The importance of the
Crucified One for a humanity born from the Christian faith
On Wednesday, 10 February , at
the General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy Father
commented on St Anthony of Padua, a contemporary of St Francis who
helped lay the foundations of the Franciscan theological and spiritual
tradition. The following is a translation of his Catechesis, which was
given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two weeks ago I presented St Francis of Assisi. This morning I would
like to speak of another saint who belonged to the first generation of
the Friars Minor: Anthony of Padua, or of Lisbon, as he is also called
with reference to his native town. He is one of the most popular Saints
in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a
splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but
also throughout the world. Dear to the faithful are the images and
statues that portray him with the lily
symbol of his purity
or with the Child Jesus in his arms, in memory of a miraculous
apparition mentioned in several literary sources.
With his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal
and, primarily, mystic fervour, Anthony contributed significantly to the
development of Franciscan spirituality.
He was born into a noble family in Lisbon in about 1195 and was
baptized with the name of Fernando. He entered the Canons who followed
the monastic Rule of St Augustine, first at St Vincent's Monastery in
Lisbon and later at that of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, a renowned
cultural centre in Portugal. He dedicated himself with interest and
solicitude to the study of the Bible and of the Church Fathers,
acquiring the theological knowledge that was to bear fruit in his
teaching and preaching activities.
The event that represented a decisive turning point on his life
happened in Coimbra. It was there, in 1220, that the relics were exposed
of the first five Franciscan missionaries who had gone to Morocco, where
they had met with martyrdom. Their story inspired in young Fernando the
desire to imitate them and to advance on the path of Christian
perfection. Thus he asked to leave the Augustinian Canons to become a
His request was granted and, having taken the name of Anthony, he too
set out for Morocco, but divine Providence disposed otherwise. After an
illness he was obliged to return to Italy and, in 1221, participated in
the famous "Chapter of the Mats" in Assisi, where he also met St
He then lived for a period in complete concealment in a convent at
Forli in northern Italy, where the Lord called him to another mission.
Invited, in somewhat casual circumstances, to preach on the occasion of
a priestly ordination, he showed himself to be endowed with such
knowledge and eloquence that the Superiors assigned him to preaching.
Thus he embarked on apostolic work in Italy and France that was so
intense and effective that it induced many people who had left the
Church to retrace their footsteps.
Anthony was also one of the first
if not the first
theology teachers of the Friars Minor. He began his teaching in Bologna
with the blessing of St Francis who, recognizing Anthony's virtues, sent
him a short letter that began with these words: "I would like you to
teach the brethren theology". Anthony laid the foundations of Franciscan
theology which, cultivated by other outstanding thinkers, was to reach
its apex with St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Bl. Duns Scotus.
Having become Provincial Superior of the Friars Minor in northern
Italy, he continued his ministry of preaching, alternating it with his
office of governance. When his term as Provincial came to an end, he
withdrew to a place near Padua where he had stayed on various other
occasions. Barely a year later, he died at the city gates on 13 June
1231. Padua, which had welcomed him with affection and veneration in his
lifetime, has always accorded him honour and devotion.
Pope Gregory IX himself, having heard him preach, described him as
the "Ark of the Testament" and
subsequent to miracles brought about through his intercession
canonized him in 1232, only a year after his death.
In the last period of his life, Anthony put in writing two cycles of
"Sermons", entitled respectively "Sunday Sermons" and "Sermons on the
Saints" destined for the Franciscan Order's preachers and teachers of
theological studies. In these Sermons he commented on the texts of
Scripture presented by the Liturgy, using the patristic and medieval
interpretation of the four senses: the literal or historical, the
allegorical or Christological, the tropological or moral, and the
anagogical, which orients a person to eternal life.
Today it has been rediscovered that these senses are dimensions of
the one meaning of Sacred Scripture and that it is right to interpret
Sacred Scripture by seeking the four dimensions of its words.
St Anthony's sermons are theological and homiletical texts that echo
the live preaching in which Anthony proposes a true and proper itinerary
of Christian life. The richness of spiritual teaching contained n the
"Sermons" was so great that in 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed
Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title "Doctor
Evangelicus", since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from
these writings. We can still read them today with great spiritual
In these Sermons St Anthony speaks of
prayer as of a loving relationship that impels man to speak gently with
the Lord, creating an ineffable joy that sweetly enfolds the soul in
prayer. Anthony reminds us that prayer requires an atmosphere of
silence, which does not mean distance from external noise but rather is
an interior experience that aims to remove the distractions caused by a
soul's anxieties, thereby creating silence in the soul itself.
According to this prominent Franciscan
Doctor's teaching, prayer is structured in four indispensable attitudes
which in Anthony's Latin are defined as
postulatio, gratiarum actio.
We might translate them in the following
manner. The first step in prayer is confidently opening one's heart to
God; this is not merely accepting a word but opening one's heart to
God's presence. Next, is speaking with him affectionately, seeing him
present with oneself; then a very natural thing
presenting our needs to him; and lastly, praising and thanking him.
In St Anthony's teaching on prayer we
perceive one of the specific traits of the Franciscan theology that he
founded: namely the role assigned to divine love which enters into the
sphere of the affections, of the will and of the heart, and which is
also the source from which flows a spiritual knowledge that surpasses
all other knowledge. In fact, it is in loving that we come to know.
Anthony writes further: "Charity is the
soul of faith, it gives it life; without love, faith dies" (Sermons
Dominicales et Festivi II, Messagero, Padua 1979, p. 37).
It is only the prayerful soul that can
progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St
Anthony's preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of
human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he
continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and
impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity,
of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity.
At the beginning of the 13th century, in
the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the
number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor
increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful
to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good
and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven.
"O rich people", he urged them,
"befriend... the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will
subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which
is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent
tranquillity of eternal satiety" (ibid., p. 29).
Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a
very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious
economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of
poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: "The
economy needs ethics in order to function correctly
not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred" (n.
Anthony, in the school of Francis,
always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action
and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of
Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly
and invites others to contemplate
the mysteries of the Lord's humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special
way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave
himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love
and gratitude for divine goodness.
Not only the Nativity, a central point
of Christ's love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One
inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the
dignity of the human person, so that all
believers and non-believers
might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching
St Anthony writes: "Christ who is your
life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a
mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that
no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you
look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity
and your value are.... Nowhere other than looking at himself in the
mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth" (Sermones
Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).
In meditating on these words we are
better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified
One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian
faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony
says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being.
At no other point can we understand how
much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so
important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy
of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the
Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of
acknowledgement of human dignity.
Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so
widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and
especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the
Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony.
May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in
their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine
with sincere and fervent devotion.
In this Year for Priests, let us pray
that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of
the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful,
especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the
eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: "If you preach
Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften
harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if
you read of him he will satisfy your intellect" (Sermones Dominicales
et Festivi III, p. 59).