|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Christology in the Seventeenth Century: Abstraction and Spirituality: 1. Dogmatic theology; 2. Spiritual theology. II. Jesus Christ in Montforts Spiritual Experience. III. Montforts Christology: 1. The absolute nature of salvation in the biblical/ecclesiastical Christ; 2. Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate and crucified. IV. Aspects of Montfort Christological Spirituality: 1. The Christological spiritual journey; 2. Notes on Christological spirituality.
Two of St. Louis de Montforts more important works are of an outstanding Christological nature: LEW, which closes with the "Consecration of Oneself to Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, through the Hands of Mary," and FC. In these works, Montfort presents Christian holiness as a life entirely won over by love of Jesus Christ, centered on him, so as to live "through Him, with Him, in Him and for Him."
It is a genuine and specific spirituality, which involves not only the knowledge of truth, ritual celebrations, and the external observance of rules and regulations; it is also a daily life lived consistently and exclusively in acceptance of Jesus Christ and his members. It is a deep, authentic experience of His commandment to love God and neighbor, with the help of the maternal intercession of Mary. We will first outline the Christological context of Montforts time, then concentrate on the person of Jesus Christ in the thought and spirituality of Montfort.
I. CHRISTOLOGY IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY: ABSTRACTION AND SPIRITUALITY
1. Dogmatic theology
From a theological point of view, the seventeenth century was a very complex period. The Jansenist conflicts, the crisis of quietism and, with Denis Péteau (1583-1652) and Louis Thomassin (1619-1695), and the appearance of historical theology, which marked the transition to the eighteenth century, the age of the triumph of reason.
The consolidation of "positive theology" caused a grave crisis for scholastic theology, which was already in decline, having become abstract, repetitive, and uncreative. The Christological themes that are most common in the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Incarnation, the elucidation of the person of Christ, the reconciliation of his freedom with his obedience to the Father) were discussed in a sterile fashion, in a climate of lively polemics between the various schools, often dealing with points of extreme and excessive abstraction.1
It is generally recognized that post-Tridentine theology is characterized by the study of the psychological unity of Christ (His knowledge and His awareness of himself). It has an emphasis on the meritorious and satisfactory aspects of the Redemption, expressed in juridical language, and in terms of justice.2 As a result, the same values were emphasized in the works written by the faithful. There is also a serious gap in theological study concerning the Resurrection.
The Sorbonne of the eighteenth century and its theological speculation are symptomatic of the state of French scholasticism, which lacked new direction and was derived from the problems of the day. The masters of the famous University of Paris went so far as to condemn Descartess doctrine on September 1, 1671, also condemning all those who denied the existence of "prime matter and substantial forms." This action aroused disappointment and laughter.3
The manuals of theology for colleges were first produced after 1680, when Montfort was attending the Sorbonne and the Seminary of Saint- Sulpice (1692-1700). One of the most famous teachers of the Sorbonne, Tournely, employed the method first used by Cano and the elegant form demanded by humanism.4
In the same period, however, theology and spirituality entered into a closer union in France, almost in reaction, or as a counterweight, to academic speculation, creaking and decrepit as it was. This was accomplished under the influence of the great masters of spirituality. A number of works are significant, such as La Théologie affective ou saint Thomas en méditation (Affective Theology or St. Thomas in Meditation) by Louis Bail (1610-1651), published in 1650; La croix de Jésus où les plus belles vérités de la théologie mystique et de la grâce sanctifiante sont établies (The Cross of Jesus, in Which the Most Wonderful Truths of Mystical Theology and Sanctifying Grace are Established) (1647) by the Dominican Louis Chardon (1595-1651), who aimed at a synthesis between theological science and mystical experience;5 La Théologie mentis et cordis (Theology of Mind and Heart) (1668-1687) by Vincent Contenson (1641-1674), a Dominican who defended theology as the source of Christian holiness.6
2. Spiritual theology
The encounter of the individual with Jesus Christ is expressed more vividly in the French school of spirituality. The Christocentric tendency of this school is based on the contemplation of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the perfect Servant and true Worshipper of God, in whom the acts of prayer and Redemption are considered a manifestation and an expression of his union with the Father. Over and above the contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus humanity, Bérulle, the leader of this school, inculcated the desire for communion with him. Thus the Christian life came to be defined as a life of union with Jesus, according to St. Pauls expression "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Other texts of similar content, either by John or especially by St. Paul (Jn 15:4; Eph 3:17; Phil 1:21, 2:5; Col 1:24, 3:1-4), were constantly taken as subjects of meditation by Bérulle and his disciples. According to Bérulle, "the apostle of the Word Incarnate," Jesus Christ, is the "source and the end of all life" for men from the moment of the Incarnation.7 The mystery of the Incarnation is "the principle of our birth," and "we must no longer remain in ourselves or in our rooms. We must live in Jesus Christ."8 Here, Bérulle develops his theory of the mysteries by distinguishing between external/transient events and an internal/perpetual state in Christs life: "They are past in certain circumstances, and yet in a certain other respect they endure and are present and perpetual. They passed away, in that they were accomplished, but they are present, in that they continue to have a certain power. . . . This obliges us to treat matters pertaining to Jesus and His mysteries not as things past and done with but as living and present, and even eternal, and to see that we too have a present and eternal fruit to receive from them."9
According to Bérulle, the attitude of the Christian towards Jesus Christ consists in adherence to and dependence on Him. Christs humanity is without human personality, and so subsists in the personal existence of the Word; therefore, we must renounce the possibility of being a whole, self-sufficient totality, and act only in complete reliance on Christ.10 This explains the vow of servitude to Jesus (and to Mary) propagated by Bérulle. According to him, Jesus is the end and the fulfillment of our being: "Our first movement must be towards Jesus as towards our fulfillment; and in this search for Jesus, in this adherence to Jesus, in this deep and continual dependence on Jesus, are our life, our rest, our strength, and all our power to act; and we must never act except in unison with him, directed by him and drawing our spirit from him."11 This spiritual Christocentrism later constituted the core of the spiritual education of priests inculcated by Olier, founder of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.12
Leschassier, Montforts spiritual director, remained faithful to this Christocentric spirituality: "We so often repeat these words of St. Ambrose: Christ in us: a seal on the forehead, so that we will always confess his name; a seal on the heart so that we may always love him; a seal on the arm so that we may always work for him, that we would cease to be faithful to the spirit of our fathers if we abandoned the holy practice implied by these three words: through Christ, with Christ, in Christ."13
The Seminary of Saint-Sulpice emphasized devotion to the Eucharist "The Rule required that Communion be received every Sunday, feast day, and Thursday of the year"14devotion to the Holy Infancy of Jesus, and especially devotion to Jesus living in Mary, to the point of consecrating oneself to Holy Slavery.
This period also saw the consolidation of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although it was of medieval origin, this form of devotion was definitively in place in the seventeenth century, as a balanced reaction against the severity of Jansenism and the arid abstraction of scholasticism. In the spirit of St. John Eudes (1610-1680), St. Claude de La Colombière (1641-1682), and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647- 1690), devotion to the Sacred Heart aimed to express the genuine worship of Gods merciful love of humanity, which was revealed in Jesus Christ.15
The essential message of the French school of spirituality could be summed up in this statement: "It is in Jesus alone that humanity is at once reconciled and re-created. The aim is complete communion with Jesus, but the path can only be complete self-negation. The path of the Cross of Jesus is a necessary stage on the journey, for without him, we can do nothing."16
II. JESUS CHRIST IN MONTFORTS SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
Both by vocation and from a sense of his mission, Montfort did not venture into the labyrinth of theoretical speculation. He lived in a state of intense involvement in the everyday practice of his discipleship, in the saving presence of the Cross of Jesus Christ, Wisdom crucified. When still young, he rejected the arid argumentation of the Sorbonne, preferring knowledge of the saints. In TD, he does not hesitate to accuse certain professional theologians of only knowing Jesus and Mary in an abstract, impersonal way: "I am speaking of Catholics, and even of educated Catholics, who profess to teach the faith to others but do not know you or your Mother except speculatively, in a dry, cold and sterile way" (TD 64).
In an atmosphere and a century characterized by extraordinary splendor and worldly glory, Montfort lived the strong and simple life of the foolishness of the Cross. In the letters that have survived, we are not surprised to see how the great apostle of devotion to Mary was sustained by a Christocentric and soteriological spirituality that was firm and fast. In other words, he founded his apostolic, saintly life on the hard, firm rock of the Cross. In a letter of January 1, 1713, to his sister Catherine of St. Bernard, he writes: "You would be surprised if you knew all the details of the precious cross which has been sent to me from heaven at the intercession of our good Mother. Please thank my good Lord Jesus and ask your dear community, to whom I send my greetings, to obtain from Jesus the grace for me to carry the roughest and heaviest crosses as I would the light-as-straw ones and to resist with unyielding courage the powers of hell" (L 24).
In another letter written two weeks before his death and addressed to Mother Marie Louise of Jesus, Montfort repeats that the community of the Daughters of Wisdom is founded "not on quicksands of gold and silver . . . nor indeed on the strength and influence of any human being . . . , but . . . on the Wisdom of the Cross of Calvary" (L 34).
Montforts letters show that his spirituality is deeply rooted in the Wisdom of the Cross. The exclamation that recurs frequently in the letters of the last years of his life is characteristic: "May Jesus and his Cross reign for ever! (Vive Jesus, vive sa croix)" (L 26, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34). Letter 13, to a Benedictine nun of the Blessed Sacrament, probably Mother St. Joseph, a woman of very high spiritual perfection, offers a first synthesis of Montforts spirituality of the Cross: "You are having to bear a large, weighty cross. But what a great happiness for you! Have confidence. For if God, who is all goodness, continues to make you suffer he will not test you more than you can bear. The cross is a sure sign that he loves you. I can assure you of this, that the greatest proof that we are loved by God is when we are despised by the world and burdened with crosses, i.e. when we are made to endure the privation of things we could rightly claim; when our holiest wishes meet with opposition; when we are afflicted with distressing and hurtful insults; when we are subjected to persecution, to having our actions misinterpreted by good people and by those who are our best friends; and when we suffer illnesses which are particularly repugnant, etc. . . . Enclosed in the beloved cross is true wisdom and that is what I am looking for night and day more eagerly than ever. . . . After Jesus, our only love, I place my whole trust in the cross" (L 13).
In the wake of Bérulles Christo-centric spirituality, Montfort harmoniously combined learning and piety in his life as priest and missionary. Like Francis of Assisi, he sought to imitate without any qualifications our Lord Jesus Christ, being poor amongst the outcasts and the disinherited who became his true friends (H 18:8).
In the seventeenth century, the poor were "an acute and disconcerning problem."17 They received no consideration or respect in society; out of selfishness and under the influence of strict Calvinist ethics, the poor were turned away, mistreated, and despised. Montfort echoes this situation in H 18, "The Cry of the Poor": "The rich man tells us: / I have neither penny nor halfpenny; And the great curse us / Calling us the rabble. / Bare-faced idlers! / Lowly breed! / This is what many say to us / Along with the mob."
Under the influence of St. Vincent de Paul, Bossuet argued for "the eminent dignity of the poor" (1659), viewing them as representative of Christ in his poverty; consequently, "to serve the poor is to serve Jesus Christ."
Montfort drew on the same tradition. He internalized the pronouncement of Jesus (Mt 25, 40-45), which he implicitly cites: "What is a poor man? It is written / That he is the living image, / the lieutenant of Jesus Christ / His most precious legacy / But, to speak even more clearly, / The poor are Jesus Christ Himself / In them men help or turn away / The supreme monarch" (H 17:14).
This clarifies the Dinan episode, which was not a mere chance incident but is explained by Montforts habitual vision of Christian faith: "One evening, in the street, he found a poor leper all covered in ulcers. He did not wait for this unfortunate man to ask him for help; he was the first to speak. He took hold of him, lifted him onto his shoulders, and carried him to the mission door, which was shut, for it was rather late. He knocked, shouting several times: Open the door to Jesus Christ! The missionary who opened the door was astonished to see him carrying the poor man. He carried the precious burden inside, laid him in his own bed, and warmed him as well as he could (for he was numb with cold), while he himself spent the rest of the night in prayer."18 What he asked of others he did himself as demonstrated in the Dinan episode. For Montfort, Jesus really lives in the poor.
III. MONTFORTS CHRISTOLOGY
The writings of Montfort show that Christ is central to the profession of faith and the spiritual life. His writings contain certain passages on the person of Christ that render Montfort Christocentrism especially significant.
1. The absolute nature of salvation in the biblical/ecclesial Christ
According to Montfort, Jesus Christ is the biblical/ecclesial Christ of the traditional understanding of the Catholic faith. He is Christ, the true God and true man of the NT and of the teaching of Chalcedon. He is Christ in his mysteries of obedience to the Father, in the kenosis of the Incarnation and of the Passion and death. He is Christ, to be contemplated and imitated as in the liturgical and spiritual tradition of the Church.
The first principle of devotion to the Virgin Mary is in fact the affirmation that Jesus Christ is the ultimate end of Marian devotion. In this connection, we shall transcribe a typical Christological passage that has lost nothing of its value and truth: "First principle: Jesus, our Savior, true God and true man must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions; otherwise they would be false and misleading. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of everything. We labor, says St. Paul, only to make all men perfect in Jesus Christ.
"For in him alone dwells the entire fullness of the divinity and the complete fullness of grace, virtue and perfection. In him alone we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; he is the only teacher from whom we must learn; the only Lord on whom we should depend; the only Head to whom we should be united and the only model that we should imitate. He is the only Physician that can heal us; the only Shepherd that can feed us; the only Way that can lead us; the only Truth that we can believe; the only Life that can animate us. He alone is everything to us and he alone can satisfy all our desires.
"We are given no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. God has laid no other foundation for our salvation, perfection and glory than Jesus. Every edifice which is not built on that firm rock, is founded upon shifting sands and will certainly fall sooner or later. Every one of the faithful who is not united to him is like a branch broken from the stem of the vine. It falls and withers and is fit only to be burnt. If we live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us, we need not fear damnation. Neither angels in heaven nor men on earth, nor devils in hell, no creature whatever can harm us, for no creature can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus" (TD 61).
There is here an admirable synthesis of Christology and of soteriology that goes to the essence of spirituality, and remains relevant today. Montfort founds his true devotion to Mary on the unquestionable affirmation that Christ is the sole and universal Mediator of salvation: "If devotion to Our Lady distracted us from Our Lord, we would have to reject it as an illusion of the devil. But this is far from being the case. . . . This devotion is necessary simply and solely because it is a way of reaching Jesus perfectly, loving him tenderly, and serving him faithfully" (TD 62).
Marian devotion is not a parallel form of Christianity, but a more certain and shorter route to arrive at Jesus Christ. The intercession of the Blessed Virgin is sought "whether we want to enter his presence, speak to him, be near him, offer him something, seek union with him or consecrate ourselves to him" (TD 143). All in all, this is a "smooth, short, perfect and sure way of attaining union with our Lord, in which Christian perfection consists" (TD 152).
Montfort deduces from the same Christological principle another consequence that is very important from several points of view, including an ecumenical perspective: the best way to qualify Marian spirituality is as His Christological.
In this connection, René Laurentin presents Montfort as initiating a re-conversion to theocentrism: "What is important, historically speaking, is that Montfort, inheriting a tendency that began in Spain at the end of the sixteenth century (1595), brought about a revolution in the vocabulary of his predecessors by referring this Consecration to Christ and God Alone, positively and deliberately."19 Laurentin also demonstrates that Montfort rectified the Mary-centered language that had been established by Los Rios, Rojas, Fenicki, van der Zandt, Boudon, etc., who often spoke of the slavery or the slaves of Mary. Montfort makes his position clear in several ways. Just before signing his letters, he employed up to 1705 essentially Christological formulae: "priest and slave of Jesus in Mary"; from 1704 he employed "God alone," and the formula "in Jesus and Mary" remained until 1715, but without the word "slave."
In TD 244-247, while accepting the expressions "slave of Mary, slavery of the Blessed Virgin," he clearly states his preference for Christological formulae: "I think it preferable to say, slave of Jesus in Mary. This is the opinion of Fr. Tronson. . . . It is better to speak of slavery of Jesus in Mary and to call oneself slave of Jesus rather than slave of Mary. . . . In this way, we name this devotion after its ultimate end, which is Jesus, rather than after the way and the means to arrive there, which is Mary. . . . It is more appropriate for us to say, slavery of Jesus in Mary" (TD 244-246).
In TD 120-131, Montforts Christocentric orientation reaches its peak. He entitles this part of his book "Perfect Consecration to Jesus." This is the first title of the manuscript to be written in large letters.
Montfort founds his spirituality on the baptismal vows, of which Consecration is a perfect renewal. True to his own convictions, he names Consecration after its ultimate end (Jesus) rather than the way and the means to arrive there (Mary). In fact, we consecrate ourselves "to Jesus because he is our last end. Since he is our Redeemer and our God we are indebted to him for all that we are" (TD 125).
2. Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate and crucified Montfort, continuing the medieval tradition, and that of Bérulle,20 takes pleasure in describing the mystery of the Infancy of Jesus in ten noels (H 57-66), and the mystery of the Passion of Christ: His suffering, death, and burial (H 67-74).
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was important in the fight against Jansenist severity, in that it created a climate of trust and love in accordance with the message of the NT. Seven canticles dedicated to "loving devotion to the Heart of Jesus" form "a true poem" (F. Fradet) composed for the Visitandines (H 40-44, 47-48). The theme of these canticles is love, as in "The One Who Loves Jesus" (H 54-55), a love that Montfort contemplates in the Sacred Heart and wants to plant in the heart of the faithful: "Let us love this heart since he loves us. / Love is rewarded by love, / But let us love with an extreme love / And purely night and day" (H 44:2).
Finally, he does not hesitate to ask of Jesus the mystical grace of change (or transplantation) of heart: "Finally, I make this bold request, / Remove from me my sinful heart / And may I have in this life / No other heart than yours" (H 47:30).
In all his works, however, we notice a special vigor when he writes about Christ as Wisdom, and crucified Wisdom.21 LEW, his Christological masterpiece, expresses in a coherent, developed synthesis the central intuition of Montfort spirituality, which is entirely directed towards contemplation of the Cross. With inspired creativity, Montfort meditates on the paradoxical mystery of the crucified Christ, incarnate Wisdom of God. The work is a grand psalm of meditation on the Wisdom that is Jesus Christ, on the Wisdom that is the gift of Jesus to humanity, on the Wisdom that is a spousal union with Jesus on the Cross.
His exposition, full of biblical language and allusions to patristic and medieval tradition, begins by contemplating Eternal Wisdom as the object of the Fathers love and as shining forth in the creation of the universe. Next, he meditates on Wisdom, first Incarnate and abased in the death of the Cross, then glorious and triumphant in heaven, and now the companion of humanity in the Eucharist.
Montfort then effects a far-reaching synthesis of Jesus life on earth, contemplating its beauty and tenderness in a series of very apt expressions: "But what does the name of Jesus, the proper name of incarnate Wisdom, signify to us if not ardent charity, infinite love and engaging gentleness?" (LEW 120). The contemplation of Jesus turns into an inspired hymn to beauty: "How beautiful, meek and charitable is Jesus, the incarnate Wisdom! Beautiful from all eternity, he is the splendor of his Father, the unspotted mirror and image of his goodness. He is more beautiful than the sun and brighter than light itself. He is beautiful in time, being formed by the Holy Spirit pure and faultless, fair and immaculate, and during his life he charmed the eyes and hearts of men and is now the glory of the angels. How loving and gentle he is with men, and especially with poor sinners whom he came upon earth to seek out in a visible manner, and whom he still seeks in an invisible manner every day" (LEW 126).22
There follow sixty-two evangelical passages, without commentaries, that are juxtaposed to each other, and which sum up Montforts teachings on salvation, concerning following Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate, and on being united to him.23 They are the most detailed teachings of Jesus before Easter, those that define the original aspects of Christian life. The rules for the following of Christ set down by Montfort, and by the Jesuit A. Bonnefons before him (forty-nine oracles out of sixty-two listed by Montfort are taken from Bonnefons), begin and end with the themes of self-denial and the Cross: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross" (Lk 9:23); "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3-10; cf. LEW 133, 151).
There is a close correspondence and friendship between Gods Wisdom and every human: "Wisdom is for man and man is for Wisdom. . . . Wisdoms friendship for man arises from mans place in creation, from his being an abridgment of Eternal Wisdoms marvels, his small yet ever so great world, his living image and representative on earth. Since Wisdom, out of an excess of love, gave himself the same nature by becoming man and delivered himself up to death to save man, he loves man as a brother, a friend, a disciple, a pupil, the price of his own blood and co-heir of his kingdom" (LEW 64).
Refusing Wisdom, leads humanity into ignorance, blindness, folly, scandal, and sin (cf. LEW 72).
Accepting Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate, on the other hand, brings the gift of the light of truth and a surprising ability to communicate it to others (cf. LEW 95). Besides this, "when Eternal Wisdom communicates himself to a soul, he gives that soul all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the great virtues to an eminent degree" (LEW 99).
The meditation on Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate, continues with the contemplation of the sufferings of His Passion and death on the Cross. These are the events that bear witness to the salvific love of Eternal Wisdom, in all humanity: "[Jesus] chose rather to endure the cross and sufferings in order to give to God his Father greater glory and to men a proof of greater love" (LEW 164). According to Montfort, the Cross "is the greatest secret of the Kingthe greatest mystery of Eternal Wisdom" (LEW 167). The Cross becomes the spouse of Wisdom Incarnate in accordance with Jesus prayer to the Father: "My God and my Father, I chose this cross when I was in your bosom. I choose it now in the womb of my Mother. I love it with all my strength and I place it deep in my heart to be my spouse and my mistress" (LEW 169).
He states quite plainly that Wisdom "was attached to the cross, indissolubly joined to it and died joyfully upon it as if in the arms of a dear friend and upon a couch of honor and triumph" (LEW 171). Consequently, "never the Cross without Jesus, or Jesus without the Cross" (LEW 172). Wisdom has in fact established his dwelling place on the Cross: "He has so truly incorporated and united himself with the Cross that in all truth we can say: Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 180).
The Cross is the sign of Jesus and also that of the Christian: Wisdom "has decreed the Cross to be the sign, the emblem and the weapon of his faithful people. He welcomes no child that does not bear its sign. He recognizes no disciple who is ashamed to display it, or who has not the courage to accept it, or who either drags it reluctantly or rejects it outright. . . . He enlists no soldier who does not take up the cross as the weapon to defend himself against all his enemies, to attack, to overthrow and to crush them" (LEW 173).
Having celebrated Jesus, crucified Wisdom, Montfort presents the four methods of acquiring Divine Wisdom: the desire for Wisdom, continuous prayer, universal mortification, and a loving devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Devotion to Mary is treated at length because "Mary must beget us in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ in us, nurturing us towards the perfection and the fullness of his age" (LEW 214). True devotion to Mary, "if well practiced, not only draws Jesus Christ, Eternal Wisdom, into our soul, but also makes it agreeable to him and he remains there to the end of our life" (LEW 220). Finally, LEW closes on the Consecration to Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, through the hands of Mary: "I, an unfaithful sinner, renew and ratify today through you my baptismal promises, I renounce forever Satan, his empty promises, and his evil designs, and I give myself completely to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after him for the rest of my life, and to be more faithful to him than I have been till now" (LEW 225).
Montforts Christological spirituality has an explicit Marian dimension, for she nurtures a genuine life in the Spirit in union with Jesus Christ, Wisdom crucified and glorious.
IV. ASPECTS OF MONTFORT CHRISTOLOGICAL SPIRITUALITY
Montfort is a man who underwent a genuine encounter with Christ, i.e., with the biblical/ecclesial Christ, his person and his meaning in all their fullness, his existence before time and his life on earth, his mysteries and his living presence in the Church, in Mary, and in the poor. Montforts doctrine is profoundly Christocentric.
1. The Christological spiritual journey
Whether in his Christological works, or those that are primarily Marian, St. Louis Marie offers a true teaching in Christian holiness as a filial life in Christ and in the Spirit according to Marys example and with her help.
Montfort spirituality is based upon the beautiful words of Jesus: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). Montfort uses the formula "us in Jesus and Jesus in us" six times (LEW 214; SM 56; TD 20, 37, 61, 212). This is a phrase expressing mutual indwelling, because we belong to Christs Body as its members and because Jesus Christ our Head grows in us. Montfort often returns to this doctrine of the Mystical Body (LEW 176, 213; FC 27; TD 17, 20, 21, 32, 36, 61, 68, 140, 168; SM 12).
Bérulle deduces rigorous spiritual requirements from the principle of our union with Christ: "adherence, dependence, conduct derived from Jesus,"24 along with the constant need to empty oneself in order to become a "pure capacity" for Jesus. Montfort translates these spiritual requirements into more easily understandable terms: "As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus" (TD 120).
Montfort especially emphasizes our union with Christ (TD 43, 78, 117, 118, 120, 143, 152, 157, 159, 164, 212, 259) and our dependence on Him, expressed by loving slavery and complete self-surrender. He gives primacy to our total, loving oneness in Christ Jesus. He accords methodological priority to devotion to Mary, in the sense that she is the most perfect path leading to union with Christ. Vatican II, which placed the account of Mary in a Christological context, which substantiated this Christocentric Marian spirituality (LG, chap. 8).
In Montforts thought, there are certain constants that together constitute a complete spiritual journey. We will simply list them here, since they are clearly found in his writings. Montfort invites each of us to undergo a true conversion, including the desire to move progressively from a mediocre Christian life to a true and vibrant baptismal renewal and apostolic commitment (cf. TD 99, 126).
The consequence of this, and of a dynamic centering of our life on Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, is that our virtues are strengthened, reducing almost to the point of extinction the power of evil and sin. According to Montfort, it is devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is to play the decisive role in this education in Christian virtue (cf. LEW, chap. 17, as well as TD and SM).
In this way, Montfort traces a spiritual route that contains two fundamental phases. The ascetic phase of the denial, through an increase in virtues, of the "old man" with his vices and his sins; and the mystical phase of union and communion with God the Trinity, accomplished through the mediation of Jesus Christ and the example and maternal intercession of Mary (cf. TD 120-225).
2. Notes on Christological spirituality
Several criteria of Christological spirituality can be deduced from Montforts experience, which, with its clear Marian dimension is even more firmly anchored in Jesus Christ.
a. For Montfort, Christological spirituality is above all a life of devotion to the Trinity. The union with Jesus Christ, Wisdom Eternal and crucified, is a union with the Father in the Holy Spirit. We are children of the heavenly Father in His Son, Jesus Christ, thanks to the love of the Holy Spirit: Christocentrism is not Christomonism, for the latter calls for devotion to Christ while ignoring the Trinity. Christocentrism is essentially Trinitarian. In the chapter in LEW dedicated to the synthesis of the most important maxims of Jesus teaching, Montfort first cites the pronouncement on following Christ (Lk 9:23), then that of St. John on the Trinity living within the faithful: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (Jn 14:23). In the famous page of TD on Christ as the ultimate end of devotion to Mary, Montfort shows once again that his Christocentrism is based on devotion to the Trinity: "Through him, with him and in him, we can do all things and render all honor and glory to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit; we can make ourselves perfect and be for our neighbor a fragrance of eternal life" (TD 61).
b. In everyday life, this life devoted to the Trinity is lived out in the ecclesial community; thanks to the Sacraments experienced as an interpersonal saving encounter with Jesus Christ. After the entry into Christ through Baptism, the Eucharist is rightly considered to be the supreme Sacrament of encounter and union with Christ and, through Him, with the Trinity. In this sense, Montfort recalls the saying of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: "For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (Jn 6:55-56). For him, therefore, spiritual Christology is an ecclesial, sacramental life, above all a life based on the Eucharist. The union with God the Trinity in the Sacrament of the Eucharist effects and manifests daily communion with the Church. A life in Christ is, therefore, a life of union and communion in the Church, His Mystical Body. This sacramental life nurtures and develops a life of virtue consisting in ascetic striving and mystical accomplishment. Mary has a decisive role in this life of union with Jesus Christ: as can be seen in TD and SM.
c. The union with Jesus Christ in the Church becomes a witness, a discipleship, and a mission. That is to say that this union announces Christ in the world. This is why Christo-logical spirituality is an apostolic and missionary life, according to Montfort. Like all saints and true mystics, Montfort offers a marvelous synthesis of contemplation and action, prayer and discipleship. Moreover, discipleship and mission among ones brothers and sisters are a sign, a consequence, and a necessary expansion of the life of union with the triune God. This recalls the maxim of Mt 5:16: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (cf. LEW 145). In Montfort, union with God is at the basis of service to others enabling the growth of life in the Spirit. This is what is called the grace of union, which makes of Montfort a great mystic and a great apostle. Discipleship is the fruit of prayer, of contemplation, of union and communion with God in Jesus Christ. The hymn of jubilation of Mt 11:25-26 completes Montforts synthesis of the evangelical message of Jesus: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for having hidden these things from the wise and prudent of this world and for revealing them to humble and little ones; yes, Father, for that is what it has pleased you to do" (cf. LEW 152).
d. Finally, for Montfort, discipleship strives towards the realization of a Christian culture. The Christian illumination of reality, through words and examples, results in a cultural life of fundamentally Christian inspiration. Culture is thus enriched with authentic human values, because they are inspired and supported by the truth of the Gospel. A life of union and communion with God the Trinity produces a culture which is a civilization of love.25
Notes: (1) Cf. L. Bouyer, Le Fils éternel. Théologie de la parole de Dieu et christologie (The Eternal Son: The Theology of the Word of God and Christology), Cerf, Paris 1974, chap. 21: La christologie à lépoque moderne: entre la métaphysique et la psychologie (Christology in the Modern Age: Between Metaphysics and Psychology), 443-468. Cf. also M. J. Congar, Théologie (Theology), in DTC 15 (1946), 441-502 (2) In the Christology of the seventeenth century there is an "exclusive preponderance of the meritorious-satisfactory prospective, entirely projected towards the problem of the equivalence between the atonement accomplished by Christ and the divine offence, according to perfect justice." M. Bordoni, Gesù di Nazaret Signore e Cristo. Saggio di cristologia sistematica, Herder-PUL, Rome 1986, 3:428. (3) Cf. E. Vilanova, La escolástica en la Francia del siglo XVII, in Historia de la teologia cristiana, Herder, Barcelona 1989, 2:810-814. (4) We should add that the Sulpicians were interested in another professor of the Sorbonne, Martin Grandin ( 1691), whose lessons they had their students copy. In 1708 they worked on the three-volume edition of the works of Grandin, Martini Grandini opera (The Works of Martin Grandin). Cf. Y. Poutent, Le XVIIe siècle et les origines lasalliennes. Recherches sur la genèse de loeuvre scolaire et religieuse de Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) (The Seventeenth Century and La Salle: Studies on the Genesis of the Scholarly and Religious Work of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle), Imprimeurs réunis, Rennes 1970, 1:297, n. 10, and 1:302, n. 23. (5) For the influence of L. Chardon on Montfort, cf. Itinerario, 110-111. (6) The work of Contenson was completed by his fellow Dominican P. Massoulié. (7) P. de Bérulle, Oeuvres de piété (Pious Writings), chap. 32, in Oeuvres complètes (Complete Works), Migne, Paris 1856, 966. (8) Ibid., chap. 50, p. 1017. (9) Ibid., chap. 77, p. 1052. (10) Cf. E. Mersch, Le corps mystique du Christ. Etudes de théologie historique (The Mystical Body of Christ: Studies in Historical Theology), Paris and Brussels 1936, 2:314, where the author quotes Les Oeuvres de piété, chap. 9, 15, 109, 131, 133,. (11) P. de Bérulle, op. cit., CXLIX, 1181. (12) J.-J. Olier, Mémoires (Memoirs), 2:268. Cf. also Maximes pour les séminaires (Maxims for Seminaries), in Oeuvres complètes de M. Olier (The Complete Works of M. Olier), Migne, Paris 1856, col. 1145-1147. In his letters Olier requires of ecclesiastics "perfect establishment in Christ" through renunciation and adherence: "Abrenuntio tibi Satana; conjungor tibi, Christe." (13) Archives de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice, Paris, letter written by M. Leschassier, September 12, 1702, ms. 34. (14) Ibid., "Registre des Assemblées du Supérieur du Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice et de ses quatre consulteurs (The Register of the Assemblies of the Superior of Saint-Sulpice and His Four Consultants)," September 3, 1688, ms., p. 251. (15) Cf. G. Mucci, Claude de la Colombière "perfetto amico" di Cristo, in La Civiltà cattolica 143 (1992), I, 557-571. (16) R. Deville, Lécole française de spiritualité (The French School of Spirituality), Desclée, Paris 1987, 175. (17) M. Marcocchi, La spiritualità tra giansenismo e quietismo (Spirituality between Jansenism and Quietism), Studium, Rome 1983, 57. (18) Besnard I, 144. (19) R. Laurentin, Dieu seul est ma tendresse (God Alone Is My Tenderness), OEIL, Paris 1984, 47. (20) Cf. I. Noye, Enfance de Jésus, Dévotion à l (Devotion to the Infancy of Christ), in DSAM 4/1 (1960), 652-682. (21) Montfort himself, quoting Suso (LEW 101), reveals one of his distant sources of inspiration for this title. The Dominican Heinrich De Berg, known as Suso (1295-1366), was the author of several works on Divine Wisdom. (22) The merciful love of Jesus is celebrated with poetic fervor in the spiritual canticles, in which love of the Heart of Jesus is exalted above all: cf. H 40-44; 47-48; 54- 55. (23) Cf. the whole of chap. 12 of LEW, 133-151. (24) P. de Bérulle, Oeuvres de piété, chap. 190, p. 722. (25) Cf. the call to the Beatitudes of Mt 5:3-10 in LEW 151. Cf. also FC, in which Montfort proposes a program of godliness and discipleship to the laity who remain in the world, to render their life there truly Christian.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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