The Saint in Padua
Anthony stayed in Padua on two occasions. The first was between 1229 and 1230 and the second between 1230 and 1231, during which he met his early death. Together the two occasions constitute a period of slightly more than twelve months in the city where he is the patron saint. What type of Padua attracted and welcomed him? A place which while composed of many different elements, was unanimous in its appreciation of Anthony at the foot of his pulpit or in the confessional, just a few months after his arrival. Padua functioned as a scriptorium for his biblical and liturgical commentaries.
We can also hypothesise that Padua provided him not only with a supply of libraries but also with collaborators and clerks to help in drawing up the texts.
The Sermones are considered as the most remarkable literary work of a religious nature compiled in Padua during the Middle Ages.
Padua interested Anthony because of its university; he had a preference for cities with centres of higher learning – Bologna, Montpellier, Toulouse, Vercelli.
A university was also a place with a high concentration of youth. And Anthony was an expert “fisher of youth
Perhaps feeling that his end was near, he aspired to secure new recruits for the demanding and joyful task of spreading the Gospel. What is more, the Veneto region was in a period of unrest. Anthony felt the need to intervene, doubling his efforts to ward off the spark of new conflict. Even in faithful Padua, there were still subtle and blatant followers of heresy.
The days of salvation
At dawn on February 5, Anthony put down his quill and stopped writing. The city was living a magical moment of peace. Word spread that he was going to preach daily for forty days of Lent, taking his inspiration from the daily readings. Before long, the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini was not able to contain the growing multitude. No church seemed large enough to contain the people, and soon not even the public squares were able to hold the crowds. Being heard was not a problem, since Anthony was endowed with exceptionally booming voice; however, the large numbers obliged him to speak outside the city, in the middle of the fields, just as he did in France. The nobility and the lower classes, women and men, young and old, fervent church-goers and people “distant” from the Church, gentlemen and scoundrels, religious and lay people alike all assembled to await the arrival of the man of God. Bishop Jacopo, together with his clergy, took part in the Lenten event, which he had authorised with the joy of a shepherd seeing his flock gathered in fertile pastures.
From one sermon to the next, news of what was happening in Padua spread, causing a steady increase in listeners. An incessant crowd thronged around Anthony’s confessional. He was unable to cope with them all, even though priests from his Order and diocesan priests of the city tried to lighten his load. All he could do was wait for the stream to die down at sunset. The Assidua narrates that Anthony resigned himself to fasting until sunset. Some flocked to the sacrament of penance, declaring that an apparition had driven them to confess and change their lives Assidua states:“He converted discord into fraternal peace; he restored freedom to prisoners, that which had been stolen by usury and violence was given back to its owners.”
House and land were mortgaged and the proceeds were laid at his feet. He dissuaded prostitutes from their base commerce; he made notorious thieves desist from laying their hands on other people’s property. Thus, at the end of the 40 days, he gathered a harvest which was pleasing to the Lord.
I cannot keep silent about the multitude that he inspired to confess their sins, so great a number of men and women that not even the group of priests that accompanied him were sufficient to hear their confessions.”
Anthony had a hand in changing the municipal legislation of Padua, in particular, a statue regarding insolvent debtors, dated 17 March 1231, Monday of Holy Week (the day after Palm Sunday).
Here are the contents of the statue, from the original Latin:
“By request of the venerable friar Anthony, of the Order of Friars Minor, it is established and ordained that no one convicted of one or more debts of money, in the past or the present or in the future, will be held in prison provided that he is willing to relinquish his possessions. This holds for both debtors and creditors. If, however, a renunciation or a relinquishment is made fraudulently, either by the debtor or by the creditor, it has no value and shall not bring damage to the creditor. When fraud cannot be demonstrated in an evident way, then let the mayor be the judge. This statute cannot be modified in any way and must remain unchanged in perpetuity.”
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The years in Portugal
St. Anthony was born in Portugal in 1195; on 15th August according to Baroque tradition. He was the son of the nobleman, Martino de Buglioni and Donna Maria Taveira, who lived a few metres away from the cathedral. He was christened with the name Fernando.
He spent his formative years under the cultured guidance of the canons of the cathedral. Many of his school companions were boys who were considering the priesthood as a career. It is likely that young Fernando’s commitment to join the priesthood was born among his close friends.
In fact, the moral mediocrity and corruption of the society around him convinced Anthony to choose this path.
He entered the Augustinian monastery of St. Vincent, outside the walls of Lisbon, where he lived uncompromisingly according to his evangelical ideal.
Among the Augustinians
He stayed at St. Vincent for approximately two years. But, distracted by continuous visits from friends, he asked to be transferred elsewhere. He thus undertook his first great journey to Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal. The new monastery of Santa Cruz was about 230 km from Lisbon.
He was seventeen years old and was to live in this monastery of nearly 70 members for eight years from 1212 to 1220.
These were very important years in the young saint’s humanistic and intellectual development. He was surrounded with good teachers and a vast, up-to-date library.
Fernando completely dedicated himself to the study of human and theological sciences in an attempt to remove himself from the tensions in the community. The years in Coimbra left a deep mark on the future apostle’s personality and existential development.
Moreover, he already began to show signs of his solitary nature. He was a man indifferent to outward appearances and ostentations of any kind, without social ambitions or a desire to be seen in public, unless spurred on by the duty of spreading the Gospel. When it was time to leave Coimbra, he had become a man of mature stature.
His theological training, based on a solid biblical and patristic tradition, had been firmly engrained.
Fernando the priest
Fernando was ordained a priest in the monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, probably in 1220.This would have made him twenty-five years old, and it thus appears that the canonical rule which forbids ordination before the age of thirty was for some reason waived for Fernando.
Source : http://www.saintanthonyofpadua.net/portale/santantonio/vita/vita/lavita.asp