at fashion's height. The vices of Florence were those of a rich, commercial city, extravagance in clothes and furniture, in funerals and weddings. Young bourgeois might think the brothel and the tavern the ante-chambers of gentility. Men of all classes gambled and swore. Dowries were high, and it was becoming difficult to marry. Yet in Florentine society there was a healthy consciousness that all this was wrong, and a predisposition in favour of any preacher who would say so. Savonarola's sympathetic nature, when once he had learned his method and his manner, touched this chord. The very novelty of his style was a merit with the Athens of the fifteenth century. The Florentines had forgotten the careful simplicity of San Bernardino of Siena, his fund of anecdote and his playful humour. Preaching was either too classical or too grotesque. Fra Mariano represented the former school, and there are hints that Savonarola's other rival, Fra Domenico da Ponzo, the Franciscan, was an exponent of the latter. The new preacher struck a middle note, captivating Florence by his directness, his naturalness, his fire. He abandoned the artificial division of the sermon into parts, a survival of the Roman art of rhetoric; his sermons are, indeed, lacking in composition; mystical flights often soar far beyond the subject of discussion. There are contradictions in his method, which receive curious illustration from two facts of his early life. Letters exist from the learned Garzoni of Bologna, which rally the youth on his revolt from the rules of Priscian, while his first teacher at Florence lectured him on his excessive subtlety in argument, and forced him to the simplicity which at the outset he exaggerated to a childlike "yea" and "nay." Such contradictions are explained by the preacher's impressionable nature; and this, combined with his power of expression, produced a contagious effect upon his audience. A thorough Dominican in his intellectual dialectic training and in the exposition of definite doctrine in his tracts, his sermons have much of the Franciscan style. The spirit of prophecy linked him closely to the Fraticelli of Monte Amiata, the believers in Abbot Joachim, and through them to the half-religious, half-political extravagances of B-ienzi in the second stage of his development. As we look forwards, it seems rather the apocalyptic preachers of early Anabaptism that have a right to claim him as a precursor, than the Lutheran divines. His enemies actually accused him of holding the Fraticelli doctrine of Spiritual Poverty. This he directly denied, but he approached perilously near Wyclif's theory of the Dominion of Grace, which was in popular estimation nearly akin to it. So again, though a trained Aristotelian and Thomist, he was in feeling a Platonist; he employed his Aristotelian method in the exposition of the relation between the upper and the lower worlds. This mystical quality won him the early favour of the Neo-Platonists, Pico, Marsilio Ficino, and others of Lorenzo's circle. On the other hand he could employ the devices by which popular preachers fixed the attention of their
Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/187
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