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The Palleschi faction comprised several parties: the Compagnacce and the Tepidi, who were more Epicureans than Christians in their philosophy and modes of life, but were nevertheless partizans of the Franciscans, the rivals of the Dominicans ; the Arrabbiati represented an oligarchy inimical to the Medici, but making use of the scum of the populace, the debauched, incorrigible old people, and the dissolute youth of Florence, for their selfish purposes.
Then in the opposite ranks of the Piagnone were the true Republicans of the class of Nicolo de Lappi—the artists of “the reform" in painting and sculpture; and the scholars, like the two Pico de Mirandolas, who looked upon learning as the natural ally of religion, and Savonarola as the great reformer, who had laboured to promote, not only the interests of religion, but those of liberty, learning, and the arts.
A glance at the proceedings of these factions will shew, when reaction had violently set in against Fra Girolamo in 1497, how completely destroyed this political influence then was, and how likely it was that several parties in the state, from their hostility to Savonarola, and not from any real attachment to the republic, might have united their strength with that of the party faithful to the republic, to procure the condemnation of the five partizans of the Medici, with the express view of bringing Savonarola into disgrace and discredit.
It will be observed, finally, that Savonarola is not represented by any historian as having been present at the discussion of the Signoria, on the appeal of the condemned persons.
But it is stated, though I know not on what ground, or whether on the authority of Cerretani or Graziani, by the author of the “ Palleschi and Piagnone,” that some of the families of those unfortunate young men who had been condemned to die, supplicated Fra Girolamo to interfere for them with the members of the council, and that he had refused to do so. There
be no truth in the account. But if it be true, his conduct could not be defended, on the ground of the expediency of violating a law for the purpose of punishing a political crime,
or of obviating future danger to his own life and the lives of his adherents, by taking away the lives of others under colour of providing for the safety of the state. Such pleas might serve for statesmen and politicians, but not for ministers of religion.
All that could be said in behalf of Savonarola by the former, if that statement were true, would be-Savonarola might have believed conscientiously that it was a duty he owed the State to refuse to interfere on that occasion.
But on such grounds Savonarola cannot, and ought not to be defended.
The great and holy Saint Dominic, it is said, when he was kneeling in prayer, on an eminence in the vicinity of a scene of carnage during the battle of Muret, and when twenty thousand human beings branded with the crime of heresy were being put to death by the troops of Simon de Montford, “sparing neither the women nor the children,” in thus remaining passive --did that which we are told, and in all probability are truly told, a perfect conviction of the righteousness of his cause, and of the interposition of the divine protection in its favour led him to do; but our conviction of the immanity of the carnage cannot possibly suffer us to palliate or defend the atrocity of Simon de Montford and his sanguinary force.
But a few words from a contemporary historian I think will set the question at rest, as far as Savonarola is concerned.
“In the month of March, 1497,” says Nardi, “the Palleschi were entirely in the ascendant in the state, and the Piognone so powerless as to be unable to procure for Fra Girolamo the smallest protection from the government, though his life was placed in jeopardy at this time whenever he appeared in the streets."*
Savonarola's influence in the government had declined long before the conspiracy was disclosed, as we plainly find from Nardi's account of the events of those times.
But there is one circumstance which he mentions, unnoticed, I think, by any other writer-some of the leading people of this
* Nardi, Hist. Fior. lib. ii. p. 64.
conspiracy of the Medici secretly influenced the violent proceedings of their opponents.
“They feigned and affected,” says Nardi, “to have a great friendship for the adherents of the friar, and the advocates of the council, and thus it was concerted by them with the other associates of theirs, privy to their intentions and wishes. So that without suspicion of any intrigues for the Medici, they could get conversing and communicating with other people, thus manifesting the malignity of the different humours which then kept the body of our republic in a sickly state."*
Further the historian says, that after the condemnation of the conspirators, when their appeal to the council was under consideration, there was such a tumult in the city, such terror of the people of the Medici coming back, and furious rage against the conspirators, that had their appeal been granted and their lives spared, that the people were prepared to make resistance with force and arms and to have an insurrection. In fact, the people were in a state of panic, having nothing to expect from the Medici but inevitable ruin-inevitabile rovina .... in tanto timore e spavento erano ridotti.
It is perfectly evident from this account, that had Savonarola made his appearance at the Signoria, or taken any part in favour of the condemned persons, he would have been torn to pieces by the mob, and it is equally certain, from Nardi's relations of the previous outrages committed by the populace, with entire impunity, that his interference on behalf of the conspirators, in the month of August, 1497, would have been quite fruitless, and if attempted, it might have been reasonably feared would have proved fatal to such members of the council as were friendly to him and his views.
The Palleschi populace and their turbulent leaders, in fact, overawed the government at that period, and left the Piagnone members of it who were favourably disposed to Savonarola wholly powerless.
In a short time, the latter were driven from office and authority altogether.
* Nardi, p. 65.
The most important change in the government, which occurred since the downfall of the Medici, took place on the 1st of March, 1498. The Compagnacci and Palleschi faction prevailed over the Palleschi. All of the latter who were in office were got rid of, and the new officials, without any exception, were persons inimical to Savonarola.
Fra Girolamo mounted the pulpit, and preached in public for the last time on the 18th of March, 1498, a little better than a month before his death. Menaces of interdicts had been addressed by the Pontiff to the government of Florence day after day, and with augmented violence and importunity, as if he was driven on by some evil influence, and felt there could be no peace for him in this world, while the purity and holiness of that friar of spotless life were suffered to exist in reproval of his courses.
The discourse of Fra Girolamo, on the occasion referred to, was worthy of it, solemn, dignified, nay, in some parts, sublime. Eight years had he poured forth torrents of Christian eloquence and admonition, such as had never before been heard by the Florentine people. Eight years had he laboured, and preached, and prayed for that people, and now he had to abandon the pulpit, the scene of all his toil and all his triumphs. The lords of the council had issued their command that he should preach
And God's commission to his holy servant to labour for the renovation of the church and the conversion of sinners, had nearly reached the period of duration appointed for it.
One can trace the conflicting feelings that were excited in the breast of the faithful pastor of San Marco in various passages of that sermon at the sight of the sorrow-stricken audience, as he announced to them, in plaintive tones and faltering words, that his mission in his beloved Florence was at an end. We can almost fancy we behold him, after he had paused for some minutes, assuming a more calm and a sterner aspect, raising himself, and standing erect before his hearers in that long white habit, the folds of which are stirring, and the form of the preacher too, as if in unison with some great emotion of the inner man,
as with elevated voice and clouded brow, the preacher declares : “From Alexander, in Rome, we must then turn to the Heavenly Pontiff—that is, to Christ.”
He tells his hearers—" As one flies to fire out of tainted air, and drives away one evil with another, and retires from the burning house into the cool shelter, so must we now fly to the last place of security, out of the great confusion of spiritual affairs which now prevails, to the kingdom of Christ.”
He then inveighed against the disorders of the court of Rome and dignitaries of the church, with an amount of zeal that in its expression and its invectives bordered on bitterness—but twice, when he seemed to perceive he was giving way to passion, he checked himself, and declared " he had never set himself against the true power of the church, rightly used.” ... And again he said: “I not only submit myself to the ecclesiastical power, but I defend it, and the Roman church and the Christian doctrine, against all the power of the infernal spirit.
“Let the Lord do his work; He is the master of the forge who handles the hammer, and when he has made use of it, lays it not on what He has wrought, but casts it from him. Thus he did with Jeremiah, whom he permitted to be stoned to death when his preaching mission was accomplished, and thus also will he do with this hammer when he has used it after his own manner.”
This was the end of the preaching mission of Savonarola. Like Jeremiah, he had accomplished his task. The truths of Sacred Scripture had been hammered by him over and over, the labourer had done his work, and now it only remained for the Master, in his exceeding great mercy, to give repose and recompense to his servant. But one great trial and temptation more is to be encountered. “ The experiment of fire ” is about to be proposed to him.
The trial by ordeal is of extreme antiquity. Blackstone refers to its use among the ancient Greeks and Germans—the ordeal by fire, and that by water.*
The latter seems to have originated in Germany, or been derived from Eastern countries at a very early period. The fire
* Com. Laws of Eng. vol. iv. ch. xxvii.