Saint of the Day, May 9, 1968
Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Antoninus, bishop, and confessor. He fought against the Renaissance in his diocese of Florence. A great friend of Fra Angelico, he was indicated by him for this diocese.
Now comes Rohrbacher’s biography of St. Anthony:
“Anthony was called Antoninus because of his small stature. He was born in 1389, the son of a notable of Florence, and distinguished himself early in his studies by his unusual intelligence.
“He soon wanted to enter the Dominican Order because of the holiness of its members and the influential preaching of Blessed John Dominici. Antoninus went to this preacher to ask for the habit. Finding him too young and weak, Dominici promised to help him as soon as he memorized the work titled Gratian’s Decrees.”
Gratian’s Decrees is a Civil Code!
“To the Dominican’s astonishment, before a year had passed, the boy returned; he had learned the work by heart and was admitted at the age of sixteen.
“An exemplary religious, he later became Prior of the Dominicans of Tuscany and Naples. In 1445, Pope Eugene IV was looking for an archbishop for Florence. A Dominican friar and painter, later known as Fra Angelico, indicated Antoninus as a model of virtue. The pope accepted his suggestion and nominated Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence. According to custom, the saint entered the city with magnificent pomp; however, he suppressed all things profane from that solemnity.
“He displayed on the episcopal throne all the virtues of a true pastor. He worked so zealously to rectify public scandals that Pope Pius II chose him to reform the Roman Curia. However, God called him to Himself before he could begin this great work. It was the year 1459.”
Here is another excerpt:
“Saint Antoninus, a Dominican, and a great orator, was Archbishop of Florence. His holiness and culture brought the grandees of the time to consult him, which earned him the nickname Antoninus, the Counselor. His life motto was: ‘To serve God is to reign.’ Cosimo de Medici held him in such high regard that he claimed that the city of Florence owed everything to the holy archbishop’s prayers. Pope Nicholas V said he would not hesitate to canonize Antoninus while still living.
“Overburdened with work, the saint did not abandon his customary prayers for a single day, nor did he ever lose his serenity. Francis Castillo, his secretary, once told him that bishops were pitiable if they lived under so many huge responsibilities like him. Antoninus replied: ‘No work will prevent us from enjoying inner peace if we reserve in our hearts a retreat where we can be alone and always free from the world’s embarrassment.’”
It seems there is a striking analogy between this life and Saint Gregory Nazianzen’s, which I dealt with yesterday. Byzantium was one of those great cities that illuminated history with a unique tinge of soul, but the same can be said – perhaps a fortiori – of Florence.
Florence, the city of flowers, flourished precisely when Italian history was at one of its turning points, taking new directions and turning a historical page. The reason is that Italy’s medieval tradition was behind it, and Reinassance winds were already blowing. However, in that situation, Italian opinion could still be moved by great saints fighting the Renaissance head-on. And Florence was the very core of the Renaissance.
It was the city where the greatest Renaissance talents radiated all over Italy and realized extraordinarily precious works of art.
Florence was a metropolis of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany – it was not a secondary city as it is today. It had a dynasty linked by various marital ties – the Medici—one of Europe’s most powerful and important families—connected with the house of France and produced more than one pope. At that time, Florence was the world’s light, and everything that happened there had a special emphasis, importance, and meaning.
You see in this situation the action of Providence by placing in that city a saint—our recollected, diaphanous, and supernatural Fra Angelico, himself beatified. He is Blessed Fra Angelico of Fiesole.
All of you have leafed through albums by Blessed Fra Angelico. But to have a lively idea of his art, look at those angels around Our Lady’s statue in our headquarters’ Reign of Mary Hall to see how delicate, candid, and, I would almost say, how saintly naïve his talent was! Well, then. That same man showed sagacity and insight when appointing a saint to be Archbishop of Florence. Here we see a saint selecting another saint.
Saint Antoninus was formed by another saint, Blessed Dominici, so we see the context of the work of Divine Providence in Florence. At the same time that It allowed Renaissance hydras to spew all their fire there, it raised saints and geniuses like Fra Angelico to flourish inside Florence to dispute the influence of evil and try to counteract Renaissance fires.
So we see our Antoninus arrive as Bishop of Florence. Can you imagine, if Lisio artisans still produce such magnificent velvets and damasks in Florence today, what would have been the robes of the personages who participated in the procession of Saint Antoninus when he took possession of the city’s Archiepiscopal See! You can imagine the pomp from which he removed everything profane, but it was still an excellent pomp for the little Antoninus to take over the See of Florence!
The text does not tell us, but he did an enormous amount of work to promote the austerity of manners and fought the influence of the Renaissance head-on. Several historians of that period recognize that because of his presence in the See of Florence, the Renaissance movement lost some of its vigor and speed as it spread throughout the city and from there across Italy.
Consider what a saint can do: one of the Renaissance’s most eminent figures – not to say one of the most reprehensible – Cosimo de Medici, says that Florence owed everything to Saint Antoninus’ prayers! How open to him people still were!
You may ask: “But what does this work of Providence mean? That saint passes through this place like a bright meteor but goes away; he slows down the course of events but finally does not prevent the catastrophe. What is the great historical significance of Providence placing Saint Antoninus in Florence?”
A zealous person would never ask this question because having contained the Renaissance for a while suffices to render great glory to God Our Lord.
A saint—I believe it was St. Ignatius of Loyola—for the sake of God’s glory, he said he would spend his whole life struggling and suffering to prevent a low-life woman condemned to hell from committing one more mortal sin, and he would consider it well worth it. So you realize that stemming the tide of sin in the Renaissance means a lot to anyone who loves the glory of God.
There is yet another aspect: Saint Antoninus undoubtedly solidified in Florence many good spiritual roots, and just like Blessed Angelic, Blessed Dominici, Saint Antoninus, there likely existed other souls who had an obligation to continue their work and—naturally supported by the Papacy—continue the offensive against the Renaissance. Here one can see that the work of Providence certainly was not completed by human labor. Those Saint Antoninus called to continue his vocation did not correspond or did not have the necessary support, and Saint Antoninus’s work collapsed.
Now consider how crucial the role played by one soul is. You have a city that radiates sin to the whole world but is simultaneously so touched by talented people that if the souls called upon to carry the torch of the anti-Renaissance reaction there had been faithful, the city could have converted. Had this city been converted, the history of the world could have been different. So we have this result: Florence could have changed the history of the world; some souls close to Saint Antoninus could have changed the history of Florence.
Therefore, if the world plunged into the chasm of the Renaissance—and from there into the French Revolution and communism—it was due to some weak souls who lacked generosity and said “no” or an incomplete “yes” to Providence’s invitation. The history of the world did not change because of these souls. Let no one tell us that happened because of the incredible talent of this or that Renaissance man or woman. God does not run away from His work; He does not back down before this or that great talent. The key question is for Providence to find that those It has chosen as Its instruments are faithful. If they were faithful, no one would prevent the plans of Providence from being executed.
Therefore, dear friends, we must ask ourselves: are we not such souls? Are we, not souls, called to be of unblemished fidelity? Doesn’t a small lack of generosity on our part sometimes cause a notable setback in the plans of Providence? Within our Group, we sometimes can do good to this or that soul. In turn, that soul would do good to another soul, and that soul would do good to another soul. An internal apostolate could reinvigorate the Group in many ways, and it would be a blow to the adversary! I wonder if it isn’t true that something like that often is not done because one fails to be patient with a person, letting that apostolate go down the drain. Sometimes that happens for a pittance, yet infidelity at such a time makes the apostolate go down the drain.
We could ask ourselves if there are times when we could do an apostolate and don’t. In that case, isn’t it true that our action could influence the Group’s history and many other things? That is very true!
So we must turn to Saint Antoninus and ask that he, placed by Providence in such a key situation, take pity on us who are in an even more key situation than his and pray for us to follow his example and are entirely and absolutely faithful to the undeniably precious apostolate that Our Lady has placed in the hands of those who must wage the Counter-Revolution.
Editor’s Note: Here, Prof. Plinio refers to members of the group he founded, the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, but the principle naturally applies to all Catholics, whether ecclesiastics or laypeople.
Saint Antoninus’s relic in the Salviati Chapel of St. Mark’s Church, Florence (photo: Wikipedia por I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5)