THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA
Essentially, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the perfection of the Christian Life consists in charity, first and foremost in the love of God, then in the love of neighbor. In giving answer to the lawyer who had asked from the Lord what he must do to possess eternal life; Christ gave the simple answer: <"What does the Law say?"> The lawyer, without hesitation recalled the text of Deuteronomy: <"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."> In his whole life, St. Anthony of Padua was entirely enamored of God, and spent himself entirely in the temporal and spiritual service of his fellowmen. He fulfilled these two great laws of charity and practiced in a heroic degree the theological and cardinal virtues and meticulously avoided, as far as humanly possible, every shadow of sin which would entail the violation of these virtues. In this sense, it necessarily follows that St. Anthony had arrived at a very high degree of spirituality. Were one to inquire into the life of our saint to discover one particular virtue whereby he would be differentiated from every other saintFranciscan or otherwisehe would, I fear, find himself at a complete loss, for the complex Anthonian sanctity resembles rather a beautiful bouquet of flowers (a florilegium) in which unity of purpose and multiplicity of expression are so completely harmonized as to reveal the beauty of his angelic soul.
To the multiplicity of these virtues God in His goodness added, like to the gifted souls of the early Church, the charisms of prophecy, bilocation and miracles. In the beautiful garden of this saint's great soul we find the violet of humility, the lily of purity, and the rose for love of God and man. Centered around these virtues, we will easily detect all the others of Christian perfection.
Humility, Mortification, Love of Solitude
The saint's deep humility, the foundation of all other virtues, was perhaps the first virtue which manifested itself most shortly after he had joined the Franciscan Order. Unknown after the General Chapter of Assisi in 1221, which he was privileged to attend, he was sent by the kind Provincial of Bologna, who had taken compassion on the former Portuguese Augustianian, to a little place known as Montepaolo, his first assignment in the Order of Friars Minor, to read Mass for the lay brothers of the hermitage situated there. Anthony said nothing of his prolonged studies of the Sacred Scriptures, of his knowledge of the Fathers, of his oratorical accomplishments. Concealed and hidden away like a gem in the earth, he spent his time in prayer, meditation, and the conquest of self. His austere mortification which induced him to live on bread and water and other penances brought the flesh into complete subjection to the spirit. Like St. Paul he could say: <"I chastise my body. lest perhaps when I shall have preached to others I myself should become castaway."> (1 Cor. 9:27).
In the solitude of the forests and the silence of the rocks, he fortified his soul against temptations, communed with God and found peace of heart and soul. With St. Bernard he could then say: "O beata solitudo, O sola beatitudo."
Jean Rigauld, OFM, in his <Life of St. Anthony> describes the humility of the saint:
"Humility, the guardian and the perfection of every virtue, so completely possessed the Man of God that even among the Friars Minor he wished to appear the most contemptible, the vilest and the lowest of all. Knowing that he who carries the treasure openly on public ways lays himself open to being robbed, he concealed with the greatest care the virtues and gifts which God has granted him. Although filled with the spirit of Wisdom, he kept his learning so completely hidden from the Friars that they could perceive no sign of it save in a few rare and very short lectures given by him. Since 'knowledge puffed up' too often, he would rather pass among men as ignorant and uncultured than be inflated with pride or carried away by vainglory. But humility is proved by humble actions; and no one should account himself humble who tries to avoid humble employments. Therefore, Blessed Anthony as the humblest of men sought out the humblest occupations."
The Spirit and Practice of Poverty
Being a true follower of the Seraphic Founder, the Poverello of Assisi, Anthony that admirable poor man, grounded from the very first in the school of poverty and in the spirit of poverty, abounded more and more in his love for the most exalted poverty. He tried with all the power of his soul to become conformed to this sublime poverty and often recalled to his mind the destitution of Christ and of the Blessed Mother.
When preaching to the Friars, and to the people also, on poverty, he frequently repeated these words of the Gospel: <"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath no where to lay His head."> Or again, as may be seen in the first of his Operis Dominicalis, that word of Ecclesiasticus 10:10: <"There is not a more wicked thing than to love money."> Therefore he took nothing with him when traveling, but delighting in poverty, he traversed countries and provinces in the most complete destitution of a pilgrim and stranger upon earth. With the Apostle, he knew also how to suffer want, and he knew also how to glory in the most abject poverty. He was not ignorant of the truth that the Lord <"heareth the prayer of the poor,"> that He <"giveth judgment unto the poor,">and to the poor in spirit He has promised the Kingdom of Heaven.
Chastity, Purity, Virginity
From the complete control over self, the practice of humility and the Franciscan observance of the Altissima paupertas (highest poverty), there sprouted forth as from a somber stem and dark twig the tender bud of the immaculate lily of chastity, purity and virginity. Thus, during the whole time that he dwelt with the friars, St. Anthony formed himself in the practice of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the Rule of the Friars Minor. Whatever he heard he shut up in the little closet of his heart that he might never forget it; like a new vessel, he drank in abundantly the dews of divine teaching with which he was, in his day, to refresh thirsting souls.
Zeal for Souls in Preaching and Teaching Apostolate
The deep knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, which he had obtained through prolonged reading, continued study and exact memorizing of the sacred text at Coimbra and Monte Paoli, prepared him for the memorable sermon at Forli where, on the occasion of the ordination of the sacred priesthood of certain Dominicans and Franciscans, he merited for himself the call to the teaching apostolate. "It pleases me," wrote St. Francis to him, "that you teach Sacred Theology to the brothers, as long as" in the words of the Rule "you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion with study of this kind." On that day the motto of the Franciscan School <in doctrina et sanctitate> was carved by a Francis of Assisi and impressed on the receptive soul of an Anthony of Padua. Yet teaching and preaching did not puff him up. Anthony became in the classroom and on the pulpit neither a "tinkling cymbal nor a sounding brass," but rather another Christ teaching from the bark of Peter. God blessed his efforts, for Anthony, despite all his success, was always humble. He preached Christ, not himself; he diffused Christian doctrine, not worldly philosophy.
Forgetful entirely of self, Anthony became inflamed with the zeal for souls. It was this desire and love for souls that inspired Anthony to request permission to leave the Augustinians and join the Franciscans. This was initiated by the sight of the relics of the Five Protomartyrs of the Franciscan Order as they were being brought back to Europe from Morocco by way of Portugal. Anthony too would join this noble band of foreign missionaries and saturate the soil usurped by Mohammed from Christ with his own blood. But God had other plans for the noble youth . He bowed to the will of the Almighty who showed to him through the raging storms and surging waves of the seas impeding him from reaching Africa but driving him to the shores of Sicily. After that memorable sermon at Forli, Anthony became the great Franciscan preacher and home missionary. Up and down the length of Italy, across the breadth of Southern France and in all parts of the Iberian Peninsula, went Anthony in quest of souls for Christ. He became one of the most celebrated pulpit orators of Western Europe. he preached the pulpit orators of Western Europe. He preached the Gospel of Christ to the faithful, combated heretics, confounded unbelievers.
He was well prepared for his mission. His knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures which merited for him from the mouth of Pope Gregory IX the title Arca Testamenti. His love for Christ which restlessly urged him onward like another Paul <"Caritas Christi urget nos"> (the love of Christ impels us), his affable disposition, his oratorical qualifications, his supernatural endowments, his ceaseless prayers to the Holy Spirit for the grace of conversions soon gained so many souls for Christ that Anthony could not but rejoice. Anthony would snatch souls from the very brink of Hell and the jaws of Satan. The sermon over, Anthony would sit for hours hearing confessions, eliciting tears of contrition and suggesting means of amendment. Souls thus rescued he would offer to the Heart of Jesus to be further purified in the Blood of the Lamb.
His sermons, savoring of the salt of celestial unction and resounding from the chords of his throat as from a heavenly harp, touched the hearts and souls of all who were privileged to hear him, no matter what their condition, state or age. He was no respecter of persons; he sought no favors; he feared no evil. The fortitude of the Holy Spirit, the charity of Christ, and the love of God drove him onward until his physical strength could no longer sustain his wearied body and weakened members.
This document is part of the Home Page of St. Francis of Assisi, maintained by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, as part of their Internet Apostolate "The Home Page of the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God."
This is a brief introduction to the thought, faith, and holiness of St. Anthony of Padua. This article first appeared in the Herald of the Immaculate, a free Internet Publication of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. If you would like to subscribe to this Publication please write us.
The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are a Roman Catholic Religious Institute of solemn vows headquartered at Benevento, Italy. Their Home Page is maintained from the Marian Friary of Our Lady Queen of the Seraphic Order, New Bedford, MA.
For more information contact:
Marian Friary of Our Lady Queen of the Seraphic Order
New Bedford, MA 02741-3003