St. Antoninus of Florence: A Theologian for Our Times
ST. ANTONINUS OF FLORENCE: A THEOLOGIAN FOR OUR TIMES
Saint, Priest, Archbishop, Dominican friar, Prior, Vicar, General, Historian, Counselor, Confessor, Ambassador, Administrator, Manager, Economist, Jurist, Theologian, Ethicist, Reformer, Benefactor, Founder of institutions, St. Antoninus was all this. He took on and fulfilled this incredible range of responsibilities and dignities to a degree of perfection seldom achieved by other mortals. It will be impossible to present here the full extent of how the Saint succeeded in all these subjects and areas. We will give first some highlights of his life and then concentrate on the lessons he is giving us today, lessons on the basis of which we base our claims that he is a theologian for our times.
Indeed, this is because of these most important and unique lessons that we chose him, who, to be truthful, is by-and-large little known today outside of the region of Florence and outside of the aficionados of the Dominican order or lovers of history, to be the patron saint of our Institute. However, after St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (a third order Dominican), St. Antoninus is the next in line in the agenda of the Dominican order to promote his cause for the elevation to the dignity of Doctor of the Church.
It is interesting that here again St. Antoninus is following a third order Dominican because, as we will see, in many ways his life was conducted in the spirit of the Mantelata of Siena, St. Catherine, patroness of third order Dominicans and of the whole order.
Antoninus was born in Florence, probably on March 1, 1389. His father, Nicollo Pierozzi, was a notary which was a high juridical position in this city. The father had three wives. Antoninus was born of the second wife who died when he was 5 or 6. Only two sisters survived also. His father remarried the same year Antoninus' mother died. We do not know much about the third wife who helped raise him. No feminine influence was noted regarding the young years of Antoninus. One source (Touron) says that his grand father was Secretary of the City of Florence.
There is a debate whether he was called Antoninus because he was physically small or because of his humility. His body which is preserved is not really small. He used the word Anthony in his works, we can find it with historians and even in the Bull of Canonization. But history remembers him by the name of Antoninus.
He was a very pious child. His family itself was very religious: an aunt became nun, one of his brothers went in religion, one of his sisters also; the other sister who was married became third order Dominican.
As a child, it is reported that he spent one hour in prayers every day in front of the crucifix of the Church of San Michele in the Garden. This Church was the Church of God but also of the Church of workers, laborers and intellectual workers alike, it was the Church of merchants and of money changers and bankers. His reputation of holiness started at this age which kept growing as he became older.
He was said to be a very serious child. Witnesses report that he did not behave like a child. And besides being pious, he also had a very keen mind and was a very good student.
Antoninus loved to follow processions and to listen to sermons, especially those of the Dominicans. Among those, he could not but be impressed by the powerful preaching of Blessed Giovanni Dominici. Dominici was the leading preacher of his days and of great importance to the Dominican order and to the Church in Italy. He received his authority from the Master General of the Order of his time, Blessed Raymond of Capua, who himself was the confessor and the first follower of St. Catherine of Siena.
At the age of about 15, Antoninus went to see John Dominici to ask him to receive him in the order. Dominici, either believing Antoninus was too young, or fearing he was physically too weak for the hard life of the friars, found a way to send him away without a formal rejection. He told Antoninus to come back when he would have learned by heart the Decretum of Gratian, which is a very big and dry work of Canon Law. A year later, Antoninus comes back to see Dominici and recites the Decretum by heart, and even answers difficult questions to show that he did understand the treatise. His father the jurist had well formed him in the subtleties of the law. At any rate he is received in the Dominican order at that time.
Although Dominici was prior of San Domenico of Fiesole, the house of strict observance that the Dominican had built in the outskirts of Florence, it appeared that this house was not ready to accommodate novices and their studies. Antoninus started his novitiate in the priory of Cortone. There was a large house of Dominicans naturally in Florence, Santa Maria Novella, but the friars there were not of the strict observance promoted by Blessed Raymond and their mind set did not correspond at all to what either Antoninus or Dominici considered to be proper for the order.
Antoninus' life was very much intertwined with the life of Fra Angelico who also did his novitiate at Cortone two year after Antoninus. Angelico followed Antoninus to Fiesole, then to San Marco which later was to be rebuilt in the center of Florence with the support of the most powerful man in the city, Cosmo de Medici. Fra Angelico, as we know, painted each barren cell of that priory with magnificent and colorful biblical scenes and Dominican themes, including a great number of angels, hence his surname: Angelico.
The historians give little information of the first years of Antoninus' life as a Dominican. They insist that he kept growing in sanctity, dedicated to long prayers and fasting and sacrifices and also dedicated to a life of study. At Cortone, Antoninus found another teacher, Lorenzo di Ripafratta, a very learned man and a confessor, who was also a very prominent actor in the history of the Dominican reform of the time.
After Cortone, in the new building of Fiesole, Antoninus lived very close to Dominici who involved him in the issues of the reforms of the order. Dominici was ultimately named vicar of Blessed Raymond of Capua for carrying the reform to Dominicans all over Italy. Dominici also involved Antoninus in the affairs of the Church. Since 1378, the great schism of the West, was raging. There were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, and there were two Masters Generals of the order. Saints were also divided since Catherine of Siena was for the pope of Rome, St. Vincent Ferrer was for the pope of Avignon. At the death of the pope Innocent VII, Dominici was called to Rome to help the new pope, Gregory XII, and remained there. Antoninus had lost his teacher and the Dominican order had lost its reformer.
The qualities of St. Antoninus were obvious and appreciated. He studied particularly moral theology and started writing works on the subject and was noted as a very learned and wise confessor. In 1418 he was prior of Cortone. He was not yet 30. He was to be prior in the following cities and the chronological order is uncertain: Naples, Gaete, Siena, Fiesole, Rome (the Minerva), and Florence.
A year before he become prior of Cortone, the Western Schism ended with only one pope, Martin V. There was also only one Master General, Leonardo Dati. As soon as St. Antoninus was made a leader of friars he was able to work towards the reform, first as prior and then as General Vicar of the Observance, following Dominici.
At the Chapter of Metz, the master general, Darti took firm decisions: each province was to have a house of strict observance.
He told the friars present at the Chapter: "if the inferiors follow the superiors into the same sins, they will follow them also in the same virtues. It is therefore very important that you show your friars what should be done and what should be avoided, and show it by your actions more than by your words." An historian, Masseron, states that these words could have been the caption of the life of the future archbishop.
St. Antoninus wrote in his Summa how he understood the role of a prior: the prior should lead by example. When he is derelict in this he deserves to die. A prior should also take care of each of his friar: quiet down the agitated, encourage the fearful, the scrupulous, assist the sick, both the spiritually sick and the physically sick. The prior should have a great deal of patience with all. He must punish. He must be concerned that his authority is not despised. But friars should be motivated more by love than by fear. And the way to be loved is through humility. This is a lesson he learned from St. Francis from the rule that the Povorello of Assisi gave his own friars.
Antoninus follows a rule given him by Dominici for the formation of the novices, whom he considered the hope of the success of the observance. A prior should take care of his novices like Christ his apostles. He should enflame them with the spirit of the Beatitudes which sum up the principles of the rule. He is thus very strict on poverty. All that is necessary to the operation of a house is sold and given to the poor.
Antoninus becomes prior at Fiesole, then at Naples. The Master General Darti dies. The new master general Barthelemy Texier, imposed the observance on one of the major houses of Italy that of Bologna, where rests the body of Holy Father Dominic. After that the observance was going to progress much faster. Prior, in Naples, Antoninus gains great celebrity as a confessor with people coming from many other cities to ask him counsel. This is the first time that historians give us an indication of the character of Antoninus. We know that even among observants he was particularly holy, particularly hard working and particularly studious but how did he make his mark on people of his time? Unlike Dominici who was a powerful preacherto the point that some parents were preventing their daughter to listen to him from fear that they would want to become nunsAntoninus was mediocre at delivering sermons. His specialty was analyzing matters of conscience which he did with great care and patience. But when he knew where the truth was, he was unwavering in his resolve to have virtue prevail.
For his brother friars he was a reformer. For the laity he was a confessor and was known as "angel of counsel." One of his first books was an aid to confession for the laity, called Confessionale or Specchio di conscienza (Mirror of Conscience) or by its first words "Omnis Mortalium Cura". It obtained a great success and was reprinted several times. Similarly, also following a request, this time from two women, he wrote his "Opera a ben vivere" (Rule of Life).
Antoninus is not above utilizing supernatural intervention to make sure his spiritual counsels are accepted. A widow in dire financial straights is told by him that her children will be rich and famous in order to console her, which in fact happened. A lemon tree is displaying shiny green leaves outside the season when other trees next to it, which Antoninus does not tend to, are all barren. Antoninus, it is true, liked to compare the soul to a garden. A young girl cries bitterly because she dropped and broke her vase. Antoninus tries to comfort her to no avail. He prays and the pieces of the pot come together.
From Naples he is sent to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva as prior, in 1430, where St. Catherine's presence was still fresh. He brings honor to the body of St. Catherine by moving it to the most prominent place in the church and giving it an all marble tomb. Probably during this time he was made vicar general of strict observance, the title that his teacher Dominici had. In 1439 he becomes prior of San Marco in Florence which the observants had taken possession of in 1436, while still vicar general. The observants tore down the old convent and build anew starting the year St. Antoninus took over as prior. Fra Angelico, with his brother also a Dominican and a miniaturist, Fra Benedetto, worked at contributing to the new construction under the command of St. Antoninus and with the money of Cosmo of Medici.
In 1439, pope Eugene IV invited St. Antoninus to the Council of Florence which witnessed, in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the decree of union between the Latin and the Greek churches. It is not clear whether Antoninus contributed as a theologian to this Council but it was nevertheless and honor to have been invited. In 1443, the Pope presided at the new consecration of San Marco and even did the honor of spending the night there after the ceremonies, in the cell reserved for Cosmo de Medici.
It is reported that it was at this time that Saint Antoninus founded the organization called: Buonomini de San Martino, which was a sort of Society of St. Vincent de Paul for poor people of high social rank who were ashamed to be poor. Interestingly, that was also one of the ministry of St. Martin de Porres in Lima who begged for the poor of noble heritage who were ashamed to do it themselves. The organization of the Buonomini was a great success. Much money was collected which was distributed to the poor. Their business was conducted in great secret and the government of Florence wanted to look into the management of this organization in the end of the XVth century and created havoc. The government was wise enough to back off, which one historian's comments that this wisdom is remarkable and rare for governments to realize that they should not meddle in some good activities which are outside their purview.
While, as vicar of the observance, Antoninus was visiting priories in Naples, he received the news that he had been made Archbishop of Florence. There had been many candidates for the position and the pope Eugene IV took five months to make up his mind. He eventually asked the advice of Fra Angelico who was working at a painting project in the Vatican (this relationship was reportedly a lot more serene than the relationship between Jules II and Michelangelo) who suggested him to chose St. Antoninus as archbishop. The Pope was reported ashamed of not having thought of it himself. But it also shows that Antoninus was not the candidate of any political faction's and that he had not intrigued for the position himself.
Antoninus immediate plan was to flee to Sardinia but he wanted to finish some work for the Observance. His nephew came to meet him in the city where he was, Naples or Sienna, at the time. The nephew knew that the saint was planning to escape. A messenger who brought the letters from the Pope requiring that Antoninus come to the priory of Fiesole was happy to bring what he thought to be good news and was waiting for the tip when Antoninus told him that for such bad news he should not have any tip. It is also reported that Antoninus resisted so much being appointed that the pope had to threaten him with excommunication if he would not accept the responsibility and the honor which was so contrary to his humility.
The people of Florence upon receiving the news were full of joy about the nomination of Antoninus. They thought it was an excellent choice. He was a Florentine, one of their requirements. But they also were very happy to have such a holy man as their archbishop because he was famous all over Italy already for this holiness and they could share in this glory. Happy times when even when there were many scoundrels, holiness was appreciated to the point of raising someone to the level of celebrity! Cosmo of Medici, to whom Antoninus requested that he asked the pope not to charge him with the position, wrote two letters to the Pope: one official asking what Antoninus asked, that is to drop the nomination, the other, secretly congratulating the pope on his choice.
St. Antoninus was consecrated by a Dominican bishop. The ceremony was strictly simplified. He did away with the procession of horses. Someone had recommended that he should have a longer cappa to show his dignity. He refused. The tailor made it still two inches longer. St. Antoninus had it cut back to match that of the friars. One of his motivations was that each time he saw a poor friar without a good cappa, he would give him his own. It had to be of approved dimensions.
St. Antoninus as archbishop lived like a monk of the Observance. Florentines really did not understand him. The glory of the Renaissance was at high tide in this city of rich merchants which could afford its artifacts. They were a little shocked that religious should be poor, but that an archbishop was poor was beyond them. St. Antoninus divided his income in three, one for him, one for God and the third for the poor. He had no beautiful pieces of furniture, no horses and only six servants in his archepiscopal palace. He had only one mule and still it was on loan to him. On his death bed he remembered to return the mule to its owner. His cook tricked him about the nature of some foul to make sure that he would eat better. He skimped on sleep working late at night. When sleep would come over him, he would not go to bed but stayed where he was studying so that his soul could continue to work.
He had two vicars to administer the causes but when he discovered that their decisions were not always consistent he fired one.
He would pray the Office very regularly at home. But in the last years, learning that the prayers were really not well prayed at the Cathedral, he would go to the Cathedral to pray the office with the other clergy in residence there. He prayed constantly. His secretary complained about all the difficulties in managing a diocese. To which Antoninus said that only for a limited number of men, it is very difficult to keep internal calm and at the same time be diligent with works and responsibilities. He recommended that we all reserve an inner space where we can retreat to find calm and pray in peace. This is what St. Catherine called "the cell of her heart".
Talking of keys, he had kept the key to his material cell at San Marco. When some powerful people tried to make him change his mind on a matter, with the threat that they would strip him from his title of archbishop, he laughed at them telling them that there was nothing that he would appreciate more than a chance to return to his cell at San Marco. Similarly, there were several efforts in Rome to have him named Cardinal. He used all his eloquence to convince the pope and others that this dignity would be very dangerous to the salvation of his soul. Someone called him "saint" to his face, Antoninus responded: "saints live in heaven; we sinners we live on earth".
Antoninus also showed his humility by being very accessible to all. He did not want doors to stop people to come visit him. He would listen to visitors with great patience. One day a man came to ask him advice on several contracts to check whether they were licit. The archbishop asked that they be read to him and lowered his head as if sleeping. The reader read his documents and then told the archbishop to pay attention. Antoninus went over all the contracts and stated which were licit and which were not showing that he had not been sleeping. What is interesting in this scene is no so much that Antoninus was indeed alert through the whole reading but that the reader felt comfortable enough to tell the archbishop to pay attention.
Antoninus, in addition to this gentleness, was very slow to punish. He was more interested in reforming than in punishing. He would punish only when there was a hardened resistance to his efforts to reform. He was against the habit of the time to excommunicate people too easily. To show his priests how grave an excommunication was he took a piece of bread, pronounced the words of excommunication and the bread became black and shriveled, then he blessed the bread and it turned back white.
A woman who had three daughters was poor but pious; she was so poor that she worked on Sunday. The saint did not think that she was sinning but promised to help. He sent, due to some error, so much money that they stopped working, stopped praying and were all occupied with their clothes. The saint talked to them telling them that their new behavior was a lot worse than the first one.
This ability to see the way of justice in the most complicated affairs was what St. Antoninus was famous for and his advice so much in demand. Once he had made up his mind no circumstantial evidence would sway him. Someone who had a cause to present the archbishop went to see Cosmo de Medici to get his support. Cosmo told him: if you cause is just you will have justice from the archbishop, and with a just cause you have just as much influence on the archbishop as myself.
St. Antoninus was not politically correct. One day a noble man had many daughters to marry but he had no money for their dowry and went to see St. Antoninus for help. The archbishop told him to go pray to the sanctuary of the Annunciation. During his prayers there, the nobleman overheard two blind beggars bragging that the spot was very bountiful and that they had each a small fortune sewn in their clothing. The nobleman took the money and went to see the archbishop. Antoninus called the blind beggars and reproached them to be liars because they were begging under false pretense of being poor. He gave most of the money to the noble man to pay for his daughters' dowries with the agreement of the beggars.
St. Antoninus had a problem with the grounds around his archiepiscopal palace and had in torn of all the flowers and had wheat planted there to be harvested and given to the poor.
The charity of Antoninus had several opportunities to be exercised. The plague hit Florence in 1448 and 1449. An earthquake shook it in 1453, a cyclone in 1456 and then a famine. He could be seen with his mule loaded with some emergency supplies going through the streets of the city bringing to some rescue assistance, helping others to die in a Christian fashion.
There was so much panic and so much fear of contagion during the plague that government officials did not meet, parents would not take care of their children nor children their parents. Antoninus pronounced a balanced judgment on this: to flee to protect oneself is in itself a licit action; however to abandon someone who is contagious is a sin, an action against "charity, humanity, and Christian piety."
During the plague the government of the Republic of Florence had 3,000 florins disbursed to St. Antoninus with the mandate to do charity for the republic. This money was wisely spent to take care of the population by St. Antoninus.
The famine of 1456-1457 was accompanied by an economic crisis which increased the misery of the population. There was widespread unemployment. The cause of the crisis was the fear of new taxes. The government had to import wheat to stop speculation on prices and gave the archdiocese a sum of 500 florins to provide for the poor. It was said that "he made a great quantity of bread."
We can now take a better look at his work as a reformer. St. Antoninus wrote that the task of a bishop is threefold: " he must lead a holy life; he must exercise the authority which he is entrusted with; he must be useful to the Church". We had several examples of the holiness of Antoninus, let's look at how he met the other two requisites.
As a prior and vicar for the Observants he was a great reformer of the order. As soon as he was in charge as an archbishop, he became a reformer of the diocesan clergy and the laity.
He first called up all his priests and gave them a talk whose substance was: it is time to change and to renew yourself.
The clergy lived in a very unpriestly life. Many priests had rich clothing and were using make up on their faces and hair. Antoninus first had them all cut their hair. A young priest who was particularly scandalous, Antoninus cut his hair himself. He established very specific rules on clothing and luxury items. An historian, with the discretion of the time, just hinted on the habits of this depraved clergy with three words: women, bars and games.
Prayer was not in their habits. Many did not own a breviary. They were likely to sell it if they had any to raise some money. Antoninus gave the order that each priest had to have a breviary and on each breviary he wrote himself an entry with a number and he kept the registry of all these breviaries. Each time he would visit a parish he would ask that the breviaries of the priests be shown to him.
He would visit the Churches of his diocese but also those of the affiliated dioceses of Fiesole and of Pistoia. He came without warning because he did not want his visit to be the reason for the priest to prepare an expensive meal. He wanted some accounts. His did not want his visits to be expensive, although they were painful.
While he was particularly gentle for a first fault, he became increasingly severe with repeated errors. Mitissime ... durius ... durissime. "he knew so well to mix justice with charity that he did not seem to be severe but charitable so that many priests corrected themselves voluntarily".
The Bishop of Pistoia over which the archdiocese of Florence had authority, was headed by a Medici. Antoninus wanted to meet his bishops but they would not respond. The official response was that the Medici bishop was too busy. Antoninus wrote another letter saying that he was to exercise his right and would visit the diocese of Pistoia. Antoninus was not to abandon rights that he had received from Canon Law. In his letter, Antoninus, as a good jurist and a good negotiator, tells the Medici bishop that he had already visited all of the churches of his own diocese of Florence. After the visit of Pistoia, Antoninus writes to its bishop all the faults of the priests and encourages him to take measures about them and warns him that should he, Medici, not do anything, Antoninus would take the necessary measures himself. He further provided in the letter names of priests and specifics of faults to be corrected. Then he gave 60 days to Medici to comply under the threat of intervening himself. Then he explains that this letter was notarized and demands Medici to send him an written receipt of the letter.
The report in the appendix to the letter contains one of the most terrible indictment against the clergy of any times" writes an historian.
In view of the above, we can see the merit of Antoninus who was said that when he left his clergy the latter was "honest and amended". Antoninus had fought not to become an archbishop but although others only saw the glory in the appointment he saw the responsibilities and was not about to fail meeting them. He was methodical, thorough and when he started on a plan of reform nothing and no one could change his mind.
Antoninus was not afraid to go against secular authorities when it mattered to protect the rights of the Church either. The government of Florence had arrested two priests about a matter for which the secular authorities had no jurisdiction and brought them with much fanfare under escort to the archbishop. Antoninus charged to the palace of the government, stormed into their meeting room and told them that the excommunication for which they had been stricken could only be lifted by the pope himself. They immediately caved in.
The government also arrested the treasurer of the pope as a means to take revenge on the pope. Antoninus was also very determined to have them release the man under pain of excommunication.
With the laity Antoninus would intervene publicly only in cases involving public scandal. Games were everywhere and were corrupting society. For games lead to blasphemy, blasphemy to assaults either with fists or knives.
Secular authorities had tried to take steps to prevent abuses by regulating houses of games and by legislating the places and times when games could take place. But these laws were not followed. One day after Christmas, St. Antoninus was passing in front of one house where games were played. He stormed in, took the cards, took the dice, threw the tables up and chased everybody. This was totally unexpected and these people had such great admiration in the saint that they were immediately very ashamed.
A few years later, it was the turn of lotto: the whole population was involved to the point that work stopped. People gambled a lot of money. Antoninus stopped this fad dead in its track. In Rome where lotto was also a problem, the pope followed the example of the saint.
Through lotto, one priest made a lot of money. Antoninus heard of it. He took the money without a word and gave it to feed those who needed food.
Against usurers, Antoninus was to behave also severely. He enjoyed from the pope the title of :"Associate Judge and Apostolic Commissary specially sent by the Holy See to know all the cases of usury on the territory of Florence".
Black magic and other superstitions were also prevalent. One interesting story. St. Antoninus was served by a barber Maestro Pietro who, as many other barbers, worked also as physician. Antoninus liked the man and invited him to diner. He realized that this barber did not know a single word of Latin and he asked him where did he get his science of surgery. The barber innocently brought him a book of black magic. Antoninus had the book burned. In his "Confessionale" he says that to pretend to be a doctor without proper training is a mortal sin "because one puts the lives of other men in jeopardy".
Antoninus would not interfere in the political affairs of the republic. But in the political field also he insisted that the playing field be fair. Although citizens took a pledge to conduct secret votes, the party of the Medici was exercising bullying tactics so that people's votes would not be secret. Antoninus had often protested against this procedure to no avail. One day he posted a note on the door of the cathedral excommunicating anyone who would not use secret votes. That really got the powerful mad. He further wrote the bill with his own hand, "scripsit manu propria" because he knew that the power that be would lash out against the poor notary whom he would have directed to transcribe the letter. The reaction was terrible. But he prevailed.
The last years of St. Antoninus was just as edifying as the first. In 1446, pope Eugene IV, the same who had picked him to be archbishop requested that he come to Rome to help him through his last days. The pope confessed to and received the last rites from the hands of St. Antoninus. At the ensuing conclave to elect the new pope and which took place at the Minerva, St. Antoninus received some votes. But Nicholas V was elected. During his stay in Rome, St. Antoninus was the center of so much respect and attention, he was treated as a living saint. Many bishops and cardinals came to ask him advice on difficult matters.
In 1455, pope Nicholas died and was replaced by Pope Calixtus III. Antoninus was chosen by Florence as ambassador to the new pope. In 1453 he had already been chosen as ambassador to the ceremonies of coronation of Emperor Frederick III. At any rate, St. Antoninus spoke publicly at the ceremonies of installation of Calixtus where many people came specifically to listen to him. What St. Antoninus spoke about was the necessity to launch another crusade against the Turks who had taken Constantinople in 1453. St. Antoninus again here makes his one of the initiatives of St. Catherine who had insisted very much on taking up the crusades.
Calixtus died in 1458 without being able to raise the money for the crusades in spite of the very effective assistance of Antoninus in Florence.
Antoninus was, one more time, sent as ambassador of his republic to the new pope, Pius II, and his speech was again about the crusade, against the enemies from without, and the enemies from within, following here the purpose of Saint Catherine and the strategy of John Dominici.
Pius II, who was also from Siena and who canonized St. Catherine could only appreciate Antoninus purpose and selected him for a new college of reformers which he had created. Antoninus was the only non cardinal on this college and was chosen according to the bull, "because of his high moral valor and his great wisdom."
On the vigil of the feast of the Ascension, 1459, St Antoninus died among his Dominican brothers who had come to pray the office for these last days around his death bed. The saint's last words were: "Servire Deo regnare est", "to serve God is to reign." At his request, he was buried in the Church of the priory of San Marco where he still is laying in a glass-walled altar, visible and incorrupt. A huge crowd came to his funerals but the ceremony was not too ostentatious, as he would have liked it. The reigning pope Pius II immediately prepared the canonization proceeding, which the following pope Adrian VI was to pronounce when he, himself, died. St. Antoninus was canonized the same year of the death of that last pope, 1523, by the following pope, Clementus VII.
Let us take a look at his written legacy. He had written his Summa, called sometimes Summa Theologica, sometimes Summa Moralis which has still to be translated in English. He was prompted to do so by three objectives: 1- to give some materials to preachers, 2- a guide to confessors and 3- a rule of life to the faithful.
He was not ignorant of speculative theology but moral theology was really his chief interest. This master reformer was in the opinion that the only true reform is the interior moral reform of individuals, taken one by one. Much of this work is oriented towards this purpose of moral reform.
His "Confessionale volgare" the oldest is for the faithful. His "Curam illius habe", or "Medicina de la anima" in Italian is chiefly for confessors.
The "Defecerunt", another type of Confessionale, appears both in Latin and Italian.
Some of these moral analyses are written with great details for readers to make practical and immediate use of them. This richness of details also offers an incredible view in the life of his time. We learn that druggist do not always put in their drugs all the ingredients that the doctor ordered.
The Summa of Antoninus is considered as one of the most extensive works on moral theology. It often refers to the Summa of St. Thomas. But it is less precise, less orderly and less balanced than the Summa of St. Thomas because Antoninus wanted to leave a document which could be accessible to everybody. On the other hand it is much richer in details. Legal arguments are also utilized to a great extent in this Summa, and some versions were called "Juris Pontificii et caesari Summa."
St. Antoninuswe must also give him credit for thiswas a commentator and supporter of the method of St. Thomas before it was required by the Church and even by the Dominican order.
The strength of his own summa is in the examination of matters of law and presentation of economic theories.
To give an idea of his details: we can find in the chapter on the clothing of women a wealth of information. All the littlest details of women clothing are described with the utmost precision. The archbishop knows about coloring hair, hair pieces, long trains in dresses, etc.
The Summa is composed of 5 parts. In the last part, the author includes the story of the world starting from creation up and until his own times. This part was called the Chronicles. Saint Antoninus did not really see a difference between moral theology and history, history was but only an illustration of moral theology. Hence his purpose with the Chronicles: "that men learn from these things which are told in the histories to learn how to behave in life, that they find a source of hope in God and a means to attain happiness." The Chronicles are divided in three parts and twenty four titles, the last two being entirely made of hagiographies.
One historian states that what we are most interested in, in the historical work of St. Antoninus, was his opinion of the main actors of his time, especially men and women of the Church. Because it is there that his qualities of ponderation, insightfulness, his sense of nuances, his independence of judgment, even a slightly biting irony, can be found.
We do not have much of his preacher's work left, that is his sermons. As archbishop, at first, he would go preach in a different church every Sunday but found that he had limited success. He quickly resolved to spend his time more profitably.
With the "Opere a ben vivere" we have letters he wrote to many people on ways to apply its teachings. He find that he is sometimes slightly impatient with those who demand too much of his time with too many questions of details or are occupied by too many scruples. He says he never takes the discipline other than the one the good Lord sends him and that prudence is the mother of virtues on the path of the spiritual life.
Thus the story of his handling of the case of Masile Ficin. This man was a great lover of Plato. As a young man of great talent he is most adept at mixing religion and the poetic quality of the authors of antiquity. He even went a little too far a few times. But not too much and on the whole, towards the end of his life, was a good priest. Antoninus had changed the course of his interests when he accepted that this young seminarian study Plato, provided he would also study at the same time St. Thomas' Summa Contra Gentiles.
Let us take up the strands here and see why Antoninus is a theologian for our times. There is first a matter of style.
Let us we must take note, as I believe that St. Thomas did himself, that people interested in moral theology usually correspond to a specific psychological type. They tend to be observers of other men. Reformers on the other hand are doers but are not interested in being entangled in too many subtleties of moral theology or philosophy. It is very rare to see in the same person an ardent reformer being also a careful moral theologian as we find both in Antoninus.
That is exactly what our times is looking for however, this combination of a sophisticated ethicist and powerful reformer. We have many secular reformers around us today, and even reformers who, in the name of religion have brought us some bad perversion of Christianity, including liberation theology and creation theology. It is high time that these self-appointed reformers learn something about true ethics and moral theology.
On the other hand, we also need genuine reformers. The point of balance of a pendulum can be established whether the pendulum swings a little or swings widely. Antoninus achieved a sense of balance while swinging wildly between being a reformer and a moral theologian. He was not timid. We saw how he treated people gambling.
There was another bad habit among the laity. Idle, well dressed and vane young noblemen had taken the habit to come to Church to look at the pretty women. One day at Santa Maria de Fiore one pretty lady had a great success with the young men but she would not forget that day for another reason: the archbishop stormed over these young men with a whip to disband them. After that, these same young people would not linger long when they saw the archbishop.
He was very conscious that public sin should be handled publicly in a manner which jolted the intellect of the flock so that they got the point. Public sin is a public scandal but acceptance by the Church is even a greater scandal. The first scandal is a scandal of individual misbehavior. The second scandal comes from the fact that leaders of the Church, hence the Church itself, seems to grant approval for that particular sin. It involves on the part of Church leaders and of anyone who could speak against it a participation in that sin and a heresy as the resulting message is that Church teaching approves of that sin.
At Kennedy Onassis' burial mass her brother in Law, Teddy was speaking from the lectern. We all understood that Mrs. Onassis was living in an adulterous fashion with a married man. Ted Kennedy is one of the most virulent promoter into US laws of one of the greatest injustices of our times both in essence and in scope, the murder of innocent lives through abortion. He could be seen that day on TV throughout the world imparting his wisdom from the pulpit reserved to priests. This was a public scandal.
Several bishops wrote to President Clinton on the scandalous flow of rhetoric coming from the mouth of so-called Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. This is hopefully the beginning of a trend which needs go much further.
But our times, still as concerns style, also require a St. Antoninus.
One trait of St. Antoninus is his sense of balance. An historian, abbe Henri Bremond writes:" The sense of balance is not the main quality of humanists generally.... " but a sense of balance or of good measurement is precisely the chief quality of Saint Antoninus. Giovanni Dominici had led a violent crusade against secular authors of the antiquity. Antoninus generally supported the main effort of his teacher but added a great degree of balance to the issue. To the point that some historian have considered him as a protector of humanism.
It would take his sense of balance to point to people where elements of our culture go wrong. For all practical purposes some of us could be tempted for example to pronounce the judgment that all the rock and MTV culture needs be scrapped. My reading of St. Antoninus would be that he would patiently tell young people that music in itself is acceptable, even loud music, even music which is not contain much harmony. However he would point to the lyrics, the behavior of musicians and of the audience that needs to be reformed.
On the matter of conscience, Antoninus examined the problem of scruples. He mentions that when there is a doubt on the moral value of an action which practical attitude should be taken? Are we obliged to use the strictest interpretation, because it would be the surest approach? His answer: No. The surest approach is only a counsel, not a precept. If we were to follow precepts all people should chose the religious life as it is also the surest way to grow in charity. The moral situation in the world is so bad that the best reformers of history, if they have no sense of proportion, would self-destruct in our world, or would form a small band of fanatical followers which would have very limited effectiveness.
Antoninus was very benevolent in applying moral precepts. He considered that in all moral issues there is first a matter of rights. Among many issues, he was very careful to look at all business contracts that included interests on capital. One historian comments that "Saint Bernadin was much less tolerant about these contracts than Antoninus was."
Here we come to the contribution that St. Antoninus could make relative to content of habits to reform. Other than us would speak about the reform of religious and clergy of our times. We will consider only the issue of reform of the laity and especially in economic matters. As relates to the situation of the clergy, it seems that the situation was quite different that it is today.
But as it relates to content, St. Antoninus is most helpful in his examples and efforts to reform the laity and especially particularly unique in matters dealing with economic and business affairs.
We are quoting Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP: "In every way, therefore, commerce was taking up a dominating place in European politics, This S. Antonino could see as well as anyone else, but he saw also the terrible evils such an event was bound to bring in its train unless something was done to make the rule of the rich follow the laws of God. St. Francis Assisi had made his answer to the difficulty at an earlier stage by his chivalrous vows to "Lady Poverty." But that high ideal was ceasing to appeal to an age that had outgrown the poetry and charm of such a voice. Not the ideal of renunciation, not the Thebaid, but the right control of the springs of wealth could alone save the generations that were to follow from the disastrous effect of this overpowering domination... To set up the standard of Justice, to lay then foundations of society on the laws of God, to make men look at economics through the eyes of Faith was the high endeavor of this great man"
"Wealth of whatever kind is good, if its usefulness be only properly apprehended. For all these things were ordained by God for the service of man." Bede Jarrett understands with Antoninus that we cannot condemn consumerism as purely the consumption of wealth. The moral case needs to be a little more developed. Jarrett adds; "It is then, S. Antonino would say, the first principles of economic science to recognize that riches are not intended as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end."
In the words now of St. Antoninus: "the object of gain is that by its means man may provide for himself and others according to their state. The object of providing for himself and others is that they may be able to live virtuously. The object of virtuous life is the attainment of everlasting glory" (I. 1,3,ii).
So consumerism is an absence of purity, its an undue attachment for objects (similar to the undue attachment to pleasures of one's body which is the case of impurity in the strict sense) instead of considering these objects as means to an end.
For the case of consumerism which is all pervasive today, it is OK to go to malls and buy what we need and even take pleasure in doing it and we even do not have to buy the most shabby things as we need these objects to live "according to our state". On the other hand, believing that we live for the purpose of going to the mall and purchasing what may be the very same objects that we would have bought with a pure attitude, this is consumerism and is therefore not Christian.
A second matter to consider is the legitimacy of trade: trade is acceptable if it has a long term purpose "If the object of trade is principally cupidity, which is the root of all evils, then certainly trade itself is evil. But that trade (as natural and necessary for the needs of human life) is, according to Aristotle, in itself praiseworthy, which serves some good purpose, i.e. supplying the needs of human life. If therefore the trader seeks a moderate profit for the purpose of providing for himself and family according to the becoming fortunes of their state of life, or to enable him to aid the poor more generously, or even goes into commerce for the sake of the common good (lest, for example, the State should be without what its life requires), and consequently seeks a profit not as an ultimate end but merely as a wage of labor, he cannot in this case be condemned." (II.I. 16, ii, p. 250)
Thus riches, or owning riches, can be legitimate in the proper circumstances. Trade, or gaining riches, can also be legitimate in very similar circumstances. But a lot of people today would still feel unconcerned by the lessons of Antoninus, because they do not feel rich or do not feel motivated by trade, and I believe we can expand the saint's teaching just a bit farther.
All kind of riches, including a car or a personal computer are more than things we own, there are also, potentially, tools. Not everyone feel concerned that they should use similar tools to conduct trade. However, a car can be used to drive an old person to do her marketing or just to take that person out for a few hours.
A computer can be used to write letters to congressmen to support the teachings of the Church. Most resources belong to the material world. We transform them in resources when we find a finality for them, a plan, an objective which is, at first of the domain of the intellectual. Dominicans especially should insist on the necessity for rational men to exercise their mind and see in the numerous, complex and beautiful objects which surround us as many tools or instruments to attain worthy goals, and if possible to chose goals which may have a direct connection with the spiritual life.
The things we own these days have extended our potential for action, and hence for good actions, tremendously. Instead of bemoaning consumerism and preaching a poverty which can only be relative, reformers of our time should lead other men and women with the enthusiasm of heart and confidence of mind which comes from a familiarity with modern resources in setting generous goals which will help us individually and as communities and nations to better bring about the Kingdom of God.
St. Antoninus has also left us a wealth of specific teachings to bring the rule of God to the field of management, which the institute which we name for his sake is dedicated to learn and promote. This is an whole other presentation. Directly, however, this great saint is offering all of us a unique way to look at our living environment and see hundreds of tools which we can use to better serve and praise God. He is certainly a theologian for our times.