I am currently reading some books about the Italian Renaissance. One book is “Death in Florence– the Medici, Savonarola, and the Battle for the Soul of a Renaissance City” by Paul Strathern (2015). Much of the book is about the struggles, triumph, and death of an Italian “reformer”: Girolamo Savonarola.
I am getting to know Savonarola, and for the most part I like him and sympathize with him. He had some wacky ideas about being a prophet of God and uttered some predictions that did not come true, but I do feel sorry for him. He was truly distraught over the abject debauchery of his day… not only among the rank and file citizens of Florence, but also among the clergy.
Savonarola was a Domenican monk and well educated in the philosophy and theology of his day. He was not a “pre-reformation reformer” like John Wycliffe or Jan His. Savonarola whole-heartedly believed the Roman Catholic theology of his day, yet he also vociferously called the clergy and leadership of his day to forsake their greed, sexual immorality, and lust for power. (The Pope during this time was Alexander VI… previously known as Rodrigo Borgia… not exactly known for being the most moral person in town).
Savonarola ruled Florence from 1494 to 1498. The Florentines ejected the Medici as rulers, and Savonarola was free to enforce his idea of morality on them. And he did. Personally, I think Savonarola believed that the imposition of the right laws could turn a society around. It didn’t. In 1498 he and his pals were overthrown, they were put on trial and tortured to confess “crimes”, they were all hanged, burned, and their ashes scattered in the Arno River.
Revival does not come from the imposition of laws from the top down. Revival of a culture and society comes from regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and flows from the heart outward.