The Medieval Fish
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Selected from I Fioretti of St. Francis of Assisi, chap. 40
Christ the Blessed was willing to give proof of the great sanctity of His most faithful servant St. Anthony, as well as to show how men ought to listen devoutly to his preaching by means of irrational animals. 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 was once in Rimini [Italy] where there were a great number of heretics. Wishing to lead them to the light of the veritable Faith and the way of truth, he preached to them for several days and reasoned with them on the Catholic Faith and Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but became more hardened of heart and obstinate, refusing to listen to him any longer.
Seeing this, St. Anthony, by divine inspiration, went down to the shore where the river runs into the sea. From the bank between the river and the sea, he started to preach to the fish in the name of God, 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 do so."
The fish come to listen to the preaching of St. Anthony
No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fish, both great and small, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen either in that sea or that river. All kept their heads out of the water and attentively gazed at the face of St. Anthony. All were arranged 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, where 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 brother fishes, you are greatly obliged, as much as 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 water. He gave you many places of refuge from the storms; He gave you yet more the pure and transparent water and the food for you to live. When God, your bountiful and kind Creator, made you, He gave you as a command to increase and multiply, and He gave you His blessing. In the universal Deluge, all the other creatures perished, and you alone were preserved from all harm. He gave you fins to enable you to go where you will.
“To you it was granted, by God’s command, to conserve the life of the Prophet Jonah, and then after three days, to throw him back, safe and sound, on dry land. It was you that gave the tribute-coin to Our Lord Jesus Christ when, because of his poverty, he had not wherewith to pay it. Finally, by a singular mystery, you served as nourishment of the eternal King Jesus Christ, before and after His Resurrection.
“Because of all these things, you are bound to glorify and bless the Lord who has given you blessings, so many and so much greater than the other creatures.”
Hearing these words and teachings of St. Anthony, the fish opened their mouths and bowed their heads, and with these and other signs of reverence they glorified God as much as was in their power. Then, St. Anthony, seeing the great reverence of the fish towards God their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said in loud voice:
“Blessed be the eternal God, for the fishes of the sea glorify Him more than the men without faith, and the animals without reason listen to His word with greater attention than the sinful heretics.”
As St. Anthony continued to preach, the multitude of fish increased, and not one left the place it occupied.
The news of this miracle spread and the people of the city made haste to go and see it, including those hardened heretics we have spoken of above. The latter, seeing so marvelous and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts, and looked for St. Anthony to hear his words.
After the miracle St. Anthony preaches with success in Rimini for some days
Then St. Anthony began to expound to them the Catholic Faith. So nobly did he preach that all those heretics were converted and returned to the true Catholic Faith. The faithful, also, were greatly comforted and strengthened in their faith.
After this, St. Anthony dismissed the fish with a blessing, and they all departed, giving marvelous signs of joy as they went. The people also, filled with joy, returned to the city. Then St. Anthony remained some days in Rimini, preaching and doing great spiritual good in the souls of his hearers.
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