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ST. ANTHONY AT RUMINI September - October 1998 Issue

For those whose belief in miracles is all-encompassing, the following story is self-explanatory. And for those whose belief system has certain parameters, the story is inspiring because of St. Anthony’s attitude toward other creatures. He understands that God has provided a place in the world for other species, just as surely as humans have been given their place. And perhaps, most surprising, is Anthony’s belief that nonhuman beings are capable, in their own measure, of giving thanks to God for blessings received.

St Anthony of Padua (1185-1231) a Franciscan friar, taught theology at the University of Bologna, and was also a renowned preacher whose sermons were said to touch even the hardest hearts. But one time he been preaching, for several days, in the town of Rimini, to no avail. The people were "hardened and obstinate and did not want to listen to him." Of course Anthony was discouraged because the people refused to hear about God, so he prayed for guidance.

Inspired by God, St. Anthony went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them. He said “Listen to the word of God, O you fishes of the sea and river, as the faithless people refuse to do so.” No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly a great multitude of fishes approached the bank on which he stood; all kept their heads out of the water and seemed to be attentively looking on St. Anthony’s face. All were arranged in order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, and where the water was deeper, the larger ones stayed.

When they had placed themselves in this order, St. Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying: “My brother the fishes, you are bound, as much as it is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you such a noble element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice sweet water and salt water; you have many places of refuge from the tempest....And God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal flood all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm....Because of these things you are bound to praise and bless the Lord who has given you so many and such great blessings.”

At these words the fishes began to open their mouths and bow their heads, and endeavored, as much as was in their power, to express their reverence and show forth their praise. St. Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fishes towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said, with a loud voice, ”Blessed be eternal God, for the fishes of the sea honor him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his words with greater attention than sinful men.”

And the people of the city, hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it...and seeing such a wonderful and manifest miracle, were touched in their hearts, and all threw themselves at the feet of St. Anthony to hear his words.....

He preached so eloquently that all the sinners were converted and returned to the true faith. After this, St. Anthony sent away the fishes with the blessing of God, and they all departed, rejoicing as they went. #

The above story was quoted from Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, Edward Peters (ed.) University of Pennsylvania Press,1980.

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