Archbishop of Florence, founder of the Convent of San Marco in that city, 15th century reformer, pastoral theologian, economist, sociologist, historian; b. Florence, March 1389; d. May 2, 1459.
Life. When but a delicate youth of 15 years, Antoninus Pierozzi was inspired by the preaching of Bl. John Dominici to apply for admission to the Dominican Order. For several years Dominici had been the idol of his native Florence and for 15 years the leader in Italy of the reform movement within his Order initiated by Bl. Raymond of Capua, Master General (1380–99) and former director of St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380). Dominici accepted the frail youth a year later and sent him to Cortona for his novitiate. There Antoninus made profession in February 1406. In that same year he became the first religious to be assigned to a convent of strict observance, dedicated to St. Dominic and erected by Dominici in Fiesole. In his formative years Antoninus was grievously troubled by the general corruption in the Church and society, but especially by the turbulent events in the closing years of the Western Schism. Dominici was called to Rome shortly after the election of Gregory XII (1406) to become cardinal archbishop of Ragusa. Then the friars at Fiesole lost their convent and fled to Foligno because they refused obedience to Alexander V elected in the pseudo-Council of Pisa (1409). In consequence of these disturbances, Antoninus had a teacher for but a short time and in logic only. He was dependent upon his own inclinations and industry in pursuing his studies. He was ordained at Cortona in 1413.
He quickly became prominent. He was prior at Cortona in 1418, at Fiesole in 1421 when the friars there recovered their convent, at Naples in 1428, and at the Convent of S. Maria sopra Minerva in Rome in 1430. After the election of Eugene IV (1431) Antoninus became auditor general of the Rota, a tribunal that in his day had jurisdiction over all ecclesiastical trials in Christendom and all civil cases in the Papal States. He was also vicar-general of Dominican convents of strict observance in Italy from 1432 to 1445. Since this office was under the immediate jurisdiction of the master general of the Order, it served a twofold purpose: it gave protection and sanction to the reform, and it preserved the unity of the Order.
Antoninus returned to Florence in 1436 or 1437, and with the aid of the despotic but munificent Cosimo di Medici, he established the Convent of San Marco. Even after the lapse of centuries, San Marco is one of the artistic glories of Florence. As theologian, Antoninus took part in the Council of Florence (1439), and as prior conjointly of San Marco's and of San Domenico's in Fiesole, he was host to other Dominican theologians summoned to the council by Eugene IV. As a token of esteem, the pope with the whole college of cardinals assisted at the consecration of the Church of San Marco in 1443. The following year the famed library of San Marco was made available to scholars. It was probably the first public library in Europe.
The austere simplicity of the buildings, illuminated by the delicate frescoes of Bl. Fra Angelico in the convent, is a fitting monument to the spirit of Antoninus and his influence on Florentine society. He had no interest in the new learning, but by word and example he raised the hearts of his brethren to the heights of the Dominican ideal. The office of preaching raised him above and beyond the narrow horizons of those immersed in the study of ancient pagan lore. He deserved to be called "Antoninus the Counselor," for he was sought by all classes as confessor and director of souls. Though a simple friar, he was commissioned by Eugene IV to supervise the creation of societies to bring children together for instruction in Christian doctrine. His compassion for the degraded poor, for the victims of political strife, of the forces of nature, of plague, and of pestilence, inspired him to form an association of charitable citizens, known as the Buonomini di San Martino. It was somewhat similar to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in modern times but had a more extensive field of action. It is still in existence.
Antoninus's nomination by Eugene IV to the archiepiscopal See of Florence brought joy to his native city. He was consecrated in the Church of San Domenico in Fiesole on March 12, 1446, and took possession of his see the next day in utmost simplicity. From the episcopal palace he removed all that smacked of luxury and pomp, for he was determined to continue living as a poor friar. The revenues of his see were spent upon the poor. By his visitation of parishes, he remedied abuses of long standing: he insisted upon the preaching of the Gospel, services in the churches, ministrations to the faithful, observance of Canon Law. He had the churches repaired and made worthy of divine worship. His reputation for prudence and justice made him arbiter in party strife, and his tact brought him papal commissions to institute reforms in religious communities canonically exempt from his jurisdiction.
His pastoral labors were frequently interrupted. He was summoned to Rome by Eugene IV to take part in the negotiations terminating in the Concordat of Princes, and he assisted at the deathbed of that pontiff. In the conclave that followed, in which the humanist Tommaso Parentucelli was elected, Antoninus received several votes. The new pope, Nicholas V, desired to retain him in the Roman Curia, but Antoninus was able to evade what might have led to the cardinalate. He headed the Florentine embassies to the papal court of Calixtus III and Pius II, and by the latter pontiff he was appointed to serve on the committee of cardinals charged with the proposed reform of the Roman Court. When Antoninus died, Pius II, then in the vicinity, came to Florence to preside at the obsequies. His native city gave testimony of the veneration in which he was held by placing his statue in her exclusive hall of fame—the only statue of a priest in the Uffizi Palace.
Writings. Reform had been the keynote of his life and labors; it was also the motive that inspired him to write. He humbly claimed to be only a compiler, not an author; yet he was proclaimed to be among the Doctors of the Church in the bull of his canonization (1523), though the title has never been conferred upon him.
His first work, which really consists of three distinct treatises, has been called the Confessionale (1472, 1473, 1475). The 102 incunabula editions attest its importance and practicality. The Omnium mortalium cura (1475), written in Italian to help the faithful in approaching the tribunal of Penance, was a guide to Christian living. The Defecerunt (1473) and the Curam illius habe (1472) constituted manuals for priests in the administration of the Sacrament of Penance.
The Summa Theologica (1477), more properly called the Summa Moralis, is the work upon which his theological fame chiefly rests. There were no less than 20 complete editions in four large folio volumes, excluding the reprint in 1958 of the 1740 Verona edition. The first part, reflecting the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, treats of the soul and its faculties, the passions, sin, law; the second deals with the various kinds of sin; the third is concerned with the different states and professions in life whether social, political, religious, or ecclesiastical; and it has added treatises on the pope, the councils, and censures. The fourth part is devoted to the cardinal and theological virtues and to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This Summa is probably the first—certainly the most comprehensive—treatment from a practical point of view of Christian ethics, asceticism, and sociology in the Middle Ages. It gives to Antoninus the place of honor in moral theology between St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
The Chronicon (1440–59)—an episodical history of the world in three folio volumes—was designed to illustrate from the past how men should live in this world. It is filled with borrowings from the Scriptures, lives of the saints, extracts from the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and decrees of popes and councils— the whole forming a practical library for preachers and pastors of souls.
The Sermones of Antoninus remain unpublished. The Opera a ben vivere, a treatise on the Christian life, was not printed until 1858.
Feast: May 10.
Bibliography: r. morÇay, Saint Antonin, fondateur du Couvent de Saint-Marc, archevêque de Florence, 1389–1459 (Paris 1914). b. jarrett, S. Antonino and Medieval Economics (St. Louis 1914). j. b. walker, The "Chronicles" of Saint Antoninus: A Study in Historiography (CUA Stud. in Med. Hist. 6; Washington 1933). w. t. gaughan, Social Theories of Saint Antoninus from His Summa Theologica (CUA Stud. in Sociol. 35; Washington 1951). r. de roover, San Bernardino of Siena and Sant'Antonino of Florence; the Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages (Boston 1967). g. agresti, L'arcivescovo dei ronzini: vita di S. Antonino da Firenze (Genoa 1989). e. maurri, Un fiorentino tra Medioevo e Rinascimento: Sant'Antonino (Turin 1989). p. f. howard, Beyond the Written Word: Preaching and Theology in the Florence of Archbishop Antoninus (Florence 1995).
[j. b. walker]