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Who Was St. Anthony of Padua?

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By Melanie Williams (Jun 12, 2016)
Do you have a nickname? It's most likely not "the hammer of heretics," but that was St. Anthony of Padua's! With his feast day on June 13, let's find out why on earth (and Heaven!) he received that nickname.

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195, St. Anthony was from a wealthy family and was sent to the abbey of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine at the age of 15 where he learned theology and Latin. Ten years later he was ordained and given new responsibilities in the abbey.

Soon after his ordination a group of Franciscans settled in the area. Anthony heard about the great Franciscan martyrs in Morocco who died evangelizing the Muslims, and he longed to join them, even to the point of death. He received permission to leave the Canons and joined the Friars Minor. He went on his way towards Morocco to preach the Gospel, but fell ill along the way. His ship got caught in a storm and ended up in Italy. After recuperating, Anthony spent the remainder of his life in Italy. His education was unknown to his brothers but was famously discovered when he was called upon unexpectedly to preach. Unprepared, Anthony spoke from this heart to the people, and the Holy Spirit moved mightily through his sermon. When St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of his order, heard of Anthony's education, he wrote to him:

"To Brother Anthony, my bishop (i.e. teacher of sacred sciences), Brother Francis sends his greetings. 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. Farewell. (1224)"

Anthony taught in various cities in northern Italy and southern France, but he was most famous for his preaching. It is recorded that often more than 30,000 people would flock to hear him preach. See for yourself why so many would flock to him. Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons on the Gospel of St. Luke, where a woman, some tradition holds was Mary Magdalene, came and washed Jesus' feet with her tears.


Compunction of tears is called a "stream of fire" because it cleanses and warms. There is a proverb, "He weeps warmly, who weeps from the heart." Because there was a great fire of love in the heart of Magdalene, she shed the hottest tears, and she began to wash his feet with tears [Lk 7.38]. Truly her tears were a "swift stream of fire," because they destroyed all her sins: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. [cf. Lk 7.47]


Saint Anthony preached with zeal, and often against heresy. Numerous conversions occurred among heretics who listened to his sermons, and that earned him the title Malleus hereticorum — Hammer of Heretics. He brought many lost souls back to the Church. Also known as a saint of miracles, during and after his lifetime many healings have been attributed to him. Of course he is most famous for the recovery of lost things.

Saint Anthony is often seen in paintings and statues holding the Infant Jesus because Jesus did appear to him once as an infant. Saint Francis also appeared to Anthony while he was preaching on the mystery of the Cross.

In Padua, his last sermons were directed against hatred and enmity. Among the people of Padua many permanent reconciliations took place, peace was re-established among those in feuds, debtors were forgiven, and many scandals were resolved. So many people went to Confession due to St. Anthony's homilies that the priests of Padua could not cover the amount of penitents. Many of these people said that they had been warned in dreams about their sinfulness, and after his death, St. Anthony visited many in their dreams, admonishing them, and encouraging them to go to Confession. Thus, St. Anthony is not just the saint that many today know him as, "the one who finds my lost things," he is also a powerful intercessor in the cause of lost souls. This "hammer" died at the age of 31 on June 13, 1231.

When his relics were transferred in 1263, the minister general of the Friars Minor was present, St. Bonaventure. When his body was exposed, everything was dust except for his tongue, which was fresh and full of color. Saint Bonaventure took it in his hands, kissed it, and said, "O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God."

May St. Anthony pray for us and for the whole world, that all may come to know and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and live for the Glory of God!

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