ALPHONSUS 339 ALPHONSUS hagiographers may ignore the fact. While the con- tinual intensity of reiterated acts of virtue which we liave called driving-power is what really creates sanctity, there is anotlier indispensable quality. The extreme ditliculty of the lifelong work of fashioning a saint consists precisely in this, that every act of virtue the saint performs goes to strengthen his character, that is, liis will. On the other hand, ever since the Kail of Man, the will of man has been his greatest danger. It has a tciidciicy at every mo- ment to deflect, and if it docs dcHcct from the right path, the greater the momentum the more terriljle the final crash. Now the saint hits a very great momentum indeed, and a spoiled saint is often a great villain. To prevent tlie ship going to pieces on the rocks, it has need of a very res|>onsive rudder, answering to the slightest pressure of Divine guid- ance. The rudder is humility, which, in the intel- lect, is a realization of our own unworthiness, and in the will, docility to right guidance. But how was Alphonsus to grow in this so necessary virtue when he was in authority nearly all his life? The answer is that (lod kept him humble by interior trials. From his earliest years he had an anxious fear about committing sin which pa-ssed at times into scruple. He who ruled and directed others so wisely, had, where his own soul was concerned, to de|X!nd on obedience like a little child. To supplement this, God allowed him in the last years of his life to fall into disgrace with the pope, and to find himself deprived of all external authority, trembling at times even for liis eternal salvation. St. Alphonsus does not otter as much directly to the student of mys- tical theology as do some contemplatie saints who have led more retired lives. Unfortunately, he was not obliged by his confessor, in virtue of holy obe- dience, as St. Teresa was, to write down his states of prayer; so we do not know precisely what they were. The prayer he recommended to his Congre- gation, of which we have beautiful examples in his ascetical works, is alTective; the use of short aspi- rations, petitions, and acts of love, rather than dis- cursive meditation with long reflections. His own prayer was perhaps for the most part what some call "active", others "ordinary", contemplation. Of extraordinary passive states, such as rapture, there are not many instances recorded in his life, though there are some. At three different times in his missions, while preaching, a ray of light from a picture of Our Lady darted towards him, and he fell into an ecstasy Wfore the people. In old age he was more than once raised in the air when speak- ing of God. His intercession healed the sick; he read the secrets of hearts, and foretold the future. He fell into a clairvoyant trance at Arienzo on 21 September, 1774, and was present in spirit at the death-bed in Rome of Pope Clement XIV. It was comparatively late in life that Alphonsus became a writer. If we except a few poems pub- lished in 1733 (the Saint was born in 1G96), his first work, a tiny volume called "Visits to the Blessed Sacrament", only appeared in 1744 or 1745, when he w:vs nearly fifty years old. Three years later he published the first sketch of his "Moral Theology" m a single quarto volume called "Annotations to Busembaum , a celebrated Jesuit moral theologian. He spent the next few years in recasting this work, and m 1753 appeared the first volume of the "The- ologia Moralis' , the second volume, dedicated to Benedict XIV, following in 17.5.5. Nine editions of the "Moral Thcologj'" appeared in the Saint's life- time, those of 174S,"l753-.5.5, 17,57, 1760, 1703. 1707, 1773, 1779, and 17S.5, the "Annotations to Busem- baum" counting as the first. In the second edition the work received the definite form it has since re- tained, though in later issues the Saint retracted a number of opinions, corrected minor ones, and worked I.— --2 at the statement of his theory of Equiprobabilism till at last he considered it complete. In addition, he published many editions of compendiums of his larger work, such iis the "Homo Apostolicus", made in 1759. The ".Moral Theology", after a historical introduction by the Saint's friend, P. Zaccaria, S.J., which was omitted, however, from the eighth and ninth editions, begins with a treatise "De Con- .siientia", followed by one "De Legibus". These form the first book of the work, w'hilc the second contains the treatises on Kaith, Hope, and Charity, 'i'lie third book deals with the Ten Commandments, the fourth with the monastic and clerical .slates, and the duties of judges, advocates, doctors, merchants, and others. The fifth book has two treatises "De Actibus Humanis" and "De Peccatis"; the si.xth is on the sacraments, the seventh and last on the cen- sures of the Church. St. Alphonsus as a moral theologian occupies the golden mean between the schools tending either to laxity or to rigour which divided the theological world of his time. When he was preparing for the priesthood in Naples, his masters were of the rigid school, for though the centre of Jansenistic disturb- ance was in northern Europe, no shore was so re- mote as not to feel the ripple of its waves. When the Saint began to hear confessions, however, he soon saw the harm done by rigorism, and for the rest of his life he inclined more to the mild school of the Jesuit theologians, whom he calls "the masters of morals". St. Ai[)honsus, however, did not in all things follow their teaching, especially on one point much debated in the schools; namely, whether we may in practice follow an opinion which denies a moral obligation, when the opinion which affirms a moral obligation seems to us to be altogether more probable. This is the great question of "Probabil- ism". St. Alphonsus, after publishing anonymously (in 1749 and 1755) two treatises advocating the right to follow the less probable opinion, in the end de- cided against that lawfulness, and in case of doubt only allowed freedom from obligation where the opinions for and against the law were equal or nearly equal. He called his system Emiiproba'Dilism. It is true that theologians even of the broadest school are agreed that, w-lien an opinion in favour of the law is so much more probaole as to amount prac- tically to moral certainty, the less probable opmion cannot be followed, and some have supposed that St. Alphonsus meant no more than this by his ter- minology. According to this view he chose a dif- ferent formula from the Jesuit WTiters, partly be- cause he thought his own terms more exact, and, partly to save his teaching and his Congregation as far as possible from the State persecution which after 1704 had already fallen so heavily os the Society of Jesus, and in 1773 was formally to suppress it. It is a matter for friendly controversy, but it seems there was a real difference, though not as great in practice as is suppcsed, between the Saint's later teaching and that current in the Society. Al[ihonsus was a lawyer, and as a lawyer he attached much im- portance to the weight of evidence. In a civil ac- tion a serious preponderance of evidence gives one side the case. If civil courts could not decide against a defendant on greater probability, but had to wait, as a criminal court mu.st wait, for moral certainty, many actions would never be decided at all. St. Al- phonsus likened the conflict between law and liberty to a civil action in which the law has the onus pro- bnndi, although greater probabilities give it a ver- dict. Pure probabilism likens it to a criminal trial, in which the jury must find in favour of liberty (the prisoner at the )ar) if any single reasonable doubt whatever remain in its favour. Furthermore, St. Alphonsus was a great theologian, and so attached much weight to intrinsic probability. He was not
Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/379
This page needs to be proofread.