Author: St. Louis de Montfort




Introduction: Need for discernment in Montfort’s Time.

I. Two Sources of Discernment for Montfort: 1. The Bible: a. Principles, b. Biblical foundation of Montfort’s discernment, c. Trinitarian dimension of Montfort’s discernment, d. Other biblical data for discernment; 2. St. Ignatius and the spiritual currents of Montfort’s time: a. Influence of St. Ignatius of Loyola, b. Other influences. II. Discernment During Montfort’s Life and Spiritual Itinerary: 1. Priesthood; 2. Active apostolate or contemplative life? 3. Choice of pastoral work; 4. Discernment in seeking perfection: the secret of Mary; 5. Montfort’s rules of discernment. III. Montfort as Guide Towards Discernment: 1. In Spiritual direction; 2. In teaching about falsehood or truth: a. False or true Wisdom, b. False or true devotion to Mary, c. False or true friend of the Cross, d. False or true preacher. IV. Significance of Montfort’s Discernment Today: 1. Need for discernment in contemporary society; 2. Christ Wisdom; 3. Through Mary.


A disciple of Christ must use spiritual discernment. This means that he should examine things attentively and continuously, in the light of the Gospel and on the basis of faith. He should look into the motivations that govern the personal choices of himself and others in order to discover God’s salvific design for himself, the Church, the world and to live and act accordingly.1

In St. Louis Marie’s time, the Church in France went through a turbulent period of Catholic reform after the Council of Trent. There was an increase in religious knowledge among ordinary people,2 but too often it still remained superficial. Theologians and clergy hotly disputed Mary’s role in the plan of salvation.3 It was indeed a time that called for spiritual discernment. Montfort complained about the world’s manipulation of the Gospel truths: "Never has the world been so corrupt as it is now, for never has it been so cunning, so wise in its own way, and so crafty. It cleverly makes use of the truth to foster untruth, virtue to justify vice, and the very maxims of Jesus Christ to endorse its own, so that even those who are wisest in the sight of God are often deceived" (LEW 79). And about devotion to Mary, he stated: "It is all the more necessary to make the right choice of the true devotion to our Blessed Lady, for now more than ever, there are false devotions to her which can easily be mistaken for the true ones. The devil, like a counterfeiter and crafty, experienced deceiver, has already misled and ruined many Christians by means of fraudulent devotions to Our lady" (TD 90).

Although the word "discernment" is rarely found in Saint Louis Marie’s vocabulary (cf. LEW 92, 192; PM 19), his life and written works re- veal him to be the epitome of discernment. Whether deciding on a particular form of his apostolate, advising people in spiritual direction, or simply choosing between truth and falsity, good and bad, he showed an exquisite ability to discern the mysterious workings of the Spirit in the circumstances of his life.4 It is safe to say that the source of Montfort’s spiritual discernment lay in his unremitting and prayerful search for Wisdom. Through it he sought to be "mature in enlightenment, in holiness, in experience, and in wisdom" (TD 156) through his total surrender to Mary.


1. The Bible

a. Principles.

Holy Scripture makes it clear that a disciple of Christ must seek the will of the Father (cf. Jn 6:38-40; Mt 26:29; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 5:10-17), listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3), and be guided by the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 14:16-17; 20:22) in order to obtain eternal life (cf. Jn 15:26). Discernment is required, because there are many false prophets and not every spirit can be trusted (cf. 1 Jn 4:1). Imitating Christ demands entering the narrow gate and following the hard road that leads to life (cf. Mt 7:14). It means being open to growth in the Spirit,5 as Christ himself had increased "in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk 2:52). The true disciple lived a holy life, because leading a sinful life meant belonging to the devil (cf. 1 Jn 3:8).

b. Biblical foundation of Montfort’s discernment.

Montfort’s life and written works demonstrate convincingly that Holy Scripture was his central point of departure for discovering God’s ways. In LS there are some short notes on its importance. The Bible is the authority of the Father, the voice of the Son, and the heart and soul of the Holy Spirit (cf. LS 313-314). The personal strength of this conviction of Montfort’s was reflected in both his words and his deeds (cf. LEW 133-153). The best proof of this was probably his encounter with Jean-Baptiste Blain, which occurred towards the end of Louis Marie’s life. When Blain reproached Montfort on the austerity of his life, the saint simply showed him the NT. Then Montfort went on to challenge Blain, asking if he could find fault with any practice or doctrine of Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures.6

Was there a central biblical principle guiding Montfort in discerning whether something was of God or of the Evil One? Yes, it was clearly his Trinitarian perspective.

c. Trinitarian dimension of Montfort’s discernment

(1.) Unconditional confidence in God the Father. A disciple of Christ is known by his complete confidence in the love and wisdom of the Father. This virtue marks him off from those of little faith, from non-believers who worry about food and clothing and who set their hearts on earthly things (cf. Mt 6:25-34). From his youth, Montfort showed an inimitable capacity for unconditional confidence in God the Father. Later he demanded this same attitude from his followers (cf. LCM; RW 5, 29). As a young student, his remaining in Paris was made uncertain when he unexpectedly lost his spiritual director and great benefactor. Nevertheless, he wrote to this uncle: "I do not know yet how things will go, whether I shall stay or leave. . . . Whatever happens, I shall not be worried. I have a Father in heaven who will never fail me. . . . I never stop praying to Him and rely completely on His providence (L 2). From his biography and his own writings, numerous other examples could be mentioned, making clear that his motto "God Alone" was a concrete reality in his daily life.

(2.) Jesus Christ the only Mediator.

Nobody can be a true disciple of the Lord unless he adheres in faith and love to the divine person of Jesus Christ. In him salvation is mediated to the world (cf. Jn 1:17; 1 Jn 4:1; 1 Tim 2:5). It is important to emphasize this biblical and theological principle when dealing with Montfort’s teachings, especially on the role of Mary. Sometimes, superficial readers of his works are tempted to conclude presumptuously that the saint, in citing Mary’s unparalleled role in God’s plan of salvation, might have eclipsed the role of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ. Montfort never tired, however, of explaining this incontestable truth: "Jesus, our Savior, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our devotions; otherwise, they would be false and misleading" (TD 61; cf. TD 68, 84, 115, 117, 120, 125, 148, 245, 265; LEW 12).

(3.) Led by the Spirit of truth.

The disciple of Christ must test the spirits in order to be guided by the Spirit of God Alone and remain faithful to the Beatitudes (cf. 1 Jn 4:1-2; Rom 8:5-17; Mt 5-7). Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God (cf. Rom 8:14). The true discipleship of Christ is recognized precisely through the presence of the Spirit. As an experienced spiritual master, Montfort made use of this biblical criterion of discernment. Without excluding other topics, what dominates is his teaching (a) on Christ Eternal Wisdom and (b) on perfect devotion to the Mother of God. He said of the former: "Eternal Wisdom communicates her Spirit of enlightenment to the soul that possesses her. . . . This subtle and penetrating Spirit enables man, as it enabled Solomon, to judge all things with keen discernment and deep penetration" (LEW 92; cf. also LEW 182). And he said of the latter: "Where Mary is present, the evil one is absent. One of the unmistakable signs that a person is led by the Spirit of God is the devotion he has to Mary" (TD 166). For Montfort, to consecrate oneself to Jesus through Mary according to his method is to follow a path "without fear of illusions" (TD 168), because Mary is the mountain where the disciples en-counter the true Christ, who "will teach them in his own words the meaning of the eight beatitudes" (PM 25).

d. Other biblical data for discernment.

(1.) Reciprocal love as a sign of belonging to Christ’s company. "By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples" (Jn 13:34-35; cf. Mt 25:31-40). Montfort was quite clear in his writings on this fundamental requirement for discipleship (cf. TD 171; SR 70; RM 44-49; RS 99-100, 112, 311, 316). No testimony, however, could be more convincing than his own life, marked as it was by an utter respect for the "new commandment," whose observance, according to Matthew 25, will be a decisive criterion for entering the Kingdom. An episode sums up his view. One evening he came home from preaching a mission at Dinan,7 carrying on his shoulders a man who was miserably sick. When the door was not immediately opened to him, he cried out, "Open to Jesus Christ!" (cf. Lk 10:37).

(2.) Christ’s criterion for what is authentic and what is false. Christ’s criterion can be seen in the image of the tree that can be known by its fruits (cf. Mt 7:15-20; Gal 5:16f.). It was frequently applied as a method for discernment by Montfort. As a way of recognizing Mary’s true devotees from the false ones, the true lovers of Wisdom from the false ones, the true friends of the Cross from the false ones, he invariably looked at their fruits, i.e., their way of life. A passage about presumptuous devotees of May can illustrate this: they are "sinners who give full reign to their passions or their love of the world, and who, under the fair name of Christian and servant of our lady, conceal pride, avarice, lust. . . . If Mary made it a rule to save by her mercy this sort of person, she would be condoning wickedness and helping to outrage and crucify her Son. Who would even dare to think of such a thing?" (TD 97-98).

(3.) Other Gospel images. Other Gospel images on discernment are likewise used by Montfort: the house built on rock or sand (cf. Mt 7:24- 27; TD 61, 214; RM 64); children of light or darkness (cf. Jn 1:4-13; 3:19; 8:12; Eph 5:8f.; LEW 145, 199); the two ways (cf. Mt 7:13-14; TD 44, 152; FC 7-8; MLW 38).

2. St. Ignatius and the spiritual currents of Montfort’s Time

Louis Marie never presented any explicit teaching on spiritual discernment, since it was beyond his scope as an active missionary. In order to gather information on the issue, his biographies and written works must be consulted. Of particular significance in this respect are his letters.

a. Influence of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

(1.) Contact with Jesuits. There is no doubt that Montfort’s regular contacts with the Jesuits furnished him with both the doctrine and the experience of Saint Ignatius’ "discernment of spirits." Before joining the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, Montfort studied at the Jesuit College in Rennes,8 where he was taught and guided by influential Jesuits.9 Later on during his itinerant missionary life, "he usually went to the Jesuit Fathers in the places where he happened to be and followed their instructions."10 Several times his biographers mention the fact that he made retreats with the Jesuits, especially at moments of painful persecution and great suffering.11 He did so also in 1710 after the events at Pontchâteau, when "he withdrew to the Jesuits of Nantes, in order to make a week’s retreat there and to find consolation in God."12 In this way, the Jesuit Fathers deeply influenced Montfort’s spiritual journey and were of decisive significance in his overall life orientation.13

(2.) Montfort and the Spiritual Exercises. His retreats with the Jesuits, which naturally brought Montfort into contact with Ignatius’ method of the discernment of spirits, thus sharpened his personal understanding and practice of discernment. A revealing text is found in Besnard, who tells us that Montfort was called to give retreats at Saint-Brieuc to women who wanted to withdraw for a week to make the spiritual exercises. He adds: "By his own experience, Fr. de Montfort knew the inestimable advantages of the retreats so well that he was able to contribute to them with great zeal and love. . . . He was not unaware of the fact that the scope and sequence of his powerful systematic presentation of the great truths of religion was done according to the method of St. Ignatius, which contained an altogether unique grace to produce the most blissful effect on mind and heart. . . . At such retreats a person is best disposed to make a decisive life choice, one for both time and eternity."14 In this connection, it is important to note that, like St. Ignatius, Montfort proposes a month’s retreat (cf. TD 227-228). While he may have taken the idea from the founder of the Society of Jesus, the scope, method, and development of this Montfort month is so different from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises as to defy comparison.15 Fundamental to Ignatian spiritual discernment in seeking the divine will is "an attitude of impartiality, unaffected by any irregular motive."16 Montfort made this holy "indifference" his own, as his letters show (cf. L 6, L 9). Another indication of Montfort’s familiarity with the Spiritual Exercises can be seen in certain images he uses in FC. Ignatius proposes a meditation on the two standards as a help to reach discernment.17 Montfort speaks, in a similar way, of two parties or companies.18 What is depicted by Ignatius and Montfort as containing the elements for discernment manifest some undeniable similarities. It is clear, however, that the latter introduces, in a markedly original and dynamic way, his own biblical perspectives on the twofold scene.19

(3.) Other references to Ignatius and his Society. (i) The ideal of seeking only God’s glory in everything can be found in the life of all the saints. The motto of St. Ignatius was "For the greater glory of God,"20 while Montfort’s was "God Alone." It is, however, interesting to note that Ignatius’ motto appears several times in Montfort’s works.21 Undoubtedly his use of "God Alone" as a motto was as much influenced by his contact with the Jesuits as by his reading of contemporary spiritual writers, such as H. Boudon, who explicitly uses "God Alone."22

(ii) In RM, Montfort proposes the Society of Jesus three times as an example to his own followers (cf. RM 15, 19, 66). Several times he refers to Jesuit Fathers in other works (cf. TD 26, 40, 117, 161, 242, 258; L 11, 31; SR 25, 54, 80: RM 6).

b. Other Influences.

If the sons of Ignatius and their spirituality left their mark on Louis Marie, it is also true that he was equally influenced by the spiritual masters of the French school.23 Bremond calls Montfort "the last of the great Bérullians."24 R. Deville states, "All aspects of Bérulle or Olier—the primacy of God, contemplation of Jesus in his mysteries (notably those of the Incarnation and the Cross), union with Mary, and the apostolic spirit—are taken up again in a very personal way by Louis Marie."25 On discernment, one element may be considered here in particular, the role of the Holy Spirit, who is at the base of Christian discernment. Montfort’s teaching on God’s economy of salvation often refers to the role of the Holy Spirit, especially in relation to Mary and her spiritual maternity for all Christians.26 As will be seen later, devotion to Mary is for Montfort one of the unmistakable signs that a person is being led by the Spirit of God. Here we discover undeniable traces of influence from theologians of the French school, such as Bérulle,27 Olier, and Eudes. But equally apparent is the influence of other spiritual writers28 who wrote on devotion to the Blessed Virgin and whose books he consulted, according to his own testimony (cf. TD 118), when he was librarian at Saint-Sulpice. Particular reference should be made here to authors such as Poiré, Boudon, Lallemant, Crasset, and Tronson.


Four concrete examples of discernment are given below. Drawn from Montfort’s life, they are followed by a summary of his principal means and rules for exercising discernment.

1. Priesthood

Louis Marie seemed able to discern his priestly vocation without undue problems. Blain says, "The priesthood was the only state of life that appealed to him, the only one that God meant for him."29 Yet it is recorded that he had to be pressed by his spiritual director to receive the minor orders30 and that just before his ordination, "he shuddered and was seized by a holy trepidation."31 He felt himself unworthy of the Sacrament and therefore needed support and confirmation from his superiors to overcome his sacred awe. Once ordained a priest (1700), he had to decide how to serve the Church. His letters are an abundantly rich source of information on the minute discernment he made in order to arrive at the right choices. It is pertinent to analyze them here in a rather extensive manner in order to perceive Louis Marie’s process for reaching discernment, a process that formed the pattern for the rest of his priestly life.

2. Active apostolate or contemplative life?

During his studies in Rennes and Paris, Montfort had shown a strong inclination to prayer, mortification, and contemplation.32 His liking for solitude was also expressed in a letter from Paris to his uncle, Fr. Alain Robert (L 4). However, at the same time, he had already displayed, as a student, a great love for the poor and shown a keen interest in teaching catechism to youth,33 which met "with prodigious success."34 According to Blain, some of his former masters had badly wanted him to stay at Saint Sulpice after his ordination, but Montfort had declined this invitation, "because his attraction lay elsewhere."35 He moved to Nantes to be initiated into pastoral work by preaching missions under Fr. René Levêsque.36 After staying there for about three months, he wrote a letter to his spiritual director in Paris, Fr. Leschassier, to tell him "briefly about his state of mind at the moment" (L 5). Undoubtedly already acquainted with the method of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, he explained what was going on in his heart and how he was faced with a double choice: "I find myself, as time goes on, torn by two apparently contradictory feelings. On one hand, I feel a secret attraction for a hidden life in which I can efface myself and combat my natural tendency to show off. On the other hand, I feel a tremendous urge to make our Lord and his holy Mother loved, to go in a humble and simple way to teach catechism to the poor in country places and to arouse in sinners a devotion to our Blessed Lady." Montfort continues: "When I see the needs of the Church, I cannot help pleading continually for a small and poor band of good priests to do this work. . . . Though I find it difficult, I try to suppress these desires, good and persistent though they may be. I strive to forget them and self- effacingly place myself in the hands of divine Providence and submit entirely to your advice which will always have the force of law for me." This text is precious, since it reveals a number of telling elements in Montfort’s discernment, viz., observation of the "movements of his soul" and of the signs of the times, continuous prayer, surrender to God’s will with a spirit of blessed detachment, and obedience to his spiritual director. Montfort’s dilemma was slowly solved in favor of an active missionary life when he came into contact with Madame de Montespan ("I obeyed her blindly believing this was God’s holy will, which was all I wanted") and met the bishop of Poitiers (cf. L 6, 9), and other events in the meantime were further signs to the young priest of what God wanted from him (L 8). But once more Montfort thought of leaving the active ministry. After much opposition and suffering in the workhouse of Poitiers, he left in 1703 for Paris, where he became even "infinitely more impoverished, crucified, and humiliated than ever" (L 16). In these circumstances, he again considered withdrawing from this world to live a life of solitude and contemplation. Probably he rediscovered this inclination because of the grace-filled experience he had with the hermits of Mont-Valerian.37 Besnard reports that he duly consulted a Jesuit Father on the issue, who told him that he should not abandon or even suspend his mission activities,38 and Montfort obeyed as always.

3. Choice of Pastoral Work

After his ordination, the new priest considered going to Canada or India39 as a missionary, but the refusal of his spiritual director to let him go was for him a clear sign of God’s will.40 The community of Nantes, to which he moved first, and afterwards the general hospital of Poitiers in no way fulfilled the call of his heart, because he had "no inclination at all to lead an enclosed life" but was "in his element, when teaching catechism to the poor in town and country" (L 9, cf. Lf). The young priest again used every means of spiritual discernment to discover God’s will through complete surrender in prayer (cf. L 6, 11) and through submission to the various options of his director, whose advice was always decisive (cf. L 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11). He confessed, "I wish to remain completely impartial to everything except what obedience requires of me" (L 9). Striking at this stage as well was Montfort’s attention to the events in his life that might be signs of God (cf. L 6, 11), his readiness to surrender to His divine will (cf. L 5, 6, 9, 11), and his desire to live an unsettled life, marked by the Cross, in order thus to follow in the footsteps of Christ (cf. L 11). All these elements helped Montfort in the long process of discerning the orientation his priestly life had to take. It came to an end when, "following the enlightenment that the Spirit of God gave him,"41 he decided to leave the workhouse of Poitiers for good and started "to rove the world with the mood of a vagabond" (H 22:1), ready to serve God Alone in the way Christ would show him. The numerous conversions he made while preaching missions, his overwhelming spiritual successes, and the extraordinary trials he experienced were for him important additional elements of discernment (cf. L 11, 13, 15). When opposition and rejection, however, especially by Church authorities, made his missionary activity practically unbearable, Montfort decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome (1706). The confirmation of his vocation from God to be "Missionary Apostolic" in France by Pope Clement XI dispelled all further doubts about the correctness of his discernment.42

4. Discernment in seeking perfection: the secret of Mary

Through continuous discernment, Montfort was able to give a Spirit-led orientation to his apostolic life. More important, however, is Louis Marie’s absolutely unique road to sanctity (cf. TD 118), which is both the fruit and culmination of his personal discernment. It is through the "secret of Mary" (SM 1), a means he was not afraid to propose to others as "the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way" (TD 55; cf. also TD 152-159) to union with Jesus Christ, Eternal Wisdom (cf. LEW 203). This "mystery of grace unknown even to many of the most learned and spiritual of Christians" (TD 21; cf. also TD 64) consists in the Consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ through Mary. For seeking perfection in this way, Montfort recommends all the means proposed by the spiritual masters (cf. SM 4; LEW 181-202). He also amply employs reading and study (cf. TD 118), but in the end he testifies that only the Holy Spirit can reveal this secret of sanctity, which is the "immaculate way of Mary" (TD 158; cf. SM 1, 20, 70; SR 150). The Saint’s "discovery" consists in his discerning the truth that "where Mary is present, the evil one is absent. One of the unmistakable signs that a person is led by the Spirit of God is the devotion he has to Mary" (TD 166; cf. TD 258), because she draws the Spirit into the soul (cf. TD 36, 43, 55). Montfort’s own experience made this truth an unequivocal criterion of his discernment for reaching sanctity: "Through Mary I will seek and find Jesus; I will crush the serpent’s head and overcome all my enemies as well as myself, for the greater glory of God" (LPM 6; cf. TD 41, 110, 119, 130, 168; SM 53, 57; SR 77-78; RM 56).

5. Montfort’s Rules of Discernment

Only by reading biographies of Father de Montfort and by analyzing his writings, in particular his letters, is one able to gather the rich combination of elements that ruled his profound discernment. Our review of his life permits us to list the following "common" forms of spiritual discernment and discernment of spirits: a) Docility to the Spirit and listening to God’s Word (cf. L 15, 18, 27, 30, 32, 33; LEW 95, 97; RM 60; TD 59; SM 2; H 6,37, H 141). b) Surrender to the divine will and to Providence (cf. L 2, 3, 5-11, 15, 16, 33, 34; SM 4; PM 8; LCM; RW 5, 29) with an attitude of blessed detachment or "indifference" (cf. L 6, 9). c) Habitual checking of persistent inner movements of the soul in order to embrace only those coming from God’s Spirit (cf. L 5, 6, 9, 16, 17; RW 21). d) An almost innate distrust of one’s own activities, choices, and preferences (cf. L 5, 6, 9, 8, 10, 11, 15, 32, 33; LEW 202, 221; SM 69; RM 19; RW 72; MLW 79-85).43 e) Complete openness of heart towards his spiritual director (cf. L 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 32; RM 20; RW 6, 21, 59, 60, 94, 157; MLW 86). f) The constant seeking of confirmation from the authorities, and unconditional obedience to them (L 5, 6, 9-11, 33; LEW 202; LPM 1; RM 19-22; RW 46-65; H 10,10, 18, 19). g) Realistic analysis of the situation (cf. L 5, 6, 9, 11). h) Observation of the signs of the times and of any relevant events during the discernment process (cf. L 6, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 33, 34). i) Acceptance, even welcome, of adversities and crosses as confirmation of authentic discipleship of Christ (cf. L 11, 13, 14, 16, 24, 26, 27, 33, 34; FC 27-28; RM 60; WC; MLW 9-17, 28; H 19,3; H 102, 1). j) Filial trust in Mary (cf. L 7-11, 15, 24, 26; LPM 6; LEW 203-227; SM; TD; RW 139-144; H 77, 79-84, 145, 155). k) Fasting, mortification, retreats, unceasing personal prayer, and requests to others for prayers in order to discern God’s ways and Wisdom (cf. L 4, 6, 10, 11, 15-17, 33; LEW 184-202; SM 4; RW 172-179; MLW 29-37; LPM 6; H 157). It is pertinent to note here that the path to discovering God’s ways invariably led Montfort to immerse himself in an ambiance of prolonged solitude, silence, and prayer, enabling him to become ever more tuned to the Lord’s voice.44 l) Abundant blessings in the apostolate seen as signs of correct discernment (cf. L 8, 9, 11, 26). m) Peace and freedom of heart as confirmation of right discernment (cf. L 20, 26, 34; H 157,20-32).


1. In spiritual direction

In LS are notes on the Christian’s obligation to have a spiritual director because "the one who trusts himself, trusts a fool" and a soul without a director is "like a ship without a rudder or pilot" (cf. LS 142-143; LEW 202; RM 20; SR 128). Montfort was faithful to this practice in his own priestly life,45 and this undoubtedly helped him to be formed into a "skillful master in the guidance of souls."46 As a young, inexperienced priest, Louis Marie was at first apprehensive about guiding souls, because, as he wrote, "this difficult and dangerous work requires a special calling" (cf. L 6). But slowly he was drawn into pastoral activities, which made him spend long hours in the confessional. "Wonderful conversions" were brought about through his ministry of "giving advice to a constant stream of people," because "the Lord had enlightened him to a degree he had never experienced before, by granting him the gift of making himself clear, a facility for speaking without preparation, . . . and a great capacity for sympathizing with everyone" (L 11). Montfort’s name as a powerful preacher and a saintly director of souls became ever more famous,47 and the impact of his apostolic ministry was overwhelming and enduring. His biographers describe numerous instances revealing his utter conversance with "the ways of God" in the direction of souls, since "he even seemed to discern their most intimate sentiments and to fathom, better than they themselves, the depth of their thoughts."48 The startling conversion of Miss Pagé in La Rochelle and her subsequent entry into a monastery of the Poor Clares after an eight-day retreat with the saint is only one of the examples.49 Perhaps his gift of profound discernment is nowhere more convincingly shown than in the way he called and accompanied his first collaborators, Marie Louise Trichet, Brother Mathurin, Adrien Vatel, and René Mulot,50 and likewise in the way he confirmed Jeanne Delanoue, foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne, in her practices of mortification, about which some in her community were apprehensive.51

2. In teaching about falsehood or truth

Montfort the missionary intended to teach catechism in a humble way to the poor and the simple (cf. L5; TD 26). In doing so, he made abundant use of the Bible and interpreted it according to the spiritual exegesis of the times, always presenting the faith in utterly simple terms and images. One of his recurrent teaching methods was to make the faithful aware of a truth by inviting them to differentiate between true and false orientations in their daily lives.52 By clearly depicting both sides of the coin, he led people almost imperceptibly to a clear discernment about which choice to make as disciples of Christ and how to grow from imperfection to sanctity. We will consider briefly the main themes of Montfort’s teaching, in which he made use of this popular but, at the same time, sound method of discernment.

a. False or true wisdom.

After explaining that there are several kinds of wisdom, Louis Marie unmasked for "those who are spiritually mature" the hypocrisy and malice of worldly wisdom "lest they be deceived by its false glitter" (LEW 74). "The worldly wisdom consists in an exact conformity to the maxims and fashions of the world; a continual inclination towards greatness and esteem" (LEW 75). The worldly wise man "manages to make a secret but fatal reconciliation of truth and falsehood, of the Gospel and the world, of virtue and sin, of Christ and Belial" (LEW 76). By contrast, uncreated Wisdom, whom chosen souls seeking perfection are to acquire (cf. LEW 14), is defined as "the Son of God, the second person of the most Blessed Trinity. In other words, it is Eternal Wisdom in eternity or Jesus Christ in time" (LEW 13). She communicates her subtle and penetrating Spirit of enlightenment to man, enabling him "to judge all things with keen discernment and deep penetration" (LEW 92). In fact, "when divine Wisdom enters a soul, she brings all kinds of good things with her and bestows vast riches upon that soul," inspiring it "to undertake great things for the glory of God and the salvation of souls" (LEW 90, cf. LEW 100).

b. False or true devotion to Mary.

Montfort states that it is important to recognize "false devotions to our Lady" (TD 90). He enumerates seven kinds that are false (TD 92-104). While some of these can easily be recognized by their bad fruits (cf. TD 97), others need deeper discernment. For instance, he unmasks as a "very insidious inference" the opinion of those who oppose honoring Mary, arguing that a true devotion to her would obscure the unique mediatorship of her Son. Montfort states bluntly: "It is a subtle snare of the evil one under the pretext of promoting a greater good. For we never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor His Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor Him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek—Jesus, her Son" (TD 94). In this connection, in an original way the saint made use of the biblical story of Rebecca, symbol of Mary, and her two sons Jacob and Esau, symbols respectively of Mary’s true and false devotees (cf. Gen 27; TD 183-211). Montfort’s working method gave him a valid procedure to lead his contemporaries to discernment, based on biblical premises.

c. False or true friend of the Cross.

According to Louis Marie, the great mystery of the Cross is to be learned in the school of Christ, the crucified God (cf. FC 11, 26). The enemies of the Cross are worldlings who belong to the company of the devil: they seek after wealth, enjoyment, honors, and the evil practices of the world (cf. FC 7-12, LEW 75; H 19:2). Instead, a sure sign of belonging to the company of Christ’s disciples is the willingness to undergo persecution and to carry the Cross (cf. Mt 5:10-12; 19:3). It is in weakness that God’s power to save comes out most clearly (cf. 2 Cor 12:10; 1 Cor 1:12; L 11, 26). It is in the folly of Christ’s Cross that God’s Wisdom shines out (cf. 1 Cor 1:17f.; L 15, 16). Probably in no other way than in this supreme test and proof of discernment, namely by suffering and being persecuted for Christ’s name, Montfort has shown himself to be a faithful disciple of his Master. This is abundantly clear from his life,53 and it is a recurrent theme in all his written works. "The cross is a sure sign that He loves you. I can assure you of this, that the greatest proof which God requires to show our love for Him" (LEW 176, 4).

d. False or true preacher.

Montfort’s description of false preachers is incredibly tart, almost cynical. These fashionable preachers have solely the tongue, mouth, and wisdom of men, and therefore they "only beat the air and titillate the ears," yielding nothing more than "popular admiration which occupies the mind of worldly people during the sermon and provides them with a subject of conversation when they meet socially after church" (RM 60; cf. also H 4, 12; S 472). Montfort wanted his missionaries to preach the Good News in an entirely different way, namely, with great power, boldness, and wisdom (cf. RM 60-65; PM 22; TD 54). Throughout his priestly life, he practiced what he asked from his followers when he wrote: "The missionaries will study and pray unceasingly that they may obtain from God the gift of wisdom so necessary to a true preacher for knowing and relishing the truth and getting others to relish it" (RM 60). And the faithful of Montbernage had to pray in order "to obtain from God the gift of speech or diving Wisdom" (LPM 6), because "the words that divine Wisdom communicates are not just ordinary, natural, human words but powerful, touching, piercing words, ‘sharper than a two- edged sword,’ words that go from the heart of the one through whom she speaks straight to the heart of the listener" (LEW 96). The equation of "eloquence" with "Wisdom" by Montfort, in the context of missionary virtues, finds its explanation in his conviction that intimate union with Christ Wisdom infallibly produces in the preacher "this great gift of the Holy Spirit" (RM 60). Study and prayer are for Louis Marie not the only means to acquire Wisdom. The preacher must long for it day and night, must seek it through fasting, mortification, crosses and trials of every kind, and above all through a loving devotion to Mary (cf. L 13-16, 20, 34; LEW 181-222; TD 272; FC 45; PS 1).


1. Need for discernment in contemporary society

In view of the sweeping changes that take place in today’s world and affect all levels and areas of modern society, the Second Vatican Council (cf. GS 4) and many Church documents since stress the Church’s responsibility to read the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel.54 "Discernment is at the heart of the Christian condition."55 Montfort’s life and works offer basic orientations on spiritual discernment, which show his familiarity with the Ignatian method. At the same time, however, he manifests his own unique and original approach to the issue. A number of elements and rules used by the saint have been listed above, but in final analysis, it is very hard to sum up, in distinctive categories, laws and codes by which he was governed when exercising discernment. In his apostolic life and ministry, Montfort was closely united with the mystery of Christ Wisdom, giving himself to the world through Mary. From this inscrutably singular and intimate relationship were born the rules that securely governed his own course of action and the guidance he gave to others. His works to discover their surprising topicality for spiritual discernment in modern times. While several apposite applications can be made, two are singled out as containing invaluable elements for contemporary spirituality.

2. Christ Wisdom

Although somehow becoming more open to religious issues today, our modern world is awash with numerous false norms and values that disorientate Christians in living out their faith (cf. GS 4, 7, 19-20). As a master pedagogue of Christian discernment, Montfort unfailingly unmasked the various forms of false wisdom that were current in his time and re-emerge under new appearances in our world.56 His description of the "commandments of the world" is still entirely valid in our times (cf. LEW 74-89): "You shall frequent fashionable society," etc. His sketch of the "worldly-wise man" is equally telling: "He excels in the art of duplicity and well-concealed fraud without arousing suspicion. He thinks one thing and says or does another. He accommodates himself to everyone to suit his own end, completely ignoring the honor and interests of God. He manages to make a secret, but fatal, reconciliation of truth and falsehood, of the Gospel and the world, of virtue and sin, of Christ and Belial" (LEW 76). Invariably, Montfort orientated souls to the source of all genuine Wisdom: "To know Jesus Christ Incarnate Wisdom, is to know all we need" (LEW 11). He had no fear to join battle against everything that came from the evil spirit, thus often drawing fierce criticism and painful persecution upon himself and becoming a sign of contradiction. In following the footsteps of Incarnate and crucified Wisdom, Montfort had, through personal experience,57 discerned "that the greatest proof that we are loved by God is when we are despised by the world and burdened with crosses" (L 13). While our contemporary world still rejects the Cross as madness (cf. 1 Cor 1:23), the saint instead learned that "the holy folly of the cross was the utterly infallible secret to attract blessings from heaven,"58 since, according to Saint Paul, God’s power is at its best in weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-10). "Le bon Père de Montfort," who was given the grace of touching men’s hearts,59 undoubtedly still provides today, through his life and works, and particularly through his teaching on the Incarnation and the Cross, rich sources of "light and unction to inspire others with that love for Wisdom which will lead them to eternal life" (LEW 30).

3. Through Mary

People searching for union with Christ find in Montfort a spiritual master who, with an unparalleled forcefulness of argument, confided to the Church the "secret of Mary" (SM, 1): "The greatest means of all, and the most wonderful of all secrets for obtaining and preserving divine Wisdom is a loving and genuine devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (LEW 203). Mary is "the direct and immaculate way to Jesus and the perfect guide to Him; it is through her that souls who are to shine forth in sanctity must find Him. He who finds Mary finds life, that is, Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life" (TD 50, cf. also 64, 158, 218). The saint came to this conviction through ample reading and study on the issue (cf. TD 118), but most of all through personal experience (cf. SM 53, 57; TD 41, 130; RM 56). Therefore, he is not afraid to make it an unassailable criterion of discernment: "Where Mary is present, the evil one is absent. One of the unmistakable signs that a person is led by the Spirit of God is the devotion he has to Mary" (TD 166). Montfort’s message to the Church of today60 is still as topical and timely as it was in his century, when he exhorted his audience: "Whoever then wishes to advance along the road to holiness and to be sure of encountering the true Christ, without fear of the illusions which afflict many devout people, should take up with valiant heart and willing spirit this devotion to Mary which perhaps he had not previously heard about. Even if it is new to him, let him enter upon this excellent way which I am now revealing to him. . . . Let us then take this road and travel along it night and day until we arrive at the fullness of the age of Jesus Christ" (TD 168; cf. Eph 4:13).

A. Van der Hulst

Notes: (1) Discernment of Spirits (translation of Discernement des esprits, in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité (Dictionary of Spirituality), Beauchesne, Paris 1957, 3:1222-1291), ed. E. Malatesta, Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1970, Introduction, 9; cf. also Discernement, in Dictionnaire de la vie spirtuelle, (Dictionary of the Spiritual Life) Cerf, Paris 1983, 271. (2) Cf. L. Pérouas, Grignion de Montfort ou l’aventurier de l’évangile, (Grignion de Montfort or the Adventurer of the Gospel) Ed. Ouvrières, 1990, 19-26. (3) Cf. J. Crasset, preface to La véritable dévotion envers la sainte vierge établie et défendue, (The True Deovtion to the Holy Virgin Established and Defended) Paris 1687; P. Eyckeler, De Heilige Montfort, Louis Marie-Grignion, (Saint Montfort, Louis Marfe Grignion) Maastricht 1947, 342-346; R. Deville, L’école française de spiritualité, (The French School of Spirituality) Desclée, Paris 1987, 42-44; Papàsogli, 107. (4) This article makes use of an unpublished essay on Discernement chez Montfort (Discernement in Montfort) by G. Dallaire, Montreal 1991. (5) Cf. J.C. Haughey, The Conspiracy of God, Image Books, New York 1976, 12-19. (6) Blain, 178. (7) Besnard I, 114. (8) Cf. G. Durtelle de Saint-Sauveur, Le Collège de Rennes depuis la fondation jusqu’au départ des Jésuites, 1536-1762,(The College of Rennes Since its Foundation Untill the Departure of the Jesuits) in Bull. Soc. Archéolog. d’Ille-&-Vilaine, (Bulletin of Archeology of Ille & Villaine), 46 (1918), esp. 195. (9) Cf. S. De Fiores, Itinerario 35-71; Besnard I, 45. (10) Blain, 80. (11) Cf. Besnard I, 62, 94. (12) Cf. ibid., 191: Retreat under the direction of Fr. de Préfontaine. (13) Especially Fr. André Camus (Rennes, cf. Blain, 1) Fr. François Gilbert (Rennes, cf. Besnard I, 23); Fr. Philippe Déscartes (Rennes, cf. Blain, 61); Fr. Bertrand de la Tour (Poitiers, cf. Grandet, 454), and L. Martinet (Nantes, 1711). (14) Besnard I, 130. (15) The Ignatian Exercises aim primarily at helping a retreatant, through the experience of diverse spirits, to arrive at an unconditional availability and a new orientation of life towards God and one’s personal sanctification. The montfort retreat is essentially meant as a preparation for consecrating oneself to Christ through Mary as a perfect renewal of the baptismal vows. Also, the means used by both differ greatly. The content of the month proposed by Montfort reflects little of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises but has much more in common with the spirituality of the French school. (16) St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, trans. Corbishley and Clarke, Wheathampstead 1973, 197. (17) Cf. Spiritual Exercises, 4th day, 2nd week, nos. 136-147. Ignatius describes Christ and the forces of good as opposed to Lucifer and the powers of evil. The Savior teaches the Beatitudes and sends his disciples out to proclaim the Gospel, while the head of the enemy dispatches devils to seduce men into love for money, position, and pride. (18) Cf. FC 7-12: Montfort describes a small company of people, led along a narrow road by the suffering Christ. They strive to live according to the law of the Gospel and not headed by the proud Lucifer, is very numerous. These people follow a wide and pleasant road and are seduced by the attractions of the world. See also PM 26-30; TD 28, 50- 54, 210. (19) These are: the wide and the narrow road (cf. Mt 7:13-14), the separation of the good and the evil on the right and the left (cf. Mt 25:33), and Christ’s invitation to his followers to carry the Cross with him (cf. Mt 16:24), while those who follow the world urge each other to continue in their evil ways. (20) C. de Dalmaises, Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits: His Life and Work, St. Louis 1985, 69, 141. (21) Ignatius’ motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam is employed word for word in LEW 222, 225; SM 29; TD 122, 151 (twice). There are still many other expressions with the same content, though differently phrased: cf. L 13; LEW 164, 219; SM 46; TD 58, 70, 91, 118, 124, 139, 205, 222, 224; RM 62, etc. Cf. also L.L. Terstroet, Maria en de glorie van God (Mary and the Glory of God), Nijmegen 1946. (22) Cf. H. Boudon, Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 2, Dieu Seul ou le Saint Esclavage de l’admirable Mère de Dieu (God Alone or The Holy Slavery of the Admirable Mother of God), Migne, 1856, col. 377ff.; and R. Deville, L’Ecole française, 142-200. (24) H. Bremond, Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu’a nos jours, vol. 9, La vie chretienne sous l’ancien regime, Paris 1932, 272; A Literary History of Religious Thought in France from the Wars of Religion Down to our Own Times, K.L. Montgomery, Macmillan, New York 1928 (25) R. Deville, L’Ecole française, 143. (26) Cf. P. Gaffney, Mary’s Spiritual Maternity according to St. Louis de Montfort, Montfort Publications, Bay Shore, N.Y. 1976. (27) An illustration of Montfort’s "evolution" of Bérulle’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The latter writes: "I wish that the Spirit of Jesus Christ be the Spirit of my spirit and the life of my life," P. de Bérulle, Grandeurs de Jesus (The Grandeurs of Jesus), in Oeuvres Complètes, Migne, 1856, col. 181. Montfort has in a unique way "developed" this idea by bringing in Mary’s role and making it a prominent criterion for discernment about union with Christ: "We should give ourselves up to the spirit of Mary to be moved and directed as she wishes. . . . The more we do so, the quicker we shall grow in holiness and the sooner we shall reach union with Christ, which necessarily follows upon union with Mary, since the spirit of Mary is the Spirit of Jesus" (TD 259). Cf. also J. J. Olier, Vie interieure de la Tres-Sainte Vierge (The Interior Life of the Blessed Virgin), Paris 1866, 246-247. (28) Cf. B. Papàsogli, Montfort a Prophet for Our Times, Ed. Monfortane, Rome 1991, 103-100, 236. (29) Blain, 12. (30) Cf. Grandet, 18-19. (31) Besnard I, 51; cf. also S. De Fiores, Itinerario 71-79, 248. (32) Cf. Blain, 7-9, 25-32; Besnard I, 40. (33) P. Eyckeler, E. van Aelst, Maastricht 1953, 212. (34) Grandet, 20; also 15. (35) Blain, 107. (36) Cf. ibid., 108. (37) Cf. Besnard I, 64-66. (38) Cf. ibid., 62. (39) Cf. Besnard II, 211; cf. also S 502, note a. (40) Cf. Blain, 106; Besnard I, 52-53. (41) Besnard I, 76. (42) Cf. Eyckeler, o.c. 114-115. (43) Montfort is particularly apprehensive of the danger of illusions, visions, etc.; cf. LEW 186, 202; SR 77-78; SM 17-18, 69; TD 62, 97, 157, 165, 167, 168, 209; H 10,19; 15,28, 30, 31, 39; 138,121. Cf. also St. Jean de la Croix, La montée du Carmel, Edit. Seuil, Paris 1947, 281-84; English edition: John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, trans. David Lewis, T. Baker, London 1906. (44) It has been recorded that Montfort spent a total of approximately four of his sixteen years of priesthood in solitude and retreat. (45) Cf. Blain, 60; also, on the same page, note 37; also FC 48. (46) C. Besnard, La Vie de la Soeur Marie-Louise de Jésus, première Superieure des Filles de la Sagesse instituées par M. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Prêtre missionnaire apostolique (The Life of Sister Marie Louise of Jesus, First Superior of the Daughters of Wisdom Founded by Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Priest, Apostolic Missionary), CIM, Rome 1985, 33. (47) Cf. Besnard I, 59, 77, 129-130, 146-147, 268-271, 287-289; 324-326; Besnard II, 39-40, 80, 100-102; J. Grandet, 124-125, 176-177, 201, 205-206. (48) Besnard I, 325. (49) Cf. ibid., 268-271; also 64-66: reform under the hermits of Mont-Valérien; 220-222: conversion of Mrs. de Mailly, etc. (50) Cf. Besnard, Marie-Louis; Besnard I and II, passim. (51) J. A. Mace, Vie de Jeanne de la Noue, Fondatrice de l’Hospice de la Providence de Saumur et de la Congrégation des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne, Servantes des Pauvres (Life of Jeanne de la Noue, Foundress of the Providence Hospice of Saumur and of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne, Servants of the Poor), P. Godet, Saumur 1845, 139-141. (52) Cf. TD 92, note 175. (53) Montfort’s admirable resignation to God’s will was manifest, e.g.: (a) during the painful treatment he received from spiritual directors, superiors, and Church authorities (cf. Besnard I, 46-47; 50-51; 61-62; 149-150; 310-311; Besnard II, 1-2; 34-36; 40; 205-210); (b) following the "trial of Pontchâteau" (cf. Besnard I, 180-193; Blain, 167-168). (54) Cf. Life and Mission of Religious in the Church, in L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 26, 1981, Introduction. Cf. also John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, Libr. Ed. Vat., Rome 1992, no. 10; CCC 1676, 2846ff. (55) Paul-Andre Giguère, Une foi adulte (An Adult Faith), L’horizon du croyant, Novalis, Ottawa 1991, 91; quotation by G. Dallaire, Discernement chez Montfort, 1. (56) Cf. John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 7-8. (57) Besnard I, 225-227, 258-260; Besnard II, 39-40; 210-213 (58) Besnard I, 71. (59) Ibid., 151. (60) Cf. John Paul II, RMat 48; Paul VI, Marialis cultus, 27.

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

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