JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Angels in the Life of Saint Louis Marie: 1. Montfort's devotion to the angels; 2. Motives for this devotion. II. Demons in the Life of Saint Louis de Montfort: 1. Fallen angels in the culture of seventeenth-century Europe; 2. Saint Louis de Montfort and demons. III. Montfort's Explanation of Pure Spirits: 1. The angels: a. Their identity, b. The angels and Our Lady, c. Angels at the service of human beings. 2. The devil: a. Origin of devils, b. The devil and human beings, c. The devil and Mary. IV. Relevance of Montfort's Teaching: 1. Balanced stress on angels/demons; 2. Rejection of Satan and baptismal renewal; 3. Celebrating the angels.
The CCC [Catechism of the Catholic Church] declares: "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition."1
Although obviously an element of Montfort's teaching, angels or devils are by no means central to his spirituality. Saint Louis Marie's teaching on this topic dovetails with the fundamental doctrine of Scripture and of the Church. Both his life and his works reveal a vivid awareness of the messengers of the Lord and of the fallen angels, the demons.
I. ANGELS IN THE LIFE OF SAINT LOUIS MARIE
1. Montfort's devotion to the angels
Even as a seminarian in Paris, Montfort was known for the veneration he had toward the angels: he "urged his confreres to show marks of respect and tenderness to their guardian angels."2 He often ended his letters with a salutation to the guardian angel of the person to whom he was writing: "I salute your guardian angel" (L 7, 12, 20, 33). He saluted all the angels in the city of Nantes (L 33), a custom that, it appears, he repeated when he entered a new village or city.3
Of all the heavenly host, Michael the Archangel is the one to whom Montfort had the greatest devotion. Michael, whose name signifies "who is like unto God," is mentioned in Dan 10:13 as one of the "chief princes" who with Gabriel protect the Jews against the "prince" of Persia. In Dan 10:21 and 12:1, Michael appears as "the great prince who stands over your people." In Jude 9 Michael the archangel is caught up in a dispute with the devil over the body of Moses. The arch-angel is especially venerated as the leader of the angelic host in the battle between the dragon and the dragon's angels (Rev 12:7).
Saint Louis Marie's name is closely associated with Saint Michael, "the prince of all the heavenly court" (TD 8). The missionary considered Michael zealous for the glory of God (PM 28), conqueror "in the tremendous battle which was fought out in heaven between truth, with St. Michael as its champion, and falsehood represented by Lucifer" (RM 61). On his return from his long pilgrimage to Rome, Montfort made a retreat at Mont Saint Michel "to pray to this archangel to obtain from him the grace to win souls for God, to confirm those already in God's grace, and to fight Satan and sin."4 In his retreats to soldiers, he usually organized them into a confraternity under the patronage of Saint Michael so that the results of the retreat would be lasting.5 The soldiers were given "small crosses of Saint Michael to wear" (L 21). His reverence for Michael was such that some of his calvaries had a statue of the archangel. Describing the cross the saint erected at Salertaine, his early biographer Besnard writes: "Underneath, there was built a vaulted chapel with a beautiful altar on which was placed a large statue of Saint Michael."6 The archangel is mentioned in two of the vagabond troubadour's hymns: H 21:2 and H 139:63. The first reference speaks of the archangel subduing Lucifer, the second again alludes to this conquest and adds that it is Michael who "weighs all souls / for heaven or for the flames." This corresponds to the belief of the Church, for "in the Christian liturgy, Michael is the protector of the Church and the angel who escorts the souls of the departed into heaven."7
2. Motives for this devotion
One of the reasons why Saint Louis Marie de Montfort had such devotion to the angels is that veneration of the pure spirits was an integral part of his training and also of his culture. His college teachers, the Jesuits, were known for their zeal in propagating devotion to the angels. Montfort's seminary training under the Sulpicians brought him into contact with the thought of Cardinal de Bérulle and Olier, both of whom had deep veneration for the angels.8 Furthermore, in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, manuals of piety and treatises on the pure spirits were numerous. Preachers especially saw in this devotion an excellent means of leading their people to higher perfection. The faithful were invited to imitate the purity (i.e., total obedience) of the angels and to have recourse to their guardian angels, especially in times of difficulty.
Montfort did, however, not believe in angels simply because his age praised them. His forceful writings on angels would indicate that he intensely experienced on certain occasions the presence of his guardian angel. Tradition claims that several times he enjoyed a mystical vision of his angel, although Montfort himself never refers to such an incident.
II. DEMONS IN THE LIFE OF SAINT LOUIS DE MONTFORT
The fallen angels, or demons, are far from forgotten by the missionary. Involved as he was in "the reform of the Church and the renewal of the face of the earth" (PM 17), he understandably experienced the power of evil. With the Church, he believed in not some abstract negative force but in personal spiritual beings who had at the dawn of creation refused to obey God. His vocation as retreat master and, most especially, as a preacher of parish missions, gave him occasion to speak on the devil. Sixty seven of his hymns (out of a total of 164) mention the devil, and some more than once. All the major works of Montfort contain references to the devil. It must be said, then, that this roving missionary believed himself to be at war with Satan, for he saw himself as the apostle of Jesus, who fought with the demons and who called the devil "a murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). The CCC is clear on the existence of fallen angels.9
1. Fallen angels in the culture of seventeenth-century Europe
Christian civilization during the sixteenth century suffered a religious and moral crisis. Books on demon-ology multiplied, and the seventeenth century saw a great increase in books about demons, demonic possession, monsters, vampires, and genies. Witch hunting was common. But with the beginning of the Enlightenment during the eighteenth century, skepticism heightened, and the very existence of pure spirits-whether good or bad- was more and more rejected by so-called cultured society.
Saint Louis de Montfort lived at the junction of these two currents, the baroque coming to an end, the Enlightenment steadily growing. His doctrine on fallen angels was influenced by both these strands of thought.
2. Saint Louis de Montfort and demons
Since the evil influence of the rebellious angels was an obstacle in the ongoing conversion of his people to Jesus, Montfort referred to them in his mission sermons: "Remember that Satan awaits you at the door in order to take from you that divine seed [the Word of God] for fear that you will use it for your salvation" (LS 176). The missionary aimed at destroying not only the reign of sin in people's hearts but also the occasions of sin: "He also undertook to destroy the external works of Satan, such as books contrary to religion and good morals."10Faced with cases of possession brought to him for help, Saint Louis de Montfort's primary aim was to bring about a deep conversion in the possessed person. "Montfort was more interested in chasing the demons from souls than using the means that the Church employs in chasing them from bodies. If the prescribed prayers of the Church were not efficacious in solving a case of diabolical possession, he saw it as a trap to make him lose time that could be better used to destroy the empire of sin."11 Montfort himself, according to his early biographers, experienced the presence of Satan. Grandet gives several examples of these rather violent attacks,12 which Montfort did not particularly fear, since he had full confidence in the power of Jesus and Mary. At the end of his life, the saint declared: "It is in vain that you attack me. I am between Jesus and Mary. . . . I will sin no more"13
III. MONTFORT'S EXPLANATION OF PURE SPIRITS
Saint Louis Marie had to respond to a question that is quite contemporary: who are these spirits, angels and demons? His response is nothing more or less than what is taught by the Catholic Church.
1. The angels
a. Their identity.
Montfort agrees with the classification of angels into nine choirs (TD 8) as established by Pseudo-Denys. Montfort also mentions the cherubim and seraphim (H 57:2), the angels (LEW 109), and the archangels (H 139:63). They surround the throne of God and constitute his court (H 127). They are God's servants and messengers (H 40:3-5; LEW 98, 110, 112), obedient to Him from the beginning. They sing God's praises (H 44:5; 65:2; 98:25). Their number is beyond our imagining; God is lavish in the creation of pure spirits.When speaking about the angels, Montfort calls special attention to the guardian angels (H 110 is a prayer to one's guardian angel). "His explanation of the nature and of the role of our guardian angel is rich and remarkably concise. . . . He wishes to lead our soul to a devotion towards this prince of paradise who is always at our side."14
b. The angels and Our Lady.
The one case where Saint Louis de Montfort can claim some originality in his preaching on the angels is when he speaks about the relationship of angels to Our Blessed Mother.Montfort uses the angels as a point of comparison to bring out the grandeur of Mary. The angels ask each other questions about Mary: "Quae est ista?" (TD 3). God loves Our Lady far more than He loves the angels (TD 5). The angels themselves rejoice in the presence of Mary (TD 5). The angels praise her, even though she is incomprehensible to them (SM 19; TD 8). Mary has authority over the angels (TD 8), and she is more powerful than they (TD 27); the angels are pleased to obey her (TD 204). The "Hail Mary well said . . . has the angels rejoice" (TD 253). As, in Jewish tradition, the army of angels underlines the transcendence of God,15 so, too, Montfort gives glory to Our Lady by placing at her feet the heavenly host.
c. Angels at the service of human beings.
The total obedience of the angels, their complete adherence to God Alone, makes Montfort call them models for the human race. Their help as guardians of individuals and of communities is to be treasured. In emphasizing the horror of the first sin, Montfort writes: "Adam came close to despair. He could not hope for help from angels or any of God's creatures" (LEW 40).
The role of the angels is that of messengers of God and, in that sense, intermediaries between God and human creatures (LEW 109, 112). Angels warn human beings of the dangers they face if they do not agree to carry the Cross after Christ (LC 58). The guardian angels accompany each human person, "guarding them in this life / against every dangerous incident" (H 12, 18). As they did with Adam, the angels flee a person who has willingly rejected God; they quickly return, however, at the very first sign of repentance (H 98:25). Therefore, all people should respect guardian angels (H 139:64) and pray to them (H 110).
Montfort's veneration of the guardian angels, the subject of Hymns 110 and 121, is an expression of the faith of the Church: "From infancy to death," the CCC teaches, "human life is surrounded by their [guardian angels'] watchful care. . . . Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God."16
2. The devil
Montfort often links together the devil and the world (e.g., LEW 199; LC 8, 41; RW 14), for he understands the world to be creation not yet turned to God. Anything, therefore, that is not motivated by an authentic religious purpose, whether it be theater, science, art, literature, etc., Montfort considers to be at best a waste of time and a possible means of distancing us from God. The "world," therefore, and "demons" are joined together in opposing the reign of Jesus Christ. The world in this sense is "the synagogue of Satan" (H 29:6) and "the infamous Babylon" (H 107:12). The missionary's interest in demons is not for the sake of increasing his knowledge; rather, he sees devils as a hindrance to his apostolate of reform and renewal.
a. Origin of devils.
When discussing demons, Father de Montfort places himself in the tradition of the Scriptures as they are taught, prayed, proclaimed by the Catholic Church. Simply put, demons are fallen angels who are in an eternal rebellion against God: "Satan fell because of pride" (H 29, 68). He takes up the biblical symbol of the serpent to designate Satan (H 107:14-15), underlining the "malice of this ancient serpent" (TD 52). He also uses the biblical image of beasts of all sorts to represent the devil and his power of evil, as when he speaks of the future of his TD manuscript: "I clearly foresee that raging beasts will come in fury to tear to pieces with their diabolical teeth this little book and the one the Holy Spirit made use of to write it" (TD 114). But we are always to remember that Satan himself is a slave of God (TD 70). With Jesus Christ, therefore, we can conquer the ruses of the devil; this power he attributes especially to his Missionaries of the Company of Mary (PM 12, 13).
b. The devil and human beings.
The devil, humiliated in seeing that human beings are called to take his place in heaven (H 127:74; LEW 43), tries to separate people from God. He attempts to drag as many as possible toward all sorts of sin in order to make them the reprobate, i.e., radically turned against the Lord. Montfort echoes the words of 1 Pet 5:8: "Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls round looking for someone to devour."
c. The devil and Mary.
Our Lady is the antithesis of Lucifer: "What Lucifer lost by pride, Mary won by humility. What Eve ruined and lost by disobedience, Mary saved by obedience. By obeying the serpent, Eve ruined her children as well as herself and delivered them up to him. Mary by her perfect fidelity to God saved her children with herself and consecrated them to his divine majesty" (TD 53). Satan has been conquered by Mary's "Yes," and therefore she is the enemy of the devil: "The magnificence of the devil is even more humbled to see himself under the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most humble person who has ever been, than to feel crushed by the arms of the Almighty" (N 70; cf TD 52). The devil also tries to fool people by leading them into false devotions to Our Lady (TD 90). But "when the Hail Mary is well said, that is, with attention, devotion and humility, it is, according to the saints, the enemy of Satan, putting him to flight; it is the hammer that crushes him" (TD 253). Devotion to Our Lady is, therefore, a powerful means of conquering any and all temptations of the devil. St. Louis Marie's doctrine reminds us that, like the angels, we are destined for service to God, not like the fallen angels, who fell from service to pride.
IV. RELEVANCE OF MONTFORT'S TEACHING
1. Balanced stress on angels/demons
Saint Louis de Montfort's treatment of the pure spirits, angels and demons, is nothing more than an authentic proclamation of the teachings of the Church. His insistence on the reality of the angels- guardian angels in particular-and the fallen angels, the demons, is an important instruction for all ages of the Church. Especially in an industrial age that considers anything "pure spirit" to be a product of man's fantasy, the teachings of this missionary can serve as a reminder of the truth of the Church's teaching. When angels become the sole property of the artist or poet, Montfort's writings and life sound a much needed alarm.
Although the style of Montfort's teaching is quite baroque at times, nonetheless his orthodox treatment of angels/demons is a refutation to extreme forms of "angel worship" that are found in some areas of the world. As twenty-first-century man searches for the transcendent in a highly secularized world, some have overstepped the boundary of the true and have landed in a morass of superstitions about angels and demons. To these mythical spirits they give names and duties foreign to the biblical teaching. Worse still, they meditate on these imagined angels with a veneration exceeding logic; devil worship is not, sadly, a thing of the past. Here also, Montfort's clear Christocentric Marian teaching- which is the context for his doctrine on angels/ demons-can show the true path. Moreover, those who consider the devil a mere trifle or, at the other extreme, become involved in Gnostic dualism and think of the devil as equal to God will find in Montfort a needed antidote.
2. Rejection of Satan and baptismal renewal.
Montfort's linkage of the rejection of Satan and all his works with the renewal of the promises of Baptism is in total harmony with the Easter liturgy. The missionary, however, made this renewal an integral, if not an essential, part of his parish missions and retreats. Montfort urges us, then, to reject Satan and to renew our absolute allegiance to the Lord not only at Easter but every time we conclude a retreat or renewal program and even after a day of recollection. It is also, as it was for Saint Louis Marie, an occasion for a clarification of the role of angels, whose help we implore, and of devils, whose pomps and works we reject.
3. Celebrating the angels
Saint Louis de Montfort calls upon us to rejoice and praise God for the presence of the angels. Especially at the Divine Liturgy, where myriads of angels worship the Eucharistic Lord, we should advert to their presence; the Sanctus, which the Church calls upon us to sing with all the heavenly host, would appear to be a fitting moment to acknowledge the presence of the angels. The celebration of the angels puts us in communion with them, the adorers of God, a "place of theophany, a living manifestation of God" (P. Evdokimov). The conviction of the presence of pure spirits also "opens up our mind beyond the frontiers of the visible world. The cosmos in which we live is an extremely small reality in comparison with the spiritual universe, . . . and it is in the interior of this universe that the human world is located, with all its materiality, temporality. . . . The theology of the angels widens the limits of our vision of the world by opening up to us its highest dimension and grandeur, calling us to adore the one Creator of all."17
A. Delesalle and H. Stockert
Notes: (1) CCC, 328. (2) Blain, 53-54. (3) Cf. De Bérulle, Opusc. 186: Pour se conduire chrétiennement dans les voyages et dans les affaires (In Order to Act in a Christian Manner on Trips and in Business), in Oeuvres (Works), ed. Migne, 1856, 1263. (4) Grandet, 105. (5) Besnard, I, 252. (7) John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee 1965, 573. (8) H. J. Icard, Doctrine de M. Olier (The Teaching of M. Olier), Paris 1929, 185 and note 1. (9) CCC, 391-395. (10) Besnard I, 81. (11) Grandet, 23. (12) Grandet, 86-88. (13) Grandet, 260. (14) Fradet, Les Oeuvres du Bx De Montfort Poète Mystique et Populaire Ses Cantiques avec Étude Critique et Notes, Beauchesne, Paris 1929, 185. (15) Cf. Ph. Faure, Les Anges (The Angels), Cerf/Fides, La Flèche 1988, 24-25. (16) CCC, 336. (17) C. Rochetta, Il problema degli angeli e dei demoni nella riflessione teologica odierna (The Problem of Angels and Devils in Contemporary Theological Reflection), in B. Marconcini, A. Amato, C. Rocchetta, and M. Fiori, Angeli e demoni. Il dramma della storia tra il bene e il male (Angels and Demons: The Drama between Good and Evil), Edizioni dehoniane, Bologna 1991, 30.
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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