Who was St. Anthony of Padua?

“The Saint of Miracles”: St Anthony of Padua is the “Hammer of Heretics”, the “Evangelical Doctor”, the Patron Saint of the whole world!

Newsdesk (15/06/2020 11:57, Gaudium Press) In 1147 King Afonso Henriques reconquered the city of Lisbon for the Catholic Church. Fifty years later, the Portuguese nation was gifted by God with another victor: around the year 1195 Fernando Martins was born.

Vocation and the break with the world

At the age of 15 Fernando felt the call of God to religious life and, attentive to the divine designs, could not refuse or turn a deaf ear. He immediately entered the Order of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, in the Monastery of St. Vincent de Fora, where for two and a half years he dedicated himself, in the struggle against the devil, the world and the flesh, to the strengthening of virtues . To help in this fight, his superiors authorised his transfer to Coimbra, where he would find it easier to detach himself from the things that the world could offer him.

As Coimbra was an intellectual centre at that time, Fernando Martins was able to study and learn the doctrine of the great Fathers of the Church, especially assimilating the wise Rule of St. Augustine.

He approached the study of Holy Scripture with so much dedication but, above all, with so much love, that he had entirely engraved in his memory all the books from Genesis to Revelation. In this same city, Fernando was raised to the dignity of the priesthood.

Saint Francis and Saint Dominic fight against the errors of the world

Besides giving the Lusitanian people this holy man, God raised up two other men for the defence of the Church and the salvation of souls: Saint Francis and Saint Dominic. Founders of two mendicant orders that we could well call astonishing: preaching extremes of poverty and detachment from the things of the world, the Dominican and Franciscan missionaries never ceased to denounce in pulpits and confessionals the errors that put at risk the salvation of so many souls. Fernando Martins wanted to join these chosen ones.

Fernando Martins dies to the world; Anthony is born to God

During a missionary expedition in North Africa, five spiritual sons of St. Francis delivered their souls through martyrdom. The impetus of their preaching and faith had begun to draw crowds. This was compounded by the wrath of the ruler of Morocco who had them killed. Poor fool! He did not know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians”. In all of Europe the martyrdom became admirably known and, with great homage, reverence and devotion, the mortal remains of the missionaries were received in the city of Coimbra, in the middle of 1220.

Full of delight and consonance with the vocation of those heroes of the Faith, the then Canon Fernando felt that this resounded in his heart as God’s approval of his desire to join the sons of St. Francis in the Convent of St. Anthony of Olivares. Having received the permission of his superiors, Canon Fernando received the habit of the Friars Minor shortly afterwards, taking the name of Friar Anthony.

Mission to Africa

Antonio was only five months into his novitiate and he was already burning with the desire to be sent to the land that had given the first martyrs to the Franciscan Order. However, this did not seem to be the fulfillment of the divine designs. Antonio suffered from fevers and serious ailments and, despite having won much for the Christian faith, his superiors sent him back to the European continent.

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The Return to Europe

Returning to his home continent, the ship was carried by a strong storm to the coast of Sicily. After spending some months in the monastery of Messina, Friar Anthony sailed to Assisi, where the General Chapter of the Order was to take place. It was the year 1221; St. Francis himself would preside over the event.

After the General Chapter, Friar Anthony assumed with impressive and exemplary humility the office of assistant cook in the hermitage of St. Paul, located in the Province of Romandiola. With total submission and in complete anonymity, he slept in a cave and never complained.

Within extraordinary humility, a revelation!

It was at this very time that there was a priestly ordination in the city of Forli, where some sons of St. Francis and St. Dominic were gathered. Friar Anthony was present. At the end of the ceremony, the Provincial of the Friars Minor asked one of the Brother Preachers to pronounce the closing words. All, however, shunned the honour, for no one had prepared a speech and improvisation risked being disastrous on such a solemn occasion.

To remedy the situation, the Provincial of the Franciscans decided to entrust the task to one of his subordinates, trusting in the inspiration of grace. He appointed a Portuguese friar who was assistant cook in the hermitage of St. Paul. With the simplicity of souls accustomed to obedience, the humble religious, until then silent, was ready to carry out the order. To general surprise, Friar Anthony did so with a perfect use of the Latin language.

His speech was simply brilliant and his figure was marked thereafter in the eyes of all as an outstanding preacher, full of fire and enthusiasm underscored by his great unpretentiousness.

A rigorous preacher

The saint’s preaching attracted the crowds, not because he tried to please his listeners, but because he tried to transform them into souls that would please God. And the conversions were abundant! Friar Anthony was fearless and not afraid of condemning errors, even if the guilty listeners were civil or ecclesiastical authorities. He once converted a prelate when, in correcting him, he began to reproach him in front of the whole crowd: “I have something to say to you who wear the mitre!” Tears streamed abundantly down the Bishop’s face, and he changed his conduct. Surely all this was the cause of the miracle that has lasted for almost 800 years: the incorrupt tongue of St. Anthony venerated in Padua.

In 1224, Friar Anthony was sent to fight against the Cathars and Albigensians in the south of France. There his miracles were numerous and the conversions achieved by God through the saint were undeniably prodigious.

St. Anthony’s final years

Friar Anthony left France in 1227 when he was called to a new General Chapter of the Order. During this assembly he was elected Provincial Superior of Emilia-Romagna, where the city of Padua – the seat of the Provincialate – was situated, and where he spent the last four years of his life.

This last period of his earthly career was also marked by his fervent preaching, rigorous sacrifices and mortifications, pious prayers, prodigious miracles, numerous conversions and tireless apostolate.

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At his final moment, having received the sacraments, he took leave of everyone and sang to Our Lady the entire antiphon: “O glorious Virgin who art above the stars…”. Then he raised his eyes to Heaven. All present heard him say: “I see the Lord…”. Shortly afterwards he died. It was June 13th, 1231. Friar Anthony was 36 years old.

The miracles of Saint Anthony

So great are the number of miraculous deeds, cures and graces received through the intercession of Saint Anthony that he is known as the “Saint of Miracles”. Without doubt, this was the reason why his canonization took place less than a year after his death.

Furthermore, it was frequent that during sermons and while preaching, although Friar Anthony spoke in only one language, foreigners from various other places could hear him in their own language. There was hardly a lame, blind or paralyzed person who, after receiving his blessing, was not cured. On one occasion he converted 22 thieves who, merely out of curiosity, had come to hear his preaching.

The oldest of his biographies relates that “day and night [Friar Anthony] had discourse with heretics; he expounded to them with great clarity the Catholic dogma; he victoriously refuted their precepts, revealing in everything such admirable knowledge and gentle force of persuasion that he penetrated the souls of his opponents”.

Nevertheless, one cannot imagine that the apostolic action of St. Anthony was carried out without difficulties, without opposition, without the action of the enemies of the Church. Yes, there were opponents. And they were very active. But worse than the enemies were those who were indifferent.

On one occasion, in the region of Rimini, in northern Italy, the enemies of the Catholic Faith wanted to prevent the people from attending the sermons of the Saint. To do so, they prepared a trap: they sent associates to the next town where Anthony would go. Before the arrival of the Saint they spread their poison among the people:

“- Antony is a lying and false friar”, they whispered.

Anthony arrived in the city and began his mission. Remarkably, during his sermon, the people remained indifferent and the heretics did not want to listen to him, turning their backs on him. The Saint had no choice but to abandon his listeners. Even so, he was not discouraged: he went to the water’s edge, where the river flowed into the sea, and called the fish to listen to him.

The result was surprising: thousands of fish of all shapes and sizes approached with their heads out of the water in an attitude of listening. And the Saint spoke to them. He took the opportunity to praise the participation of the fish in the history of salvation …

More than a disconcerting attitude, a stupendous miracle was taking place! The villagers who witnessed the event did not fail to tell the rest of the population what had happened. The news spread through the whole town and with it a breath of enthusiasm swept through the region, shaking the indifferent and embarrassing Anthony’s detractors. Many of them were converted. It was a lesson!

The donkey and the atheist

On one occasion, an atheist said: “In order to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Host, I want a miracle!” For him, the Blessed Sacrament was a swindle, a blackmail. One day, in front of the whole town, he made Saint Anthony an impious and arrogant proposal: “I will leave my mule without food for three days. After that, I will bring the animal to this square and offer it hay and oats. Meanwhile, Father Anthony, you are going to show her the consecrated Host. If the beast leaves the food aside and pays attention to the Host, if she reverences it as if she were adoring it… Then I will believe. I will then believe in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist!” Saint Anthony accepted the proposal.

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Three days later, in the crowded square, the man arrived, pulling his hungry beast. Saint Anthony also arrived. With reverence, he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. The disbeliever placed the pile of hay and oats close to where Friar Anthony was standing, and confidently let the animal loose. As had been agreed, the mule was to choose alone between food and respect for the Consecrated Host.

The general suspense was broken when the animal, free of its halters, calmly bent its knees before the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. A miracle worthy to convert even today’s atheists…

Anthony was also an exorcist!

From his childhood, Anthony was a devotee of Our Lady. He always prayed to Her and continually appealed to Her for help. And She always answered! One day, for example, already a religious, when the devil could no longer bear the good that the saint did, he seized him by the neck so violently that he was on the point of hanging him. Antonio was already voiceless, but using his last strength, he was able to stammer out the words of the Marian antiphon: “O Gloriosa Domina!” At the same moment, the devil fled in terror. After freeing himself of the evil one and recovering, Anthony saw that at his side was the Queen of Heaven, resplendent with glory.

Why does St. Anthony hold the Child Jesus in his arms?

Towards the end of his life, Anthony stayed with a friendly family in Camposampiero. This episode is narrated by Count Tiso, the Saint’s host:

In the evening, the Saint was already in the quarters assigned to him, recollected in prayer. The master of the house noticed that a strong light was coming from inside the room where Anthony was staying. It could not be candlelight, it was too strong, too intense. The Count, overcome by curiosity, got up and went to see what it could be. He approached the room and through the crack in the door he saw a miraculous scene:

The Saint was rapt in contemplation. The Virgin Mary was there, and She placed the Child Jesus in Anthony’s arms. The Child wrapped His little arms around the friar’s neck and chatted amiably with him. Feeling that he was being watched, the Saint called out to Count Tiso and made him swear that only after his death would the Count tell what he had seen that night. And it is for this reason that Saint Anthony is represented in his images with the Baby Jesus in his arms.

By Arthur Leal

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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