Born in Naples, Alphonsus Liguori practiced law as a young man, but abandoned his career to become a priest. In 1732 he organized a group of missioners to work among the poor in rural areas. This group became the religious congregation known as the Redemptorists.
He was a skilled preacher whose sermons reached the simplest peasant. He was also a brilliant and compassionate theologian who championed the individual conscience and God’s mercy against the Jansenists and other rigorists of his day who preached a religion of fear and anguish. His theology was rooted in his many years of firsthand pastoral ministry to the poor.
Alphonsus was also an artist. He played the harpsichord, wrote hymns, and painted religious images. From 1762 to 1775 he served as bishop of a difficult, small diocese. For the last 20 years of his life he suffered from chronic ill health. His theological teachings were attacked by his opponents, but eventually approved by Rome. Political intrigue split the Redemptorists into two factions, which caused him additional suffering. In spite of all of this, he died peacefully in his 91st year. He is a "doctor" of the Roman Catholic Church and patron saint of moral theologians and confessors.
His feast day is August 1.
A child prodigy, he was extremely well-educated and received his doctorate in law from the University of Naples at age 16. He had his own practice by age 21, and was soon one of the leading lawyers in Naples, though he never attended court without having attended Mass first. He loved music, could play the harpsichord, and often attended the opera, though he frequently listened without bothering to watch the over-done staging. As he matured and learned more and more of the world, he liked it less and less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He declined an arranged marriage, studied theology, and was ordained at age 29.
A preacher and home missioner around Naples, he was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was a writer on asceticism, theology, and history and a master theologian. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. Founded the Redemptoristines women's order in Scala in 1730. Founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Liguorians or Redemptorists).
Appointed bishop of St. Agata dei Gotti by Pope Clement XIII in 1762. He worked to reform the clergy and revitalize the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. He was afflicted with severe rheumatism and he often could barely move nor raise his chin from his chest. In 1775 he resigned his see due to his health, and went into what he thought was a prayerful retirement.
In 1777 the royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed in 1773. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in thelogy, and his skills as a lawyer, Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king's approval. However, by this point Alphonsus was nearly blind, and was tricked into giving his approval to a revised Rule for the Congregation, one that suited the king and the anti-clerical government. When Pope Pius VI saw the changes, he condemned it, and removed Alphonsus from his position as leader of the Order. This caused Alphonsus a crisis in confidence and faith that took years to overcome.
Alphonsus vowed early to never waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.
When he was bishop, one of Alphonsus's priests led a worldly life, and resisted all attempts to change. He was summoned to Alphonsus, and at the entrance to the bishop's study he found a large crucifix laid on the threshold. When the priest hesitated to step in, Alphonsus quietly said,
Come along, and be sure to trample it underfoot. It would not be the first time you have placed Our Lord beneath your feet.
Born: 1696 at Marianelli near Naples, Italy
Died: 1787 at Nocera
Venerated: 1796 by Pope Pius VI
Canonized: 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI
Name Meaning: Noble ready; battle ready
But he did not wish to give us only beautiful creatures; the truth is that to win for himself our love, he went so far as to bestow upon us the fullness of himself. The eternal Father went so far as to give us his only Son. When he saw that we were all dead through sin and deprived of his grace, what did he do? He sent his beloved Son to make reparation for us and to call us back to a sinless life.
—Excerpts from a sermon by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
What folly it would be for travellers to think only of acquiring dignities and possessions in the countries through which they had to pass, and then to reduce themselves to the necessity of living miserably in their native lands, where they must remain during their whole lives! And are not they fools who seek after happiness in this world, where they will remain only a few days, and expose themselves to the risk of being unhappy in the next, where they must live for eternity?
We do not fix our affections on borrowed goods, because we know that they must soon be returned to the owner. All earthly goods are lent to us: it is folly to set our heart on what we must soon quit. Death shall strip us of all. The acquisitions and fortunes of this world all terminate in a dying grasp, in a funeral, in a descent into the grave. The house which you have built for yourself you must soon give up to others.
—Saint Alphonsus Liguori, from The Redeeming Love of Christ
God says to each of us: "Give me your heart, that is, your will." We, in turn, cannot offer anything more precious than to say: "Lord, take possession of us; we give our whole will to you; make us understand what it is that you desire of us, and we will perform it."
If we would give full satisfaction to the heart of God, we must bring our own will in everything into conformity with his; and not only into conformity, but into uniformity also, as regards all that God ordains. Conformity signifies the joining of our own will to the will of God; but uniformity signifies, further, our making of the divine and our own will one will only, so that we desire nothing but what God desires, and his will becomes ours. This is the sum and substance of that perfection to which we ought to be ever aspiring; this is what must be the aim of all we do, and of all our desires, meditations and prayers. For this we must invoke the assistance of all our patron saints and our guardian angels, and, above all, of our divine mother Mary, who was the most perfect saint, because she embraced most perfectly the divine will.
—Saint Alphonsus Liguori, from The Redeeming Love of Christ