Summa theologica [Pars II].

[Venice, Franciscus Renner de Heilbronn, and Nicolaus de Frankfordia, 1474].

Folio, ff. 366; printed in gothic type in double columns of 52 lines, 4- to 7-line initials in red or blue, red and blue paragraph marks, first leaf with a contemporary illuminated initial, framing and decoration with a blank roundel at foot, manuscript quire signatures; a superb, very wide-margined and crisp copy in contemporary Italian blind-stamped calf over wooden boards, four clasps; some surface wear, straps missing; very faint remains of an inscription at the foot of the first leaf, contemporary manuscript annotations in the margins in a single scholarly hand, contemporary manuscript list of contents on front free end-paper; exlibris William O’Brien, with book label on the front paste-down.


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First edition; a large, crisp copy of a rare and important incunable. This was the first appearance of any part of Antoninus’s Summa theologica, or Summa moralis, an ambitious work in four parts exploring the entire field of moral theology; this, the Secunda, is the part which deals with the seven cardinal vices and related matters, including simony, lawful and unlawful acquisition, restitution: it is therefore the part which includes most references to what would later become a discipline in its own right, economics.

A much-loved and respected bishop of Florence, close but not subservient to the Medici court, well acquainted with the dynamic developments of the mercantile society in which he lived, Antoninus finished writing this pastoral manual in 1459, shortly before he died; the complete set was first published in 1477. It was ‘probably the first — certainly the most comprehensive — treatment from a practical point of view of Christian ethics, asceticism, and sociology in the Middle Ages’ (NCE, I, 647).

Antoninus has been described by Schumpeter as ‘perhaps the first man to whom it is possible to ascribe a comprehensive vision of the economic process in all its major aspects’ (History of economic analysis, 1954, p. 95). A Scholastic of his own century, not only did Antoninus look at economics from an ethical standpoint, he was also intimately legally minded: thus, economic points are treated within the framework of contract theory. Unlike Scholastics of earlier generations, he no longer regarded trade as an undesirable, undignified endeavour; he (specifically in the Secunda pars, under the heading of avarice) built a justification of trade by looking at it as a means to an end. If trade’s ultimate purpose is the pursuit of profit in its own right, then that trading activity should be regarded as reprehensible; but if the purpose of a transaction is a worthy end, such as the support of one’s family in moderate accordance with one’s status, or the relief of the poor, or the welfare of the community, then trade is to be regarded as a worthy and dignified endeavour.

As regards a theory of value, the only other one of the several aspects of economics which we will recall in this note, Schumpeter points out that some Medieval and Renaissance thinkers ‘adumbrated with unmistakeable clearness the theory of the utility which they considered as the source or cause of value’ and remarks that, a century before Molina, ‘St Antonine, evidently motivated by the wish to divest the relevant concepts of undesirable ‘objective’ meanings, had employed the unclassical but excellent term complacibilitas – the exact equivalent of Prof. Irving Fisher’s ‘desiredness’’ (ivi, p. 98) He also ascribes to Antoninus the first clear statement of the Scholastics’ main positive contribution to interest analysis, when in the Summa he ‘explained that though the circulating coin may be sterile, money capital is not so because command of it is a condition for embarking upon business. This of course was a frontal attack on Aristotle’s ‘sterility of money’’ (ivi, p. 105).

Rare: 4 copies in the UK (BL, Cambridge, Dublin, Glasgow), 11 in the US (not in Harvard, or the Regenstein, or the Robbins). This is the only copy to have appeared at auction in the last 35 years.

IA00867000; Goff A867; HCR 1254; IGI 699; Oates 1659; Proctor 4160; BMC V 192; GW 2195. For the most complete list of early editions of the Summa, see Fr. S. Orlandi O. P., Bibliografia Antoniniana: Descrizione dei manoscritti della vita e delle opere di S. Antonino O. P. Arcivescovo di Firenze, e degli studi stampati che lo riguardano, Vatican City, Poliglotta Vaticana, 1961, pp. 295-305; see G. Barbieri, Le forze del lavoro e della produzione nella “Summa” di S. Antonino da Firenze, Economia e storia, 1960, 1, pp. 10-33; R. de Roover, San Bernardino of Siena and Sant’Antonino of Florence. The two great economic thinkers of the Middle Ages, Boston (Mass.) 1967.