Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Montfort and the Church of His Time: 1. Within the context of the Catholic Reform; 2. The "science of the saints”; 3. To live the Church with the people. II. The Church in the Doctrine of Montfort: 1. Salvation history; 2. Elements of strong ecclesial value; a. Incarnation; b. Paschal mystery; c. Baptism and Consecration; d. Apostolate; e. Mary; III. Montfort Spirituality and Current Ecclesiology. 1. The reign of God; 2. Church, People; 3. All are called to the same holiness; 4. Eschatological character; 5. Mary.

Ecclesiology is a formal area of theology which, more than others, has seen an enormous development in recent times. If, in truth, the concept of Church as a perfect society is several centuries old, it is only within the last hundred years, from Vatican Council I to Vatican Council II, that other dimensions have been studied in depth. The Council further developed the doctrine of the Church as mystery, as the people of God, as communion.1 For this reason when one delves into the concept of Church in an author who lived long ago, especially a spiritual author whose writings were not rigorously scholastic, there is danger of revisionism, of projecting a contemporary theological understanding onto the past. Yet one should not be surprised to discover in an author such as Montfort someone far in advance of their times. But Montfort’s ideas and insights should be considered in their basic simplicity, not as a systematic formulation. They should be seen as seeds which will grow and bear fruit later on. In this sense, Montfort remains a child of his times and should not be misread on this score. But once one sees these insights in their contextual meaning, it is reasonable to apply them to life today, within a different theological and spiritual setting.


Seventeenth century France was an extraordinary period for culture, politics, and the arts. Church life was no less rich or complex. Tridentine Reform was in full swing. The doctrinal and moral changes it inspired ran the gamut from the teaching of bishops to priestly formation, from theological reflection to catechesis and preaching. Schools of spirituality and religious orders were born and reborn. Charitable institutions arose, and a new missionary impulse leapt beyond the bounds of Europe. Difficulties and uncertainties, however, were not absent. Movements sometimes be-came polarized, on the one hand by a too facile openness to novelties and on the other by an holding onto the past. In France Jansenism emerged and developed during this period,2 and Gallicanism remained much alive. Each of these complex phenomena had a profound impact on the Church. Louis de Montfort received his formation at the very end of the seventeenth century and his ministerial experience was in the first years of the eighteenth century.3 What choices did he make within the fabric of the church life of his time?

1. Within the context of the Catholic Reform

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was a monumental historic event in the life of the Church. It was important both for what it said and what it did. It undertook a vast number of pastoral, canonical, liturgical, and disciplinary reforms. Urged on by a pagan Renaissance, the Church knew how to rebuild itself well and with vigor. Menaced by Protestantism, the Church discovered within herself the ability to transform an apparent decadence into a new vitality. This commitment to the reform of its institutions and to the renewal of its way of doing things that began in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has guided the Church into our present age.4

Post-Tridentine ecclesiology developed themes that are found over and over again in the authors of the era: the Church as a perfect society, its visibility and indefectibility, its infallible magisterium, the Church as the Body of Christ, and the necessity of belonging to her in order to be saved.5 At the same time, one witnesses an evolution of what we might call "the mind of the Church,” an awareness that comes from belonging to the community of believers. Within the ranks of the people of God there persisted a medieval heritage: various devotions, the veneration of relics and images, pilgrimages, seeking after indulgences. The religion of the people seemed encased in external practices and ceremonies.6 Catholic humanists who, while affirming the inner and personal life and—not openly condemning the devotional practices—took refuge in an individualistic piety. The early Jansenists sought a more authentic prayer life, a more enlightened piety, and a more rigorous morality through the inspiration of the early Church.7

The Tridentine Reform sought a renewal of the everyday life of the local Church with initiatives for clergy and people alike. In France, with a population approaching 20 million at the time of Louis XIV, those involved in pastoral work constituted a massive presence. For the year 1702, it added up to the following numbers: 18 archbishops, 100 bishops, 140,000 pastors, 10,400 priors, 15,000 chaplains; among religious: 36,500 monks, 35,000 members of the major religious orders, 82,000 religious.8 The reconstruction of the Church came from on high. It required bishops devoted to their charges, and immediately France showed that it had capable and cultivated bishops. The priest was ordained and sent by his bishop. He was an official, hierarchical, and communitarian sign. A social charism among the presbyterate was evident: one was a priest for others, in a complex organism, where all the members were in solidarity with each other. A priestly spirituality developed, and seminaries were instituted to form the clergy.9

Montfort, in deciding to become a priest, agreed to take the path offered by the ecclesiastical institutions. He entered the seminary of Paris, finished all the required studies, and took on the priestly spirituality which eminent priests and directors of priests—such as Olier—were living and teaching to others.10 In the parish of St. Sulpice, Montfort the seminarian, was initiated into catechetics and the works of charity. And even before his priestly ordination, he made up his mind not to stay permanently in a particular job but to become an itinerant missionary in service to the Church of the people. This was a fundamental perspective that would give unity to the personality and the work of Montfort. Many of his future choices can be understood in light of this decision such as his going about the countryside, missions to the people, catechism taught to the poor, the use of the language adapted to the popular culture, the use of hymns, recourse to devotional practices. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Montfort was one of those rare representatives of the clergy of the Church in France to feel the need to update the teaching of the Church for the poor, and that meant the major part of the French population.11 In all things, he wished to remain obedient to the Pope, the bishops, the local clergy and to accept the structures of the Tridentine Church.

2. The "science of the saints”

The vitality of the Church of the seventeenth century is to be seen not only in efforts at institutional reform but also in the richness, depth, and variety of its spiritual movements, which—while remaining in touch with earlier sources—took on original characteristics. Francis de Sales exercised an enormous influence; Bérulle was the head of a school of thought which saw theology and spirituality as inseparable. His disciples Eudes and Olier would leave a profound mark on the life of the Church. Port-Royal was a powerful magnet. Even if its doctrine was somewhat dubious and theology weak, its way of life, prayer, and mysticism gave it value. Its knowledge of Rheno-Flemish mysticism (Ruysbroeck, Harpius, Tauler) expanded and was influenced equally by the Italian spirituals such as Catherine of Genoa, Gagliardi, Scupoli, and Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi. The spiritualities of the major religious orders (Jesuits, Dominicans, Capuchins) were dominant. In the specific area of mysticism, they conjoined themselves to a more "abstract” movement, which taught that one must be in conformity with the will of God by annihilating oneself. In part this would lead to quietism. A more "positive” school had great influence and included Jesuit authors, like Lallemant, Coton, Saint-Jure and Surin, for whom conformity to the will of God and pure love, life in Christ, and docility to the Holy Spirit are the foundations for an apostolic zeal for one’s neighbor. This school would give the Church some saintly people, among them secular priests like Boudon, religious like Mary of the Incarnation and Mathilde of the Blessed Sacrament, and lay people like Gaston de Renty and John Aument.12

On a more popular level we should mention another spiritual movement: psychological moralism (Nicole, Duguet). It tried to apply to the spiritual and mystical life the "knowledge of self,” recalling Socratic thought: if man is made in the image of God, then the knowledge of man leads to the knowledge of God. But who is capable of this? Every day we discover something new in the world and in man; it is not possible to know everything. We see in profile a model of Christian life adapted to one’s own status, in imitation of several saints and under the guidance of a spiritual director. Even without always being based on sound theological foundations, this movement presented a spirituality adapted to different situations in daily life, where a great deal of time was reserved for private prayer, for books of prayer, for practices of devotion, and for rules of a confraternity.13 That which was written about the spiritual life was written within the context of the life of the faithful; within the family, professional and social life of each person. The writings were to be edifying to the ordinary person, spiritually and morally. They offered models of sanctity for married people, widows, country people, servants, soldiers, gentlemen, princes. Every group had its saints, prayers, images and feasts. Special attention was given to the sick and the dying; the art of dying "well” was one of the subjects most written about in Christian literature of the seventeenth century.14

In such a spiritual atmosphere—rich, varied and not without risk— Montfort made his first decisions. One such decision can be dated from when he was still a seminarian. He ceased to go to classes at the Sorbonne and instead took up study on his own. The fact is, having read Boudon and Surin, Montfort made a decision to study the "science of the saints.”15 He saw that no knowledge, even theological, no successful career, even ecclesiastical, constituted a true force for reformation in the Church. Rather, sanctity of life did. Among all those who sought renewal, Montfort looked first not to the bishops or clergy but, rather, to the lay people. He went to the people of God, and brought them the witness of his own sanctity. His holiness was that of an apostle who lived solely for God, inspired by Jesus Christ alone. To do this, Montfort borrowed from Bérulle and Olier, from Lallemant and other mystics. He wanted to offer a spirituality that, on the one hand, was well founded theologically while on the other hand one that avoided superficial moralizing. He wanted a spirituality that took into account the culture of the people, their need for "mystery” and, the concreteness and simplicity of their images, symbols, and external practices. Montfort’s preaching, life witness, and writings were always along this line.16

Another proof of Montfort’s popular genius as a missionary was his choice of Marian devotion as the "secret” of perseverance in the faith and as an efficacious synthesis of all those things involved in the following of Christ. Both its solid theological foundations and its interior and exterior practices could be well understood by the people. He placed everything at the service of renewal in the Church. The seventeenth century was also important for the development for Marian doctrine and devotion. At this time Mariology was born as a specific theological treatise, producing profound, fruitful studies and giving a solid foundation. Marian devotion continued to spread with positive although with risks of excess.17 France, right up to the troubled times of the "Monita Salutaria” (1673), saw theologians, spiritual authors, and saints who were not afraid to live and recommend a fervent Marian devotion. Following upon this came the critical spirit of Protestantism, the Jansenist climate, and the first signs of enlightenment. They attacked the external practices of Marian devotions, judging them to be immoderate, if not superstitious. Montfort was faced with a double temptation when he studied theology at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The first was to restrain the rapid growth of Marian devotion. This would have given total credence to its critics, and infer that the theological foundations of Marian devotion were insufficient (more than one intellectual or "enlightened” theologian ceded to this temptation). The second temptation was to pursue these forms of devotion without worrying about enemies or heretics. On the level of the people, the latter involved a greater risk. Montfort reacted against both dangers. He unhesitatingly reasserted solid Marian devotion, making it the centerpiece of his pastoral work. At the same time, he kept in mind the lessons of history. He recommended that everyone avoid false devotions, while he carefully developed the theological basis for true devotion to Mary. He avoided renouncing authentic devotional practices, including external ones. Montfort knew how to create a proper balance through his choices. His sense of Church was rooted in tradition, it stopped him from vacillating in the face of what was going on at that time. It increased his sensitivity for the legitimate renewal of the Church, desired by the Council of Trent and it made him attentive to the dangers of those devotions which lack a strong theological foundation.

3. To Live the Church with the people

Montfort prepared himself to go out among the people. He taught catechism in the ghettoes of Paris, gathered together outlines of sermons, and wrote hymns. His desire was to "go in a humble and simple way to teach catechism to the poor in country places” (L 5). The life of a Christian community, especially in rural areas, was centered on the parish church. Everyone was brought there for Baptism as soon as possible after birth. One received Communion about the age of 12 and, whenever the bishop showed up, Confirmation. Around the age of 25, a man and woman were married and at the end, at death, a person was interred in a cemetery ordinarily found next to the church, where it formed a sacred enclave.18 Since Montfort, in his parish missions, wanted to renew the spirit of Christianity within a particular village, his pastoral work was based on these elements. He brought men, women and children to the church for catechism, preaching and general confession, Holy Communion and the celebration of the Eucharist, and the prayers for the dead. He concluded his mission with its crowning synthesis, the renewal of Baptismal promises. The days of the mission became a distillation of the whole Christian life. It was a way to recapitulate in a few weeks and in a Church setting, the spiritual events and concerns of a lifetime.19

Each week every person in the village came to the church, with the exception of the gravely ill or those at odds with the pastor. Everyone assisted at Mass, which was both a sign of faith and a community and social-get-together. On Sunday, a day of relaxation, everyone met at church and exchanged bits of news. When danger threatened the village, the church became a place of refuge and protection. The house of God was the house of all the people, a fulfillment of its primordial role. Conscious of the importance of the parish church, Montfort made it the point of reference of his work of missionary renewal. We must remember that particularly within the overall community of larger villages presided over by a pastor, there existed chapels, mission churches, and oratories connected to religious communities, and hospitals, or confraternities. Often these other churches received many of the faithful for prayer, for pious practices, and for special celebrations of feast days. They performed a positive function for several reasons. They offered people a place to pray, to hear sermons, to find spiritual directors. There was, however, a risk in them. They were often criticized for breaking the unity of the church community and of favoring the formation of elite groups of laypeople. 20 Montfort held to a Church for all the people and for the means of salvation of the universal Church (the sacraments and the liturgy) for all believers. Nevertheless, he also recommended prayers, devotions, and confraternities, not as a substitutes for the basic elements of the Christian life but rather as means for persevering on the path of conversion. The mission offered a road of conversion which began at the Baptismal font, continued at the confessional, and ended at the Eucharistic altar.


In the Christocentric Marian devotion of St. Louis de Montfort, there was an ecclesiological dimension.21 Also it is important that he did not consider the church as a separate, formal, theological category. Montfort was a spiritual author and a missionary, not a professional theologian. His interest was in the conversion of souls. And yet, we find in his teaching, seen within the proper context of his time, a solid theological base.

1. Salvation history

To understand fully what Montfort wrote and taught, his teachings must be set within the context of his overall doctrinal and pastoral view. He was concerned with salvation history in its entirety. Montfort was profoundly conscious that the design of God to save humankind was a singular one, even if it came about in different ways.22 The protagonists were always the same: on the one hand, the Three Persons of the Trinity and, on the other, mankind called to respond to the love of God. The complete parable of salvation history, as seen by Montfort, can be drawn from three of his most important works: LEW, TD, and PM. In LEW, he recounts the creation and the fall of man, the decision to save him, the Incarnation of the Word, the Wisdom of God made man not just through the cross, but through the totality of our human response. It is a call to search for, find, and live the Wisdom of God. TD puts devotion to Mary at the heart of this development, but only after illustrating the presence and role of Mary willed by the Trinity in salvation history. Authentic Marian devotion is then nothing other than man’s response to God. PM, concise as it is, completes the story by showing how the saved individual, in his turn, is called to become an apostle in order to save his neighbor, renew the Church, and convert the world.

Time for the Church is that phase of salvation history which permits mankind to respond to God, to come to Him and to let Him reign in our hearts. That is why Montfort speaks implicitly of the Church, as much in LEW 181-222 when he teaches one to search for Wisdom, as in TD 126-130 when he proposes that we live our Baptism through Consecration to Jesus Christ by the hands of Mary; and in PM 12 when he invites us to become apostles full of zeal for the evangelization of the world. The terminology is different but the meaning is equivalent to what today is meant by, "to be Church.” For Montfort it was to conform oneself to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, in order that He may reign in our hearts and in the world (TD 61-62, 120). It is to be docile to the Holy Spirit and to Mary his faithful collaborator, in order that we may be formed into members of the Body of Christ (TD 34-36, 140). It is to be apostles of the end times in order to fight against evil and give final victory to the Lord Jesus Christ (TD 58). The design of salvation has come about in Christ who is the reason and foundation of all grace. But the description that Montfort had of the other periods of salvation history is uniquely that of the present age, the age of the Church, the time of conversion. Montfort, the missionary, is concerned with conversion. Thus he is conscious of being in the service of God for the time of the Church; and in the service of our neighbor in order that he may live the time of grace here and now, during this stage of salvation. It is true that in the seventeenth century they usually spoke of the individual salvation of every person in their meeting with God face-to- face. Consequently they saw the Church as the milieu within which each person might find his or her salvation. But it is equally true that they were conscious that all were called to conversion and that the means of grace were offered to all. They constantly used the image of the Mystical Body, of Christ as the Head and we the members (TD 32; FC 27). They sought to give witness to the belief that true believers form among themselves and with Christ a true oneness.

Furthermore, Montfort sees the Church as a time and a place for salvation (TD 50 64), where faith is professed (TD 2, 14, 25, 214) in the reception of the Word of God (TD 57; LEW 95-97; H 43:8; 141:5), in obedience to the Pope and the bishops (H 6, 50,57; 147:3; RM 22), and in meeting with God in the Sacraments (H 109:7-15), where our prayer of praise goes forth (TD 84, 95, 116), where spiritual fruit ripens (TD 68), but where there is expressed a need for renewal and reform (PE 5, 17), awaiting the final coming of Christ (SM 58; PE 5).

2. Other elements of strong ecclesial value

Not only salvation history but other aspects of Montfort’s thought are ecclesial.

a. Incarnation.

The mystery of the Word become man in Mary occupies a central place in the writings of Montfort. The influence of Bérulle is evident here. In the Incarnation all of the mysteries of the Redemption are already found. Therefore everything said of this mystery projects its light down through the centuries of Church history. In the Incarnation one discovers the action of the three Persons of the Trinity. The Father sends the Son through Mary. The Word becomes man in her. The Holy Spirit, forms Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary after having asked for her consent (TD 16).23 God incarnates every day in the Church (TD 22). By Mary’s mediation Jesus Christ came into the world. So by her mediation He will reign over the world (TD 1). Montfort wrote that at the moment of the Incarnation, Wisdom built the house of redemption. (LEW 105;24). He illustrated at length the role of Mary in the Incarnation and wished to teach an authentic devotion directed to Jesus Christ through Mary. Louis Marie drew from this mystery the rules of life for future believers. Jesus Christ is the one Savior of the world (TD 61). The Holy Spirit, forms the members of the Mystical Body in Mary in the same way that he formed Jesus in Mary (TD 20-21). Mankind’s salutation and perfection consists in being conformed, united, and consecrated to Jesus Christ (TD 120). This will always be true right until the end of time. Mary was the path Jesus chose to come to us in the Incarnation. Therefore, she is the sure way to go to him (TD 50). Consequently, to speak of the Incarnation is to speak of the Church.

b. Paschal mystery.

"Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom” (LEW 180); Montfort expressed his meditation on the paschal mystery in language appropriate to his time. The entire Letter to the Friends of the Cross (FC) is an exhortation to follow the path of the Cross of Christ. It is a road marked by suffering and death but, in the end, one crowned with glory for those who wish to follow him (FC 58). In the life and preaching of Montfort, the Cross was central. It was the search for the true Wisdom God, the turning away from the wisdom of the world, the object of asceticism (LEW 74 ff). the true Wisdom obtained by a universal mortification (LEW 194 ff). Persecution and the Cross were the life companions of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In them he gave expression to the death and resurrection of Christ, to Easter. The paschal mystery is central to our faith and the foundation of ecclesial life. Baptized into Christ, we draw our salvation from the grace of the Sacraments. Montfort emphasized during the sermons and catechetical lessons of his parish missions that the proclamation of the Word prepared people for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. The conversion he obtained was a sealed "covenant contract”24 and a renewal of one’s Baptismal promises. It was a commitment to persevere. The Montfort idea of Church is not to be found in theoretical formularies but, rather, in his pastoral missionary practice. The elements of his ecclesiology are clearly reflected in faith, Word and Sacrament, liturgy and life commitment.

c. Baptism and Consecration.

These two words are a good summary of the specific characteristics of Montfort spirituality. All of Montfort’s missionary activity—his preaching, catechesis, celebrations, and written teachings—were dictated by a desire to renew Christianity among the faithful. His own personal understanding of the faith is to be found in the renewal of the Baptismal promises. It was a life commitment to become more faithful than ever before. Everything that Montfort wrote on Mary’s role and presence in the mystery of God and salvation, and on the devotional life, taught Consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary. It led to one thing, to the renewal of Baptismal promises (TD 20, 126). We see Montfort the missionary and writer clearly in the way he identified Baptism with Consecration to Jesus through Mary. Montfort clarified the radical ecclesial character of the Sacrament of Baptism. In receiving and living this Sacrament, believers participate in the unique saving action of Christ who is Redeemer, Savior of the world and Lord of history. They become members of Christ’s Body, the Church, the community of salvation. They join a pilgrim people on their way to God. Through each present moment, they live in Christ Jesus and in his Spirit, and know that they belong to God and to the community of the saved.25

d. Apostolate.

Montfort very rapidly exhausted his human life in the service of God, in seeking the conversion of his neighbor and the renewal of the Church. His complete devotion to the apostolate came from his conviction that virtue’s highest degree of perfection was "to acquire the light and unction you need to inspire others with that love for Wisdom which will lead them to eternal life” (LEW 30). In fact, "Wisdom gives man not only light to know the truth but also a remarkable power to impart it to others” (LEW 95).26 In the history of Montfort thought which begins in LEW, continues in TD, and concludes with PM, it is clear that the apostolate gives spirituality its true value. The apostolate is ecclesial by its very nature. Man’s salvation consists in knowing Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, and in living in his Spirit. In order to find Jesus, one must find Mary (LEW 203; TD 85; SM 6). It is living the Consecration to Jesus through Mary, i.e. in order to carry Baptism to maturity, consecrated souls will dedicate themselves completely to the service of the Virgin Mary. In this way they will become ministers of the Lord who are tongues are of fire, and clouds of thunder moved by the breath of the Spirit. They will propagate the Word of God, fight against sin, and bring home glorious victories (TD 56-59). By their ministry, the face of the earth will be renewed and the Church reformed (PM 17). Montfort called priests and laypeople, men and women to be apostles. His single standard was founded only on a capacity to live the Consecration to Jesus through Mary fully. Apostolic work should continue to progress in the Church. Why? Because "in these latter times” (TD 50) God wants to reveal Mary more then ever before. For she is the masterpiece of His hands. In the same way, the conflict between good and evil will daily become more acute. But a humble Mary will be victorious. She will raise up servants. She will endow them with divine charisms. These sons and daughters will do her work. They will be great in holiness and be superior to every other creature in their courage and zeal (TD 49-54).

e. Mary.

The Marian dimension of Montfort spirituality remains its best known aspect. It is what is highlighted the most. But one must not forget that without a Christocentric spirituality one cannot belong to this Gospel movement. From the start, Montfort insisted upon this. Mary is to be seen entirely in terms of her relation to God. She draws her total existence from the Lord. She is for the Lord completely (TD 61). Furthermore, Montfort’s doctrine of Mary cannot be grasped correctly except in a Trinitarian and eschatological context. This was Montfort’s central understanding. Consequently, the heart of his Mariology is ecclesial. Montfort stated that given the actual order of things, God chose Mary not only as necessary for the historical coming of Christ but for the realization of the reign of Christ down through the centuries (TD 15). In fact, Mary finds grace before God, for herself and for all human beings. She gave flesh and birth to Eternal Wisdom and today she incarnates him, in the believing faithful through the action of the Holy Spirit (LEW 203). Mary is Queen of All Hearts because she has received from God power over souls (TD 37). The Son of God, in fact, distributes his graces through her (TD 24). The actual role of Mary is, therefore, ecclesial. It is to give birth to Jesus Christ within the souls of the faithful. It is to give new sons and daughters to the Church, to the community of salvation. Such truths are seen by Montfort to be embodied in faithful people who have a devotion for Mary. She is, then, their model of faith. They are called to imitate her (TD 214). She gives them the example of how to be attentive to the Spirit, of how to be transformed into Christ (TD 218), for the greater glory of God (TD 222- 225). This is how Montfort described the believer who travels in, through and with the Church toward a perfect realization of the reign of Christ.


Every reference to contemporary ecclesiology must take into account Vatican Council II. It was the culmination of the period of study and research that preceded it. It was fully and consciously celebrated by the Church. It was a new departure which gave us a true modern ecclesiology. At the root of every conciliar document are new ecclesiological insights. Several treat this in a specific way. LG is concerned with nature, structure, and life of the Church. GS dealt with the Church and the world. SC treated the Church at prayer, the sacrament of salvation. AG considered the Church’s missionary dimension. After centuries, ecclesiology once again began to develop. In the early post conciliar years other perspectives developed. They pointed to new "models” of the Church. Included are the Church as "Koinonia”, which brought out the aspects of the church as communion-community, the Church as "Kerygma” which gave priority to the Church as Proclaimer of the Word, and Convoker of the assembly of the Lord, the Church as "Diakonia” which centered on the Church as Servant of God and of his people in love and glory, the Church as "Eschaton”, which gradually defines the Church as the reign of God. Each of these models developed certain aspects of the Church. But none exhausted its mystery.27

Bearing in mind the ecclesiology of Vatican II, what is it relevancy to the spiritual doctrine of St. Louis de Montfort? Starting from our present understanding of the Church let’s look back without forcing false similarities. Let’s look for the "seeds” of our present understanding and how they have developed, grown and bore fruit, in our contemporary awareness of the church.

1. The reign of God

One of the most important results of the second Vatican Council was its rediscovery of the theology of salvation history. It bypassed an abstract method which more than once led the research of specialists down a dead-end street. The Council preferred to speak of history as a reflection of God’s design of salvation willed by the Father, realized in the mission of his Son, and actualized each day among humans through the sanctifying work of the Spirit (LG 2-4). It is the reign of God, promised for centuries, manifest in Christ, that enters hearts through the presence of the Spirit. The Church is the seed of this kingdom. It is its beginning, the source of its growth, and its yearning for accomplishment. (LG 5). The life of the believer in the Church thus becomes a vital synthesis of this truth. The Church is called to build the reign of God, within its own heart and within the world. It draws its life from the Spirit, is victorious over and evil, and will continue until Christ comes in glory.

Montfort chose not to become a professor of the Sorbonne, but rather to dedicate himself to the people. He chose not to write for intellectuals but for simple people (TD 26). He had a predilection for a positive presentation of the history of salvation, by telling its story in dramatic form. The mystery of the Incarnation, prepared in the Old Testament and understood through the Cross, constituted the first reign of God, the first coming of Christ. Since then, the kingdom has begun to spread itself throughout the world (TD 1). Montfort always explicited the Trinitarian dimension of the action of God (TD 4, 16, 17-21, 22, 23, and in LG 2-4). People are called to have Christ reign in their hearts, since "the kingdom of Jesus Christ exists primarily in the heart” (TD 38). In this second coming, Jesus Christ must be known, loved, and served (TD 49). He "must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions . . . [the] foundation for our salvation, perfection and glory” (TD 61). By God’s power, Jesus chases out demons and manifests the kingdom (LG 5). The battle against the reign of evil is seen to increase every day, in these end times (TD 50-51). But true believers will receive the power to obtain victory (TD 58). In this Trinitarian and salvation history context, the initiative comes from God and man collaborates. Men are joined together in history until the end of time. Montfort, like LG, prefers to use the theme of the kingdom.

2. Church, People

The most common criticism voiced about the ecclesiology of the past is that it was based upon on the more individualistic conception of salvation found among most of the theologians and spiritual authors of those times. Recently, the idea of the Church as the people of God, (an image so often found in the Bible) is taken up again as a fundamental one LG (9 ff). It was almost completely absent in Montfort’s time. Thanks to Vatican II, the idea of the Church as the people of God in history has led to a renewed liturgical life, to a more evident missionary commitment, and to a more lively consciousness of our fraternal solidarity with believers and non believers alike. The benefits of this view of church can be seen in the Church’s prayer life, her missionary and ecumenical spirit, her commitment to charity, her attitude of tolerance and patience with history, her sense of unity.

In his writings, Louis de Montfort appears to be a child of his times. In the Church, dispenser of the sacraments, salvation is sought and found. Through ascetical zeal and devotional practice, persons persevere in grace. Certain elements, however, merit particular attention. To be a saint means to free oneself from the spirit of the world and to fill oneself with Jesus Christ (TD 227), to renounce oneself and follow Christ (LEW 13), to acquire and conserve Wisdom (LEW 14, 223). It is not to isolate oneself in an individualistic asceticism but, rather, "to inspire others with that love for Wisdom which will lead them to eternal life” (LEW 30), to belong on Christ’s side (LEW 7-12), to be apostles through whose ministry the world will be renewed and the Church reformed, where a welcome will be given to convert and non believers, to Moslems, Hebrews, and others (PM 17). If, consequently, we analyze the Montfort’s choices on the pastoral level, we see there a clear sensitivity for the people of God whom he gathered together, the parish communities to which he preached missions. We see this in the liturgical assemblies which he convoked to listen to the Word of God, to celebrate of the Sacraments, to renew their Baptismal promises and to take part in processions. If the renewal of the Second Vatican Council has the same results (LG 13-17), it means that the same spirit animated both, but one expressed in different ways.

3. All are called to the same holiness

The Church is one people of God united by faith in Christ and participating in his Priesthood (LG 10-11), consecrated in his Baptism and called to his holiness (LG 40). Thus there exists a fundamental equality among all believers—between clerics and laypeople, religious and secular, men and women. However each has their own particular charism (LG 12) with different forms of expression for the same holiness (LG 41). The council brought about a great change in our way of thinking. It recognized that every state of life lived with an authentic faith, produces saints. Not only the monastic, priestly, and religious but also the lay and married states are open to heroic virtue, to the contemplative life, and to serving one’s neighbor. The ways and means of sanctity first is charity and then it is listening to the Word of God, the Sacraments, prayer, and the exercise of virtue. (LG 42).

Montfort’s point of view is in perfect accord with today’s Church. For the spirituality taught by Montfort is founded on Baptism and on all the things that make up the following of Christ. It is a faith journey that begins with conversion from sin and leads to the highest points of mysticism. It is a simple way of arriving at full union with God accessible to all (TD 152). Holiness was certainly willed by God for every person (SM 3). The great saints and the apostles of the end times of the Church, "both men and women” (TD 114), will be true disciples of Jesus Christ, strengthened by his Word alone and by his Cross (TD 58- 59). Before he put to paper his unique form of spirituality, Montfort taught it fruitfully in his missions for many years (TD 110). Occasionally his missions were for religious communities, but primarily they were for the faithful at large—for every type of person, age and state of life. His was a profoundly ecclesial spirituality. It was for all of the people of God.

4. Eschatological character

"And so the latter times have already arrived for us” (LG 48). The Church is already adorned with true holiness, albeit imperfect. We, the believers, "put on the armor of God in order to be able to stand firm against the ambushes of Satan” (ibid.). Strong in faith, we await the blessed hope, the glorious manifestation of Jesus Christ. The Church that marches through history is in communion with that portion of the people of God which possesses the full vision of the glory of God. For all those who belong to Christ have the same Spirit, they form one Church, because all are united to him.

Montfort showed a particular sensitivity for the future ages of the Church. He used a special terminology in describing the future stages of salvation history and the coming of the Kingdom of Christ (TD 49-59; SM 58-59; PM 2, 5-6, 13, 16-17), to the point of being wrongfully suspected of millenarianism.28 In my judgment, there is no reason to judge his belief in the latter times to be any different from the one that prevailed during his era. It was an orthodox belief. Montfort awaited the glorious coming of Christ as "the whole Church expect[s] him” (SM 58), without offering a specific personal theological thesis. But it is clear that he saw the manifestation of the Kingdom of God as coming with increased acceleration. He pushed for a time of conversion, because the battle between good and evil is "now more than ever” decisive. Every time that he spoke of the future, there would occur expressions like "more than ever,” "more every day,” "as soon as possible,” "above all,” "grows every day” (TD 50, 51, 55, 113, 114). He had a dynamic way of convincing others that the time of salvation was now. He avoided putting things off, since the Lord was coming. As for the moment when he will come, "only God knows” (TD 59).

Setting his sights on the future of the Church and the world, Montfort looked at the faithfulness of the God of eternity, who never changes his way of acting (TD 15). This is the God whose love has continued throughout the centuries, was from the beginning and will be to the end. Between the past and the future there was a continuity, not a cyclical repetition. The future depends on the past. The past is the exemplar of the future. Such a view does not impede something new from happening. In the end, history progresses like a straight line and comes to an end. These are the end times. In them everything will be assumed, fulfilled, accomplished, for the glory of God and for eternity.

5. Mary

The relationships between past, present, and future, and their theological and their spiritual significance in salvation history, were seen and presented by Montfort through Mary. She was for Montfort the pass key to the different stages of salvation history in the life of the Church. Through Mary, God begins and ends his most important works (TD 15, 19). The Holy Spirit chose her as His collaborator (TD 20, 35). Through Mary the saints of the past have found grace before God. It will be the same in the future (TD 45). The apostle of the latter times saw the work of the Spirit in union with Mary. Through her all things are elevated, formed, and sustained (PM 6, 11; TD 35, 55-56). According to Montfort in every age of the Church, but more than ever, during the latter times, the central players emerge: the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the Saints. (TD 54). If everyone is called to holiness, to be great and exalted before God, then the time of grace given to everyone in the Church will be a time of perfect docility to the Spirit. Mary is the great secret for living fully in the Holy Spirit. Montfort taught the devotion to Mary, the Consecration to Jesus through her, the renewal of Baptismal promises, as the simple, but powerful, path to the fullness of the Christian life. It was a way to sanctity, to giving the Church more great saints. He believed that there would be more and more such holy people in the Church, as it approached the end times.

It is not by accident that the Second Vatican Council document on the Church ends with Mary (LG 52-69). Her presence in the mystery of Christ demands her continuing in the mystery of the Church. Mary thus becomes the image and model of the Church (LG 53, 63). She helps us to understand Christ and to enter into the mystery of his communion, which is the Church. Mary is the "model” of the Church (LG 63). What Mary has been and is, the Church is called to become—virgin and mother (LG 63- 64). She is rich in virtues to imitate (LG 65), above all else her faith, her hope, and her love. At last, as sign of the people of God, Mary is glorified in God just as the Church anticipates the final destiny of every believer and of the entire community of the saved (LG 68).

In Montfort’s journey of faith Mary has an analogous role. In effect, he presents the totality of God’s universal plan of salvation through Mary —the work of the Trinity, and Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption. Here, Montfort uncovers Mary’s presence and role in the historical unfoldment of salvation. And from it emerges the fundamental principle of Montfort spirituality. God came to us through Mary. We must return to Him through Mary. This is what the Council meant by the words of Lumen Gentium’s Chapter 8 title - Mary in the Mystery of Christ and the Church (LG).

B. Cortinovis

Notes: (1) Cf. J. Frisque, L’ecclesiologia nel XX saecolo, (Ecclesiology in the XX century) in Bilancio della teologia del XX secolo (Report on the theology of the XX century), R. van der Gucht and H. Vorgrimler, vol 3, Roma 1972, 240-262; Avery Dulles, Catholic Ecclesiology Since Vatican II in Concilium 6 1986 (Synod 1985). (2) J. Leclerq, Église, au temps de la Réforme et de la Contre-réforme, (The Church at the Time of the Reformation and the Counter-reformation) in DSAM 4 (1960) 414-426; R. Taveneaux, Le catholicisme post-tridentin, (Post-Tridentine Catholicism) in Histoire des Religions, (History of Religions), H.C. Peuch, Gallimard, Paris 1972, II, 1049-1146 (3) Cf. G. Leclerc, Zeger-Bernard van Espen (1646-1728) et l’autorité ecclésiastique. Contribution à l’histoire des théories gallicanes et du jansénisme, (Zeger-Bernard van Espen (1646-1728) and ecclesiastical authority. Contribution to the History of Gallican Theories and of Jansenism), Zurich 1964, 11-16; R. Mandrou, Louis XIV en son temps 1661-1715, (Louis XIV and His Times), PUF, Paris 1973. (4) Cf. H. Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, trans. Ernest Graf, B. Herder, St. Louis 1961. (5) Cf. Y. Congar, L’êglise de saint Augustin à l’époque moderne (The Church from Saint Augustine to Modern Times) Paris 1970. (6) Cf. J. Delumeau, Christianizzaione e dechristianizzazione fra 1l XVI e il XVIII secolo, (Christianization and Dechristianization between the XVI and XVIII centuries)in Società e vita religiosa nell’Ancien Régime, (Society and Relgious Life in the Ancien Régime), C. Russo, Guida, Napoli 1976, 533- 579. (7) Cf. J. Carreyre, Jansénisme (Jansenism), in DTC 8/1 (1924) 318- 529. (8) Cf. J. Saint-Germain, La vie quotidienne en France à la fin du Grand Siècle, (Daily Life in France at the End of the ’Grand Siècle’), Hachette, Paris 1965, 241; J. Queniart, Les Hommes, l’Église et Dieu dans la France du XVIII siècle, (Man, Church and God in France of the XVIII century). (9) Cf. J. Queniart, Culture et société urbaines dans la France de l’Ouest au XVIII siècle, (Urban Culture and Society in Western France in the XVIII century), Rincksieck, Paris 1978, 182-244. (10) Cf. De Fiores, Itinerario. (11) Cf. R. Mandrou, Montfort et l’évangélisation du peuple, (Montfort and the Evangelization of People), in RMon 11 (1974) 1-19. (12) Cf. L. Cognet, La spiritualité française au XVIIe siècle, (French Spirituality in the XVII Century), Paris 1949; J. LeBrun, France, Le grand siècle de la spiritualité française et ses lendemains, (France, The ’grand siècle’ of French Spirituality and the Days Following), in DSAM 5 (1964) 917-953; B. Papàsogli, Gli spirituali italiani e il ’grand siècle’. François de Sales - Bérulle - Pascal - La Rochefoucauld - Bossuet - Fénelon, (The Italian spiritual authors and the ’grand siècle’), ed. Storia e Letteratura, Roma 1983; J. Dagens, Bérulle et les origines de la restauration catholique (1575-1611), (Bérulle and the Beginnings of the Catholic Restoration, 1575-1611), Paris 1952; R. Deville, L’École française de spiritualité, (The French School of Spirituality), Desclée, Paris 1987. (13) Cf. B. Chedozeau, Religion et Morale chez Pierre Nicole, 1650-1680, (Religion and Morality in Pierre Nicole, 1650-1680), thesis at the Sorbonne, Paris 1975. (14) Cf. J. Delumeau, Rassurer et protéger. Le sentiment de sécurité dans l’Occident d’autrefois, (To Reassure and Protect. The Feeling of Security in the West of Former Days), Fayard, Paris 1989; P. Aries, The Hour of Our Death, trans. Helen Weaver, Knopf, Random House, New York 1981; M. Vovelle, La mort et l’Occident de 1300 è nos jours, (Death and the West from 1300 to our Day), Gallimard, Paris 1983; A. Croix, La Bretagne aux 16ème et 17ème siècles, La vie. La mort. La Foi, (Brittany in the 16th and 17th Centuries: Life, Death, Faith), 2 vol., Maloine, Paris 1981. (16) Cf. P. Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, Harper & Row, New York 1978; A. Bossard, Il carisma del Montfort nel suo tempo: mediazione tra cultura colta e cultura populare, (The charism of Montfort in his time: mediation between educated and popular culture), in QM 1 (1983) 86-96. (17) Cf. S. De Fiores, Marie, De 1650 au début du 20ème siècle, (Mary, From 1650 to the Beginning of the 20th century), in DSAM 10 (1980) 460-473; T. Koehler, Marie, Du moyen age aux temps modernes, (Mary, From the Middle . Ages to Modern Times), in DSAM 10 (1980) 440-459. (18) G. LeBras, La practica religiosa nelle campagne francesi, (Religious Practice in the French Countryside), in Società ... by C. Russo, 189-230. (19) Cf. S. De Fiores, La ’missione’ nell’itinerario spirituale ed apostolico di S. Luigi-Maria da Montfort, (’Mission’ in the spiritual and apostolic itinerary of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort), in QM 2 (1985) 17-41. (20) Cf. I. Chatellier, l’Europe des dévots, (Europe of the Devout), Flammarion, Paris 1987. (21) Cf. L. Perouas, Ce que croyait Grignion de Montfort ..., (The Way to Wisdom), Mame 1973, 175-198; B. Cortinovis, Dimensione ecclesiale della spiritualità di Grignion de Montfort, (Ecclesial Dimension of the Spirituality of Grignion de Montfort), Pontifical Faculty of Theology "Marianum”, Rome 1993 (ms). (22) Cf. P. Gaffney, Le rôle de Marie dans l’histoire du salut (The Role of Mary in Salvation History) in Montfort, un maître spirituel pour notre temps, (ms) Generalate of the Montfort Missionaries, Rome 1988, 189-213. (23) On the importance of Mary’s consent, cf. P. Gaffney, o.c., 194-197. (24) Cf. H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, théologien de la Sagesse éternelle au seuil du troisième millénaire, (Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort, Theologian of Eternal Wisdom at the Threshold of the Third Millenium), in Montfort, un maître spirituel, o.c., 141-188: "For Montfort, there is no grace in Mary which is not ecclesial” (p. 174). (25) S. Epis, Il "Contratto dell’alleanza con Dio”: documento fondamentale della missione, (The "Covenant Contract with God”: Fundamental Document of the Mission) in QM 2 (1985) 166-177. (26) One of the sources for the "mysticism” of the apostolate seems to be Father Louis Lallemant; cf. The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallemant of the Society of Jesus, Newman, Westminster, MD 1946. (27) Cf. A. Dulles, Models of the Church, Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y. 1974. (28) For different interpretations of Montfort’s thought on the end-times, cf. S. De Fiores, Le Saint Esprit et Marie dans les derniers temps selon Grignion de Montfort, (The Holy Spirit and Mary in the End-times According to Grignion de Montfort), in EtMar 43 (1986) 131-171.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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