The conference “From the Tribunal to the Altar” commemorates the 300th anniversary of the trial which marked a turning point in Saint Alphonsus’ life

The Square of the Tribunal in Naples, where Saint Alphonsus practiced as a lawyer, better known today as Castel Capuano

(Scala, Italy) An interesting conference entitled “From the Court to the Altar” took place on Monday 11 September 2023, at 6.00 pm, in Scala, in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. 1723 – 2023”, in which the writer had the honour of participating as a speaker together with Prof. Alfonso Tortora. The conference, organized by the Pro Loco and the Parish of Santi Lorenzo e Caterina di Scala, with the patronage of the Municipality of Scala, the Amalfi Culture and History Centre, the Ravello Nostra Association and the National Pro Loco Union of Italy, intended to reconstruct, three hundred years later, an event that had a profound impact on the life of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696 – 1787) and, consequently, on the history of the Church and of all humanity. This is the trial, celebrated in Naples in 1723, in which the young Alphonsus took part, in the capacity of lawyer of one of the parties in question: it was in fact on the occasion and following that trial, in which the thesis supported by him was rejected.

The conference began with greetings from  Father Vincenzo Loiodice, Redemptorist and current parish priest of the church of San Lorenzo, who presented the initiative with enthusiasm and satisfaction, and from the Vice President of the Pro Loco Scala  Ricciotti MansiDonato Sarno then spoke, who, after having introduced some notes on the family, the social context and the cultural education of Saint Alphonsus, who became a lawyer at less than seventeen, thanks to his exceptional talent, highlighted how little is often said about that process and /or is said in an approximate way, without almost ever clearly explaining the precise terms of the question. This depends on the fact that the trial had as its subject a dispute of feudal law, i.e., a law that is no longer in force today and is very little studied and known. The writer has therefore clarified the issue: there was a discussion, in 1723, about the territory of functioning of a town (fiefdom), Amatrice, at that time in the Abruzzo territory and now included in Lazio and which has become famous for the pasta called, precisely, all’amatriciana (mixture of potatoes and tomatoes). More precisely, it was discussed whether that fiefdom, was “ancient”, i.e., received through inheritance and therefore burdened by all pre-existing debts, or if it were  “new”, i.e., newly constituted, and therefore received without being burdened by pre-existing debts. The Grand Duke of Tuscany maintained that the fiefdom was new, so as not to have to pay any debt, while Duke Filippo Orsini, who had a very substantial credit towards that fiefdom (about six hundred thousand ducats), maintained that the fiefdom was ancient, so as not to have their rights compromised. Saint Alphonsus defended Duke Orsini’s reasons in the trial, having studied them for a long time and having considered them compliant with law and equity.

The professor then focused on the background of the trial and the implications underlying it. Alfonso Tortora, professor of modern history at the University of Salerno: in fact, the trial was very important, not only due to the relevance of the established parties and the economic interests involved but also for political implications of a national and international nature, which led to making the Grand Duke’s thesis prevail. Indeed, Saint Alphonsus’ arguments, although unsuccessful, were far from unfounded: not surprisingly, the sentence was appealed, and the controversy was resolved by settlement with the partial recognition of Duke Orsini’s credit. However, there is no doubt that the outcome of that 1723 trial, although questionable from a legal point of view, had an immense value: that of bringing a brilliant young lawyer, named Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

The professor, Tortora recalled how, at the moment, Scala is the first place in the world where a conference has been organized to commemorate the three hundred years since the trial of 1723, which unfortunately has so far been passed over in silence elsewhere, and this is a source of great pride for our town, which confirms itself, once again, as an Alphonsian city. 

The conference of last September 11th also had the patronage of the Campania Region, which granted it precisely in consideration of the high value of the initiative, and, for the occasion, an interesting documentary exhibition on Saint Alphonsus. Among others, present at the conference were Msgr. Giuseppe Imperato, the appreciated archpriest of the Cathedral of Scala for many years, and the lawyer Paolo Imperato, for the Ravello Nostra association.

At the end of the conference, the speakers committed to publishing the proceedings in a special volume, edited by Pro Loco Scala, which will be presented this year during the upcoming Christmas holidays, and which will constitute a precious contribution of which Scala can be proud.

Donato Sarno