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Without God, a “Broken Tool” - 1497

Savonarola wanted reforms.


Savonarola was a reform-minded monk in fifteenth-century Italy. Many of the religious leaders of the day, all the way up to the pope, were exceedingly wicked and he denounced them, calling the church to repentance. Having gained a popular following in Florence, partly through fulfilled prophecies, Savonarola established a democratic republic there and destroyed lewd objects, cards, and a few works of secular art. Pope Alexander VI ordered him to stop preaching. For a while, Savonarola obeyed, but then returned to his calls for renewal. In a sermon preached to a large crowd on this day February 11, 1497 he said that if a pope is out of the will of God he is a broken tool. In May, Alexander VI excommunicated the reformer. Eventually, Savonarola was arrested, tortured, condemned, hanged, and burned.


“Know then that God rules the world through secondary causes, and the righteous prince or the good priest is merely an instrument in the Lord’s hands for the government of the people. But when the Higher Agency is withdrawn from a prince or priest, he is no longer an instrument but a broken tool. And how, you would say, am I to discern whether or no the Higher Agency is absent? See if his laws and commands are contrary to that which is the root and principle of all wisdom, namely of godly living and charity; and if contrary, you can be truly assured that he is a broken tool, and that you are not at all bound to obey him….Man’s perfection consists not only in faith and in law, but in charity, and only he who has charity knows that which is needed for salvation. Nowadays we have nothing but laws and canons and controversies; but the apostles had fewer laws, because they were inflamed with love and charity. All theology, all canonical and civil laws, all ecclesiastical ceremonies are ordained with a view to charity and all the world has been made for charity by God. Therefore on him that gives commands opposed to charity, which is the completion of our law, anathema sit. Were such command pronounced by an angel, even by the Virgin Mary herself, and all the saints (which is certainly impossible), anathema sit…And if the Pope has ever spoken to a contrary effect from this, let him be declared excommunicate…”


Quoted in Villari, Pasquale. Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1888. (Spelling modernized.)

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