Continuing with my new project of writing on the Doctors of Church, we turn our gaze to today’s saint, the Patron of Theologians – Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Alphonsus Maria Liguori was born on September 27, 1696 in the small town of Marianella, five miles outside of Naples, Italy. His family was well established and had ties to nobility. At a young age, his mother, a woman of piety taught the utmost aspects of piety and prayer to him. His education, which was assisted by his father, and his own great intellect, led Saint Alphonsus into the field of law at the age of sixteen years old.
He studied law and passed the bar with degrees in civil and ecclesiastical law. He was considered one of the great lawyers in Europe at the time. After losing a major international case on a small mistake in 1723, he became distraught – not knowing that through these feelings God was leading him in another direction.
After obstacles in his path, he left the law career behind and entered the life of the Church. He was ordained a priest when he was 30 years old. He was fine young priest who had a great zeal for the Church, fought and worked hard to achieve holiness, and produced abundant fruit in his ministry with the downtrodden.
In the year 1732, through God’s calling, Saint Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, otherwise known as the Redemptorists (CSsR). Their sole mission was to work for the salvation of ignorant and abandoned souls. Establishing such an order was both a crown and a cross for him. Through great distress with his own brothers in the congregation and unbearable trials during his later years, Saint Alphonsus courageously fought for his new Congregation. However, he was eventually forced out due to a disagreement between the King of Naples and Pope Pius VI.
For many years, he worked tirelessly in the missions to bring the souls under his care to salvation. His friendship and love for people focused on their redemption. He not only sought their salvation, but he sought perfection. For Saint Alphonsus, the only way to Christ was to be holy! He said to grow in holiness one must treasure three devotions – “devotion to the Passion, to the Most Blessed Sacrament, and to the Blessed Virgin” (How to Converse With God, Chapter 14).
A person’s economic status in life wasn’t a concern for him, although he loved the poor the most. St. Alphonus cared for everyone under his custody. As a preacher to the uneducated, he used simple yet passionate methods to preach the Gospel. Some have labeled him as the St. Vincent de Paul of the 18th century.
In the year 1762, after refusing the episcopate once, he was ordered by Pope Clement XIII to accept the responsibilities of Bishop in the Diocese of St. Agatha. As Bishop, he would often open his home. When it was open, the poor of the diocese were given comfort first. Social and economic projects were established in the diocese during his time. He remained in that role until 1775.
Many of his theological works were inspired by the people that were often under his care as either a missionary or as Bishop. His writings weren’t written for only educated scholars, but he wrote for all people. His documents are affirmed as being simple, clear, and thought provoking. He synthesized theological research and pastoral guidance with great eloquence. At a time when ecclesiology (nature and structure of the Church) was lacking, he brought a deeper understanding to its definition. For Saint Alphonsus, the Church was not just an institution, but through the mysteries of the Church, she should become the Mystical Body of Christ.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori left us 111 written works, many which focus on Morality. Other than his moral works, some of his most famous writings are “The Great Means of Prayer”, The “Glories of Mary”, “Sermons for all the Sundays in the Year”, The True Spouse of Christ”, and “The Way of Salvation.” Below is an excerpt of his writing from Uniformity With God’s Will,
“The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in everything. Our Redeemer came on earth to glorify his heavenly Father and to teach us by his example how do the same…Our Lord frequently declared that he had come on earth not to do his own will, but solely that of his Father…To do God’s will – this was the goal upon which the saints constantly fixed their gaze. They were fully persuaded that in this consists the entire perfection of the soul…
…If we would completely rejoice the heart of God, let us strive all in things to conform ourselves to his divine will. Let us not only strive to conform ourselves, but also to unite ourselves to whatever dispositions God makes of us. Conformity signifies that we join our wills to the will of God. Uniformity means more – it means that we make one will of God’s will and ours, so that we will only what God wills; that God’s will alone, is our will…To this end we should always invoke the aid of our holy patrons, our guardian angels, and above all, of our mother Mary, the most perfect of all the saints because she most perfectly embraced the divine will.”
After many years of hard work in the missions, working as a Bishop and theologian, enduring mental distress, and general fatigue, Saint Alphonsus died a happy death on August 1, 1787.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori was declared Venerable on May 4, 1796; beatified in September 1816; and canonized a Saint of the Catholic Church on May 26, 1839.
Pope Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church on March 23, 1871. On April 26, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared him the Patron of Theologians and Moralists.
Let us pray: O God, through the person of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, you allow us to see one who served the poor, wrote about the faith, and preached the Gospel to all people. Help us to bring zeal for the faith and to preach the Gospel to all those we encounter in our lives. Amen.