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.
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Selected Writings of Girolamo SavonarolaReligion and Politics, 1490-1498
Yale University PressCopyright © 2006 Yale University
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Chapter OneAmos and Zacharias, Sermon XLIV
1 April 1496 Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos. Matt. 11:28
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 his own end or the truth, God deigned to come down in His own person in order to show them to him, whereof the Savior says: "In hoc natus sum et ad hoc veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritatis" [Ioh. 18:37]. The intended end of the rational creature is to see God facie ad faciem [I Cor. 13:12]. This would have appeared impossible for human nature-that the intellect of man might be joined to God, given that God is infinite and our intellect finite (and finiti adinfinitum nulla est proportio)-but, although this union seemed impossible, God wanted to join human nature to His divinity, which union of divinity and humanity is far greater than that between man's intellect and God's essence, in order to show that if this greater union could be achieved, we ought to believe all the more easily that man would be conjoined with God in seeing Him facie ad faciem.
Another advantage derives from this Incarnation: since man has some creatures superior to him, perhaps it would have seemed to him that some one of those creatures nobler than he was God. Thus, man gains this advantage from the Incarnation and Passion of Christ: that he understands his worth and does not turn to a creature as his intended end, but only to Christ. And because man ought to be certain of his end, God could not have made man more or better assured of his end than by coming to speak in His own person and proving it by His own words and miracles. And because it does not suffice simply to know one's end, but is also necessary to know the means conducing to that end, He wanted to teach us this means by Himself with both His words and His life. And because the means is justice, which consists in this: declinare a malo et facere bonum [I Pet. 3:11], our Savior took on flesh and agreed to suffer to free us from evil. And so that we might know that we need to divorce ourselves from sin, He also agreed to do works of justice in His own life to give an example to you, man, in His own person. For, if you had had to follow the example of another man, you could have said, "He is a man and can err," but because it was God, you cannot err by following in His footsteps. And because one's end must be vehemently loved, and so, also, the means conducing to that end, God wanted to stir our hearts to love Him; this could not be done in any better way than by becoming man and making Himself like us, so that we would have interchange and friendship with Him. And because, following Him, we would do it with great love, He agreed to suffer and die for us, nor could He have drawn us to Him by a better means than this.
The other particular advantages which follow from His Incarnation and death are endless and cannot be recounted, but we know that many other advantages hinge upon the mystery of this present day. Thus, from the wood of the Cross, our beloved Savior today cries out and says: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos." By reflecting on these words, we wish to console your minds this morning.
When the patriarch Jacob had received the blessing from his father, Isaac, Isaac said to his son Jacob: "Do not take a wife from the daughters of Chanaan, but go to Mesopotamia and take one from the women there" [Gen. 28:1 ff]. Et egressus Iacob ex Bersabee [Gen. 28:11]; he came to a certain place called Haran, and, wanting to rest here post occasum solis, he put some stones under his head and slept, and he saw in somnis a ladder that had its foot on the earth and its summit in heaven [Gen. 28:12], and from atop the ladder the Lord said: "Ego sum Deus Abraam; the earth on which you sleep dabo tibi et semini tuo" [Gen. 28:13]. This is the place where the temple was built, where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, and where Christ was crucified. Jacob took some of those stones, some say one, others three that then became one. We want to lead you this morning to Paradise up this ladder. At the top of this ladder is the Lord, Who says: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos." This ladder has seven steps.
The philosophers say that every movement under the heavens depends entirely on the movement of the heavens, such that if the movement of the heavens were to cease, every other motion of the world under the heavens would cease; thus they say that the movement of the heavens is the life of all natural things, and, therefore, if that were to cease, all things composed of elements would dissolve into those elements. If, then, the heavens were not moved, nothing would be generated down here, and there would be no motion. It is obvious that this is true, for nothing in nature is in vain: Deus et natura nihil agunt frustra. If the heavens were able to do these things here below without being moved themselves, their movement would be pointless, especially given that movement leads to the perfection of the things moved, and so, it must be that the movement of the heavens causes all these other things.
If the heavens are moved, then, they must of necessity be moved by another mover; therefore, the heavens are the instrument of another agent, quia omne quod movetur ab altero movetur. Since the heavens cannot operate except through motion, this is a sign that they are an instrument, as are the saw, the hammer, and the file, which cannot operate on their own if they are not moved by some principal agent; in the same way, the heavens are an instrument which operates because it has been moved by another. But because the things of nature are orderly and nature has an admirable order (especially the heavens), and because nature always proceeds to its end by predetermined means, it necessarily follows that he whose instrument the heavens are has intelligence such that he may know how to make them turn and never err, as we see that he never errs; thus, the philosophers say that this is the work of an unerring intelligence. For this reason, some say that this is the soul of the heavens (l'anima del cielo) and, thus, that the heavens are animated. Nonetheless, if this were true, it would still be necessary to postulate another mover, because the soul, in its turn, needs to be moved; wherefore, it cannot itself be the prime mover, because one must find a prime mover who is completely immovable, and this is God.
This intelligence, then, the angel which moves the heavens, is first moved by God as its object of love and desire, so that it desires to be assimilated to Him. In the same way, every other effect of nature desires to be converted and assimilated to its cause. Although this operation of nature is extrinsic, nonetheless, God moves this angel as its beloved and desired and as the beginning and cause of everything, since He brings forth and sends out everything toward its own being and its own perfection. And because the perfection of every creature is to be assimilated to its cause, and the beginning and cause of everything is God, everything desires to draw near to God and to be converted to Him, and this is a turning back. God moves everything as its object of love and desire, not only as the beginning, but also as the end of everything, to which it desires to be assimilated. Accordingly, Dionysius says: Ad se omnia convertit Deus. God, then, moves everything as the One Whom it loves and desires, and He moves the angels, who, by intrinsic operation, desire to be assimilated to Him as to the ultimate end of everything.
Now, why have you said this, friar? Because I set the Crucifix in the middle of the world, and I want to show you that This is the intended end of man, Which moves everyone as the thing he loves and desires; It cries out and exclaims: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos." So, God says to all creatures: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos; be like Me, come, for I shall give you your consolation and your felicity." I set the Crucifix in the middle of the world.
The philosophers say quod homo est minor mundus: "man is a lesser world," because he contains within himself and partakes of everything-angels, animals, plants-and man generates another man, through whom all these other things are created. But because man has free will and can do good or evil as he wishes, some, following evil, are disordered and do not live according to reason. From the order of the heavens we know God, Who is most wise; likewise, from the order of men who live according to reason we know that they are men, but of those others who live evilly, we say and know that they are beasts. You can thus see which are those who are moved by God. I say that all men who live uprightly are moved by this Crucifix as the thing they love and desire, for if you look around and read carefully all the histories in accordance with moral philosophy, you will not find-nor can one even imagine-any life more ordered than that of the Christian, a life such as Christian saints have not only described, but also as they have lived it. And if you were to say, "In the philosophical life, one can also find those who have lived in a most orderly manner," you would be able to list so few of them that all of them could stand in this pulpit. You would cite Socrates and Plato and a few others, who, however, have committed some errors in their lives, such as worshipping idols and certain other sins. If you were to continue in this fashion of yours, you will find either none or only a few who are perfect. But all those who have followed this Crucified One as the thing they loved and desired-those who lived before Him as well as those who have lived since then-were all perfect, beginning with Abel, the first just man, up to the time of Christ, and these also were Christians, in that they were intent on nothing other than Christ and on the Messias Who was to come. Read the whole Scripture; you will see that all of them were well ordered in their lives and were made so by none other than this Crucifix which moved them as a thing loved and desired. All desired and intensely loved this Messias and this Christ, Who, although He had not yet taken on human flesh, was awaited by them with the greatest desire. Similarly, all those after Christ who have lived uprightly and in an orderly way have been moved and drawn by this Crucifix, tamquam ab amato et desiderato. But I want to say a word about this Crucifix to the Jews and to the pagans.
Jew, come forward. Either this is the Messias or He is not: if you affirm that He is, then convert; if you say that He is not, I ask you what it means that all the prophecies are verified in Him and that all fit Him, not by distorting them, but easily. Go, see the Doctors [of the Church], who show that the whole of the life of Christ and what He has done is described and prophesied in the Old Testament. And if you were to say, "You extract from them what you want to interpret them as being about this Christ of yours," tell me, why is it that no other person can be found in whom these things are verified? Pick any patriarch you wish or any other man in whom these scriptures are verified and to whom the conditions specified in the Old Testament are applicable. Excepting Christ, you will find no one. Why, then, since God has said that when a man is born to whom these conditions are applicable, we should believe in Him as in God and that He will be the Messias and His Son, why, then, if this is not the Messias, has God allowed this man to be born and all those conditions to be verified in Him? Either one must say that God did not know that this man would fulfill these conditions, or that, if He knew, He could not prevent it, or that He did not want to. That He did not know, this cannot be said, because such a statement cannot apply to Him, since God knows everything. That He could not, neither can this be said, since God can do anything. If you say that He did not want to prevent it, then He has deceived us because, having told us that we are to believe in the One Who fulfills these conditions as we believe in Him, if this one is not the Messias, and God has allowed these conditions to be verified in Him, then God has deceived us. This is not a fitting thing to say about God, because God is good and deceives no one. You must, then, O Jew, acknowledge by necessity that He is the Messias.
Now I turn to the pagans. Pagan, I ask you: if these matters concerning Christ were predicted so far in advance and have been fulfilled in this man, this then is a sign that they have been predicted not by a man but by God. The astrologer could not predict them because he cannot see particulars; he wants to see a person's natal day and then give his opinion. But of Christ there were predictions hundreds of years before He was born. Go, see that the astrologers said nothing of it beforehand; afterward, yes, because future contingencies cannot be seen except by God, Who is eternal. And so, pagan, acknowledge that this Scripture comes from God, and if it is from God, then it is true, and if it is true, it says that this Christ is the true Messias. This, then, is the true salvation of human nature, which God has sent and which He had prophesied not only by the prophets but also by sibyls and pagans, and the Apostles, the martyrs, and innumerable people followed after Him, all drawn to living uprightly by Him much more than by the philosophers.
Behold, then, the Crucified One in the middle of the world; He has restored human nature, which had fallen into ruin through man's sin. All those who have lived uprightly, whether before Christ or after, all have understood this, moved by Him as their object of love and desire. Still today He moves the good but not the wicked. And we see all those who live uprightly love this Crucified One, and the others who do not love Him live evilly. Tell me then: why is this so? Because He is the Prime Cause. And if you were to say that this flesh of this Crucified One or this wood of the Cross are the things which draw men, I answer that this is impossible on its own; there must be another principal agent which moves this instrument, just as the heavens are moved by another cause. Therefore, I say that this flesh stands here in the middle as do the heavens between men and God, Who moves men tamquam amatum et desideratum. This instrument may be either good or evil, you will say. If it is evil, we would see that by this instrument men are drawn to live uprightly, but then the effect would be worthier than its cause, which is unfitting. If it is good, He [Christ] has said that He is God and has convinced the whole world. To this, then, it is necessary to add that He is both God and man, and that this divinity has drawn men to itself as the thing loved and desired. And so, this Crucifix stands in the middle of the world and says: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos; come to Me and live uprightly, and I will give you consolation."
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