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Church of England Magazine.
OCTOBER 1, 1822.
MEMOIRS OF THE REFORMERS.
ITALY, the mention of whose name calls up so many pleasing associations in the mind of the scholar, the artist, and the poet; whose antiquities have been the theme of eulogy, from the honest diary of Montfaucon to the elegant tour of Eustace; whose fields, and rivers, and mountains, have been sung by ancient and modern bards; and whose ruined fanes or cloudless prospects have furnished the choicest subjects for the pencil; this same Italy fills the spirit of the pious and enlightened student with a sensation of peculiar melancholy. As if to mark with bolder distinction the misery of that curse which the offended Deity pronounced on a world of his own creation, for the transgression of its first inhabitants; and remove, as it were, the shadow of a doubt, that the whole earth lieth in the wicked one; its fairest region became the headquarters of the Antichristian power. The expounder of prophecy not unfrequently hesitates, when about to apply to particular objects the relative characters of prediction. The terms in which the Holy Spirit hath foretold many events destined to befall the Church of God, admit of a variety of interpretation, and are often indistinctly and obscurely understood. But who can doubt that the capital of Italy is Babylon the Great-the Mother OCTOBER 1822.
of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth-sitting on seven hillsdrunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus-clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet; and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls-with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, while the merchants of the earth have waxen rich through the abundance of her delicacies?"
So close is the resemblance of the Romish church to this portraiture in the holy Apocalypse, that none but the grossly infatuated can doubt the application. The history of the Popes is almost one continued burlesque on their assumed title of Vicars of Christ. Italy has been more peculiarly the seat of their dominion; and though its peninsula has exhibited every form of civil government from the turbulent republic to the absolute monarchy, yet all have withered, as to their spiritual concerns, under the Papal superstition and ecclesiastical tyranny. The proud bishop of Rome, from his overweening height, has looked down for ages on the nineteen provinces of his empire on his own side the Alps; and though his authority has been occasionally disputed, from the humour of caprice or the cunning of policy, yet his sons have speedily returned to their obedience, and purchased absolution for
their offences by fresh offerings at his footstool.
At intervals before the Reformation, however, individuals started up to rebuke the corruptions and vices of the Italian clergy, even in the precincts of their own jurisdiction. A simple and pious Frenchman, named Thomas Rhedon, a Carmelite friar, thought that a journey to Rome, where he understood there were so many learned and godly doctors, must needs be profitable to his soul. He took the opportunity of travelling thither with a Venetian embassy; but his spirit was stirred up within him, when he saw the whole city given to spiritual idolatry. He boldly testified against the existing abominations, and proclaimed some evangelical truths. Enraged at his freedom, William of Rouen, Cardinal of St. Martin's in the Mount, and Vice-chancellor of the Court, accused him before Eugenius IV. of maintaining that the church ought to be reformed, and that it would be punished; that Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics would be converted to Christ in the latter days, that abominations were used at Rome; and that there was no sin in contemning the unjust excommunication of the Pope. These were unpardonable offences; and the zealous stranger, after being deprived of his priesthood, was burnt in 1436, four years after his arrival.
Nor were there wanting some of the dignitaries themselves, who rose considerably above the level of the day. Antoninus, archbishop of Florence, was a native of that city, and born in 1389 of Nicholas and Thomasia, parents in humble life. Small in stature, but endowed with superior talents, he studied the canon law at Fiesole, joining afterwards a company of preaching friars, and entering a convent at Cortona. As he advanced in years, he gained reputation for learning and piety, and be
came a general of the Dominicans. He was also employed in honourable embassies both by Florence and Naples; and being raised to the see of the former, built several churches, established some confraternities of seculars, and reformed the Order of St. Martin. He was indefatigable in preaching, according to the portion of light which he possessed, zealously reproving the vices of ecclesiastics; displayed an example of meekness, temperance, and liberality; and consumed so little of the revenues of the see on his personal expenses, that when he died in 1459, nought was found in his house but some poor furniture, and a mule on which he rode. His favourite maxim was, "To serve God is to reign." He wrote some historical and theological works, in which is much childish matter, though a vein of real piety runs through the whole *.
To Bernardine of Sienna we may also direct a brief attention. Born in 1380, and left an orphan in early youth, he became connected with a sect of disciplinarians, and was among the foremost in the convent of La Scala in bodily flagellation. Entering the Franciscan Order, he was sent to Jerusalem to superintend the guardianship of the holy places. He was a man of faith and prayer, though his devotion was debased by superstition. Of this a remarkable instance was afforded on his return from Palestine., Wishing to increase a reverence for the name of Jesus, he had it painted on a board surrounded by rays, and lifted up, wherever he went to preach, for the adoration of the people. Pope Martin V. showed himself on this occasion the better divine; for, after consulting some of his bishops, he positively forbade the practice, alleging the sound reason, that the people would be apt to direct their worship to the name of Jesus more than to
* Ughelli, Italia sacra, tom. iii. p. 171. -Cave's Hist. Lit. tom. ii. p. 160.
ber, in the year 1452. From his earliest youth he discovered a great love of study and a pious disposition; while he made such progress in his education, that before he arrived at manhood, he was esteemed a superior scholar. At the age of twenty-two, without advising with his parents, he went to Bologna, and joined the Dominican Order, giving lectures in philosophy and metaphysics. Admitted to the sacred function, he soon became distinguished by a fervid and overpowering oratory. He was the Boanerges of his day. To borrow the description of an elegant writer, "The divine word, from the lips of Savonarola, descended not amongst his audience like the dews of heaven; it was the piercing hail, the sweeping whirlwind, the destroying sword *." He seemed sensible that inveterate diseases required strong remedies; and seeing the gross sensuality, rapacious violence, sacerdotal pride, grovelling superstition, or hypocritical profession which prevailed on every side, he sought by the terrors of the Lord to persuade men; and as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, sinners trembled. Strongly marked features, appearing beneath his cowl, aided the effect of his eloquence, as he spoke with the gravity and earnestness of a man who aimed supremely at the salvation of immortal souls. He did not swear to observe all the rules of the Dominicans though he wore their habit; yet strict morals and unimpeachable integrity were well known to adorn his doctrine; and, wherever he preached, a crowded auditory attested his well-earned popularity. His penetrating mind foresaw that the political circumstances of his country would expose her to the invasions of France and Germany; and while he warned the Italians that God would certainly
*Roscoe's Life of Lorenzo de Medici,
Jesus himself." This well-meaning but mistaken character was earnest in exhorting his clerical brethren to seek divine illumination; and by his energetic addresses was made the happy instrument of turning many thousands from dissoluteness and insubordination to morality and regular habits. At length he was arrested on a charge of innovation and heresy; but as he did not pour such contempt on papal authority as his poor brother the French friar, he contrived to escape unhurt. Eugenius IV. afterwards offered him in succession the bishoprics of Ferrara, Sienna, and Urbino, knowing the acceptableness of his nomination to the citizens; but he refused them all, and preferred the situation of head of a monastery of his own institution. He is understood to have restored or founded above three hundred religious houses. He departed at Aquila in 1444, having composed various tracts, in which many excellent sentiments, concerning the way of salvation, divine love, spiritual warfare, daily aspirations after God, &c. are blended with false notions concerning the sacrament, respect due to the memory of saints, and other questions, on which so much darkness prevailed.
The selection of these characters, as some of the best of their day, shows the degraded condition of the church at that gloomy season. We turn therefore with feelings of greater satisfaction to the record of an individual, who burst with more vigour and decision the shackles of Romish tyranny, and appeared as the friend of civil and religious freedom, at a period in which the principles of both were so imperfectly understood.
Jerome, son of Jerome Savona rola, a nobleman of Ferrara, but of Paduan origin, by Helen Bonacorsi, a Florentine, was born on the twenty-second day of Septem* Antonin. Chron. part iii. tit. 22, c. 7.
punish their civil and ecclesiastical rulers, as they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, the vehemence of his manner gave his threatenings the air of a special commission from heaven, and he was regarded by numbers as an inspired prophet. Complaints being made to the Pope by those who had fallen under the lash of his rebukes, the vicar-general was ordered to forbid his preaching; but he paid no regard to the injunction. He was therefore summoned to appear before his Holiness in person, but he excused himself from obeying the summons, alleging the perils of the journey, from the unsettled state of the country. He was accordingly pronounced contumacious and accursed *.
In 1483+ he went to Florence, induced probably by the gracious invitation of Lorenzo de Medici (who drew to that city with much assiduity men of learning and talent), as well as attachment to his maternal connexions. Here he was appointed Prior of the monastery of St. Mark, and obtained such influence over the minds of the citizens, that he seemed by tacit consent to unite the office of pastor, governor, and judge, in his own person. They deferred to his counsel in all public assemblies, and appealed to him as umpire to settle their domestic disputes. At this period, from a mistaken principle of duty, or ensnared by an ambitious feeling, he took too decided a part in political matters. He was of opinion that the Florentines would prosper in proportion as they adhered to their republican constitution; and considered that the encroachments of the patricians on the rights of their fellow-citizens ought to be guarded against; and especially the designs of the
* Savon. Vita, inter Vit. select. Viror. apud Bates.-Cave, Hist. Lit. tom. ii. p. 198. Fox, Acts and Mon. p. 706.-Verheiden. Imag. p. 11.
house of Medici, which he had sagacity enough to perceive aimed at nothing short of the dictatorship of the state. He dreaded the preponderance of their power, as knowing that it would be employed to uphold principles favourable to ecclesiastical and civil tyranny. He saw with jealousy the measures pursued by Lorenzo, who was consulting the political interests of his family in the settlement of his children. This nobleman had sent his eldest son Piero, at the age of fourteen, to visit the Pope, and cultivate the family interest at Rome, designing him for his successor at Florence, and uniting him in marriage to the powerful house of Orsini; while he' gave his daughter Maddelena to the Pope's natural son. He contrived to procure the nomination of his second son Giovanni to a cardinalate ut the early age of thirteen, to the great scandal of the church, with a good prospect of his elevation to the papal chair; and was successful in forming an alliance for his third son, Giuliano, with the royal house of France, and obtaining for him the title of Duke of Nemours.
The Medicean party, vexed at the growing influence of the Reformer, accused him to the court of Rome, and another order arrived to silence him; for Alexander VI. was conscious, that by his personal immoralities he had laid himself open to the severest censures of the bold Dominican, who, while he denounced Rome as the spiritual Babylon, did not cease to declaim against the vices of the conclave. He was accustomed also to declare, that the church would be punished by the just judgment of God, and prepared the minds of the citizens of Florence to receive the French king, Charles the Eighth, who was overrunning Italy with
In 1489, according to Tiraboschi, forced to flee, after giving up his
Stor. del. Lett. Ital.
strong holds to the victor. amusing relation is given by Comines of an interview which took place between himself and Savonarola, in which the gay French courtier seems to have regarded the grave preacher as a person who had a special commission from God to utter prophecies, and whose influence might be turned to account in behalf of his royal master. He went to visit him before the King's arrival, attended by John Francis, a sagacious servant of the court; and asking him several questions concerning the French expedition, received such answers as corresponded with the future fate of Charles and his allies in a surprising degree. He declared, that God would prosper his return; but that as he had neglected to follow up the success which Providence had granted to his arms, both at Rome and Naples, by reforming the church, and punishing the Pope; and had moreover permitted his licentious soldiery to commit many disorders in their march, as well against friends as enemies; he had displeased God and provoked his vengeance. He added, that he would go himself to the monarch, and make the same declaration in his presence; a resolution to which he adhered, when he was appointed to wait on Charles as agent from the Republic, to negotiate terms of peace, and obtain the restitution of the places which had fallen into the hands of the French *.
His integrity on this occasion was similar to the faithfulness which he had shown at the dying bed of his patron Lorenzo. But the modern biographer of that celebrated character writes under impressions unfavourable to the memory of the divine. Qualified, by literary taste and historic information, to narrate the circumstances of the revival of learning in Italy,
*Comines, Mem. L. VIII. c. ii.
he was perhaps less able to appreciate the motives and principles of a man like Savonarola. In giving an account of the learned ecclesiastics favoured by Lorenzo, he speaks with an evident feeling of preference for Mariano, whose polished addresses would be better relished by the refined associates of the ruler of Florence; while the Prior of St. Mark is stigmatized as a fanatic, affecting superior sanctity, arrogant, coarse, and seditious. The truth is, that the same difference existed between the two preachers, as was afterwards seen between Luther and Erasmus, and still must exist between the honest messenger of the cross, and the candidate for applause on the score of oratorical talent or refined phraseology. But which was the more successful in persuading sinners to turn from the error of their ways? We hear little of the effect of the discourses of Mariano, except those feelings of admiration and sympathy which he excited in the patricians of Florence; while Savonarola was the honoured instrument of enlightening the minds of his countrymen, from the Prince of Mirandola to the lowest mechanic. Lorenzo, at their last interview, desired to make his confession and receive absolution. The Prior exhorted him to adhere to the true faith; to enjoin the restitution of property which had been unjustly obtained; and, moreover, to provide for the re-establishment of the independence of the Republic; to which latter requisition Lorenzo not choosing to reply, he left him without pronouncing the form of absolution. Mr. Roscoe doubts the accuracy of this statement; and having noticed a conversation between the dying 'man and his friends Politiano and Pico, he observes, "This interview was scarcely terminated, when a visitor of a very different character arrived. This was the haughty and enthusiastic Savonarola, who pro