Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/185

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

of stricter observance from the Lombard Congregation to which they had previously been united. The effect of this separation would be to confine Savonarola's activity to Tuscaiiy, and thus to give him permanent influence at Florence. Savonarola's chief, if not his only desire, was to restore the convents, over which he already exercised a personal influence, to the poorer and simpler life of the Order as founded by St Dominic; it is a libel to suggest that he had ulterior political motives. The separation of San Marco, which had been definitely re-founded within the century as a member of the Lombard Congregation, was a strong measure which cast reflection on the discipline of the parent body. The governments of Milan and Venice resisted the separation, which Piero warmly advocated. Savonarola became for the moment a figure of diplomatic importance. Alexander VI declared himself against the separation; but the story goes that when the Consistory had separated, the Cardinal of Naples playfully drew the signet ring from the Pope's finger and sealed the brief which he held in readiness. Piero's action makes it impossible to believe that Savonarola had assumed the role of a leader of political opposition. The only existing letter from the Friar to Piero expresses warm gratitude for his aid. Nevertheless the perpetual prophecies of impending trouble did undoubtedly contribute to political unrest, and Nerli ascribes Piero's fall in some measure to his placing no check upon the Friar's extravagant utterances.

At the moment of the French invasion (September, 1494) Savonarola was no politician, but a hard-working Provincial, throwing his heart into the reform of his new Congregation. This was no easy task, for he was thwarted by the particularist traditions of the larger Tuscan towns, where the Dominican convents resented subordination to that of the hated rival or mistress, Florence; they would more willingly have obeyed a distant Lombard Provincial. At Siena, Savonarola's failure was complete; the Convent of St Catharine's at Pisa was only united after the expulsion of the majority of the Friars. The new Congregation contained only some 250 members, whereas at the recent chapter at San Miniato more than a thousand Franciscans had been gathered.

Meanwhile all Florence was entranced by the eloquence of the Ferrarese Friar. What was the secret of his fascination? It consisted partly in the contagious force of terror. Italy had long been conscious of her military weakness, of her want of national unity. For fifty years her statesmen had nervously played with or warded off invasion; but, as the century closed, her generals were provoking the catastrophe. Disaster was in the air, and this atmospheric condition at once created the peculiar quality of Savonarola's eloquence, and the susceptibility of his audience. His confident forebodings gave definite expression to the terror which was in every heart, terror of storm and sack, of fierce foreign troopers who knew not the make-believe campaigns of Italy,