Antoninus (1389-1459), the Archbishop of Florence, helped to popularize the term "scrupulosity." The excerpt below is a summary of Antoninus's views about scrupulosity, written by Eduardo Collins.
The purpose of this chapter is to present the doctrine of Antoninus concerning scrupulosity in a way which is clear, simple and yet unadulterated....
...Antoninus begins with a description of the scrupulous conscience.... A scruple is a state of indecision and fear arising from improbable conjectures. Scrupulosity is equivalent to pusillanimity. Both scruples and pusillanimity imply unreasonable fear.
Antoninus...now proceeds to the causes. He mentions five: a weak constitution, mental illness, the devil, excess in ascetical practices, association with scrupulous persons.
Antoninus now comes to deal at length with the means for removing scrupulosity....There are seven rules with the help of which a scrupulous conscience can or ought to be laid aside. These are entitled: (1) due preparation for receiving the grace of God, (2) earnest study of Sacred Scripture, (3) constant application to prayer, (4) use of the proper principle in a choice of opinions, (5) walking humbly in the path of obedience, (6) a spirited resistance to scruples, (7) a discreet use of epikeia [the idea that a law can be broken to achieve a greater good] in the interpretation of laws and precepts.
...The fifth rule for healing scrupulosity is to walk humbly in the path of obedience. The scrupulous person should hold captive his intellect, conforming it to the dictates of wise counselors and bending it in obedience to superiors. Having done this, he should pay no heed whatsoever to his scruples, however insistent they may be....It is to be noted that Antoninus does not propose blind obedience at the outset. His recommendation advances through gentle stages and finishes by quoting with approval Gerson's [John Gerson (1363-1429)] recommendation to blind obedience where the scruples obstinately persist....
After the recommendation to obedience, comes a practical corollary. Since the cause of scruples, says St. Antoninus, is often physical, it will often fall to the spiritual director or the confessor to recommend medicine or other physical remedies. The scrupulous person should conquer himself, even if it is difficult to do so, and follow faithfully the regimen specifically recommended or imposed by his spiritual physician. But this obedience to the spiritual director in following a regimen should not be continued too long. For it injures the spiritual life to live too long away from common life and in an abnormal dependence on spiritual direction.... Antoninus quotes St. Ambrose to support his opinion in this matter: medicinal prescriptions militate against a supernatural state of life. They do not permit one to work late at night, nor to get up early in the morning, nor to fast, and they withdraw one from all kind of meditation.... So obedience to the spiritual director with regard to care of one's health may be very profitable for the soul but should be considered only as a temporary measure.
The sixth rule recommends a spirited fight against the scruples, casting off all pusillanimity.... [Antoninus says that] Gerson has the same idea where he compares scruples to strange dogs who bark and snap at passers-by; the best way to deal with them is to ignore them and treat them with contempt. But our contempt, he adds, should be regulated by directives, preferably of a superior. In another treatise Gerson gives similar advice: it is a good thing, he says, to act frequently against foolish and fearful scruples, avoiding them in accordance with advice from others. Thus with practice a man becomes strong and firm, at peace in his spiritual life. Antoninus then adds an illustration of his own: if a piece of wood is bent and one wishes to straighten it, one must bend it back in the opposite direction. (pp. 10, 13, 15-6, 26-9)
OCD History Home