Alphonsus De Liguori: Selected Writings

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Alphonsus de Liguori: Selected Writings. Edited by Frederick M. Jones. The Classics of Western Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. xiii + 423 pp. $34.95 (cloth).

It is always extremely interesting to trace the development of a tradition from its source. I remember the mixture of fascination and terror I felt as a child listening to the Redemptorist missioners in my local Catholic Church describing the afterlife for those who died in the state of sin. One would have thought they personally stoked the fires! But in reading the writings of the founder of the Redemptorists, Alphonsus de Liguori, I was struck at the distance his missioner sons of the mid-twentieth century had traveled from the understanding of the love of God that he himself taught and preached in the seventeenth century.

This book, Alphonsus de Liguori: Selected Writings, is another in the excellent Classics of Western Spirituality Series of primary texts from Paulist Press. Frederick Jones, the editor, had a difficult choice in selecting from the 111 books and articles of Liguori's extant writings. The representative selection-of spiritual direction, devotional writings, moral theology and letters-- provides an interesting and valuable one-volume collection of Liguori's primary works. Jones and a team of Redemptorist scholars also translated the texts for the book.

Liguori, 1696-1781, born in Naples of an aristocratic family, disappointed his father by choosing the priesthood rather than a career in the law, which would have had advantageous social and economical benefits for his family. Liguori, like the French Francis de Sales (1567-1622), realized the Church's responsibility towards developing spirituality among the laity (see Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, New York: Paulist Press, 1988). He was among the first spiritual directors in the Catholic Church since monastic times to take seriously the belief that a life of holiness was not just for a few, but for clergy and laity alike. Acting on this insight, he directed his pastoral ministry towards the laity as a spiritual adviser and later diocesan bishop. He founded a religious order of priests who shared his vision and mission in the Italian church. To some extent Liguori's life is overexposed in that three biographers focused on him in his lifetime, but this book concentrates on the theological and moral insights of his writing more than an evaluation of his life.

As expected in this series, the introduction to the texts is an essential feature of the book. …