LIFE OF St ALPHONSUS

I shall not pause to notice the frequent use made by St. Liguori of the holy Fathers, and pious anecdotes, for which latter authority how- ever he challenges no more belief than the faithful can afford to give. For my own part, I shall resign all faith in history before I can be induced to disbelieve, such miracles as have been juridically proved in the process of a Saints’ canonization. But I fear I have been betrayed into an essay, and have wandered from the descriptive which I set out with, into the didactic, which was not my province. It is too late for me now to ask the reader in the words of the apostle to bear with me a little. He who shall have gone thus far must needs have borne with me, — I thank him for it — should any remark of mine meet his views, or contribute to his improvement he may consider me rewarded, A youth of noble lineage who courageously bows him to the yoke of the Lord; a lawyer whose rare talents and vast acquirements as well as his extreme virtue, command the admiration of the entire bar of his country ; a minister of the sanctuary, who renouncing the vain pomp of the world, and all the honourable posts to which he is entitled to aspire, takes the Lord for the portion of his inheritance; an indefatigable gospel labourer, who, burning with the love of God and his neighbour, spares no pains to promote the glory of the one, and the salvation of the other ; the founder of a new congregation of missionary priests, who governs his order with unexampled wisdom ; a zealous bishop who entirely forgetful of himself, thinks only of the flock committed to his care ; finally, a venerable old man, who, laying down the burthen of the episcopacy, retires amongst his brethren, leads amid the sharp and protracted sufferings of disease, as well as the infirmities of old age, a hidden life, in Jesus Christ, and closes blessedly in the same his mortal career; all this we see in St. Alphonsus Liguori.

He was born in Marinella, in the suburbs of Naples, on the 27th of September, 1696, the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and baptised two days after, on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Amongst the names given him, Alphonsus, Maria, were the leading ones, and by these to the exclusion of the others, he is usually known. His father Joseph, of the noble house of Liguori, was alike distinguished for talent, (especially military,) and for virtue : and his mother Catherine, (also of a noble house,) was sister to the celebrated servant of God, Emilio Jacomo Cavalieri, Bishop of Troy in partibus, who died in the odour of sanctity. Indeed she was worthy such a brother, being scarcely, if at all, inferior to him in sanctity of life ; whilst her virtues, more especially those which she exercised in the education of her children, were so numerous and striking, that they might well be chronicled distinctly from those of her blessed son.

Alphonsus, in early youth, nay, we might almost say, in infancy, had arrived at a degree of perfection which those might consider themselves happy, the labours of whose entire lives had been crowned by the attainment of. The odour of his sanctity, even then, edified all with whom he conversed ; and those who have written his life in detail, mention numerous instances of virtue, more than one or two of which we cannot afford to specify, and these we must be content with barely naming. He had a remarkable disinclination for the amusements of children, and never took part in them, unless when charity, or the fear of singularity, ruled it otherwise. His perfect recollection, and tender devotion to mysteries, which most children of his age can scarce be brought to understand, were perfectly heroic, and even amongst the youths with whom he would to associate in the college of nobles, under the conduct of the priests of the oratory, his conduct never varied ; his devotion to the sacrament of the altar, and the Mother of God, continually gaining strength. His progress in human learning, kept pace so well with his progress in the science of the saints, that when he had completed his legal studies, he required a dispensation of three years for admission to the degree of doctor in canon and civil law. He practiced for some time at the bar, and was fast growing into repute, when an incident occurred, to which, in the dispensations of Providence, we are indebted for the apostolic labours, and inspired writings of our Saint.

My meaning will not be mistaken when I say, that the writings of Liguori are inspired, — for, although we have no canonical assurance of the fact, yet surely we may believe that his writings, if not actually the dictation, were at least composed under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Alphonsus having been retained as counsel for the defence, in a case of great interest and importance, his pleading was so ingenious and so eloquent, that the president Signor Caravita, felt disposed to give judgment in favour of his client, when the counsel on the other side, instead of replying, simply begged of Alphonsus to reconsider his argument, and see whither it was not unsound. Alphonsus to his great confusion and surprise, perceived it to be flawed by reason of his having overlooked one negative particle in the process. The court and audience complimented him upon his able defence, and acquitted him of any blame upon the score of negligence ; attributing his oversight to the warmth so natural to a young lawyer in his situation. Alphonsus, however, did not so readily acquit himself ; but, having bowed to the court, was heard to say, as he withdrew, ” false world, I know you, and have done with you” — he had given up the bar.

Almighty God was pleased with his mind, during a retreat of three days, which he made under the direction of his confessor ; at the end of which period he was confirmed in his resolution, to attend solely to the cafe of his salvation. Even at this stage of his departure from the world, he experienced the opposition which he had so long to encounter from his father, hut his deter, mination was all the more steady for it, and he at once repaired to the hospitals of the city, where his vocation took a more specific form, and he heard himself invited hy mysterious voices to the ecclesiastical state. It was now that his father began to be sturdy in his opposition : he engaged such of his relations as he thought likely to be influential with Alphonsus, to dissuade him from his project, — the congregation of St. Philip Neri, which Alphonsus sought to enter, was obliged to decline receiving him through fear of his father’s resentment ; and when, at length, a tardy consent was extracted from him, it was only on condition that his son should remain for a year at home. Alphonsus having now nothing to divide his attention with the pursuit of virtue and sacred science, devoted himself unreservedly to the attainment of both, — and applied his powerful intellects so vigorously to the study of theology, a3 rapidly to fit himself for the office of a teacher in Israel. Instruction is peculiarly the duty of a christian priest ; the priest of idols offers sacrifice, but neither sacrifice nor the administration of the sacraments, are even the chief duty of a priest of the New Law, for St. Paul says, that he was sent to preach, rather than to baptize. The rapid and steady progress of Alphonsus in piety and learning, induced Cardinal Pignatelli, the then Archbishop of Naples, to hasten his promotion to tonsure and minor orders ; unwilling that the church should longer remain without numbering such a youth as he amongst her ministers. Immediately that Alphonsus was advanced to minor orders, he entered upon the discharge of his functions, and kept it with faith and assiduity. Anxious, not only to preserve that purity of life to which he was exhorted by the ordaining bishop, but, moreover, continually to amass new treasures of grace, he regularly attended the religious exercises of the fathers of the mission ; a practice which he persevered in up to the time of his ordination to the priesthood. No sooner Alphonsus had received deaconship, than the Cardinal Archbishop, not content with permitting, exhorted him to preach ; and the obedient levite, in compliance with the desire of his pastor, preached his first sermon in the parish church of St. John, in Porta, upon the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. His zeal and unction soon brought upon themselves demands innumerable, and his labours were such, that he was seized with a fit of illness, which brought him to the verge of death. Having received the viaticum with that fervent piety which he always manifested towards the Blessed Sacrament, he expressed an anxious wish to have beside his bed the statue of the most holy Mary della Mercede, by whose altar he had hung his sword when about to leave the world. The clergy of the church complied with his request, although the night was far advanced; and no sooner had he beheld and saluted the statue of his blessed mother, than all the mortal symptoms of his disorder vanished, and after a short time he was restored to health.

On the 27th of December, 1726, Alphonsus, being in the thirty-first year of his age, was ordained priest. We shall not dilate upon the raptures of Alphonsus, when he found himself on the summit of the holy mountain. We pass over the sentiments of faith, love, and gratitude, with which he immolated, for the first time, the sacred victim of the altar. We speak not of the redoubled fervour with which he applied himself to all his usual practices of piety, and more especially to the loving adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we press onward to his apostolical labours, and taking a hasty survey of all he did, and taught, and weighing his title to greatness in the balance of the sanctuary, over which is inscribed, ” qui fecerit et docuerit sic homines, hie magnus vocabitur in regno caelorum.” We shall see whether his title be such, that in the kingdom of Heaven he is called great.

As a matter of course, the pulpit labours of Alphonsus increased on his advancement to the priesthood ; and to these were added the toilsome and revolting duties of the confessional. So great, in fact, was the esteem in which Alphonsus was held by his Archbishop, that he had no sooner been ordained priest, than he was appointed to conduct the retreat of the clergy, although there were amongst them many apostolic and eloquent men of older standing than he. He was peculiarly fitted for the confessional, not by the qualities which he possessed, (all of which are indispensable to every good confessor,) but by the degree in which he possessed them. His tenderness in receiving, his patience in hearing, his sweetness in admonition, were such as few or none had ever met with. — The unction with which he represented to the sinner his ingratitude, and the moving words by which he sought to excite him to repentance, were irresistible.

Inspired by his zeal for the salvation of souls, he bethought him of a means whereby to confirm his penitents in their holy resolutions, and instruct them more at large in the science of perfection. On festival days assembling them around him, in some remote and silent quarter of the city, he there addressed them on spiritual subjects. There encircled by persons of the meanest condition, he was all the better pleased on that account, as they afforded him an opportunity of enlightening them upon any portions of the christian doctrine, of which they had, till then, been ignorant. After a time several priests, and some laymen of a spiritual life, joined him in his conferences, when the assembly having been represented to the governor, as of a suspicious character, was dissolved, though not without the innocence of its object having been recognised. The priests upon this, retired to a house in the city, and spent their time in exercises of penance and devotion, and those of no ordinary character, but, to Alphonsus scarce any extremity of vigour, scarce any pitch of fervour was unknown. Alphonsus took care that the dispersion of his hearers should not be prejudicial to the poor people who shared most of his attention, for he caused the more enlightened and zealous of his penitents, to assemble their less favoured brethren, and speak to them on spiritual subjects, with the consent of the Archbishop, in private houses, and hired rooms, and at length, even in public oratories and chapels.

Father Matteo Ripa, a truly apostolic priest, having returned from China, with some youths of that nation, destined for the sacred ministry, succeeded in 1729, in establishing a college for the Chinese mission. To this college Alphonsus withdrew, as well to escape the distractions of his father’s house, as to perfect himself in the ministry of the divine word, under such a master as Matteo Ripa. Alphonsus lived in the college on no other footing than that of a guest, although for a time he had some thoughts of China, which he relinquished in obedience to his confessor, Father Pagano. Our Saint meanwhile continued to preach in all the churches of Naples to immense congregations, and with abundant fruit. At stated periods of the year, he conducted missions in various quarters of the kingdom, and while labouring for the sanctification of others, took such measures for his own, as are taken only by saints such as he.

Alphonsus, together with preaching in the Cathedral of Scala, during the novena of Jesus crucified, according to a promise given the bishop Monsignor Santoro, was also engaged in conducting the spiritual exercises, for the nuns of a certain convent, and hearing their confessions.

One of the sisters by name Maria Celeste Costarossa, a religious of holy life and many supernatural gifts, speaking one day in the confessional, upon spiritual matters, said to him: “Father Alphonsus, it is not the will of God that you should remain in Naples, he calls you to be the founder of a new congregation of Missionary Priests, for the spiritual aid of those souls who are most destitute.” Alphonsus astonished and confused, endeavoured to convince her that this was delusion ; but she would not be persuaded. In great trouble of mind, and not knowing whether he should treat the intimation he had received, as the offspring of an over heated imagination, (though he felt disposed to do so, by reason of its apparent impossibility,) he addressed himself to God in prayer, and took counsel of several learned and pious men, all of whom, including the Bishops of Castelmare de Sabia and Scala, assured him that the nun had conveyed to him the will of God, and the Bishop of Scala engaged him to establish the first house of the future Order in his diocess. This was enough for Alphonsus — he at once dismissed from his mind all trouble and anxiety, and leaving himself in the hands of God, immediately set about performing his holy will. No sooner did the news of his design get wind in Naples, than an almost universal outcry was raised against it. The Archbishop, the clergy, and laity were alike averse to it ; but it was from the saint’s father that it had to encounter the most vigorous opposition. Not content with arraying all his friends in hostility to the design of Alphonsus, he employed against it all the power of a father’s tears, and that with such effect, that Alphonsus declared it to be the most formidable temptation he ever had to struggle with ; having at length, however, won over the Archbishop, and propitiated even his father, he set off for Scala, and on the ninth of November, 1732, after having celebrated a Mass of the Holy Ghost, and sung the ” Te Deum,” in thanksgiving for all the protection vouchsafed him in this matter, he laid the foundation of his new society. His first companions numbered twelve, consisting of ten priests, and two candidates for orders, together with a serving lay-brother, Vito Curzio by name, a rich gentleman of Acquaviva di Bari, who, admonished by a vision at Naples, had chosen that humble post amongst the brethren of the new congregation.

The life which Alphonsus and his companions led in Scala, resembled nothing so exactly as the life of those penitents whom St. John Chrysostom speaks of in his ” Mystic Ladder.” Their lodging was small and incommodious ; their beds a little straw shaken on the floor ; their bread black, hard, and coarse ; their other food disgusting from its insipidity, and taken kneeling, their religious exercises never ending, what, with frequent disciplines, and continual watchings, are enough to make the most fervent tremble for their comparative tepidity ; and here, the question naturally suggests itself, when such were the austerities of all the brethren, how great must not have been the rigour of the holy founder ? From time to time they dispersed themselves over the country to conduct the missions, and gathered in such harvests of souls (Alphonsus always foremost in labour and success,) as caused the bishop to thank God with all the fervour of his heart, for having provided his diocese with these apostles, and above all, with Alphonsus, who was the great instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and next to God best entitled to its gratitude.

Whilst Alphonsus and his brethren, labouring thus for their neighbour’s salvation, and their own, seemed like the primitive christians to have one only heart, and one only soul, the enemy contrived to sow his tares amongst them, and scatter the infant congregation. Our Saint thinking it high time to have a code of rules framed for the government of his congregation, wished to collect the views of his brethren upon the subject. Some would fain combine the care of poor schools with their missionary labours; some were advocates for more absolute, and some for mitigated poverty ; some insisted upon increased austerity, and some advised relaxation; nearly all condemned the plan of Alphonsus. The Saint at other times so deferential to his brethren, defended his plan, and adhered to it in every particular, notwithstanding the opposition of his companions, who, at length deserted him, with the exception of Caesar Sportelli, as yet a secular, and the lay -brother Vito Curzio.

As soon as it reached Naples that Alphonsus was abandoned by his brethren, those who had originally been hostile to his design, renewed their condemnation of it in no very temperate strain. They taxed the saint with presumption, and held him up to ridicule, not allowing even the Archbishop, to escape uncensured for the favour which he shewed Alphonsus; but the venerable Archbishop uninfluenced by these malicious speeches, in his opinion of Alphonsus or his design, sent for the holy man, and encouraged him to prosecute his good work, an encouragement which, though well meant, was little needed, as Alphonsus, nothing daunted, went the mission by himself in the confidence that God in his own time would provide him with fellow-labourers. The man of God was not disappointed in his expectations ; after a while he was joined by father John Mazzini, and as others began to flow in apace, Alphonsus submitted to the holy see the rules he had drawn up for the government of the congregation, and which met with the entire approval of the Pope.

The congregation being now distributed into different houses, the brethren set about the election of a superior-general, and were unanimous in their choice of Alphonsus, whom they appointed general for life. The manifest protection extended by Divine Providence to the society, conciliated the prejudices of the most hostile, and they were now as zealous in reparation as they had before been violent in disapproval. Our saint’s father, who had so unremittingly opposed his movements, seeing that the congregation every day acquired stability and strength, visited his son in Ciorani, and deeply affected by the sanctity of Alphonsus and his companions, with many tears begged admission as a lay-brother, but was constantly refused. We shall not go into many details upon the government of the holy superior-general ; suffice it to say, that he united the greatest humility with the highest dignity — the greatest meekness with the most unlimited command — and all the virtues of the subject with all the qualities of the superior. Bound to enforce the observance of the rule, he was himself the most perfect model of regularity ; his poverty was absolute and his obedience subjected him not only to his directors, but to the lay-brothers. These, however, are alike the virtues of the superior and the subject ; but in the qualifications, which are peculiarly those of the superior, Alphonsus was equally pre-eminent. He made a yearly visitation of all the houses of his order ; and as soon as he had completed the visitation, addressed to each house a circular replete with tender piety, and spiritual learning, breathing the most ardent charity towards God and his neighbour, and expressive of the tenderest love for the congregation.

He was wont to embody in short and pithy sentences, the whole duty of a missionary of the congregation, or place the observance of the rule in a new and striking light. Thus he has been heard to say, that a missionary of the congregation should be a hermit within doors, and an apostle abroad ; and that he who disrespected the rule, disrespected Jesus Christ — as the rule being the way to perfection, and consequently to Heaven, was Jesus himself, who is ” the way, the truth, and the life.” If there were need of reproof, he never resorted to public admonition until after the second offence ; being of opinion that public correction, though beneficial to the community, is seldom useful to the offender. To the novices he was peculiarly affectionate and fatherly ; and not only to those immediately under his jurisdiction, but to the novices of all the other houses, whose superiors he instructed to be all openness and love to them. When, as sometimes happened, the number of applicants for admission to the congregation exceeded the means of support which its poverty supplied, Alphonsus never refused admission to those of whose vocation he had hopes, saying that the poverty of the society should not be an obstacle in the way of their vocation, and that God never suffered his levites to remain unprovided for.

In training the students for their missionary labours, every other study was of course subordinate to the great object of the congregation — the ministry of the divine word — and it was the anxious care of Alphonsus to impress them with correct notions upon this all-important matter. He instructed them to avoid defacing the simplicity of the gospel with the frippery of rhetoric, or even the genuine beauties of purely human eloquence. If their sermons, he said, were not perfectly intelligible to all, they were not as they ought to be ; if the dullest old woman were unable to understand them, they were not as they ought to be ; if they were in the persuasive words of human wisdom, and not in the simplicity of the gospel, they were not as they ought to be ; if they were not, in fine, the fruit of piety and meditation, they could not, he said, be what they ought to be. He took especial care that they should fit themselves for the confessional by the study of moral theology; which, he said, should finish only with the life of the student, and without the knowledge of which, a confessor, he said, would damn himself, and bring ruin on his penitents. He instructed them, moreover, in the proper treatment of different classes of penitents, impressing upon them the necessity of sweetness and charity, the danger of severity and harshness, and the importance of using to advantage their discretion in giving or withholding absolution in those cases where the church has left either course open to them.

When Alphonsus, or any of his companions, travelled to the place where they were to preach the mission, it was on foot, or if the distance were great, on horseback, it being meet, he said, that those who had taken upon them the apostleship, should preserve to it all its simplicity. Having arrived at his destination, he went straight to the principal church ; and after a short time spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, mounted the pulpit, and exhorted the people to profit by the present grace, which might never be vouchsafed them again if they were to abuse the divine mercy by not taking advantage of the time afforded them for penance. The following days were taken up by a morning and evening sermon ; separate catechetical instructions for the young and the adults ; the recitation of the rosary, and the hearing of confessions. After nightfall some of the fathers went through the most populous parts of the city, or country, as the case might be, holding up a crucifix, reminding the people in a loud voice of their last things, and inviting them to listen to the sermons.

Alphonsus, who always preached the evening sermons, was accustomed to discipline himself three times during the course of the mission ; once during the sermon upon sin ; once during that upon hell ; and once during that on scandal ; during which last he caused all his companions to discipline themselves likewise, in order to fill the people with a sovereign horror of that dreadful evil. After the general evening sermon, the women left the church, and Alphonsus addressed a discourse to the men, exciting them to compunction, and to discipline themselves. After he had closed the sermons di terrore, or operating by fear, he entered upon another exercise of three or four days, called by him the exercise of a devout life, consisting of instructions upon prayer and its necessity, and of meditations upon the passion of Jesus Christ, which Alphonsus proposed with so much unction and tenderness, as to draw torrents of tears from his entire audience.

Next came the general communions, and these he distributed through four days, according to the several conditions of the communicants. On each of the four days he endeavoured to excite sentiments of compunction and the love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. First came the communion of the boys and girls under the age of fourteen ; next, that of the maidens and widows, which lasted for some days, during which he addressed them on the value of chastity ; then came the communion of married women; before which they were enlightened upon the duties of their state ; and lastly, on some festival day the communion of the men took place ; — the entire mission closing with a sermon upon perseverance, and solemn benediction. Nor must we omit to mention, that during all this time, the fathers of the mission were obliged to spend seven hours every morning in the confessional, which they could not leave without permission from himself, or from the president of the mission, whoever he might be.

It would be impossible to enumerate all the wonders wrought by Alphonsus in the places which he visited during his missionary career. The conversions which followed his preaching, and his prayers, are, in point of fact, as well as in the eye of faith, the most stupendous of these wonders ; but, as the suspension of the laws of nature, as those sensible miracles with which the Almighty was pleased to glorify his servant, are most likely to make an impression upon us, carnal generation that we are, we shall select one of the most remarkable of these, and give it to our readers.

Towards the close of a mission concluded by Alphonsus, the town of Amalfi was like another Ninive, so plenteous were the tears, and so exemplary was the penance of its inhabitants. Alphonsus addressing them one day upon devotion to the Blessed Virgin, exclaimed, ” Ah ! you do not pray to her as you ought — I shall address her for you.” He then turned towards a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and proceeding in a strain of enraptured eloquence, was observed by the congregation to rise some feet above the ground; while, at the same time, the statue of the Blessed Virgin all radiant, beamed upon the ecstatic Alphonsus, and the entire multitude exclaimed, a miracle ! a miracle ! This lasted for some time, when Alphonsus returning to himself, assured the congregation that it had found favour with the Blessed Virgin.

The sanctity of Alphonsus, and the wonders by which his preaching was attended, began to attract the notice of the entire kingdom, and, amongst others, of Cardinal Spinelli, who immediately fixed his eye upon him for promotion to the episcopacy. Shortly after, the Arch-bishopric of Palermo becoming vacant, the king determined upon appointing Alphonsus to that dignity, saying, ” If the Pope appoint good bishops, I shall appoint still better.” Alphonsus, who upon the mere suspicion of Cardinal Spinelli’s designs, had left his unfinished mission in Naples, was dreadfully alarmed when he heard of the king’s intention, and bestirred himself so vigorously to counteract it, that he did at length succeed, and was consoled by witnessing the appointment of another. But his joy was of short duration, and his escape from the burthen of the episcopacy proved to be nothing more than a relief ; for the see of Sant’ Agata de’ Goti becoming vacant, he was nominated by the Pope himself to the care of that church. Alphonsus having recovered from the desolation into which he was thrown by the announcement of this intelligence, addressed a letter to the Pope, setting forth his unfitness for that high office, as well by reason of his infirm health, and advanced age, as of his spiritual unworthiness. The Holy Father upon receiving the letter of Alphonsus was deeply moved by the pathetic remonstrances of the saint ; and, on the evening of the 14th of March, communicated to his Pro-auditor, Cardinal Negroni, his intention of allowing Alphonsus to decline the dignity ; but, on the following morning, informed Cardinal Negroni, that God had inspired him during the night to have Alphonsus consecrated.. The Pro-auditor then, by command of the Pope, wrote to Alphonsus, acquainting him with the determination of His Holiness, and put him upon his obedience.

The immediate superior of the house having received and read this letter, as he had been commissioned to do by Alphonsus, proceeded, along with some other fathers, to communicate to him the will of His Holiness. Immediately upon entering his apartment, they desired him to say an Ave Maria, which he did accordingly upon his knees, whilst his entire frame bore testimony to the painful workings of his mind. They then proceeded to read to him the letter of the Pope, which when they had finished, he exclaimed, ” Obmutui quoniam tu fecisti Domine, gloria Patri, etc.” Then turning to his companions with tearful eyes, ” God,” he said, ” takes me from the congregation for my sins ; ah, and we must part, after thirty years of love ?’ But immediately afterwards expressing the most entire resignation to the divine will, he placed the Pope’s letter upon his head, and several times repeated, ” God will have me a bishop, and a bishop will I be.” Some advised him to remonstrate with the Pope again. ” No,” said Alphonsus, ” the Pope has put me on my obedience, and I have nothing else for it ;” having said which, he was seized with convulsions so violent as to deprive him of the use of speech for more than five hours. A fever of an aggravated nature then set in, caused by his lively dread of the responsibility he was about to incur, and the account which he should have to render. The fever was at its height after nine days, and his recovery was almost despaired of. ” If he die,” said the Pope,” ” he shall have our apostolic benediction — if he recover, let him repair to Rome.” It was the will of God that Alphonsus should recover ; and immediately upon his restoration to health, he prepared to set out for Rome, in compliance with the orders of His Holiness.

Meanwhile the companions of our Saint, in sore affliction at their approaching bereavement, and unwilling to lose his sweet and fatherly government, having assent? bled in chapter, confirmed him in the perpetual superior- generalship, empowering him at the same time to govern through due of his vicars, when he should find it necessary : and this decree, in order to its greater stability, they submitted to the sacred congregation of bishops and superiors of orders, by whom it was confirmed on the 25th of May, 1762.

Alphonsus having accepted the episcopal office, through pure obedience, as we have seen, set out for Rome accompanied by Father Andrea Villani, a man of approved virtue. It was his original intention to proceed to Rome in the miserable dress which he usually wore, but he was induced by the urgent solicitations of his companions to wear a somewhat more seemly garb, although of sufficiently coarse texture. In passing through Velletri, he was received with demonstrations of the greatest respect, by Cardinal Spinelli, who insisted on his passing an entire day with him. Having arrived in Rome on the 11th of April, he declined occupying the apartment which the Prince of Piombine had prepared for him in his own palace, and accepted only the carriage as being absolutely necessary. He took up his residence at the house of the fathers called, ” Pii Operarii,” but hearing that the Pope was then at Castel Gandolfo, Alphonsus thought he could not better employ the intermediate time, than by visiting the holy house at Loretto. During a fort-night of his residence at Loretto, he contrived to remain unknown, visiting our Lord in the holy chapel early in the morning and late in the evening; but at the end of the fortnight, he was recognized by a Father Penitentiary of the Society of Jesus, and thus received the demonstrations of esteem and veneration which he so much dreaded.

Alphonsus, having received intelligence of the return of the Pope to Rome, set out for the city with all possible dispatch ; and, immediately upon his arrival, had an audience of the Holy Father. His Holiness received him with the greatest cordiality, conversing with him during three hours upon matters of the greatest importance to the church ; and, amongst other things, upon the practice of frequent communion, which Alphonsus had recommended in a book published at Rome, and which the Pope knew to have been opposed in print. His Holiness, who had had personal experience of the conduciveness of this practice to the good of souls, desired Alphonsus to support his work against its adversaries ; and the saint complied in such a stile as to leave the Pope equally astonished at his learning and his humility. Alphonsus, previous to his consecration, had several other audiences of the Holy Father, who, upon one occasion after having dismissed the bishop elect, said to Monsignor Pasquale Mastrilli, Archbishop of Nazareth, ” After the death of Monsignor Liguori we shall have another saint in the church of God.”

During his residence in Rome, notwithstanding his retired habits, and the scantiness of his retinue, (a single servant,) he was paid the most distinguished respect by generals of religious orders, bishops, princes, and cardinals. Almost every moment of his sojourn in the Eternal City he spent in austere watchings, disciplines to blood, constant adoration of the most holy Sacrament, and the exercise of acts of mercy. Having been at length formally declared bishop of Sant’ Agata de’ Goti, by the Sovereign Pontiff, in the secret consistory held on the 14th of June, 1762, Alphonsus was consecrated on the 20th of the same month, the third Sunday after Pentecost, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, in the Church of St. Mary Sopra Minerva, by Cardinal de Rossi, assisted by Monsignor Gorgoni, Archbishop of Emessa, and Monsignor Giordani, Archbishop of Nicomedia, governor of Rome. As soon as he had been consecrated, Alphonsus took leave of the Sovereign Pontiff, unwilling that he should be absent from his church a moment longer than was necessary.

The holy bishop having arrived in Naples amid the congratulations of the entire city, withdrew to San Michele de’ Pagani, to arrange matters connected with his congregation, and appointed Father Andrea Villani his vicar-general, to administer the affairs of the congregation in his room. Upon his return to Naples, many persons of the highest distinction, as well as many of his former colleagues, endeavoured to detain him there, and dissuade him from his precipitate journey to Sant’ Agata, which seemed to portend so constant a residence in that unwholesome town as would prove ruinous to his health. Their remonstrances, however, were ineffectual, and he set out on the 11th of July, accompanied by his brother Hercules, and Father Francis Margotto. his journey through the country was like the triumphal procession of a conqueror. He was met at every stage by reverential multitudes, and welcomed into Sant’ Agata by the citizens, and the chapter of the diocess. Having proceeded to the Church, he spent some time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and then addressing the people in a moving strain, gave them his benediction and the indulgence usual upon such occasions. The very next morning he began the mission to the people, which he continued during eight days, giving each morning spiritual exercises to the clergy, secular and regular, as well as to the gentry ; so that shortly after his arrival, the entire aspect of the city and diocese had undergone a most surprising and consoling change.

Alphonsus in the government of his diocese, simply carried out the principles which he had laid down in a book, entitled ” Reflections useful to bishops in the government of their Churches,” and published before his elevation to the episcopacy. Though removed in body from his congregation, it ceased not to be directed by his spirit, as he was in constant communication with Father Villani, and the superiors of houses, continually exhorting and instructing them by letters full of unction and wisdom alike divine. His elevation to the episcopal dignity no wise prejudiced that eminent spirit of poverty by which he had been distinguished while residing with the congregation. His dress (invariably the habit of the congregation) was of the coarsest texture, and the clergy of his household, or others interested, were obliged to resort to an order from his confessor, or some such expedient, to induce him to exchange his single suit, no matter how old or tattered, for a new one; whilst the pectoral cross was the only ornament worn by him significant of his pastoral dignity. The spirit of poverty, jointly with his compassion for the poor, led him to consult economy in the most trifling details of his household affairs. The chapter was obliged to interfere to prevent the total dismantlement of the palace ; an event which they succeeded in retarding only, not in finally preventing, for, upon being obliged to leave Sant’ Agata by reason of his health, he ordered the principal furniture of the palace to be sold, and the proceeds applied to the adornment of the Cathedral. He retained, after his promotion, a practice which he had while yet a simple missioner, of using the blank leaves and backs of letters, for his correspondence with familiar friends, or for draughts of the works he was about to publish. His secretary, indeed, remonstrated with him, but Alphonsus was firm. What shame is it ? he enquired ; holy poverty is the characteristic of a bishop. He left the best apartments to his household clergy, occupying himself, a couple of the most unpretending, and furnished in the meanest style, possessing, in fact, only some straw chairs, a table with an inkstand and a few books, a small wooden bedstead with a straw bed, and coarse sheets, some pictures of saints, and one of our blessed Lady of good counsel, together with a little altar for the celebration of Mass, when his health should not permit him to go to the Cathedral. His table was originally very simple, and every day experienced new retrenchments, until it reached the standard of insipidity, which Alphonsus had laid out for it. The cook, with whom nothing could induce him to part, spoiled the little that he dressed, having it either badly seasoned, or too salt, or raw, or burned. To endure this might have seemed to others mortification sufficient ; but Alphonsus was insatiable of mortification, and took measures of his own to increase the insipidity, and nauseousness of what he eat. His household resembled nothing so closely as a religious community, so regular were the hours of prayer, and silence, and meals, and religious converse. The extent (we shall not presume to say excess,) to which he carried his bodily austerities and disciplines, was absolutely frightful. His secretary upon one occasion, alarmed by the violence with which, from the sound of the discipline he knew the saint was scourging himself, was strongly tempted to burst open the door, and wrest the discipline out of his hands; but we shall, perhaps, give a still more striking instance of the terrible rigour of Alphonsus towards his innocent flesh, when we relate that a Dominican father, one of the Saint’s synodal examiners, was obliged to leave the episcopal palace, and return to his convent in the middle of the night, so terrified was he by the vehemence, with which the noise led him to believe Alphonsus scourged himself.

If Alphonsus, by reason of his pastoral cares, was unable to pray as much as he could have desired during the day time, he abridged to a mere nothing, the hours of repose, spending the greater part of the night in meditation, or those appalling acts of penance which we have mentioned. The little time which he contrived to steal from his pastoral cares, or his devotions, he spent not in recreation, but in writing, or dictating letters, or composing works for the good of souls, or reading spiritual or theological books. An application unintermittingly as was his, could not, unless by miracle, fail to prejudice his health, and in addition to his other infirmities, he began to be afflicted with grievous head-aches. But it mattered not, ‘ for even when obliged to go out in his carriage, he had his secretary to read a book to him, so that he contrived not to allow a single moment to pass unoccupied. And, lest by possibility, a single imperfection should escape his notice, he appointed a discreet and pious priest to make him acquainted with anything he should observe in him, which might require correction.

Alphonsus, who was in every respect so perfect a model of pastoral perfection, was in nothing more admirable than in his strict observance of the duty of residence. — Not only did he hasten, at the peril of life, to take possession of his episcopal residence in the unwholesome town of Sant’ Agata ; but, during the thirteen years of his abode in the diocese, never availed himself of the privileges granted by the Council of Trent, and only absented himself upon three occasions of the most pressing nature : First, to attend a general chapter of the congregation ; a second time, in obedience to the physicians ; and for the last time, before his final removal, he spent a month in Naples, to conduct a most just and interesting suit upon the part of his Congregation.”

Alphonsus having fallen sick in Arienzo during one of his yearly visitations, had no sooner recovered his health sufficiently to travel, than he began to think of returning to Sant’ Agata, and the representations of his vicar-general regarding the unsafe condition of a portion of the palace, should have been ineffectual had not the doctors insisted upon his remaining where he was; the damp and insalubrious air of Sant’ Agata being peculiarly hurtful to one afflicted as he was with asthma. But neither his infirmities, nor his withdrawal from the usual seat of episcopal government, caused him to suspend for a day the instructions, private, as well as public, which he was in the habit of giving his flock. He preached as usual on Sundays and holidays ; and on Saturdays, in honour of the blessed Virgin ; he continued to give missions, conduct retreats, and attend at conferences ; in a word, he never permitted his health to interfere with the discharge of any of those duties which, even holy bishops deem themselves justified in devolving upon others. He catechised in person, the infants of both sexes, holding out, and awarding with his own hand, little prizes for their encouragement. He gave audience to persons of either sex, or any degree, who wished to consult him upon their wants and occasions, spiritual or temporal, but summarily dispatched all visits of mere compliment ; and once a year made a visitation of half the diocese, so that he saw every portion of it once in two years. In travelling he rode upon an ass, or hired mule, (his equipage he had early disposed of,) and made use of no other conveyance, no matter how great his infirmities, or what the badness of the road. During the course of the visitation, he every where addressed the people, confirmed the children, and inspected the churches, even in the poorest and remotest districts ; his household, his table, and his devotions, wherever he resided being the same as in Sant’ Agata. To the sick of his entire diocese he was attentive, and not satisfied with relieving their wants when they thrust themselves upon him, took measures to discover such wants as might not have attracted his notice. In the administration of justice in his episcopal court, he was so assiduous and vigilant, and weighed so well both sides of the question, that there never was an appeal from his decision to that of the Archiepiscopal Court of Benevento : and with regard to ecclesiastical privileges and immunities, though not so tried, he was full as unflinching an asserter of the church’s rights, as was St. Thomas of Canterbury. A criminal having once fled for sanctuary to a church, was taken thence by the officers of justice, and an application to the local magistrate for his release, not having been granted, Alphonsus, after warning, proceeded to excommunicate the magistrate, and did not desist until the prisoner had been discharged, saying, that were it to cost him his mitre, the immunities of the church should be protected.

If the clergy of a diocese do not correspond with the solicitude of their chief pastor, his exertions for the good of souls are very little worth ; and it was for this reason that Alphonsus laboured, by word and work, to render his clergy conformable to the model which he exhibited to them in himself, saying to them by implication, in every good advice he gave them, “imitatores mei estote sicut et Ego Christi.” There were many things in the clergy requiring reformation, when our saint came to the government of the diocese; and he affected a total change, at once so rapidly and noiselessly, that the people perceived it to be finished almost before they had perceived it to be in progress. To the canonries and other benefices in his gift, he collated none whose moral and intellectual fitness he had not ascertained ; the moral, by personal experience, or strict investigation, and the intellectual, by what is technically termed, a ” concursus,” or an examination, properly speaking, of two or more candidates, but sometimes of one only. The superior of his diocesan seminary, a man of approved virtue and learning, being candidate for deanery, the examiners who had formerly been students under him declined to exercise their functions in his regard. He was not, however, on this account, exempted from the examination, for Alphonsus procured other examiners, and, after a proper scrutiny, advanced him to the deanery, with which the office of penitentiary also was connected. When the nomination rested with the King or Pope, Alphonsus never recommended any one whom he did not think entirely fit, or than whom he believed he could find one better qualified. He has been known to deny the suit of the Prince of Riccia, the Duke and Duchess of Maddaloni, patrons of Sant’ Agata, and the Archbishop of Bari severally ; deeming unfit the persons whom they begged him to recommend. Nor was this strictness confined to his choice of dignitaries only, he was equally exact in the appointment of every priest who was to have the cure of souls, and sit in the tribunal of penance. The rules which he drew up for the conduct of his seminary, were equally admirable with every other portion of his government; providing not only for the maintenance of discipline and piety within doors, but for the practice of piety by the students in their own homes during the vacation, at the close of which, if they meant to be readmitted, they should bring with them a certificate of their religious conduct, signed on oath by the parish priest. Need we add, that his care in ascertaining the fitness of those who were sufficiently advanced for promotion to orders, corresponded with those early precautions ; or, that he endeavoured to keep green in the memory of his priests, the principles of sacred science and piety by frequent conferences, which they were obliged to attend under pain of suspension, unless able to adduce some valid reason ? It was with a view to the improvement of his clergy, and in order to supply them with new facilities for preaching the divine word, that he composed the digest, called ” Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year,” lately translated into English, and the present volume, both of which however, may with advantage be used by the faithful indiscriminately. As a book for those engaged in the conduct of spiritual retreats, and for the clergy in general, but for them exclusively he composed the admirable ” Selva,” in which, says the eminent French translator, the Holy Ghost and all the fathers of the church are made to address the clergy, upon their numerous and awful duties.

The regular clergy and conventuals of his diocese, men, and women, claimed his most paternal attention. He did his utmost, and with the most perfect success, to improve the character of those peculiarly catholic institutions, especially such as were under the invocation of the Mother of God. His beautiful work entitled the ” True Spouse of Jesus Christ, or the Nun Sanctified,” will be read with peculiar spiritual advantage by nuns, and with vast profit by any religious whosoever.

If Alphonsus was attentive to the sanctification of the clergy and sacred virgins of his diocese, Oh ! how zealously and unremittingly did he not labour for the simple faithful ? Not satisfied with his continual preaching by word and example, or his yearly visitations, or the missions he gave in person, or those which he procured by inviting missionaries from other diocese, or providing the people with virtuous and learned clergy ; not satisfied with all this, he traced vice and scandals to their strongholds. Verily he was an angel of peace, and went about doing good, reconciling those at variance, and even inducing those who had been really and grievously injured to forgive the wronger. A youth having at one time been mortally wounded, Alphonsus hastened to his dwelling, and prevailed upon himself and his mother to forgive the murderer. We could wish to cite another instance at least, but this one must suffice out of the many which we have on record.

He exerted himself with the most astonishing activity to put down the absurd and atrocious practice of duelling, often personally interfering to prevent hostile meetings ; and at length memorialing the king to put in force those laws which had been directed against duelling in the kingdom of Naples. But there was no vice or scandal which he pursued and extirpated with so much zeal as that of immorality, in the more received and restricted sense. It would be impossible to enumerate all the licentious men and abandoned women whom he reclaimed, in very many cases by personal exertion, and often by judicious advice to the civil authorities, who always received it with respect by reason of the esteem in which they held the Saint. Knowing well however that poverty is often the most fatal incentive to vice, he procured honest employment for such young women as he had fears of, and respectable matches for others, giving them portions out of his own revenue. Some whom he reclaimed he sent to asylums of penance ; and against those whom he could not reclaim, he called in the arm of the law.

Having been obliged to remove for a while to Nocera de’ Pagani for the benefit of the air, a woman of improper character whom he had expelled the diocese, took advantage of his absence to return. So grievously did this intelligence distress him, that Monsignor Valpe, bishop of that city, enquired the cause of his alarm with much concern, “lama bishop,” was the reply given by Alphonsus ; and neither the remonstrances of Monsignor Valpe, nor of his friends, could restrain Alphonsus from returning forthwith to his diocese, and having the abandoned woman brought before him, to whom he spoke in such a moving strain, that she was really converted by his words, and died in a Naples asylum a true penitent.

He was anxious not only to prevent public scandals, but to do away with anything that could lessen the salutary influence of his government upon the people ; and, for this reason, compensating a company of players who had settled in his diocese, induced them to depart without exhibiting.

Carefully as Alphonsus provided for the spiritual wants of his flock, he was not less assiduous in ministering to their temporal necessities. He knew well that the man who has not bowels of compassion for his neighbour, cannot love God, and that the funds of the church are the patrimony of the poor. We have already seen how rigid was the economy of Alphonsus in his household concerns, and that this was produced partly by charity ; but to whatever it was owing, the poor had all the benefit of it. So chary was he of the patrimony of the poor, as he called the revenues of his church, that he would not entertain his brother Hercules and his two children for more than three days, saying, that to entertain them longer than that, would be to defraud the poor. His brother imagining that the revenues of the diocese were more than sufficient for the maintenance of Alphonsus, as a bishop, thought he would relinquish to him the pension which he enjoyed from the estate ; but this Alphonsus declined, saying, that the proceeds of his diocese belonged to the poor, and that he required the income for his support. At another time, one of the houses of the congregation being in a state of utter destitution, the superior applied to Alphonsus for some assistance ; but the Saint informed him, that all his money belonged to the poor of the diocese, and that he should look to God for aid elsewhere.

He had an alms for every one who asked it, and summoned his vicar-general and others to the aid of his own zeal in discovering such as shame (so ill-consorted with penury, prevented from putting in their petitions with the others. Superannuated priests, old people of every description, widows with families, and more especially young maidens whose poverty might be the occasion of their fall, were the objects of his tenderest care. We have already mentioned his care of the sick ; and it was at least equaled by his care of those in prison, both as concerned their spiritual and temporal wants. But all his other acts of love were outdone by one act of stupendous charity, in the year 1765, during which Italy was afflicted in a great and prevailing famine. As if in preparation for the disastrous season, Alphonsus, contrary to custom, had laid up a large store of corn, and as soon as the scarcity began to be felt, distributed it to the poor. After having expended his entire store, he wrote to every one of wealth and distinction, and more especially to his brother Hercules, . to contribute to the relief of the starving population. He afterwards gave orders for the secret sale of the carriage and mules which his brother had presented to him, as well as of his pectoral cross, and the ring given him by Monsignor Gianini, substituting for them gilded things of trifling value. But, notwithstanding all his efforts, thousands remained unsupplied, and in the madness of their hunger attacked the corporate officers ; for whose safety Alphonsus has been known to expose his own life to the fury of the mob.

Alphonsus had for some time been very weakly, and in bad health, but even while labouring under a disorder, or rather a complication of disorders, which the physicians looked upon as most dangerous, and in fact mortal, he preserved the utmost serenity and joyousness. In 1769 the people of Arienzo, where Alphonsus then resided, called for a procession and novena to propitiate the Almighty, and draw down rain upon the languishing country; and Alphonsus, although from the nature of his disorder he could scarce move an inch, insisted upon preaching in the church himself, attracting thither immense crowds, and edifying those even who could barely hear his voice, without distinguishing a word. And now in addition to his former sufferings, he became afflicted with a rheumatic fever of the most malignant nature. To be moved or shifted was a most intolerable suffering, and compliance with the wants of nature a perfect agony. His secretary and the canons exerted themselves in vain to induce him to send to Naples for physicians ; he replied, that he should be content with those whom God had provided for him in his diocese, but he was at length obliged by Father Villani to receive the visits of doctors from Naples, who amongst other remedies, prescribed the use of warm baths, a thing most repugnant to his virginal modesty, and which put him upon several expedients to prevent its being offended in his person.

But the rheumatism was not the only, nor indeed the most grievous disorder by which Alphonsus was affected. A gangrenous sore upon his breast, caused by the friction of his chin, which continually lay upon it, had not only eaten into the flesh, but was now beginning to affect the bone ; everything threatened mortification, and death its inevitable result. The alarming progress of of the sore was in a great measure, if not entirely, owing to the circumstance before mentioned of the Saint’s beard being merely clipped, not shorn ; but whatever the cause, it now looked so threatening that it was deemed prudent to administer to him the sacrament of Extreme Unction. His secretary, however, who still had hopes of his recovery — hopes which the event soon justified — summoned another eminent physician from Naples, who prevented the mortification from setting in, and in a short time caused the sore itself to disappear.

All this while our saint not only never murmured, but preserved the utmost composure. Every morning he heard mass and communicated in his chamber, never allowing any of his mortifications to suffer interruption, or diminution beyond what obedience to his medical and spiritual superior rendered imperative. Nor did he anywise relax in his attention to the affairs of the diocese : the examination of clerics, the mission amongst the people, the conferences in theology, and every thing else went on as usual under his active superintendence, and though he was unable to make the visitation of the diocese as usual, (which duty he now devolved upon his vicar general,) yet he failed not to preach on all occasions, and the bare sight of his poor suffering limbs and bent neck, sufficed to fill the multitudes who flocked to hear him, not only with compassion for himself, but with the tenderest love of God. In a word, he left no duty unfulfilled, for while his vicar general made the visitation, Monsignor Puoti, Archbishop of Amalfi, administered the sacrament of confirmation, in various places at his request.

To his utter affliction, he had for some time been obliged by the position of his head (leaning as it did upon his breast,) to give up saying mass, as he could not without infinite danger receive the sacred species of blood. Indeed it was with great difficulty he could at any time contrive to swallow a drop of water, until the expedient of a tube, suggested to him by a religious of the Society of Jesus, having proved successful, enabled him to drink with the greatest ease imaginable. Charmed with this discovery, his friends exhorted him to apply to the Pope for a dispensation, enabling him to receive the divine blood through such a tube ; but as this is a privilege usually in the exclusive enjoyment of the Sovereign Pontiff, Alphonsus was too humble to think of becoming a sharer in it, and therefore declined applying to the Pope. God, however, ” had regard to the humility of his servant for shortly afterwards, an Augustinian father proposed to Alphonsus that he should receive the adorable blood seated, and assisted by a priest in surplice and stole, who should take care to prevent the occurrence of any accident ; and the Saint infinitely delighted with this expedient, and fortified by the opinions on several divines upon this subject, renewed with unspeakable joy of spirit, the celebration of our awful mysteries.

Alphonsus had accepted the bishopric through pure obedience, and ever held it with fear and trembling; but after a time his advanced years and complicated infirmities, raised grievous scruples in his mind upon the score of incapacity, inducing him to think of resigning his office into the hands of the Pope, and retiring with his permission to one of the houses of the congregation. Lest however, as he said : ” The cell to which he should retire, might he to him a hell in consequence of his having withdrawn from an office in which God wished him to remain;” he took counsel of learned and pious men, and finding them favourable to his resignation, applied to Clement XIII. who had appointed him, for his removal; and received for answer, that his name alone was sufficient, for the well-ordering the diocese. He received this answer with perfect submission to the will of God, as intimated to him by His Holiness ; but after a time, his increasing infirmities awakening new scruples in his breast, and supplying him with new reasons for requesting the acceptance of his resignation, he applied to Clement XIV. and received for answer, that one prayer from his bed of pain, would be more worth than a thousand visitations and disciplines to blood ; for the Saint had put forward his inability to make the visitation of his diocese as a ground for his removal.

Alphonsus again bowed in submission to the will of God, and it was to no purpose that his own scruples, or the representations of bishops his advisers, and others, solicited him to renew his application to that Pope. ” If I apply,” he said, ” my application will not be granted ; we shall see what his successor will do for me,” an answer which almost tempted those who heard him to smile, Alphonsus being brought to the grave’s edge by infirmity and years, while the Pope was yet hale and vigorous. For five weary years after this did Alphonsus continue to govern his diocese, and break to his flock the bread of the divine word. Ascending the pulpit, his feeble step propped upon several supporters, his worn frame and drooping head moved every one to tears, but no sooner had he begun to speak, than he was renewed in youth and vigour; his nerves and sinews relaxed from their habitual rigidity, and he preached with all his natural vehemence and fervour. Upon leaving the pulpit, he relapsed into his former state. By order of the physicians, he was now obliged to procure a carriage and take an airing every day, together with eating meat in lent, and sundry other indulgences which mortified Alphonsus infinitely more than could have done the most grievous austerity.

For thirteen years had Alphonsus borne the burthen of the episcopacy, when, on the 21st of September, 1774, being seated in his arm chair, he fell into a tranquil slumber, which lasted not only that night, but during a portion of the next day, the servant having orders from the vicar-general not to disturb him. On the 22nd, about one o’clock in the afternoon, he awoke, and pulled the bell. Seeing the attendants in tears, he enquired of them, what was the matter ? and, on being told that he had not eaten nor spoken for two days, ” True,” he replied, ” I have been to attend the Pope, who has just expired,” and, as shortly afterwards came to be known, the Pope had actually just expired at that very moment.

Upon the earliest opportunity Alphonsus made application to Pius the VI. for permission to retire from his office, and that Pontiff, although at first disposed to act as his predecessor had done, knowing that the bare presence of Alphonsus was enough to sanctify the diocese, was at length induced by the representations of many distinguished persons to accede, though (as he said) with great sorrow, to the request of Alphonsus, and accept his resignation.

Immediately that Alphonsus had received the welcome intelligence, ” blessed be God,” he exclaimed, ” who has removed a mountain from my breast?” and, in a few days after, having arranged all matters for his departure, left the diocese amid the lamentations of the entire flock, and directed his coarse towards San Michele de’ Pagni where there was a house of his order. Having reached his destination, he humbly besought the fathers to receive him once more amongst them. As he ascended the stairs, leading to the choir, he repeated the ” Gloria Patri,” and exclaimed, “how light is not now this cross upon my breast, which was so heavy when first I mounted the steps of the palace of Sant’ Agata ?” Here he lived completely after the manner of the other fathers of the congregation, attending all the exercises where and when it was done by the rest of the community, and enjoying every distinction and indulgence, the carriage drives, the two apartments, the silver service, and the invalid fare by mere compulsion, and solely through obedience. For the rest, the Pope had given him permission to retain the portable altar in his chamber for his own use, and that of others, and had assigned him a pension of eight hundred ducats upon the diocese of Sant’ Agata, which occasioned him so many scruples, that he wrote concerning it to the Grand Penitentiary, who left the affair in the hands of the Saint’s confessor, and thus set him at ease. Of this pension, however, the Saint appropriated barely what was necessary and distributed the rest amongst public mendicants, or private pensioners of his. For many years he continued to preach in several of the neighbouring churches, and especially in the parish church of Saint Michael, where his congregation was engaged in giving the mission. Upon one occasion during a season of terrible drought, wretchedly infirm as he was, he dragged himself along an entire street in a procession, with a halter about his neck, a crown of thorns upon his head, and his garments covered with ashes. He foretold to the people the happy result of the procession ; and, it is useless to say, that the prediction was soon verified. During all this time lie ceased not to compose works for the sanctification of souls. — Amongst other Works composed and published by him after his return to San Michele de’ Pagni, he gave to the world the book entitled, ” Admirable Dispositions of Divine Providence, for the Salvation of the World, through means of Jesus Christ and dedicated to Pius VI., who was pleased to acknowledge it as an especial favour, and compliment the blessed author in the loftiest, and, at the same time, most affectionate strain. But the health of Alphonsus, which had been all along declining, began rapidly to grow worse. From the 29th of November, 1779, he Was unable to say Mass, and continued thence forward to communicate in one kind ; his manner of life, being, in other respects as before described. Indeed, we should rather say, that in proportion to the increase of his decrepitude, and weakness, his abstemiousness and general spirit of mortification increased, and he certainly would have persevered in the use of that dreadful implement of penance the discipline, to his last breath, had he not been forbidden by his confessor, and when obliged to part with it and its fellows, he ordered his lay- brother in attendance to throw into some sewer the box in which he used to keep them.

Although the Saint in detaching his affections from all things in this world, had weaned his heart from all mere earthly affection to his relations, he still watched unceasingly over their salvation. At the end of every interview he counselled them to attend to it ; and prevailed upon his niece, Donna Teresina, to become a Benedictine nun, in the convent of St. Marcellinus, in Naples.

Alphonsus, who had now for some years, as we have mentioned, been unable to say Mass, still took his airing in the carriage, and was helped into the church ; but, from the 25th of September, 1784, he was obliged to give up the drive ; and, from the 30th of October following, was confined to his room. His sight now began to fail him, and he grew deaf, so as to render it necessary for him to be addressed through a speaking trumpet. But his resignation to the will of God was perfect. ” I am deaf, O Lord,” he exclaimed ; ” let me be more deaf, if it so please you ;” and some person happening to speak of the loss of reason during one’s last moments. ” Preserve me from that, my God,” he said, ” because then I could not make an act of your love when dying — but yet — do with me what you please. 19 Alphonsus distinctly foretold the year of his death, on the 13th of September, 1786, saying to a Carmelite priest : ” Father Joseph, I shall die next year, pray to God and the Queen of Sorrows for me;” and here we must not omit to mention, that he had a peculiar devotion to the dolours of the Mother of God, as may be seen from one of the sermons in this volume. A few days before his death, he said to the lay-brother, Francis Anthony Romito : ” Yet a few days, and I shall be in the performance of another function,” meaning the new position he was to occupy m the church upon his bier.

On the 18th of July, 1787, in addition to his old complaints, he was attacked by a sharp fever, together with a terrible dysentery and retention of urine. These were symptoms so little to be mistaken, that, although he had been absolved three days before by Father Vincenzo Magaldi of the congregation, he confessed again to Father Lorenzo Negri of the congregation also, and after having received absolution, was released from all his usual anxiety, and broke forth into expressions of the liveliest joy and hope, the Lord being doubtless willing to console his servant by a foretaste of Paradise, for all that he had made him suffer during this life, and especially for the grievous temptations against faith, by which he had been assailed sometime after his retirement from his diocese. His sufferings lasted for fourteen days, during which he was constantly engaged in acts of piety, keeping his eyes lovingly fixed upon the crucifix and image of the blessed Mother; confessing frequently, and communicating every day.

The news of his mortal illness having been spread abroad, priests, secular as well as regular, and persons of the highest distinction, came from all parts to kiss his hand, bringing kerchiefs, and other such things, to sanctify by contact with him, and preserve as relics. At length it become necessary for him to receive the sacrament of Extreme Unction, which he did with the most fervent acts of faith, hope, charity, resignation, and joy. On the 25th of the same month, he received the Blessed Sacrament as a viaticum ; and when the time for communicating approached, every moment appeared intolerably long, and unable to contain himself, he incessantly exclaimed, give me the body of my Jesus — when will Jesus come to me ? — when shall I possess him ? His longings having been at length satisfied, he sunk into a long and deep meditation upon the love of Jesus in the most Holy Sacrament.

Some time after, the lay-brothers in attendance approached his bed, and begged to have his blessing in reward of their long and faithful service. Alphonsus immediately lifting his hand, blessed them in the words of the Church: ” Benedictio Dei omnipotentis, Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super vos et maneat semper.” Having been reminded by Father Lorenzo Negri, that he had still to bestow his blessing on all the houses and fathers of the congregation, as well as upon the chapter and diocese of Sant’ Agata, which then widowed by the death of Monsignor Rossi, the successor of St. Alphonsus, he complied ; and then, without a suggestion from any one, said with much solemnity and emphasis, ” I bless the fathers of the kingdom ; I bless the King, his ministers, generals, and judges, who shall invoke the intercession of the saints, and do justice.” His nephew, Joseph, haying come to visit him, threw himself upon his knees by the bedside of his dying uncle. The Saint tenderly stretching out his hand to him, said frequently, I thank you ; and then being asked for something by way of a memorial, gave him much wholesome advice, and finished by telling him to save his soul.

Four days before his death he was seized with convulsions so violent as to deprive him of the use of speech. On the thirtieth day of the month, Father Villani not thinking it safe to give him the Viaticum, as he was afraid he should not be able to swallow, one of the fathers desired him to make a spiritual communion, which he did, shewing by his eyes and various signs, that he joined in the devout sentiments suggested by that father. On the day before his death, Monsignor Tafuri came to visit him, and seeing him so near his dissolution, reverentially kissed his hand, and placed it on his head. On the day of his death, just before the commencement of his agony, upon hearing the names of Jesus and Mary, he opened his eyes and appeared somewhat to revive. What is even more surprising, on the night before his death, the image of the blessed Mother having been brought near his bed, he not only opened his eyes, but fixing them upon it, smiled sweetly, his countenance all radiant with delight. Whence we may all conclude, that the divine Mother blessed her holy client with one of those visits which it was his daily prayer to have at the hour of death, and which he so often held out to all who should be devout to Mary.

Alphonsus straining the crucifix and image of most holy Mary to his breast, the brethren in tears and prayer around him, calmly and without struggle or contortion, breathed forth his blessed soul, on Tuesday, the 1st of August, 1787.

It would be useless to add anything even to these meagre details in praise of a saint, decidedly the greatest of modern times, and excelled by very few in any age. It will, I suppose, be in the recollection of the reader in what manner we promised to test the pretensions of Alphonsus to the title of great amongst the sons of God. ” Qui feeerit,” says the gospel, ” et docuerit sic homines, hie magnus vocabitur in regno Calorum.” That he was a model of all virtue, few will be found bold enough to dispute ; and if some of our separated brethren have envied us St. Bernard, I think they should feel proud to be able to call St. Liguori their’s. No one, I think, will be disposed to deny that he has made out his claim to the first ingredient of heavenly greatness, that of having “done;” and for the second, rich in the accumulated treasures of the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church — rich in the treasures revealed to him by the Spirit of God in meditation — rich in the treasures of experience ; he poured all these treasures into the bosom of the faithful by apostolic words and writings — establishing thus his title to the second ingredient of heavenly greatness, that of having ” so taught men.”

This being so, it became the duty of the Church, after the juridical proof of the miracles which must always, according to her wise ordinances, precede the enrolment of any of her children amongst the saints — it became her duty to make him great in the veneration of the faithful on earth, whom God had made great in the kingdom of his glory.

On the 21st day of December, 1809, the venerable Pontiff Pius VII. issued the decree for the beatification of Alphonsus, and on the 26th of May, 1836, our Most Holy Father, Gregory, after having gone through the glorious proofs of his sanctity, vouchsafed to the Church by the Almighty, after the beatification of his servant, proceeded with the solemn ceremony of canonization, or enrolment amongst the saints.

Note. — St. Francis Girolamo, of the Society of Jesus, when the infant Alphonsus was presented to him for his blessing, not only blessed him, but said to his mother, ” This child shall live to the age of Ninety, shall be a Bishop, and perform great things for Jesus Christ.” This remarkable prophecy was inadvertently omitted in the text.

 

DECLARATION OF ST. LIGUORI.

Conformably to the decrees of Urban VIII., I declare, that for the miracles and miraculous gifts attributed, in this book, to divers servants of God, and which have not yet received the sanction of the Holy See, I expect no belief beyond what is usually given to history supported by human authority — and I further declare, that in styling any one Saint, or Blessed, who has not yet been canonized or beatified, I do so merely in compliance with the familiar custom of men.