From The Little Flowers of Saint Francis
Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to show how holy was his most faithful servant, Saint Anthony, and how devoutly people should listen to his preaching and wholesome teaching, at one time among others rebuked the foolishness of the infidels and the ignorant and the heretics by means of irrational animals – fishes – just as in ancient times in the Old Testament he rebuked the ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of an ass.
For once when Saint Anthony was in Rimini, where there was a great number of heretics, wishing to lead them back to the light of the true faith and onto the path of truth, he preached to them for many days and argued about the faith of Christ and about Holy Scripture. But they were stubborn and hard-hearted, and not only did they not accept his holy teaching but, moreover, they refused to listen to him.
So one day, by an inspiration from God, Saint Anthony went to the mouth of the river near the sea. And standing on the bank between the sea and the river, he began to call the fishes in God’s name, as for the sermon, saying: “You fishes of the sea and river, listen to the word of God, since the faithless heretics refuse to hear it!”
And as soon as he said that, all of a sudden such a great throng of large and small fishes gathered before him near the bank as had never been seen in that sea or river. And all of them held their heads a bit out of the water, gazing intently at Saint Anthony’s face. There you would have seen the big fishes staying close to the little ones, while the smaller ones peacefully swam or stayed under the fins of the larger fishes. You would also have seen the different types of fishes hasten to group themselves together and range themselves before the saint’s face like a field painted and adorned with a marvelous variety of colors. You would have seen schools of big fishes occupy the distant places in order to hear the sermon, like an army ranged for battle. You would have seen the middle-sized fishes take their positions in the center and stay in their places without any disturbance, as though they were instructed by God. And you would have seen a great and very dense crowd of small fishes come in a hurry, like pilgrims going to receive an indulgence, and approach closer to the holy father as to their protector. And so first the smaller fishes near the bank, secondly the middle-sized, and thirdly the largest fishes, where the water was deeper, attended this divinely arranged sermon of Saint Anthony – all in very great peace and meekness and order.
Then when all the fishes were in their places in perfect order, Saint Anthony solemnly began to preach saying: “My fish brothers, you should give as many thanks as you can to your creator who has granted you such a noble element as your dwelling place, so that you have fresh and salt water, just as you please. Moreover, he has given you many refuges to escape from storms. He has also given you a clear and transparent element and ways to travel and food to live on. Your kind creator also prepares for you the food that you need even in the depths of the ocean. When he created you at the creation of the world, he gave you the command to increase and multiply, and he gave you his blessing. Later during the flood, when all the other animals were perishing, God preserved you alone without loss. He has also given you fins so that with that additional power you can roam wherever you wish. It was granted to you, by order of God, to keep alive Jonas, the prophet of the Lord, and to cast him onto dry land safe and sound on the third day. You offered the tribute money to our Lord Jesus Christ, when as a poor man he had nothing to pay the tax. You were chosen as food for the Eternal King, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, before his resurrection and in a mysterious way afterwards. Because of all these things you should praise and bless the Lord, who has given you so many more blessings than to other creatures.”
At these and similar words and preaching of Saint Anthony, some of the fishes began to open their mouths, and all of them nodded their heads, and by these and other signs of reverence they praised God as much as they could.
Then Saint Anthony, seeing how reverent the fishes were toward God the Creator, rejoiced in spirit and cried out in a loud voice: “Blessed be the Eternal God because the fishes of the waters give God more honor than heretical men, and animals lacking reason listen to his word better than faithless men!”
And the longer Saint Anthony preached, the more the throng of fishes increased, and not one of them left the place which it had taken.
At this miracle the people of the city, including the above-mentioned heretics, came running. And when they saw the marvelous and extraordinary miracle of the fishes listening to Saint Anthony, all of them felt remorse in their hearts, and they sat down at his feet so that he should preach a sermon to them.
Then Saint Anthony preached so wonderfully that he converted and brought back to the faith of Christ all those heretics who were there, and the faithful he sent home with his blessing, strengthened in their faith and filled with joy.
Saint Anthony also dismissed the fishes with God’s blessing, and they all swam away to various parts of the sea, rejoicing and expressing their joy and applause in amazing games and gambols.
After this, Saint Anthony stayed in Rimini for many days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit, both by converting heretics and by stimulating the piety of the clergy.
To the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ who is blessed forever and ever.