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why is st anthony always with a child?

October 25, 202123

The image of Anthony and the child Jesus is a favorite around the globe. This popular image, which is quite friendly, likable and appealing, conveys something vitally important in the Franciscan and Catholic spirit. There are legends or stories explaining why St. Anthony is presented that way. But what is important is that the image of Anthony with the child Jesus has important truths to teach us.

why is st anthony always with a child?cid=3

First of all, we notice that Anthony is wearing a Franciscan habit. Seeing him as a true son of St Francis of Assisi and a part of the Franciscan tradition is therefore very important. It is a historical fact that Anthony joined the Order of Friars Minor while Francis was still alive. He being a committed member of Francis’ Order would have known well the spirit, teachings, values and dramatic actions of Francis. He would have surely heard about Francis’ famous celebration of Christmas near Greccio, Italy, in 1223 when the Christ child appeared in the straw and Francis held the child in his arms. How interesting! The story of the Baby Jesus appearing to Anthony is a kind of “copycat” story amazingly similar to that of St. Francis.

Francis, we know, was tremendously impressed by the “poverty” and littleness of God, a God who left behind his divinity and chose to become a vulnerable child. In God’s entering the human race as a little baby on Christmas Day, Francis saw a God of unbelievable generosity, a God who held nothing back from human beings, a God of total self-giving, humility and poverty. Anthony would have surely taken to heart the larger spiritual vision of St Francis, which extended beyond his fascination with the feast of Christmas. To see St. Anthony holding the infant Jesus in his arms, therefore, is to see a true follower of St. Francis. For did not Francis also embrace that same image of God’s vulnerability and humble love?

Another meaningful way to interpret the presence of the Christ child in the arms of St Anthony is to realize that Anthony was a great preacher of the Gospel, a brilliant communicator of the Incarnate Word. In his sermons, as a Doctor of the Gospel, Anthony emphasized the mystery of the Incarnation. Clearly, Anthony had taught Scripture with great power and effectiveness.

This leads us to view the images of Anthony holding the infant in a whole new light: Through his Scripture-based preaching, the real, historical Anthony was holding and communicating to the world the Incarnate Word of God. Very often the infant in Anthony’s arms is portrayed as standing on the Holy Bible. Can there be a more obvious symbol and a clue that the Christ child in Anthony’s arms represents the very embodiment of the Word of God? Often, the child stands on the Bible’s open pages as if rising out of the printed word itself.

The image of Anthony holding the divine infant is a symbol and model for each of us. The image inspires us to go through life clinging to the wonderful mystery of the humble, self-emptying Christ, who accompanies us as a servant of our humanity and of the world’s healing. 

According to legend, Saint Christopher devoted his life to carrying the weak and poor across a river. One night, when he was carrying a child, he felt his burden grow heavier with each step. When questioned, the child declared that he was Christ and that Christopher was thus bearing the weight of the world. The widespread cult of Saint Christopher stemmed largely from the belief that gazing on his image would protect the faithful from storms and other threats in their travels.

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