The Marian Devotion of St. Anthony of Padua

Author: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate


St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous disciples of St. Francis of Assisi. He was a famous preacher and worker of miracles in his own day, and throughout the eight centuries since his death he has so generously come to the assistance of the faithful who invoke him, that he is known throughout the world. This brief article about St. Anthony of Padua appeared in the August/September edition of the Herald of the Immaculate , and forms part of the Home Page of St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Anthony's Life began with Mary

St. Anthony is titled the Evangelical Doctor, Wonder-Worker and Hammer of Heretics; but more importantly he is renowned for his personal holiness. His sanctity and wisdom flowed from his profound, penetrating love for the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Heroically he followed the Poverello of Assisi, St. Francis, whose tender love for the poor, humble Virgin was comparable only to that of Christ Himself. As a true friar minor St. Anthony praised and glorified the Queen of the Angels from the pulpit, where with simple yet lofty doctrine he moved multitudes to savor the sweet name of Mary. Furthermore, he imitated Her with such perfection that he became, as it were, an extension of the Virgin Mother on earth.

From the outset his life was markedly Marian, being born in Lisbon on the feast of the Assumption, August 15th, 1195 A. D., and baptized in the Church of St. Mary in Lisbon. At the age of 15 he completed his studies at the Cathedral School of St. Mary. Appropriately his earthly life, ever pure and humble, was brought to a close in a similar Marian tone, for when death drew nigh he longed to be taken to the St. Mary, Mother of God Friary in Padua. After receiving Extreme Unction he intoned his favorite hymn, "O gloriosa Domina..." (O glorious Lady). He lived and died with the Virgin Mary on his lips and in his heart.

St. Anthony's Faith in Jesus Christ overflowed in Devotion to Mary

His devotion was founded on the solid foundation of Catholic doctrine, as all true devotion is. Consequently he has left the Church with a wealth of Mariological insight in his sermons. Reflecting upon the doctrines about our Blessed Lady through the eyes of St. Anthony one realizes with him that "in Her were gathered all the privileges of merits and rewards."

In 431 A. D. the Catholic Church at the Council of Ephesus proclaimed that since Jesus Christ is the second Person of the most Holy Trinity, that is, a divine Person, Mary can rightly be called "Mother of God" (Theotokos). St. Anthony maintains that as Jesus was "designated Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness..." (Rm. 1:4), so Mary "is designated as Mother of God in power according to the spirit of holiness." For him Mary was designated, predestined from all eternity, to receive this singular grace.

"O inestimabilis Mariae dignitas!
O inennarabilis gratiae sublimitas!
O investigabilis misericordiae profunditas!..."
"O inestimable dignity of Mary!
O indescribable sublimity of grace!
O incomprehensible depth of mercy!
Has so much grace or mercy ever been given to an angel or man as has been given to the Blessed Virgin, whom God the Father wished to be the Mother of His Son?"
Commenting on the passage where "a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts that You sucked!'" (Lk 11:27), the holy doctor says, "Blessed, therefore, is the womb of the glorious Virgin who for nine months was worthy to carry all goodness, the highest goodness, the bliss of angels and reconciliation of sinners." Elsewhere he writes that "She possessed within Her the compactness of love—for nine months She carried Love Incarnate in Her womb." His interior wonderment and inspired preaching regarding Mary's divine maternity ought to enkindle within all souls the same sentiments.

St. Anthony's Devotion to the Immaculate Conception

Before She became Mother of God "the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of Her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin..." as Pope Pius IX infallibly stated in 1854 A. D.. This solemn definition reflects the theological insight of Bl. John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), a Franciscan who articulated this truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception with clarity and force some seventy years after the death of St. Anthony. Although the saint of Padua never explicitly preached that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin, he nonetheless implicitly upheld this Marian privilege and prepared the way for Scotus and Pius IX.

He quotes and confirms St. Augustine who declared, "Where there is a question of sin, exclude as far as I am concerned, the Blessed Virgin Mary." None of the saints can say, "We have no sin" (1 Jn 1:8). "But," the blessed friar adds, "from the universal confession of sin Mary among all creatures is to be excepted for She was 'full of grace.'" This "superior," "singular" grace was bestowed upon Her "that She might worthily bear in Her womb Him, who from the beginning held in His hands the control of the universe." In his mind "the pure Virgin" was "full of grace" and "free from sin" in view of the divine maternity. In other words, he saw that it was fitting and true that the Mother of God should be "Immaculate"—this is the basis for the Immaculate Conception. "The Father clothed His Son Jesus in a white robe, that is, flesh without any stain of sin conceived by the Virgin Immaculate." Therefore, St. Anthony helped to lay the foundations for the solemn definition of 1854 by the implications of his sermons.

St. Anthony's Faith in Mary's Perpetual Virginity

The holy doctor frequently spoke on the perpetual virginity of Mary, a doctrine defined by the Church at the Lateran Council in 647. Our saint capsulizes this teaching concisely: "She remained a Virgin before, during, and after the birth (of Christ)." In one sermon, after likening St. Ann to an "olive tree, from which came the brilliant blossom... the blessed Mary," he says, "Symbolically it could be said that She (Mary) was 'green like an olive' in the conception and birth of the Savior, for She remained a virgin before and after His birth." Regarding our Lady's virginity during birth, he gives a fervent explanation: "Christ's birth from the Virgin knows no equal among women, but is mirrored in nature. Someone may ask how the Virgin gave birth to the Savior. She begot Him as a blossom emanates perfume. The blossom of the vine remains incorrupt after it has given off its perfume, and so likewise, faith leads us to believe that the modesty of the Virgin—the modesty with which She gave birth the Savior—was not violated. What else is the flower of virginity if not a sweet perfume?" Furthermore, "just as a lily does not lose any of its beauty in emitting its sweet fragrance, so too did our Lady preserve Her virginity in giving birth to the Savior."

St. Anthony's Faith in Mary's Assumption

The humble friar, who taught and preached only under obedience, is considered among the foremost witnesses in Church history to the mystery of the Virgin Mary's assumption which was not solemnly defined as an article of faith until 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The Supreme Pontiff Himself quotes and applauds the friar's testimony to this truth. "Among the holy writers who... illustrate and confirm the doctrine of the assumption, which they piously believed, the Evangelical Doctor St. Anthony of Padua holds a special place. On the feast day of the Assumption, while explaining the prophet's words: 'I will glorify the place of my feet' (Is 60:13), he states it as certain that the Divine Redeemer had bedecked with supreme glory His most beloved Mother from whom He had received human flesh. He asserts that 'you have a clear statement that the blessed Virgin has been assumed in Her body, which was the place of the Lord's feet.' Hence it is that the holy Psalmist writes: 'Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place; You and the ark which You have sanctified.' And he asserts that, just as Jesus Christ has risen from the death over which He triumphed and has ascended to the right hand of the Father, so likewise the ark of His sanctification 'has risen up, since on this day the Virgin Mother has been taken up to Her heavenly dwelling.'" ( Munificentissimus Deus #29).

For St. Anthony there are two primary reasons for Mary's assumption and glorification: Her election as Mother of God and Her response of humility. He shows all of our Lady's privileges in the light of Her divine maternity. She was assumed bodily into heaven "...because from Her He assumed flesh." She was "the place of the Lord's feet" and the "ark of His sanctification" and was therefore glorified. But Her exaltation was also due to Her littleness, for "in the word of humility, 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord' (Lk 1:38), She became the Queen of Heaven." As a result of Her "humility of body and heart... She is brilliant in Her heavenly splendor." She is "exalted above the choirs of angels" and "sits upon a starry throne," crowned by Her divine Son, precisely because She humbled Herself below any other creature.

The Queen of the Angels is also our Queen and Mother. St. Anthony declares that "the blessed Mother will not run away from any... sinner. She is appropriately called the Mother of Mercy since She welcomes any sinner who approaches Her, offering solace to the afflicted and hope to the despairing." When approaching this tender Mother and sovereign Queen with confidence "we are filled with every good thing..., we have everything..., we are blessed." Therefore he exclaims: "Through You, Paradise has entered our world!"

St. Anthony's Faith in Mary's Maternal Mediation

This most merciful Mother has been chosen by God to distribute all His grace to poor sinners. Why is this? Certainly Her "Fiat" at the annunciation permitted Christ to take on His sacred flesh in Her womb; it is, after all, through Her that God is with us in Christ Jesus. But Her "Fiat" continued throughout Her entire life culminating in Her assent to God's holy will on blood-stained Calvary. The holy doctor, as previously quoted, compares our Lady to an olive, and in that sermon he makes special mention of Her agony at the foot of the cross. "It could be said that She was 'red as an olive' in the Passion of Her Son, when 'Her Heart was pierced with a sword'(Lk. 2:35)." The sorrowful Mother participated in His redemptive suffering, especially when His side was pierced by the lance, and is often called our Co-Redemptrix with the Redeemer. "The Blessed Virgin Mary therefore, our Mediatrix, established peace between God and the sinner." It is through the humble Mary that God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ Jesus and therefore She is rightly called the Mediatrix of all graces. Commenting on the rainbow which God set in the sky after the flood (cf. Gn 9), the saint proclaims, "The rainbow is a symbol of the peace and reconciliation which the blessed Virgin, our Mediatrix, effected between God and man." And it is thus that he prays, "Our Lady, our only hope, we are asking You to illumine our souls with the brilliance of Your grace... that we may be worthy of His glory."

St. Anthony's Devotion to the Holy Name of Mary

This glorious saint and doctor of the Church found great delight and strength in invoking the "sweet name of Mary," the "New Eve" and "Star of the Sea," with all Her sacred privileges. However, his devotion to the poor, humble Virgin led him to perfectly imitate and mirror Her in Her poverty, littleness and purity of Heart. He became, as it were, the presence of Mary in the world by his holy life. Because he had been wholly transformed into 'another' Mary, who "always had Her mind raised straight up to God in the contemplation of heavenly things," so he merited to hold and adore the divine Infant with his own arms.

The Marian doctrine and devotion of this great saint, like two wings, lifted him up from this world and carried him into the sublime heights of holiness. May his profound wisdom and love for the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God inspire many to entrust themselves entirely to Her without reserve and with full confidence so that She may illumine souls with the brilliance of Her grace.

The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are a Roman Catholic Religious Institute of solemn vows headquartered at Benevento, Italy.

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On the spirituality and teaching of St Maximilian Kolbe -