Wonder -Worker Extraordinaire

June 01 2004 | by

I BELIEVE in miracles. I have always believed in miracles. Why so? Miracles attest to the power of God to intervene in ordinary life so as to go beyond the normal order of things, the so-called laws of nature. In performing a miracle God ‘interferes’ with the running of the world, so to speak, for a religious end or purpose.

Supernatural events

The English word, miracle, derives from the Latin word, miraculum, which in turn comes from the verb mirari which means ‘to wonder.’ In classical Latin the word miracle means ‘a wonderful thing.’ When miracles occur, those who observe them are filled with feelings of amazement.  
Protestants generally believe in the miracles recorded in both the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the parting of the Red Sea, and in the New Testament, for example, the bringing back of Lazarus to life as recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 11. Catholics, on the other hand, believe both in the miracles recorded in scripture and in post-biblical days such as the cures associated with the apparition of Mary at Lourdes and Fatima along with the miracles associated with the lives of the saints.
We humans are continually fascinated by the subject of extraordinary occurrences. A miracle is, by definition, a sensible fact produced by God’s special intervention. Miracles have a religious purpose, namely, to bring about faith. They go beyond the normal order of things, that is, they involve a break with the laws of nature, as when Jesus walked on water.
Extraordinary occurrences are events and experiences that cannot be explained in terms of our current science and philosophy. I am thinking of such things as physical and mental healings, exorcisms (or the expelling of an evil spirit form someone), miracles of nature, such as walking on water, levitations, clairvoyant powers and resurrection appearances.

Anthony and miracles

Miracles have always played a large role in the life of Saint Anthony of Padua. For this reason he has been called a thaumaturgist or ‘wonder worker.’ Right after the Saint’s death in 1231, Saint Anthony became the object of an extraordinary devotion as miracle followed miracle. Huge crowds came to the tomb of Saint Anthony.
Orderly processions were formed sometimes led by the bishop of Padua along with the clergy. All carried candles, some of which were so large that sixteen men were needed to carry just one of them. These candles were so large that they could not be brought into the church, but had to be left outside.
It seems that the people of northern Italy in general, and Padua in particular, began to honour Anthony as a saint even before he was officially canonized by the pope, Gregory IX on 30 May 1232, eleven months after his death. In his bull of canonization, Pope Gregory IX noted that miracles were worked through the intercession of Saint Anthony. The Pope stated that “through the light of his miracles” lustre was shed “on the whole Church...”
It’s impossible to list all the miracles associated with Saint Anthony. In a sense only God knows exactly how many miracles were worked through the Saint. Why did God deign to work miracles through the intercession of Saint Anthony? Again, no one knows God’s inscrutable ways.
What are some of the miracles attributed to Saint Anthony over the centuries? Before I answer this question I should note that at times it is difficult to distinguish between the actual miracles and the legends associated with them. There seems to be a tendency to exaggerate or embellish some of the stories connected with saints and other charismatic individuals. Doubtless some of the miracles attributed to Saint Anthony are legendary. Others, however, come to us on such great authority that one cannot explain them away without doing violence to history.

The mule and the fish

There are three well-known miracles connected with the conversion of heretics. The first miracle has to do with a mule or horse which refused to eat the oats placed before him although the mule had not eaten for three days. Before eating the oats the mule reportedly knelt and adored the Blessed Sacrament which Saint Anthony held in his hands. This miracle occurred at the well-known (today) resort town of Rimini on the Adriatic Sea, not at Toulouse, France or Bruges in Belgium as some have claimed.
Another famous miracle concerned the poisoned food offered the Saint by some heretics in Italy. Saint Anthony made the food safe to eat by blessing it with the sign of the cross. The third miracle deals with the famous sermon Saint Anthony preached to the fish in Rimini. That city was in those days a hotbed of the Cathar heresy. The city leaders had ordered everyone to ignore him, so no one turned up for his homilies. Anthony walked along praying and reflecting upon what had happened. Walking outside the town, he came to the mouth of the Marecchia river, where it flows into the Adriatic. There he began to address the crowds, not of people, but of fish. Suddenly, there were thousands of fish neatly arranged in rows, straining to listen to every one of Anthony’s words.
The people of Rimini, seeing this miracle, abandoned their hardened positions and, conscience stricken, returned to the Church.
This story of the mule venerating the Blessed Sacrament and the story of Saint Anthony preaching to the fish is found in the Fioretti, and may not be historically reliable. These stories do, however, make a point, namely, that at times animals were more receptive to God’s word than people. The purpose of these stories, then, was to edify the faithful.

Other miracles

As Minister Provincial of the friars in 1226, Saint Anthony worked other miracles. While preaching on Holy Thursday at Limoges in the church of St. Peter, Saint Anthony remembered that he was to sing part of the divine office. Suddenly he stopped his discourse and appeared at the same time among the friars to sing his lesson, after which he reportedly continued his sermon. In other words Saint Anthony had the gift of bi-location.
Saint Anthony performed other miracles at Limoges. While preaching in the town square at Limoges, it began to rain. The Saint miraculously preserved his audience from the rain so that they could continue hearing him preach the word of God. Saint Anthony also had the gift of clairvoyance. While preaching at St. Junien, he predicted that the pulpit would break down by an artifice of the devil, but no one would be injured. Sure enough, it happened as the Saint predicted.
Saint Anthony’s gift of clairvoyance also accounts for the fact that he knew that he would die soon. We know about this, and about many of the miracles connected with Limoges, France, because of a work by Jean Rigauld, a friar and bishop of Treguier, Bordeaux and Brive, France, who wrote a life of Saint Anthony around the year 1300.
Jean Rigauld tells us that Saint Anthony restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and dumb. Saint Anthony reportedly brought back to life two individuals who died and healed many people of their life-threatening fevers. Unfortunately, Rigauld adds legendary details thus detracting from his credibility as an authentic source.
We also know about Saint Anthony as a Wonder Worker from the Book of Miracles, written in France between 1367 and 1374. Something like 65 miracles is recounted in this book, 41 of which come from earlier sources. Another early source is the work by Bartholomew of Pisa, a friar who gathered together in its entirety what he could find about St. Anthony. He published this in a book written in 1387.

Never ending literature

One could write forever about the miracles connected with Saint Anthony. There’s the famous story about a newly received novice who decided the Franciscan life was not for him. He left at night, taking with him the manuscript of the Psalter which contained a marginal gloss the Saint had been using for his lectures.
Saint Anthony asked God in prayer to help him find his book. As the story goes, the novice did not get very far. Struck with contrition, he turned back at the bridge near the city. He returned the book to Saint Anthony and begged to return to the Order.
Later legends have added ‘bells and whistles’ to the story. The friar’s remorse of conscience was turned into a terrifying appearance of Satan who threatened the fleeing novice with a great sword. By the way this story is the origin, I believe, of the notion that Saint Anthony is the saint to call upon to find lost items.
I close this article with two observations. First, these medieval legends about the saints do not represent the life of the saint and thus establish his/her cult. Rather, it’s the other way around. The devotion to the saints on the part of the faithful precedes these medieval stories.
Second, miracles attest to the greater honour and glory of God. And Saint Anthony of Padua would have us keep this uppermost in our minds. To God be all praise.

Updated on October 06 2016