Reflections on the Past X: Jerome Savonarola

This blog post is based on the Covenant Reformed Seminary of Asia’s lesson on Church History Module – The Forerunners of the Reformation (Part 4): Jerome (Girolamo) Savonarola

he is not primarily a theologian, since by his work the entire Europe was shaken especially Florence Italy. He fought against the Renaissance figure. He attacked the evil lives and immoral habits of his countrymen, especially

Jerome (Italian: Girolamo) Savonarola is an Italian born in Ferraria. But He is not a doctrinal reformer unlike Wycliffe and Hus.

Augustine’s writings influenced Savonarola since he grew in a monastery at San Marco, Florence. He is an intellectual man and a man of leadership so he desired to see reformation.

Source: Wikipedia

Florence during his time was shrouded in spiritual darkness and ignorance

He began to preach and lecture at the age of 38. Initially, none took him seriously because of his voice. But later on, as he persevered in preaching, he became a known orator. Large crowds filled a majestic cathedral city to listen to him preaching repentance relentlessly. He understood that repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God. He preached it with urgency and called them to Christ. Many turned to Christ and took the Christian life seriously. Florence became the center of the great revival even though Rome’s teaching was prominent. His influence was unbounded.

Political Sphere

The House of Medici led Florence. Lorenzo de Medici who specifically was leading in Savonarola’s time feared the increasing power of the Savonarola’s bold preaching. It was under him that a new movement known to scholars as The Renaissance was flourishing. But the Renaissance is not Christianity but pagan. Since Medici has interest in the Renaissance but distasted Savonarola’s preaching, even though Lorenzo initially displayed favor hoping that Savonarola will change.

Lorenzo’s son, Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici succeeded him but was ousted because of his age, so Savonarola was unanimously chosen as ruler of Florence. He accepted the challenge hoping that the reformation will be accomplished.

He governed Florence for three years, but many people began to resent the strictness of the new ruler. He intended the city to become the model of a Christian commonwealth in which God was the Ruler and his gospel was the sovereign law, the haunts of vice were abolished, gambling was outlawed, vanities of dress both male and female were to be restrained, and godly living was to be promoted. Cards, dice, costumes used in carnivals, and licentious books and pictures were to be destroyed in a “bonfire of vanities.”

The men who loved these things, however, soon began to create an opposition and to stir up the people against their ruler.

Rather foolishly, Savonarola claimed to have the gift of prophecy and he actually predicted that certain things would happen. But his prophecies failed and even his supporters began to mistrust him. In consequence his influence waned.

This shows the truth that we can never enforce spiritual reformation through politics. We believe that spiritual revival takes place by the solid proclamation of the gospel through the work of the Spirit.

His influence wade.

Alexander VI, a Borgia Pope infamous for his corruption. When he became Pope he had five children and it was his aim to use his power to promote their temporal welfare.

In spite of this Pope’s wickedness, he was described by Sixtus V and Urban VII gave approval to Pope Alexander VI evil deeds.

Alexander VI tried to bribe Savonarola. He offered to make him a cardinal. But Savonarola refused as he desired a martyr’s crown.

I do not desire any other crown that the crown of a martyr.

The Pope therefore used other tactics to belittle the power of the reformer. The monks were persuaded to speak against him and to undermine his authority, and then the Pope excommunicated and imprisoned him.

The Reformer

But Savonarola remained unmoved. He could not be shaken in his convictions, and when the pains caused by the tortures of the Inquisition became unbearable, his lips uttered in anguish, “It is enough, Lord, now take my soul.”

In May 1498, the reformer was put to death by burning. Great crowds had gathered in the central square of the city of Florence. With two of his friends he was led to the stake. Like Huss, he was stripped of his priestly robes in public while the crowd yelled, “Now prophet, show thy power and work a miracle.” But Savonarola kept still. Had not his Savior endured the same mockery and rejection?

A bishop of the Roman Catholic religion now approached him, and said in faltering tones, “I separate thee from the church militant and triumphant.”

“Militant, not triumphant,” said the reformer, “for you have no power to separate me from the church triumphant to which I go.”

And so Savonarola died, at the age of 45. Some few, from the enormous crowd present, pressed forward to collect, if possible, some relic of the martyr, but the guards resisted them and carried out the instructions of those in authority, that the remains of the victims (three had been put to death) were to be borne away in carts and cast into the river Arno which flowed through the city.

Luther regarded Savonarola as a pioneer of the Reformation, but it is clear that his work was largely confined to the reform of public morals. It had no link with the reform of doctrine which began, though not in Italy, about twenty years after his death.


  1. Even Great men have their mistakes – Savonarola erred in joining politics to attempt to enforce spiritual reformation. He failed to recognize that true religion cannot be mandated.
  2. Secular humanism is the most intolerant tolerance – they can tolerate anything except the Christians. They can tolerate the scandals of Greek and Roman Culture. Secular humanism will tolerate anything: any art form, any orientation, any lifestyle, any spirituality, any belief system. But one thing it will not tolerate: those who intend to believe and obey the Bible.

Despite his flaws, I appreciate him. Here is a man who stood against secular humanism at the beginning. Even today, many people appreciate Luther, but few appreciate Savonarola. He is viewed in Florence as a kill-joy, a man who wouldn’t tolerate a little fun. Perhaps it is right to criticize him. But Savonarola was fighting the same battle that modern Christians must fight. We live in one of the most secular, humanistic cultures in the history of the world. Perhaps Savonarola understood the spiritual battle better than we do.

Daniel J. Pentimone

“Where Christ is, there He always goes against the flow.” ~ MARTIN LUTHER



Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

3 thoughts on “Reflections on the Past X: Jerome Savonarola

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