On 24 March 2021, a Study Day was held at the Accademia Alfonsiana to commemorate the 150th anniversary of St Alphonsus de Liguori’s proclamation as Doctor of the Church by Pius IX with the bull Qui Ecclesiae Suae, 23 March 1871. The conference was moderated by Prof. A. Donato C.Ss.R. and consisted of four presentations reflecting on the value and relevance of Alfonso’s teaching for the Church of the Third Millennium. The event was mainly in streaming mode, compatible with the rules for the containment of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Fr. Michael Brehl C.Ss.R., Moderator General of the Alphonsian Academy, saluted the participants and recalled some ideas from Pope Francis’s message for this Alphonsian anniversary. Then two presentation followed to recall the historical path by which the Church has received the moral teaching of Alphonsus, which culminated in his proclamation as Doctor of the Church. The first, by Prof. A. Amarante C.Ss.R., reconstructed the historical stages of the latter without hiding the objections and objections it encountered, which were limited but relevant, and then overcome during the last cardinal’s commission. The objections concerned the originality of Alfonsus’ system, considered by some scholars as a variant of probabilism. In fact, the decisive novelty introduced by Alphonsus focused on the central role of conscience in moral discernment and the substantial unity of moral and spiritual life.
The next speaker was Prof. M. Vidal C.Ss.R., connected from Spain, who outlined a panorama of St. Alphonsus’ approach in the moral. Prof. Vidal pointed out that the Theologia Moralis was not the work of a specialist but a pastor. Its most important legacy, beyond the casuistic structure due to the historical circumstances of its composition, is that of Alphonsus’ sensus Ecclesiae, which was transmitted to Catholic theology in a process that has been significantly defined as “liguorisation”. The harmony of the current magisterium of Pope Francis with the thought of Alphonsus is but the last stage of this journey.
The other two papers were more systematic and oriented towards the present and the future. Prof. R. Gallagher C.Ss.R., who joined via Internet from Ireland, outlined the relationship between conscience, grace, and moral discernment in Saint Alphonsus’s thought. In particular, Prof. Gallagher underlined two aspects: the debt of the Neapolitan Doctor to the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and his tenacious opposition to Jansenism. At the basis of these two guidelines, there is the need, not only theological but also pastoral, to propose a correct image of God, centred on the absolute primacy of grace: this is given to all men by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice and for this reason, exalts the freedom of man. It went against the Jansenist vision of a judge God who compresses, to the point of denying, the value of the human will. This is why conscience is seen as the starting point and not the end of moral discernment.
Finally, Prof. S. Majorano C.Ss.R., joining from the sanctuary of Materdomini, dealt with the relevance of Alphonsus’ proposal based on four fundamental “keywords”: moral commitment as acceptance of salvific truth; theology as dialogue and not as closure within one’s own ideas; conscience as the door to moral life; the moral imperative as a step towards the fullness. Moral discernment, therefore, concerns the possible step towards fullness: it may also involve the pain of purification, but always based on the anticipation of possibility given by the Holy Spirit, knowing that we are freed in Christ from all sadness and inner emptiness. On this basis, moral theology can therefore not be an ethical ideology but an ecclesial diakonia, bringing a message of liberation and hope to remain faithful to Christ, who came so that all may have life and have it in abundance.
Prof. A. Wodka C.Ss.R. closed the day’s study with a synthesis addressed above all to the future: recalling that the Holy Doctors are a gift of Incarnate Wisdom for the Church and all humanity, grasping the possibilities opened up by the Holy Spirit through the teaching of Alphonsus means today accepting the cry of the last ones, a cry for redemption, for which a sincere listening to reality is required, but at the same time joyful: the joy of that optimism that comes from the awareness that history is guided by God’s plan on humanity based on love.
The whole event was streamed live and is available on the Alphonsian Academy YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/accademiaalfonsiana.