Before I became a Christian at the age of 25 I had a yearning for truth. I tried to find it, of all places, at the local pub, “The Bull.” Not the deep truth of philosophers; just the everyday truth of belonging. Real ale and parties and pub banter provided the backdrop for this belonging. The trouble is, it wasn’t very “real.” The conversation was aimless and repetitive: we knew it all and knew absolutely nothing.
When I reached twenty I discovered a book about Michelangelo among my mother’s books. The amazing brilliance of this artist: painter, sculptor, architect, poet, as well as his brooding persona, and his dedication to the “Christian” humanist ideal, captivated me. I began to read about art history, beginning with Vasari’s Lives and broadening out into all periods. I found the expressions of truth in Caravaggio’s mixing of serenity and menace, Brueghel’s depictions of death in the midst of pastoral beauty, the dignity of the mundane in de Hooch Claude’s use of light, Constable’s clouds, Cezanne’s geometrical preoccupations. Men like these helped me to see that truth lay within the world around me. But for the most part, truth remained aloof.
The work of Vasari is punctuated by the presence of a man whose influence profoundly affected many of the artists Vasari wrote about. That man was a Domenican priest by the name of Girolamo Savonarola (d.1498). Roman Catholic though he was, from the accounts of his life which I have read, it appears that Savonarola was a converted man. But putting that question aside, what impressed me about him was how his preaching in the great cathedral at Florence brought about a real reformation in morals and a true fear of God in that Renaissance city.