The Man Who Saved a City

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All Historical Facts taken from Bond and McComas’ Biography of Girolamo Savonarola

Life isn’t fair. This is pointed out to us by Solomon In Ecclesiastes 9, and one example of this is found in the story of a man saving a city in verses 13-15 of that chapter. As it states:

13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. (NIV)

Unfortunately the man in the story isn’t given the respect that he deserved. He disarmed a mighty king using not a weapon of war, but rather a weapon of logic. Unfortunately, the people of the city did not remember the man that saved their city, possibly learning from him, or putting him in a position to bring more positive change to the city. Rather, the city left him to be forgotten in the annals of history, which I think you would agree, is not very fair. What you may find interesting is that this actually occurred in history many years later. Let me introduce you to Girolamo Savonarola.

Girolamo Savonarola (I like to call him G.S.) was a Dominican friar in the 1400’s and was actually the most published author of the century. You may be asking why bring up a Catholic in light of our Protestant viewpoints. G.S. actually rebelled against the Pope and boldly claimed that he “was no Christian”. In the following century, Martin Luther said that G.S. definitely clung to justification by faith. The friar even said himself that:

No one can glory in himself; all the saints say, not of us but of The Lord is glory. They were not saved by their merit, nor by their work, but by the goodness and grace of God, that nobody may glory in himself.
— Girolamo Savonarola

This certainly sounds like something Luther or Calvin could have written. He may have had some theological ideas wrong, but G.S. undoubtedly understood The Gospel correctly. For all of this, he was eventually killed by the Catholic church.

To set the stage, G.S. lived in Florence. The area was ruled by the powerful de Medici clan, and headship of the family just changed hands to the young and naive Piero de Medici. The people did not care for the family, since they ruled as tyrants, often forgetting the common man. At the time, King Charles VIII was having a squabble with the Pope about the territory of Naples. Charles decided to march his seemingly invincible army to Naples and try to take possession of it. Unfortunately, Florence was was right in the path to Naples. Charles left a path of destruction behind him as he headed right for Florence, destroying everything in his path.

Piero de Medici tried to strike up a bargain with Charles’ representatives and succeeded. Unfortunately, the deal was so awful the people of the city ran him out of town. Without his demands met, Charles continued to march to Florence. Without any other hope, the town decided to have their spiritual guide to try to talk some sense into the King. And somehow it worked. G.S. Thanked the king for ridding the town of the de Medici family, calling him “an instrument sent by The Lord”. He then told him among other things that, “God elected you in the interest of the church. You must obey The Lord.”. Though it seemed to be a miracle, Charles relented.

The people then turned to G.S. to set up a democracy, free from the tyranny of the de Medici family. Unfortunately, this was shorted lived. Due to outside circumstances which was out of the control of the government, economic hardship fell upon Florence. The friar was blamed, the city turned on him, and he was removed from the pulpit and eventually killed by The Pope. G.S. was treated unfairly, and was abandoned by his city and the church (or at least by the Catholic church).

This was a real example of solomon’s scenario playing out in the life of Savonarola. He saved his city from destruction from a king who was preparing to siege the city. Using wisdom to change the mind of the king, he was initially loved, but was ultimately forgotten, abandoned, and persecuted.

Where does this leave us? The friar of Florence was persecuted and treated unfairly. All of us can expect unfair outcomes in our lives. In reality, we don’t actually want things to be fair. If they were, God would instantly condemn us to Hell, as that is what we truly deserve. Christ came to earth, and was treated unfairly, for us, so we don’t have to face God’s wrath. Savonarola didn’t put his hope in getting treated fairly in this life, but looked forward to his life to come. Therefore, do not look for fairness in this life, but set your hope in our inheritance to come, which is eternal peace in Heaven with Christ.

-Richard Miller