Alphonsus Liguori was born in Naples, Italy, in 1696 to a noble and pious family. Against the wishes of his father, who had encouraged his legal career, Alphonsus was ordained a priest in 1726 and soon became known as a particularly articulate preacher. His gentleness, especially in the confessional, was a matter of controversy for some, as this was a time when the Church was struggling with the heresy of Jansenism; this teaching, which was actually a form of Calvinism, was condemned by the Pope in 1713, but vestiges of its austerity and scrupulosity were still being felt in the actions of some religious orders and confessors.
In 1732, Alphonsus Liguori founded a religious order dedicated to working among the rural poor. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, popularly known as the Redemptorists, lived in community in imitation of Christ and preached parish missions throughout the countryside of Italy. Liguori himself worked at this calling for over twenty-six years but was, ironically, expelled from his own order for a time due to internal strife and the desertion of some of the original members of the community.
His contributions to the life of the Church did not end with the Redemptorists, however. As a moral theologian, Liguori stressed, not the condemnation of God, but His mercy and readiness to forgive sins. (Were he alive today, he would no doubt have rejoiced at Pope Francis’ “Year of Mercy.”) His two-volume work, “Moral Theology”, has become a classic of Catholic teaching, and has subsequently been translated into more than sixty languages. In addition to his theological writing, he also authored several devotionals, many of which are still readily available today at www.amazon.com. (Simply search under the name “Alphonsus Liguori”.)
Alphonsus Liguori was particularly devoted to the Blessed Mother. It was she who gave him comfort and strength in times of his greatest struggles. Although not in the best of health throughout his life, Liguori was especially debilitated during his last years, suffering from arthritis and rheumatism so painful that it deformed his body. Confined to a wheelchair and nearly blind, his head was permanently bent forward onto his chest; as a result, for years he had to drink from tubes in order to get any nourishment at all.
It was during this time that his enemies in the government, in an attempt to revise the Rule of the Redemptorists to better suit themselves, tricked him into signing a document that effectively removed him as head of his own order. This led Liguori to spiral into a “dark night” of fear, uncertainty and scrupulosity, which took years to overcome and was ultimately relieved by his devotion to Mary.
St. Alphonsus Liguori died peacefully on August 1, 1787 at the age of ninety-one. Canonized in 1839, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871. The patron of theologians and vocations, his feast day is celebrated on August 1.
Sources for this article include:
“Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori“. CatholicSaints.
Info. 19 March 2016.
Schreck, Alan. “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
- Published in Saints & Sacred