|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. The Experience of Montfort: 1. The principal stages of his experience of God; 2. A God who communicates; 3. The structure of his experience of God; 4. God the Father; 5. The plans of God; 6. God Alone: a. God Alone in St. Francis de Sales, b. God Alone in Henri Boudon, c. God Alone in Montfort. II. The Study of God: 1. The god of the philosophers; 2. The nature of God; 3. God, One and Triune; 4. Conclusion. III. The Experience of God in Our Day.
The philosophy of language has clearly shown that the expression "to speak of God" is far from having a univocal meaning. Some wish to speak of God in the language of clear concepts. Others prefer the language of images, of metaphors, of parables. Still others prefer doxological and confessional language, because they do not want to lose sight of their involvement, commitment, and submission. Not far from this last choice is the rediscovery of the mystical tradition in which God reveals himself in the depths of the soul, in ecstatic experiences, in the consciousness of the "docta ignorantia" (learned ignorance), in the cloud of unknowing.
In the last few years, there has been a rediscovery of Montfort as a mystic. He is acknowledged to be someone who experienced the light of Gods reality, and did so through his ministry of pastoral teaching. When he spoke of God, he ordinarily did so as someone who was moved, seized, touched. He was no dogmatician finding his greatest pleasure in scholastic argumentations and speculations. Rather, he was a practitioner, someone who knew how to develop a reciprocal relationship between his own experiences and the joys or sorrows of the people for whom and with whom he worked. God was for him a living reality.
I. THE EXPERIENCE OF MONTFORT
In large measure, Montfort thought and experienced God like a man of his time. He expressed the reality of God, and his own attitude towards God, through the images and concepts that he learned in his childhood, at the secondary school of Rennes, during his seminary years, and in his theological studies at Paris. He was influenced by Scripture and by the world of ideas of Ignatius of Loyola, of pseudo-Dionysius, and of Francis de Sales, among others. He lived in the context of the French school (Bérulle, Condren, Olier, Eudes), with its strongly Christocentric spirituality. Nonetheless, he was not a slavish follower but a man who succeeded in living with God in a manner that was completely personal. He had to find a balance between an orientation towards God and an orientation towards concrete circumstances, between verticalism and horizontalism. The result was a life in which can be found many typical aspects of the Christian struggle, of yearning to be in harmony with the God and Father of Jesus Christ.
1. The principal stages of his experience of God
It is difficult to discover what exactly was going on in Montfort when as a young child he spoke of God. What is clear is that since his childhood, he was emotionally linked to what cannot be reduced to the ordinary, to what is directly perceptible. He had the soul of a mystic; his common sense was moved by a presence of another order.
In an early stage, Montfort knew the temptation of searching for God outside all human relationship and outside the apostolate. In his final years, he recognized more traces of the will of God in the trials of his apostolate.
He discovered God in the unfolding of peoples lives, of the poor primarily. That only reinforced his sensibility to the God of the Incarnation, of the Cross, of the total kenosis. Not that he had developed a very profound system of a theology in the manner of an Urs von Balthasar, for example. But he well knew what things meant or what they should mean.
What was dominant at first in Montfort was the orientation towards God Alone, God in Himself, detached from the world and from neighbor. This is by no means exceptional in the case of a mystic, especially if his character is somewhat special. He took his distancedistance of space from his family (cf. Abraham, L 30) not for any lack of affection but because he thought he loved his mother more perfectly when "flesh and blood have no part in it" (L 20). He regularly withdrew into solitude, giving himself the discipline (a manner of chasing away the demons), listening so that God may speak in him, searching the will of God, trying to lose himself in God (H 28, 43) without reserve (H 153). He distrusted himself and was on the watch for any movements of the passions. He believed therefore that difficulties are a grace; in this sense, he welcomed "crosses, humiliations and poverty" (L 16). Montfort shared, along with people like Tronson, the certitude that man is a liar and traitor. This led him to think that it is best for man to keep to himself "as a snail in its shell, which when it is hidden, seems to be something of value, but when it comes out is wretched and disgusting" (L 4). In the light of the gospel, he realized more and more that the dynamic of God must be brought into everyday life. He also came to recognize that God is already present there. It cost him to be in harmony with all these tendencies but he always increasingly found the balance between these different poles or moments.
Montfort did not succeed in achieving this from the very start. Like someone who opens up only with difficulty because of character or nature, he searched for this equilibrium from his time in the seminary, principally through mortification and penance. To a certain degree, however, God was still the severe Father. Without diminishing these serious aspects of God, Montfort learned to know God as a force that moved him towards the exterior, the outside. He appreciated that God wills to share his existence with the poor and the suffering. The goodness of God is revealed on the Cross, where God takes to Himself the punishment and powerlessness of the world and supports its entire weight. And when Montfort was in the midst of his worst difficulties, at Paris in 1702-1703, he meditated and wrote LEW. He was not the troubadour of melancholy, but of joy.
2. A God who communicates
In his classical work on the mentality of the seventeenth century, Henri Brémond remarks: "God is our goal: this fundamental truth can be understood in two ways. It means either We are for God or God is for us. In other words, the proposition is both theocentric and anthropocentric, equally correct, moreover, under these two aspects."1 God and man are considered from the point of view of their communicative nature. This same thought is found also in Montfort.
What is found in God and in his Holy Spirit, "honor, glory and virtue," wishes to pour itself out upon believers (LEW 179). Montfort is therefore perfectly in line with Holy Scripture, where the kabod or doxa (glory) of God is directed towards the earth and seeks to envelop it. God reveals Him-self as an overflowing source of love.
This communicative nature of God is so much the more remarkable when the great difference between God and man is taken into account, a difference even greater after the sin of man. "Nothing is more worthy of love than God and nothing is more deserving of hatred than self" (TD 80). Nevertheless, God seeks out humanity and will not reject it. Spiritual theology of the times in which Montfort lived stressed surprise over this fact, no less than Luther or Jansen, but it kept a specifically Catholic tone in the conviction that man is truly sanctified by the grace of God and is capable of good. In spite of a sharp consciousness of the state of sin of man and of his weakness (Tronson), the ancient proverb "the glory of God is man" was not forgotten. When sin is considered by this mystical spirituality, it is never as a final determination of the status of the world but as a qualification seen from a determined and limited angle. The finality, the horizon that determines all is the "good," creation by God, the love and the mercy of God and His desire to communicate with humanity.
3. The structure of his experience of God
The life of faith corresponds in a certain sense to the breathing of God. This structure is seen clearly in LEW 30. Wisdom is "the mother and the source of all good," but man must be open to her, let her descend upon him, "because she only gives herself . . . to those who desire her and who seek her with all the zeal such a lofty aim deserves." Montfort describes the successive stages: "listen"; "act" (cf. LEW 61: "ready to give up everything, to suffer everything, to undertake everything in order to possess her"); "acquire the light and the unction necessary," which will further allow us "to inspire others with the love of Wisdom, in order to lead them to eternal life."
The experience of God lived by Montfort is strongly centered on Christology. The covenant with God is fulfilled by letting oneself be borne on the breath of God in the Incarnation. We must find there the goodness, gentleness, and depth of the Divine Life, even if there is still an eschatological growth possible (cf. LEW 127: the glory of the risen Lord "perfects, in a certain sense, his kindness").
The light of God appears after a somber night. A soul is often here on earth "without any taste, knowledge, or light of glory, but with only the feeble light of faith" (L 19). Nonetheless, abandonment has something gentle and attractive about, it for it leads to "wisdom, to riches, to liberty, to the divinity of the Heart of Jesus crucified" (L 34). When Montfort employs the terms "servant" and "slave," he expresses nothing other than the radical nature of Christian life, the loss of oneself in God in order to rediscover oneself. From all this it follows that Montfort lived God as space and movement far more than as a substance in itself.
For a mystic, the Being of God is less static, more dynamic, and more open. For man, that demands as a corollary openness, welcome, renouncing oneself, humbly allowing God to act. It is the opposite of the sinner often accentuated by Montfort. Sin is always a centering on self, the opposite of kenosis and of an anhypostatic life, i.e., not centered on self.
It is not a question of a human experience of Montfort and nothing more. The space of God has to be sought in prayer and liturgy. A place must be created for him. God is not to be taken for granted. Montfort prayed for many hours (L 6). He called prayer "a flight of the spirit into its God" (H 15:1). It is only on this road that the believer finds "God Alone and . . . his holy Name, the only essentials (H 15:35). Montfort may have lived a life of deep union with God, but he always remains convinced, according to the traditions of the French school, of the holiness of God and of the distinction between God and man. The love relationship maintains distance and is filled with gratitude, adoration, thanksgiving.
Distance and prayer do not suffice; whatever we experience through them must be completed or purified by obedience to spiritual directors. Montfort sought in Brenier (L 10) a guide known as the uprooter of all egoism. In encounters with others, he discovered the will of God and the demands of the Gospel. In dialogue, vocal or silent, he learned to see the presence of God and to understand divine movements. When, finally, he came out of all this as a missionary, he did it "in view of the necessities of the Church" (L 5), convinced that "God has willed to make use of me" (L 11).
The place where God wants to be present is primarily the heart of man. That becomes evident in the heading of many of his letters: "May the pure love of God reign in our hearts." In L 15, he adds "with Divine Wisdom," which is developed into "so that God alone may be there, God alone." Later, Divine Wisdom becomes more in focus and the heading is transformed into "Long live Jesus, long live his cross." This is not a cheap slogan for Montfort but a heart-felt wish whose worth he has learned to recognize. He asks God to carve his countenance in us: "Carve in me your divine face (H 24:37).
In a letter dated 1715, we read: "When God is asking his creatures for anything, he asks gently, leaving them entirely free but the longer we delay in responding to his gentle requests, the less we hear his voice, and the longer his voice goes unheeded the more his justice is asserted" (L 30). God requests discreetly, which can give the dangerous impression that the call of God is somewhat delayed.
The manner Montfort understands God is typically Catholic. If man desires God, it is not in virtue of any quality of man but because God is looking for him and is attracting him. This divine action takes place without any expense to the freedom of man. Man must enter, by his own personal responsibility, into the possibility that God offers. "The value and high standard of our actions correspond to the value and perfection of the grace given by God and responded to by the faithful soul" (SM 5).2
4. God the Father
The world of God is a world of goodness, of tenderness, of gentleness, of mercy and pardon. This is the context in which Montfort speaks of the anger or the judgment of God. God never betrays his word (L 16). This was the backbone of Montforts life. "Always united to God, always busy with his duties, always happy, he rests in the bosom of his heavenly Father in whom he has placed all his trust."3 This is not some romantic feeling. Thanks to this attitude Montfort could swallow all his bitter pills! And his behavior was in agreement with St. Paul: "As dying and behold we live; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing everything" (2 Cor 6:9-11).
Montfort lived trusting "in the inexhaustible wealth of the motherly divine Providence, which has never failed us in all of our undertakings" (L 33). True, Montfort speaks here, as we can tell by the context, of God as our mother, and this is in perfect agreement with other passages. Christ "has a virgin Father in the heavens" (MRL 2:2). According to LEW, the divine universe reveals itself as a fiancée who invites us to enter her home. Wisdom reveals herself to those who search for her (LEW 4). She is the queen of heaven and earth, of time and eternity. She came from eternity in order to enter into time and became flesh in Jesus Christ, but she is always present as Word and Spirit. She protects the earth from evil and fills man with blessings, but Montfort does not deny the presence of lies and folly.
Even if Montfort was inclined at times to stress the radicality of sin, he did not stop there because he was convinced that Wisdom "takes the initiative herself" (LEW 69) and, like a good shepherd, searches for the lost sheep (ASE 70). Christ says: "I love them so much that I would be ready to die a second time for each one of them if there were reason to do so" (LEW 130). It flows from this that God cannot resist our prayers and lets Himself be conquered by a living faith and a firm hope (L 16).
The will of God is a point of view that returns over and over again in Montfort. The divine unceasingly and freely wills to enter man to become mans place of repose (LEW 135). Following Jn 19:30 ("It is finished"), he writes, "O Jesus you have entirely accomplished the will of your Father in everything" (HD 39), and, after having cited Luke 23:46 ("Into thy hands I commend my spirit), "O Jesus! You committed your spirit into your Fathers hands before you died" (HD 40).
The Father is "from all eternity" the source of creation (PM 1), the "thou" of the Sons prayer. He is "mercy," who can raise up men all aflame (PM 12), the "almighty" (PM 3), "goodness" (PM 4), who accomplishes justice (PM 5). When Montfort speaks of the Father, he thinks in the most universal divine context, i.e., of God as the enduring source always present to whatever occurs (cf. the unity of creation and redemption in second Isaiah). God is "great, just, good, true" (S, in GA, 558).
In the "Evening Hymn" (H 53), everything is summarized very simply and directly: "Let us forever bless / the Lord for all his blessings. / Oh! what a good Father he is! / He conserves us all / He supports us all / He teaches us all / He pardons us all / in spite of our misery." The majesty of God in no way contradicts the fact that God is Father, since Father is the majesty of mercy and of providence (cf. H 117). Father and Savior are practically identical.
Montfort tried to attract his disciples into that universe. "I am your protector, I hold you in my hands, little company, says our eternal Father. I have graven you on my heart and on the palms of my hands in order to cherish and defend you because you have put your trust in me and not in men, in my providence and not in wealth" (LCM 3). His words are not abstract language but, rather, a language founded on experience.
The word "Father" shows how sublime is this divine universe in Montforts eyes; the word inspires confidence and is rich in love. It gives us the possibility of abandoning ourselves radically to the world of God, a world become visible in the Gospel of Jesus and in the lives of saints who have followed Jesus. What God signified for Montfort as a living reality was reflected in his own radical zeal as the encouraging, pardoning, challenging "good Father from Montfort."
All this appears at first to be contradicted by the place and the role that Montfort accords to Mary. The Father and Christ appear so exalted that humans are not able to reach them except by the intervention of mediators, like Mary (TD 147). TD 85 gives the spontaneous impression of the inaccessible grandeur of God or of "infinite grandeur." Citing St. Bernard, Montfort speaks of the necessity of "a mediator with the Mediator himself." We are in the realm of rhetoric, not dogma, if we understand this to mean that Mary is an accessory to intensify the distance of God. On the contrary, by her person and by her history, she precisely reveals a dimension of God as God reveals Himself through the events of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Mary adds nothing to God Himself, but in her the nature and the Being of God are reflected in a specific manner. In his special devotion to Mary, Montfort finds God Himself, as in an analogical mannerGod is found in icons: God appears far more in persons than in the cosmos. Mary herself is "the mold of God" (TD 219- 221; SM 16-18) or the school of the Spirit (TD 258) precisely by the manner in which, open to eschatology, she completely lets herself be led by God and by the Spirit of God (TD 258). When a passage like TD 85 leads one to the conclusion that in the eyes of Montfort, God would be above all a "mysterium tremendum," or "like a Louis XIV at Versailles," 4 it seems evident that the reasoning process is not entirely correct.
Perouas presents an imposing number of quotations from Montfort where God does not appear at all like a God who is close but like "a demanding and all-powerful God."5 I would like to remark again that it is evident that Montfort was a man of his times and that he did not find other language to translate his deepest experience of God. He was not an innovator in theology; he had to be content with ideas at hand, like ways of speaking and of expressing himself. Moreover, he was limited by his own nature. And in spite of all that, he reached an experience of God that was intimate and liberating.6
5. The plans of God
In PM, Montfort speaks of the "designs of your mercy" (PM 2). In salvation history, there is the "time" of the Father from the creation to the deluge, the "time" of Christ up to the Cross, and the "time" of the Holy Spirit up to the judgment (PM 16).
In this light, Montfort tried to understand, in his own age, the presence of God. He made use of models of the beginnings of Christianity but remained attentive to the specific situation of his epoch. How does God wish to manifest salvation in the history of his time, in the Church and society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? What are the signs of the times? How must the fundamental Trinitarian and Marian structure of Christian life continue in his own day? At the same time, Montfort saw his own relation to God from a very personal point of view. He was not just any link in the chain but a person with his own beginnings and with a future of his own. Precisely because of that, his relationship to God and also his theology took on a living character. God is not an immutable state of things, but a living reality: hence, Montforts research and prayer, with all the emotions that welled from within him. His trust in the merciful being of God, in his pardon and fidelity, was only a living reality because every aspect of his life was touched by the merciful God. "God has need of man"! (Suhard); "Gloria Dei vivens homo (The glory of God is man)" (Irenaeus).
The structure of salvation and of redemption is inscrutable both in origin and in its ways; but it is to come about through man. For Montfort, God is not a cheap stopgap. All the means of salvation are attempts by God to win over the heart of man (cf. LEW 104-132). The collaboration of man is enveloped from the beginning by the grace of God so that it may attain a personal quality. The grace of God respects man; in fact, seeks a partner in him (cf. Mary). Thus God lets Himself be entreated by man. PM is Montforts most eloquent statement on this point.
For Montfort, the manner by which God seeks man is visible in Mary, because He has willed to fulfill her prayers made in silence, poverty, and humility (TD 3). This is the structure of grace and of redemption in someone already turned to the Lord. From this is born cooperation. Grace means that God wills to encounter man in his aspirations (TD 5). Montfort perceives this operation of grace in Marys role in the Incarnation. Even though he fully recognizes that the initiative comes from God, he knows that God does not will to follow up the initiative by cornering her. Her own virginal, humble welcome corresponds to the fact that what happens to her depends completely on God. The "en-hypostatic" (the entry into God) requires an "a-hypostatic" (the emptying of self in total welcoming).
The Most High willed thereby to enrich her, to elevate her, to honor her, because during her earthly life, in her profound humility, she always emptied herself of self, humbled and hidden in the abyss of nothingness (TD 25). The "because" indicates cooperation and also its structure. It is not a question of any adaption of the normal order of causality but of an order that becomes visible only through Scripture.
For Montfort, this relation between God and man is to be renewed in each human life. Each one is called into this relation in his own concrete situation. Montfort tried to read his own vocation from the point of view of the needs of his time. That is what led him to the conviction that God wanted something of him and that God Himself willed that he win over others to be his collaborators in the apostolate. He was utterly convinced that God also willed to accomplish salvation history in him and through him, that God called him to found a Congregation. PM testifies to this concrete experience of God. Using the literary form of a prayer, PM is the result of a meditation, a conscious conviction of what God concretely wills. When Montfort prays in such an urgent manner, he gives space to God both in his own life and in that of others. Whoever reads PM or, better still, prays it, knows what the reality of God signifies for Montfort.
6. God Alone
"God Alone" signifies that for Montfort the universe is to be understood in terms of its ultimate realitywith God as its origin and purpose. What he means to say is seen when, for a plan of a mission sermon, he takes as his point of departure "the greatness of God and the service given to him" (S, in GA, 567).
a. God Alone in St. Francis de Sales.
The expression "God Alone" is found already in the writings of Francis de Sales. In his well known Introduction to the Devout Life (1608), he compares the life of Christians in the world to the activity of moths. "These firebugs fly into the flames without burning their wings" (preface). "God Alone" indicates the mentality or the horizon of a Christian in the world: in and for the world but not of the world (cf. Jn). In order to be able to live for God Alone, "He has given you the understanding to know, the memory to remember Him, the will to love Him, the imagination to picture His blessings, eyes to see the marvels of His works, a tongue to praise Him, and also the other faculties." That appears to be a prophecy of the spirituality and the pastoral practice of Montfort. "God Alone," requests "a lively and attentive apprehension of the omnipresence of God, i.e., that God is in us and everywhere and that there is no place, no thing in this world where he is not present truly, so that, like birds always encountering the air no matter where they fly, wherever we may go, wherever we may be, we find God present. Everyone knows this truth, but not everyone is attentive enough to grasp it" (part 1, chap. 2). At the same time, it is important "to think that not only God is present where you are but that He is in a special way in your heart and in the depths of your spirit, which He vivifies and animates with His divine presence, being present there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit" (ibid).
b. God Alone in Henri Boudon.
The plan for a retreat of ten days, entitled God and I, by Henri-Marie Boudon, one of the writers studied by Montfort, shows to what point Montfort was in the spiritual tradition of his time.7 As Jesus went off into the desert in order to be with God Alone, so the soul should also go away from the world. The "God Alone" of Boudon is evidently a "God Alone in union with our good Savior" or "God Alone in three Persons and always God Alone in holy union with the Sacred Heart of our good Savior, the Savior of all men"; Boudon frequently employs these expressions in his letters. The first phases of the retreat are: "God Creator and I creature," "God offended and I acknowledging my crime," "God avenged and I punished," "God showing me the wicked state I am in and I desiring to move out from it," "God offering me the remedies for my evils and I accepting them," "God showing me my Savior as a divine original and I copying it," and "God reduced to nothingness and I reduced to nothingness." The conclusion is a series of meditations on obedience, suffering, and the Cross of Jesus and on "God sending His Holy Spirit and I made holy." The summit and the final point of this spiritual evolution occurs on the tenth day of the retreat: "God requesting my love and I giving it to him," "God wanting to be the only one envisaged and I envisaging only Him," "God willing that only His will be done and I conforming myself to His will," "to the greater glory of God." All this is nothing more than the development of the beginning of the Our Father. At the end of the retreat, Boudon formulates this prayer: "Yes, my God, I esteem only You, I have nothing to lose or gain except You, You are every good, outside of You there is but nothing and misery" (1516).
In "God Alone, or The Association for The Interest of God Alone," Boudon says, "we intend but one thing, which is the search of pure love, only for God Alone. Provided that God Alone be esteemed, honored, loved in himself, and in all things, according to His divine good pleasure, I am happy" (Oeuvres complètes, 1:429). And in a letter, he writes: "When God Alone is said, I have nothing else to say. The expression God first and then something else is completely disgusting to me. When God is said, all has been said, and in first place, and in second place, and in third place, and forever" (ibid., 3:921).
c. God Alone in Montfort.
In Montfort, we find this same world. The refrain of Hymn 24 sings: "Let us therefore always keep in mind the presence of God." God is "by essence and power present everywhere." This is not an abstract study, because "God looks upon me here where I am." The effect of this is "joy and happiness, support and assistance." The presence of God is "the souls sun," which becomes full reality in the Beatific Vision. We can see God in every creature (sacramentality) and also in all those who guide us. But God must be sought first of all in our hearts; God is found "in silence, in order to find God there more than in any other place." The omnipresence of God has, therefore, privileged places of intensity and fullness.
In another hymn, Montfort says: "He is by his power / present everywhere / and the earth and the heavens / are full of his presence" (H 50:5). The refrain says: "Let us adore forever / the Lord in who he is." This truth calls out to man. This is what flows from H 139:12, where the prayer is spontaneously completed by a promise: "I do another task / according to time and place / for God alone, in his presence / and not for my pleasure." Here the refrain says: "I serve God with my whole heart, / that is my glory and my joy."
This is the way that Montfort sees the apostolic missionary. He must preach "with holiness, having only God alone in view, without any interest except that of his glory and always practicing first what he teaches others" (RM 62).
The "God Alone" of Montfort is not like the "alones" ("sola") of the reformers (faith alone, grace alone). Montfort, as a matter of fact, forcefully stresses that the Incarnation truly touches life. The more he stresses the sinful state of man, the more he emphasizes that it is not a determination without end but a qualification only seen from one determined angle. The infinity and the horizon that determines everything is the creative will of God, and his desire to communicate with humanity. Although Montfort frankly recognizes the sin of man and underlines it, he even more insists that God reaches out to man so forcefully and so truly that man becomes lovable. This is the nature of the divine dynamic. Montfort sees this realized in Mary, both as an invitation and as a requirement for those who seriously wish to be Christian.
II. The Study of God
Systematic theology of the seventeenth century moves essentially on the speculative plane. In universities and seminaries, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas served as the unifying thought, although it was read in "the decadent form of scholasticism of the end of the middle ages."8 J. J. Olier (1608-1657), the founder of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, wanted his professors to educate the seminarians "in scholastic theology, both positive and moral." The renewal of scholasticism was more in the realm of spirituality. And it was in the realm of spirituality that renewed interest in the thought of the Fathers of the Church took place in the sixteenth century. Between systematic reflection and spiritual experience, there is a rather considerable abyss. They are two quite separated lines.
This theological climate existed also in Montfort. What concerns systematic theology is taken from the views, opinions, and concepts of scholastic tradition. His study of God does not become alive until he lets himself be led by his own experience.
1. The God of the philosophers
Montfort does not approach the world of God as an order that man can understand by his own logical and classifying intelligence. He searches "on all sides without method" (LEW 2). Moreover, he has to use awkward words (LEW 20). And although it is evidently a matter of verbal exaggeration, it does indicate, nonetheless, that Montfort was conscious of apophatic spirituality (cf. Denis the Areopagite), of the wealthfar too great for usof the divine reality and, finally, of the darkening of our intelligence by sin (LEW 36), by twisted passion and hostile feelings. The manner by which God communicates with Mary and the manner by which she responds cannot be expressed in words (LEW 105). In order to point out the incomprehensible ways of Wisdom, Montfort utilizes Rom 11:33 (LEW 168).
Consequently, it is not surprising that Saint Louis turns away from the wisdom of the philosophers, which he considers "as useless and often dangerous for salvation" (LEW 74). In this wisdom, the wisdom of the world is made apparent (LEW 79). "I do not agree that the philosophers stone is a possibility," writes Montfort, in the manner of Pascal (LEW 88). The authentic theology is, for Montfort, a knowledge deepened through the infinite Source of light that Wisdom grants (LEW 94). It is a short, simple road, even if it is a road that leads unfailingly to the Cross.
2. The nature of God
God is "alone he who is"; he is "this great Lord, always independent and sufficient to himself" (TD 14). "What is God? A spiritual spirit, independent, immutable, infinite, immense, all-powerful, infinitely beautiful, unendingly holy" (LS 5, 173).
These expressions recall abstract, metaphysical speculations. But for Montfort, they do not exist for themselves. They are only the threshold of the order of salvation and of grace. That is why speculative and emotional expressions are intermingled. "God is charity." "I am who am. . . . His providence [is] paternal, without indifference. . . . It is his essence: God is charity." (LS 24, 24) When Montfort writes in TD 14 that God "has only to will to do anything," he wants to show the marvel of the choice of Mary. Speculation as a value in itself does not interest him. The same is found in TD 167: Montfort cannot know "the Most-High, the Incomprehensible, the Inaccessible, He who is," other than that " he has come down to us perfectly and divinely through the humble Mary," as someone who "lets himself be understood," and "has approached, united himself closely, perfectly and even personally to our humanity by Mary." When he adds afterwards, "Without losing anything of his Majesty," he appears again, to a great extent, a child of his age, and he cannot develop his theology of the Cross as radically as Urs von Balthasar, Moltmann, and Pannenberg do today.
In his presentation of the thirteenth rose (SR 41), classical theology comes entirely to the foreground, but it is again remarkable to see Montfort unite it spontaneously to the structuring of the economy of salvation. As is well known, Montfort here follows quite literally other writers, but it is evident that he thought in the same fashion. After having outlined the eternal nature of the Trinity and the Trinitarian processions, he transfers spontaneously to a language far more direct. When God is called Father, it is in the sense of "Father of men by creation, by conservation and by redemption, Merciful Father of sinners. Father of the just, Magnificent Father of the blessed" (SR 41). The world of ideas of classical theology is completely present. "We admire the infinite, the grandeur and the plenitude of God, who is named He who is, that is to say who exists essentially, necessarily and eternally, who is the Being of beings, the cause of all beings, who is in everything by his essence, his presence and power, without being enclosed there. We honor his sublimity, that is to say, seated as on a throne, exercising justice on all humankind" (SR 41). The final words of this citation are again quite meaningful: Montfort returns continually to the care of God for the world and for the salvation of men. It is not surprising, therefore, that one paragraph later, he speaks of the "sovereignty of God and the justice of his laws," of "his providence, his mercy, his power and his goodness" (SR 41).
In his meditation on the fourteenth rose, the anthropological side appears more strongly. "When we reflect that God is in heaven, that is to say, infinitely elevated above us by his grandeur and his majesty, we enter into the expressions of profound respect in his presence, seized by fear, we fly pride and we lower ourselves to nothingness" (SR 43). Montfort concludes: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, it is by the fear of God that everyone avoids sin" (SR 43).
"God does not change in his thoughts, or in his conduct" (TD 15). This vision of the immutability of God does not result in an apathetic God. It flows precisely from the fact that man can be unfaithful to the God of the covenant. It is the base of the affirmation that what God has begun with Mary, he wants to complete with her.
In Hymn 51, the refrain goes: "Let us exalt forever the Lord in his beautiful deeds." And the hymn declares: "By him all things subsist / everything is submissive to him / even his enemies / and nothing resists him." The subsistence of God is placed in the perspective of his mercy. The hymn ends: "He shows his glory in heaven, on earth his gentleness, / in hell his rigor / and everywhere, his victory." The Being of God and His good deeds are always, for Montfort, intertwined one with the other.
The definitions of the Being of God were a necessary limit to the reality Montfort experienced. God is great, elevated, all-powerful, all goodness, knowing all. The missionary was already structurally determined in his historical evolution by the existing discourse concerning God, both in the manuals of theology and in the tradition of piety; nonetheless he reached a point of expressing himself with always greater intensity, based on what he had lived and experienced.
And so a complex and, at the same time, personal concrete concept was formed. And in this concrete order can be seen the influence of Scripture and tradition, of the liturgy and of piety, of the numerous aspects of pastoral practice, of the faces of the poor, of his own troubles with the meaning of existing explanations; and thus he wrote his own hymn on God. And so there was born a symphony that survives him or in which he continues to live.
When Montfort spoke of the characteristics or the attributes of God, he was not speaking of a Being existing in Himself but of the characteristics that are disclosed and manifested to man. When he recognized in God certain proper qualities, they did not refer so much to any intellectual reflection but to what he had experienced, as a believer, in his frequent readings of Scripture and his "following" of God. The anthropomorphic character of the properties of God has its origin in the experiences that he lived as a believer, in the Incarnation of God. They must be anthropomorphic, otherwise there would arise the temptation to seek God in a world far from us, and the appearance of God on the faces of men would be hidden.
3. God, One and Triune
In LEW 14, Montfort utilizes the outline of the Thomistic tradition, leaving-returning (exitus-reditus). The background of what is said of the Almighty is the Eternal God who, in sovereign liberty and love, creates the world and humanity. Then there is the humility of the Incarnation and of mortal existence (going outside, leaving: exitus). Finally, there is the "return"the "glorious and triumphant presence in the heavens" (reditus). The religious understanding of Montfort is determined by the Trinitarian model. He thinks of the Father as Creator, from Whom all flows and toward Whom all is oriented, of the Son as Word in time, of the Spirit as the partner of graced man. For example, PM like many other sections of Montforts writingsis constructed in a Trinitarian format.
What this signifies concretely Montfort showed in the course of the years, when he understood God more and more from the point of view of what he himself personally grasped. He went more and more above intellectual theology and all relationship to God which would remain glued to a superficial moralism. Doubtlessly, for the most part he only knew how to express these experiences in the images, words, and concepts of his time and of his own tradition. But in order to discover there the interiority, the strength, the tenderness, we must always be attentive to what he did in the concrete and what he did not. God was for him a living grandeur, a reality that shone through what was done by his own hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. If he could only with difficulty express himself in any other way than as a man of his time, he was, nonetheless, personal enough to give his own stamp (in the context of existing rules and customs), to the use of the word "God." The expression of his own experience of God was not done to astonish others or to make himself stand out, but simply because that is the way he experienced God.
According to the theology of the seventeenth century, Montfort speaks at times of God without another word, at other times he refers to the different Persons of the Trinity. When he wants to give different structures to the means of salvation, he speaks in a Trinitarian manner. And through the Trinitarian structure, he penetrates into the order of the economy of salvation, where he discovers the Christological centrifugal force and the eschatological dynamic that distinguish and grasp the people of God (and also Jesus inasmuch as the New Adam). The Trinitarian structure also gives him the possibility of bringing forward the secret of Mary and of clarifying it. But when he wishes to give full rein to this structure, he speaks of God and no more. The transition in PM 15, 18 is highly significant: first he addresses the Spirit directly (PM 15), then, by means of a consideration of the Trinitarian history of salvation (PM 16-17ab), it is a question of "your Spirit (PM 17c), and, finally, everything is expressed in "Lord" (PM 18), undifferentiated.
The absolute language about God and the Trinitarian language intersect, but in the change the semantic field of Montforts understanding of God becomes apparent. The absolute and the transcendent have for him great value as reality, which unfolds in the distinct dimensions of Father, of Son, of Holy Spirit. Montfort establishes such a link between the treatise "On the One God" and the treatise "On the Triune God" that one and the other lose their abstraction. It follows, therefore, that his language about God is not cold but warm and interesting.
In order to describe the Eternal Trinity, Montfort begins with the economy of salvation, of Revelation. What thereby becomes expressed is the Being of God. Certainly, Montfort knows the distinction between "that which God is in Himself and that which God is in relation to us," but this distinction plays only a small role in his writings.
The origin unfolds in time in such a manner that we have need of seeking new words to describe its nature and presence. To be truthful to the being of Jesus himself as God, we speak of the Son. To be able to indicate the different degrees of presence and describe the specific dynamic, we speak of the Spirit, the presence of God at the birth of concrete forms of the world. To speak thus responds to the structure of Revelation and goes into the linguistic field of Scripture. In order to avoid tritheism, Son and Spirit are described as proceeding from the Father. The Father is, therefore, always the dimension that contains all. But faced with all this, Montfort is finally without method; he simply follows the road of Gods Revelation, going from one wonder to another.
It is not therefore surprising that LS begins with the exclamation "Quis ut Deus (Who is like unto God?)" (LS, in GA, p. 558). In a personal way, Montfort intermingles with his vision of God the role of power and of grace and the communicative structure both of God and of man. We can perceive this in the invocations of God in his spiritual testament at the end of LS: "O my amiable Savior - to your divine Majesty - my God - my so gentle and so merciful Savior - O! my God, my sovereign, my final end - O! my God and my all, in time and in eternity, may I be all yours and all for you, as you are all for me - O! my beatitude, my light, my life - O! the God of my heart - O! Father Eternal, Father of mercies, Father of Lights from whom descends every perfect gift" (LS 41-49).
Here theology is truly prayer. There is no longer a separation between the head and the heart. These words bear witness to a mystical ecstasy. It is, therefore, not strange that this testament ends up with the hope of dying "in the love and by the love of my God and my most gentle Savior" (LS 51).
The heart of Montfort was not in theological speculation or in scholastic reasoning. He knew them, but they did not lead him up into the very universe or Heart of God. The reality of God was for him, in the first place, something to be experienced, something that came upon him and accompanied him, and in such a fashion that Montfort, in the final analysis, could do nothing more than cry out, "God Alone!"
Montfort did not conceive of God in the context of a purely conceptual metaphysic or of a bourgeois morality, for he was too marked by the warm Christocentrism of the French school, by the spiritual tone of the Fathers of the Church, and by his own pastoral experiences.
The notions of objective knowledge taken from manuals of theology disappeared more and more and permitted a spiritual and mystical experience of God to enter into the foreground. That is what more and more characterized his words, his writings, and his hymns. Terms like "the Most-High" were stripped of their objective meaning. Even when he continued to use traditional terms or images, they were marked by his own experience and thereby took on a coloring, a warmth which was peculiarly his own. For Montfort, God became more and more a living reality, a reality which marked his own existence not in any ideological manner, flowing from a certain number of concepts, but flowing from his own spiritual life, a spirituality that was translated into his entire style of being, of perceiving, of living.
People called Montfort "the good Father," and that is surely the best qualification of the understanding of God and man as they converged in the person of Montfort. It cannot be denied that his psychology, his history, his theological and ecclesial milieus both energized him and frustrated him. Confronted with that, he became a saint, a man of salvation, an icon of the reign of God over humanity and of man, called to the image and likeness of God.
III. The Experience of God in Our Day
That the word "God" can arouse so many feelings and meanings is one of the most surprising and anguishing experiences of our time, particularly in the Western world. Cultural and religious pluralism is extending into all parts of the world. More and more people are confronted by close relatives for whom the word "God" calls up images, stories, and representations very different from their own world of ideas and feelings. It is surprising and upsetting.
Even more, we live in a cultural universe that is theoretically and practically atheistic. The canopy of heaven has disappeared for many; they live etsi deus non daretur (as if there were no God), without any meaning except a few scraps, of various sizes, of egocentric or altruistic human values. The world of consumerism rules. The existence of signs of a transcendent and universal reality is doubted; it is even neglected and ignored. The acceptance of a transcendent reality has strained relations with technical reason. Moreover, the value of God and of gods does not appear to have any solid usage. Their function consists, at best, in the control of contingent feelings, the sacralization of a "social religion," or the expression of subjective feelings.
For many people of our times, this is sufficient to keep God at a distance. And so much so that whoever begins to reflect seriously about God and to be preoccupied with the question easily loses face, becomes all entangled himself, and really does not know where he is going! Many people no longer risk this adventure, and so God becomes more and more a "so one says," a dimension that comes from another but not something that touches someone personally and is near. God is spoken of in the same way as a distant planet that a person has heard another explain. And today God is often spoken of by "experts" who simply repeat conclusions like amateurish laypeople or, totally uninterested, let the whole question drop.
For those who truly have the courage to confront the pluralist situation and the need of reform within the Church, the crisis of God may lead to a sudden awareness better and more profound than that which they themselves think, feel, and believe. When God and the faith no longer are taken for granted, new possibilities are created to encounter God and to learn something of the lived adventure of saints both known and unknown.
We cannot simply repeat Montforts adventure into God. Following the example of Jesus, Montfort searched for disciples and not for clones. We do not live in his age. Generally, we do not have his character. What we can certainly learn from him is that Christian life is not only an affair of the head but also of the heartand of the hands and the feet. To begin to live with God entails much risk and sufferingMontfort attests to it. But his great experience is that a life in God gives incredible joy and fulfillment. Man has to move outside himself and place himself under the Word of God. There is no direct access to God. Man must move himself outside himself or, better, let God move him. There can be no question of "God Alone," of God who speaks heart to heart, until man is ready to undertake a voyage which must begin by a departure, a desert, a conversion.
Notes: (1) H. Brémond, Histoire littéraire des sentiments religieux en France, vol. 3, La conquête mystique, Paris 1925, 25. (2) This corresponds exactly with the theological anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Donum gratiae iustificantis praecipue ordinat hominem ad bonum, quod est obiectum voluntatis et ideo ad ipsum movetur homo per motum voluntatis, qui est motus liberi arbitrii. . . . Non requiritur aliquis motus ex parte animae, sed sola continuatio influxus divini" (Summa Theologica, I-II, 113, 3). (3) Besnard I, 30-31. (4). Perouas (5) Ibid. (6) According to L. Perouas, "Montfort was really influenced by the moralism of the late seventeenth century" (ibid., 125). In my opinion, Perouass vision is influenced by the theological and spiritual climate of the 1970s with its optimistic image of man and its limited understanding of mans peccability. Yet Perouas also says: "As he progressed towards his human and Christian maturity, he recovered the best of this sponsal love in an encounter with God that was starker, more sacrificial, and more profound" (ibid., 159). (7) H. M. Boudon, (The Complete Works), Paris 1856, 2:1469-1516. (8) L. Cognet, Das kirchliche Leben in Frankreich, in H. Jedin, Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte (The Handbook on Church History), Freiburg, Basel, and Wien 1970, 5:106.
Taken from: Jesus Living in
Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
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