Sunday, August 3, 2008

St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Yesterday was his feast day. If you know any Redemptorists, St. Alphonsus is their spiritual patriarch. He is yet another promising lawyer plucked by grace from that vile profession for service in the Church. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a lawyer.)

He is regarded as the Doctor of Moral Theology, and his treatment of the subject is regarded as the most thorough produced by any Church writer. Pastoral experience, especially in hearing confessions, taught him the dangers of rigorism and legalism when dealing with the penitent. His teaching therefore made a strong counter to those who might be attracted to the rigidity of Jansenism. The really crappy aspect of all this is that you can't find a single English copy of his moral theology work anywhere. You'd think that since it's his primary contribution to the patrimony of the Church that somebody would have come up with one by now. I'm finding this to be a common problem with the Doctors.

A couple of things I always think of when St. Alphonsus is brought up. First, if you'll notice in most of his pictures, he is usually very stooped over at the neck. His neck problems were so bad in his old age that his chin actually rubbed a raw spot on his chest. This was the least of his sufferings, considering that he was pretty much abandoned by his own order after he was tricked into signing a bogus rule. Not only that, but his last days were wracked with the worst sorts of temptations ranging from scrupulosity to demonic apparitions. This is a valuable lesson for those who think that holiness and grace mean a life free from suffering. Such notions make for a mass following these days, considering the en vogue "prosperity gospel, but it is anathema to the reality of the Christian life.

Second, St. Alphonsus might well be the patron saint of anti-Catholic polemic. Having an amazing devotion to the Blessed Mother, he wrote a book called The Glories of Mary. I'll admit that I've never read it, but any time you find yourself in a discussion with a hardcore bigot, they inevitably bring up this book. Most of the stuff they come up with is pretty easily disposed of, but it's a shame that this holy man is having his writings abused in such a way. I have a plan to read it at some point, and I'll post about it when I finally accomplish it.

Anyways, you can still find lots of stuff by him in the interim including old sermons, a marvelous History of Heresies, and his very well-known (even if folks don't know where it came from) Way of the Cross. This last item is the most effective method I know of for meditating on Our Lord's Passion. I highly recommend it.

St. Alphonsus, pray for us.

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