The Forlì Revelation

September 19 2022 | by

THE SUPERIOR of Monte Paolo Monastery had followed Francis of Assisi’s call to live in poverty, humility, celibacy, and prayer for the love of God and service of His people. His talents and faith had been noticed, and he’d been appointed head of this small monastery in the Bologna Province of the Friars Minor. Following the Pentecost gathering of the friars in Assisi in 1221, the Provincial Minister Father Graziano had assigned a new Portuguese priest to this obscure hermitage. The superior was delighted because now he and the other brothers could participate in daily Mass at the hermitage. Friar Anthony was sickly, but he would regain his strength. He was also unassuming, quiet, disciplined, and prayerful. Having requested a kitchen assignment to earn his keep, Anthony also asked to live in a small, secluded cave, where he prayed intensely, and regularly used the discipline, the superior learned.


Place and date


About a year later in 1222, the superior was informed that an ordination of some followers of Francis and others of Dominic was going to take place in Forlì. Since the brothers always traveled in pairs, the superior asked Friar Anthony to accompany him as a traveling companion.

These are the facts as we know them. Historians disagree on the exact location of Monte Paolo Monastery, although it is generally agreed to have been in what is now the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Was this locus of the friars near Forlì, Arezzo or Bologna? Was it on the mountain above Dovadola? A few historians postulate that Monto Paolo hermitage was likely about four miles from Forlì, a comfortable walk for the brothers who, before Anthony arrived, were hiking there for daily Mass.

Historians also disagree on when in 1222 the ordination took place. Some place it on March 19, others on September 24. The location of the ordination is likewise questionable as is exactly who was ordained. Tradition claims that the ordination involved both Dominican and Franciscan friars, but other priests may have also been ordained. If so, then the ordination would most likely have taken place at a cathedral. Since the Basilica (Cathedral) of San Mercuriale is located in Forlì, this would be the likely location. Since the Vallombrosian Order was assigned to this cathedral, possibly some of their own were among the ordained.


Bishop Albert


Wherever and whenever the ordination happened, Bishop Albert was the presider. After the ordination, the Bishop was present at a Franciscan friary in or near Forlì, where newly ordained Franciscans and Dominicans were rejoicing together. At some point, probably after the meal, the Bishop called for the assigned speaker to offer a few words. The expectant hush turned to unease as no one came forward. The Franciscans had assumed that the Dominicans, called Friars Preachers, would give the address. But the Dominicans assumed that the Franciscans held that responsibility as the gathering was at their friary. The exasperated Bishop asked if anyone would preach out of obedience. Since Father Graziano was Provincial, he had the responsibility of selecting someone. Scanning the group, he spotted Anthony who the previous year had meekly conceded to go to Monte Paolo even though both the language and the territory were unfamiliar to him. Graziano had no idea if this Portuguese friar could preach although, as a priest, he should have learned something about that skill.

What no one knew was that Anthony had been well-schooled during his ten years as an Augustinian monk. No one realized that he had a prodigious memory that retained what he had learned about natural history, biology, and Scripture. Anthony’s extemporaneous talk at Forlì was not recorded, but the audience’s reaction was that of amazement and edification.


Hasty meeting


Bishop Albert and Father Graziano must have held a hasty meeting. Heresy was rife in the Romagna region, and whatever Anthony said indicated that he possessed knowledge and skills to combat error. No longer would he be permitted to conceal his talents at Monte Paolo. With the permission of Minister General Friar Elias, Anthony was sent to preach in the towns and cities of Italy and France, beginning with the Romagna region. By the time Anthony died less than ten years later, his preaching and example had brought thousands of people to repentance.

Anthony exemplified the good prelate about whom he frequently spoke. “Christ says, I am the Truth [Jn 14.6]. Whoever preaches the truth, preaches Christ. Whoever conceals it in his preaching, denies Christ.” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, p. 399; translated by Paul Spilsbury,  Edizioni Messaggero Padova).


The Church Fathers


Trained as an Augustinian before becoming a Franciscan, Anthony often quoted the Church Fathers in his sermons and sermon notes. The example and words of Saint Gregory made a strong impression on him. “St. Gregory says, ‘He who is engaged in heavenly preaching seems already to have deserted the depths of earthly works, and to be standing on the very heights. He will more easily draw those entrusted to him to better things the more his good life proclaims heavenly things. That voice more readily penetrates the hearer’s heart when the speaker’s life commends it. The spoken precept is reinforced by his example, to bring it about’” (Sermons III, p. 269).

“The prelate’s life should be seasoned with the wisdom which is from above, so that in the first place the purity of his mind should be chaste as to himself, and peaceful towards his neighbor. He should be modest, as to his moral behaviour, persuadable and ready to listen, consenting to what is good both in inclination and in action: and full of mercy… he is full of mercy in the compassion of his mind, and fruitful in carrying out his work. He judges without pretence, having no favorites in his judgment; or else he metes out to himself the same measure of penance as he judges for others… His life should be pure, his knowledge sound, and his eloquence to the point… Such should be the prelate who wants to rule the people committed to him well. May he who is blessed for ever deign to grant him this. Amen” (Sermons IV, pp. 146-47).


Updated on September 20 2022