St. Anthony – Part Two
This St. Anthony, part two. Part one, Prayer to St. Anthony for Lost Articles, begins with a prayer to St. Anthony and recounts his early life and his recognition by St. Francis of Assisi. Part three, St. Anthony of Padua, Miracle Worker, tells the stories of a few of the miraculous events (there were so many!) associated with St. Anthony.
The painting to the right by Raphael is a panel of The Colonna Altarpiece, created for a Franciscan chapel in Perugia. It is an oil on wood, ca. 1504-1505.
Imagine this scene: electrifying news spreads through a medieval city in Italy, news so riveting that the townspeople can think of nothing else. All their daily activities come to a complete standstill. The shops of the tradesmen and the open air markets close. Even the courts of law and the other official functions have a hard time continuing important business.
What are the people doing; what’s going on? They are leaving the city and converging en masse in the countryside. Ten, twenty, thirty thousand people – vast numbers for those simple times – are responding with joy and intense excitement at the news they’ve heard. A very special event is going to take place. They are anxious to be present, and to get as close as possible to a very special person.
The special person is the famous preacher from Padua, Friar Anthony, believed by many in his own lifetime to be a saint. The news is that he is coming their way to preach the word of God. Knowing that no church will even begin to hold the many thousands of people who will want to hear him, a platform is being build outside the city from which Fr. Anthony will speak to the immense and worshipful crowds.
No Longer Unknown
Only a few short years before, Anthony had been a lowly, obscure brother hidden away in a small monastery, quietly and humbly carrying out the most mundane of chores.
The dramatic tale of the discovery of his remarkable gifts as a theologian and preacher, and his recognition as such by the head of the burgeoning Franciscan Order, St. Francis himself, had spread quickly throughout Italy.
Following a directive of St. Francis, the newly ordained Fr. Anthony became a teacher to his monastic brothers, (and thus carries the distinction of being the first appointed teacher of theology for the Order of the Franciscans) and a bold, uncompromising preacher to the masses. As an excellent speaker possessed with charisma, eloquence, and an extraordinary memory, he drew huge crowds wherever he went, not only in Italy, but also in southern France, where he had been sent by St. Francis as the guardian of certain friaries. (He stayed in France until he was recalled to Italy upon the death of St. Francis in 1226.) While calling all Christians to a deeper commitment to the Gospel, he had particularly harsh words for those of the higher classes of society who lived lives of luxury, indulgence, and greed. Neither did Fr. Anthony spare the bishops and priests of the church who did not live up to their calling. His message of repentance was aimed at everyone, regardless of rank or position.
And everyone – peasants and princes alike – loved and revered Fr. Anthony.
Hammer of the Heretics
Well, everyone loved Anthony, that is, except those who had broken away from the doctrine of the church. Christianity was rife in those days with all kinds of heresies. Addressing these heresies was a frequent topic of St. Anthony’s sermons (as was the defense of the poor). With great passion and unyielding perseverance, Anthony sought to lead the heretics to the fullness of the Gospel. For these efforts, Fr. Anthony became known as the Hammer of the Heretics. While many heretics were converted by his eloquent witness, others clung stubbornly to their aberrant beliefs.
Amory of the Bible
In a book called First Life written one year after his death, a fellow Franciscan wrote of Anthony, “he entrusted to his tenacious memory whatever he read so that in short time he was able to acquire a knowledge of the Scriptures that no one else hoped to possess.”
In 1228, Anthony, at the age of 33, preached in Rome before a congregation that included Pope Gregory IX. The response to Anthony at this event was so tremendous that the people present compared it to the first Pentacost. Pope Gregory was so amazed by the breath of his knowledge of Scripture that he gave Anthony the title of “Amory of the Bible,” declaring that if all the Bibles in the whole world were lost, Anthony could rewrite them all.
Warrior for the Faith
Although Anthony sought to balance his public ministry with quietude and contemplative prayer, as called for by the Rule of the Franciscan Order, his evangelical crusade never slowed down. He continually traveled from city to city, preaching to huge crowds, calling everyone to repentance, and castigating the heretics.
Anthony was truly a militant warrior for the faith.