Saturday, February 27, 2010

St Anthony and His Preaching in France

Vicente Carducho 1576-1638
The Vision of St Anthony of Padua
Oil on canvas, 227 x 170 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Giotto di Bondone 1267-1337
Legend of St Francis: 18. Apparition at Arles
Fresco, 270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi
During a meeting of the order, St. Anthony of Padua was preaching in the cloister at Arles - Giotto shows a generously proportioned Gothic room. Suddenly, Francis appeared. Only St. Anthony, who had just been speaking about Christ, and one other member of the Order notice the apparition. Giotto shows all the others listening with full attention.

Attributed to Jean Boachon
The Life and Miracles of St Anthony of Padua (c.1515)
Oil on wooden panel
74 x 82cm
Musée de Brou, Bourg-en-Bresse

Église Saint-Pierre-du-Queyroix, Limoges

The Sermones Dominicales and the Sermones Festivi of St Anthony of Padua are not as they stand sermons preached by Saint Anthony, although they contain material he preached. They depart from his oral style in important ways, notably in being much longer and more systematic. Antony himself indicates that they contain material, or ‘themes’, for a number of ‘sermons’

We have a number of eye witness accounts of the preaching of St Anthony.

As regards his preaching in France we are dependent on the history of Jean Rigauld, (the first Franciscan archbishop of Rouen) who, however, seems to have been conscientious in recording the accounts of eye-witnesses.

"During the time that he was appointed Custos of the brethren of the Limoges custody, he was in the city of Limoges around midnight on the night of Holy Thursday, in the church called St Peter de Queyroux. This was so that when the Office of Matins was over, which is said there at midnight, he might sow the seed of the word of life to the people gathered in the church."

Rigauld comments on the frequency with which Antony treated the theme of poverty. Already, Anthony often found that there were too many people wanting to hear him to fit into the local church:

"On one occasion, at the church of St Junien in the diocese of Limoges, he was preaching, and the congregation was so large that the church was not big enough to hold it; and so the man of God had to transfer to a wide open space, with the crowd that had gathered. A wooden pulpit was improvised, and the man of God climbed up onto it, remarking that he foresaw that the Enemy might soon cause a disturbance in the sermon, but that they should not be frightened, because no-one would be hurt by it. Not long afterwards, the place the saint was standing on collapsed, to everyone’s surprise, and yet neither he nor anyone else was injured. Because of this, the people were brought to even greater reverence for the man of God, seeing a prophetic spirit strong in him; and when a new place had been made ready, they listened to him with even greater attention."

As well as such popular preaching, Antony was in demand at important clerical gatherings:

"I learned from a reliable account by certain friars that one occasion he was preaching at a Synod at Bourges. Directing his words to the Archbishop in fervour of spirit, he said, ‘It’s you I’m talking to, in the mitre.’ He began to rebuke, fervently and with well-chosen texts of Scripture, certain vices which troubled the conscience of the Archbishop; so that all at once the Archbishop was moved to compunction, and tears, and devotion, that he had not felt before. When the Synod was over, he took him aside and opened his wounded conscience; and from then on was more devoted both to God and to the friars, and was more conscientious about the service of God."

On one occasion he solemnly called together the people of Limoges for a sermon, and the crowd that gathered was so great that every church was reckoned too small to hold such a multitude. He therefore called the people together at a very spacious place, where a pagan palace had once stood, called ‘Creux des Arènes’. There the people could sit down comfortably, and listen quietly to the divine word.

While Antony was speaking, a thunderstorm arose, and the people began to panic, until Antony called them to order.

"The man of God continued his sermon as long as he was pleased, and the people listened attentively. When they got up from the sermon, they found that the ground all around was soaked, but where they had been sitting was completely dry; and they praised the wonderful kindness of God, who is wonderful in his saints. Many friars were still living when I entered the Order of Friars Minor, who had been present at that sermon, and could repeat the gist of his preaching. Their testimony is entirely reliable, because they spoke of what they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears."

The Franciscans settled at Limoges in 1223. According to the chronicle of Pierre Coral, rector of St. Martin of Limoges, St. Anthony of Padua established a convent there in 1226 and departed in the first months of 1227. On the night of Holy Thursday, it is said, he was preaching in the church of St. Pierre du Queyroix, when he stopped for a moment and remained silent. At the same instant he appeared in the choir of the Franciscan monastery and read a lesson. It was doubtlessly at Châteauneuf in the territory of Limoges that took place the celebrated apparition of the Infant Jesus to St. Anthony

In his biography of St Antony, Fr Leopold de Chérancé gives a sermon which the Saint is said to have delivered in 1226, in the Benedictine abbey of St Martin at Limoges. His authority is the Chronicle of Pierre Coral, Abbot of St Martin at Limoges, Librairie Nationale MS n. 5,452, fol. cix.

If authentic, this seems to be the only record of a sermon as actually preached by the Saint

After preaching in the cemetery of St Paul’s on the text ‘In the evening weeping shall have place, and in the morning gladness’ (Ps 29.67). The occasion may have been All Souls’ Day, or perhaps a funeral, the next day he preached in the Abbey on the excellence of monastic life

"Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest! [Ps 54.7]

Such is the cry of a soul that is weary of this world and longs for the solitude and peace of the cloister life. It is of the religious life that the Prophet Jeremias spoke when he said:

Leave the cities, ye that dwell in Moab, and dwell in the rock;
and be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole in the highest place. [Jer 48.28]

Leave the cities, that is, the sins and vices which dishonour, the tumult which prevents the soul from raising herself to God, and, often, even from thinking of him. Leave the cities, for it is written:

I have seen iniquity and contradiction in the city.
Day and night shall iniquity surround it upon its walls;
and in the midst thereof are labour and injustice.
And usury and deceits have not departed from its streets. [Ps 54.10-12]

There is to be found iniquity against God and man; contradiction against the preacher of truth; labour in the ambitious cares of the world; injustice in its dealings; knavery and usury in its business transactions.

Ye that dwell in Moab, that is in the world which is seated in pride as the city of Moab. All is pride in the world: pride of the intellect, which refuses to humble itself before God; pride of the will, which refuses to submit to the will of God; pride of the senses, which rebel against reason and dominate it… But to leave the world, live remote from the tumult of cities, to keep oneself unspotted from their vices, is not sufficient for the religious soul.

Hence the Prophet adds: Dwell in the rock. Now this rock is Jesus Christ. Establish yourself in him; let him be the constant theme of your thoughts, the object of your affections. Jacob reposed upon a stone in the wilderness, and while he slept he saw the heavens opened and conversed with angels, receiving a blessing from the Lord [cf. Gen 28.11-16].

Thus will it be with those who place their entire trust in Jesus Christ.

They will be favoured with heavenly visions; they will live in the company of angels, they will be blessed as Jacob was, to the north and south, to the east and west [Gen 28.14]. To the north, which is the divine breath mortifying the flesh with its concupiscences; to the east, which is the light of faith and the merit of good works; to the south, which is the full meridian splendour of wisdom and charity; to the west, which is the burial of the old man with his vices. But as to the soul which does not repose upon this rock, it cannot expect to be blessed by the Lord.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole of the highest place.

If Jesus Christ is the rock, the hole of the rock, in which the religious soul is to seek shelter and take up her abode, is the wound in the side of Jesus Christ. This is the safe harbour of refuge, to which the Divine Spouse calls the religious soul when he speaks to her in the words of the Canticle:

Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come, O my dove,
that art in the clefts of the rock. in the deep hollow of the wall. [Cant 2.13-14]

The Divine Spouse speaks of the numberless clefts of the rock, but he also speaks of the deep hollow. There were, indeed, in his body numberless wounds, and one deep wound in his side; this leads to his heart, and it is hither he calls the soul he has espoused. To her he extends his arms, to her he opens wide his sacred hide and divine heart, that she may come and hide therein. By retiring into the clefts of the rock the dove is safe from the pursuit of birds of prey, and, at the same time, she prepares for herself a quiet refuge where she may calmly repose and coo in peace.

So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat. But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock, we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow, at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall, indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us. This blood pleads for us and demands mercy for us. But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance. When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood, she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus. There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the deep hollow of the rock. The dove builds her nest with little pieces of straw she gathers up here and there. And how are we to build an abode in the heart of Jesus? This Divine Saviour, who so mercifully gives us the place wherein we are to make our abode, furnishes us at the same time with the materials with which to construct it. O religious soul, dove beloved of Christ, behold those little pieces of straw which the world tramples under its feet. They are the virtues practised by thy Saviour and thy Spouse, of which he himself has set thee an example: humility, meekness, poverty, penance, patience and mortification. The world despises them as useless pieces of straw; nevertheless, they will be for thee the material wherewith to construct thy dwelling-place, for ever, in the profound hollow of the rock, in the heart of Jesus.

(From St. Anthony of Padua, by Father Leopold de Chérancé, O.S.F.C., rendered into English by Father Marianus, O.S.F.C. with an introduction by Father Anselm, O.S.F.C. (Eighth Edition, London, Burns Oates & Washbourne), 83-86.)

It was in Limoges that another astonishing event occurred in the Church of St. Pierre-du-Queyroix. At about midnight on Holy Thursday, St. Anthony was transported among his friars to sing the liturgy since it was his responsibility.

The year 1226 also saw Anthony establishing a friary in Brive. It was here that Anthony found the necessary peace to restore his strength after the exhausting labours of preaching. He withdrew to some caves just outside the town. Here he dedicated himself to penance and contemplation.

After his death, his memory was kept alive among the inhabitants of Brive, and the caves where he stayed have become a place of pilgrimage

Although having been confiscated by the state during the uncertain times following the French Revolution, the sanctuary of Brive was bought back by the friars in 1874 and re-consecrated in 1895. Since then it has become the national centre of Anthonian devotion in France.