Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. The Figure of the Disciple in Montfort’s Thought: 1. The identification of the Christian with the disciple; 2. Discipleship and devotion to Mary. II. Discipleship in the NT Perspective: 1. Christian Discipleship; 2. Radical requirements of Christian discipleship; 3. The identity of the disciple. III. Some Significant Aspects of discipleship: 1. Sharing of the life of the Master; 2. The radical nature of the discipleship of Christ; 3. The presence of Mary in the life of the disciple; 4. Serving the Kingdom.

There can be no doubt that, beginning with the apostles, the presence of disciples (in the widest sense of the word) is characteristic both of the ministry of Christ and of the Church throughout its history. Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to be the Shepherd of the Last Age, to gather together all the dispersed children of God (Jn 11:52), and He came to call all peoples to the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5), beginning with the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24).

He begins his ministry by calling certain disciples to follow him more closely than the rest in sharing his life and his mission. These belong to a wider circle of disciples, however, who all come into contact with the Master more or less directly. This wider circle surrounding Jesus is in turn surrounded by the crowds who accompany the Master, listening to his word and practicing a looser, less exacting discipleship.

When the risen Christ entrusts the Twelve with the mission of making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19f) and gives them the mandate to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), these tasks are in fact the continuation of Jesus’ own mission, its extension in time and space. Making disciples is the fundamental task en-trusted to Jesus and the Church; being a disciple is the life common to all believers without exception.

Given that disciples are so important in the NT, it is scarcely surprising that they are also important in the life and the thought of Montfort, whose single ambition was to live as the Apostles did, to relive exactly the experience of a disciple of the Lord.


In Montfort’s writing (as in the NT), the term "disciple" has many acceptations and refers to various categories of people. It can have a narrow, specific meaning; or it can have a wider, more general one when it refers quite simply to the Christian. It is therefore important to follow the developments of Montfort’s thought in this respect and to emphasize the particular connotations of the term and concept "disciple" as it appears in various contexts.

1. The identification of the Christian with the disciple

Where LEW 64 speaks of the bonds of friendship between Eternal Wisdom and man, man is described as His brother, His friend, His disciple, His pupil, the price of His own blood and co-heir of His Kingdom. Montfort puts forward an overview resuming and synthesizing various aspects of the revelation. He begins by taking the various images and terms that biblical tradition interprets as referring to Divine Wisdom in general and applies them to Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate and crucified. The text introduces the term "disciple," with its connotation of "pupil" and other connotations belonging to the Sapiential tradition, such as friend and brother, (Prov 8 passim, Bar 3:37f); but it also introduces traits belonging specifically to NT soteriology (the price of his blood, the co-heir of the Kingdom), which are derived from a different tradition.

In LEW 179 the Beatitudes, which according to the NT belong to all those who follow Christ, especially through suffering and persecution, are attributed to the disciples of Wisdom (who is still Christ crucified). Here the disciple of Wisdom is quite clearly the disciple of the Master’s Cross.

FC 27 returns to this central figure, the disciple of the suffering and crucified Christ: "If you are guided by the same spirit, if you live with the same life as Jesus, your thorn-crowned Head, you must expect only thorns, lashes and nails; that is, nothing but the cross; for the disciple must be treated like the master." Hymn 35 can be read in the light of this, especially the close: "But let us see only Jesus Christ, / Since He is our great model . . . / The Christian like his Savior, / The disciple like his Master, / the slave like his Lord" (H 35:55, 58).

In SR 37, Montfort widens the concept of discipleship by emphasizing the importance of praying like Jesus. Whoever does not pray as the Divine Master prayed and taught others to pray is not his disciple. Prayer not only implies imitation of the Master - an important element in the concept of discipleship - but springs from an intimate communion with the Master himself, of whose Body we are members.

According to RM 52, one or two of the missionaries will announce the mission two weeks before it begins, as did the disciples whom Jesus sent two by two to the places where he was to go. Clearly then, the meaning of "disciple" is fleshed out and clarified in various contexts. As has already been remarked, however, the title of disciple in the widest sense remains applicable either to Christians as such or specifically to the future missionaries whom Montfort had in mind.

It should be noted that in LEW 197 Montfort groups together the Apostles, the disciples, the first Christians, and the religious who follow their example by renouncing all worldly possessions in order to possess Wisdom. Following Christ is closely linked to an attitude of complete detachment from material things. This passage can be aptly compared with the long, detailed Hymn 33, which is directed against luxury and worldly frivolities.

2. Discipleship and devotion to Mary

However bold it may seem, Montfort maintains in LEW 214 that one cannot be a son of God and disciple of Wisdom without being a son of Mary, nor belong to the elect without a sincere devotion to her. It should be noted that here the disciple is placed on the same level as the children of God and the elect; and there is also the typically Montfort vision of the presence and decisive role of the Mother of the Savior in Christian experience.

The faithful Virgin—who also is a wise person—is invoked at the end of the prayer of Consecration. She is asked to make the believer "so committed a disciple, imitator, and slave of Jesus, incarnate Wisdom" (LEW 227).

Montfort strives towards the training of the perfect disciple, which is the aim of his entire spirituality. This goal is attained, it might be said, by the apostles of the end times. Indeed, in TD, Montfort rounds off his splendid description of such apostles by asserting that they will be "true disciples of Jesus Christ" (TD 59). They will imitate the Master’s poverty, humility, contempt of the world, and love. They will have the two-edged sword of the Word of God in their mouths and the blood-stained standard of the Cross on their shoulders. Clearly, then, the follower of Mary is identified with the disciple of Jesus, whose sharing in the Master’s sufferings is constantly emphasized. Montfort does not doubt for a moment that the two should be identified in this way. His aim is to fashion "a true servant of Mary and a true disciple of Jesus" (TD 111). The devotion he teaches leads us to perfect love of our neighbor and shows us that this is the way to be true disciples of Jesus, recognized by their love (TD 171): this is a view of discipleship different from the directly Christological one, so often emphasized, which entails sharing the Master’s sufferings.

The ideal picture of the disciple remains for Montfort that of John the Evangelist: the disciple whom Jesus loved and confided to his mother. Montfort declares that this disciple - who represents all the others - is blessed (TD 179), will receive unbounded confidence (TD 216), and surrenders himself trustingly and in the manner of a son (HD 36). Montfort sees in him the model of the acceptance of Mary, a precious possession bequeathed to us by Christ on the Cross (cf. SM 66).1

In his writings Montfort pursues a highly practical goal; his intention is pastoral and spiritual. We should not expect a finished treatise nor an exposition of doctrine. Moreover, his vision is tied in with the specific concepts of his time and with his personal experience. So it will be useful to supplement Montfort’s vision of the disciple in two ways: by examining fully the relevant biblical perspective and by discussing the outlook of our own time. This will help to reveal the full complexity and relevance of the Montfort figure of the disciple.


1. Christian Discipleship

The term "disciple" (mathetes), which is of especial interest here, occurs up to 264 times in the NT, but exclusively in the Gospels and Acts (the reason for this will be discussed below). The basic connotation of this term is complete obedience to one person, realized in the form of the sequela (commitment to follow him). The pupil/ master relationship is absent from the NT; it is replaced by the relation of disciple and Lord. This basic and characteristic attitude of the disciple is reflected in several significant points, which together define his position in the NT:

a. First of all, there is the unique and exclusive action of Jesus, who calls those he wants and lays down the conditions on which he will allow them into his following.

b. Whilst the pupil of the rabbis seeks doctrinal teaching so that he can become a rabbi himself, the relationship with Jesus is of a different kind; it involves a permanent discipleship, because there is only one Master, Christ.

c. Jesus is, therefore, the only Master, and his authority is normative. He can contradict the tradition of the Elders and he interprets God’s Word and intentions with sovereign authority.

d. Jesus chooses his disciples from all stations in life, and in doing so fails to observe the separation of the clean from the unclean; his disciples even include publicans and sinners.

e. Jesus’ call involves obedience to the Master and availability for mission, in the service of the Kingdom. He requires all his followers to make radical decisions and offer themselves unreservedly; he does so not on his own behalf but on behalf of the supreme authority of God, Who is the absolute form of his own person and of his mission.2

f. The disciple of Jesus will share the lot of the Master (cf. Mt 10:24f.; 16:24f.); disciple and Master share the same life, service, and destiny.

g. This sharing in the life of the Master extends to his Passion and the glory that follows on it. This raises the disciples up, so that they share in Jesus’ authority and his life (cf. Mt 16:25; Jn 14:6). Their reward and their happiness are that their names are written in heaven.

2. Radical requirements of Christian discipleship

Whilst Jesus did not take social, religious, or dynastic privileges into account in choosing his disciples, the conditions he set his followers were radical and extremely exacting. He asks them to leave their home and family, to abandon their profession and way of life, and to follow resolutely in his steps. This means starting out on a risky and completely precarious existence, a life full of contradictions, in which no human help is available. The absolute nature of Jesus’ conditions is typically illustrated in the case of the man who asks him for just enough time to bury his father before following him. Jesus replies sternly: "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Lk 9:59f.). This was a scandalous thing to say, especially according to the Jewish mentality, for which burying the dead was an indispensable act of piety.

Another example of Jesus’ radicalism is his request to the rich young man to give his possessions to the poor as the condition of becoming his follower (Mk 10:17-22). This attitude is also disconcerting to the Jewish mentality, which, while approving of the giving of alms, at the same time considers material possessions as a blessing from God rather than an obstacle. Jesus’ request, which results from his choosing the side of the poor, has two effects: on the one hand, it provokes discussion on the prevailing mode of thought, and on the other, it presents poverty as one of the particular defining characteristics of following him.3

Even the request for celibacy, which is not addressed to everyone but only to a certain number "to whom it has been given," strongly emphasizes the requirements of the Master. Celibacy, in contrast with the beliefs of the Qmran community, indicates an absolute choice for the Kingdom of God.

Nevertheless, it must be remarked that whilst certain conditions are set for a few followers and so relate to discipleship in the strict sense of the word, requirements that are no less rigorous apply to all who wish to enter the Kingdom of God. The renunciation of riches, for instance, is a fundamental condition for entering the Kingdom; love of money is idolatrous and prevents entry. Similarly, the thirst for power is a serious obstacle on the road to salvation. In particular, it should be noted that in Matthew’s version, the Sermon on the Mount, with its various conditions, is a call to happiness addressed to the crowds following Jesus (Mt 4:25; cf. 7:28).

3. The identity of the disciple

From this arises an important question: Who are the disciples? Or more precisely, what persons or what groups of people are covered by this term? It is only in later tradition that the disciples are identified with the Twelve. In fact, the Twelve, who represent the tribes of Israel and the whole of God’s new people, belong to a wider circle of disciples whom Jesus chose from those who followed him; the seventy-two whom Jesus sends out on a mission (cf. Lk 10:1) are set apart from the rest of the crowd of followers. An exact account of names or numbers of disciples does not seem possible. What all the disciples have in common, beyond any possible distinctions between groups or individuals, is that they follow Christ, in the manner already described. As we have already seen, the passages of the Gospels relating to discipleship emphasize renunciation (Mt 23:7ff.), humility (Mt 18:1ff.), poverty (Mt 19:23ff.), and the prospect of suffering as the characteristics of the true disciple. But the basis of all is faith, the vital allegiance to the Master, who must be acknowledged before men (cf. Lk 12:8f.). Luke in particular considers this condition to be so important that after Gethsemani he stops using the word mathetes until Acts 6, where it reappears with a different connotation.

The term’s change in meaning appears particularly clearly in the Gospel of John, in which it indicates Christians as a whole. Since no term such as ekklesia occurs in the Fourth Gospel, the believers are the mathetai, those who, according to Johannine terminology, have passed from darkness to light.

This meaning of disciple, i.e. "Christian," is still clearer in the Book of Acts, where the mathetes is the one who believes and bears witness to Jesus Christ.

In the Apostles’ letters, there appear composite verb forms that serve to emphasize the relationship with Jesus in glory and with his Spirit. The sequela of Christ in this case obviously includes all believers. Such an expansion of the term "disciple" came about by a natural and almost inevitable process, as a result of the Resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit on the whole community. After the events of Easter, the early communities meditated deeply on the Passion and the death of the Master in the light of the Scriptures, and recognizing him as the Lord, they held him up as a model to all believers. In this way, to follow Christ came to mean to imitate him, as can be seen fully in 1 Pet 2:21-23. This is clear in Acts, especially in the martyrdom of Stephen (cf. Acts 8:60 and Lk 23:34); but it is also expressed in the epistles of Paul (passim) and in John. The theme of the imitation of Christ is subsequently stressed in the Apostolic Fathers, in particular by Ignatius of Antioch. "The sequela of Christ is to be always walking in his steps and participating in his death and his Resurrection, as Paul tirelessly emphasizes (cf. Gal 2:19f.; 2 Cor 4:16f.; Phil 3:10f.; Rom 8:17; etc.)."4


It will by now be clear that Montfort’s life and thought are remarkably in tune with the NT concept of the disciple. His life is deeply marked by his commitment to following the crucified Christ and by the all- consuming passion to preach the Gospel to the poor. His "apostolic" way of life is the strongest proof of this, and this way of life is reflected in his writings.

Consequently, the relevant passages of the NT are reflected in Montfort’s vision of the disciple, but with a number of special emphases linked to his spiritual and apostolic experience.

We shall refer to several of the relevant passages that seem to be the more obvious and decisive ones, and those that are more in tune with the outlook of our own time.

1. Sharing the life of the master

Above all, there is the sharing of the life of the Master. It has a particular emphasis on suffering, in line with the Synoptic tradition and in conformity with the harsh experience of Montfort’s life.5 Nor should we forget that as man and as thinker Montfort constantly strove towards an intimate communion with Wisdom in order to become the true disciple of the crucified Christ. All other aspects of his life, including even the "loving and genuine devotion to the blessed Virgin" (LEW 203-222) are a means to achieve this fundamental experience. Certainly, from the point of view of the Johannine conception and the theological and ecclesial outlook of our time, the paschal and glorious aspect of the Cross of Christ could be brought out more strongly in Montfort’s vision. This should not, however, cause us to forget that to be a disciple is to walk in the Master’s footsteps towards Jerusalem, where the scandalous and paradoxical aspects of the Cross will be most clearly manifest, and where the confusion of the disciples - which is already clear along the way - will be completely revealed. Strong reference to the scandal of the Cross is especially salutary in our time, since now the glory of Resurrection is emphasized (though of course this is right in itself).

2. The radical nature of the discipleship of Christ

Another element of foremost importance that is linked with the first is the radical nature of the entry into Christ’s following. Montfort and the NT both speak of it insistently. We are confronted with a disconcerting requirement of an absolute nature, as when Jesus says that one cannot turn back, even to bury his own father, and one must renounce all material possessions, family, and even his own life.

Montfort expresses himself with similar force; those who dedicate themselves to the service of the Kingdom must be completely free (cf. PM 7, 9) and follow the Master in poverty, humility, and contempt of the world (cf. LEW 133-135, 194; SM 46, 49; TD 59, 80f., 126f., 239, 259).

This decisiveness and absolutism are also particularly important in our time, in which a deep relativism is prevalent both in people’s thoughts and in their actions, so that they are almost incapable of making rigorous and unconditional choices. It is worth repeating that to be a disciple is not simply to play a role; it is a way of being that irrevocably alters the life of every follower of Jesus, though not in such a way that he is set apart from others or—even less—isolated; rather, he enters on a road of ecclesial communion and solidarity with the world.

3. The Presence of Mary in the life of the disciple

The great importance accorded to the presence of Mary in the life of the disciple is characteristic of Montfort spirituality. According to Montfort, it is impossible to belong to the elect without a true devotion to the Virgin (LEW 214). The true devotee of Mary is a true disciple of Christ (TD 111). Although her role is not limited to this, the Mother of the Lord makes of the believer a true disciple of Christ — always with the collaboration of the Spirit.

It is easy to detect the Johannine background of Montfort’s vision of the disciple of Mary (cf. Jn 19:25-27). Of the various characteristics of the disciples, it was the filial relation to the Virgin that particularly struck Montfort, so much so that he makes a secret of it; it is, in fact, the secret of Montfort spirituality. To acquire Wisdom, or—in other words—to be the disciple of the crucified Christ, God’s Wisdom, he proposes four methods: ardent desire, continuous prayer, universal mortification, but above all a genuine devotion to Mary (LEW, ch. 15-17). We might be inclined to see in all this a personal and rather idiosyncratic vision on Montfort’s part, but on reflection we realize that in fact it is a version of the Johannine vision discussed above: the "disciple whom Jesus loved"—the image of all true disciples— is confided by the crucified Lord to Mary, and he accepts her as his mother. This supreme NT revelation lends solid support to Montfort’s position in this respect. It clearly rests on the general principle posited as the basis of his entire thought and constantly repeated: Jesus came into the world through Mary, and it is through her that he will reign over the world (cf. TD 1) and will be reborn in the hearts of the elect, his true disciples.

A study remains to be done, particularly widespread in our time, of Mary as disciple. Montfort never calls Mary the "disciple of Christ." But this notion is never completely absent from his writing: for Montfort, Mary is of all God’s creatures "the most conformed to Jesus" (TD 120).

4. Serving the Kingdom

One last characteristic of discipleship to which we must return is the service of the Kingdom, or the mission of witness that is entrusted to the disciple. Jesus chooses his followers in order to send them out into the world to announce salvation. This is the duty not only of the Twelve but of all the disciples. The evangelical mission struck Montfort so forcefully that he felt moved to live it out even in the most concrete ways. He feels he is called not only to evangelize the poor (cf. L 5) and to proclaim salvation to all corners of the earth (it should be recalled that he wished to be a missionary in Canada, and later in the Orient)6 but also to live in the same poverty as the first missionaries of the Gospel, even in small details.

In RM 52 - as we commented above - he recommends that one or two missionaries should go ahead to announce the mission, like the disciples whom Jesus sent before him in pairs to the places where he intended to go. The fact that Montfort faithfully imitated even such a detail as this is a clear sign of his desire to recreate the content and style of the mission of Jesus and of the way of life of his disciples. He wants the missionaries to be able always to say with Jesus Christ, "The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18) or with Paul, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel" (1 Cor 1:17) (cf. RM 2).

These ideals, which Montfort recommends to his missionaries, are above all a blueprint for life: "The apostolic missionary must first practice what he preaches: ‘coepit Jesus facere et docere’" (RM 62).

According to Montfort, to become a disciple is, beyond doubt, to relive the experience of the Apostles in Jesus’ footsteps, which he strove to achieve himself with exceptional commitment and faithfulness. He reveals as much in his famous conversation with his friend Blain in 1714. Montfort, only just over forty, was a man deeply marked, indeed almost destroyed, by the exhausting effect of the apostolic life and its hardships. Blain drew Montfort’s attention to this and gently questioned the excessively radical life he led. By way of reply, Montfort showed him the NT and asked his friend if he could argue with what Jesus taught and lived. And he asked him to cite a style of life more conformed to that of Jesus and the disciples than his own. He added that, for his part, he fully intended to follow it faithfully.7 In this direct testimony, we can perceive not only Montfort’s experience but the very meaning of discipleship: an apostolic life in the steps of Jesus, Christ and Lord.

A. Valentini

Notes: (1) In H 77:4 Montfort enters into greater detail: "Mary is my great treasure / And my all with Jesus.". (2) Cf. R. Schnackenburg, Il messaggio morale del Nuovo Testamento (The Moral Message of the New Testament), Brescia 1989, 1:72f. (3) Ibid., 178ff. (4) Schnackenburg, Il messaggio, 80. (5) Cf. LEW 64, 179; FC 37; TD 59; H 35. See also the Letters, in particular L 13, 15, 16, 26. (6) Cf. Itinerario, 248ff., 273. (7) Cf. Blain, 331-333.

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

Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

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