Anthony of Padua

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Anthony of Padua

Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), a Franciscan friar, was a remarkable theologian and preacher. He became the first theology teacher in the Franciscan order and is referred to as "Doctor of the Church."Anthony was canonized less than a year after this death because of the many miracles attributed to him. He is popularly known as the patron saint for lost things.

Anthony of Padua was born Fernando de Boullion (Ferdinand Bulhom) in Lisbon, Portugal on August 15, 1195 to a wealthy and socially prominent family. His father, Martin de Boullion was a descendant of Godfrey de Bouillon, commander of the First Crusade. He worked as a revenue officer and was a knight of the court of King Alfonso II. His mother, Theresa Tavejra, was a descendant of Froila I, the fourth king of Asturia. The Pope had recognized Portugal as an independent nation for less than 20 years at the time of Anthony's birth. The crusaders were an important part of Portugal's early history and religious life was strongly encouraged. The king and queen built cathedrals and monasteries around the country, which would play an influential role in Anthony's later life.

Anthony was educated at the Cathedral School of Saint Mary near his home. His teachers suggested that he become a knight on the king's court, but his father objected. He argued that his son was not strong enough to become a knight and thought he was better suited to intellectual pursuits. He wanted Anthony to help him manage the family's estate and become a nobleman. To his father's dismay, Anthony decided to join the Canons Regular of St. Augustineat the age of 15. He entered St. Vincent's convent of Lisbon in 1210. During his first two years in the convent he was visited often by family and friends. Anthony felt that these visits distracted him from prayer and asked to be transferred to Holy Cross Monastery in Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal.

Joined Franciscan Order

Anthony spent eight years studying theology in Coimbra and was ordained a priest around 1219 or 1220. During this time he befriended several friars from the monastery at Olivares. These men belonged to the Friars Minor and followed Francis of Assisi. Francis had aspired to be a noble knight, but he gave up his dreams to follow Christ. He built an order of friars in Assisi, Italy around 1211 and traveled extensively, preaching to nonbelievers. According to Madeline Pecora Nugent in Saint Anthony, Words of Fire, Life of Light, "By simple preaching, austere lifestyle, and holy example, Francis and his followers were evangelizing the populace in fields, markets and public squares." His way of life was approved by Pope Innocent II around 1209 or 1210.

In 1220 the first Franciscan friars had been martyred. Five friars went to Morocco as chaplains to the sultan's soldiers. When they arrived and began preaching about Christ, the sultan was angered by what he had heard. He ordered them to stop preaching and leave Morocco several times, but the friars refused. In the end the sultan ordered that all five be tortured and killed. Their remains were taken to the Holy Cross Monastery in Coimbra where Anthony was living. He was so moved by their story and martyrdom that he decided to join the Friars Minor. He believed that it was his calling to become a martyr too. It was an unusual request to want to leave the Canons of Saint Augustine and his superiors at Holy Cross were reluctant to let him go. They found it hard to understand how the son of a nobleman would dedicate his life to poverty, even though this is exactly what Saint Francis did. Anthony was given permission to leave and he joined the Convent at Olivares. He was given the name Anthony after Saint Anthony of Egypt who founded the first Christian monasteries based upon the idea of renouncing the world for Christ.

Soon after joining the friars Anthony wanted to go to Morocco to continue the mission of the five martyred friars. He was granted permission and sailed to Morocco in December of 1220. Upon his arrival he fell seriously ill and had to return home. However, en route to Portugal, his ship was blown off course during a severe storm and Anthony landed in Sicily.

A New Calling

Anthony recovered at a Franciscan monastery in Messina. It was there that he learned that a general meeting of friars was going to be held in Assisi on May 30, 1221. For a week, friars from across Europe gathered to pray together and to hear Saint Francis and Brother Elias, the new minister general of the order, speak. After the meeting, Anthony was assigned to a hermitage in Monte Paolo, near Forli, where he celebrated mass for the lay brethren.

Anthony lived a life of solitude until his gift for preaching was discovered by accident. He accompanied the Father Provincial to an ordination ceremony in Forli. The scheduled preacher did not arrive and no one volunteered to fill his role so the Father Provincial asked Anthony to speak about whatever came to his mind. He gave an incredible performance, demonstrating the depth of his knowledge of the scriptures and speaking eloquently and passionately. It was this chance opportunity that changed Anthony's calling.

When Saint Francis learned of Anthony's performance, he appointed him the first theology teacher of the friars and ordered him to travel throughout Italy preaching to the order. Saint Francis had reservations about educating the friars because he feared they would lose their humility. According to Nicolaus Dal-Gal in The Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis sent a letter to Anthony stating: "It is my pleasure that thou teach theology to the brethren, provided, however that as the Rule prescribes, the spirit of prayer and devotion may not be extinguished."

Preacher and Teacher

Anthony then traveled all over Italy and France preaching to the people as well as the friars. He attracted large crowds wherever he went. He was best known for his sermons against heresy, his attacks on the weakness of the secular clergy, and on the sins of society. Because of the passion with which he spoke, Anthony was called the "Hammer of the Heretics." He was well known for speaking to people directly about their sins, regardless of their social standing. In a famous story about Anthony, it is said that he was invited by the Archbishop Simon de Sully to preach at a synod in Bourges in 1225. In front of a large audience, Anthony denounced his host, the archbishop himself. His sermon was so powerful that the archbishop repented.

Anthony greatly shaped the development of Franciscan theology. For example, he is credited with introducing the teachings of Saint Augustine to the friars. He also spent a considerable amount of time with Thomas Gallo, the famous abbot of the Saint Andrew Monastery in Vercelli, discussing mystical theology. In 1223 Anthony founded a theology school for the friars, which eventually became the school of theology at the University of Bologna.

Anthony is the only early Franciscan preacher whose teachings have survived to this day. Only two sermons have been preserved—one for Sundays composed around 1228 and one for saints' feast days composed between 1230 and 1231. His speeches frequently included references to scripture that soon became an important practice in Franciscan preaching style. While these sermons are described as long and argumentative, some excerpts are straightforward and have been circulated for a lay crowd. An example taken from Saint Anthony of Padua Our Franciscan Friend is: "Jesus' place should always be in the center of every heart. From this center, as if from a sun, emanate rays of grace to each of us."


When Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, Anthony returned to Italy. He was then elected Minister Provincial of Romagna-Emilia. However, he resigned his position at the general meeting of Franciscans on May 30, 1230 so he could continue preaching. He returned to the convent in Padua that he had founded in 1227. The same year he was also given the opportunity to preach before Pope Gregory IX who was so moved by what he heard that he called Anthony the "Ark of the Covenant." Anthony also preached daily in Padua during Lent of 1231 and tens of thousands of people flocked to the city to hear him. He was preaching outside of Padua when he became ill. It was later discovered that he suffered from dropsy, where water is retained in the body tissues, but it is not known what caused this condition. Anthony knew that he was seriously ill and he asked to be taken back to Padua. However, he did not reach his final destination. Instead he died in Arcella on June 13, 1231 at Poor Clare monastery, at the age of 35. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on May 30, 1232 at the Cathedral of Spoleto. In 1946 Pope Pius XII named Anthony of Padua the "Doctor of the Church" for his knowledge of scripture and gift of preaching.

While Anthony is often called "the miracle worker," only one of the 56 miracles recorded for his canonization occurred during his lifetime. His fame came more from the impact of his preachings than from miraculous acts. In 1263 when his relics were moved to a church in Padua bearing his name, legend has it that his vault was opened and his body had decomposed except for his tongue, which was still intact.

Today Anthony, son of a nobleman and teacher of friars, is known as the patron saint of the illiterate and the poor, the finder of lost things, and the saint of small requests. Tuesday has become known as Saint Anthony's day because that was the day of his funeral procession in Padua. His feast day is celebrated on June 13. There are two images popularly associated with Saint Anthony. In one image he is holding the child Jesus on his arm. This is based on a story that young Jesus appeared to Anthony in 1231 as an apparition. The second image is of Saint Anthony holding a lily. There is a story that on his feast day in 1680 someone placed a cut lily in the hands of his statue at a church in Austria. Instead of dying the lily grew two new blooms the following year. The lily is a symbol of purity and innocence.


Butler's Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh, Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.

Maeterlinck, Maurice, A Miracle of Saint Anthony: And Five Other Plays, Boni and Liveright, Inc., 1917.

Moorman, John, A History of the Franciscan Order from Its Origins to the Year 1517, Claredon Press, 1968.

Nugent, Madeline Pecora, Saint Anthony: Words of Fire Life of Light, Pauline Books and Media, 1995.

Saint Anthony of Padua: Our Franciscan Friend, Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1991.

The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1958.


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