(c.1696- 1787)


ALPHONSUS LIGUORI (1696–1787), founder of the Redemptorists and moral theologian. The son of a Neapolitan noble, Giuseppe dei Liguori, Alfonso Maria dei Liguori was born at Marianella near Naples. After taking the degree of Doctor of Laws at the age of 16, he practised with marked success at the bar for eight years; but in 1723 the loss, by an oversight, of an important suit in which a Neapolitan noble was suing the Grand Duke of Tuscany for £100,000 convinced him of the transitoriness of worldly glory and he withdrew from his profession.

    He received the tonsure, joined an association of mission preachers, was ordained priest in 1726, and became a successful evangelist in the country around Naples. In 1729 he took up residence in a missionary college in Naples where he made the close friendship of Tommaso Falcoia (1663–1743), of the congregation of the Pii Operarii, who had taken part in the foundation (1719) of a convent of nuns at Scala, near Amalfi, and was to exercise great influence on him. When in 1730 Falcoia became Bp.of Castellammare, the diocese in which Scala was situated, Alphonsus moved to Scala, in 1731 reorganized the nuns (the first house of ‘Redemptoristines’), and then in 1732 founded the ‘Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer’ or ‘Redemptorists’ for men in a neighbouring hospice. Originally there were seven postulants under Alphonsus’ guidance, who devoted themselves to pastoral work among the poor in the country districts. Falcoia was technically their director until his death (1743), when Alphonsus was formally elected Superior-General; but, owing to internal dissensions, growth was slow.

    In 1745 Alphonsus wrote the first of his many devotional and spiritual works. In 1749 Benedict XIV approved the rule and institute for men and in 1750 the corresponding ones for women. In 1762 Alphonsus accepted with much reluctance the see of Sant’Agata dei Goti, in the province of Beneventum (he had declined the archbishopric of Palermo in 1747). Here, continuing to live an austere life, he was largely engaged in literary and missionary labours. In 1775 he resigned his see on the plea of ill-health and retired to Nocera. But he lived another twelve years, and became involved in much controversy arising from the affairs of his Order. His last years were clouded by severe spiritual trials and darkness.

Alphonsus sought to commend the Gospel to a sceptical age by gentle and direct methods. Spurning the florid oratory of his contemporaries, he preached simply and to the heart and believed that the rigorism of the contemporary confessional (largely under Jansenist influences) repelled rather than won back the sinful. He set out these ideals in a system of moral theology, first outlined in his Annotations to Hermann Busembaum (a much esteemed Jesuit casuist, 1600–68), published at Naples in 1748. This teaching he recast in his celebrated Theologia Moralis (2 vols., 1753 and 1755), of which seven further editions appeared before his death, as well as a number of compendiums, e.g. the Homo Apostolicus (1759). In the debate on how far it is allowable to follow any ‘probable’ opinion in matters of conduct, Alphonsus, in contradistinction to the Jesuits, developed the system known as Equiprobabilism

His innumerable devotional writings include (Eng. titles) Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin (1745), The Glories of Mary (1750), Novena of Christmas (1758), Novena of the Heart of Jesus (1758), The Great Means of Prayer (1759), The True Spouse of Jesus Christ (1760), and The Way of Salvation (1767). They became very popular and remained in general use down to the later 19th cent. There is no doubt that they fostered devotion; but their exuberance became a frequent target of criticism, esp. by Protestant writers.

Alphonsus was beatified in 1816, canonized in 1839, and declared a doctor ecclesiae by Pius IX in 1871. Feast day, 1 (formerly 2) Aug.

Opere Ascetiche (Rome, 1933 ff., with Introduzione Generale by O. Gregorio, G. Cacciatore, and D. Capione, 1960, incl. recent bibl.). His Letters ed. P. Kuntz, CSSR (3 vols., Rome, 1887). There are many eds. of his Theologia Moralis and his popular devotional works. The primary source is A. M. Tannoia, CSSR, Della vita ed istituto del venerabile Alfonso Maria Liguori (3 vols., 1798–1802; Eng. tr., 5 vols., 1848–9). This should be corrected in its details by the scholarly Life [in Germ.] by K. Dilgskron, CSSR (Regensburg and New York, 1887). R. Telleria, CSSR, San Alfonso Maria de Ligorio (2 vols., Madrid 1950–1); T. Rey-Mermet, CSSR, Le Saint du Siècle des Lumières: Alfonso de Liguori (1982; 2nd edn., 1987), and other works of this author; F. M. Jones, CSSR, Alphonsus de Liguori: The Saint of Bourbon Naples 1696–1787 [1992]. Writings associated with the bicentenary of Alphonsus’ death include two special numbers of Studia Moralia, vol. 25 (Rome, 1987); J. Delumeau (ed.), Alphonse de Liguori, Pasteur et Docteur (Théologie Historique, 77 [1987]); and the acts of an international conference held 15–19 May 1988, P. Giannantonio (ed.), Alphonso M. de Liguori e la Società Civile del suo Tempo (Biblioteca dell’ ‘Archivium Romanicum’, 1st ser., vol. 243; 2 vols., Florence, 1990). On Alphonsus’ spiritual teaching, see Pourrat, 4, pp. 449–91. A. Palmieri in DHGE 2 (1914), cols. 715–35, s.v., with extensive bibl. to date; G. Cacciatore in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 2 (1960), pp. 342–50, s.v., also with bibl.

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