books, mirrors, cosmetics, elegant clothes. Musical instruments and art objects are considered immoral. And the manuscript texts of secular songs.

After his ex-communication, Savonarola’s conflict with Pope Alexander VI exploded when the pope seized letters Savonarola had sent to the king of France. And also: the kings of England, Spain, Hungary, and the Emperor of Germany. He pleaded with them to call an ecclesiastical council to dismiss the pope for his abuses. Savonarola opposed not the office but the person of Alexander VI and, in so doing, distinguished himself from the later Reformers’ more expansive criticism of papal authority and Catholic doctrine.

What does Savonarola claim?

He relied on personal religious experiences, especially a kind of vision that he believed to be revelations, through which God would make known to him events that would take place in the future. So, in his sermons, he forgave no one, not even members of the clergy, whom he considered dangerous and corrupt.

Savonarola argued that there is no civil reform without a moral one, no moral reform without the Gospel, and without Christian life lived authentically. He held the rulers responsible for the morality of their subjects, which is why he strove to get them to live Christian lives.

One of the conditions was to ensure a peaceful life for the subjects, promoting the common good so that they might exercise themselves in the practice of Christian virtues by which they might attain eternal happiness.