St. Anthony on the Assumption

By Raphael M. Huber, O. F. M., Conv.

In virtue of the Apostolic Letter Exulta Lusitania felix; O felix Padua gaude [Jan. 16, 1946], Pope Pius XII, solemnly declared St. Anthony of Padua [1196-1231] a Doctor of the Church Universal. St. Anthony, the new Doctor Evangelicus, thus becomes the twenty-ninth Saint to be elevated to this high rank and the second of the Franciscan Order to enjoy this privilege, the other being the "Seraphic Doctor," St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio [1221-74].

Whereas all knew, I dare say, that St. Anthony was a most popular Saint, a wonderful preacher, and a great thaumaturgist, few looked upon him as a deep theologian or a learned teacher. True, he wrote no Summa as did St. Thomas of Aquin, nor a Commentary on the Sentences of Peter of Lombardy, as did most medieval scholastics; but he did bequeath to posterity his sermons, [1] a veritable font of theology and doctrine, so much so that the Holy Father in the above-quoted Apostolic Letter could truly say:

"His contemporaries and more modern authorities are of one accord as to the great light Anthony shed with his doctrine, which was indeed a veritable preaching of the Divine word. They all bestow the most ample praise on his wisdom and extol his eloquence to the skies. Who ever studies the Sermons of the Paduan closely, finds him greatly conversant with the sacred writings, an outstanding theologian in dogmatic research and master in dealing with ascetical and mystical subjects. All this is like a treasury of Divine oratory to supply no little assistance especially to the preachers of the Gospel. It constitutes a kind of well capitalized bank from which particularly our sacred orators can draw plenty of very forceful material to defend the truth, to combat errors, and to reclaim the hearts of those who are lost to the right path. But it is because Anthony so often employs thoughts and examples taken from the Gospel, that he would seem to deserve with full right the title of Doctor of the Gospel. For doctors, theologians and preachers of the Divine word, not a few, have always drawn and do today draw heavily on him as a doctor of Holy Church." [2]
In this article I hope to give a brief analysis of the beautiful sermon of the new Doctor of the Church on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Rev. Diomede Scaramuzzi, O.F.M., recently compiled from the sermons of St. Anthony a whole Summa theologica, as it were, of the Saint, in a work entitled La Figura lntellettuale di San Antonio di Padova alla luce della critica, [3] which was considered of such importance that the Sacred Congregation of Rites included it in the official Acta of its Process for the Informatio, Inquisitio, and Confirmatio of the title of Doctor of the Church to be bestowed on our Saint. [4] It is on Scaramuzzi's learned studies and on the publication of St. Anthony's authentic sermons by that ardent lover of Antoniana, Very Rev. Antonio M. Locatelli, [5] Canon of the Cathedral of Padua [+1902], that I base the following expose of the sermon.

During the early Middle Ages the doctrine of the Assumption of Our Lady was not admitted by all, nor was the feast-day universally celebrated throughout the Church; [6] the important Usuard Martyrology, written by a Benedectine monk of the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres [Paris] shortly before 875, actually denied it. [7] However, since the days of St. John Damascene [675-749] both the belief in the doctrine and the celebration of the feast, although on various days, [8] had so increased from century to century that by the beginning of the 13th Century it was the common doctrine of theologians. There is a legend current that St. Anthony also for a time doubted the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but, as the result of a vision, he became one of its most ardent defenders. [9] The Franciscan school in general, including St. Bonaventure, [10] defended the doctrine. So did the Thomistic school, following its illustrious founder. [11] Thus on this phase, at least, of Mary's prerogatives, there was unanimity of opinion.

St. Anthony's sermon on the Assumption [In Assumptione S. Mariae Virginis] is published by Locatelli [12] and by P. Antonio M. Josa, O.F.M. Conv., the former Prefect of the Biblotheca Antoniana at Padua, in his Sermones S. Antonii de Padua in laudem gloriosae Virginis Mariae. [13] Since there are no direct and formal texts in the Sacred Scriptures on the corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Anthony bases his defense of the doctrine on accommodated texts which he confirms by arguments of convenience [argumenta convenientiae] and by theological inductions and deductions [rationes theologicae].

Commenting on the text of Isaias [60: 13], "Et locum pedum tuorum glorificabo," ["And I will glorify the place of Thy feet."] the Evangelical Doctor says: "The place of the feet of Our Lord was the Blessed Virgin Mary from whom He assumed humanity and whom today He glorified because He exalted Her above the choirs of Angels." In this text, continues our Saint, "it evidently follows that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was the resting place of the feet of the Lord, was glorified because She was taken up into Heaven."

Explaining the text in Psalm [131: 8], "Ex surge, Domine, in requiem tuam, tu et arca sanctificationis tuae," ["Arise, O Lord into Thy resting place: Thou and the Ark, which Thou hast sactified. "] St. Anthony says that the first part of this verse refers to Christ's Resurrection and Ascension, the second part to the "ark which Thou hast sanctified," i.e. to Christ's Blessed Mother, whom He took up to Himself into Heaven: "cum in hac die [Aug. 15] ad aeternum thalamum est assumpta."

Continuing with the thought of the "ark which the Lord had sanctified," [Ps. 131: 8] St. Anthony compares Mary with the ark of Noah which after the flood finally rested on Mt. Ararat in the mountains of Armenia, i.e. "super choros angelorum," because in Her Assumption She "was placed above the choirs of Angels."

He also compares Mary to Esther and says that, like Her type in the Old Testament, Mary too was led to the room of a king: "ducta est ad cubiculum Regis," [Esther, 2: 15-17] "to the ethereal dwelling, in which the King of kings, the joy of the Angels, sits upon a starry throne, Jesus Christ, Who loved the same glorious Virgin above all other women, because of Her He assumed flesh." [14] How like the antiphons of the Roman Breviary for the Feast of the Assumption!

Then, in admiration of the dignity accorded Mary, led to the throne room of the King and exalted above all the choirs of Angels, St. Anthony breaks forth into the following exclamation: "O inaestimabilis Mariae dignitas! O inenarrabilis gratiae sublimitas! O investigabilis misericordiae profunditas!" It was on account of Mary's Divine maternity that She was taken up into Heaven and crowned: "et ideo hodie coronari meruit." In other words, the ratio theologica of Mary's Assumption into Heaven and coronation as Queen of the Angels is Her Divine maternity. Herein lies real theological progress. As Mary's Immaculate Conception [15] was preparatory to Her maternity the greatest of Her prerogatives, so was Her Assumption into Heaven the crowning glory of both. Because She had been immaculately conceived it behooved Almighty God [conveniens erat] to preserve Her body from corporeal corruption. On the other hand, because it was from Mary's chaste body that the Son of God assumed flesh and blood, it behooved God to preserve Her body as free from material, corporeal corruption as He did the body of His Son through the latter's Resurrection and Ascension.

Commenting on the Introit and the Gospel of the day: "Introivit Jesus in quoddam castellum" Anthony says: "The castle into which Jesus entered at the moment of His Incarnation was Mary, His virginal Mother:" "Castellum enim est Beata Maria, quae quia totius castitatis claritate nituit, ideo in ipsam. Dominus intravit." Then, playing on the Gospel narrative in his own inimitable analogical and symbolical method of Scriptural interpretation, he continues: "Around every castle is a wall and on every wall a tower. The wall which protected Mary was Her virginity; the tower defending the castle, Her humility." The tower was straight and long ["turris dicta est 'teres,' idest directa, et longa"]. It was straight because She looked up solely to Him, Who regarded Her humility; long, because in the word of humility "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" She became the Queen of Heaven.

Finally, accommodating the Gospel text of the Feast of the Assumption referring to Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, St. Anthony says: "Our Mary, the Mother of Christ, was both a Martha and a Mary. She was a Martha because She wrapped up the Child in swaddling clothes, laid Him in a manger, nursed Him from a breast full of heavenly nourishment, fled with Him into Egypt and returned with Him therefrom." But She was also a Mary, because, like the other sister of Lazarus, sitting at the feet of Jesus "She kept all these things in Her heart."

En passant, this sermon on the Assumption is an excellent example of the homiletic method used by St. Anthony: the combination of a homily on the Gospel, the epistle, the Introit of the Mass, and the history of the Old and New Testaments as expounded by the Fathers in the second nocturn of the Divine office. This fourfold application St. Anthony calls the "four wheels of the chariot of Elias" [quatuor rotae quadrigae Eliae] which carried the prophet up to Heaven. [16]

Taken from In Praise of Our Blessed Mother, a collection of Marian articles from the American Ecclesiastical Review, 1952.

1. The best edition of St. Anthony's sermons is by the secular priest and canon of the Cathedral of Padua, Dr. Antonio Maria Locatelli, begun in 1895 and after his death [1902] continued by his friends, entitled: Sancti Antonii Patavini thaumaturgi incliti sermones dominicales et in solemnitatibus [Padua: Typis atque Expensis
Societatis S. Anton; Patavini, 1895-1913].
2. Taken from the English translation as given in The Franciscan Herald and Forum. XXV, 6 [June, 1946], 164.
3. Rome: Collegio S. Antonio, 1934.
4. Sacra Rituum Congregatione Emo. et Revmo. Raphaele Carolo Rossi Relatore: Urbis et orbis declarationis seu confirmationis cultus ac tituli doctoris . . . in honorem S. Antonii Patavini ex Ordine Fr. Minorum [Romae: Ex Typog. Augustiniana, 1936].
5. The high regard this eminent lover of Antoniana, Canon Locatelli, had for the doctrines of St. Anthony is evident from his letter addressed in 1888 to Pope Leo XIII requesting that St. Anthony be made a Doctor of the Church. It is printed in the above-named official Acta of the Sacred Congregation of Rites [cf. note 4].
6. Cf. Schwane, Histoire des dogmes [Paris, 1904], 111, 187, 188, 312; Martin jugie, "L 'Assomption de la Sainte Vierge et l'Ecriture Sainte" in L'Annee theologique, 111 [1942], 1-46; Franciscus Salesius Mueller, S.J., Origo divino-apostolica doctrinae evectionis Beatissimae Virginis ad gloriam coelestem quoad corpus [Innsbruck: Rauch, 1930].
7. Cf. Diomede Scaramuzzi, O.F .M., La Figura Intellettuale di San Antonio di Padova. I suo; scritti. La sua dottrina [Rome: Collegio San Antonio, 1934], 203, note. This is practically the same work referred to above [cf. note 3]; it is however to be differentiated from it.
8. Lex ikon Air Theologie und Kirche, V, 5 2- 5 3.
9. The Companion of St. Anthony and St. Francis [Chicago, 111.], XXI, 8 (Aug. 1946), 16.
10. Cf. Bonaventura Gargiulo, O.F.M. Cap. [Bishop of S. Severo], La corporea Assunzione di Maria al cielo. Tradizione e scuola francescana [Naples,1902].
11. Sum. theol. lll, q. 27, a. 1; q. 83, a. 5, ad 8.
12. Op. cit., pp. 722-33.
13. Padua: Typis Seminarii, 1888.
14. St. Bonaventure in his Speculum a. Mariae Virginis (cf. Opera omnia [Quaracchi, 1882], 1.456 f.), seems to have borrowed this similarity between Esther and the Blessed Virgin Mary from St: Anthony.
15. Whether St. Anthony actually denied, taught, or only insinuated the Immaculate Conception of Mary is still a disputed question among Franciscan scholars. Scaramuzzi [op. cit. p. 18] and in his article "San Antonio di Padova e il dogma dell'lmmacolata" in L'Osservatore Romano, Dec. 18, 1932; Gaetano Stanno, OEM. Conv., in Miscellanea Franciscana, XL [1940], 245-60 following Lepitre, Pauwels, Facchinetti, Sparacio, and especially Gustavo Cantini, O.F.M. [in Studi Francescani, XXVIII (1931) hold that St. Anthony if not formaliter at least implicite defended the Immaculate Conception; whereas Candido Romieri, O.F .M., in his doctoral dissertation De Immaculata Conceptione a. M. V. apud S. Antonium Patavinum (Rome: Colle io di San Antonio, 1939) denied this. The latter was upheld in his opinion by the Capuchin Amadeus a Zedelgem (cf. CF, V, 490, n. 22, and CF, XI, 96].
16. Scaramuzzi, op. cit., p. 38.

Reprinted from Catholic Family News.




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