The World is a Book...
In 1436 he founded the famous Priory of San Marco in Florence under the patronage of Cosimo de Medici and under his leadership, Blessed Fra' Angelico decorated the priory with his outstanding frescoes. Fra Antoninus' wisdom and pastoral zeal made him a natural choice for Archbishop of Florence in 1446 and he immediately undertook the reform of his diocese.
He set about to educate the clergy and produced a widely used manual for confessors, a Summa Historiale, describing the scholastic method used to educate Dominicans since the time of St Thomas Aquinas and a highly regarded Summa Moralis which treated issues of moral theology.
St Antoninus was assiduous in prayer and also noted for his service to the poor and established a society under the patronage of St Martin of Tours to assist him in this work of almsgiving. As such another Vespers antiphon says: "He was a father for the poor, eyes for the blind, and feet for the lame." As for his charity and love for the poor, his biographer testified that "each day his house was crowded with a great number of pious folk, some of whom received alms, for he was accustomed to distribute all his property to the poor."
People also came from near and far for his advice and it is reported that men and women, high-born and humble alike came to him to seek his counsel on important matters such that he was called 'Brother Antoninus, Counsellor'. Finally, a third Vespers antiphon says that "As death drew near he said with joy ' To serve God is to reign!' " He died in 1459 and was canonized in 1523.
St Antoninus was certainly noted as a wise counsellor and teacher. Thus it is worth noting where such knowledge of divine things and of the moral life comes from: in his greatest work, the Summa Moralis, St Antoninus wrote:
"The world is a book written both within and without, which instructs us about wisdom. It instructs us about the wisdom of the divine mystery, as the Letter to the Romans says: 'Since the creation of the world the invisible attributes of eternal power can be perceived in what God has made.' It also instructs us about wisdom in action, as we can read in the book of Job: 'Ask the beasts to teach you, and the fish of the sea to inform you.' For everyone can perceive how God provides for creation. God never abandons it, continues to communicate with it, makes the earth and trees fruitful, is never idle, and offers countless testimonies to us concerning the qualities necessary for living well. And so 'in wisdom you have made them all' to give us wisdom."
Therefore, St Antoninus proclaims one of the key themes of an authentic Dominican spirituality and tradition: openness to the world and a profound affirmation of the goodness of Creation. If we wish to follow him in holiness, love for the poor and zeal for souls, we do well to heed his wise counsel and learn to read from the book of the world and God's goodness in Creation and, in so doing, attain divine Wisdom. May he guide and accompany us on this journey.
Above is a statue of St Antoninus from the facade of San Esteban in Salamanca.