SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
CONFESSOR AND DOCTOR
The Liturgical Year – Abbot Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
“Rejoice thee, happy Padua, rich in thy priceless treasure!” Anthony, in bequeathing thee his body, has done more for thy glory than the heroes who founded thee on so favoured a site, or the doctors who have illustrated thy famous university!
The days of Charlemagne were past and gone: yet the work of Leo III., still lived on, despite a thousand difficulties. The enemy, now at large, had sown cockle in the field of the divine householder; heresy was cropping up here and there, whilst vice was growing apace in every direction. In many an heroic combat, the popes, aided by the Monastic Order, had succeeded in casting disorder from out the sanctuary itself: still the people, too long scandalized by venal pastors, were fast slipping away from the Church. Who could rally them once more? who wrest from Satan a reconquest of the world? At this trying moment, the Spirit of Pentecost, ever living, ever present in Holy Church, raised up the sons of St. Dominic and of St. Francis. The brave soldiers of this new militia, organized to meet fresh necessities, threw themselves into the field, pursuing heresy into its most secret lurking holes, and thundering against vice in every shape and wheresoever found. In town or in country, they were everywhere to be seen confounding false teachers, by the strong argument of miracle as well as of doctrine; mixing with the people whom the sight of their heroic detachment easily won over to repentance. Crowds flocked to be enrolled in the Third Orders instituted by these two holy founders, to afford a secure refuge for the Christian life in the midst of the world.
The best known and most popular of all the sons of St. Francis is Anthony, whom we are celebrating this day. His life was short: at the age of thirty- five, he winged his flight to heaven. But a span so limited, allowed nevertheless of a considerable portion of time being directed by our Lord, to pre paring this chosen servant for his destined ministry. The all-important thing in God’s esteem, where there is question of fitting apostolic men to become instruments of salvation to a greater number of souls, is not the length of time which they may devote to exterior works, but rather, the degree of personal sanctification attained by them, and the thoroughness of their self-abandonment to the ways of divine Providence. As to Anthony, it may almost be said, that up to the last day of his life, Eternal Wisdom seemed to take pleasure in disconcerting all his thoughts and plans. Out of his twenty years of religious life, he passed ten amongst the Canons Regular, whither the divine call had invited him at the age of fifteen, in the full bloom of his innocence; and there, wholly captivated by the splendour of the Liturgy, occupied in the sweet study of the holy Scriptures and of the Fathers, blissfully lost in the silence of the cloister, his seraphic soul was ever being wafted to sublime heights, where (so it seemed) he was always to remain, held and hidden in the secret of God’s Face. When on a sudden, behold! the Divine Spirit urges him to seek the martyr’s crown: and presently, he is seen emerging from his beloved monastery, and following the Friars Minor to distant shores, where already some of their number had snatched the blood-stained palm. Not this, however, but the martyrdom of love, was to be his. Falling sick and reduced to impotence, before his zeal could effect anything on the African soil, obedience recalled him to Spain; but, instead of that, he was cast by a tempest on the Italian coast.
It happened that Saint Francis was just then convoking his entire family, for the third time, in general chapter. Anthony unknown, lost in this vast assembly, beheld at its close, each of the friars in turn receive his appointed destination, whereas to him not a thought was given. What a sight! the scion of the illustrious family de Bouillon and of the kings of the Asturias completely overlooked in the throng of holy Poverty’s sons! At the moment of departure, the Father Minister of the Bologna province, remarking the isolated condition of the young religious whom no one had received in charge, admitted him, out of charity, into his company. Accordingly having reached the hermitage of Monte Paolo, Anthony was deputed to help in the kitchen and in sweeping the house, being supposed quite unfitted for anything else. Meanwhile, the Augustinian Canons, on the contrary, were bitterly lamenting the loss of one whose remarkable learning and sanctity, far more even than his nobility, had up to this, been the glory of their Order.
The hour at last came, chosen by Providence, to manifest Anthony to the world; and immediately, as was said of Christ himself, the whole world went after him. Around the pulpits where this humble friar preached, there were wrought endless prodigies, in the order of nature and of grace. At Rome, he earned the surname of Ark of the Covenant; in France, that of Hammer of heretics. It would be impossible for us here to follow him throughout his luminous course; but suffice it to say”, that France as well as Italy, owes much to his zealous ministry.
St. Francis had yearned to be himself the bearer of the Gospel of peace, through all the fair realm of France, then sorely ravaged by heresy; but in his stead, he sent thither Anthony, his well beloved son, and, as it were, his living portrait. What St. Dominic had been in the first crusade against the Albigenses, Anthony was in the second. At Toulouse was wrought that wondrous miracle of the famished mule turning aside from the proffered grain, in order to prostrate in homage before the Sacred Host. From the province of Berry, his burning word was heard thundering in various distant provinces; whilst Heaven lavished delicious favours on his soul, ever childlike amidst the marvellous victories achieved by him, and the intoxicating applause of an admiring crowd. Under the very eyes of his host, at a lonely house in Limousin, the Infant Jesus came to him radiant in beauty; and throwing Himself into his arms, covered him with sweetest caresses, pressing the humble Friar to lavish the like on Him. One feast of the Assumption, Anthony was sad, because of a phrase then to be found in the Office, seeming to throw a shade of discredit on the fact of Mary’s body being assumed into heaven, together with her soul. Presently, the divine Mother herself came to console her devoted servant, in his lowly cell, assuring him of the truth of the doctrine of her glorious Assumption; and so left him, ravished with the sweet charms of her countenance and the melodious sound of her voice. Suddenly, as he was preaching at Montpellier, in a church of that city thronged with people, Anthony remembered that he had been appointed to chant the Alleluia at the conventual Mass in his own convent, and he had quite forgotten to get his place supplied. Deeply pained at this involuntary omission, he bent his head upon his breast: whilst standing thus motionless and silent in the pulpit, as though asleep, his brethren saw him enter their choir, sing his verse, and depart; at once, his auditory beheld him recover his animation, and continue his sermon with the same eloquence as before. In this same town of Montpellier, another well known incident occurred. When engaged in teaching a course of theology to his brethren, his commentary on the Psalms disappeared; but the thief was presently constrained, even by the fiend himself, to bring back the volume, the loss whereof had caused our saint so much regret. Such is commonly thought to be the origin of the popular devotion, whereby a special power of recovering lost things is ascribed to Saint Anthony. However this may be, it is certain, that from the very outset, this devotion rests on the testimony of startling miracles of this kind; and in our own day, constantly repeated favours of a similar nature still confirm the same.
The following is the abridgment of this beautiful life, as given in the Liturgy.
Anthony was born at Lisbon, in Portugal, of noble parents, who brought him up in the love of God. Whilst he was still a youth, he joined the institute of the Canons Regular. But when the bodies of the five holy martyred Friars Minor, who had just suffered in Morocco for Christ’s sake, were brought to Coimbra, the desire to be himself a martyr enkindled his soul, and he therefore passed over to the Franciscan Order. Presently, still urged by the same yearning, he had well nigh reached the land of the Saracens, when falling sick on the road, he was enforced to turn back; but the ship bound for Spain, was drifted towards Sicily.
From Sicily, he came to Assisi, to attend the General Chapter of his Order, and thence withdrew himself to the Hermitage of Monte Paolo near Bologna, where he gave himself up for a long while, to contemplation of the things of God, to fastings and to watchings. Being afterwards ordained Priest and sent to preach the Gospel, his wisdom and eloquence drew on him such marked admiration of men, that the Sovereign Pontiff once, on hearing him preach, called him “The Ark of the Covenant.” Chiefly against heresies did he put forth the whole force of his vigour, whence he gained the name of “Perpetual hammer of heretics.”
He was the first of his Order, who, on account of his excellent gift of teaching, publicly lectured at Bologna on the interpretation of Holy Scripture, and directed the studies of his brethren. Then, having travelled through many provinces, he came, one year before his death, to Padua where he left some remarkable monuments of the sanctity of his life. At length, having under gone much toil for the glory of God, full of merits and conspicuous for miracles, he fell asleep in the Lord, upon the Ides of June, in the year of salvation, one thousand two hundred and thirty one. The Sovereign Pontiff, Gregory the Ninth, enrolled his name among those of Holy Confessors.