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

Summary
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 Montfort’s 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 God’s 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 Montfort’s 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 Clorivière’s 
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 Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s 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 
Montfort’s 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 
Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s 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. Balmforth’s 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 Montfort’s 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).

 

III. SOURCES
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 Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s 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 
Montfort’s work. Suso, in a book which is about the same length as 
Montfort’s, 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 l’amour 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-Jure’s 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 Montfort’s 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 
Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s 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 one’s 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 Montfort’s exegesis and modern exegesis agree on all 
points. But the basic agreement between them is so deep that, where 
Montfort’s 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 Solomon’s 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 Montfort’s 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[22]. 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 Solomon’s 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 Montfort’s 
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 Montfort’s 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 one’s 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 Montfort’s 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. 
Montfort’s 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 
Wisdom’s 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 God—this 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 King—the 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 Huré’s 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 Montfort’s 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 Bombardier’s 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 Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s texts, did not 
intend, as was supposed, to examine all Montfort’s 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, Montfort’s 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 l’aventurier de l’Evangile.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 Montfort’s 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 Montfort’s 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 
Montfort’s 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. . . . Montfort’s 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.
1. Christocentrism
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 Jn’s 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 II’s 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 L’Amour 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, L’Amour 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 "L’Amour 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, L’exégèse 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, L’exégèse, 
684. (17) The same observation is made, in a mystical perspective, in P. 
Humblet, The Mystical Process of Transformation in Grignion de 
Montfort’s "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, L’exégèse, 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, 
L’humilité 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.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

 

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