The Spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort

St Louis Marie de Montfort is probably best-known for his devotion to our Blessed Lady. However, his particular spirituality is founded on the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and is truly Christocentric. It is a mistake to see it as a purely "Marian" spirituality. What follows is an overview, taken from the Introductiuon to "God Alone: The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort", available from Montfort Press. For a fuller presentation, see the article 'Montfort Spirituality' in "Jesus Living in Mary - A Handbook of the Spirituality of St Louis Marie de Montfort", also available from Montfort Press; and the various links indicated in the text below.

Various aspects of St Louis Marie's distinctive spirituality are explored in the pages listed on the left.

An Overview of the Spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort

Many sources contributed to Saint Louis de Montfort's experience of the Incarnate Wisdom of the Father. His family background, his education, his daily prayerful study of the Bible, the diversity of his readings, his missionary travels, all play a major role in his understanding and expression of the faith. Moreover, he absorbed freely the spirit of the writings and teachings of the Jesuits, Dominicans, Sulpicians, Oratorians, the Hermits of Mont Valerien in Paris and other communities of men. He also had close ties with the Visitation Order, the Benedictine Nuns. From the viewpoint of the variety and diversity of his sources, Montfort's spirituality can be called eclectic. Nonetheless, basing himself primarily upon the French School of spirituality so strongly influenced by Cardinal de Bérulle, this itinerant herald of the Good News wove these various strands into a new synthesis which can be rightfully called the Montfortian School of spirituality.

The core of this spirituality is the reality of our baptismal insertion into Christ Jesus. So fundamental is this principal thrust of Montfort's thought that he can firmly declare that his preaching "cannot be condemned without overturning the foundations of Christianity" (The True Devotion, 163). His Holiness, Pope John Paul II repeats this thought when he says: "Grignion de Montfort introduces us into the very heart of the mysteries on which our faith lives, grows and bears fruit."

Yet our Baptism into Christ, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom of the Father, is not understood in an abstract fashion by this popular and practical preacher. Since we are one in Christ Jesus, we are to trust totally in Divine Providence, we are to imitate the Lord who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave" (Phil. 2:7). Montfort's teachings abound with the insistence on poverty of spirit, the living to the hilt of the first beatitude, "Blest are the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of heaven is theirs" (Mt 5:3). His writings call, therefore, for a loving, formal acceptance of who we truly are: the slaves of Jesus Christ. The term slave always has, for Montfort, the evangelical connotation that we are the Lord's, that we are loved, that we are redeemed by the Incarnation and total offering of the Incarnate Wisdom for us. The characteristic then of Montfort's stress on baptismal renewal is "absolute," total. Following the counsel of Pope Clement XI, the vagabond missionary proclaims the renewal of the vows of our baptism, invigorating the Church wherever he preaches.

There is, however, an intrinsic dimension of this baptismal renewal proclaimed by Saint Louis de Montfort. Through baptism we share in the life of the Incarnate Wisdom; but Wisdom seeks a home among us through the consent of a woman of our race, the Immaculate Mary. According to Wisdom's mysterious plan -- folly in the eyes of the world -- the faith-consent of Mary opens the gates of this sinful universe to the King of Glory. Her representative Yes to the redemptive Incarnation is for Montfort an intrinsic element of salvation history as it is actually planned by God. It is not only part of the "beginning" -- the Incarnation -- but the never-to-be-repealed plan of The Triune God in all His works. Karl Rahner appears to echo this thought of Saint Louis de Montfort when he writes: "The absolutely unique Yes of consent of the Blessed Virgin, which cooperated in determining the whole history of the world, is not a mere happening that has disappeared into the void of the past ... She still utters her eternal Amen, her eternal Fiat ..." Devotion to Mary, says Pope Paul VI in Marialis Cultus must be based on firm doctrinal foundations. Montfort calls for solid devotion to Mary because of the evangelical doctrine of her divinely-willed role of representative faith in the redemptive Incarnation and all that flows from it. To be inserted by Baptism into the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, has a necessary Marian dimension. Jesus is everywhere and forever the Son of Mary, the spokesperson for this universe in actively and responsibly accepting Wisdom's desire to enter into our folly so that we may share in Wisdom.

Montfort's intense devotion to Mary is clearly Christocentric. So strongly does the saint insist upon this point that he forcefully teaches that if devotion to Mary alienated us from Jesus it would have to be rejected as a diabolical temptation (cf. The True Devotion, 62). With Mary we enter into a more intense and more immediate union with Incarnate Wisdom. To wrench Mary from salvation history and therefore from Christian life is, for Montfort, to reject the plan of salvation as decreed by the Father.

The total, lived-out acceptance of the reality of our faith is what Monlfort calls "Consecration to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom." This loving, free surrender to God's plan renews us in the Spirit so that we may "carry out great things for God and for the salvation of souls" (cf. The True Devotion, 214). His spirituality, founded upon the reality of the redemptive Incarnation and of our insertion into it by Baptism, is eminently apostolic, is essentially missionary. As Wisdom enters into our poverty through Mary's faith, so we must live poverty of spirit as we serve the outcasts of society. And all must be done in the "milieu" of Mary's maternal influence so that we may, like her, be temples of the Holy Spirit and thereby renew the face of the earth.

Living our baptism in the fullest sense of its evangelical meaning, Montfort concludes that all must be done for God Alone. Everything which opposes God, all the idols of this world are for this vagabond missionary to be destroyed by the onmipotence of our faith in Christ Jesus. "To know Jesus Christ the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom is to know enough; to know everything and not to know Him, is to know nothing." The missionary's Spirit-filled preaching emphasized the basic opposition between God's Wisdom and the distorted value systems of this world, no matter where they may be found, even if it be within the Christian community itself. He rivets our attention on the precise enemy: making ourselves the center, proudly believing that without God Alone this world can be transformed. No wonder that this vagabond of the Lord begged God for a community of missionaries who would be a "body-guard of hand picked men to protect his House ..." No wonder that his battle-cry and the one he gave to his religious communities was the simple yet powerful: GOD ALONE!

It is to the glory of this missionary that he is a man of his time, a preacher for the people of his age. It is, of course, in the language and thought patterns of his age, through baroque expressions of the preacher-mystic, of the active-contemplative, that Montfort surfaces what for so many is at best implicit: we are all the evangelical slaves of Jesus in Mary. There are, therefore, expressions and thought-patterns of this saint which must be updated in accord with the on-going experience of the christian community. Verbal fidelity to the teachings of Montfort could lead to a distortion of their true meaning.

The term 'slave', for example, though definitely scriptural, can in many cultures be so misunderstood that its use would distort Montfort's message. Although it is truly surprising how the saint's Christocentric and ecclesial Mariology dovetails with the thought of the Second Vatican Council and with Marialis Cultus, nonetheless, fidelity to the Montfortian charism itself demands that his writings always be read in the light of the present insights and expressions of the Church.

Yet, in conclusion, it must be said that the spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort -- the reform of the Church through a new, lived-out affirmation of our baptism into Christ whereby we willingly and fully accept who we are, the loving slaves of Jesus in Mary -- is the Good News itself. Moreover, other aspects of Montfortian spirituality which spring from this "baptismal core," especially his charismatic, bold proclamation of the Gospel, his effective love for the poor and oppressed, his joyful trust in Divine Providence, his stress on the Holy Spirit, his practical recognition of Mary's spiritual maternity, a deeply contemplative-active life, all these surely touch a sensitive nerve in today's christians. His life and spirituality appear to be even more relevant today than they have been in the past.

For Mary's place in the thought of St. Louis Marie, see also Mary's Role in Salvation History According to Saint Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort, by Fr. Patrick Gaffney, S.M.M.

"To Jesus through Mary"