Saint Antony of Padua, Confessor, Doctor of the Church

Author: Lives of Saints


Feast: June 13

Although though he was a native of Lisbon, Antony derived his surname from the Italian city of Padua, where his mature years were passed and where his relics are still venerated in the basilica, Il Santo. He was born in 1195 of a noble Portuguese family, and was baptized Ferdinand. His parents sent him to be educated by the clergy of the cathedral of Lisbon. At the age of fifteen he joined the canons regular[1] of St. Augustine, and at seventeen, in order to have more seclusion, asked for and obtained leave to transfer to the priory of St. Cross, of the same order, at Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal. There, for a period of eight years, he devoted himself to study and prayer. With the help of a remarkable memory he acquired a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.

In the year 1220, Don Pedro, crown prince of Portugal, brought back from Morocco the relics of some Franciscan missionaries who had recently suffered martyrdom. The young student conceived an ardent desire to die for his faith, a hope he had little chance of realizing while he lived in a monastic enclosure. He spoke of this to some mendicant Franciscans who came to St. Cross, and was encouraged by them to apply for admission to their order. Although he met with some obstacles, he at length obtained his release and received the Franciscan habit in the chapel of St. Antony of Olivares, near Coimbra, early in 1221. He changed his name to Antony in honor of St. Antony of Egypt, to whom this chapel was dedicated.

Almost at once he was permitted to embark for Morocco on a mission to preach Christianity to the Moors. He had scarcely arrived when he was prostrated by a severe illness, which obliged him to return to Europe. The ship in which he sailed for home was driven out of its course by contrary winds and he found himself landed at Messina, Sicily. From there he made his way to Assisi, where, he had learned from his Sicilian brethren, a chapter general was about to be held. It was the great gathering of 1221, the last chapter, as it proved, open to all members of the order, and presided over by Brother Elias, the new vicar-general, with the saintly Francis seated at his feet. The whole spectacle seems to have deeply impressed the young Portuguese friar.

At the close of the proceedings the friars set out for the posts assigned to them by their respective provincial ministers. In the absence of any Portuguese provincial, Antony was allowed to attach himself to Brother Gratian, the provincial of Romagna, who sent him to the lonely hermitage of San Paolo, near Forli, either at his own request, that he might live for a time in retirement, or as chaplain to the lay friars of the community. We do not know whether Antony was already a priest at the time. What is certain is that no one then suspected the brilliant intellectual gifts latent in the sickly young brother. When he was not praying in the chapel or in a little grotto, he was serving the other friars by washing their cooking pots and dishes after the common meal.

His talents were not to remain hidden long. It happened that an ordination service of both Franciscans and Dominicans was to be held at Forli, on which occasion all the candidates for consecration were to be entertained at the Franciscan Convent there. Through some misunderstanding, not one of the Dominicans had come prepared to deliver the expected address at the ceremony and no one among the Franciscans seemed ready to fill the breach. Antony, who was present, perhaps in attendance on his superior, was told by him to go forward and speak whatever the Holy Ghost put into his mouth. Diffidently, he obeyed. Once having begun he delivered an address which astonished all who heard it by its eloquence, fervor, and learning. Brother Gratian promptly sent the brilliant young friar out to preach in the cities of the province. As a preacher Antony was an immediate success. He proved particularly effective in converting heretics, of whom there were many in northern Italy. They were often men of education and open to conviction by Antony's keen and resourceful methods of argument.

In addition to his work as an itinerant preacher, he was appointed reader in theology to the Franciscans, the first to fill such a post. In a letter, generally considered authentic, and characteristically guarded in its approval of book learning, Francis himself confirmed the appointment. "To my dearest brother Antony, brother Francis sends greetings in Jesus Christ. I am well pleased that you should read sacred theology to the friars, provided that such study does not quench the spirit of holy prayer and devotion according to our rule."

Antony spent two years in northern Italy, after which he taught theology in the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse and held the offices of guardian or prior of a monastery at Puy and of custodian at Limoges. For his ability in formulating arguments against the heresies of the Albigensians, he became widely known under the sobriquet of "Hammer of Heretics." It became more and more plain that his career lay in the pulpit. Antony had not Francis' sweetness and simplicity, and he was no poet, but he had learning, eloquence, marked powers of logical analysis and reasoning, a burning zeal for souls, a magnetic personality, and a sonorous voice that carried far. The mere sight of him sometimes brought sinners to their knees, for he appeared to radiate spiritual force. Crowds flocked to hear him, and hardened criminals, careless Catholics, heretics, all alike were converted and brought to Confession. Men locked up their shops and offices to go and attend his sermons; women rose early or stayed overnight in church to secure their places. When churches could not hold the congregations, he preached to them in public squares and market places.

In 1226, shortly after the death of St. Francis, Antony was recalled to Italy, apparently to become a provincial minister. It is not clear what his attitude was towards the dissensions which were rising everywhere in the order over the nature of the obedience to be paid to the rule and testament of Francis. Antony, it seems, acted as envoy from the discordant chapter general of 1226 to the innovating Pope Gregory IX, to lay before him the various conflicts that had arisen. On that same occasion he obtained from Gregory his release from office-holding, so that he might devote himself to preaching. The Pope had a high respect for him, and because of his extraordinary familiarity with the Scriptures once called him "the Ark of the Testament."

Thereafter Antony made his home in Padua, a city which he already knew and where he was highly revered. There, more than anywhere else, he could see the results of his ministry. Not only were his sermons listened to by enormous congregations, but they led to a widespread reformation of morals and conduct in the city. Long standing quarrels were amicably settled, hopeless prisoners were liberated, owners of ill-gotten goods made restitution, often in public at Antony's feet. In the name of the poor he denounced the prevailing vice of extortionate usury and induced the city magistrates to pass a law exempting from prison debtors willing to surrender all their possessions to satisfy their creditors. He is said to have ventured boldly into the presence of the truculent and dangerous Duke Eccelino III, the Emperor's son-in-law, to plead for the liberation of some citizens of Verona whom the duke was holding captive. The attempt was unsuccessful, but due to the respect he inspired he was listened to with tolerance and allowed to depart unmolested.

In the spring of 1231, after preaching a powerful course of sermons, Antony's strength gave out and he retired with two of the brothers to a woodland retreat. It was soon clear that his days were numbered, and he asked to be taken back to Padua. He never got beyond the outskirts of the city. On June 13, in the apartment reserved for the chaplain of the sisterhood of Poor Clares of Arcella, he received the last rites and died. He was only in his thirty-sixth year. Within a year of his death he was canonized, and the Paduans have always regarded his relics as their most precious possession. They built a basilica to their saint in 1263.

The innumerable benefits he has won for those who prayed at his altars have obtained for Antony the name of the "Wonder-working Saint." Since the seventeenth century he has often been painted with the Infant Saviour on his arm because of a late legend to the effect that once, when stopping with a friend, his host, glancing through a window, had a glimpse of him gazing with rapture on the Holy Child, whom he was holding in his arms. In the earlier portraits he usually carries a book, symbolic of his knowledge of the Bible, or a lily. Occasionally he is accompanied by a mule which, legend says, fell on its knees before the Sacrament when upheld in the hands of the saint, and by so doing converted its heretical owner to a belief in the Real Presence. Antony is the special patron of barren and pregnant women, of the poor, and of travelers; alms given to obtain his intercession are called "St. Antony's Bread." How he came to be invoked, as he now is, as the finder of lost articles has not been satisfactorily explained. The only story that bears on the subject at all is contained in the so called Chronicles of the Twenty-four Generals, number 21. A novice ran away from his monastery carrying with him a valuable psalter which Antony had been using. He prayed for its recovery and the novice was frightened by a startling apparition into bringing it back.

Sermons for the Liturgical Year


Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; he bears his kingship on his shoulders and his name is called Wonderful, Counsellors, . . . the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah, ix,6)." A little above, Isaiah says: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be Emmanuel, that is to say, God-with-us."

God made himself for us a little child; he was born for us Among his many titles Christ is called a little child; I shall use but this one You have hurt a child, you have struck him, but you show him a kindness, you give him a flower, a rose, or some other object he likes. Instantly he forgets the hurt you did him, his anger is gone and he runs to embrace you. Thus it is with Christ. You have offended him by a mortal sin or wounded him by some fault, but you offer him the flower of contrition or the rose of a confession steeped in tears. Tears are the blood of the soul. At once he forgets your offense, he forgives your sin, he runs, he takes you in his arms and gives you his kiss of peace....

His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor . . . the Prince of Peace. In the moral sense, these words indicate the qualities of any penitent or good man. The good man is wonderful in his keen and frequent examination of his own conscience, for he sees strange things in the depths of his heart. "The anguish of his spirit" and "the bitterness of his soul," as Job says (vii, II) let nothing pass by him but he scrutinizes and examines everything down to the least detail.

The good man is a Counsellor in the spiritual and bodily necessities of his neighbor. Like Job (xxix,15) he says: "I am eye to the blind and foot to the lame." Blind is he who sees not his own conscience; lame is he who wanders from the right way. The good man comes to the help of each. He makes himself eye to the blind by leading him to recognize the sad state of his conscience. He makes himself foot to the lame by supporting him and guiding him into the way of righteousness and goodness....

Prince of Peace, the good man lives in a perfect tranquillity of soul and body. As Job says (v,23), "the beasts of the field," that is, the stirrings of the flesh, "leave him in peace." Unknown, dead to the world in contemplation, "he sleeps in safety and no one disturbs his rest." (Job xi,19.)

Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Hand Of Jesus

"Jesus stretched forth his hand and touched the leper and said to him: I will: be thou clean." (Matthew viii,3; Mark i,41; Luke v,13)

O, how I marvel at that hand! "That hand carved of gold, set with precious stones (Canticles v,14)" that hand whose touch looses the tongue of the dumb man, brings back to life the daughter of Jairus, and cleanses the leper; that hand of which the prophet Isaiah (1xvi,2) speaks to us: "it alone has done all these wondrous things." To stretch forth the hand is to bestow a gift. O Lord, stretch forth thine hand, that hand which the executioner will stretch out on the cross; touch the leper and give him of thy bounty I All that thy hand shall touch shall be purified and healed. "He touched," says St. Luke (xxii, 51), "Malchus' ear and healed it." He stretched forth his hand to bestow on the leper the gift of health; he said: "I will: be thou clean," and immediately the leprosy was cleansed. "He does whatsoever he wills (Psalm cxiv, 3)." In him nothing separates willing from accomplishment.

Now this instant healing God performs daily in the soul of the sinner through the ministry of the priest. The priest has a threefold office: he must stretch forth his hand, that is, pray for the sinner and take pity on him; he must touch him, console him, promise him pardon; he must will that pardon, and grant it and his absolution. Such is the threefold pastoral ministry which the Lord committed to Peter, when he said to him thrice: Feed my sheep (John xxi,15-17).

First Sunday after Pentecost


"God is love," we read today at the beginning of the Epistle. (I John iv,8.) As love is the chief of all the virtues, we shall treat of it here at some length in a special way....

If God loved us to the point that he gave us his well-beloved Son, by whom he made all things, we too should ourselves love one another. "I give you," he says, "a new commandment, that ye love one another (John xiii,34)." . . . We have, says St. Augustine, four objects to love. The first is above us: it is God. The second is ourselves. The third is round about us: it is our neighbor. The fourth is beneath us: it is our body. The rich man loved his body first and above everything. Of God, of his neighbor, of his soul, he had not a thought; that was why he was damned.

Our body, says St. Bernard, should be to us like a sick person entrusted to our care. We must refuse it many of the worthless things it wants; on the other hand, we must forcefully compel it to take the helpful remedies repugnant to it. We should treat it not as something belonging to us but as belonging to Him who bought it at so high a price, and whom we must glorify in our body (1 Corinthians vi,20). We should love our body in the fourth and last place, not as the goal of our life but as an indispensable instrument of it.

(<Les Sermons de St. Antoine de Padoue pour L'annee Liturgique>. Translated by Abbe Paul Bayart. Paris, n.d.)


1 The canons, or clergy, attached to a church or cathedral for the conduct of its services, are called regular when they live under a monastic rule. The Canons Regular of St. Augustine was a popular order at this time.

Saint Antony of Padua, Confessor, Doctor of the Church. Celebration of Feast Day is June 13. Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.