Saint of the Day – 1 August – St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori C.Ss.R. – Doctor of the Church-Bishop, Founder, Spiritual Writer, Composer, Musician, Artist, Poet, Lawyer, Scholastic Philosopher and Theologian (27 September 1696 at Marianelli near Naples, Italy – 1 August 1787 at Nocera, Italy of natural causes) He was Canonised on 26 May 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871. He founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists). In 1762 he was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti. Patronages – against arthritis, against scrupulosity, confessors (given on 26 February 1950 by Pope Pius XII), final perseverance, moral theologians, moralists (1950 by Pope Pius XII), scrupulous people, theologians, vocations, diocese of Acerra, Italy, diocese of Agrigento, Italy,l Pagani, Italy, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Italy. Attributes – chaplet, praying with a monstrance in his hands, pen, quill, crucifix, writing, bishop with his chin on his chest (due to his arthritis).
St Alphonsus learned to ride and fence but was never a good shot because of poor eyesight. Myopia and chronic asthma precluded a military career so his father had him educated for the legal profession. He was taught by tutors before entering the University of Naples, where he graduated with doctorates in civil and canon law at 16. He remarked later that he was so small at the time that he was almost buried in his doctor’s gown and that all the spectators laughed. When he was 18, like many other nobles, he joined the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy with whom he assisted in the care of the sick at the hospital for “incurables”.
He became a successful lawyer. He was thinking of leaving the profession and wrote to someone, “My friend, our profession is too full of difficulties and dangers; we lead an unhappy life and run risk of dying an unhappy death”. At 27, after having lost an important case, the first he had lost in eight years of practicing law, he made a firm resolution to leave the profession of law. Moreover, he heard an interior voice saying: “Leave the world, and give yourself to me.”
In 1723, he decided to offer himself as a novice to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri with the intention of becoming a priest. His father opposed the plan but after two months (and with his Oratorian confessor’s permission), he and his father compromised: he would study for the priesthood but not as an Oratorian and live at home. He was ordained on 21 December 1726, at 30. He lived his first years as a priest with the homeless and the marginalised youth of Naples. He became very popular because of his plain and simple preaching. He said: “I have never preached a sermon which the poorest old woman in the congregation could not understand”. He founded the Evening Chapels, which were managed by the young people themselves. The chapels were centres of prayer and piety, preaching, community, social activities and education. At the time of his death, there were 72, with over 10,000 active participants. His sermons were very effective at converting those who had been alienated from their faith.
Liguori suffered from scruples much of his adult life and felt guilty about the most minor issues relating to sin. Moreover, the saint viewed scruples as a blessing at times and wrote: “Scruples are useful in the beginning of conversion…. they cleanse the soul and at the same time make it careful”.
In 1729, Alphonsus left his family home and took up residence in the Chinese Institute in Naples. It was there that he began his missionary experience in the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples, where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples. In 1731, while he was ministering to earthquake victims in the town of Foggia, Alphonsus claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mother in the appearance of a young girl of 13 or 14, wearing a white veil.
Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (The Rdemptorists)
On 9 November 1732, he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, when Sister Maria Celeste Crostarosa told him that it had been revealed to her that he was the one that God had chosen to found the congregation. He founded the congregation with the charism of preaching popular missions in the city and the countryside. Its goal was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places. They also fought Jansenism, a heresy that supported a very strict morality: “the penitents should be treated as souls to be saved rather than as criminals to be punished”. He is said never to have refused absolution to a penitent.
A gifted musician and composer, he wrote many popular hymns and taught them to the people in parish missions. In 1732, while he was staying at the Convent of the Consolation, one of his order’s houses in the small city of Deliceto in the province of Foggia in Southeastern Italy, Liguori wrote the Italian carol “Tu scendi dalle stelle” (“From Starry Skies Descending”) in the musical style of a pastorale. The version with Italian lyrics was based on his original song written in Neapolitan, which began Quanno nascette Ninno (When the child was born). As it was traditionally associated with the zampogna, or large-format Italian bagpipe, it became known as Canzone d’i zampognari the (“Carol of the Bagpipers”).
Alphonsus was consecrated Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti in 1762. He tried to refuse the appointment by using his age and infirmities as arguments against his consecration. He wrote sermons, books and articles to encourage devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He first addressed ecclesiastical abuses in the diocese, reformed the seminary and spiritually rehabilitated the clergy and faithful. He suspended those priests who celebrated Mass in less than 15 minutes and sold his carriage and episcopal ring to give the money to the poor. In the last years of his life, he suffered a painful sickness and a bitter persecution from his fellow priests, who dismissed him from the Congregation that he had founded.
In 1775, he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani, Italy, where he died.
Veneration and legacy
He was beatified on 15 September 1816 by Pope Pius VII and canonized on 26 May 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI.
In 1949, the Redemptorists founded the Alphonsian Academy for the advanced study of Catholic moral theology. He was named the patron of confessors and moral theologians by Pope Pius XII on 26 April 1950, who subsequently wrote of him in the encyclical Haurietis aquas.
Alphonsus’ greatest contribution to the Church was in the area of moral theology. His masterpiece was The Moral Theology (1748), which was approved by the Pope himself and was born of Alphonsus’ pastoral experience, his ability to respond to the practical questions posed by the faithful and his contact with their everyday problems. He opposed sterile legalism and strict rigoururism. According to him, those were paths closed to the Gospel because “such rigour has never been taught nor practiced by the Church”. His system of moral theology is noted for its prudence, avoiding both laxism and excessive rigour. Since its publication it has remained in Latin, often in 10 volumes or in the combined 4-volume version of Gaudé. It saw only recently its first publication in translation, in an English translation made by Ryan Grant and published in 2017 by Mediatrix Press. The English translation of the work is projected to be around 5 volumes.
His Mariology, though mainly pastoral in nature, rediscovered, integrated and defended that of St Augustine of Hippo, St Ambrose of Milan and other fathers; it represented an intellectual defence of Mariology in the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, against the rationalism to which his often flaming Marian enthusiasm contrasted:
The Glories of Mary
Prayers to the Divine Mother
The True Spouse of Jesus Christ
Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection
The Way of Salvation and of Perfection
The Way of the Cross,
Preparation for Death,
The Incarnation, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ
The Holy Eucharist
Victories of the Martyrs
Many of these are available online.