Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Savonarola: A Reformer Prior to Luther

On January 13, 1495, Girolamo Savonarola, who was a reformer before Luther, preached a sermon entitled, “The Renovation of the Church”. This describes the state of the church just prior to the Reformation:

Now, let us begin with the reasons that I have cited to you in the several years that have passed until now, which demonstrate and prove the renovation of the church. Some of the reasons are probable and can be contradicted; some are demonstrable and cannot be contradicted, for they are based on Holy Scripture.

The first is propter pollutionem praelatorum [because of the pollution of the prelates]. When you see a good head, you know that the body is well; when the head is wicked, woe to that body. However, when God permits that there be at the head of government ambition, lust and other vices, believe that God’s flagellation is near…. Therefore, when you see that God permits the heads of the Church to be weighed down by evils and simonies, say that the flagellation of the people is near. I am not saying that this condition is found in the heads of the Church, but I am saying, “when you will see it.”

The second is because of the assumption [i.e. the death] of the good and the just. Every time that God takes away saints and good people, say that the flagellation is near…. Behold the number of men that can be found today who can be called just and good! Say, therefore, that the flagellation is near, and that the wrath and the sword of God are in motion.

The third is per exclusionem iustorum [through the exclusion of the just]. When you see that some lord or head of government does not want good and just men near him, but drives them away, because he does not want to hear the truth, say that the flagellation of God is near.

The fourth is propter desiderium iustorum [because of the desire of the just]. When you see that all good men desire and call for the flagellation, believe that it is soon to come. See whether there is anyone today whom you think is calling for the flagellation! Believe me, Florence [Italy], that your punishment would have already come, were it not for the prayers and sermons of the good. Believe me, today you would have been a garden.

The fifth is propter obstinationem peccatorum [because of the stubbornness of sinners]. When sinners are stubborn and do not want to turn to God and do not value or appreciate those who call them to lead good lives, but always proceed from bad to worse and are obstinate in their vices, say that God is angry. And yet, Florence, wait for the flagellation, for you know how long it has been said to you that you should mend your ways, and you have always been obstinate. And it has also been said to you, Rome, and you too remain obstinate; yet you wait for God’s anger.

The sixth is propter mulititudinem peccatorum [because of the multitude of sinners]. It was because of David’s pride that the plague was sent. See if Rome is full of pride, lust, avarice, and simony! See if in Rome the wicked are not always multiplying! And then say that the flagellation is near and that the renovation of the Church is near.

The seventh is propter excussionem primorum, scilicet, charitatis et fidei [because of the driving out of the chief virtues, that is to say, charity and faith]. In the time of the primitive Church one lived only with complete faith and complete charity. Look, how many there are in the world today who live thus! You, Florence, also seek your ambition, and everyone exalts himself. Believe, there is no cure except in repentance, for the flagellation of God is near.

The eighth is propter negationem credendorum [because of the denial of the articles of faith]. Look, today it seems as though no one believes and has faith, and everyone says: “What will happen afterwards?”

The ninth is propter perditum cultum divinum [because of the ruin of sacred worship]. Go, see what is done for the churches of God and what devotion is there, for the worship of God seems and is today lost. You will say: “Oh, there are so many religious and so many prelates, more than there have ever been!” Would that there were fewer of them! O tonsured ones, tonsured ones! per te orta est haec tempestas [through you this tempest has arisen]! You are the cause of all this evil! And nowadays everyone thinks he is holy, if he has a priest in his house; and I say to you that the time will come when it will be said: “Blessed is that house that does not have a shaved head!” [Referring to the tonsure].

The tenth is propter universalem opinionem [because of universal opinion]. Look at everyone who seems to be preaching and waiting for the flagellation and tribulations; and to each one it seems that it is a just thing that the punishment of so many iniquities must come. The abbot Joachim and many others preach and announce that this flagellation is to come at this time.

It is for these reasons that I have preached the renovation of the Church…. [From John C. Olin, The Catholic Reformation: Savonarola to Ignatius Loyola, New York, NY: Fordham University Press ©1969, 1992, pgs 5-6]

The author of this work notes, “The climactic act of his life’s drama is his contest with the notorious Borgia Pope then reigning, Alexander VI (1492-1503), whose immoral life stands in startling contrast to that of the saintly friar. Defiant of this Pope and overcome by his enemies at home, he was arrested, tried, and brought to the scaffold in the spring of 1498” (pg 3).


  1. So if he said this about Florence, I wonder what we should say about America. As I was reading the sermon above I was struck by how many points could be applied to us. Just saying...

    1. My intention wasn't to point to America today, or to the Roman Church today. It was to work to establish the context in history for the Reformation of Luther's times, and to show readers today why there was a need for a Reformation in that day. Certainly the Roman problem of pedophilia, and hiding pedophiles, is far more extensive than it ever was. Doctrinally, Rome was very bad as well. I think if we understand the context of that Reformation, it will help us to think through some of the issues we face today.

  2. Oh, I know. My mind went somewhere else. Sorry. :) You don't have to convince me that Rome is corrupt. I am Reformed.

    1. We have to be on the lookout for pseudonymous authors these days!

  3. My name is Blake Reas, so I am not pseydonymous anymore. :) I read Tblog all the time.


  4. Savonarola was at that time just the latest in a long line of reformers announcing the same themes. It's more proof that the Reformation didn't come out of nowhere, was not a simple novelty, and actually WAS both good and necessary.

    1. Hi Tim, you are right about the "themes", too, as there were multiple groups and threads, too, who led into multiple "reformations" that can be followed across that time period. I hope to be spending some time on these things moving forward.