Monday, December 10, 2012

St Alphonsus Liguori

A few years ago, I accidentally stumbled across this saint.  At that time, I had never heard of him and never read any of his books.  In a church library I came across his The Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ and it looked interesting.  As I recall, I ended up holding onto it much longer than I probably should have because I couldn't bear to return it, it was so good.   
My parish at that time had until recently been staffed by Redemptorist priests (rather than diocesan ones) and that the statue at the lefthand side of the altar was of St. Alphonsus.  He lived until his early nineties and was made a Doctor of the Church in 1871; he was a prolific writer, producing more than a hundred works, though he didn't even beging to write until 1744, when he was almost fifty years old. 
At the moment, I am reading two of books, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and a collection of some of his work, in the form of Advent meditations, by Fr. M. Nutt.  In the introduction to The Practice, Robert Fenili explains what is unique to St. Alphonsus' writings and what has made him into one of the most widely-read Catholic authors: his ability to write simply and practically about the deepest mysteries of the faith and about prayer in a way accessible to the uneducated of his day (and in the 200 years since!).  From the Introduction:
His life was dedicated to bringing a deeper faith to people whose contact with the official Church was minimal and whose lives were beset with superstition, ignorance, and poverty. (...)

As we read his works, beyond the frequent citations from the Bible, we are constantly finding references to the early Doctores Ecclesiae, to the great spiritual writers of the past, and to authors who were popular in the time of Alphonsus.  He loved to take a particularly astute or poetic sentiment from these people (usually quoting the Latin original, as was his custom) and weave it by a paraphrase into the fabric of his writing.  In this way, he passed on to his largely illiterate audience the wisdom of the Church.  His writings are almost an anthology of the refined experience of centuries of Christian saints and mystics.
(pp. x, xiii and xiv)
Here's a question: I can't think of a contemporary writer who does this as well as St. Alphonsus--can you?  The closest I have come to finding a modern writer who conveys complex truths in a compelling but relevant style is C.S. Lewis.  But Liguori, as far as he can reference the ancient fathers and the saints, too, goes one step further.  And he is so readable!  It is just remarkable how well he did this (samples to follow, don't worry!).
And if that isn't enough, he loved all the arts, and produced not only poetry but also music.  This piece has become an Italian classic and Verdi is said to have claimed that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle.

At the moment, I am pretty obsessed with the life and work of this saint and I intend to quote him ad nauseum in the next weeks.  Now that I've provided you with a brief introduction, at least you'll know who I am talking about. 

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog from a comment you left on "Catholic Mutt". I really like St. Alphonsus Ligouri as well. I was born on his feast day and have taken a special liking to him over the years. One of my favorite writings of his is a little pamphlet called "Uniformity with God's Will". Thanks for writing about him, I love reading about the Saints.