Life of St. Alphonsus Liguori
|Saint Alphonsus Liguori (27
September 1696 – 1 August 1787)
was a Roman Catholic bishop,
spiritual writer, theologian, and
founder of the Congregation of the
Most Holy Redeemer, known as the
Redemptorists, an influential
religious order. He was canonized
as a saint in 1839 by Pope Gregory
XVI and is a Doctor of the Church.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori was born in
Marianella, in the Kingdom of Naples. He was
the first born of seven belonging to the
Neapolitan nobility. Two days after he was
born he was baptized at the Church of Our
Lady the Virgin as Alphonsus Mary Antony
John Cosmas Damian Michael Gaspard de'
Liguori. Liguori went to law school at age
sixteen, becoming a very well-known lawyer. He was thinking of leaving the profession, (He wrote to
someone, “My friend, our profession is too full of difficulties and dangers; we lead an unhappy life
and run risk of dying an unhappy death. For myself, I will quit this career, which does not suit me;
for I wish to secure the salvation of my soul.”)  when at age 27, after having lost an important
case, he made up resolution to leave the profession of lawyer.
In 1723, after a long process of discernment, he abandoned his legal career and, despite his
father's strong opposition (and reluctant consent), began his seminary studies in preparation for
the priesthood in the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. He was ordained a priest on 21 December 1726, at
the age of 30. He lived his first years as a priest with the homeless and marginalized youth of
Naples. He founded the "Evening Chapels". Run by the young people themselves, these chapels
were centers of prayer, community, the Word of God, social activities and education. At the time of
his death, there were 72 of these chapels with over 10,000 active participants. His sermons were
very effective at converting sinners.
In 1729 Alphonsus left his family home and took up residence in the Chinese College in Naples. It
was there that he began his missionary experience in the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples
where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street
children in Naples.
On 9 November 1732 Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, when a
nun named Sister Maria Celeste Castarosa (who would later be incorrupt) told him that it was
revealed to her that he was the one God have chosen to create the Congregation. This order's
goal was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places. They also fought
Jansenism which was a heresy that denied humans free will and barred many Catholics from
receiving the Eucharist. He gave himself entirely to this new mission. A companion order of nuns
was founded simultaneously by Sister Maria Celeste.
Alphonsus was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Sant'Agata dei Goti in 1762. He tried to
refuse the appointment because he felt too old and too sick to properly care for the diocese.
During this time he wrote sermons, books, and articles to encourage the devotion of the Blessed
Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1775 he was allowed to retire from his office and went
to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani, Italy where he died on 1 August 1787. He was
canonized in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871 by Pope Pius
IX He was named Patron of Confessors and Moralists by Pope Pius XII in 1950, who also wrote an
encyclical Haurietis Aquas on him.
Differing stories in his biography regarding his recreation
Tannoja, his first biographer, wrote that his parents did not let him do fencing because they were
dangerous for body and soul,  and Austin Carroll, another biographer, confirms this by writing
"Dancing and fencing were not among his accomplishments, because they were considered
dangerous to his soul." But the Catholic Encyclopedia article on St. Alphonsus says: "Riding and
fencing were his recreations..."
Tannoja wrote that when he was a bishop he refused to play the harpsichord for a priest, saying:
"What will be said, if I pass my time at an idle instrument, in place of employing it in thinking of my
diocese. My duty, and that of every bishop, is to give audience to all, to pray, to study, and never
to play the harpsichord."  However, a short biography of him by James Wallace C.SS.R says, "It's
true that in his old age, Alphonsus cautioned his nuns that singing could lead to vanity and also to
a waste of time, but he firmly stated that "singing in church is a good thing: it is praise of God. Even
when he was in his eighties, Alphonsus could easily be persuaded by his seminarians to play the
harpsichord for them in the house of studies at Pagani."
Overview and works
Alphonsus was a proficient in the arts--his parents having made him being trained by various
masters of the arts--being a musician, painter, poet and author at the same time. He put all his
artistic and literary creativity at the service of the Christian mission and he asked the same of those
who joined his Congregation. Hagiography says that, in his lay days, he liked to go to the local
theater, which at the time had a very bad reputation; after being ordained, each time he attended
the recitals Alphonsus simply took his optic glasses off and sat in the last row, listening to the music
and not paying attention to anything else.
Alphonsus wrote 111 works on spirituality and theology. The 21,500 editions and the translations
into 72 languages that his works have undergone attest to the fact that he is one of the most widely
read Catholic authors. Among his best known works are: The Great Means of Prayer, The Practice
of the Love of Jesus Christ, and The Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament. Prayer, love, his
relationship with Christ and his first-hand experience of the pastoral needs of the faithful made
Alphonsus one of the great masters of the interior life.
His best known musical work is his Christmas hymn Quanno Nascetti Ninno, later translated into
Italian by Pope Pius IX as the well known carol Tu scendi dalle stelle (From starry skies Thou
In the field of mariology, Alfonsus Liguori wrote The Glories of Mary, Marian Devotion, Prayers to
the Divine Mother, Spiritual Songs, Visitations to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Virgin Mary,
The True Spouse of Jesus Christ, and other writings. He was of great influence on Mariology during
the Age of Enlightenment. His often flaming Marian enthusiasm contrasted with the cold rationalism
of the enlightenment. It is mainly pastoral in nature. His Mariology rediscovers, integrates and
defends the Mariology of Augustine and Ambrose of Milan and other fathers and represents a
intellectual defence of Mariology in the eighteenth century. 
Alphonsus' greatest contribution to the Church was in the area of moral theological reflection with
his Moral Theology. This work was born of Alphonsus' pastoral experience, his ability to respond to
the practical questions posed by the faithful and from his contact with their everyday problems. He
opposed the sterile legalism which was suffocating theology and he rejected the strict rigorism of
the time, the product of the powerful theological and ecclesiastical elite. According to Alphonsus,
those were paths that were closed to the Gospel because "such rigor has never been taught nor
practiced by the Church". His system of moral theology is noted for its prudence, avoiding both
laxism and excessive rigor. He is credited with the position of equi-probablism, which solved the
problem of Jansenistic rigorism while also avoiding the laxness of simple probablism.
1. Knight, Kevin (2007). "St. Alphonsus Liguori". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved
2. Tannoja, Antonio. The life of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1855) pg. 30
3. Tannoja, Antonio. The life of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1855) pg. 19 "Among these
numerous occupations, all the recreation he permitted himself to take, was with D. Charles Cito, at
whose house he passed an hour in the evening, to play at cards with other young people of
irreproachable character, who visited there. The favorite games of the young gentlemen were
tersillio, ombre, and smch like, then usual in good society, in which the mind found recreation and
exercise, while the morals received no damage. These amusements had very strict bounds, D.
Joseph wishing that they might be rather a means of advancing, than retarding, him in his studies,
and that the short relaxation might enable him to resume them again with renewed vigor...In his old
age he mentioned, that at the same time he had been very fond of hunting, but had never indulged
in it, except on days when he was dispensed from study, adding, that the birds were fortunate that
had to do with him, for, notwithstanding all his endeavors, he rarely killed one. Such were the useful
and interesting occupations of the young Alphonsus; and we believe his parents were wise enough
to interdict other accomplishments usually taught, and regarded by worldly persons as
indispensable. They looked upon dancing as an amusement perilous for the soul, and on fencing,
as exposing both soul and body to many dangers.
4. Carroll, Austin. The life of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church,
Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. (1874) pg. 16
5. Tannoja, Antonio. The life of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1855) pg. 270-271
6. http://www.stalphonsusbalt.org/stalphartist.htm "St Alphonsus Mary Liguori: Artist of the Gospel"
7. P Hitz, Alfons v. Liguori,Paterborn 1967, 130
• Sermons for all the Sundays in the year
• Glories of Mary
• Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament and to Most Holy Mary: The Classic Text and with a Spiritual
Commentary by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R.published in 2007 by Ave Maria Press