When he was in charge of hospitality at a monastery in Coimbra, Portugal, this young Augustinian monk met some wandering Franciscan friars and was impressed with their austerities and missionary zeal.
In 1220 at age 25, he joined the Franciscan order (founded by Francis of Assisi) and took the name of Anthony after St. Anthony the Great. Brother Anthony traveled to Morroco to preach the Catholic faith. He was sent home due to illness. His ship was driven by storm to Sicily. Anthony took this as a sign and traveled to Italy and requested to be placed in a Franciscan monastery there.
His skill at preaching was eventually noticed by his superiors. Brother Anthony was apparently gifted with a loud, clear voice, excellent memory, a brilliant mind, skill with rhetoric and a religious fire of zeal.
Brother Anthony was eventually commissioned by Brother Gratian to preach the Catholic gospel throughout Lombardy in Northern Italy.
The Cathars, a form of Christianity labeled a heresy, were active in Northern Italy at this time. During his lifetime, Brother Anthony became known as the "hammer of heretics." He was one of the most powerful and eloquent preachers of the 13th century. He traveled a great deal throughout Italy, as well as in France. In his very active career, Brother Anthony preached against the vices of luxury, avarice, and tyrany.
Interestingly, when he became ill in 1231, he retired to a woodland retreat at Camposanpiero, Italy and lived in a cell built for him under a walnut tree.
Brother Anthony died at age 36 on June 13, 1231. As he was exactly the sort of person the Catholic Church needed to continue to combat the "Cathar heresy," Anthony was cantonized a saint slightly less than a year after his death.
Many, many miracles were ascribed to him.
He was credited with at least one visitation from Jesus as the Divine Child. The Divine Child appeared to Brother Anthony in his cell and told Anthony that his preaching was wonderful. The Divine Child also told Anthony how much he loved him, and then the Divine Child kissed Anthony. The physical kiss is significant, because it reaffirms orthodox Catholic theology, which insisted that Christ had two natures, physical and divine. Catholic theology also insisted that Christ physically was born, crucified, died, was buried, and rose in the flesh.
Cathar theology alternatively insisted that flesh and the manifested world were impure and evil. Christ, the savior, thus, was purely divine spirit, who had never been trapped in impure flesh. Hence, according the Cathars, Christ never would have physically appeared to anyone as a being with a corporeal form capable of bestowing a kiss.
Due to his visitation, St. Anthony is often depicted as holding the Christ Child in Catholic iconography.
--Myth Woodling, 2007
St. Anthony and the Divine Child
Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Sant' Antonio
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