Today is the feast day of Saint Antoninus. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Prosper Gueranger 1870
The Order of St. Dominic, which has already presented to our Triumphant Jesus Peter the Martyr and Catharine the seraph of Sienna, sends him, today, one of the many Bishops trained and formed in its admirable school. It was in the 15th Century, a period when sanctity was rare on the earth, that Antoninus realized, in his own person, the virtues of the greatest Bishops of ancient times. His apostolic zeal, his deeds of charity, his mortified life, are the glory of the Church of Florence, which was confided to his care. Heaven blessed that illustrious City with temporal prosperity on account of its saintly Archbishop. Cosmas of Medici was frequently heard to say, that Florence owed more to Antoninus than to any other man. The holy prelate was also celebrated for his great learning. He defended the Papacy against the calumnies of certain seditious Bishops in the Council of Basle: and, at the General Council of Florence, he eloquently asserted the truth of the Catholic Faith, which was assailed by the abettors of the Greek Schism. How beautiful is our holy Mother the Church, that produces such children as Antoninus, and has them in readiness to uphold what is true, and withstand what is false!
She thus speaks the praises of today’s Saint:
Antoninus was born at Florence, of respectable parents. He gave great promise, even when quite a child, of his after sanctity. Having at the age of sixteen, entered the Religious Order of Friars Preachers, he at once became an object of admiration, by the practice of the highest virtues. He declared ceaseless war against idleness. After taking a short sleep at night, he was the first at the Office of Matins; which over, he spent the remainder of the night in prayer, or reading, or writing. If at times, he felt himself oppressed with unwelcome sleep, owing to fatigue, he would lean his head, for a while, against the wall, and then, shaking off the drowsiness, he resumed his holy vigils with renewed earnestness.
Being a most rigid observer of Religious discipline, he never ate flesh-meat, save in the case of severe illness. His bed was the ground, or a naked board. He always wore a hair shirt, and sometimes an iron girdle next to his skin. He observed the strictest chastity during his whole life. Such was his prudence in giving counsel, that he went under the name of Antoninus the Counsellor. He so excelled in humility, that, even when Prior and Provincial, he used to fulfill, with the utmost self-abjection, the lowest duties of the Monastery. He was made Archbishop of Florence by Pope Eugenius the Fourth. Great was his reluctance to accept such a dignity: nor would he have consented, had it not been out of fear of incurring the spiritual penalties wherewith he was threatened by the Pope.
It would be difficult to describe the prudence, piety, charity, meekness and apostolic zeal, wherewith he discharged his episcopal office. He learned almost all the sciences to perfection, and, what is surprising, he accomplished this by his own extraordinary talent, without having any master to teach him. Finally, after many labours, and after having published several learned books, he fell sick. Having received the Holy Eucharist and Extreme Unction, embracing the Crucifix, he joyfully welcomed death, on the sixth of the Nones of May (May 10th), in the year 1459. He was illustrious for the miracles which he wrought during his life, as also for those which followed after his death. He was canonized by Adrian the Sixth, in the year of our Lord 1523.
We give thanks to our Risen Jesus for the sublime gifts bestowed by Him on thee, O Antoninus! When He confided a portion of his Flock to thy care, He enriched thee with the qualities of a Shepherd according to His own heart. He knew that He could trust to thy love; He therefore gave thee charge over His Lambs. The age in which thou livedst, was one of great disorder, and one that prepared the way for the scandals of the following Century; and yet thou wast one of the brightest lights the Church has ever had. Florence still cherishes thy memory, as the man of God and the father of thy country; aid her by thy prayers. The preachers of heresy have entered within her walls; watch over the field whereon thine own hands sowed the good seed; let not the cockle take root there. Thou wast the defender of the Holy See; raise up in unhappy Italy, imitators of thy zeal and learning. Thou hadst the happiness of witnessing, under the grand cupola of thy Cathedral, the reunion of the Greek Church with Rome; thou hadst a share in bringing about this solemn reconciliation, which, alas! was to be of short duration. Pray, O holy Pontiff, for the descendants of them that were faithless to the promise sealed on the very Altar, whereon thy hands so often offered up the Sacrifice of unity and peace.
Disciple of the great Dominic, inheritor of his burning zeal, protect the holy order which he founded, and of which thou art so bright an ornament. Show that thou still lovest it. Give it increase, and procure for its children the holiness that once worked such loveliness and fruit in the Church. Holy Pontiff, be mindful of the Faithful, who implore thine intercession at this period of the Year.
Thy eloquent lips announced the Pasch, so many years, to the people of Florence, and urged them to share in the Resurrection of our Divine Head. The same Pasch, the immortal Pasch, has shone once more upon us. We are still celebrating it; oh! pray that its fruits may be lasting in us, and that our Risen Jesus, Who has given us Life, may, by His grace, preserve it in our souls for all eternity. (2)
by Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The celebrated St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, was born in 1389, in the city of that name. He was the only son of very pious parents, and hence was educated with great solicitude. In baptism he received the name of Antony, but on account of the smallness of his stature, he was called Antoninus or little Antony. In childhood he was so pious that he was entitled the little Saint. He never left the house except to go to school or to Church. In the latter he was always found kneeling, generally before the statue of the blessed Virgin, to whom he was deeply devoted, and to whom he ascribes the grace he received from God to lead a pure life. He early desired to enter the Order of the Dominicans, but the prior, on account of his youth and great delicacy of health, hesitated to admit him, yet did not wish to hurt him by a rufusal. He told him, that when he had learned by heart the Ecclesiastical Law, which he studied at that time, he should present himself again, and he would be admitted. After the lapse of a year, Antoninus returned, saying, that he had studied his task and hoped now to receive the habit. The Father Provincial could hardly credit the assertion of Antoninus, examined him, and found that he had indeed spoken the truth and knew the whole Canonical Law by heart. As this was a convincing proof not only of the ability of the youth, but also of his divine vocation, he was gladly received into the Order.
Antoninus soon became a most perfect model of virtue. He was always the first and the last in the choir, and passed the greater part of the night in prayer and devout reading, only when sick did he partake of meat. His bed was a board, and not until he was far advanced in years did he sleep upon a straw mattress. He never divested himself of his garment of hair cloth, and although his constitution was weak and sickly, he never relaxed in his austerity towards himself, not even when he had become Archbishop. While still very young, he was appointed, on account of his great ability and virtues, Prior of monasteries, and later he presided over the Roman and Neapolitan Provinces as provincial, until he was chosen by the Pope Archbishop of Florence. The Saint was deeply grieved when he heard the news, and seeking to flee, he was and taken to Sienna. He used all possible means to avoid this dignity, but he was obliged to obey, as the Pope threatened him with excommunication. Hence it was with weeping eyes that he received the Episcopal consecration; praying to God: “Lord, it is known to thee how unwillingly I take this burden upon myself. As I am, however, compelled to obey Thy Vicar, I pray Thee to rule me also, that I may conform my life to Thy holy will, and do all that Thou demandest of me.” He commenced his new functions by the regulation of his residence, which wore the appearance of a cloister rather than that of the palace of a bishop. His household consisted of eight persons, to whom he gave large salaries, while he himself lived no better than he had done in the convent; No mendicant was sent from his door without alms, and he also founded an institution where those might receive aid who were ashamed to beg. His private income he used for the indigent, as he said that it did not belong to him but to the poor.
One day, walking through the city, he saw many angels upon the roof of a poor little house. Going into it, he found a respectable widow with three daughters, who lived by the labor of their hands, but who earned scarcely enough to clothe themselves decently and who often had nothing to eat. The Saint not only gave them liberal alms, but thereafter came frequently to their relief. It happened however, that after a considerable time the Saint, when passing the same house, instead of angels, saw devils upon the roof, who seemed to enjoy themselves greatly. He went in and saw mother and daughters not occupied with works, but with visitors and frivolous amusements. He likewise found divers books which served to entertain them. The Saint, from this, easily concluded what the apparition signified. He reprimanded them severely, and admonishing them to return to their former industry, was in future, more circumspect in distributing his charities. Kind as the holy bishop was to the poor, he was also watchful and unwearied in the duties which his functions imposed upon him. Every moment left to him from his prayers and his short rest he devoted to them. He preached sometimes in one place, sometimes in another; and suffered no irreverence, no indecorously arrayed women in the church. Many prevailing abuses, among others playing at dice, he abolished altogether. He lent a most patient ear to the complaints and demands of those under him. Every one had access to him, and no one left him uncomforted. His zeal to keep his flock constant in their faith was truly heroic. He was one day exhorted to relax somewhat in his labors lest his health should suffer. “Prelates of the Church,” replied he; “must not think of themselves but of the welfare of those in their charge.”
Being at length exhausted from work, he was seized by a slow fever in the 70th year of his age. Feeling that his end was approaching he divided all he had among the poor, so that when the expenses of his funeral were paid, four ducats were all that was left. Having most devoutly received the holy sacraments, he suddenly cried aloud: “To serve God is to reign.” Some of the Canons read a part of the daily prayers of the Church, and the Saint responded as well as he could. At length, kissing and pressing the image of the crucified Christ most fervently to his breast, he expired on the night of Ascension Day, in the year of our Lord 1459. The Almighty had bestowed upon him the gift of prophecy and also the power to restore the sick, and to cleanse man and dwellings from evil spirits. To a surgeon, who one day complained to him that his house was greatly disturbed by evil spirits, the Saint replied that a certain superstitious book which he kept was the cause of it, and advised him to burn it; this was done and all disturbance ceased. Pope Pius II., who was in Florence at the time of the Saint’s death, attended his funeral and Nicholas V. hesitated not to say that he believed St. Antoninus had as well deserved to be counted among the Saints during his life, as others whom he had solemnly canonized after their dealth: so great was the estimation in which the bishop was held while he lived. (2)
When his death occurred, 2 May, 1459, Pius II gave instructions for the funeral, and presided at it eight days later. He was canonized by Adrian VI, 31 May, 1523. (4)
Image: Busto di sant’antonino pierozzi (6)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff
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