Prison Meditations on Psalms 51 and 31

By Girolamo Savonarola; John Patrick Donnelly | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

I. Savonarola’s Life until His Downfall in 1498

Girolamo Savonarola was born in Ferrara on September 21, 1452, the third of seven children; his early education was guided by his grandfather, a famous physician, who pointed him toward the medical profession. His early studies at the University of Ferrara centered on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, but he also became an eager student of the Bible. As a student he brooded on the sins of both laity and clergy; among his writings from these days was a poem “On the Ruin of the World” and a treatise “On the Contempt of the World.” Gradually he became so alienated from what he deemed the neopaganism of Renaissance culture and morals that he abandoned his studies, and without even notifying his parents he entered the Dominican novitiate at Bologna in 1475. Of all the religious orders of the time, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, gave their candidates for ordination the most rigorous intellectual training, focused on the writings of the great Dominican theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Savonarola returned to his hometown in 1479, where he taught Scripture and the theology of Aquinas for four years.

In 1482 his superiors assigned him to the convent of San Marco in Florence, where he continued to teach and preach. He was esteemed as a devout friar and learned teacher, but his initial sermons achieved only modest success. His Lenten sermons in nearby San Gimignano in 1486 took on a prophetic tone and demanded the reform of the Church lest it suffer God’s wrath. In 1487 he resumed his lectures on theology at Bologna, then preached in several minor towns, slowly building such a reputation that in 1490 Lorenzo the Magnificent dei Medici sought

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