St. Anthony and the Divine Child

Rachel Harriett Busk, in her Roman Legends (1877), recorded five legends concerning St. Anthony. In the tale Busk recorded, the Italian storyteller recounted how the apparition of the Santo Bambino led to the conversion of a "Protestant" who was a "good man." Busk observed, in her footnote, that St. Anthony (1195-1231) lived before the rise of Protestantism. However, St. Anthony did live and preach during the time of the Italian Cathars. He was known as the "hammer of heretics." Thus, this story must have originally been about the successful conversion of a Cathar heretic to Catholicism. I have retold the tale in this manner.

St. Anthony had been sent on a long journey to preach. During his travel, fatigue overtook him. He rested at a monastery for a few days.

Another traveler arrived that same evening, also seeking hospitality at the humble monastery. This traveler was not a good Catholic, but was a heretic and a Cathar. The monks likely did not know that, but in any case, it was the duty of the brothers to give hospitality to any man, if he needed it.

The monks had retired to their cells at an early hour in the evening, as was their custom.

This traveler had some difficulty sleeping, so he quietly walked up and down the hall to tire himself out.

Suddenly, he spied a bright light issuing from around the door and through the keyhole of one of the cells.

Fearing that one of the good monks had overturned a lamp and set fire to the bedclothes, he anxiously flung open the door. The room was only lit by a single lamp, which gave out a dim light in the cell. One of the monks was kneeling in prayer, and looked up in surprise. The traveler glanced, very puzzled, around the room and said, "Forgive me, good brother. Are you alright? I saw a light."

The monk smiled and responded, "Yes, thank you. Sometimes when I cannot sleep, I pray."

Very embarrassed, the traveler closed the door and said nothing more.

The traveler remained a second evening at the monastery, curious to discover what could have caused the bright light. As he walked quietly up and down the halls, he again saw the bright light issuing from around the door and through the keyhole of the same cell. This time, as he bent down to peer through the large keyhole, the traveler could hear the sound of a gentle voice. Looking through the keyhole, he saw the monk kneeling before an open book. Upon the book stood a small child, bathed in celestial fire, the flames of which danced around the monk's cell.

Astonished by the sight, the traveler knocked at the door. St. Anthony, for he was the monk who was kneeling in the cell, answered, "Come in."

The traveler entered, but the miraculous light had vanished along with the child. Again the room was lit only by a single lamp.

Glancing around the room, he asked, "Who was that talking to you?"

St. Anthony answered simply, "The Divine Infant."

Much intrigued by these events, the traveler remained a third night at the monastery. After the good brothers had retired to their cells, he again quietly walked up and down the hall.

The light from the celestial flame again illuminated the door. This time the traveler quietly observed through the keyhole this child, whose glorious radiance filled him with love.

This time, when the traveler knocked upon the door, he humbly asked St. Anthony that he might teach to him the true doctrine of Christ. St. Anthony and the traveler set up all night talking.

When morning came, the traveler told the head abbot that he wished to make his adjuration and join the order. Eventually this former heretic took the habit in that monastery, wherein he strove earnestly to become the model of a good brother and remained a loyal son of the Catholic Church.

--Myth Woodling, 2007

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