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St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri – August 2

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

Alphonsus was born in Naples in southern Italy in 1696. Of a noble family, his father was a Captain of a Neapolitan Royal Galley. Alphonsus was a brilliant student, and made great progress in all types of learning. He could paint beautifully and was a master of the harpsichord at age 13. His first work was a book of poetry.

St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri

St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri

At age 16 he received his doctorate in law from the University of Bologna. At the ceremony, he was so small that he was buried in his doctor’s gown, and all the spectators laughed.

He then embarked on the practice of law, and at age 19 he practiced his first case in the courts. He was extraordinarily able and successful, and by age 26 was one of the leaders of the Neapolitan Bar.

Given his fame, Alphonsus was chosen by the Grand Duke of Gravina in 1723 to represent him in a lawsuit against the Grand Duke of Tuscany in a case where a property valued at 2 million marks was at stake. On the court day, Alphonsus made a brilliant opening speech and sat down confident of victory.

But the opposing counsel immediately responded in chilling tones: “Your arguments are wasted breath. You have overlooked a document which destroys your whole case.”

He was presented with a document that he had reviewed many times and interpreted according to the laws of Naples. However, the opposing counsel correctly argued that the case had to be judged according to the laws of Lombardy, where Tuscany was located. This reversed the process, and crushed the young lawyer. He left the court saying: “World, I know you now. Courts, you shall see me no more.”

A carving of a lecture at the University of Bologna

A law lecture at the University of Bologna. St. Alphonsus received a doctorate at age 16

His pride deeply wounded by the strong blow to his career, he shut himself away for three days and refused food. Then he began to see that this humiliation was sent by God to detach him from his career and achievements, which had led him to neglect the prayer and practices of piety that had been an integral part of his life.

In this situation Alphonsus felt a divine appeal. He abandoned his career as a lawyer and dedicated himself to pious exercises and charitable works. On August 28, 1723, as he left a hospital, he found himself surrounded by a mysterious light. He felt the earth shake under his feet, and an interior voice said: “Why do you wait to leave the world and give yourself to Me?” This occurred twice.

Alphonse left the hospital and went to the Church of the Redemption of Captives. He laid his sword at the feet of a statue of Our Lady of Mercy and made a solemn resolution to enter the ecclesiastical state. He prevailed over the strong opposition of his father, renounced his right of primogeniture and started to study theology from his home. He was ordained in December 21, 1726 at age 30, and for six years he developed an intense apostolate giving missions and preaching to the people, especially the poor classes in rural areas. Later, following the counsel of a Bishop, he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or the Redemptorist Order.

For the next 25 years he traveled through all the provinces of the Kingdom of Naples on continuous missions, achieving great success.

A painting of Our Lady of Mercies

Our Lady of Mercies

In the second part of his life, when fatigue and infirmities prevented him from continuing the missionary work, he concentrated his efforts on writing, through which he would continue his pastoral activity. He based his writings on his actual experience in confessing thousands of souls and intended that they offer his Congregation practical orientation for the Sacrament of Penance. This was the beginning of his work on Moral Theology.

In 1747, King Charles of Naples wished to make Alphonsus Archbishop of Palermo, but he refused it. In 1762, he was constrained by formal obedience to the Pope to accept the Bishopric of St. Agatha of the Goths, a small Neapolitan Diocese close to Naples. He reformed the lax Diocese, more than once facing assassination attempts. Finally, his poor health made it impossible for him to continue. A terrible attack of gout left him paralyzed to the end of his days, with the result that his head was bent so acutely that the pressure of his chin produced a wound in the chest. He was only able to say Mass supported by a chair. Despite these infirmities, the Holy See did not allow him to leave his flock until 1775 at the age of 79.

He retired to the Monastery of his Order to prepare for death, but he would have to wait 11 more years. Blind and deaf, but still lucid, he lived his last years in a wheelchair. He was dangerously ill so often that he received the last rites nine times. He was tormented both physically and morally, because he was assaulted for some years by concerns and anguish over the future of his Order, as well as by strong temptations against purity.

He died peacefully in the Mother House of the Redemptorists near Naples on August 1787, the 90th year of his life.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

This long and interesting selection offers many points for commentary.

First, it is curious to notice how the progressivists abhor St. Alphonsus Ligouri because he is very precise in his demands in Morals. Since Progressivism wants a permissive spirit for moral wrongdoings, they do whatever they can to boycott St. Alphonsus. This is one reason for us to give him special veneration.

A painting of a Venetian Fleet of Galleys

A fleet of Venetian galleys

Second, it is also interesting to note the apparent contrast between the careers of him and his father. His father was a Captain of a Royal Galley, a man accustomed to command both the soldiers and the prisoners condemned to row, linked by chains to the floor of the ship. Those men – criminals whose sentences were commuted to rowing in the galleys – were often looking for an opportunity to deliver the crew of the ship to an enemy and escape. So, such a position of command demanded an iron fist. This was the father of St. Alphonsus.

Apparently the son was much different. Playing the harpsichord, painting pictures, and writing poetry could make him appear more fragile and delicate, but actually what he had to bear later in life would be much more than what his father had shouldered.

Third, the legal case that caused that profound disappointment in the young Alphonsus and worked his conversion was a dispute caught up in two different feudal law codes. The feudal laws were very different from place to place. Such problems can still be found today in disputes that involve different nations, in which the process is governed by the laws of the country where the disputed property lies. Most probably the case of Alphonsus involved a land disputed both by Naples and Tuscany, with both parties claiming right to it. So, the opposition lawyer, realizing that he would lose the case based on the laws of Naples, claimed that the whole process must be re-examined based on the laws of Tuscany. This argument turned Alphonsus’ defense upside down. With this maneuver, St. Alphonse saw the fragility of human justice. He was still a young man, and until then had illusions about justice in tribunals.

Fourth, he was a noble youth, and a brilliant one. His successes made him become attached to earthly things and diminished his piety. Often a successful career causes a person to lose his love for the things of God. Seeing such tepidity, God chooses to shake a man’s career in order to convert him. This is what happened to Alphonsus. He realized that many of his friends had flattered him because of his high status and talent in law. Thus, he resolved to renounce all earthly things. How often we also need similar corrections of God to enter the counter-revolutionary life or to remain in it! Happy are those who do not need these chastisements!

A village near Naples

A village near Naples. The order of St. Alphonsus was turned toward preaching to the common people

Fifth, it is beautiful to see that the first thing he did after his resolution to offer his life to God was to enter a church and place his sword at the feet of Our Lady. He was a noble, and when a noble relinquished his sword, it was symbolic of his renouncement of the world, because a noble would never present himself in the world without his sword.

Sixth, he also renounced his right of primogeniture. It was a wise custom for the families everywhere before the French Revolution to give the greater part of their fortune to the firstborn son. He would inherit the fortune and the title of nobility. This was a way to prevent the enormous effort of many generations from being dispersed by dividing the properties among all the brothers and sisters. It allowed the family to continue its own history.

The firstborn received this mission, but also the responsibility to help his brothers and sisters, as well as their children, to progress. It was another factor that kept the family united around the firstborn and gave stability to the family. Needless to say, as soon as it could, the Revolution strove to abolish the right of primogeniture.

Seventh, it was not by chance that St. Alphonse chose to spend more than 25 years of his life preaching to the humble people. During his time, the clergy was experiencing an enormous relaxation in zeal and customs. The Church had many assets and goods, and it was possible for priests to get by with doing very little. Therefore, a large number of them went to the cities to mix in society. The people of those rural mountain areas were almost abandoned by the clergy. Various kinds of pre-figures of the Mafia infested such areas, the people were very primitive and ignorant, the life was hard and disagreeable. The clergy fled from them. The little people still had good customs and good will, but were ignorant of almost everything regarding religion and ran the serious risk of losing their souls.

St. Alphonsus, called by God to abandon all the brilliant worldly things, took up an opposite kind of work. He went to preach and care for the most humble and poor, the smallest peasants, the most ignorant people in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It teaches us that God normally calls a person to do the opposite of what he was attached to.

The cover page of 'Moral Theology'

His experience with the people prepared him to write his great works on Morals

Eighth, the Order of the Redemptorists he founded was born from his concern that all those simple people would be abandoned again after he died. Even if he converted one, two, or several villages, many others were still waiting to be converted. It would be better to found an Order of priests who would continue his work. His Order is turned to continuously preach the word of Our Lord to the common people.

The life of the Redemptorist priest is very beautiful. He travels about preaching, remaining no longer than two months in one city. Then, from time to time, he retires to a monastery of the Congregation and stays there for a time - perhaps 10 to 15 days – in complete silence, making severe penances and receiving flagellations. This is to balance his successful preaching. After this retreat, he is sent to other cities and continues his work. He is a perpetually itinerant priest, without the possibility of attaching himself to worldly things, continuously preaching the word of God.

Ninth, St. Alphonse was called to be an intellectual, a great moralist and a Doctor of the Church. During those first 25 years of his work, he was unaware of this. His only concern was doing good for the people. That contact, however, would provide him with a great familiarity with the concrete everyday moral problems of people. This invaluable experience would give him the elements to deal objectively with Catholic Morals.

His previous study of law also prepared him to be a great moralist, because as everyone knows, Law demands Morals in its more profound explanation. We should note that the first aim of St. Alphonsus was not to write a treatise, but to give a practical orientation to the priests of his Congregation in resolving the problems of the common people.

So, his life had several different phases that prepared the moralist to come. It is a marvelous thing to see in the lives of many saints how Divine Providence masterly carved their souls to propitiate the fulfillment of their missions. Often the saint does not realize this, and only in Heaven will he understand why things happened as they did. This is the case of St. Alphonsus.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri praying

St. Alphonsus was so bent over his chin produced a wound on his chest

Tenth, there is the tremendous suffering of St. Alphonse at the end of his life. The effects of gout obliged him to be folded over, with his chin setting so sharply on his chest that it caused a painful wound. Then, 11 years in a wheelchair with all the inconvenience this represents.

He was a great Saint, a Bishop, a Doctor of the Church, a great moralist, a founder of a religious Order. With a life so replete, he was nonetheless still tormented by all kinds of spiritual temptations at the end of his life. He did not succumb to them, but God asked him to fight against them to the very end. Only by the time of his death had peace returned to his soul.

I offer one final small fact from his life for your edification. In the last years of his life, when he was in a wheelchair, every day a brother used to take him out to the cloister gardens for a little air. One day, he asked the brother: “Have we already finished the three terços of the Rosary?”

The brother answered: “I don’t remember if we finished them all, but I am sure that we got as far as such-and-such mystery.”

Then, St. Alphonsus began to pray the mysteries he was not sure he had said.

The brother protested: “But, my Father, you are dispensed from saying it because of your age and state of health.”

He replied: “If I did not pray my full Rosary for even one day, I would fear for my salvation.”

It is a golden note to end a commentary on a golden life. Let us ask St. Alphonsus de Ligouri to protect us and all the people today who are ignorant and abandoned because of so many bad progressivist priests, Bishops and higher Prelates.


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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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