But in greater depth, who was Saint Anthony?
In a spiritual profile the most obvious aspect is his passionate dedication, right from adolescence, to silence, to meditation, to an inner life, to prayer. Old biographies agree on this. His life story is of a great man of prayer. His companion Blessed Luke testifies to it: "This saint was truly a man of great prayer". From his paternal home to the monastery of São Vicente, from here to Santa Cruz in Coimbra, from here to the hermitage in Olivais, and then following his missionary experience, to the retreat in Montepaolo. His life as an apostle was studded with periods of retreat and hermitage: the caves of Brive, Verna, the walnut tree in Camposampiero. He was a man of immense and constant solitude.
He also kept his mouth shut. When circumstance required it, he was a surprising man. At the ordination in Forlì, the loner from the Appennine cave revealed himself to be what he is: a carrier of sacred science, an incomparable communicator. His fellow friars, were astonished and dumbfounded; from that moment on they felt authorized to ask Anthony for nearly anything.
It was considered normal that he succeeded at everything he did. He was a polyglot, a revolutionary as a pastor (daily preacher during Lent, lengthy, frequent personal confessions), professor of Biblical Theology, writer, superior, statute reviser, councillor, founder of convents, religious leader crowned by supernatural phenomenon... He roused astonishment and awe; extremes coexisted within him, from the shadows to the dazzling light, from oblivion to the greatest notoriety.He was always on his own. How many people, among his most affectionate collaborators, would have imagined the extent of his interior life?
Penetrating deeper into the divine, Saint Anthony increasingly gave himself up to his maturing faith. He became like a child in the arms of the Father who sees and provides all. He stopped planning his life, his sanctity. This is the famous principle of passivity, of hiding himself, which matured in him after his Marrakech setback.
In Assisi he was quiet, he remained hidden, he did not look after himself at all. He is pure, adoring, and happily dependent on the will of the Lord. Fr. Graziano intervened and took him to Romagna. In Forlì it was the local superior who gave him the duty of improvising the spiritual conference for those about to be ordained, and the Provincial Minister who directed him to preach. It was the Minister General who sent him to battle heretics, the General Chapter that gave him the task of seeing Pope Gregory IX to settle difficult questions, and the Minister General who elected him as Provincial. All he wanted to become invisible, to breath Him the Invisible.
Following the ardent evangelical formula, he was in this world, but not of this world. He was immersed in historical reality, without being caught up by it. He was everything to everyone, even spiritually he was already knowingly inserted into the divine sphere; he had a real and absorbing relationship with God. However, despite this, he did not refuse risk, commitment or personally paying the consequences, quite the contrary. He did not let ambiguity or the transitory nature of life on this earth imprison him, as his spirit lived on faith in "another world" which is beyond mankind. Thus, disembodied, ethereal, he appeared to his peers to have a demanding yet rewarding interior life, like an inhabitant of another world.