Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A Real Modern Counterpart of Savonarola?

I was reading up on the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Here is a passage which reminds me of what I already knew of another clergymen, when joining his followers, about two decades ago:

These efforts of Savonarola brought him into conflict with Alexander VI. The pope, like all Italian princes and cities, with the exception of Florence, was an opponent of the French policy. Moreover, Charles VIII had often threatened him with the calling of a reform council in opposition to him. This led Alexander VI to regard all the more dubiously the support that Florence under the influence of Savonarola gave the French king. Furthermore the Dominican preacher spoke with increasing violence against the pope and the Curia. On 25 July, 1495, a papal Brief commanded Savonarola in virtue of holy obedience to come to Rome and defend himself on the score of the prophecies attributed to him. Savonarola excused himself on the plea of impaired health and of the dangers threatening him. By a further Brief of 8 September the Dominican was forbidden to preach, and the monastery of San Marco was restored to the Lombard Congregation. In his reply of 29 September, Savonarola sought to justify himself, and declared that, as regards his teaching, he had always submitted to the judgment of the Church. In a new papal Brief of 16 October written with great moderation the union of the monastery of San Marco with the Lombard Congregation was withdrawn, Savanarola's conduct was judged mildly, but the prohibition to preach, until his vindication at Rome, was maintained.

In the meantime Savonarola had again entered the pulpit on 11 October in order to rouse the Florentines against Pietro de Medici and on 11 February the Signoria of Florence actually commanded the Dominican to preach again. Savonarola now resumed his sermons on 17 February and was thus unjustifiably disobedient to ecclesiastical authority. In these Lenten sermons he violently lashed the crimes of Rome thereby increasing the passionate excitement at Florence. A schism threatened and the pope was again forced to interpose. On 7 November, 1496, the Dominican monasteries of Rome and Tuscany were formed into a new congregation, the first vicar of which was Cardinal Caraffa. Even then Savonarola refused obedience and again during the Lenten season of 1497 preached with uncontrolled violence against the Church in Rome. On 12 May, 1497, he was excommunicated. Under the date of 19 June he published a letter "against the excommunication" as being fraudulently obtained and sought to show that the judgment against him was null and void. The Florentine ambassadors at Rome probably hoped to prevent any further measures on the part of the pope, but their hopes were unfounded, especially as Savonarola became more defiant. Notwithstanding his excommunication he celebrated Mass on Christmas Day and distributed Holy Communion. Moreover, disregarding an archiepiscopal edict, he began again on 11 February, 1498, to preach at the Cathedral and to demonstrate that the sentences against him were void ...

Have we seen any Catholic recently try to show that certain disciplinary measures against him were void the last decades? 1988?

And here is a passage which reminds me of what I have painfully found out later:

A brotherhood founded by Savonarola for young people encouraged a pious, Christian life among its members. Sundays some of this brotherhood went about from house to house and along the streets to take away dice and cards from the citizens, to exhort luxuriously dressed married and single women to lay aside frivolous ornament. Thus there arose an actual police for regulating morality, which also carried on its work by the objectionable methods of spying and denunciation. The principles of the severe judge of morals were carried out in practical life in too extreme a manner. Success made Savonarola, whose speech in his sermons was often recklessly passionate, more and more daring.

My experience of St Nicolas du Chardonnet is precisely this:

  • they have tried to regulate my life into non-writing;
  • they are severe judges of what I am doing as a homeless man or have been so, at least too severe to have allowed me an income as a writer unless I first make penance for my "faults" as a homeless man;
  • and the young do include some brigades which among other things have picked away cardboards with my blogs so as to avoid Church goers from reading the URL's on the cardboards and thus being able to read my blogs.
  • and they seem connected to the blog "La Question", where not just sedevacantism, but also reading Tolkien ... sorry, checked that, wrong ... well sedevacantism and modern pagan lifestyles at any rate are being rejected - and where Saint Thomas is considered to have made an ontological rather than "mythological" approach, because (?) he had to respect the laws of being.

This latter point merits consideration.

What exact kind of mythological approach is it which goes against the laws of being? That of Manichaeans and Gnostics where souls are trapped in bodies by the workings of a lower god (Gnosticism) or of a devil (Manichaeanism) who did create bodies, not souls, after God or "the good god" or whatever had created "souls, not bodies" - sure, that at least goes against such laws of being that the soul is the form of the body or that evil has no substance in itself and material substance as such cannot be evil.

But "mythological approach" is really a rubber term. It is very elastic. If I agree with Saint Thomas that the celestial bodies (he doesn't mention sun or moon or planets or fix stars separately, just celestial bodies) are directed by angelic beings (but not ensouled, P1, Q70, A3), that sun worshippers are "confusing a well clad valet" (giving valet the full value of a creature endowed with conscience ceremoniously serving someone higher, in this case serving God, quote is from his popular sermon on the Creed) with the King whom the valet serves (that King being God) - is my approach ontological or mythoogical?

Obviously, one can say it is not quite purely ontological, since I am not giving a detailed reasoning of why the Sun has to be itself not ensouled (the ontological reasoning given by St Thomas in P1, Q70, A3 is actually contradicted by later discoveries).

Obviously, one can say that it is a mythological approach in the sense that Pagan mythologies tend to agree with St Thomas on visible Sun being moved by someone else (who is really someonbe), though they agree more with Riccioli than with St Thomas.

To St Thomas, the daily motion has a westward component entirely taken care of by God (which is the basis of Prima Via in its most classic form, in Summa Contra Gentes, also resumed in P1, Q2, A3, first section after the brief intro), (which Riccioli denied, thereby preferring the Cartesian and Anselmian proof over the Thomist one), while the angel of each body only takes care of the smaller motions, like the yearly motion eastward, much slower than the daily one westward, for the Sun, or the monthly motion eastward, also slower than the daily motion westward, of the Moon.

To Riccioli, as to Pagan mythologies, as to Book of Henoch (where extant state of astronomical book seems incorrect about length of year, one reason not to have it in canon), the angelic movers take care of all the westward movement concretely. God is not moving Sun and Moon westward, they are moving westward as moved by angels, but God has just directed the movements in good synchronisation, in His instructions to these angels.

So, let us hope that the things like this quote are not directed at my view of astronomy:

« Il ne saurait y avoir de réponse ne respectant pas les lois propres de l’être lui-même. C’est pourquoi son approche de la question est une ontologie, et non une mythologie. »

Within parentheses is given the name (Saint Thomas d’Aquin). To someone not familiar with Saint Thomas, it would even seem as if it were a quote from Saint Thomas, while probably it rather is about him. Perhaps by Garrigou-Lagrange, but

Actually, I did find one work of Savonarola placed on the index:

In the beginning Savonarola was filled with zeal, piety, and self-sacrifice for the regeneration of religious life. He was led to offend against these virtues by his fanaticism, obstinacy, and disobedience. He was not a heretic in matters of faith. The erection of his statue at the foot of Luther's monument at Worms as a reputed "forerunner of the Reformation" is entirely unwarranted. Among his writings mention should be made of: "Triumphus Crucis de fidei veritate" (Florence, 1497), his chief work, an apology for Christianity; "Compendium revelationum" (Florence, 1495); "Scelta di prediche e scritti", ed. Villari Casanova (Florence, 1898); "Trattato circa il Reggimento di Firenze", ed. Rians (Florence, 1848); further letters edited by Marchese in the "Archivio. storico italiano", App. XIII (1850); poems edited by Rians (Florence, 1847). The "Dialogo della verita" (1497) and fifteen sermons were placed later on the Index.

But the passage here alluded to in the Catholic Encyclopedia also states "He was not a heretic in matters of faith."

And I think that moderate "Obedience Absolutifiers", moderate "Half Conservatives" and so on, have said exactly the same thing about Monseigneur Lefebvre.

If you think Marcel Lefebvre was a Saint, remember Saint Philip Neri considered Savonarola a Saint.

If you think it wrong not to canonise him, remember Savonarola is not canonised.

For both, as far as I know, it seems that miracles are lacking.

Citing Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet as a miracle is like citing the Florence under Savonarola as a miracle which is like citing Vatican II as a miracle.

Movements of great zeal which are not against the faith (debatable about certain texts of Vatican II, but at least arguable about the general impression some got of it) but neither absolutely essential to it cannot be considered uncontestable miracles in the sense like the curing of a leper is incontestably a miracle.

As for working miracles, it is unclear if the suggestion that Savonarola should walk on coals was made as a proposal of a miracle or of an ordeal.

Walking on coals is per se not always miraculous, even with naked feet without getting hurt. An atheist scientist (I think a Swede) has performed the "miracle" and said why it worked.

Walking on coals as a kind of appeal to God's judgement is an ordeal. And Judgement by Ordeals were prohibited by the IV Lateran council.

As a Dominican, Savonarola probably knew the latter very well. If he was a prophet, he would have known that walking on coals need not be a miracle. Hence, one cannot consider his refusal to walk on coals as either a refusal to prove his prophecy by miracle or a refusal to be judged by the Church. This should be kept in mind when reading how he was trapped:

In Florence itself the opposition to Savonarola grew more powerful, and an adversary from the Franciscan Order offered to undergo the ordeal by fire in order to prove him in error. Savonarola himself did not want to take up the challenge, but some of his ardent adherents among the Dominicans declared themselves ready for it. The ordeal for both sides was to take place on 7 April, 1498, before a large public gathering. Everything was ready for the test, but it did not take place. The people now turned against Savonarola. There were outbreaks and the monastery of San Marco was attacked; Savonarola and a fellow-member of the order, Domenico da Pescia, were taken prisoners. The papal delegates, the general of the Dominicans and the Bishop of Ilerda were sent to Florence to attend the trial. The official proceedings, which were, however, falsified by the notary, still exist. The captured monks were tortured; Savonarola's following in the city fell away. On 22 May, 1498, Savonarola and two other members of the order were condemned to death "on account of the enormous crimes of which they had been convicted". They were hanged on 23 May and their bodies burned.

I was going to say, see above, that La Question had condemned reading Tolkien. False. It was actually another site, this one sedevacantist, which had done so.

Namely very briefly under the heading Esotérisme – occultisme. Here we have a real case for a Sedevacantist being in agreement with Savonarola.

If you scroll down to the subheading Néo-paganisme ... are cited:

Deutéronome 18, 10-12 : «Qu’on ne trouve chez toi personne qui fasse passer par le feu son fils ou sa fille, qui s’adonne à la divination, au augures, aux superstitions et aux enchantements, qui ait recours aux charmes, qui consulte les évocateurs et les sorciers, et qui interroge les morts. Car tout homme qui fait ces choses est en abomination à Yahweh …»

Pape Léon X, Vème concile de Latran, Session 9, 5 mai 1514 : « Les rituels, au moyen d’enchantements, la divination, les superstitions et l’invocation des démons, est interdite par les lois civiles et les sanctions des canons sacrés ».

Then is further cited as example:

Un cercle d’initiés ésotéristes d’Oxford, les Inklings :

– Clive S. Lewis, l’auteur de Narnia, un comte fantastique rempli de paganisme, de magie et d’idolâtrie, était membre d’un soi-disant « cercle littéraire » (cercle d’initiés occultistes) d’Oxford, les Inklings, avec John R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield et Charles Williams. Clive S. Lewis était un schismatique anglican, soi-disant « converti » par son ami Tolkien soi-disant catholique.

– John R. R. Tolkien, l’auteur du Seigneur des anneaux, une fable satanique remplie de paganisme, de magie, d’idolâtrie et de symbolisme ésotérique, était un ami de Clive S. Lewis et l’aurait « converti » au « Christianisme ». Tolkien était un hérétique et un apostat non-catholique hors de l’Église qui se faisait passer pour un catholique (comme le font la plupart des schismatiques, hérétiques ou apostats). Tolkien fut aussi un membre actif de la secte vatican 2, un des principaux co-traducteurs de la Bible de Jérusalem (contenant des notes modernistes hérétiques), et fortement soupçonné avoir été une infiltration de l’Eglise catholique pendant la période pré-vatican 2.

Considering Owen Barfield or Charles Williams as de facto initiates (as per following) is not quite controversial. Owen Barfield Junior (grandson of the Inkling) has taken some distance from that side of his grandfather.

But the problem is when Inklings as such are considered to be initiates. And therefore Narnia chronicles considered as "filled with paganism" (in a very obvious sense, yes), "magic" (this is debatable), "and idolatry" (only if, contrary to authors explicit explanations, you stubbornly consider Aslan as non-Christ and therefore worshipped "instead of Christ" - you can say the portrait was not quite correct, as you can say with the Crucifix speaking to Don Camillo, also intended as a portrait of Christ, but you can't say it really means some other person). Bacchus is there and not adored. River gods are there and not adored. The faun who lamented being damned because pagans adored his likes (see St Jerome's life of St Anthony) would have rejoiced for not being adored by any pagans in Narnia. Tash is indeed an idol and indeed adored - but by the Calormenes, which are intended to be seen as precisely Pagans.

Lord of the Rings is described as "a Satanic fable" (a description better suited for fables meant to be believed, like Manichaean cosmogony or like Evolution with Big Bang, or for fables with a content proning rather than just describing in warning terms the Satanic), "filled with magic" (depends on what is meant by that term) "idolatry" (not by the good guys : the worship at Meneltarma is meant as being a worship of the true one God, having occurred in a fictive pre-Christian age, while Sauron's perversion of it is precisely denounced as "heathen" - an adjective again used in Lord of the Rings, I was here looking at prequel Akallabeth, but again used for describing worship of entities proning despair or even for the despair of those worshipping such entities), "and esoteric symbolism" (which is per se not denounced by either Deuteronomy 18, 10-12 or V Lateran Council, Session 9).

Both works may be popular among neopagans, but so is wine and cheese! Tell a Frenchman he is committing neopagan idolatry each time he is drinking wine with his cheese plate and see how he reacts! And Inklings were precisely a literary and not precisely an esoteric circle. One reason I would want John Todd out of psychiatry if still alive, is so he can be cross examined about what I consider to be false witness. Literary means literary : each meeting a member or invited person reads a chapter then they discuss if it was enjoyable and if it was well written. Runes were, contrary to what some accusers of Tolkien are saying, a very commonplace knowledge among people who were studying the past of the English and Norse Middle Ages, especially early Middle Ages.

And citing the Jerusalem Bible, well, Tolkien did the book of Jonah into English and I don't think any of his notes to it (if any) was modernist. Member of Vatican II Sect? How many English Catholics were NOT accepting Paul VI as Pope back in 1973? Indeed, for laymen, being Evolutionist and Heliocentric would for that generation clearly be excusable. For priests or especially bishops, not so if giving definite assent, as mentioned about Pacelli/Pius XII in relation to his allocution from 65 years ago, as it will be in one week.

If you cite Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga S.J., he was neither English (Tolkien's own country), nor even Spanish (a country he had visited and loved), he was Mexican. He can have become noted in 1972 when excommunicated by the Vatican II Sect, but that was the year before Tolkien died. And he had worldly worries. But even very much more devout Catholics dying in England in 1973 would hardly have given Sedevacantism a second thought.

And if you say that a Catholic has no business having wordly worries at all, well, then you are the kind of Sedevacantist who really is like Savonarola. To the Church in general, there is such a thing as bearing 30-fold fruit. JRRT could have been ultimately bearing 60-fold, since he died a widower.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Saint Albert
Bishop of Cologne, Dominican

Updated with a spelling correction on Ember Friday after Pentecost in 9.VI.2017/HGL


  1. "Le Seigneur des Anneaux est une série de livres célèbres qui présente la magie, l’occultisme, les contes de fées et les fables comme quelque chose de bon et louable, mais qui est en réalité juste une autre abomination devant le Seigneur. Malheureusement, beaucoup de « catholiques » refusent d’accepter ces faits et croient toujours que le Seigneur des Anneaux est bon ou même catholique. Vous pouvez vous tromper, mais vous ne pouvez pas tromper Dieu !"

    Occultism as usually understood is not presented as laudable. Magic is not presented as laudable, if understood as mortals seeking powers beyond their nature, it is indeed presented as horribly dangerous.

    Fairy tales are not abhominations.

    Hardly even Savonarola would have pretended that, let alone more balanced (including Saints) priests.

    The words in 2 Timothée 4, 3-4 are not against reading fairytales, but against taking them for doctrinal truth, as is the case with Zecharia Sitchin, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence M. Krauss.

    And even they have lots worse taste in literature than the readers of Lord of the Rings.

    As for Muslims, not sure if Saint Paul would have dignified the Qoran even as a fairy tale. Though the 5th Surate is certainly fabled.