"The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi," 1476
Christ, the blessed one, was pleased to show forth the great sanctity of
his most faithful servant St Anthony, and how men ought devoutly to listen
to his preaching, be means of creatures without reason. On one occasion,
amongst others, he made use of fish to reprove the folly of faithless heretics:
even as we read in the Old Testament that in ancient times he reproved the
ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of an ass.
St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of
heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of
truth, preached to them for several days, and reasoned with them on the faith
of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but
were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.
At last St Anthony, inspired by God, 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, and said: "Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes
of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to
No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of
fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that
never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their
heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony's
face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones
in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of
all, were the water was deeper, the largest.
When they had placed themselves in this order, St Anthony began to preach
to them most solemnly, saying: "My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as
much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given
you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both
sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you
have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your
bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and
multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures
perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins
to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the
commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw
him safe and sound on dry land. You it was who gave the tribute-money to
our Saviour Jesus Christ, when, through his poverty, he had not wherewith
to pay. By a singular mystery you were the nourishment of the eternal King,
Jesus Christ, before and after his resurrection. Because of all these things
you are bound to praise and bless the Lord, who has given you blessings so
many and so much greater than to other creatures."
At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads,
endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and
show forth their praise.
St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced
greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: "Blessed be the eternal God;
for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals
without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics."
And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and
none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city
hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it. With them also came
the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest
a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet
of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them
the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were
converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were
filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.
After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and
they all departed, rejoicing as they went, and the people returned to the
city. But St Anthony remained at Rimini for several days, preaching and reaping
much spiritual fruit in the souls of his hearers.