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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's in a name?

Greetings from Florence! I arrived two days ago, on Monday, October 13th, and hope to stay through early December, as part of my four-month sabbatical from the Chancellory. I can already tell that it will be hard to leave after so short a stay...

This is my first attempt at a blog, so I hope you'll be patient while I figure out how to do this. I expect to post on a fairly regular basis my thoughts on my surroundings, encounters, and reading. Let me begin, however, by explaining why I named this blog what I did.

For a four year period in the late fifteenth century, the city of Florence was under the de facto control of a charismatic Dominican friar from nearby Ferrara, a man fiercely opposed to the tyrannical rule of the Medici family and the spiritual decadence of his fellow clergy, who claimed in his wildly popular sermons to be a prophet of God. Under his leadership, Florentine government became more inclusive and representative, and practices deemed lewd and lascivious were drastically curtailed. Initially supported by the great majority (including the artists Botticelli and Michelangelo!), the friar's refusal to curtail his denounciation in sermons and in print of the excesses of the corrupt Catholic hierarchy, and especially of Pope Alexander VI, the proud father of 8, eventually resulted in his dramatic fall. He and two of his closest confederate clergy reformers were arrested after an eight-hour siege of their convent (on Palm Sunday!), interrogated under torture for weeks, publically defrocked, then hanged in the Piazza della Signoria, the great public square before the palace of the government, on May 23, 1498, and their remains burned and dumped in the nearby Arno River. His name was Girolamo Savonarola.

I had originally thought him to be a fanatic opponent to the emerging Renaissance humanism and aesthetic, and planned to spend my time here, as it were, in conversation with what I understood to be his reactionary theology. I now think, having just completed a book about him called "Fire in the City: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy," by Lauro Martines, that I've until now misjudged the man. (That's not surprising; I do it all the time.) I now appreciate him as a reformer who overreached, a disobedient but not heretical son of a horrifically corrupt hierarchy. (He refused to acknowledge the fact that he'd been excommunicated by Pope Alexander and prohibited from preaching; he proclaimed - from the pulpit of the Cathedral,no less! -  that a corrupt pope had no authority over him.) If the highly sympathetic Martines is correct, it was his progressive politics and moral zeal that brought about his downfall, not his unorthodoxy theology.

I'm typing this from an internet cafe - my apartment, in a converted 16th century palazzo with original wood beam ceilings (!), has no access - and others are waiting, so I'll resume this at a later date. Do yourselves a favor and check out his wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girolamo_Savonarola. He was, at the very least, a fascinating man living in fascinating times in a fascinating city.

4 comments:

npmccallum said...

Master bless!

Vladika, how wonderful it is to have a heirarch so accessible! Welcome to the blogosphere. Is Savonarola the exclusive topic of your study on this sabbatical? I look forward to reading your future posts.

Nathaniel

Charles said...

Now I know where the term "Bonfire of the Vanities" originates! Thanks for the history lesson, I really enjoyed it. Fascinating that you're there, where it all happened.

Johnny G. said...

Master Bless.
Welcome to the world of blogging. Look forward to future posts. Enjoy your time off you've earned it.

aaronandbrighid said...

Master bless,

I just came across this blog, so I hope you still get updates on the comments! Fr John Behr suggested last year that I get in touch with you at some point, and unfortunately I've put it off until now.

I recently learned that St Maximus the Greek was a disciple of Savonarola when he was in Florence, before becoming a monk on the Holy Mountain. Interesting!

Kissing Your Right Hand,
aaron