The Sermon of Saint Anthony to the Fish, is one of the Father António Vieira’s best known literary works. This sermon was preached in S. Luís do Maranhão in Brazil on 13 June (Saint Anthony’s Day on the Liturgical calendar) in 1654. The text was written following conflicts that had arisen between the Brazilian settlers and the order of Jesuit priests who were against the enslavement of the native population.
In the text, he condemns the oppression of the small fish by bigger fish. The tale is a metaphor, the big fish are the settlers in Maranhão, whom he insists may in turn themselves be eaten by bigger fish from Portugal.
Three days after preaching the sermon, Saint Anthony sailed to Lisbon to try and obtain the favour of the King D. João VI to ensure the basic human rights of the native Indians. Vieira was able to achieve his goal, and the settlers were no longer allowed to exploit the native population through forced labour.
The sermon of Saint Anthony to the fishes is a surprising work of imagination, satire and oral communication. In the work, the fish are symbols of human virtues and vices (in particular those of the settlers) which are greatly condemned. The whole of the work is, therefore, an allegory, the fish being a metaphor