Venice: Cesare Arrivabene, 1517.
Octavo: 15 x 10.5 cm. 52 lvs. (misnumbered LIII). Collation: A-N4
A very good copy bound in later vellum. First and final leaf lightly soiled. With a woodcut on the title page showing Savonarola writing in his cell, a woodcut of King David in prayer (in the text), and Arrivabene’s device on the final leaf.
The Dominican preacher, reformer, and martyr, Girolamo Savonarola was renowned for his clash with tyrannical rulers and corrupt clergy. After the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Savonarola was the sole leader of Florence, setting up a democratic republic and instigating the Bonfires of the Vanities. His spectacular career came to an end in 1498, when he was imprisoned, tortured, and executed.
This volume includes Savonarola’s last writings, commentaries on the Psalms “In te Domine speravi”, and “Misere mei Deus”, composed in May 0f 1498 while he was imprisoned in Florence awaiting execution. (The manuscript was smuggled out of the Palazzo della Signoria and published in numerous editions.)
In April, in the aftermath of an abortive trial by fire between Florence’s rival factions, Savonarola had been banished from Florence. However, “before the sentence could be carried out, a mob attacked San Marco. Some of the friars seized arms and defended themselves until Savonarola commanded them to stop. The Signoria now ordered the arrest of Savonarola and his two lieutenants, Fra Domenico da Pescia and Fra Silvestro Maruffi. The friars were imprisoned in the Palazzo della Signoria and Savonarola in the infamous cell nicknamed the ‘Alberghettino’, or Little Hotel. Weeks of imprisonment, questioning, and torture, first by civil magistrates, then by inquisitors sent from Rome, broke Savonarola and Fra Silvestro (although not Fra Domenico). Confessions of false prophecy and conspiratorial activity were produced and published –with how much tampering is still unclear- and the three were condemned by church and state. On May 23 1498, the friars were hanged and burned on the spot where the ordeal by fire had taken place.
I. Psalm 51 “Misere mei Deus”.
“In his prison cell Savonarola prepared to meet the God whose special illumination he had first claimed: ‘My spirit fluctuates between hope and fear; first I despair because of the sins I recognize in myself, then I’m lifted up by hope in your mercy’. He then abjured in pain and terror. In his meditation on Psalm 51 [Psalm 50 in the Vulgate] he confesses his iniquity, declares his contrition and appeals for mercy. He recalls that Peter had also denied his Lord, although he had been threatened only with words, and that Peter had been forgiven. Savonarola acknowledges that salvation does not come from human merits or works but only from divine grace. Christ redeemed humanity with his blood and through faith Christ will love him. He ends by asking God to help him make of himself a holocaust in Christ’s name and thus to go out of this vale of tears to his glory. ‘Then the church will flourish; then its borders will spread; then your praise will resound throughout the earth; then joy and happiness will fill the world; then the saints will exult in glory and rejoice in their resting places, awaiting us in the land of the living.’”(Weinstein, “Savonarola: Piety, Prophecy and Politics in Renaissance Florence”, p. 14)
II. Psalm 30 “In Te, Domine, Speravi”.
“In his second composition at this period, an exposition of the Thirtieth Psalm, Savonarola recounts the struggle between Despair and Hope contending for his heart. He does not describe the combatants as abstract or allegorical beings, but seems to hear first the clashing of chains and then the voices of the two angels; after which heaven opens before his eyes. ‘Despair hath pitched his camp around me, and encompassed me with a strong and numerous host; he has filled my heart, and unceasingly wars against me, with violence and clamor, by night and by day. My friends are arrayed under his banner, and become my foes. All things which I see, and all I hear, bear the device of Despair. . . . Wherefore, even as the sweetest thing seems bitter to the fever-stricken, so for me all is turned to bitterness and affliction. . . . But I will turn to Heaven, and then Hope will come to my aid.’
“The two prison meditations obtained an enormous celebrity at the time; their fame was afterwards greatly increased when republished by Martin Luther at Strasburg in 1524, with a preface in which he declared Savonarola to be a precursor of the Protestant doctrine and one of the martyrs of the Reformation. ‘This man was put to death,’ wrote Luther, ‘solely for having desired that someone should come to purify the slough of Rome. It was the Antichrist's (the Pope's) hope that all remembrance of this great man would perish under a load of malediction; but you see that it still lives and that his memory is blessed. Jesus Christ proclaims him a saint through our lips, even though Pope and Papists should burst with rage. Even by these writings thou shalt see how works are of no avail in God's sight, and how faith is the one thing needful.’” (Villari, “Savonarola”, Bk 4, Chapter X)
Savonarola had entered the Dominican order at Bologna in 1475. He seems to have preached in 1482 at Florence, but his first trial was a failure. In 1489 his second appearance in the pulpit of San Marco in Florence -- on the sinfulness and apostasy of the time -- was a great popular triumph, and by some he was hailed as an inspired prophet.
His preaching began to point plainly to a political revolution as the divinely-ordained means for the regeneration of religion and morality. He predicted the advent of the French under Charles VIII, whom Savonarola welcomed to Florence in 1494. Soon, however, the French were compelled to leave Florence and a republic was established, of which Savonarola became the leader. His party ("the Weepers") being completely in the ascendant.
The republic of Florence was to be a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and His Gospel the law: the most stringent enactments were made for the repression of vice and frivolity. Gambling was prohibited and the vanities of dress were restrained by sumptuary laws. Even the women flocked to the public square to fling down their costliest ornaments and Savonarola's followers made huge "bonfires of the vanities."
Meanwhile, his rigor and claim to the gift of prophecy led to his being cited in 1495 to answer a charge of heresy at Rome and on his failing to appear he was forbidden to preach. Savonarola disregarded the order and in 1497 came a sentence of excommunication from Rome.
A second Bonfire of the Vanities in 1498 led to riots; and at the new elections the Medici party came into power. Savonarola was again ordered to desist from preaching, and was fiercely denounced by a Franciscan preacher, Francesco da Puglia. Dominicans and Franciscans appealed to the interposition of divine providence by the ordeal of fire. But when the trial was to have come off (April 1498) difficulties and debates arose, destroying Savonarola's prestige and producing a complete revulsion of public feeling.
He was brought to trial for falsely claiming to have seen visions, and uttered prophecies, for religious error, and for sedition. Under torture he made avowals which he afterwards withdrew. He was declared guilty and the sentence was confirmed by Rome. On May 23, 1498,Savonarola and two Dominican disciples were hanged and burned, still professing their adherence to the Church. (Steven Kreis).
Giovannozzi 118. Mostra delle edizioni savonaroliane della Bibl. Ariostea, Ferrara 1952, n° 191. Essling 1453. Sander 6795. Full contents: Savonarola’s commentaries on the Psalms “Intende, Qui regis Israel”, “In te Domine speravi”, and “Misere mei Deus”; his 7 Rules, and his verse oratio “Diligam te domine”.