Beyond the Written Word: Preaching and Theology in the Florence of Archbishop Antoninus 1427-1459.
St. Antoninus (Antonino Pierozzi, 1389-1459), an acolyte of the fiery Observant Dominican preacher Giovanni Dominici, who became a powerful archbishop of Florence (1446-1459) and one of Renaissance Italy's leading reformers and moralists, has never been comfortably situated by historians in the culture of Quattrocento Florence. Though his biography has been written a score of times, and the popularity of his Confessionale is well known, his influential but daunting four volume Summa Theologica has attracted only limited forays on subjects like painting and economics. It has generally been easier to link Antoninus to Dominici and to caricature him as a reactionary humanist-baiter, or to dismiss him as a Thomistic clone who time anachronistically warped into the midst of the Florentine Renaissance.
Happily, Peter Howard has set about rectifying these distortions by tackling the Summa, written between 1440 and 1454, and reading it against Antoninus's earlier 1427 Lenten sermons. Drawing on Brian Stocks notion of "textual communities," and underscoring Antoninus's essential vocation as a preacher, he argues that the Summa should be approached as a "record of public, oral events" in Florentine civic culture (71). Reflecting views that Antoninus originally set forth to a broad lay public in his sermons, then elaborated for use by subsequent preachers and confessors, the Summa is at once "the encapsulation of a medieval tradition" of preaching and teaching aids (10), and a social document revealing Florentine practices, mores, and strictures.
The Summa came out in eighteen editions down to 1600: through Trent, Antoninus was a leading Catholic authority on matters ranging from simony and excommunication to marriage and usury. Howard's concordance of the dozen sections that circulated separately as treatises (21), together with Stefano Orlandi's inventory of Antoninus's sermons (Bibliografla Antoniniana. Vatican City: Tip. Poliglotta Vaticana, 1962; 106-156), will enable historians to track the widely-circulated views of this leading casuist and ecclesiastical judge. Guided by Aquinas, and relying heavily on John of Freiburg, Antoninus drew on a wide array of canonists and summists, through them appreciated the classics, and took into account contemporary writers ranging from Catherine of Siena and Lorenzo Ridolfi to Petrarch and Bruni. Whether "no significant medieval theologian" was lacking among his sources (44) depends on how one appraises Ockham and Wycliff.
Antoninus approached preaching as a skill and a performative art: the preacher represented Christ (96), his surest sources were the scriptures (121 -126), and attending sermons was more important than receiving the eucharist (98). In sermons and Summa alike he marshalled the enabling languages of auctoritates to develop his own views, like a painter deploying old forms to create new images (84, 157). Howard credibly dates his Lenten sermons to 1427 (13342), a critical year in Florence's fractious civic politics, when his Thomistic appeal to the ben comune was especially welcome to civic authorities. And he meticulously analyzes the structure of representative sermons on discord, pride, and prudence, to illustrate Antoninus's preacherly use of auctoritates, distinctiones, exempla, and mneumonic devices, both in his psalmedic sermons on virtue and (especially) vice that evolved into the fourth and second volumes of the Summa, and in his sermons ad statu that underlie the third tome on the trades, professions, and ecclesiastical offices. Topics like avarice and fornication may seem conventional, but Howard argues that their contexts made them timely and relevant, just as the creation of the Florentine Catasto did Masaccio's 1427 fresco of The Tribute Money (171-172).
At the center of Antoninus's thought was a "civic theology" (199) based on "the interconnectedness of the heavenly and earthly cities" (201). His vision of the ben comune was tempered by a tolerance of social stratification, but also by an insistance on the moral obligations of rich to poor, powerful to humble; his view of "the sacramentality of the unity within the church" (202) favored hierarchy. Howard reiterates arguments first developed by Raoul Morcay (Saint Antonin. Paris: Gabalda, 1914; 296-319) and, recently, Arthur Field, to refute the charge of Antoninus's hostility to Ficino and Platonism: scholars have been oddly reluctant to let this straw dog go. He suggests that Antoninus may simply have been more attuned to the civic ideals of Bruni and Salutati (256). He favored a mixture of the vita activa and contemplativa (243), but declined to take sides between humanists and scholastics (238). Eschewing speculative theology, his pragmatic mendicant approach to moral and social issues itself met the humanist demand for relevant Christian scholarship (250).
Social historians may not be convinced that Howard has located his saint as concretely in his social body as his invocations of Stock's oral paradigm seem to promise. Howard eschews Daniel Lesnick's class-based contextualization of Dominican preaching, and the details of civic life never quite frame his Antoninus as directly as they do Donald Weinstein's Savonarola. But students of David L. D'Avray and medieval preaching techniques will find much of interest. Howard promises that this is but a prolegamenon to a fuller study of the Summa; meantime, he has opened up a promising avenue into it, and given Antoninus a fresh contemporary voice.
Washington and Lee University