St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Prince of Moral Theologians, was one of the greatest preachers in Church history. A religious founder, consummate theologian, and holy man of God, Saint Alphonsus never failed to utter a stirring word that draws out a lively penitence and redoubled dedication to the work of God from his congregation.
Born in 1696 near Naples, he grew up in a family of noble descent but which was less well-off than might be expected. Graduating at age 16 with a doctorate of both laws, he practiced brilliantly for 11 years. When he lost a major case, he passed through a period of remorse and conversion of life (though he had never been greatly sinful), and resolved to become a priest after he heard a voice saying, "Leave the world and give thyself to me." After facing opposition and trouble, he eventually was ordained a priest at 30 years old. He served in Naples for a time, and then in 1732, after becoming involved with some religious who desired that a new institute be founded, he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly called the Redemptorists. The order's charism was of preaching popular missions both in the city and the countryside, especially slums and poor areas.
Eventually, he grew sicker and his activities slowed, but he was appointed Bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti (after years of refusing the episcopate). Always of high-strung and naturally anxious disposition, the lax and untended state of his new diocese caused him much anguish and grief. Performing both spiritual and corporal works of mercy to an utmost degree, he also wrote masterpieces of theology, including Summa Theologiae Moralis, which is considered the greatest work on the subject ever. He also suffered much physically, including rheumatic arthritis, an illness which made even the celebration of Mass difficult. In his last years, scandals and political intrigues rent his order apart, and, to his terrible sorrow, made him an enemy of the very order he founded. He spent his remaining years in solitude and penance, dying a seeming disgrace in the eyes of many who had betrayed him. And yet within a decade he was declared venerable, and, after canonization, was declared a Doctor of the Church within a century.
Resonating throughout his life is the profound sense of sin and its awfulness that St. Alphonsus undoubtedly felt and from which he longed to save his flock. And yet, though St. Alphonsus could be a terrible and grave man to hear, it was only from the most unique tenderness and subtlety of his heart that such words could spring. For "out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh," and St. Alphonsus's heart was only filled to the brim with genuine desire for innocence and purity of heart in all his spiritual children. It is worth noting he never refused absolution to anyone.
There is no better teacher on moral theology to ever grace the Church than St. Alphonsus Liguori. Let this sizeable biography introduce you to the piety and sanctity of one who was a true teacher of the Lord's truth.
- Fr. D. F. Miller
- Fr. L. X. Aubin
- TAN Books
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