Why is St. Anthony the patron saint of lost things?
Before actually addressing why St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, we ought to take some time to review his life.
St. Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and was baptized Ferdinand. His parents were of the nobility. Some writers of the 15th century posited that his father was Martin Bouillon, a descendant of the famous Godfrey de Bouillon, commander of the First Crusade; and his mother, Theresa Tavejra, was a descendant of Froila I, fourth king of Asturia. However, this genealogy is unproven. Nevertheless, his parents were faithful and sought to hand their faith on to their son. He also was privileged to receive his early education at the cathedral school of Lisbon.
At the age of 15, Ferdinand joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in Lisbon. Two years later, he transferred to the monastery in Coimbra to avoid distractions from frequent visits of relatives and friends. During this time, he studied diligently, and being gifted with a superior memory, he attained an excellent knowledge of theology, sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers.
In 1220, the five bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs, who were martyred in Morocco at the hands of the Moslems, were returned to Portugal. They were taken for burial to the Church of Santa Croce in Coimbra, where Ferdinand was stationed. Moved by their witness of faith in suffering martyrdom, Ferdinand also desired to preach the Gospel to the Moslems and even give his own life for our Lord. To pursue this desire, he left the Augustinians and joined the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, and took the name Anthony.
St. Anthony set sail for Morocco in spring, 1221. Almost as soon as he arrived, he was stricken with a severe illness, which after several weeks necessitated his to return to Portugal. On his return journey, a violent storm drove the ship off course and eventually it docked in Messina, Sicily. He remained there until he regained his health. He learned that a general chapter of the Franciscans was to take place on May 30 in Assisi, so he traveled there to take part and to meet St. Francis.
During the chapter, St. Anthony asked to be assigned to live in a place in solitude and penance. His superior, Father Graziano, sent him to the hermitage of Monte Paolo near Forli and Bologna. One day, St. Anthony was attending an ordination of Franciscan and Dominican priests at Forli. (Possibly at this time St. Anthony himself was ordained as a priest.) When the time came for the sermon, they discovered that no one had been appointed to preach. The Dominicans declined because no one was prepared. The Franciscans then offered St. Anthony, who they thought could read only the Missal and the Breviary. They told him to preach whatever the Holy Spirit put into his mouth. This he did. He astonished everyone not only with his zeal and eloquence, but also with his profound theological knowledge. This event launched St. Anthony’s preaching and teaching career. The provincial assigned St. Anthony to preach through the Lombardy region, and he had great success in converting many heretics and renewing the faith of many people.
St. Francis himself soon heard of St. Anthony’s ability. In 1224, he wrote, “To Brother Anthony, Brother Francis sends his greetings. It is my pleasure that you teach theology to the brethren, provided, however, that as the Rule prescribes, the spirit of prayer and devotion may not be extinguished. Farewell.” St. Anthony taught at Bologna, Montpellier and Toulouse.
In 1230, he moved to Padua, a monastery he helped establish and where he would spend his remaining life. Besides preaching, he organized relief for the poor, the abolition of debtors' prisons and the release of prisoners captured in the wars between city-states.
Nevertheless, St. Anthony was most known for his eloquent and compelling preaching. St. Anthony exhorted the faithful to conversion, laity and clergy alike. He preached against the vices of luxury, avarice and tyranny. At a time of fighting between the city-states of Italy, his sermons inspired peaceful reconciliations. He also converted many heretics to the Faith with his solid, persuasive and compassionate arguments. He was especially noted for his defense of the Real Presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist, the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, and the infallibility of the pope. By the end of his life, 30,000 people would gather in Padua to listen to him; moreover, so many were moved to repentance that more priests had to be found to hear confessions. For these reasons, he was given the title “Hammer of Heretics” and “Ark of the Covenant.” (Pope Gregory IX, who heard St. Anthony preach, in his canonization decree gave him the title “Ark of the Covenant,” for just as the original Ark held the sacred Scriptures, so did St. Anthony in his person.) Pope Pius XII remarked, “If anyone attentively considers the sermons of the Paduan, Anthony will stand forth as a most skilled master of the Scriptures, an outstanding theologian in examining doctrine, an excellent doctor and master in treating of ascetical and mystical things.”
Next week, we will continue our exploration of the life of this most beloved saint of our Church.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)