In planning this study (addressed to both priests and, secondarily, persons who would take spiritual direction), St. Alphonsus Liguori, 18th century Bishop, Founder, and Doctor of the Church, was selected as the master here for three reasons:

1. His recognized position not only as an authority on the spiritual life, but also as a synthesizer and compiler. One of a number of testimonies to this is a conclusion declared by the Teresian Congress held at Madrid in 1923, that “no confessor or spiritual director ought to be unfamiliar with the tract Praxis confessarii of St. Alphonsus Mary Liguori, where we find a compendium of all the mystical and ascetical doctrine of St. Teresa of Jesus and of St. Francis de Sales as well as of St. Alphonsus himself” (1).

2. St. Alphonsus’ greater proximity to our own time than other Doctors.

3. The acclaims he has received from the Church, as assembled and evaluated in the Acta Sanctae Sedis (1 :497-501) and as found in Pius Xll’s appraisal of April 26, 1950, which summarizes the acclaims as follows:

“For the training and guidance of confessors, he imparted by mouth and pen a masterful set of teachings in moral and pastoral matters — teachings which have the highest merit throughout the Catholic world, even for our present day — teachings which Popes have frequently and seriously recommended as offering secure guidance for ministers of the Sacrament of Penance and for directors of souls” (2).

A reminder of the importance of this subject is a declaration of Vatican II that priests should be “accurately trained in the art of directing souls” so that they can form the faithful in a “fully enlightened and apostolic Christian life” as well as for the Christian discharge of “the duties of their state”; and that priests should be equipped to “help religious so that they may persevere in the grace of their vocation and may advance according to the spirituality of their respective institutes” (Optatam totius, 19 [AAS, 58:725-726]). The Council wants priests to achieve a zeal and skill whereby, while testing spirits of the laity to see “if they be of God”, they may “discern with the perceptions of faith, recognize with joy, and foster with care, their manifold charismatic gifts”, whether they be “humble gifts or exalted ones; and we must expect to find gifts “deserving special care” whereby “not a few are drawn to the higher spiritual life” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 9 [AAS, 58:1006]).

While many of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s ascetical and moral writings offer paragraphs here and there setting forth some teaching on the practice of guiding ordinary devout Christians in the spiritual life, the treatment expressly ordered for this is contained in his Pratica del confessore per ben esercitare il suo ministero,(3) and its Latin version, called Praxis confessaril ad bene excipiendas confessiones.(4)

Meaning and Aims of Spiritual Direction

Catholic literature on spirituality provides some discussion (5) on the distinction between that guidance and instruction by confessors, which pertains rather essentially to the Sacrament of Penance, and a more extended guidance called spiritual direction. (6) Alphonsus’ treatise described above has in view that spiritual direction, that instruction, that guidance by a confessor, undertaken with enough detail to educate souls in the need and manner of making fruitful mental prayer arid to conduct them step by step to Christian perfection, enabling them to escape the snares they might meet on the way. St. Alphonsus describes this as “a work very dear to God, of beautifying spouses for Him; i.e., cultivating souls to make them completely God’s own… introducing them into the way of perfection and divine love a work of “guidance by the confessor”.(7)

Thus the spiritual direction of which we speak must be distinguished from the minimal guidance and instruction which a confessor must be ready to offer all souls, even those whom he knows to be taking regular direction from another priest. While the subject matter here generally supposes direction in the confessional, the emphasis is on the direction and not on the Sacrament of Penance, and much of what St. Alphonsus teaches will obviously apply equally well to direction outside the confessional; e.g. to direction by a Master of Novice who does not hear anyone’s confessions. (8)

Besides fruit and progress in one’s prayer life, what, in a more moral way, does worthy direction hope to achieve? This work of “cultivating souls” in which director and directees cooperate, importantly supposes an endeavor to eradicate all sin, even venial. (9) We say “all sin”, but here St. Alphonsus distinguishes between venial sins which spring rather from absent mindedness, drowsiness, or other weaknesses whereby they are not “fully voluntary”, and those that are committed with eyes open and are deliberate, whereby we are fully responsible. Of the former “there is no one in the world who is exempt… All men, even the Saints [except our Lady], have committed faults”. Of the deliberate ones he says: “All these can be indeed avoided, as holy souls successfully avoid them who live always with the firm resolve to suffer death than commit a venial sin with eyes open”. (10) Those reaching the stage of being “more spiritual persons, ought to resolve to avoid all deliberate venial sins; and as for the indeliberate ones (since it is impossible to avoid them all), it is enough to resolve to guard against them as far as one can’; (11) and one should hope to make progress against them in the course of cultivating virtue as he takes direction.

The Need to Provide Direction

St. Alphonsus believed confessors could do great good by applying the “bit of diligence” necessary to direct souls that are ready for guidance in the spiritual life. “And what an accounting of it they must render to God,’ he exclaims, “If they are slack about it”; for confessors are bound to achieve the good of their penitents “as much as they can.” By directing these souls in the way of prayer and then ‘asking them at least in the beginning of the spiritual life, whether they made their prayer or not,” confessors could prevent many “relapses into grave sin” and “put many on the road to perfection.” (12) Assuming a priest acknowledges the need and duty in general to provide direction; on what occasion specifically can he recognize this demand as arising? St. Alphonsus gives no clear statement of a priest’s duty when a penitent asks him to become his director. Surely he must have zeal, but he may have to weigh priorities as he considers conflicting demands on limited time and the availability of other competent men to whom he may refer a soul. Alphonsus has this to say: ‘As soon as a good confessor sees a soul shrinking from mortal sin and desiring to advance in divine love, he ought to… guide it to the making of mental prayer, that is, meditation on the eternal truths and the goodness of God;” (13) and the Saint then proposes a follow up. Moreover, one will at times find it desirable to persuade penitents who come burdened with mortal sin, even habitual, to receive his guidance in the ways of mental prayer; (14) and this easily leads the conscientious priest to full responsibilities of direction.

Have Souls a Need to Seek and Take Direction?

“Every Christian is bound to strive for perfection,” St. Alphonsus writes; and he adds that the obligation arises from the command we all have to love God with all our powers. Moreover, bound as we are to keep ourselves in the grace of God, we are likewise bound to always be perfecting ourselves in divine love; for in the way of the Lord, it is certain that one, who does not advance, goes backward and puts himself in danger of falling into sin. (15) This duty to pursue perfection is greater for religious, he declares, and so much so that “the religious sins mortally who definitely decides [firmiter statuit] not to tend to perfection or in no wise to care about it.”

This duty to pursue perfection is greater for religious, he declares, and so much so that “the religious sins mortally who definitely decides [firmiter statuit] not to tend to perfection or in no wise to care about it. (16) The reason lies in the religious profession, by virtue of which “one is bound to tend to perfection.’ (17) He tells priests that they have a yet greater obligation to such holiness. He argues, quoting St. Thomas that this is because by sacred orders a man is assigned to the most exalted ministry whereby Christ Himself is served in the Sacrament of the altar. For this, greater interior sanctity is required than even the religious state demands. Thus the cleric in sacred orders sins more gravely, other things being equal, if he does anything contrary to sanctity, than a religious who does not have sacred orders. (18)

How important does St. Alphonsus regard spiritual direction as a means to the goal of perfection and as an aid to remaining in the grace of God? He nowhere declares it to be necessary for men in general for keeping in God’s grace. However, he quotes St. Philip Neri as saying, “Those who want to gain fruit in the ways of God should entrust themselves to a learned confessor whom they should obey as holding God’s place; one who does this is safeguarded against rendering an account to God for the actions he does.” Arguing from this and other considerations, he tells the faithful in general that “it is well” for a person to pick a good confessor “from whom he may receive direction in all undertakings of the spiritual life and even in temporal affairs of consequence, and not to afterwards leave him without grave cause.” (19)

As for a true need to seek and take direction, the holy Doctor cites Pope St. Gregory the Great as teaching that this is indeed the normal rule of Providence, which we should guide ourselves by, “lest everyone become a master of error as he disdains to be the disciple of a man.” Where some nuns would imagine that their rule and obedience to the superior suffice without a director, Alphonsus tells them that they err; except that “when a religious would not find a director who could guide her well to perfection, God then supplies the deficiency.” But to refuse the guidance of God’s minister when one can have it, “is rashness; and on this account the Lord will thereupon permit the soul to fall into many errors.” God could guide all of us Himself; “but to render us humble, He wills that we submit to His ministers.” (20)

Some have said that it easily happens, even in an ordinary Providence where suitable direction is available, that rightly trained priests need no spiritual direction. We submit that this was not the mind of the holy Doctor; for, besides his own example as one who submitted to direction (21) when his heroic proficiency in wisdom, prudence, and priestly virtue (22) might suggest that he could as well direct himself, we also have his notable share and support of the 1764 Redemptorist Constitutions, in which par. 349 provides that it “is necessary for every member to have a director of his conscience appointed for him; but it is not lawful that they pick for themselves others than members of the Congregation.” (23) Further evidence of his mind in this is seen when, presenting a “Rule of Life for a secular priest,” he declares: “Let him not fail to have his own particular director on whom to depend in all spiritual undertakings as well as all temporal affairs that can help or harm the spiritual life.” (24) Moreover, in his Selva he tells priests in general that one who would walk in the way of perfection needs, “besides obeying his prelate,” at least to submit his will “to obedience under a spiritual Father” so that he may “guide him in all the activities of the spiritual life as well as in temporal matters of greater import which are related to the profit of his soul.” He adds that “what is done of one’s own will is of little or no advantage.” A few sentences further on he says:

“Whoever makes himself his own disciple”, writes the Saint [Bernard], “becomes the disciple of a fool.” One needs to understand that our whole good lies in uniting ourselves with the divine will: “and life in His good will” [Ps. 29:6]. But, ordinarily speaking, God lets us know this will of His.., by means of our superiors, that is, prelates and directors. “He, who hears you, hears me,” He says; and then adds, “and he who despises you, despises me.” In the Scriptures, not to submit to the obedience of superiors is called a species of idolatry: “like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey” [I Kings 15:23]. (25)

This is developed elsewhere in a “spiritual plan” (“regole di spirito”) for diocesan clergy who would perfect themselves. Alphonsus advises them that “in order to do assuredly for God the things we set about, we must do all with dependence on our director.” Otherwise we run the risk that, failing in purity of intention, “all will be lost, and instead of a reward we receive punishment.” (26)

Having a Qualified Director

Sometimes spiritual souls may ask advice about starting direction, or about changing directors, or about finding one in the city where they are going. The conversation may offer occasion to commend these people for the importance they attach to direction and give them some aid. St. Alphonsus has certain points in his Homo Apostolicus (Tr. Ult., n. 43) and chapter 7 of his Pratica which his followers would want to bear in mind:

1. A confessor should not ‘appear solicitous about wanting to get a soul under his direction,’ nor should he resent his penitents, especially women, going to another confessor.
In fact he should show pleasure that a penitent has done so and “at times prescribe that they go to others;” unless a soul is very scrupulous and the priest fears that by going to another who does not know his conscience “he would become notably disturbed.” (27)

2. Without necessity he should not speak of the defects of other confessors; rather, he should “carefully seek to excuse them from an error they may have committed.” (28)

3. Someone may contemplate leaving his present director to seek another. One should not show approval or agree to become the new director without an urgent cause… for from this there later arise.., disturbances and at times scandals. For changing a confessor it is not enough that the penitent sense a certain aversion for him or that he no more experience trustfulness in his proposals; for often this is a temptation of the devil, as St. Teresa says. Thus St. Francis de Sales teaches: “It is not good that one change his confessor without a great reason; … [but this] rule ought not to be inflexible when a legitimate reason for a change arises.” (29)

A reason for changing, as cited by Alphonsus, is deficiency in doctrine; but here a penitent would do well to “consult other learned directors” to make sure of the deficiency. Also a good reason to change would be that the confessor-director is deficient as to goodness (‘mancanza di bonta’”). In some cases it may be hard to determine just where St. Alphonsus and St. Teresa of Avila (30) (whom he cites) would draw the line in this. But if the priest appears to be given to any vanity, the teaching is that one should leave him; for “when he is vain, he will make others vain.” (31) In another work St. Alphonsus would have nuns avoid disclosing their temptations to persons who do not ‘love perfection’, since this “would harm themselves and others.”(32)
Some penitents seem to expect, before they would submit to anyone as their director, that he display the heroic virtue one expects in a canonized Saint. St. Alphonsus treats them as over-demanding. (33) Yet he warns that one should not choose his spiritual father “haphazardly nor through predilection,” but should pick the “one he deems best suited in relation to the profit” of his soul, a man of “learning and experience… and prayer” who “walks in the way of perfection.” If he reproves one’s faults, “that is no reason for leaving him, but rather for never separating from his guidance.” He adds that there “is no worse confessor than one who does little rebuking and shows too much sympathy for his penitent’s faults;” for in this way he “will cause the penitent to think lightly of them.” (34)

In an exceptional case Alphonsus advises penitents to turn elsewhere than to their director, though he be competent and blameless: Some persons who take direction may lapse into mortal sin, and because of inordinate shame will neglect confession altogether (or make a bad one) rather than confess their fall to their confessor-director. In such a case it would seem better that they make a good confession to another priest. Addressing nuns that suffer undue shame about revealing a mortal sin and are sorely tempted to neglect confession, saying, “I have no confidence in my confessor,” the holy Doctor replies: “Then go to another. Ask your bishop for one, or else tell one of your Sisters that you want to seek counsel from her director, and in this way you can remedy your need.” (35)

Persons may easily be mistaken in judging that they “have been badly directed,” even when “other spiritual fathers” say so. Alphonsus proposes a presumption in the director’s favor, even against adverse appraisals they might have heard in some cases; and he would have them ask themselves whether the apparent bad direction has not been because “in certain things you have obeyed and in others not. God is not bound to cooperate in such defective obedience.” He tells the nun he so addresses:

Place yourself entirely in your director’s hands with the intention of obeying him in everything; then the Lord will never permit you to go astray. Although your confessor may not have all the learning that is convenient, God will take care to supply the deficiency; for it is not possible that a soul wan ting to be a saint and trusting in God, should become deluded when being faithful to obey His minister. (36)

We may add that St. Alphonsus, speaking about the director’s importantly supporting role of confessor on which all should be able to rely (and even more so the souls under his direction), ranks it as having “supreme importance” and as the “most difficult of all” offices. (37) For success in it, a “goodness that is not just ordinary is needed. One will never attain it who is not a man of prayer, making daily meditation; otherwise he will not have the light and the graces needed to fill this role well. (38) Even apart from a director’s obvious need of filling well this role of confessor, we submit that this goodness and prayer life are called for by the mere fact that the work of direction is to lead souls to perfection. The Saint further declares that prayer can scarcely continue to be fruitful in us if we resist grace by remaining attached to what is vain and worldly. (39) As a director cannot give what he does not have, he is expected to have a well-disciplined and developed spiritual life with its program of prayer, study, and the practice of virtue. (40) As for study, he tells of the harm a director sometimes can do who does not know well enough his spiritual theology. (41)

St. Alphonsus offers a motive of zeal for priests to become good directors, in the reflection that “a work very dear to God is that of… cultivating souls to make them wholly God’s own. Before the Lord one perfect soul is worth more than a thousand imperfect ones.” (42)

Providence with Regard to Direction

Among the points presented in this part there is one that is particularly profound as well as important to the director and directee. It is the manner in which Providence operates with regard to the need and effect of spiritual direction. Leo XIII’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore summarizes the basic doctrine:

A most provident God has decreed that men for the most part should be saved by men. Thus He has appointed that those whom He calls to a nobler degree of holiness should be led to it by men, “so that,” as Chrysostom says, “we may be taught by God through men.” We have an outstanding example of this fact in the beginning of the Church: Saul, who was “breathing out threatening and slaughter,” heard the voice of Christ Himself and asked, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He was.., sent to Ananias in Damascus: “Go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.”… This procedure has ever remained established in the Church. Unanimously all who down the centuries have been noteworthy for wisdom and holiness have upheld this doctrine. Certainly those who reject it, do so rashly and at their peril. (43)

St. Bernard likewise bore witness to this order of Providence. When declaring the folly of directing oneself, he adds: “As far as I am concerned, I declare that it is easier and safer for me to command many others than myself alone.” (44)

Contributing some detail to what has been said, St. Vincent Ferrer taught:

Our Lord, without whom we can do nothing, will never grant His grace to one who, having at his disposition a man capable of instructing and directing him, neglects this powerful means of sanctification, believing that he is sufficient to himself and that he can by his own powers seek and find the things useful to salvation… A person having a director whom he obeys completely and unreservedly will reach his goal much more easily and rapidly than he could alone, even with the aid of a very keen intellect and learned books on spiritual matters… In general, all who have reached perfection have followed this road of obedience, unless, by a privilege and singular grace, God Himself instructed some souls that had no one to direct them. (45)

St. Francis de Sales sees a special Providence whereby “humble souls who sincerely desire to make spiritual progress” and pray properly to find a good director, as indeed they ought, may be expected to find one. “Have no misgivings in this regard,” he says, “for He Who sent down an angel from heaven as He did to young Tobias, will give you a good and faithful guide.” Then he tells of the confidence one should put in the director, the conscientiousness one should take in selecting him and dealing with him, and the success one should then expect. The confidence one should put in him is not to be merely “in him or in human learning, but in God,” Who “will put into his heart and mouth” what our good demands. “Open your heart to him,” he says, “with all sincerity and fidelity.., about what is good in you and what is bad,” so that, as need be, “the good will be examined and approved and what is bad will be corrected and repaired.” This calls for “unlimited confidence mingled with holy reverence.” He would have us “choose one out of a thousand, as Avila says. For my part,” he continues, “I say one out of ten thousand; for there are fewer men than we realize who are capable of this task… Having once found him, he concludes, one should “bless His divine majesty, stand firm, and… not look for another, but go forward with simplicity, humility, and confidence; for you will make a most prosperous journey.” (46)

St. Teresa of Avila, writing in a similar vein in her Camino de perfeccion, tells her Sisters in assuring terms that holy counselors will “not be lacking who will be willing to treat with them and encourage their souls,” provided the Sisters “are what they should be;” for the One Who “maintains our bodies will awaken and move the will” of a counselor “to enlighten their souls” and remedy or avert problems of blundersome confessors. (47) She also tells them that though “there are not many” well qualified men whom they can consult, “they will be able to consult some other than ordinary confessors” who will give them “light upon everything.” (48) As long as superiors allow subjects the freedom to consult at times, which Teresa wants her nuns to have, subject to good order and discipline, it should be possible to find learning and advanced spirituality “combined in some persons.” (49) She believed that if a person who practices prayer consults good, learned men, “the devil will not deceive him if he does not wish to be deceived.”(50)

Favoring recourse to a doctrinally sound, learned director, St. Teresa judges that if one finds one, and he is not advanced enough in the spiritual life to understand certain things needful in the guidance of advanced souls, but is virtuous, it is not presumptuous to hope that God will enlighten him about what he should teach and even make him advance in the spiritual life himself in order that he may provide better help. “I do not say this without experience,” she remarks. “It has happened to me at least in two cases.” (51)

A lay person who “can choose whom he is to submit to, should praise God and not lose” this liberty, but rather “let him be without” a director until he finds a qualified one whom, “if he is fully grounded in humility and has the desire to succeed, the Lord will give him.” (52)

This doctrine that “the Lord will give him” a competent director if one does his part, might seem to conflict with other teachings one reads that God gives immediate guidance to some souls so that they do not seem to need direction, and indeed can find no director even though presumably they are advanced souls Who have duly cooperated with grace. We offer the following as the more likely solution: It holds true per se that God will provide a competent director for the soul that earnestly seeks perfection and duly cooperates with grace; but the authorities for this do not mean to exclude God’s inscrutable way of leaving room for exceptions to this and other general rules. This seems implied by St. Francis de Sales’ teaching that God has certain ordinary ways of guiding most of us, but that sometimes He chooses very “extraordinary” ways to inspire and guide certain chosen souls, whose conduct will be more for “admiration than imitation.” This especially applies to saints whom God called to a life removed from “Mass, Communion, confession, and any spiritual assistance.” (53) St. Gregory the Great, admitting that certain saints were guided immediately by God, declares that their example is for us “weaker people to venerate, not to imitate,” and he fears having “everyone presume himself likewise filled with the Holy Spirit” so as to “disdain to be the disciple of a man and become a master of error.” (54)

Special Abbreviations

AAS = Acta Apostolica Sedes.
ASS = Acta Sanctae Sedes.
CAW = Complete Ascetical Works of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, ed. Eugene Grimm, New York, 1886-1892.
CIC = Codex luris Canonici, 1983 ed.
Concessionis= S.C. of Rites, Concessionis Tituli Doctoris in Horiorem S. Alphonsi Mariae de Ligorio. Rome, 1870.
DS = Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum, ed. H. Denzinger and A. Schonmetzer, Barcelona, 1973.
HA = St. Aiphonsus, Homo Apostolicus (Opere, vol. 7).
ML = Patrologie cursus completus, series latina, ed. J.-P. Migne.
Obras= St. Teresa of Avila, Obras Completas, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, serial 212, Madrid, 1972.
Opere= Opere di S. Alfonso Maria de Liguori Turin. 1845-1855.
Pratica = St. Alphonsus, Pratica del confessore per ben esercitare il suo ministero, ed. Pistone-Sutton, Casa Mariana, 83040 Frigento (AVJ, Italy, 1987.
Praxis = St. Alphonsus, Praxis confessarii ad bene excipiendas confessiones (in TM, vol. 4).
Selva = St. Alphonsus, Selva di materie predicabili ed istruitive
TM = St. Alphonsus, TheologiacMoralis, ed. Gaudb-B)anc, Rome, 1905-1912.
Vera Sposa = St. Alphonsus, Vera Sposa di Gesu Cristo, 83040 Frigento (AV), Italy, 1991.
Vida = St. Teresa of Avila, Libro de la vida.


(1) Rodrigo Bayon, Como escribio Alfonso di Ligorio (Madrid: Editorial El Perpetuo Socorro, 1940), pp. 344-345.

(2) … Doctrinam denique moralem et pastoralem confessarlis instituendis et dirigen dis ore et scriptis tradidit eximiam in toto orbe Catholico ad hanc usque aetatem probatissi mam et a Summis Pontificibus quasi tutam Sacramenti Poenitentiae adminiistrorum ani marumque moderatorum normam saepe ac graviter commendatam (AAS, 42:595-596).

(3) This work is cited hereafter as Pratica. The material in question is contained in the 1987 edition edited by Canon Giuseppe Pistoni of the Metropolitan Seminary at Modena, Italy, and by Fr. Alphonsus M. Sutton, FFI, in nn. 81-85, 99-106, 123-138, and sec. III of Appendix I. Available from Casa Mariana, 83040 Frigento (AV), Italy. Speaking of the Pratica as a whole, Canon Pistoni observes in his introductory remarks (p. XI) that the Italian text is the genuine work of Alphonsus, whereas the Latin ver sion, though checked and approved by him, is almost entirely the work of others (“e quasi interamente opera d’alteri”).

(4) This work is hereafter cited as Praxis. As found in vol. 4 of Gaudé-Blanc’s critical edition of the Opera Moralia S. Alphonsi M. de Ligorio (4 vols., Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1905-19 12; reprint ed. 1953), the Praxis contains the Latin of the treatise on direction in nn. 95-101, 121-128, 145-171, and 217-226. Marietti’s ten-volume Opere di S. Alfonso Maria de Liguori (Turin: Giacinto Marietti, 1845-1855) (hereafter cited as Opere), has an Italian text of the treatise in vol.9, pp. 9-11, 632-633, 816-819, 826-834, and 840-843, and has it in Latin in vol. 7, pp. 4-5, 650-652, 659-663, 671-681, and 748-753.

(5) Antonio Royo Marin Teologia de Ia Perfeccion Cristiana (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1968), n. 674. (This work is BAC 114, hereafter cited as Teol. Perf) See also Alexius Benigar, Theologia Spiritualis (Rome: Secretaria Missionum O.F.M., 1964), nn 1205-1207 (hereafter cited as Theol Spir.)

(6) Is it needful that the spiritual director be also the ordinary confessor of the individual? The direction that is described in Pratica, as we interpret it (from the wording, e.g., throughout n. 99), presupposes this combination. A search has not disclosed to us any explicit statement by St. Alphonsus as to whether he would impose a rule about it. He seems to implicitly favor the practice in the case of women penitents in Pratica, a. 98, and especially with penitents who are women religious, since he would have them take their direction in the confessional, according to La Vera Sposa di Gesu Cristo, Cap. 10, II. n. 6 (found in Opere, 4:150).

Royo Main presents good arguments that the combination is most desirable, but admits that it is not necessary and that where a Master of Novices or his Socius directs certain novices, it would be scarcely compatible with the old Canon Law (nor, may I say, present canon 891), for either of them to be their ordinary confessor (Teol. Perf.. n. 674).

(7) Pratica, n. 99; cf. Praxis, n. 121.

(8) Royo Marin would allow, by way of exception, that sometimes one may pick a prudent, experienced person who is not a priest to direct him. He gives as examples. besides the Fathers of the Desert and early Benedictine abbots who were not priests, the cases of St. Francis of Assisi and (before ordination) St. Ignatius Loyola. and even women, as St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila. (Teol. Perf, n. 673)

(9) Vera Sposa. cap. 5, n. 1 (Opere. 4:47).

(10) Vera Sposa, cap. 5, nn. 2-3 (Opere. 4:47-48).

(11 Vera Sposa. cap. 18,1, a. 7 (Opere, 4:275).

(12) Pratica, n. 102; cf. Praxis, n. 124. See also Pratica, App. 1, I, n. XVIII, p. 226.

(13) Pratica, a. 100; Praxis, n. 122.

(14 Pratica, n. 102: Praxis, a. 124. See Pratica, on. 14-15.

(15) Vera Sposa. cap. 3, n. 12 (Opere, 4:35.)

(16) Peccat mortaliten neigiosus qui firmi ten statuit non tendere ad penfectionem, vel nullo modo de ea curare.’ (TM, L. 4, n. 10.)

(17)… quilibet religious vi suae professio nis tenetun tendere ad penfectionem, dum tenetur observare ea quae sunt sui status pro pnia; quae quidem sunt consilii, non autem praecepti. Ideoque graviter peccat religiosus contra bane obligationem. … si absolute sta tuit nihili habere perfectionem. (HA, Tr. 13, n. 2.)

(18) “Quia per sacrum ordinem aliquis depu tatur ad dignissima minis teria quibus ipsi Christo servitur in sacramento altaris: ad quod requiritur maior sanctitos interior quam requirat etiam religionis status [Summa TheoL, II-II, q. 184, a. 8]. Unde gravius peccat, soggiunge, cae tens paribus, clericus in sacris ordinibus consti tutus. si aliquid contrarium sanctitati agat, quam aliquis religiosus qui non habet ordinem sacrum. (Selva di Materie Predicabili ed Istruttive P. 1, cap. 3, a. 8 (Opere, 3:20; CAW, 12:55].

This position is reasserted in Antonio Royo Marin and Jordan Aumann’s Theology of Christian Perfection (Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.A.: Priory Press, 1962), pp. 140-141.

(19) This passage is found in the opusculum Regolamento di vita di un Cristiano, in its appended article “Altro Regolamento” in compendia, n. IX (Opere, 1:890; CAW. 2: 506-507).

(20) St. Gregory the Great, Dialogorum lib. 1, cap. 1 (ML 77:156-157). Vera Sposa, cap. 18, I, a. 17 (Opere, 4:281; CAW, 10-11:541).

(21)The editors of the Lettere di S. Alfonso M. de’ Liguori report in a note that on Thomas Falcoia’s death, Paul Cafano became Alphonsus’ spiritual director, and on Cafaro’s death, Alphonsus submitted to Andrea Villani all the obedience given to Don Paul and the other directors”: “Dalla morte di Mgr. Falcoia, il P. Cafaro era stato il Padre spirituale del nostro Santo, che si elesse poscia per direttore il P. D. Andrea Villani, come si rileva dal suo giornale, ove si leggono queste parole: “Tutte le ubbidienze, date da D. Paolo e dagli altri direttori confermate da D. Andrea, oggi 15 agosto 1753.< (Lettere di S. Alfonso M. de Liguori 3 vols. [Rome: Società S. Giovanni, 18871, 1:227.)

(22) Austin Berthe, Life of St. Alphonsus de’ Liguori, trans. Harold Castle, 2 vols. (Dublin: James Duffy & Co., 1905), 2:683, 725; AAS, 1:497-50 1; Concessionis, p. 1/23 and passim.


(23) Quilibet congregatus aliquem sibi delectum coascientiae moderatorem bobcat, necesse est; at non licet alias quam congregatos sibi deligere. This provision had become par. 350 by the time of the 1936 edition of the Constitutions and remained in force until the 1963 General Chapter.


(24) La messa e l’officio strapazzati, Appendice, I (Opere, 3:859; CAW, 12:434).


(25] Selva, P. 2, c. 8, nn. 17-18 (Opere, 3:156; CAW, 12:358-359). Cf. St. Bernard, Epist87 (ML, 182:215).

(26) Regale di spirito per un sacerdote che attende alla perfezione, v. med. (Opere, 3:861; CAW, 12:439).

(27) HA, Tr. Ult, a. 43 (Opere, 7:651).

(28) Ibid.

(29) Camino de Perfeccion, c. 4; Lettere a la Mere de Chostel, April 2, 1620. (Pratica, a. 85; cf. Praxis, n. 100.

(30) St. Alphonsus draws from St. Teresa’s Camino de perfeccion, which will hereafter be cited with a distinction:
Camino-E will refer to the Escorial codex, Camino-T to that of Toledo, and Camino-V to the Vallado)id codex. The Italian text of St. Alphonsus does not literally translate the Spanish original that he used (or from which a translation he perhaps used, was made), which appears to be in Camino-E, cap. 7 (Obras, pp. 211, 212), though it presents well enough Teresa’s teaching.

(31) Pratica, a. 85; cf. Praxis, a. 100.

(32) Vera Sposa, cap. 6, a. 12 (Opere, 4:60; CAW, 10-11:125); cf. Pratica n. 138,111.) In an Avvertimento introducing, Vera Sposa (Opere, 4:5; CAW, 10-11:12), Alphonsus addresses the work not merely to nuns, but to others as well, even lay persons (“anche a secolari”). We submit that the passage quoted is intended for all who are serious about perfection. From the context, the restriction on revealing temptations does not seem to us intended to hinder the disclosure of temptations involving grave matter from being duly made to any confessor who seems competent, especially when he dutifully inquires (Pratico, App. 1, I, n. 8: cf. Praxis, n. 180).

(33) Vera Sposa, cap. 18, II, n. 8 (Opere, 4:287).

(34) Vera Sposa, cap. 18, I, n. 18 (Opere, 4:282).

(35) Vera Sposa, cap. 18,1, n. 11 (Opere, 4:278).

(36) Vera Sposa, cap. 18, I, n. 19 (Opere, 4:282). Some insights into a protective Providence favoring the director’s authority (at least when, having been chosen with upright motives, he continues to so serve his role that one judges he may be followed with right motivation) may be gathered from Vera Sposa, cap. 13, II, n. 7, v. f., and cap. 18, I, an. 19-20 (CAW, 10-11:401 and 543- 544).

(37) HA, Tr. 16, n. 99 (Opere, 7:415).

(38) Pratica n.1; cf. Praxis, n. 1.

(39) Dell’amore divino e de’ mezzi per acquistarlo, n. 19 (Opere, 1:469). (Here Alphonsus addresses souls that lament ‘that they go to prayer and do not find God, since they go with a heart ‘full of the world. He tells them that to find God in prayer one must ‘detach his soul from the love of things of earth, and then God will speak to him. He develops this further in Vera Sposa, cap. 6, n. 12, and cap. 7, n. 6 (Opere, 4:60, 63-64; CAW, 10-11:125 and 132-133].)

(40) Selva, Parte I, c. 3, nn. 15-16; Parte II, ist. 2 (Opere, 3:23, 99-104). Cf. Canons 276, 279, 282, 285, CIC

(41) Distinctions and details calling for study are evident in the material for the guidance of advanced and favored souls presented in the Pratica, notably in an. 104-122 (Praxis, nn. 126-144). Alphonsus comments on the confessor-director’s responsibility when a soul comes who is favored with contemplation, a gift which indicates one’s entry into advanced prayer life. In Pratica. fl 104 (also cf. Praxis, a. 126.) he here warns of the harm a director can cause who does not understand what to do and of the great reckoning he must make.

(42) Pratica, a. 99; cf. Praxis, a. 121.

(43) … Atque haec agendi ratio iugiter in Ecclesia obtinuit; bane ad unum omnes doctrinam professi sunt, quotquot, decursu saeculorum, sapientia ac sanctitate bornerunt; quam qui respuant, temere pnofecto ac periculose respuent. (Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Testem benevolentiae, Jan. 22, 1899, in ASS 3 1:474-475.)

(44) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Epist. 87, n. 7, quoted in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Three Ages of the Interior Life, tr. Sister M. Timothea Doyle, 2 vols. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1948-1949), 1:257.

(45) St. Vincent Ferrer, De Vita Spirituali, Part II, cap. 1, quoted in Reginald Garrigou Lagrange, Three Ages, 1:257-258.

(46) St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, trans. and ed. John K. Ryan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1972), pp. 46-47. Introduction a la Vie Devote de S. Francois de Sales, ed. P. Brignon (Paris: Chez Potey, Libraire, 1824] pp. 16-18 (P. 1, chap. 4).

(47) St. Teresa, Camino-V, cap. 5, n. 5 (Obras, p. 214).

(48) ‘… aunque no ha de sen para con machas, podreis tratar con algunos, aun que no sean los ordinarios confesores, que as den luz para todo. (St. Teresa, Camino E, cap. 8, n. 2 ] Obros, p. 213).)

(49) St. Teresa, Camino-V, cap. 5, n. 2 (Obras, p. 213). See this whole chapter and Camino-E, cap. 8, for her arguments to superiors that her nuns should be able normally to obtain permission when they request it to consult, besides the ordinary confessor, other confessors ‘at times’ (Cami no-V. cap. 5, n. 21) when these priests are learned and upright (ibid., n. 51), but taking care that not anything be opposed to obedience (ibid., n. 41).

(50) St. Teresa, Libro de Ia Vida, cap. 13, n. 18. This autobiography of St. Teresa is hereafter cited as Vida (Obras, p. 68).

(51) Ibid., cap. 13, a. 19 (Obras, p. 69).

(52) Ibid., cap. 13, n. 19 (Obras, p. 69).

(53) St. Francis de Sales, Traité de L’amour de Dieu, L. 8, c. 12, found in Deuvres Completes de S. François de Sales, 7 vols. (Paris: 1861), 3:745-746.

(54) Sunt nonnulli qui ita per magisterium Spiritus intrinsecus docentur, ut etsi eis exterius humani magisterii disciplina desit,
magistri intimi censura non desit. Quorum tamen libertas vitae ab infirmis in exemplum non est trahenda, ne dum se quisque shrill ter sancto Spiritu irapletum praesumit, discipulus hominis esse despiciat, et magister erroris fiat… Ioannes Baptista magistrum habuisse non legitur…. Moyses in eremo edoctus mandatum ab angelo didicit, quad per hominem non cognovit. Sed haec, ut praediximus, infirmis veneranda sunt, non imitanda.’ (St. Gregory the Great, Dialogorum lib. 1, cap. 1 [ML 77:156, 157].)

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Father Alphonsus was raised Baptist, but converted to the Catholic Faith as a young man. Ordained in 1957, he joined the Conventual Franciscans and then the Franciscans of the Immaculate in 1990. He enjoyed his 50th priestly anniversary in 2007. He was an expert on his namesake, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church in the realm of moral theology.


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