LIFE OF ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA

LIFE OF ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA



by Fr. Andres Ranoa Jr., OFM

 

St. Anthony lived for 36 years, from August 18, 1195 to June 13, 1231, and is considered by all a unique phenomenon in the world for his influence, universality and lastingness.

 

Gregory IX, on May 30, 1232, the day of his canonization called him: Ark of the Testament  and Repository of the Holy Scripture. Leo XIII defined him: The Everyone`s Saint. Popular tradition has always called him: Hammer of the Heretics  and  Saint of Miracles.

 

Pius XII, on January 16, 1946, recognized the wisdom of Anthony proclaiming him a doctor of the Church, with the title Evangelical.

 

Of Noble Origin

 

He was born in Lisbon, from a family pertaining to the military and landed aristocracy. His father, Martin of Buglione, was said to descend from the heroes of the first crusades, William of Buglione, the liberator of the Holy Sepulcher; his mother, Teresa Taveira, was of noble family name.

 

At his baptism he was named Fernando, a common name in Portugal, in particular among the higher social class.

 

Near to the Lord

 

His mother taught Fernando the fundamentals of faith and civic education. In short he became a model of every virtue. He grew up conscientious, leaning more to the conservative side, including the way he dressed. While the children of his age enjoyed fooling around, he made use of free time to go to church. When he was six years old he was permitted to be an altar boy. He would not miss any occasion to serve as altar boy because this made him happy, because he was very close to the Lord. In some churches, St. Anthony is the patron saint of altar boys and girls. Fernando was a prayerful person, when he was most at peace and happy.

 

Relationship with Mary

 

Fernando was devoted to the Blessed Mother. One day after serving the Mass, the little Fernando tarried awhile in church. He was then alone before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, for his final greeting. All of a sudden he felt like he was wrapped in a black cloud and a throaty voice was whispering to him obscene words. He immediately knew that it was the voice of the devil. He immediately remembered what his mother said: In moments of danger, call on the Blessed Mother and make the sign of the cross! Without hesitation, he traced with his finger a sign of the cross on the marble step, on which he was kneeling and the devil, confused, left. Those who have been to Lisbon, Portugal must have seen in the cathedral the little cross inscribed by the trembling and fragile finger of Fernando. Later the saint would suggest to his devotees the words to say before the cross in moments of danger. These are recorded in the famous Brief of St. Anthony: Behold the Cross of the Lord. Flee, o evil ones. The Lion of Juda, the root of David has conquered. Alleluia!

 

A Regular Canon of St. Augustine

 

His parents placed their very young son in the community of the canons of the cathedral of Lisbon, where his rising genius was carefully cultivated, and from his tender years he always advanced both in knowledge and devotion. Fernando was willing to let go of his family and relatives for the spirit of prayer. At 16 Fernando, rich and noble, of superior intelligence and a very attractive young man, possessed all the qualities that guaranteed a very happy worldly life. Yet he decided to enter the religious life. One morning without telling anyone of his decision he went to the Augustinian abbey of St. Vincent of the Regular Canons of St. Augustine. Since the abbot knew him, he immediately received him. His father was devastated since he had big plans for him; while the mother was pleased at his decision and with patience waited for his change of mind. The good ones admired him for his decision; the mundane thought he was a fool.

 

Transfer to Coimbra

 

Not bearing the interruption and distraction which the visits of his friends there gave him, he desired, two years after, to be sent to the Augustinian Abbey of the Holy Cross at Coimbra, a hundred miles from Lisbon. There his profound prayer life and austerity astonished his confreres, while he pursued his studies on the bible and the Church Fathers. By his systematic method and application, and by his sound and accurate judgment, he turned himself to a theologian, and together with his profound knowledge, acquired an admirable habit of convincing eloquence. In the meantime, he inflamed his devotion by assiduous daily prayer and holy meditation.

 

Unexpected News

 

In February 1220, in all of Portugal, the martyrdom of 5 Franciscan friars was great news. They died for the faith: arrested by the Muslims while preaching the Gospel. The news made a great impression on Fernando. The remains of the martyrs were transported to Portugal and buried precisely in the church of the monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra.

 

When the news reached Assisi, Saint Francis exclaimed: It is now that I can rest assured that I have had five true Friars Minor! Then, the Poverello looked toward Portugal and he called down a thousand blessings on the convent of Alanquer, where they had prepared themselves for martyrdom: May you be blessed, place of the Most High, which gave birth to 5 most beautiful and rarest flowers in heaven; red and blood colored flowers, of sweet odor, the glorious first born of our Order to the King of heaven. There will never be wanting brothers, who will observe the law of the Lord.

 

Vocational Crisis

 

Fernando had been living at Coimbra for eight years, when the relics of the five Franciscan martyrs of Morocco were brought and enshrined precisely at his monastery. Praying before their tomb, he started to have an identity crisis. He wanted to imitate them in their austere life, in serving Jesus Christ in poverty and joy, and maybe in their martyrdom. Then one day, two Franciscans begged for bread. He asked them to tell him about their Rule of Life and what the Franciscan Order was doing. When he knew that their founder Francis of Assisi wanted the brothers to be missionaries to Africa, Fernando decided to embrace their way of life.

 

Resolution in Favor of the Franciscans

 

When his Augustinian confreres knew of this, they dissuaded him from such a resolution. As he prayed for enlightenment, he became convinced of joining the Franciscan Order and becoming a martyr. The poverty and austerity of its founder, Francis of Assisi, further attracted him. Ferdinand eventually obtained permission from his superiors to join the Franciscans. He was invested with the Franciscan habit and began to learn the teachings of Francis.

 

With this new lie style, he also took on a new name. He called himself Anthony, after the hermit St. Anthony of the desert to whom the Franciscan hermitage was dedicated.

 

After some time spent in solitude, prayer, and penitential austerities, burning with a desire of martyrdom, he obtained permission to go into Africa to preach the gospel to the Moors.

 

Meeting Francis of Assisi

 

Anthony had scarcely arrived there, when he became very ill, obliging him to return. But by contrary winds, his boat was driven to Sicily. Informed that Francis was in Assisi, Anthony, sick and weak, went to meet him. And in his desire to nurture the company of Francis, he offered himself to the provincials and guardians of Italy. While Francis approved of his inclination to renounce his friends and country, no one would take Anthony, so unpromising and sickly. At last a guardian took pity of him, and sent him to the hermitage of Montepaolo, a little solitary convent near Bologna. There he devoted himself to prayer and to the service of his new lay confreres. He ministered to their sacramental needs and menial jobs.

 

Perhaps we would never have heard of Anthony if he had not gone to an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. One day, a number of Franciscan and Dominican friars were sent together to Forli for ordination. Anthony was also present, but simply as companion of the Provincial. When the time for ordination had arrived, it was found that no one had been appointed to preach. The superior turned first to the Dominicans, and asked that one of them should address a few words to the assembled brethren; but everyone declined, saying he was not prepared. Then, to the Franciscans who finally chose and commanded him to speak whatever the spirit of God might put into his mouth. Anthony, compelled by obedience, spoke at first slowly and timidly, but soon enkindled with fervor, began to explain the most hidden sense of Holy Scripture with such profound erudition and sublime doctrine that all were struck with astonishment.

 

Francis was informed of the discovery of Anthony`s eloquence and sent him to study theology, and after a short time to teach the sacred sciences; yet recommending to him not to lose the spirit of prayer and devotion.

 

Eloquent Preacher

 

In general, Anthony s words pierced the hearts of his hearers. What he cultivated by humility, silence, mortification, contemplation, and prayer, he would communicate to his listeners. The educated, on the other hand, admired the loftiness of his thoughts, and the strong images with which he painted the most sublime mysteries, and added an unspeakable dignity to the most obvious and common truths of religion and morality; yet a natural simplicity rendered all his discourses intelligible and easy to understand. Even his rebuttals, and his very reproofs were not bitter or severe but amiable and insinuating.

 

Anthony related well with the persons seeking spiritual counseling. He took care of the sinners by raising and encouraging their sinking souls by confidence in the divine goodness and mercy. They sobbed during his sermons. He opposed the fashionable vices like usury and growing heresies of those times with equal vigor and success. The most obstinate heretics and the most hardened sinners threw themselves at his feet, declaring themselves conquered. Dissension and animosities were transformed to reconciliation.

 

Faithful to the Charism of the Order

 

Anthony was watchful to maintain the primitive spirit and the regular schedule in the friaries. St. Francis, dying in 1226, chose brother Elias, a man of a worldly spirit, as his successor. Elias began to introduce several relaxations of the Rule, which tended to ruin the Order`s fundamental constitutions and spirit. He built a church too magnificent for the poverty which the Rule required and professed, applied money to his own private use, bought himself a horse, kept servants and ate in his own chamber, and had a better fare than what ordinary friaries would have. Most of the provincials and guardians, out of human respects, were drawn to his way of thinking; and the rest, who saw that the tendency of such an innovation was opening the door to relaxations which must necessarily extinguish the spirit and glory of the Order, did not have the courage to speak against it. Only Anthony and an Englishman named Adam boldly opposed and condemned these abuses; but they were given ill treatment. They escaped perpetual imprisonment in their cells, which Elias with several provincials decreed against them for being troublesome and seditious friars.

 

Anthony and Adam had recourse to Pope Gregory IX, who graciously received and listened to them. His holiness summoned Elias to appear before him at Rome, and having examined the abuses introduced by him, deposed him from the generalship. Anthony was at that time provincial of Romagna; but took this occasion to resign from his post. But the pope earnestly desired to retain him.

 

The Franciscan Province of Emiglia and Romagna then comprised almost all of Italy. Later on out of it came to be established four provinces: Genoa, Bologna, Milan and Venice. At the time of Anthony, the minister provincial of Emiglia and Romagna occupied in the Order a very eminent position, after that of the minister general. This was because of the area of the province, the number of friars and the existence of very prominent friaries.

 

The provincial headquarters of Northern Italy was at Bologna. Anthony came and took his office. A little later he began the visitation of every friary to get in touch with his confreres. He arrived at the hermitage of Montepaolo, where he found again his former friar friends and went to his cave in prayer. Then he went to Forli, to Rimini, Ravenna and other friaries until he reached Padua.

 

Padua the City Close to his Heart

 

Padua, then, was a beautiful and rich city. Wool factories and business in the region were flourishing and centered there. It took advantage of a university, among the most famous in Europe, where students of various nations came. Anthony arrived there at the beginning of 1228 and had his residence at the friary of Holy Mary Mother of the Lord.

 

People s Enthusiasm Generated

 

The Paduans received Anthony with great joy and veneration. All wanted to come close and to listen to him. The fame of his holiness had preceded him.

 

In a short time the churches of Padua became insufficient to accommodate the thousands of faithful who arrive also from nearby cities, to listen to him. A lot of time the piazzas were not enough and they had recourse to the meadows, in open fields.

 

Transfer of the Provincial Headquarters to Padua

 

In a short time, Padua became for Anthony  his city.  The Paduans esteemed him and loved him. His simple and ardent word had conquered their hearts; some decided to follow him embracing the Franciscan ideal.

 

Anthony exchanged them with equal affection: they felt the same for one another; because of this, with the consent of superiors, he decided to bring the provincial headquarters from Bologna to Padua.

 

On the Part of the Poor

 

At that time in Padua the poor were very many. The rich, on the other hand, were very few and they dominated every commercial activity.

 

Usury was the ordinary form of taking advantage of the poor. It came to be done by unscrupulous persons, which Anthony called ferocious beasts which rob and devour.

 

The saint divided the usurers into three categories: the hidden, who in infinite number crawl like snakes; the public, who in taking advantage of the poor pretended to be of help, want to appear merciful; the cheeky/fresh, treacherous and torn to the vice, who at sunlight, in the plazas, practice usury as profession: these the devil will take to eternal damnation.

 

The poor were defenseless and without any power; when they did not settle their debts, they were condemned to jail; therefore, in poor families, misery upon misery accumulated.

 

Anthony rallied in their favor. Anthony found unjust the law that condemned to jail the poor who would not be able pay his debt. At the intervention of Anthony, the Municipality of Padua on March 15, 1231 passed a law in favor of debtors who could not pay their debts. A copy of this law is still preserved in the museum of Padua. From this, as well as the following occurrence, the civil and religious importance of the Saint`s influence in the thirteenth century is easily understood.

 

Defender of the Oppressed

 

Anthony always defended those who were powerless and incapable of defending themselves. He proclaimed the dignity of every person. He did this not only while he was preaching to the crowds, but also when he stood before those who were known to be cruel tyrants.

 

One of his contemporaries wrote, Anthony, who had so avidly desired to die a martyr, did not give in to anyone, even if it might cost him his life; with enormous courage he resisted the tyranny of the mighty. He stood up to certain powerful figures so firmly that other preachers, even the most famous, trembled before his resolution and were smitten with fear.

 

The most famous story concerning his political courage involves a certain Ezzelino da Romano, a cruel man, an enemy of God and of men. This person belonged to the political party known as the Ghibellines. Both they and their opponents, the Guelphs, were famous for their conniving and blood-thirstiness, and Ezzelino was considered by all to be a master in the art of treachery. He was holding certain Guelphs as prisoners, threatening to execute them. He had challenged three popes (Gregory IX., Innocent IV., and Alexander IV). He could put to death in one day twelve thousand persons who revolted against him.

 

 Fearless, Anthony decided to confront him and sought audience with a very tyrannical prince in Italy. He brought along his friend Friar Luca Belludi and went to Verona where the tyrant was residing. When Ezzelino found out that a follower of St. Francis wanted to talk to him, he became troubled, but in the end relented.

 

Anthony upon entering the house in a loud voice spoke thus:

 

Cruel tyrant, enemy of God, till when will you continue to shed innocent blood? Know that the justice of God will come upon you soon. Change your life or you will be damned eternally!

 

Nobody had ever talked to the tyrant with these words. Anthony told the tyrant that his murders, sacrileges, and plunders called to heaven for vengeance upon his head, and that those whom he had slain or oppressed were witnesses before God against him. The saint said many other things and the guards waited every moment to hear the tyrant command him to be cut to pieces.

 

But Ezzelinbo listened without reaction. Blinded by a light which burst forth from the face of the Saint, he bowed his forehead afraid and kept silent.

 

But to their great astonishment, he descended from his throne, pale and trembling, and putting his girdle round his neck for a halter, cast himself at the feet of the humble servant of God, and with many tears begged him to intercede with God for the pardon of his sins. But after the death of the saint, he relapsed into his former disorders and died a miserable death.

 

His Most Beloved Friends

 

Also Anthony like Jesus, had his preferences: they were the children. When he passed through the streets of Padua, these stopped their games and they run to him to make merry.

 

He would stop and related with them. Oftentimes he welcomed them lovingly in the friars, without showing signs of impatience. It would be the mothers and the fathers to bring them, so that he might instruct them and bless them.

 

Anthony Gets Sick of Ergotism

 

Anthony became sick with ergotism, a disease which is now known also under the name Saint Anthony s Fire. Perhaps only few knew that Anthony even though young, in his last years of his life got sick seriously of ergotism. Because of this, he was forced to reduce is activities and to rest for long periods in the friary. In order not to have his confreres worry about him, he hid his sickness.

 

Anthony knew that the Lord would be calling him to himself, that is why, forgetting of his sufferings, he did not save energies in good works.

 

But, one day, he expressed his desire to pass a period of absolute rest. His illness had made him physically drained: his person appeared tired and heavy.

 

In 1231 the confreres brought him to the nearest friary, a Camposampiero: a hermitage 20 kilometers from Padua. The solitude and silence of the place would give him a certain respite.

 

A Treehouse on a Walnut Tree

 

The ground was damp at this time of year and it aggravated Anthony`s illness. This problem was solved when the friars noticed Anthony admire an immense walnut tree on the property. One day, while he was in the woods, Anthony found a walnut from whose trunk came 6 branches which projected upwards. He thought that up there on top of that tree, he could more easily gather himself in meditation. He asked his confreres to construct a tree house on that walnut tree. The confreres told Count Tiso, the donor of the land, about it and he had a small tree house built on it. Anthony was satisfied. Thus he could go there and immerse himself in a sea of quiet.

 

In the Legend of Raymundina  we read:  There, over that plant, the man of God lived emptied himself and focused on holy meditations and ardent prayers in order to purify internally his soul of every mundane dust.

 

People Flock around Anthony

 

The notice of the presence of Anthony in Camposampiero, rapidly spread in all the surroundings. Groups of friends and devotees, escaping the surveillance of the friars and of the folks of Count Tiso, day and night, were successful in reaching the Saint.

 

He would receive them smilingly, without giving any sign of impatience and from the top of the walnut he was directing his words of exhortation:  Thanks, my brothers, for having come to visit me. Remember that earthly life is like a bridge, which is made for the crossing, not for stopping. I, also, am almost to the end, waiting for the Lord. Return home, with my blessing.

 

 

A Life Dedicated to Hearing Confessions

 

In the friary, Anthony received penitents and he dedicated to the ministry of administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He would say:  the preacher sows the seed from the pulpit and gather its fruits in the confessional. When he was hearing confession he would lose the sense of time. There were days when he would be hearing confession without interruption till sunset, not eating nor getting a breath of fresh air, as if he were in the pink of health.

 

Anthony would write in one of his sermons:  What is the use of thousands of listeners, if afterwards the confessional would remain empty? It would be like going to hunt, and to return with empty catch.

 

Anthony Writes His Sermons

 

The forced presence of Anthony in the friary moved his confreres to profit from them to ask for charity of notes of his various sermons adapted to the various Sundays of the year.  He willingly consented and wrote the Sunday Sermons, a work of almost thousand pages. He wrote them in the small convent of Arcella, while he was guest of the Poor Clares. It was a reason for rest, as well. Furthermore, he wrote Sermons on the Feasts of Saints, the Moral Concordances in the Sacred Books, the Mystical Interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Sermons in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These made him the greatest writer of the Order.

 

Presenting them to his confreres he said: Seek to be not boring in reaching, otherwise the people will stay away from the church. But above all give a great example of Christian life.

 

Premonitions of His Death

 

Over the walnut trees, Anthony passed some moths. Over there he seemed to inhale better. But what effort to climb there!

 

His thoughtful confreres lent him assistance, but they were ascertained of the rapid growing weak of his energies and the difficulty in breathing; in their affection they fooled themselves that it could overcome with rest and with time.

 

But the Saint knew well of his premonitions of his nearing death. This thought filled him with joy of the sprit which came forth from his words and deceive the hope of his confreres.

 

He Gets Sick Seriously

 

At the first hours of June 13, the state of health of Anthony all of a sudden aggravated. Seeing that his end was near, he asked his confreres to bring him a Padua, where he wanted to di, in the church of Holy Mary Mother of the Lord.

 

The confreres followed him. It was 12 noon of that same day when his confreres laid him in a cart, drawn by cows, offered free by the good farmers. The Saint, before leaving, tanked and blessed those present, who were praying and weeping.

 

Toward Sister Death

 

The cart moved slowly, accompanied by Friar Luca, Friar Ruggero and some farmers.

 

The heat was oppressive, the street disconnected and the cart jerked at every hole. Friar Luca, from time to time, would stop the entourage to allow the sick a little bit of rest. After 5 hours of travel, nearing Padua, the Saint entered into agony. They held it opportune to stop at Arcella, in the hermitage of the friars, connected to the monastery of the Poor Clares.

 

The Last Hymn to Our Lady

 

Anthony was placed in one room of the friary, where he remained immobile, without words and with closed eyes. The confreres, sad, were waiting for the end. In one moment, the Saint opened his eyes, gathered energy, raised his arms, and, with a thin voice, intoned a h Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Saint Anthony often repeated.

 

O glorious Virgin, ever blessed,

All daughters of mankind above,

Who gavest nurture from your breast

To God with pure maternal love.

 

What we have lost through sinful Eve,

The blossom sprung from you restores,

And granting bliss to souls that grieve,

Unbars the everlasting doors.

 

O gate through which has passed the King!

O hall whence light shone through the gloom!

The ransomed nations praise and sing

The Offspring of your virgin womb!

 

Praise from mankind and heaven`s host,

To Jesus of a virgin sprung,

To Father and to Holy Spirit,

Be equal glory ever sung. Amen.

 

 

It was the prayer of the son who invokes the help of  his mother at the hour of death.

 

I See My Lord

 

After this hymn, his face became shining; he raised his eyes fixed toward the heavens as if he was seeing something.

 

A confrere asked him what he was watching; he replied: I see my Lord!

 

He lived for an instant, surrounded by the prayers and sobs of his confreres; then, piously he slept in the Lord. It was the sunset of June 13, 1231. Anthony died on the way back to Padua on 13 June 1231 at the Poor Clare monastery at Arcella (now part of Padua), aged 35.

 

The Children Announce His Death

 

The friars decided to keep secret the news of his death and to transfer the corpse to Holy Mary Mother of the Lord. The idea was wise and opportune.

 

But, a little while after, all Padua got hold of the event that happened. Groups of children, filled with interior inspiration, ran through the streets of the city shouting: the Saint is dead! Friar Anthony is dead!

 

There were his most beloved friends who, sad, cried for him and acclaimed him.

 

As for Francis it was the skylarks which notified the people of his death, as for Anthony, it was the children who spread the news that their fried was dead: he hast left them, to return to his Lord!

 

 

 

POSTCRIPT

 

St. Anthony`s Bread

 

St. Anthony Bread is a term used for offerings made in thanksgiving to God for blessings received through the prayers of St. Anthony. Sometimes the alms are given for the education of priests. In some places parents also make a gift for the poor after placing a newborn child under the protection of St. Anthony. It is a practice in some churches to bless small loaves of bread on the feast of St. Anthony and give them to those who want them.

 

Different legends or stories account for the donation of what is called St. Anthony Bread. By at least one account it goes back to 1263, when it is said a child drowned near the Basilica of St. Anthony which was still being built. His mother promised that if the child was restored to her she would give for the poor an amount of corn equal to the child’s weight. Her prayer and promise were rewarded with the boy`s return to life.

 

Another reason for the practice is traced back to Louise Bouffier, a shopkeeper inToulon,France. A locksmith was prepared to break open her shop door after no key would open it. Bouffier asked the locksmith to try his keys one more time after she prayed and promised to give bread to the poor in honor of St. Anthony if the door would open without force. The door then opened. After others received favors through the intercession of St. Anthony, they joined Louise Bouffier in founding the charity of St. Anthony Bread.