JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

CREATION


Summary

I. The Ecological Canvas:
   1. The influence of the environment;
   2. Environment and health;
   3. The ascetical life and health;
   4. A visual approach to nature;
   5. In contact with nature;
   6. Chosen places;
   7. The hermit’s life.
II. Montfort’s Teaching on Creation and Nature:
   1. Spiritual experience and knowledge;
   2. A passing glance at creation;
   3. A pessimistic vision of nature and the world;
   4. A brighter view of the world by way of the Redemption;
   5. Images drawn from nature and his mystical knowledge.
III. The Human Being and Nature Today:
   1. Use and abuse;
   2. Technology, science, and nature;
   3. Goods for all;
   4. Montfort spirituality and ecology.


I. THE ECOLOGICAL CANVAS

 

If we define ecology as the relationship of human beings with the totality of creation, we see that Louis Marie de Montfort had a profound personal reverence for the fullness of God’s created nature—in all of its mineral, vegetative, animal, and human forms.

 

1. The influence of the environment

In the letters he wrote at the age of twenty-seven and twenty-eight, Louis Marie often uses the adverb "here."1 In this way he underlines his relationship to his surroundings and the influence they had on his evolution and his decisions. He seeks harmony in this relationship. He wants to avoid any milieu where he cannot live in a symbiotic relationship: "I have not the slightest inclination to stay in the St. Clément community" (L 9); "I have no inclination at all to lead an enclosed life" (L 9). On the contrary, he is looking for relationships where he will feel at ease: "When I am teaching catechism to the poor in town and country, I am in my element" (L 9).

 

2. Environment and health

Being in harmony with his environment seems to have been of benefit to the health of de Montfort. Disharmony distresses him. During one of the most painful missions he ever preached, at La Chevrolière, in 1708, "the missionary was afflicted with a violent colic and a continual high fever." His illness ceased at the end of his final sermon.2 This fact is open to different interpretations, certainly, but it is a fact that in one of his writings, Louis Marie sees a connection between his health and his faith, his activities and his relationships: God "has enlightened me [in Poitiers] to a degree I have never experienced before. He has given me the gift of making myself clear, a facility for speaking without preparation, a good health and a great capacity for sympathizing with everyone" (L 11).

 

3. The ascetical life and health

At the very beginning of his priestly life, he takes note of his health in his life of self-denial: "I am sleeping on straw; I do not have any lunch and I do not eat much in the evening. I am keeping very well" (L 10). These statements have to be read in the context of the times. Louis Marie says that he has one good meal per day, "dinner"—which corresponds to our lunch—which was taken at eleven or eleven-thirty in the morning. Not to eat much in the evening, according to the understanding of someone of that time, did not preclude the eating of a goodly piece of bread, the essential food of those days.3

Louis Marie makes a connection between the use of the discipline, a violent mortification, and medicine. The discipline consisted in giving oneself lashes with a small whip reserved for this purpose, on the back and the upper part of the chest. This exercise, of religious inspiration, is quite harsh, but was included in the repertoire of medical practices of those days, along with clysters and bleedings.4 The purpose of the discipline was for Montfort "a specific remedy for lukewarmness," that is, for taking things easy (H 161). He insists that its use be limited in duration.5 He attributes a medical quality to it: "The discipline / is medicine. / Let everyone whip himself on the back . . . / Sickness / is cured by this. / The whip drives out moodiness / and pain." (H 161:1,6).

 

4. A visual approach to nature

Louis de Montfort had a visual appreciation of nature. His sense of beauty expressed itself in painting, "for which he had a taste and a special talent." His ability amazed one painter who demanded a fee from him for instruction in art. He was then still a schoolboy at the Jesuit College in Rennes and did not have the money to pay. He copied a miniature and sold it for a gold piece so as to gain access to the painter’s classes.6

In later years his attitude towards art changed. The superior of the ecclesiastical community in which he was living in 1693-1694 recognized his talents for painting, sculpture, and architecture and tried to persuade him to develop these talents by means of some basic training. The student, however, rejected the arguments of the superior and refused to develop his talents.7 In practicing his art, the artist fashions himself and builds himself up, creating a more refined and more demanding self, whereas one of the conditions for following Jesus Christ is self-renunciation (Mt 16:24). While it is true that painting, even more than the other arts, is an expression of the relationship between the artist and his own body, this reluctance on de Montfort’s part is an expression of a personal kind of evangelical asceticism. He would take up sculpture again later on, with a certain crudity due to his lack of technique. For example, he was to carve a statue of the Virgin to place on top of his pilgrim’s staff.

 

5. In contact with nature

Louis Marie did a great deal of walking—along the roads, in the fields, among the trees, through villages and towns, and especially on the pilgrimages he made, such as those to Rome and Mont Saint-Michel in 1706. If he followed the normal pace of pedestrians of his time, he would have walked eight to ten leagues a day (twenty to twenty-five miles), which would have taken him about eight hours; and this would be repeated the following day to keep up with his schedule in terms of time and distance.

A pilgrim without any assets, he mocks in one of his hymns those who are chained to one place by their possessions, which at the same time cause them great bother (H 144). He himself has nothing to worry him: no horse, no carriage, no servants. Yet he has all he wishes, like a king at his court. God, in his Providence, supplies all his daily needs. He finds this worthy of public proclamation, even accompanied by trumpet blast: "When I go on a journey [a pilgrimage], / my staff in my hand, / barefoot and without any baggage, / but also without any cares, / I make a stately progress, / like a king with his court, / to the sound of the trumpet . . ." (H 144:1).

Compared with the hardships of the journey, the end point of the pilgrimage is a place of plenty. In his hymn to Notre Dame des Dons (Our Lady of the Gifts), Louis Marie sings of the abundance of good things, the beauty of the place, the rustic life (H 151). He sounds a triumphant note at Pontchâteau in 1709: "Oh, we will see great marvels in this place!" (H 164:9).

For the pilgrimage to Notre Dame des Ombres (Our Lady of the Shadows) at La Chevrolière in 1708, his tone is prayerful and intimate: "It is through Mary / that Heaven wishes to entice us . . . / In the silence, / the shadows and the darkness, / Mary has hidden her beauty. / Heaven’s wish is only / to show it forth clearly" (H 155:1,14).

 

6. Chosen places

Louis Marie chooses certain places where he loves to linger. He was nineteen when Jean-Baptiste Blain visited a secluded spot with him in his parents’ garden. He loved to be there and spent his most pleasant hours in this place.8 He has his favorite places: the priory of Saint- Lazare in 1708, close by the wind-battered rock of Heurtebise; the wild heath of La Madeleine, near Pontchâteau, where he sets about the construction of a monumental calvary in 1709; and, towards the end of his life, the beautiful Forest of Mervent, where he serves his God with cheerfulness.

We see his love for these places in his hymn "The Good Shepherdess": "These rocks, these shelters, / These sheep and lambs, / These woods and verdant pastures / are new singers . . . / Here, in the silence, / all things speak in truth, / all preach innocence / and simplicity" (H 99:4,5,25).

 

7. The hermit’s life

In a hymn entitled "A Sinner Converted during the Mission" (H 142), Father de Montfort speaks of the aspirations of a man of the world, a man of rank, who possesses goods and relations but chooses the life of a hermit: "The die is cast, / I am going away to seek / a wood or a hole in a rock . . . / Oh! what secret happiness, / Oh! what holy and sweet peace / my heart experiences in these forests . . . / Alone with you, my sweet Jesus, / I want nothing but you" (H 142:17,19,20).

This dream life becomes a reality for de Montfort as he hides himself away on several occasions during 1715 as a temporary hermit in the Forest of Mervent.9 The "hole in a rock" that he dreamed of for the converted sinner is to be found in a place known as the Fawns’ Rock: "It is a deep cave / towards the North, in a rock, / which served as a hiding place / for the fawn and the tired hind" (H 157:4).

The hermit makes his way to this spot through woods, following the rocky ridges or the little river known as La Mère (The Mother): "Three ways lead to this retreat: / the main carriage-way, / a path through the woods, / and one beside the hidden waters" (H 157:2).

In the early days of the Church, the hermits of Arabia or the solitaries of Egypt withdrew to those places where the dryness taught them how to strip themselves and how to search for God alone. In the rain-soaked and fertile lands of Europe, with their abundant vegetation, the forest becomes the hermit’s desert.10 In both cases, it is a question of seeking poverty, in which one may learn to depend on God alone. The surroundings change. The teaching is different: "Here you hear the eloquent silence / of the rocks and forests / teaching nothing but peace, / breathing only innocence" (H 157:13).

Down through the ages, the forest-dwelling hermits have nourished themselves on images: the tree’s solid trunk is the image of tested and persevering virtue . . . Louis Marie speaks in the same vein, the same Western tradition: "The rocks speak of constancy, / the woods of fruitfulness, / the waters of purity, / and everything of love and obedience" (H 157:16).

Louis de Montfort, a hermit in the Forest of Mervent, does more than pray, more than simply renew his strength for future missionary endeavors. He hides himself away like Mary to serve God alone (TD 2): "Let us hide ourselves away." He goes there to adore God in total service: "Far from the world in this hermitage / let us hide ourselves away to serve God" (H 157:1).

He appreciates the cave in the Fawns’ Rock as an exceptional natural place where nature favors grace: "Could you ever find a place / where grace is more favored?" (H 157:1).

He gets about a lot in this forest. He stops a while to take in the view from the highest point of the "plateau" above the cave: "Up on the heights, you can see a plain, / churches and chateaux, / meadows and streams, / which charm one’s vision and soothe one’s pain" (H 157:6).

He wanders along the valley of the Mère and is captivated by the view and by the life of the river, "Abounding in fish / which delight in every way" (H 157:7).

Water springs from the hillsides, the level ground, and the foot of the trees, while other secret springs are hidden away in the bed of the river: "In the neighborhood are three clear springs / where the water, without tarrying, / gushes forth from high and low, / eventually to water the plain" (H 157:9).

Louis Marie listens to the forest: "You can hear the sweet harmony / of birds and of echoes" (H 157:12).

Near the running water he finds himself between the migratory birds that have been passing through this region regularly for centuries—wild geese, lapwings, ducks, and wood pigeons—and the impressive fauna, ranging from toads to mosquitoes, at the water’s edge: "You can see passing above your head / the birds according to their seasons, / and beneath your feet the fish, / while at your side are a hundred kinds of animals" (H 157:17).

In the wildness of nature and the solitary life, he finds once again the primitive purity of the time before sin entered in: "In these deeps everything is growing and is abundant / with- out the need of the laborer’s hand. / By the hand of the Lord / this virgin soil is fruitful" (H 157:10).

He lives in the presence of God the Creator: "Here you see this powerful hand / which shaped the universe, / shining out clearly in these desert places, / in innocent nature" (H 157:18).11


II. MONTFORT’S TEACHING ON CREATION AND NATURE

 

The word "nature" can signify the physical and biological environment of men and women, the world that is animal, vegetable and mineral; but it can also signify the characteristics proper to the human species.

We need to keep several things in mind when we read the term "human nature" in the works of St Louis de Montfort: the term is influenced by the times in which he lived; he does not treat of it as a teaching theologian but as a missionary; above all, his approach to human nature is that of a Christian mystic. And so it will be helpful when speaking of "human nature" to take as a starting point his personal experience.

 

1. Spiritual experience and knowledge

The first known seminal event in the life of Louis de Montfort took place on the road from Rennes to Paris, when the young man, just before his twentieth birthday, made the decision to trust himself entirely to the Providence of God and to own nothing as his own.12 Pious and fervent as he had been up to this point, he now made his definitive choice for God. During the following years, he made a total consecration of himself to Jesus Christ through the hands of Mary, following the impulse of his Baptism. The first known expression of a mystical life dates from his twenty-eighth year, when he was able to internalize the presence of God as Providence and of the Blessed Virgin: "I find so much wealth in Providence and so much strength in the Blessed Virgin that my poverty is amply enriched and my weakness strengthened" (L 8). The following year, he received from God what he would later call the "gift of Wisdom."13 Rather than defining it at that point, he describes it: light for the mind and a facility for expressing himself and for speaking off-the-cuff without preparation (L 11). Two years later, during a stay in Paris (1703-1704), he had a mystical experience that he described in a number of his hymns. These contain enough indications for us to see there the passive purifications and the mystical contemplation proper to the "dark night of the soul" described by Saint John of the Cross.14

At that time he was cut off from the Sulpicians in the Parisian seminary where he had discovered the solid foundations of his spiritual life. He was in touch with his old confessor from the college at Rennes, who was then in Paris at the Jesuit novitiate. He studied also a book by another Jesuit, Fr. Saint-Jure,15 and at this time wrote at least a part of The Love of Eternal Wisdom.16

 

2. A passing glance at creation

In the biblical texts he gathered together at this time, Father de Montfort underscores the creation of the universe: "Eternal Wisdom began to manifest herself outside the bosom of God the Father when, after a whole eternity, he made light. . . . Eternal Wisdom is the mother and maker of all things . . ., not . . . simply the maker of the universe but also its mother because the maker does not love and care for the work of his hands like a mother does for her child" (LEW 31). The human being "is his supreme masterpiece, the living image of his beauty and his perfection, the great vessel of his graces, the wonderful treasury of his wealth and in a unique way his representative on earth" (LEW 35, 37, 64). The sinner recalls to his mind a happier situation: "But, alas, the vessel of the Godhead was shattered into a thousand pieces. This beautiful star fell from the skies. This brilliant sun lost its light" (LEW 39). All of this has the stamp of a way of thinking characteristic of the Jesuits.18 No doubt Louis Marie had rediscovered it through his old confessor at the Jesuit college. It has not been his habitual way of thinking since his time at Saint-Sulpice. And this momentary reference becomes blurred, to all intents and purposes, from 1704 on as quickly as it appeared.

 

3. A pessimistic vision of nature and the world

There is very little esteem for human nature of itself in the dominant trends of the seventeenth century. The followers of Bérulle emphasized the thinking of their master on the nothingness and corruption of a human being in serious sin: "By the end of the century, a pessimistic view of humanity had become more or less the norm in French spirituality."19 Louis Marie illustrates very well the prevailing mentality, which is also his own, when he uses an image drawn from the baker’s art. Pride is to the human being what yeast is to the dough. Both puff up and completely corrupt the element in which they reside: "The sin of Adam has almost entirely spoiled and soured us, filling us with pride and corrupting every one of us, just as leaven sours, swells and corrupts the dough in which it is placed" (TD 79). This pessimism about human nature was heightened during the seventeenth century by a very harsh doctrine of grace and predestination. Drawn from a reinterpretation of Saint Augustine, it was formulated by Jansen and spread through the Jansenist movement. It fostered mistrust of human nature and a suspicious way of viewing the body and all that is fleshly. It is a doctrine that is difficult to express in "propositions" and is so subtle as to affect even those who professedly fight against it. Jansenism was commonly known as "the novelty." Louis Marie, who is an optimist about nature in his Christocentrism, prays that he may be shielded from Jansenism: "Preserve me from a great precipice: / scrupulosity in justice, / the spirit of novelty, / whether in my faith, my zeal or my conduct" (H 22:30).

 

4. A brighter view of the world by way of the Redemption

The order of nature is reestablished by Jesus Christ: "With the coming of the God-man, there appeared in the world a new order whose source is Christ and whose characteristics are examined by Bérulle. The Incarnation, then, completely changes the problem of the relationship between God and the human being. It becomes unthinkable, from this moment on, to seek God apart from the Incarnation, that is, apart from the humanity of Christ."20 Louis Marie is following Bérulle when he writes: "Jesus came into the world . . . he must reign in the world" (TD 1).

Jesus Christ "came into the world" through Mary. He was born of a woman who possessed our "human nature at its purest" (TD 85), purely and simply. Our nature does not, as does that of Jesus Christ, possess the hypostatic union, divine and human natures in one. Mary is a new earth for God.

Louis de Montfort expresses a poetic and mystical vision of creation from the standpoint of the Blessed Virgin. Mary is the "masterpiece" of God the Creator, the privileged "dwelling-place" of his presence in the "universe" (TD 5). She is "the vast and divine world of God" (TD 6). She is the sea of grace: "God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas (Maria). He gathered all his graces together and called them Mary (Maria)" (TD 23). The new world begins with her. It is a world created, like the first creation, by the Word of God, and by the Ave spoken to Mary: "The Ave ravishes Mary’s heart / and obtains her consent" (H 89:7).

And just as in the first moments of the world, the Spirit hovers over her, covering her with just such a shadow, and the Word of God renews the world by a single word, the Ave: "The earth was barren, / but, once the Angel had uttered the Ave, / it bears fruit, / it becomes fertile" (H 89:9).

 

5. Images drawn from nature and his mystical knowledge

Saint Louis writes that the Christian can discover within himself, through mystical knowledge, the discord between grace and its opposite, sin. This type of self-knowledge is the first "marvelous" effect of the mystical life:21 "By the light which the Holy Spirit will give you through Mary . . . you will perceive the evil inclinations of your fallen nature and how incapable you are of any good" (TD 213). Such knowledge as this is difficult to express. Louis Marie has recourse to mystical language, which is symbolic, to describe the relationship to God. Sometimes he draws metaphors from the social relationship with a royal personage (H 103:7), sometimes from human love and its intensity (H 103:7). He also uses comparisons from animal nature. He conjures up, from the earth or the water, from valleys, rivers and ponds, and sunken lanes, images of animals that are repellent, dangerous, or disturbing: "You will consider yourself as a snail that soils everything with its slime, as a toad that poisons everything with its venom, as a malevolent serpent seeking only to deceive" (TD 213). "These metaphors are used because we can know spiritual things only as images of things we can sense and because it is often difficult to find appropriate terms to express them."22

Louis Marie also says that we know by mystical knowledge, "by the light of the Holy Spirit" (TD 79), the natural human being, the human being without grace: our extreme pride, useless attachments, self-complacency, and desire for self-satisfaction, for domination of others, and for taking things easy. Once again he uses metaphors drawn from nature, relating to animals and trees: "By nature we are prouder than peacocks, we cling to the earth more than toads, we are more base than goats, more envious than serpents, greedier than pigs, fiercer than tigers, lazier than tortoises, weaker than reeds, and more changeable than weather- cocks" (TD 79).

The mystic in the Forest of Mervent had received self-knowledge (TD 213) and the power of self-denial (TD 79) as mystical graces. At that moment he was freed to rediscover primitive nature untouched by sin. "From then on, he has a freedom of spirit that extends in a general way to all things."23


III. The Human Being and Nature Today

 

1. Use and abuse

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, one-seventh of the French mainland was covered in woodland, not including the royal forests, like that of Mervent.24 In 1699, Colbert had tried to control the forest exploitation, which until then had been of an anarchic nature, by means of a royal ordinance. His aim was to ensure the supply of wood for construction of buildings and, especially, merchant ships and warships. Felling in the royal forests, minutely regulated, was subject to decrees and letters patent: the woods, seen as national wealth, were placed under the special care of the king. The Office of Waters and Forests supervised the application of the rules. Colbert’s ordinance was the source of the problem which arose later for Louis de Montfort over his cave at Mervent.

Beginning at the end of the seventeenth century, after the war of the Augsburg League (1697), there was a shortage of wood for the navy and the artillery. The wars had exhausted the supply, and the supervision of forestry operations had become draconian. Louis Marie seems not to have concerned himself with these national wartime matters of public service to king and nation. But Charles Moriceau, the seigneur of Cheusse, who was in charge of the regulation of waters and forests for Fontenay, was reminded by a royal attorney of his jurisdiction and made a visit, by virtue of his official functions, to the cave of the Fawns’ Rock "on October 28, 1715, about eight o’clock in the morning."25 He noticed that Father de Montfort had begun building a wall in front of the entrance to the cave, which was exposed to the southwest, with the aim of sheltering himself from the north wind, which would bring a chill to the air in the following months, and that he had removed five or six chestnut stumps to make way for the wall. The stumps, looked upon as matrices that must not be allowed to lose their precious nutritive properties, used to be cut very high to encourage new shoots (only later was this method of exploitation reconsidered). The stumps were useful for strengthening the wall. An offense had been committed, the reprehensible destruction of a productive part of the forest. Moriceau de Cheusse was satisfied with forbidding the building of the wall and requiring the priest to obtain written permission to stay in the forest.

The passing years have only increased the use of natural resources for warlike ends. And today, even more than at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the forest is threatened: the destruction of vast tracts of forest on a continent, without any renewal of these resources, can easily destabilize the equilibrium of the whole.

 

2. Technology, science, and nature

In Father de Montfort’s days, the French people lived an integrated life in small village or urban communities. Poitiers, with 18,000 inhabitants, was generally considered "a large town" (L 6). France was a vast field of agriculture, meadows, and woods, where almost all the population worked. The land owners and many of the workers were irrevocably tied to production from the land. Integrated within nature, they occupied themselves with meeting the primary needs: food, shelter, clothing, and defence from predatory or wild animals. It was a question of survival in the famine years, such as the two that de Montfort himself endured during his life (1694 and 1709).

Since those days, technology has changed physical nature. Science has attempted to impose laws that have sometimes not been completely thought out: the optimism of days gone by has come up against some fundamental questions. The word "ecology," invented in 1866 by the biologist Haeckel, describes the conditions necessary for beings to exist. Different disciplines have studied these relationships. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has arisen a movement for the protection of nature.26 At a most critical moment, after the dropping of the first atomic bombs (1945), it was realized that scientific rationalism had succeeded in giving birth to a monster. Over and above the term "ecology," there are questions of ethics, of morality, and of divine creation.

If we wish to learn something from Louis de Montfort, we can perhaps do no better than simply observe him living as a hermit in the Forest of Mervent, as someone for whom nature possesses not merely a certain charm but a mystery and a majesty in which one can decipher the traces of the Creator.

 

3. Goods for all

In former times, nature was looked upon as a nutritive soil. Louis de Montfort saw it as sufficiently abundant in all kinds of goods to ensure a frugal yet sufficient life for all living things: it is for him a patrimony, "one which God himself gives . . . namely, the inexhaustible inheritance of his divine Providence" (MR 5). Today, nature is looked upon above all as a capital to be exploited. Development, the creation of wealth, consumerism have all created a superfluity of goods and new sources of distress.

It was commonly accepted in the days of Louis Marie that the distribution of goods was incumbent on the rich, who were considered the managers of the goods of those who were poor (even if this was not always put into practice). In today’s distribution of national or worldwide wealth, this teaching, which Father de Montfort put in verse, remains true: "You should know that something that you hang on to / while it has no use for you, / belongs to the poor; it is theirs . . . / The poor have the right to ask for / all that is not necessary to you; / the rich must not hang on to it, / even though they may think differently" (H 17:18).

 

4. Montfort spirituality and ecology

God’s glory is the aim of Louis Marie de Montfort’s spirituality (TD 151). The baptized Christian achieves this through belonging to Jesus Christ.

The Christian, if he is to belong to Jesus Christ, must have a total dependence on him, in his person, his material and spiritual possessions, and, for good measure, even all the merit that he may have been able to acquire (TD 121). Beginning with a consecration, the initial act of complete belonging, the Christian progresses to a permanent state of union (TD 119), of conformity and consecration to Jesus Christ (TD 120).

The way in which we live total consecration to Jesus Christ is purified by a similar consecration—made subordinately to Christ—to the Virgin Mary (TD 125) who gave him birth (TD 1). Mary, exempt from all sin, is neither selfish nor self-centered; she keeps nothing for herself (TD 149); she is wholly related to God (TD 225). Thus she is, in one’s approach to Christ, a way in which there are no obstacles (TD 165), a way that will not fade, the immaculate way (TD 158), the perfect way (TD 157). Our consecration to Jesus Christ becomes perfect through the perfect way of Mary.

Louis de Montfort, employing the popular images of his day, speaks of the power of Mary over God in his anger,27 but he recognized a deviation towards utilitarian prayer, a selfish recourse to Mary: "The true subject of Mary does not serve his illustrious Queen for selfish gain. He does not serve her for temporal or eternal well-being . . . ; He loves her not so much because she is good to him or because he expects something from her, but simply because she is lovable. . . . How pleasing and precious in the sight of God and his holy Mother must these servants of Mary be, who serve her without any self-seeking. How rare they are nowadays!" (TD 110).

Louis de Montfort saw clearly in his parish missions that total and perfect consecration—which he himself had practiced since his formation— was able to make a Christian disinterested: "It is to increase their number that I have taken up my pen to write down what I have been teaching with success both publicly and in private in my missions for many years" (TD 110). Thus there was born the Treatise on True Devotion.

Superstition, an expression of fear, gains ground in times of insecurity. It is a twisting of religion and a gathering together of all kinds of useless beliefs and practices. It offers worship to forces that it divinizes, in order to conciliate them, or it offers to God a worship that expresses a false understanding of the divinity.28 In opposition to this selfish approach, Montfort offers one characterized by confidence and serenity: total consecration to Jesus Christ and, in order to render this perfect, consecration to the Blessed Virgin.

The Treatise on True Devotion describes a series of peaceful effects brought about by the relationship to Jesus Christ and to Mary: "By the light which the Holy Spirit will give you through Mary . . . you will perceive the evil inclinations of your fallen nature" (TD 213); the Virgin "will rid your heart of all scruples and inordinate servile fear. . . . You will then cease to act as you did before, out of fear of the God who is love, but rather out of pure love" (TD 215); the Virgin Mary "will fill you with unbounded confidence in God and in herself" (TD 216).

Louis de Montfort experiences a special blessed detachment in the open fields and woods of the countryside. Fear is banished, spontaneity reigns. The new hymn "In Honor of Our Lady of the Shadows" at La Chevrolière (1708) is a hymn to the woodland (H 155:12); the new hymn "On Solitude," (H 1/15), is a hymn to the forest of Mervent (H 157:2).

Nature is neither hostile nor menacing, but welcoming: "In this woodland, / in these peaceful retreats, / in the shadow of these forests, / what benefit we find, / what silence and yet what language!" (H 15).

The cave in the Forest of Mervent is a beneficial place for a hermit who desires to hide himself away there for the service of God, in the midst of a harmonious and eloquent nature (H 157:12-13). Louis de Montfort does not find in nature the incoherence or revolt of uncontrollable forces that the superstitious wish to conciliate. There is nothing here of the occult powers of springs, seen as either beneficent of malevolent, in which the superstitious drown themselves. Nature, for him, teaches only true and strong values in obedience to God (H 157:16).

Louis de Montfort, voluntarily poor and interested only in his relationship with God, does not make of nature an object to possess, to be exploited or destroyed at will. He respects nature: "The sinner may never lay his criminal hands on it" (H 157:19).

In the woodland cave to which he withdraws and in the undulating landscape through which he makes great strides, Montfort finds nothing disquieting. Serene nature is a help to the encounter with God (H 157:18). Nature is a paradise for the soul. Just as the cave favors grace, nature benefits the gift of grace: "But if nature is so beautiful, / grace reaps the reward, / forming a paradise / when a soul is pure and faithful" (H 157:20).

B. Guitteny


Notes: (1) The adverb "here" is used eight times in the letter of December 6, 1700 (L 5), twice in that of 16 September 1701 (L 9), once in that of November 3, 1701 (L 10), and three times in that of 4 July 1702 (L 11). (2) Clorivière, 187, 189. (3) P. Goubert, La vie quotidienne des paysans français au XVIIe siècle; The Daily Life of French Peasants in the Severnteenth Century, Paris, Hachette, 1982, 118: The French Peasantry in the Seventeenth Century, trans. Pierre Goubert, New York, Cambridge, 1986: "The purchase of flour or bread accounted easily for half the expenses of a modest or hard-pressed family. . . . An adult easily consumed three pounds per day. . . . There were large round loaves of grey bread made of wheat mixed with rye, or winter barley." Archives of the Département of Vienne, Rule of the Hôpital Général, Estat de la Dépense qu’il faut pour l’entretien de l’Hôpital général des pauvres enfermés de cette ville de Poitiers (Account of Necessary Expenditures for the Maintenance of the General Hospital Hospital for the Sick Poor of the City of Poitiers): in 1691, a pound and a half of bread was given each day to every pauper. Later, the ration was reduced to one pound daily, owing to a lack of resources. (4) F. Bluche, La vie quotidienne au temps de Louis XIV (Daily Life in the Time of Louis XIV), Paris, Hachette, 1984, 144: Louis XIV, trans. Mark Greengrass, New York, F. Watts, 1990: Bleeding was the favored treatment under Louis XIV. Methodical doctors used bleeding without any hesitation as their principal remedy. They drew off corrupted or superfluous blood from their patients because they believed in the circulation of the blood. Louis de Montfort was granted this avant-garde treatment at the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris in 1695: "They did not close his vein until his body, drained of blood, could give no more" (Blain, 62). The clyster, today called the enema, was an injection of liquid into the intestine by means of a huge syringe used by the assistant apothecary. The liquid used was water, or milk, or boiled bran or grass. From 1680 on, brown sugar or catholicon ceased to be mixed with it, but honey continued to be used in the mixture (F. Bluche, La vie quotidienne, 146). (5) A slow reading of Psalm 51, which begins with the word "miserere" in Latin, would last two and a half minutes. (6) Blain, 6-8. (7) Blain, 45. (8) Blain, 19. (9) J. Fournée, L’arbre et la forêt en Normandie (Tree and Forest in Normandy), Flers 1985, 39-39: "In the strict sense, a hermit or anchorite is one who lives alone, completely separated from the world. . . . The term ‘hermitage’ is not used in so rigorous a sense in common parlance as in its literary definition." Common usage attributes the word "hermitage," then, to certain secluded spots, and the name "hermit" to those who hide themselves away there for a limited period. (10) G. Plaisance, Les ermites forestiers (Forest Hermits), in Présence au désert (Presence in the Desert), 1979. (11) The verses of this hymn, which are inspired by his physical presence in the forest, end with verse 19, AGCM: in manuscript number IV, a second copyist continues the hymn from verse 20. From this point on, it has more the sense of a catechism on the advantages of solitude and withdrawal than a description of the life of the forest. (12) Grandet, 350. (13) The gift of Wisdom is received from God to enable one to "know, taste, and enable others to taste, the truth" and to speak from the abundance of one’s heart (MR 60). It is "an experimental knowledge of the truth, full of relish, which enables one to see, in the light of faith, the most hidden mysteries, in particular that of the Cross" (FC 45). (14) All the indications are that we should date from this period hymns 124, 125, 126 and 103; The Works of St. John of the Cross. The Dark Night and St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) were not a direct influence on St Louis de Montfort. They are useful here as a guide for the understanding of the Christian spiritual life, because they treat ex professo of what de Montfort confides to us as his own personal experience. R. Garrigou- Lagrange, Les trois âges de la vie intérieure, prélude à celle du ciel (The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, Prelude to That of Heaven), Paris 1938, 2:16: The Three Ages of the Interior Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, trans. M. Timothea Doyle, St. Louis, B. Herder, 1948: "About the dark night of the soul, St John of the Cross speaks of graces dealt with by St Teresa in the six dwellings." (15) J.-B. Saint-Jure, De la connaissance et de l’amour du Fils de Dieu, Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (The Knowledge of the Love of the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ), Paris 1688. The first edition was brought out in 1633. This was followed by numerous editions, often revised. The edition of 1688 is the twelfth. L’homme spirituelle (The Spiritual Person), Paris 1685, by the same author, which treats of the foundations of the spiritual life, probably was Montfort’s inspiration for the four means to acquire Wisdom. (16) The original text of LEW is unknown. We possess only one copy, written out by two copyists of very different handwriting, neither of whom is St. Louis de Montfort (the first copyist: 1-134; the second: 135 to the end of the Consecration). GA is guilty of an obvious error in saying that we can recognize in it the handwriting of St Louis de Montfort (GA p.48). We do not know the state of preservation of the document (or documents) used by the copyists, nor whether the copy is true to the original text. Internal analysis suggests that certain texts towards the end of the book date from after 1703, for example, LEW 193 and 203-222. They are very like SR and TD (1712), whose ideas, terms, and expressions they reproduce; written as one block, they contain no references to other works in the text itself. (17) M. Gilbert, L’exégèse spirituelle de Montfort (The Spiritual Exegesis of Montfort), in NRT 104 (1982), 681: "The biblical text is not used as confirmation of an already enunciated doctrine; it forms the base, the foundation, and the source of this doctrine." (18) L. Cognet, De la dévotion moderne à la spiritualité française (Modern Devotion in French Spirituality), Paris, A. Fayard, 1958, 65-68. (19) L. Pérouas, Ce que croyait Grignion de Montfort (Way to Wisdom), Paris, Mame, 1972, 118. (20) L. Cognet, De la Devotion, 61. (21) In de Montfort’s vocabulary, "marvelous" means "mystical." He says "marvelous effect" for "mystical effect," emphasizing the fact that it is an effect of the action of the Holy Spirit (TD 213, 79). (22) R. Garrigou-Lagrange, Les trois âges, 13. (23) John of the Cross, The Dark Night, Carmelite Publications, Washington D.C., 1974, p. 580. (24) E. Mireaux, Une province française au temps du grand Roi, la Brie (A French Province in the Time of the Great King: La Brie), Paris 1958, 153ff. (25) L. Brochet, La forêt de Vouvant, son histoire et ses sites (The Forest of Vouvent: Its History and Its Places), Fontenay-le-Compte 1893, 59-61. (26) P. Daubercies, Nature, in Catholicisme, Paris, 10:1095. (27) "To calm Jesus in his anger, is easy with Mary. I say to him: Behold your Mother, and at once he is appeased" (H 77:10); "At her prayer, God’s anger is calmed" (H 155:3). (28) Magic is a form of superstition; witchcraft, a degraded and popular form of magic.

 

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Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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