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August 15, 2006


Chris Sullivan

You could try Antoninus' principal work, the "Summa Theologica Moralis, partibus IV distincta".

He also wrote manuals for confessors and penitents containing abridgments, reproductions, and translations from the "Summa" and frequently published in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries under the name of St. Antoninus.

[From the Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01585b.htm]

I think its a huge stretch to claim that an operation to save the life of a mother is an abortion. The Moral Object is not the same.

God Bless


I suspect that the principal notion undergoing change in the period was the further development of notion of "person". One notes that Aquinas concerned himself with "person" primarily as it pertained to God, not to man. More recent theology, particularly the theology of the 19th and 20th centuries has built upon Aquinas, in some cases employing analogy to explain the similarities between "person" as it is understood in God and in man. An important tipoff here is this notion of "soul" which Aquinas quite correctly teaches as being not the same as person. Soul in the sense that Thomas regarded it suffered from a certain "essentialism" which it has long since ceased to do. The ontological category of relation, or person, has been increasingly seen as more helpful in dealing with such questions than was the older essentialism and well may explain the tightening of outlook. I'm speculating and the overlap respecting details, timing and the like may not be precise. But I think with the above we may have a working hypothesis.

Morning's Minion

I've come across St. Antoninus in the context of the debate surrounding the distinction between ordinary (morally obligatory) and extraordinary care. In that context, St. Antoninus of Florence told a man he was not morally obliged to have his leg amputated and live as a cripple, even if not doing so (the leg probably was gangrenous) would bring about his death.

ron chandonia

I've been reading about this dispute for a couple days, and the responses are frankly maddening. Surely somebody, somewhere has access to Maguire's book, which is probably available in most college libraries. If he footnoted the Antoninus passage, see if he provided enough detail to check his source. (That, of course, would be beyond the scope of most college libraries, but at least we'd be headed in the right direction.)

Morning's Minion


I fowarded your request to an excellent moralist I know (who prefers to stay anonymous). He writes:

"Dan Maguire is not to be trusted. He often plays an "academic" trick. He cites a secondary or tertiary source for an outrageous statement, which was unreliable in the first place, and then skews what he cites in order to buttress his claim. He is never to be believed. If St. Antonius had said what Maguire claims he said, Maguire would quote him in full with proper citations. Therefore, one may reasonably assume the saint did not say it.
It is not at all unlikely that the saint did say that one need not withhold medication from a sick woman even if the medicine was thought to induce abortions since healing the woman was what one intended, not killing the unborn child. But, such speculation is not to the point. Instead, one needs to read what the saint wrote. And, if Maguire does not cite what he wrote, chapter and verse, there is no reason to believe that what Maguire said Antoninus wrote is true."

Ferde Rombola

My first reaction to Maguire's thesis is, what does it matter what St. Antoninus thought 600+ years ago in light of what the Church teaches today? If that's all Maguire has, he ought to be embarassed. If that's possible.

Deacon John M. Bresnahan

As was pointed out--it is funny how some Catholics are so strongly in favor of making certain moral teachings stricter and stricter in the areas of war, poverty, etc. But science, through its reasearch and discoveries, helps confirm and even strengthen moral teachings they don't like--suddenly they're in love with a few stray comments from the Middle Ages. And there is probably no university that so butchers the concept of so-called "academic freedom" so as to keep basically heretical teachers on their faculty to the point to call the place "Catholic" is clearly fraud and should be prosecuted for false advertising. Would M.I.T. keep a faculty member who defended the concept of a flat earth? Yet D. M. is so glaringly a "flat earther" as far as Catholic doctrine is concerned his continued employment is a disgrace and gives him a "bully pulpit" in the sensation seeking media to proselytize his pet "flat earth" theories.

Sr. Lorraine

Even if St Antoninus did say what Maguire claims, so what? Many other saints have been mistaken on various points; the official church teaching is what matters.

Sr. Lorraine

I found this statement on a website called "Sacred Choices" (http://www.religiousconsultation.org/FAQ_(Sacred_Choices).htm)
"Even a Catholic saint, St. Antoninus, was pro-choice on early abortions when necessary to save the life of a woman. This was a huge category at that time and thus the saintly bishop was justifying a great number of abortions." I suppose they're taking it from Maguire; the wording is so similar.

Sr. Lorraine

Oops--I just read further on that website and realized it's about Maguire's book!


According to John Connery, Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (1977), Antoninus taught that "a doctor may and should give the mother a medicine that would cause an abortion if necessary to save her life." But only if the fetus was considered "unanimated." Antoninus's reasoning being that the prevention of "animation" of the fetus was not equivalent to causing the death of a human being, i.e., the mother.

So clearly, Antoninus's position was based on the Aristotelian belief that life and soul were not present before quickening. Modern science has clarified the beginning of life.

Sr. Lorraine

I found this on the site of the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Building on an unpublished work of John of Naples, Antoninus (1389–1459) for the first time introduced into theology a discussion of abortion of the unanimated fetus to save the life of the mother. Theologians debated this matter for the next three or four centuries. The issue became obsolete when the distinction between formed and unformed fetus was undercut by the findings of modern
science and the theory of delayed animation was displaced by that of immediate animation. Connery argues that a consensus of theologians regarding immediate animation
was reached in the second half of the 19th century. ‘‘This tended to make the whole question [lregarding abortion of the unanimated fetus] somewhat speculative’’
(Connery, 223).

Somebody is selling the Summa of St. Antoninus on ebay for over 2400.00!


Apparently the man also wrote some kind of book on Christian life for the Medici ladies, which may be the same thing as his "De sponsalibus et matrimonio". That's on microfilm along with "De censuris", according to the Ohio university libraries' site (Ohiolink) but not anywhere I can get to it. (Even if I could read that much Latin.)


Ha, i beat Sr. Lorraine by one second.

jack bennett

I'm always astonished at people who try to find loopholes in Catholic theology on abortion using medieval theologians (whose views on women and science they otherwise deplore) to justify their case. On the other hand, the Catholic Church which is supposedly so out of touch uses the latest medical/biological science to back up its case as when life begins.


Abortion is in all cases a serious moral wrong. However, it is not the case that the modern (post-19th Century) biology NECESSARILY displaces the assumption of earlier theologians (e.g., Aquinas) that the human embryo/zygote had to reach a certain stage of development ("animation," in their view) before it could sustain a "rational soul" so that killing amounts to killing a human person. This matter is now revisiting us by virtue of the creation of interspecies human/animal chimeras: At what point is killing such a being forbidden as a form of homicide? The answer to this question cannot be framed in terms of the particular genetic heritage and constitution of the being (as it often is post-19th Century), but probably must be made, as Aquinas posited, in terms of rational capacity.


Even if St Antoninus did say what Maguire claims, so what? Many other saints have been mistaken on various points; the official church teaching is what matters.

That is exactly right, Sister. Archbishop Antoninus was not the Magisterium when he was alive, and he did not gain any additional authoritative weight after his canonization.

I had hoped that after 33 years of fighting this war against life, we would no longer allow ourselves to get dragged into these ancillary side issues. Regardless of what any mere individual may or may not have said or suggested, either as a matter of inquiry or teaching, the Holy Church Herself, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit with the charism of infallability, has always, from the earliest days to the present, understood and taught that abortion involves the killing of innocent human life and is, therefore, a great moral wrong.

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