JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
LOVE OF ETERNAL WISDOM
I. Rediscovery of a Fundamental Work. II. Background of the Book: 1. The manuscript; 2. The title; 3. The date of composition; 4. For whom was it written? III. Sources: 1. Spiritual writers; 2. Biblical Wisdom: a. The Wisdom theme, b. The Book of Wisdom; 3. Montfort and Scripture. IV. Profile of the Book: 1. Literary profile: structure and division; 2. Theological profile. V. LEW and its Interpretations: 1. The silence of the biographers; 2. The definitive edition (1929) and the renewal of Montfort studies; 3. Recent interpretations. VI. Relevance of the Book Today: 1. Christocentrism; 2. Theology of Creation; 3. Theology of the Redemption.
I. REDISCOVERY OF A FUNDAMENTAL WORK
Of all the works of Montfort, LEW can certainly lay claim to being the least known by people at large. We have lost count of the number of editions published of TD, SM, SR, and FC. But in the case of LEW, we had to wait until 1929 for a definitive edition, and translations into other languages had also to wait a long time and are still far less numerous than those of TD.
Nevertheless a number of those who know Montfort spirituality well have not failed to note the great doctrinal value of LEW and its fundamental importance for an understanding of Montforts work as a whole. Besides considering it "an academic treatise" and a "great work" equal to the TD, "the second being only a magnificent commentary on chapter 16 of the first and its indispensable complement. The Love of Eternal Wisdom is a fundamental book. It is this book alone which gives us the overall view of Montfort spirituality."1 J.-M. Dayet expresses a similar opinion: "Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort appears here, then, . . . as an undoubted contemplative and lover of Eternal Wisdom. This point of view is fundamental for a full understanding of his spirituality."2 For his part. M. Quéméneur underlines the missionary dimension of the book: "While it is true that the last work of a writer expresses a more developed stage of his thinking, yet his first work, even if it is imperfect in its construction, is often the one that best reveals his interior strength and the direction he is taking. . . . This secret [the contemplation of Wisdom in search of humanity] was for Montfort the revelation of Gods missionary dynamism and therefore of all missionary dynamism."3
If popular opinion has come down in favor of TD, is it because Montfort was less successful in popularizing his views on Wisdom? Or, rather, was this book less in touch with the tastes of the Christian public? Whatever the case, LEW deserves to be known widely today, especially in a period that is particularly restless and searching for a Wisdom that can give meaning to life and to the unfolding of history, and at a time when believers, to their great good fortune, have made renewed contact with a theology and a spirituality nourished primarily on the Bible.
II. BACKGROUND OF THE BOOK
1. The manuscript
The manuscript, which is kept today at the General House of the Company of Mary in Rome, is in a remarkable state of preservation. It is easily legible and is, in the opinion of the editors of OC, in the handwriting of Montfort himself.4 More recent and deeper studies of the handwriting of the manuscript, carried out by H. Frehen5 and R. Paceri,6 come to a different conclusion, however, and find in the manuscript the traces of four different copyists, among them Mulot, Vatel, and Besnard.
2. The title
The title can be read quite distinctly at the beginning of the manuscript. There is, however, a question about the use of the genitive "of Eternal Wisdom." Does this have a subjective or an objective meaning? In other words, did Montfort intend to give us his understanding of the love that Eternal Wisdom has for humanity, or was he more concerned with inspiring his readers to love Eternal Wisdom? The lengthy development of the theme of the first part of the work inclines us to opt for the objective interpretation, though the second can certainly not be excluded. Besides, the ambiguity in the title could well be deliberate and might be part of the richness of the work.
3. Date of composition
According to general opinion, LEW is a work of Montforts youth, dating from the first years of his priestly ministry, perhaps during his stay in Paris (1703-1704) near the community founded by Poullart des Places. Montfort was one of the "poor scholars" whom this community welcomed and whose theological and spiritual formation it looked after. In the fifth book of his Vie de Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Life of St. Louis de Montfort), Besnard tells us: "I have it on the authority of the one who was superior of the house after M. Desplaces, and who had been his student, that one day M. Grignion preached to them on wisdom and gave a very beautiful paraphrase of the book of the Bible that bears this name."7 The main theme of this preaching by Montfort and the explicit reference to Wis naturally make us think of LEW. Picot de Clorivières reference to the same event is no less significant: "This conversation was like a paraphrase of those magnificent praises Solomon addresses to wisdom; but in examining this wisdom, he was at pains to point out that he was speaking not only of this wisdom given to Solomon, and still less of the wisdom of the wise men of the age, but also of the wisdom of the Gospel, of that wisdom Jesus Christ taught us by his example and by his words."8
Among those favoring a later date of composition are Dayet, who would place the preaching in Paris on Wisdom at the end of Montforts life (for example, in 1713), and Frehen, who was led by a comparative study of the manuscripts of H 46 and H 100-102 and LEW and SR, to propose as the date of the writing or at least the copying of all of these works, "the last two years of Fr. de Montforts life."9
The question of an earlier or a later date leads us to the following question: did LEW serve as the basis for these conferences on Wisdom, or was it the other way round? We have no proof either way, although it was Montforts usual practice to present in writing what he had first of all taught and passed on in his preaching. But that does not imply a date for the written text much later than the events of 1703-1704.
To sum up, the reasons that favor dating the work around 1703-1704 are: 1. the appearance of both the vocabulary and the theme of Wisdom in the letters dating from this period (L 14-17, 20); 2. the evidence of Besnard on the conversations Montfort had with the seminarians gathered by Poullart des Places, whose content was close to the matter dealt with in LEW; 3. the more scholarly and theoretical character of the work, compared with the popular character of TD, where Montfort shows himself to be an accomplished popularizer with the benefit of lengthy missionary and pastoral experience. This does not exclude, however, the possibility that Montfort may have had his work transcribed during the last two years of his life.
4. For whom was it written?
Who is the "dear reader" whom Montfort addresses (LEW 5)? We have just seen that a first audience might well be those who benefited from Montforts preaching in Paris on Wisdom, namely, young seminarians in formation. This would explain the rather theoretical and scholarly nature of the work.
Another possibility is that he wrote LEW originally for the religious communities that he had founded and to which he was now offering a sort of "book of life." The correspondence he conducted with Marie Louise and the first moves he made to found the Daughters of Wisdom speak of the importance of the theme of the acquisition of Wisdom in Montforts own spiritual journey and in that of the woman who joined him in his apostolic work. But there are absolutely no indications from Montfort himself or from the first Daughters of Wisdom to show that LEW was either written or received as a work primarily destined for the community of the Daughters of Wisdom.
The same must be said of A. Balmforths position; he believes he can pick out "some interesting and positive signs to suggest that he was writing especially, if not exclusively, for the future Company of Mary."10 He rightly recalls the missionary dimension of LEW and its many affinities with the ideal Montfort holds out to his future missionaries, and we cannot but agree with the general judgment expressed by Balmforth when he says: "Montfort wished this work to serve as an inspiration and guide for those whom he might gather around him to share his life and missionary activity."11 We can scarcely go further than this, and there is nothing in Montforts text (not even the Latin quotations) that allows us to restrict his intended audience to the disciples of Montfort alone. Above all, the distinction sometimes made between "missionary priests" and "ordinary lay folk" cannot be sustained; it is not only unthinkable today it was so even then in the idea of popular evangelization, which was so dear to Montfort.
Montfort is clearly writing for a much larger audience, whom he describes as "chosen souls seeking perfection" (LEW 14), which should not be interpreted here in an elitist or restrictive sense (as opposed, perhaps, to SM 1) but in the Pauline sense of those who have made an option for Jesus Christ and his Gospel (1 Cor 2:6), in other words, all Christians. Indeed, this is the most obvious sense in the light of the Beatitudes, which are quoted every so often in the text (LEW 10, 51, 153) and which remind us of those who hear the Word: "Rather blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11:28). Similarly, we could note how Montfort loves to emphasize the universal character of the audience that Wisdom looks for: "What man would not love him and search for him with all his strength. All the more so since he is an inexhaustible source of riches for man who was made for him and infinitely eager to give himself to man" (LEW 63; see also LEW 30).
In contrast to what he did in TD, where he claims to have "read nearly all the books which treat of devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (TD 118) and gives us a list of the writers who encouraged such a devotion (TD 159-163), Montfort shows himself in LEW to be in some ways more eclectic. Even though the allusions are sometimes brief, we can count about fifteen authors whom he quotes or saints whose testimony he cites: Gregory, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Rupert, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, Henry Suso, Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Teresa, John of the Cross, etc. There is nothing surprising in the breadth of his documentation. What is surprising is the fact that he makes no mention of his masters in the French school of spirituality, who nevertheless supplied him with a great deal of his material.
1. Spiritual writers
Among the spiritual writers who influenced Montforts writing of LEW, three names stand out: Henry Suso, Jean-Baptiste Saint-Jure, and Amable Bonnefons. Of these three, only the first is explicitly quoted by Montfort (LEW 101-102, 132). Nevertheless his dependence on the other two is just as sure, as is shown by the countless similarities in wording and in the themes.12 Still, there are also important differences in each instance.
Montfort may well have taken his basic inspiration and part of the title of LEW from the book by Henry Suso, a Dominican religious, since the French translation of the Horologium Sapientiae of Blessed Suso was called Livre de la Sagesse Eternelle (The Book of Eternal Wisdom). It first appeared in a French version in 1392 and rapidly became very popular among spiritual people, second only to The Imitation of Christ. But the similarities between Montforts text and that of Suso are, taken together, fairly slight, while the differences between the two are much more noteworthy.
The first important difference lies in the biblical character of Montforts work. Suso, in a book which is about the same length as Montforts, quotes exactly three verses of Scripture: Wis 8:2 (chap. 1) and Sir 24:19-20 (chap. 7), and it seems that for him Wis is in fact Sir (chap. 7). In this respect, Montfort is clearly different from his predecessor, as we will see later. A second significant difference lies in the place given to the mystery of the Cross. In Montfort, this theme is extremely important (parts of chap. 9-10 and the whole of chap. 13- 14), but it is seen in a wider and more global view, which includes Creation, the history of salvation, and the Incarnation. In Suso, attention is focused entirely on the mystery of the Passion, and nothing is said of Creation or the other phases of the history of salvation.
Three other works are worthy of note. First of all, there is the monumental work of the Jesuit Jean-Baptiste Saint-Jure (1588-1657), De la connaissance et de lamour du Fils de Dieu Notre Seigneur Jésus- Christ (On the Knowledge and Love of the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ), the first edition of which appeared in 1634. This volume would have had a particularly important influence, given that Montfort copies or makes a summary of whole passages of it (for example, in LEW 8-12, 66-67, 69, 154-166).
We should notice, once again, two significant differences. And again, the first concerns the biblical sources. The whole of Saint-Jures book is deeply scriptural, and there are abundant quotations. But even here Montfort shows a clearly more systematic use of the Wisdom theme. While it is true that Saint-Jure gives a well-developed commentary, he limits himself to "two truly remarkable passages of Sacred Scripture that contain several motives to bring us to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ." These two passages are Prov 8 and Wis 6-8. This is certainly an important subject for him, but it is much less than the use Montfort will make of the Wisdom theme. The second difference is of a Christological nature. Both books are from the French school of spirituality, and their authors speak extensively of the same person, Jesus Christ. But among all the titles Saint-Jure gives to him, Wisdom is lacking. On this point Montfort is much closer to Suso.
We should add another book by Saint-Jure, which was certainly known to Montfort, since he borrows several passages from it in N 308. This is The Spiritual Man, where the Spiritual Life is Treated in its Principles (Marbre-Cramoisy, Paris 1685), from which Montfort takes the idea of Wisdom (pp. 392-393), the application of the Wisdom literature to the gift of Wisdom in imitation of Salazar (p. 392), and the first three means for acquiring Wisdom (pp. 403-407).13
We note also the more immediate influence of The Little book of Life Which Teaches How to Live and Pray Well (1st ed. 1650), by the Jesuit Amable Bonnefons (1618-1653), on chapter 12 of LEW. Indeed, the first forty-nine "Oracles of Incarnate Wisdom" are a copy of the complete list of "general rules for good living, found in the sacred words of our Lord Jesus Christ," that Bonnefons quotes. Montfort copied this list as a whole, but then added another thirteen, the last of which (Matt 11:25- 26) has a very strong sapiential flavor and all of which are in line with the evangelical radicalism lived out by Montfort.
2. Biblical Wisdom
But the basic inspiration for Montfort comes first of all from the Bible. Certainly, his choice of Biblical sources and his interpretation of them owe a great deal to the exegesis of his day, notably to the translation and commentary of Le Maître de Sacy. But Montfort cannot be reduced to his sources, and we must recognize, with M. Gilbert, that none of his predecessors among the spiritual writers accorded quite so much importance to Wis (cf. below).
This biblical character of Montforts little treatise did not escape the notice, as we shall see, of a first generation of interpreters of LEW (Huré, Dayet, Bombardier). But the most rigorous and complete study of this aspect remains that of M. Gilbert, SJ, a specialist on Wis and the other biblical Wisdom writings. In a well-argued study,14 he shows Montforts originality and the validity of his "spiritual exegesis." The publication of this article in a theological review of very high international standing must surely have made LEW better known in circles that have not always been reached by recent Montfort studies. Several years later, the author of this present article took up again the question of the biblical sources of LEW.15 Here we need not go into all the detail found in these two studies. But let us recall briefly the main lines.
a. The Wisdom theme.
LEW displays an unusual characteristic, not only among the works of Montfort but within the whole corpus of Christian spiritual writing, in making systematic use of the Wisdom theme. Certainly, his other writings are also full of biblical quotations, but never before had he made a systematic effort to explore a complete theme in the Bible, including its fulfillment and its echoes in the NT as in LEW. That is what is so impressive. It presupposes clearly a remarkable mastery of the Bible as a whole, and a deliberate effort at synthesis. What is so striking here is not the detail of interpretation of some isolated verse or other but the fact that a vast network of texts is used: a large part of the Wis, some major chapters from Prov and Sir, the Prologue of Jn (filled with references to Wisdom), Jas (the only real Wisdom writing in the NT), and the passages that relate to the Wisdom of Jesus.
b. The Book of Wisdom.
It is, nevertheless, as we might expect, Wis that claims the major share of attention in Montforts reflection. No less than 140 verses (out of a total of 435 verses in Wis, or about one-third of the book) are cited by him, and are often quoted and commented upon. We should note, too, that Montfort used the central section of Wis, chapters 7-9: 65. Most of the verses quoted by Montfort in fact come from this section. Taken all in all, Montfort truly made Wis his own and used it as the basic framework of his own book, so much so that this can be seen as a veritable "paraphrase" (Besnard and Picot de Clorivière) of the biblical book. So we can validly ask, with M. Gilbert,16 whether there is any other work in the Christian spiritual tradition that owes so much to Wis.
3. Montfort and Scripture
Over and above the interpretation of individual verses, the number of scriptural quotations and their importance in the whole structure of LEW lead us to take a wider look at the use Montfort makes here of Scripture.
a. Montfort shows a great respect for the text. Thus, for example, he presents us with long passages, while assuring us that he will add nothing to them (LEW 5, 20, 52). He sends his reader, as it were, back to the biblical text itself so that he may draw his own conclusions from it.
b. But at the same time, Montfort is unable to resist making his own commentaries. In the three numbers of LEW that we have just mentioned and in those that follow them, we can see how Montfort, far from treating Scripture in a static way, as something untouchable in itself, feels the need to move on to an application of the biblical text. So, in dealing with Sir 24, he adds, "I make bold to offer a few comments . . ." (LEW 5); or again, in the case of Wis 8, he introduces the sacred text with an indication that he wishes to "quote them here, adding a few reflections" (LEW 52). For him, it is clear that Scripture needs to be interpreted and applied to the present circumstances. Thus we find in his work a kind of Scripture reading quite opposed to fundamentalism or a magical use of the Bible.
c. Here Montfort appeals to a vast network of scriptural quotations and takes abundant material from a whole set of texts. His view of Scripture is global, and he sees a kind of dialogue between OT and NT. This has the advantage of putting things in perspective and ensuring a greater depth in ones spiritual progress.
d. For all that, Montfort is indebted to the exegesis of his own day. His allegorical reading of Sir 24 (LEW 20-30) is evidence of this, as is his acceptance of a time scale for the universe derived from the Bible "the 4,000 years since the creation of the world" (LEW 104)and of the calendar of the Incarnation (LEW 109-116), with the precise years, months, days, and even hours of the life of Jesus. We could not pretend, therefore, that Montforts exegesis and modern exegesis agree on all points. But the basic agreement between them is so deep that, where Montforts exegesis appears out-of-date or insufficient, we need have no fear about completing it or adapting it with the aid of the resources of modern exegesis.
IV. PROFILE OF THE BOOK
1. Literary profile: structure and division
The structure of LEW is apparently not difficult to establish, since Montfort twice tells us of the plan he intends to follow. First of all, he bases himself on Solomons idea to give "a faithful and exact description of Wisdom"; he will follow this through by his own attempt "in my simple way, to portray eternal Wisdom before, during and after his Incarnation and show by what means we can possess and keep him" (LEW 7; see also LEW 12). Thus the two major divisions of his book are: a long discourse on "what Wisdom is" (chap. 1-14), and a more succinct reflection on "the means to acquire Wisdom" (chap. 15-17). We see immediately the disproportion between the two parts.17 Montfort takes a long time to describe for us what Wisdom is, while the last part of the work is more in the style of an exhortation and comes from Montforts pastoral concern. We are not dealing here with theory but, rather, with the spiritual path that will ultimately result in the acquisition and putting into practice of Wisdom.
Montfort does not simply take quotations from Wis but also, especially in the first part of his book, makes his own the literary structure announced in Wis 6:24. In fact, like Solomon, he does all he can to show the excellence of Wisdom, by contemplating his "origin, his nature, and his works in the course of history" (cf. LEW, chap. 2-5).
Another point on the structure that cannot be accidental is that LEW begins and ends with a prayer. Such a bracketing serves the same purpose as Solomons prayer, which comes at the apex of the central section of Wis (Wis 9). The first prayer, which reminds us somewhat of what Solomon says of the limitations of his mortal condition (Wis 7-8), is Montforts own prayer as he writes his book, and it embodies the respect he has for the mystery he is about to explore. The second prayer, the Consecration prayer (LEW 223-225), is clearly intended for his readers and gives a good indication of where Montfort wants to lead them.
2. Theological profile
The unfolding of Montforts reflections is, in fact, much more complex than the divisions he himself indicates. Certainly, the major division into two parts is beyond doubt: in chapters 1-14, he describes for us what Wisdom is, and in chapters 15-17, he gives us the means to acquire Wisdom. In addition, this last part is itself very clearly divided by Montfort into four precisely identified means. That leaves us with the first part, which is by far the more complex. On the one hand, it is not clear what Montfort means by the expression "after the Incarnation." Does this mean after Jesus birth in Bethlehem, as the plan proposed by OC would seem to indicate? Or does it mean after the Ascension, as Montfort himself seems to indicate (LEW 14: "And then we shall see him glorious and triumphant in heaven")? On the other hand, the biblical quotations, because of their length, seem to impose their own logic, which in many cases seems even to take over from the plan announced by Montfort. It is therefore wise to be somewhat flexible in any attempt to make a synthesis of LEW.
LEW 1-7 form a whole and serve as a prelude or prologue. This prelude is made up of three elements: a prayer addressed to Wisdom, in which Montfort, in the style of the prophets of the OT and the NT, expresses his conviction that he is inspired to speak while remaining very conscious of his limitations (LEW 1-2); a quotation of Wis 6, which is an exhortation to seek wisdom with all ones strength (LEW 3-4); and finally a word to his readers (LEW 4-7), inviting them to join him in contemplating and seeking Wisdom.
The first chapter is also to be seen apart from the following ones. Here we have an introduction to the discourse, punctuated by questions, which tries to capture the attention and interest of the reader: "Can we love someone we do not even know? . . . Why is Jesus, the adorable, eternal and incarnate Wisdom loved so little[?] . . . What good will it do us to know all the other branches of knowledge necessary for salvation if we do not learn the only essential one, the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?" (LEW 8:12). The whole chapter culminates in the expression of one of Montforts major convictions: "To know Jesus Christ incarnate Wisdom, is to know all we need. To presume to know everything and not know him is to know nothing at all" (LEW 11). Notice in this first chapter the importance of the vocabulary of knowledge, with such words as "to know," "knowledge," "branch of knowledge," etc. Such a way of proceeding is very different from a devotion that might base itself on a fundamentalist, sentimental, or pietistic reading of Scripture. In order to love, Montfort says, it is important "to know" well, and before one can make the Word of God relevant to today, it is important to understand it well and take a global view of the history of salvation.
It is precisely this global view that the next thirteen chapters present, in two major sections: chapters 2-8 are centered essentially on the OT, while chapters 9-14 are dedicated to the mystery of the Incarnation.
Chapters 2-5 pick up, though in a different order, the three central themes of the eulogy of Wisdom pronounced by Solomon in Wis 6-9: the beauty and greatness of Wisdom in his origin, in his nature, and in his works. In chapter 2, Montfort first of all sets forth the Christological foundation of his reflection by immediately applying to Christ the texts of the OT that speak of the mystery of Wisdom. And, having examined his origin in God, he moves on to the opposite pole of Wisdom, "the effects of his activity in souls" (LEW 20), with his commentary applying Sir 24.
Chapters 3 and 4 complement each other admirably, in that they give us a synthesis of the two great theological themes of the OT, namely Creation and salvation. On the one hand, chapter 3 places us at the heart of the theology of the Wisdom writers, which is a theology of Creation, seeing the beauty of the world as a fruit of Divine Wisdom. The foremost revelation of Wisdom, its masterpiece, is to be found in Creation: "If the power and gentleness of eternal Wisdom were so luminously evident in the creation, the beauty and order of the universe, they shone forth far more brilliantly in the creation of man" (LEW 35).
This brilliant vision, however, is seriously marred by the appearance of sin (LEW 39-40). The contrast is striking and filled with pathos. But of course this is not the last word, and Montfort continues his reflection with a remarkable summary of the history of salvation, which he sees, just like the author of Wis (Wis 10), as stamped with the presence and the interventions of Wisdom. Clearly we are dealing here with a summary, both for the biblical author and for Montfort. As does his predecessor, Montfort accords very great importance to the events surrounding the Exodus. The second paragraph of LEW 41 ascribes to Wisdom a reaction analogous to that of YHWH confronted with the distress of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex 2:24-25; Deut 26:6-8), and in his conclusion (LEW 50), Montfort returns explicitly to the Exodus. Montforts intention, then, is not to be exhaustive in his treatment but to go to the very heart of the OT and present Wisdom as at work especially in the salvation event.
Having spoken of the origins and the activity of Wisdom, Montfort returns to the eulogy, strictly so called, of Wisdom, whose "beauty, . . . excellence and . . . treasures" he is about to reveal to us in his commentary on Wis 7 and 8 (LEW 63). The eulogy unfolds in chapter 6, where Montfort describes the efforts of Wisdom to make himself known to humanity and to establish bonds of love with mankind. The signs of Wisdoms love are many, but Montfort recalls, most of all, the very fact that an inspired book is explicitly devoted to Wisdom, and he underlines the passionate tone of the discourse of Wisdom personified in Prov 8. The eulogy is then completed and the conclusion is obvious: "Above all else let us seek and long for divine Wisdom" (LEW 73).
But being a realistic man and knowing well his own times, Montfort knows very well that there is a choice to be made: "But we must beware of choosing a wrong wisdom, because there is more than one kind" (LEW 73). The conclusion should therefore be placed later, after one has been made aware of the illusion ("hypocrisy and malice") of false forms of wisdom as proposed by the world. In some ways, chapter 7 seems to differ from the rest of LEW and even from the Wisdom language. Yet Montfort continues to take up his stand within the Wisdom theme. On the one hand, he echoes here the very severe criticism leveled by Jas at "earthly" wisdom, while on the other hand it has to be remembered that biblical Wisdom is hardly gentle in regard to whatever is contrary to the Wisdom of Godthis is seen quite simply as folly, vanity, and destruction. Biblical Wisdom is certainly not without its prophetic character.
Having denounced the illusion of false forms of wisdom, then, Montfort repeats his invitation"So let us remain with Jesus, the eternal and incarnate Wisdom. Apart from him, there is nothing but aimless wandering, untruth and death" (LEW 89) and completes his eulogy by describing the wonderful "effects" of Wisdom "in souls" (chap. 8).
Chapters 9-14 form the keystone of LEW, the mystery of the Incarnation. Montfort begins with the facts (chap. 9), giving us "a summary" of the life of Jesus Christ, the Word of God and Incarnate Wisdom, from the Annunciation to Mary to the Ascension "on Mount Olivet" (LEW 109-116). This gives him the opportunity to emphasize the unique role of Mary, in whom "eternal Wisdom built himself a house worthy to be his dwelling-place" (LEW 105). From this biographical summary, Montfort passes on to the theological interpretation with his reflections on the gentleness of Incarnate Wisdom (chap. 10-11). He bases himself primarily on the Christological title of Lamb of God and the meaning of the name "Jesus" (LEW 119-120). But he also goes through the Gospels, emphasizing the humility of Jesus and his love for the poor and for sinners, to whom he brings the good news of salvation through the medium of his looks, his words, and his actions.
Chapter 12 claims to be "the summary of the great and important truths which eternal Wisdom came on earth to teach us" (LEW 153), and it is made up entirely of quotations from the Gospel (together with a quotation from Acts 20:35). Here Jesus is presented as a teacher of Wisdom, and the Gospel as Wisdom for life.
At the end of this first part (chap. 13-14), Montfort leads us to reflect on "the Cross . . . the greatest secret of the Kingthe greatest mystery of Eternal Wisdom" (LEW 167). He sees in this the supreme manifestation not only of the Wisdom of God, considered folly in the eyes of men, but also of his love for humanity: "Among all the motives impelling us to love Jesus Christ, the Wisdom incarnate, the strongest, in my opinion, is the sufferings he chose to endure to prove his love for us" (LEW 154).
The second part, which is much shorter (chap. 15-17) is dedicated to the means to acquire divine Wisdom. First of all, "like Solomon and Daniel we must be men of desire if we are to acquire this great treasure which is wisdom" (LEW 183). Then Montfort lingers over the second means, giving us a veritable little treatise on prayer (LEW 184-193), which ends with the very beautiful prayer of Solomon asking for Wisdom (Wis 9). It is not surprising that Montfort devotes a whole chapter to the third means, "mortification . . . that is total, continuous, courageous and prudent" (LEW 196): this is precisely how Montfort understands the demands of the paschal mystery, and he will have occasion to return to this theme later and at more length in FC.
Then Montfort unveils for us "the greatest means of all, and the most wonderful of all secrets for obtaining and preserving divine Wisdom . . . a loving and genuine devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (LEW 203). In this final chapter of LEW, he recalls the unique closeness of Mary to Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, since she "became the mother, mistress and throne of divine Wisdom" (LEW 203). "She became," that is to say, by grace and in virtue of her free response. Here also, Montfort is already mapping out the main themes of a later work, TD, for he tells us "in a few words" what "genuine devotion to her involve[s]" (LEW 215).
And finally, let us recall that LEW ends with a prayer. The exercise proposed by Montfort was not therefore something academic but, rather, existential. He does not even take care to issue any warnings to the reader, except at the very end (LEW 227): "Qui potest capere capiat. Quis sapiens et intelliget haec?" (Hos 14:10). LEW is, in some sense, like the prophetic books of Hosea and Jonah, an open book that calls for the response and the involvement of the reader.
V. LEW AND ITS INTERPRETATIONS
1. The silence of the biographers
If TD was indeed enclosed "in the darkness and silence of a chest," in accord with the prediction made by its author (TD 114), one could say that LEW hardly enjoyed better fortune for the first two centuries following its composition. The manuscript was not published until 1856, and until the beginning of the twentieth century, the biographers and commentators on Montfort spirituality maintained a general silence about LEW. We find no direct reference to the writing of LEW in the first biographers, and even after the renewal set in motion by the definitive edition of 1929, such writers as De Luca, Le Crom, Papàsogli, and Laurentin devote only a short paragraph to it. Even more surprising is the silence of A. Lhoumeau, who, in his remarkable treatise The Spiritual Life at the School of Blessed Louis Marie de Montfort, restricts himself to TD, even though his aim was "to set forth the dogmatic foundations of this devotion (i.e. the perfect devotion to the Blessed Virgin)" (preface of 1901) and even though the most important practice of this devotion is expressed in a formula of Consecration that belongs properly to LEW.
2. The definitive edition (1929) and the renewal of Montfort studies
We had therefore to wait until 1929 for LEW to come back on the scene in Montfort spirituality. Father H. Huré must be credited with recognizing its capital importance, and his long introduction to the definitive edition puts things in perspective. Father Huré places Montfort primarily in the line of Pauline and Augustinian Wisdom. It was left to later interpreters to follow up the research and to emphasize how much Montfort owed, first of all, to the biblical theme of Wisdom.
The years following the appearance of the definitive edition of LEW and surrounding the canonization of Montfort saw Father Hurés intuition confirmed, and since that time it has not been possible to speak of Montfort spirituality without relying on this capital work, LEW.
J. Bombardier, a Canadian Montfort, begins his introduction to Montfort spirituality (four volumes) with a fascicle devoted entirely to a discussion of the Wisdom theme, which provides a sufficiently complete introduction to the questions about the writing of LEW as well as a synthesized presentation of almost all the chapters in Montforts book. In his discussion of the sources from which Montfort drew in his composition of LEW, we find an interesting nomenclature and a heavily biased judgment. Since his work came before the start and the maturing of biblical renewal, we can well understand Bombardiers astonishment at the Christological use Montfort makes of OT Wisdom. Notice also that he links Montfort Wisdom very closely with Augustinian Wisdom, to the point of seeing in them "not only a resemblance, but even identity" of view and content.
About a year later, Father Dayet published what can still lay claim to one of the best introductions to LEW.18 His little book of eighty-four pages, first of all, gives a balanced judgment on the sources (both biblical and non-biblical) of the work, and on the meaning of the word "Wisdom." The first part of his commentary is an excellent synthesis of LEW, while the second part is more concerned with showing what the totality of Montforts spiritual experience gained from his contemplation of Eternal Wisdom. Fr. Dayet did not miss the opportunity to insert a long commentary on LEW in his presentation19 of the sixth day of the third week of the exercises proposed by Montfort for preparing those who will make the Consecration. It was concerned precisely with gaining a better knowledge of Jesus Christ.
In his celebrated The Poem of the Perfect Consecration to Mary, Father Poupon, contrary to what the title might indicate, does not fail to emphasize the basically Christological slant of such a Consecration. And since his commentary traces the unfolding of the prayer of Consecration, he gives a prime place to the theme of Wisdom, notably in the first chapter of the first part, which is entitled The mystery of light.20
3. Recent interpretations
Since the end of the 1960s, L. Perouas has been making a systematic reexamination of the life and writings of Montfort. His efforts have profoundly influenced the renewal of Montfort studies. His first work, Grignion de Montfort, les pauvres et les missions (1966), which was to give the impetus for a new way of approaching Montforts texts, did not intend, as was supposed, to examine all Montforts work. Thus, there is not a word about LEW.
But Perouas was to return to this on other occasions. In writing A Way to Wisdom (1973), he notes the originality of the theology presented in LEW, but does not accept that there is here a synthesis of Montfort spirituality: "It would be a mistake to view this work today as a synthesis of Montfort spirituality. This book brings together, undoubtedly, Montforts favorite themes, but done at a moment of personal evolution."21 He sees it therefore as a writing from a particular moment, written in the middle of a period of crisis and appearing, in Montfort, "at the same time as a transformation of his psyche, as progress in his faith and as an intellectual breakthrough."22 We find the same position taken in the article Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort that he wrote for DSAM23 and in his book Grignion de Montfort ou laventurier de lEvangile.24
The point of interest in the position taken by Perouas is that he stresses the great importance of the life context (the Sitz im Leben beloved of exegetes) that gave birth to LEW and that he emphasizes the contrast between this work and Montforts other writings. He also has some very interesting things to say about "the language of lovers,"25 although one must not give too psychological a slant to the reexamination of the text nor stress too much the finding of "the feminine side": these are considerations that throw light on a problematic area in our own day but need not necessarily be applied to a reading of Montforts texts.
M. Gilbert, the exegete and respected specialist on Wis, for his part made a detailed study of "the spiritual exegesis employed by Montfort," which led him to acclaim the uniqueness of LEW among spiritual writings, principally due to the deep understanding Montfort had acquired of Wis: "It is truly surprising to see the impact of the Book of Wisdom on Montforts treatise. I know of no other spiritual writing that has based its doctrine, as Montfort does, on this little Greek book of the Old Testament. . . . Montforts standing as a spiritual exegete of the Book of Wisdom is quite exceptional."26
Finally, it seems that interest in LEW can only increase with the appearance in several languages of the complete works (Spanish, 1954; with a new edition in 1984; French, 1966, reprinted in 1982; Italian, 1977, with a new edition in 1990; English, 1988, reprinted in 1991), in which all the introductions emphasize the fundamental importance of LEW for the understanding of Montfort spirituality and its application for today.
VI. RELEVANCE OF THE BOOK TODAY
Far from being a marginal work, LEW opens up fundamental perspectives that, moreover, fit perfectly with the contemporary preoccupations and directions of Christian theology and spirituality.
LEW has, first of all, the merit of being an eminently Christocentric work. This means that we are dealing with a spirituality and a theology that go to the very heart of the Christian mystery and bring us back to the essential question asked by the Gospels: "And you: who do you say that I am?" (Mk 8:29). Moreover, at a time when biblical studies are throwing fresh light on the diversity and richness of NT forms of Christology, LEW can help us to see an element of this diversity and what might be called an alternative Christology, one authentically of the NT because it is clearly evident in Jns Prologue and in Col 1:15- 20. The vision of a Christ Wisdom admirably puts the finishing touch to the reflection on the mystery of Christ attested to in the traditional titles of Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. In this way LEW helps towards a better understanding of the mystery of Christ.
2. Theology of Creation
LEW has also much to offer in that it is rooted in the biblical theme of Wisdom, the theology of which is first and foremost a theology of Creation. Even if it is important not to create an opposition between a theology of salvation and a theology of Creation, nevertheless the latter is very much more evident in the biblical Wisdom literature. The same could be said of LEW. Here more than anywhere else, Montfort gives us his theology of Creation and shows us, in line with the biblical theme of Wisdom, a vision of Creation that is basically optimistic. The widespread change in thinking brought about by Vatican IIs GS shows the importance for today of a theology of Creation and of earthly realities, and the search for Wisdom proposed by LEW can easily be seen as a part of this new way of thinking.
3. Theology of the Redemption
Finally, the important renewal currently taking place in the theology of the Redemption27 itself invites us to a deeper reexamination of what Montfort says on this theme in LEW. We know the importance he attaches to the Cross, and what he writes on this subject achieves great heights. LEW offers us a vision in which the theology of the Redemption is far from being an exaltation of suffering but is firmly anchored in the love God has for the world. Chapter 13, in fact, says clearly that it was not suffering that saved the world but the love Jesus Christ has shown for us in his sufferings. Montfort invites us to contemplate "the sufferings he chose to endure to prove his love for us" (LEW 154). LEW 154-166 often return to this theme of love. In addition, this thirteenth chapter would benefit by being reread and reinterpreted in the light of what modern theologians call "the suffering of God."28 Such a rereading has already been attempted, in a very promising way, by J. Morinay in his book Mary and the Weakness of God.29
It is certainly true that LEW is not all that Montfort has to say. And this work could not, any more than could the Wisdom theme that finds its final achievement in the NT, exhaust all the dimensions of a Christian spirituality. We must seek elsewhere, in Montfort as in the Bible, for the prophetic dimension of challenge and commitment to the poor. This dimension, while not being absent in the Wisdom writings, is not as clear there as in the prophets of the Bible and in the Gospels. In this sense, we can only be glad that such writings as the PM and FC and certain of the hymns are there to complement LEW. But LEW remains a privileged witness to the theology of Montfort and to his own spiritual experience. It is also a guide of the highest value for Christians in search of "true wisdom, eternal Wisdom, Wisdom uncreated and incarnate" (LEW 14), Jesus Christ.
J. P. Prévost
Notes: (1) H. Huré, preface to the definitive edition of LAmour de la Sagesse éternelle, Librairie mariale, Pontchâteau 1929, 1-2. (2) J.-M. Dayet, La Sagesse chez le Bienheureux Louis-Marie de Montfort (The Place of Wisdom in Blessed Louis-Marie de Montfort), Bureau des Prêtres de Marie, Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1944, 77. (3) M. Quéméneur, Entreprendre de grandes choses (Undertaking Great Things), in Cahiers Marials, 52 (1966), 87. (4) OC, 88; see also H.-M. Guindon, LAmour de la Sagesse Eternelle (Love of Eternal Wisdom), in Dossiers Montfortains, 16 (1958), 65-68. (5) H. Frehen, Etudes sur les Cantiques du Père de Montfort (Studies of the Hymns of Father de Montfort) (a compendium of articles gathered together by the author). (6) Cf. D. M. Huot, I manoscritti delle opere di S. Luigi-Maria da Montfort (Manuscript of the Works of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort), in QM 4 (1986), 16-127. (7) Besnard I, 280. (8) Picot de Clorivière, La vie de M. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (The Life of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort), Delalain, Paris 1785, 321-322. (9) H. Frehen, Etudes, 68-70. (10) A. Balmforth, Pour qui le livre de "LAmour de la Sagesse Eternelle" a-t-il été écrit? (Why did he write Love of Eternal Wisdom?), in Dossiers Montfortains, 41 (1967), 1. (11) Ibid. (12) See the parallels established by A. Guéry, Etudes comparatives. I. Prière à la Sagesse Eternelle (P. de St-Jure/Montfort); II. Consécration de soi-même à Jésus-Christ, la Sagesse Incarnée, par les mains de Marie (Comparative Studies. I. Prayer to Eternal Wisdom (Fr. de St. Jure/Montfort) II. Consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom at the Hands of Mary) (P. Nepveu/Montfort), in Dossiers Montfortains (Montfortian Papers) 32 (1963), 17-27; and by A. F. Balmforth, "Oracles" de la Sagesse Incarnée: Montfort/Bonnefons, in Dossiers Montfortains, (Montfortian Papers) 36 (1964), 129-135. (13) Itinerario, 221, n. 1. (14) M. Gilbert, Lexégèse spirituelle de Montfort (Spiritual Exegesis of Montfort), in NRT 104 (1982), 678- 691. (15) J.-P. Prévost, Montfort et le courant de sagesse biblique, Dossier Montfortain 2, Rome 1986, 1-19. (16) M. Gilbert, Lexégèse, 684. (17) The same observation is made, in a mystical perspective, in P. Humblet, The Mystical Process of Transformation in Grignion de Montforts "The Love of Eternal Wisdom," Titus Brandsma Institute, Daughters of Wisdom, Nijmegen, 1993, 6-9 (18) J.-M. Dayet, La sagesse chez le Bienheureux Louis-Marie de Montfort, Bureaux des Prètres de Marie, SaintLaurent-sur-Sèvre 1944. (19) J.-M. Dayet, Les exercices préparatoires à la consécration de Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort (Exercises of Preparation for the Consecration of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort), Les Traditions françaises, Tourcoing, 1957. (20) M.-Th Poupon, Le poème de la parfaite consécration à Marie suivant saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort et les spirituels de son temps. Sources et doctrine (The poem of Perfect Consecration to Mary of Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort and the Spiritual Teachers of his Times), Librairie du Sacré-Coeur, Lyon 1947. (21) Perouas (22) Ibid. (23) DSAM 9 (1976), 1075. (24) Ed. Ouvrières, Paris 1990, 70-74, 87-88. (25) Perouas, 52. (26) M. Gilbert, Lexégèse, 684. (27) On this topic, see B. Rey, Nous prêchons un Messie crucifié, Cerf, Paris 1989; F. Varone, Ce Dieu censé aimer la souffrance (This God who is Deemed to Love Suffering), Cerf, Paris 1984. (28) In the terminology popularised by F. Varillon, Lhumilité de Dieu (The Humility of God), Centurion, Paris 1974, and La souffrance de Dieu (The Suffering of God), Centurion, Paris 1975, but owing much to the work of M. Zundel, from whom Varillon took much of his inspiration (cf. R. M. De Pison, Le Dieu qui est "victime." Le problème du mal dans la pensée de M. Zundel (The God Who is Victim. The Problem of Evil in the thought of Zundel), in Science et Esprit, 52 (1991) 55- 68. (29) J. Morinay, Marie et la faiblesse de Dieu. Essai de présentation du message spirituel de saint Louis-Marie de Montfort (Mary and the Weakness of God. Essay presenting the Spiritual Message of St. Louis de Montfort), Nouvelle Cité, Paris 1988.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary:
Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
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