St. Anthony of Padua Biography
From the Book, SAINT ANTHONY THE WONDER WORKER OF PADUA
by Charles Warren Stoddard, TAN Books, 1971
FERNANDO THE NOVICE
Who was Fernando de Bouillon? He was the son of Martino de Bouillon, and Teresa Tavera, his wife, who were of ancient lineage and noble birth. Don Martino descended from the illustrious Godfrey de Bouillon, who led the first Crusade and was the first Frankish King of Jerusalem. He was the grandson of Vincenzo de Bouillon, who followed King Alfonzo I in his campaign against the Moors, and who, in acknowledgment of his deeds of valor was made governor of Lisbon. This office became hereditary in the family of De Bouillon; and Fernando, as first son of the house, was heir to it. And Dona Teresa wa hardly less illustrious. Her ancestors had reigned over the Asturias in the eighth century, until the invasion by the Saracens.
Don Martino and Dona Teresa occupied a sumptuous palace close to the cathedral of Lisbon, Portugal. Here Fernando was born on the 15th of August, 1195. Eight days after his birth he was carried with great pomp to the cathedral and there received in Baptism the name of Fernando.
Though nothing of a prophetic nature preceded the birth of Fernando, it was soon evident that he was no ordinary child. Born on the Feast of the Assumption, it was at the shrine of Our Lady del' Pilar he received the grace of Baptism. To the Blessed Virgin his mother consecrated the babe when returning from the Baptismal font; Maria was the first name he learned to utter, and the hymn he heard oftenest from his mother's lips was "O Gloriosa Domina!" As a child, the sight of an image or a painting of the Madonna would change his tears to smiles; as a religious, he placed himself under the special protection o the Blessed Virgin; as an apostle, he was her champion ever sounding her praises, ever ready to do battle in her cause: At the age of ten, beautiful in form and feature, with an inner spiritual beauty that gave his face an almost Angelic expression, possessed of a sweet and gladsome nature, a quick intelligence and a lively imagination, he had already shown a preference for the secluded paths of a religious life.
During five years of his infancy Fernando attended the
in Lisbon, clothed in the garb of a cleric. He was a pattern of all the
proprieties. In this exquisitely refined child virtue blossomed like a
flower, and breathed forth a delicate fragrance that all who approached
him became conscious of.
It was now he gave the first manifestation of that power which, through him, was to work wonders so long as he lived-----wonders that have never ceased, and are never to cease in this ever-wondering world. Kneeling one day at the shrine of Our Lady in the cathedral, his eyes on the tabernacle wherein the Blessed Sacrament was veiled, a demon, one of those baleful spirits that still tempt and delude the unwary, appeared before him. Startled as he was, with the pious instinct of nature he traced upon the marble step where he was kneeling the Sign of the Cross. The vision vanished, but to this hour is seen that sacred symbol indelibly impressed upon the marble. In that hour Fernando's fate was sealed.
With everything to make life alluring-----youth, beauty, health, wealth, high birth and gentle breeding, devoted parents and idolizing friends-----the child turned from them all. It was his destiny. Already able to meditate upon the foolish rewards of life and labors in the world and for the world alone, Fernando exclaimed: "O world, how burthensome thou art become! Thy power is but that of a fragile reed; thy riches are as a puff of smoke, and thy pleasures like a treacherous rock whereon virtue is shipwrecked."
He seems to have resolved on this occasion to enter the religious life; to turn from the luxurious delights that had never appealed to his nature, and accept poverty, humility, and obedience as his portion. This resolution once formed, nothing could cause him to reconsider it.
At the gate of the Abbey of St. Vincent he implored admission; "being attracted thither," as the chronicle quaintly records, "by the renown for learning and holiness of its men." Surely nothing could have offered him a more pleasing prospect than the society of such of these; nothing afforded him more perfect satisfaction.
FERNANDO THE SCHOLASTIC
What wonder that the child should have turned from the world in his fifteenth year, when most children at that stage of development find an indescribable joy in mere physical existence? From his earliest infancy his life was an involuntary consecration. He was meekness, compassion, love personified. He had a special devotion to the impoverished and all those in sorrow and affliction. He was never known to utter a falsehood. All the offices of the Church were dear to him. He never failed to hear Mass daily, and joyfully and most reverently to serve. Our Blessed Lady, pattern of purity, was his chosen patroness. For the amusements which were the delight of his companions he cared nothing; the pleasures of life he never knew, anc hoped never to know.
He was the natural enemy of idleness; was instinctively studious; and of a sweet solemnity, which did not oppress but rather edified his associates, and endeared him to them.
What wonder that he should turn from the madding crowd and seek the seclusion of a cloister? There was nothing unwholesome, nothing unnatural in his resolve to quit the world while yet a child in years. For a youth of his temperament-----a temperament which was an Angelic heritage-----there is really but one step to be taken; firmly, but in all humility, he took it.
Without the walls of Lisbon stood the Monastery of St. Vincent, a house of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. Having obtained the leave of his parents, he went thither; and, casting himself at the feet of the prior-----called by some Gonsalvo Mendez and by others Pelagius-----he asked to be admitted to the holy brotherhood. Naturally edified by the gentle and reverent spirit of the youth who knelt before him, the prior received him with affectionate tenderness, and in due course of time he was clothed in the white robe of the Order.
What happiness of heart was his, what peace of spirit, what serenity of soul! Alas! they were short-lived. His friends, missing him sorely sought him at all seasons. If he had before this been to them an engaging mystery, a surprise by reason of his unlikeness to them and to any other whom they knew, he was now, clad in the pale robe of the Augustinians, their wonder and delight. He drew them irresistibly to the monastery, and their well-meant but ill-timed visitations were a distraction which he could not long endure.
Two years were enough, and more than enough, to assure him that at St. Vincent's, let him strive ever so bravely against such a fate, he was in danger of losing his vocation. He must seek security in solitude, in exile; and that without delay, if he would attain the perfection which was his aim in life. It was no bitterness of spirit, no pride, no impatience, he turned from all who loved him most. It was an honest and an earnest effort on his part to reach that state of grace for which his heart was hungering night and day. At. St. Vincent's he was neighbor to the world and the worldly life he cared not for. He must fly hence, at any cost to comfort, temporal or spiritual. He must steel his heart to the sweet assaults of earthly love; for the unity, peace and concord he sought found no abiding place under heaven save in cloistral seclusion.
The prior of St. Vincent's had, during the two years of Fernando's sojourn there, beheld with joy the fervor of the youth; and when that youth implored him to be allowed to depart into some other house of the Order-----some house far removed from Lisbon and the voices that were constantly crying to him to return to them again-----the prior was for a season loath to give him leave; but, as the old chronicler says: "Having at length, by tears and prayers, obtained the consent of his superior, he quitted not the army in which he was enlisted, but the scene of combat; not through caprice, but in a transport of fervor."
FERNANDO THE AUGUSTINIAN CANON
Nearly a hundred miles from Lisbon stood the Abbey of Santa Cruz. It was lapped in the seclusion of Coimbra; it was far from the trials, the temptations, the tribulations of the work-a-day world. It was the motherhouse of the Augustinians, the head cradle of the Order. The sweet influences of the saintly Theaton, its first prior, still perfumed it. It was the center and the source of all the noblest traditions of the tribe, the inspiration of the clergy, the consolation and the pride of the loyal and widely scattered brotherhood.
The Abbey was a far-famed seat of learning. There Religion and Letters went hand in hand. Don John and Don Raymond, both Doctors of the University of Paris, were among the scholars at Santa Cruz. For a student, for a religious, for a recluse, there was no retreat in Portugal more desirable than this; and thither Fernando was sent.
His new brethren were not long in convincing themselves that Fernando's change of residence had not been made without reflection, and that the love of novelty had no share in his decision. He had, it is true, ardently longed for solitude and tranquillity; but, far from seeking therein a dispensation from the rigor of monastic life, he sought but a means to perfect himself in virtue. At Lisbon he had read the literature of pagan antiquity; at Santa Cruz he devoted himself to the study of theology, the Fathers, history, religious controversy. Above all these, the Sacred Scriptures won his ardent attention.
He was seventeen years of age when he entered Santa Cruz. He was completely detached from the world. Nature had in every way richly endowed him. His memory was prodigious. All knowledge came to him freely, without effort; and, once acquired, it never left him more, but, beautifully adjusted and ready for instant use, it seemed literally at his tongue's end.
Eight years he passed at Santa Cruz, in obedience, in prayer, in study. He grew continually in virtue-----he was virtue's self. Devoted to his books, he never permitted the study of them to interfere with the pious duties allotted him. On one occasion, being employed in some remote part of the Abbey, he heard the note of the Elevation bell; turning toward the chapel, he prostrated himself, and beheld the distant altar, and the Sacred Host in the hands of the celebrant-----beheld them all as plainly as if the intervening walls had vanished away.
Nor was this the only wonder he worked at Santa Cruz. While nursing one of the religious, the patient-----a victim of obsession-----became uncontrollable. Fernando, spreading the hem of his mantle over the sufferer, brought to him instant and permanent relief.
His erudition grew to be the subject of general comment. He knew the Holy Bible by heart; he seemed to have taken the sense and substance of it to his soul, so that it became a part of him. In one of his commentaries he wrote: "O Divine Word, admirable Word, that inebriatest and changest the heart, Thou art the limpid source that refreshest the parched soul; the ray of hope that givest comfort to the poor sinner; the faithful messenger that bringest glad tidings to us exiles of our Heavenly country!"
He never forgot what he had once studied; though the time was to come when the calls upon him were so many and so various he had no moment in which to read anything save only his breviary.
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