Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. The Incarnation: 1. A fundamental theme: 2. The sources of Montfort: a. To Jesus through Mary, b. In the atmosphere of the French school, c. Deeply rooted in Scripture and the Church Fathers; 3. How Montfort speaks of the Incarnation. II. The Incarnation in Montfort’s Writings: 1. In the light of LEW: a. Jesus Christ, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, b. "The prodigious excess of the love of God," c. The Incarnation and the Cross; 2. In the light of TD: a. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity played a part in the Incarnation, b. What the Incarnation involves for Christ and Mary, c. Incarnation and mission; 3. The "mystery proper" to the perfect practice of the true devotion: a. "The mystery of Jesus living and reigning in Mary," b. "The first mystery of Jesus Christ, the most hidden, the most exalted, the least known," c. "It is in this mystery that Jesus . . . in cooperation with Mary, chose all the elect," d. "It is in this mystery that he anticipated all subsequent mysteries of his life by his willing acceptance of them," e. "The seat of the mercy, of the liberality and the glory of God"; 4. The fundamental mystery: a. The "state," b. Montfort’s spirituality is imbued with the mystery of the Incarnation. III. The Relevance of Montfort Today: 1. The Second Vatican Council: "The supreme mystery of the Incarnation"; 2. The encyclical Redemptoris mater by Pope John Paul II; 3. For an actualization and a development of Montfort’s way of thinking: a. The Incarnation, Mary, and the Church, b. The "historic" dimension of the Incarnation, c. Mary, the guarantor of the identity of Jesus, true God and true man, d. The sense of the greatness of humanity. IV. Conclusion.


"Eternal and incarnate Wisdom, most lovable and adorable Jesus, true God and true man, only Son of God and of Mary always a Virgin" (LEW 223). These words, which sound like a profession of faith, not only introduce the "Consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ Wisdom incarnate through the hands of Mary," but they also introduce us into the heart of the spiritual life of Montfort and the spirituality he has handed on to us. The Incarnation is not just one important theme among others; it is really the theme that gradually sheds light on the significant facets of spirituality. Montfort gradually wove round this theme his spiritual teachings into an organic whole.

1. A fundamental theme

The Incarnation, the divine manifest in the flesh, is Wisdom Incarnate. "Every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit which does not thus acknowledge Jesus is not from God" (1 Jn 4:2-3). The wisdom of Wisdom Incarnate, the beauty of Beauty Incarnate, the love of Love Incarnate are manifest in creation. For creation was made through Jesus Christ and restored through Jesus Christ. "Eternal Wisdom began to manifest himself outside the bosom of the Father, when after a whole eternity, he made light, heaven and earth" (LEW 31). "At times they [the saints] were so astonished at the beauty, the harmony and the order that God has put into the smallest things, such as a bee, an ant, an ear of corn, a flower, a worm, they were carried away in rapture and ecstasy" (LEW 34). And so, too, was man created and restored in the Eternal Wisdom. "We might say that Eternal Wisdom made copies, that is, shining likenesses of his own intelligence, memory, and will, and infused them into the soul of man so that he might become the living image of the Godhead" (LEW 37). Thus the personal emanation of God is the person of incarnate Compassion.

The two classic forms of the spirituality of Christian compassion are reflected in two great saints of the twelfth century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Francis of Assisi. Both of their unique forms of spiritual compassion are found united in St. Louis de Montfort. First, there is St. Bernard’s Song of Songs tradition of compassion as ecstatic Love Incarnate in Christ. "It is certain that Eternal Wisdom loves souls so much that he even espouses them, contracting with them a true, spiritual marriage which the world cannot understand" (LEW 54). Jesus is the personal embodiment of the Beloved, the personal emanation of the Father’s ecstatic love of the human race and creation. St. Bernard states in his Commentary on the Song of Songs: "Show me, says the Bride, the place of such love and peace, and fullness, that as Jacob, yet abiding in the flesh saw God face to face, and his life was spared, so I too may look on Thee in Thy light and glory, by contemplation in trance of soul."1 Christ, the Beloved of the Father, is the begotten of the Lover, the Father. "Here we have the great wonder of heaven and earth, the prodigious excess of the love of God. ‘The Word was made flesh.’ Eternal Wisdom became incarnate. God became man without ceasing to be God" (LEW 108). Jesus assumes the world into direct relationship with God Alone and restores that union when it has been broken. "But what does the name of Jesus, the proper name of incarnate Wisdom, signify to us if not ardent charity, infinite love and engaging gentleness?" (LEW 120). Thus, Jesus Christ becomes man so that man can participate in the divine life and, therefore, in a direct personal relationship with God. Thus, God has become man so that man can become God.

The second classical tradition of the incarnate Christ of compassion, and one also found in Montfort, is the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi. It is the incarnate Compassion who is the Suffering Servant. Montfort says that the greatest motive "impelling us to love Jesus Christ the Wisdom Incarnate, the strongest, in my opinion, is the suffering he chose to endure to prove his love for us" (LEW 154). The compassionate Savior takes upon himself the negativity of the human race. The radical self-sacrifice, which allows for the acceptance by Jesus of the sins and suffering of humanity as his own, is the expiation of the Passion become compassion. The Incarnation is the kenosis of Christ as suffering servant Incarnate. "Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your life in Christ Jesus. For the divine nature was his from the first, yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape, he humbled himself and in obedience accepted even death—death on a cross" (Phil 2:5-9). This Suffering Servant theme, to which Francis gave witness, was illuminated powerfully by the other great Franciscan, St. Bonaventure: "God grant me this grace to obey as carefully the novice who enters the order today . . . if he were set over me as Guardian, as the most outstanding or ancient in the Order. For a subject ought to consider his superior not as a man but as God, for whose love he is subject to him."2

Thus in Montfort the tenderness of God manifest in and through the Incarnation is Redemptive. "Incarnate Wisdom loved the cross from his infancy" (LEW 169). Thus in Montfort’s spirituality "Christocentrism" is "Trinitarian;" and the Incarnation is salvific. The Son, in Whom all things are created and restored, is the expression of the Father. The Son is the focus of the divine fecundity and unselfish self-expression. The Son is the Beloved of the Father, who is the Lover, the Parent or Source of compassion. The Son is also the Person Who fully returns that compassion, Who loves the Father. Their personal relationship, their intimacy, and their bond is the Holy Spirit. The spouse of the Holy Spirit is the Mother of God, the Temple of the Trinity chosen by God and prepared by her Immaculate Conception and confirmed in the virginal purity of her "yes" at the Annunciation. "Only through Mary then, can we possess divine Wisdom" (LEW 209). She is the mold of the incarnate Christ. She is the mold of the true Christian, the mother of each and every Christian. "Accept, gracious Virgin, this little offering of my slavery to honor and imitate the obedience which Eternal Wisdom willingly chose to have towards you, his Mother" (LEW 226).

Richard J. Payne

2. The sources of Montfort

It was during the years he spent at the seminary in Paris (1692-1700) that Montfort consciously internalized the essential Christological dimension of his spiritual life.

a. To Jesus through Mary.

Montfort’s research on Mary, and the efforts he made to justify his devotion to Mary, gave him a deeper insight into the link between Mary and Jesus. This link is so essential that the "divine Maternity" is her raison d’être and her reason for acting. God chose her so that the Word might become flesh and thus become our Brother. Her mission is not only to give Jesus to the world, but also to reveal him, lead us to him, and unite us to him.3 This is rooted in a deep understanding of the Incarnation.

b. In the atmosphere of the French school.

In order to understand Montfort’s teaching, it is indispensable to examine it within the spiritual and cultural context in which he lived and on which he drew heavily,4 mainly the context of the French school.5 It is significant that the writers familiar with that school, and particularly with its leader Bérulle, take it for granted that Montfort had close ties with it. H. Bremond, for example, who describes Montfort as "the teacher par excellence of Marian devotion," completes this description by saying that Montfort was "at once the last of the great Bérullians and an outstanding missionary."6 Experts on Bérulle, Jean Dagens, the Oratorians A. Molien and P. Cochois, and a Dominican tertiary, Father Poupon, agree that Montfort was a follower of Bérulle.7 Now, these authors seem to vie with each other in stressing that Bérulle’s way of thinking revolved around the Incarnation.8 Montfort could not be included among his contemporaries unless he had drawn on the same primary source of inspiration. Actually, he not only drew on it but enriched it as well.

c. Deeply rooted in Scripture and the Church Fathers.

Montfort turned to the Bible and the Church Fathers for support throughout his writings. When he deals with the subject of Jesus, "eternal and incarnate Wisdom," his references to Scripture, as an underpinning, assume even more importance. Such an importance, that they give his insight into the mystery of the Incarnation a very individual character, as we shall see later.9

3. How Montfort speaks of the Incarnation

Montfort approaches the Incarnation in his own way, as both a spiritual writer nourished on the Gospel and as a missionary. What he is concerned with is Jesus Christ as depicted in Scripture and influencing our lives. He shows unmistakable signs of belonging to the French school, although his style is definitely simpler and his terminology more concrete than Bérulle’s or Condren’s. Although Montfort was well aware of the meaning of words like "state" and "adherence," for example, he hardly uses them at all. When he does use these words, their meaning is different from what these authors gave them.


Montfort did not approach the Incarnation from the angle of speculative theology. What he wrote about the Incarnation has a wider scope and is more valuable. It is a meditation, full of wonderment and love, on the mystery of Jesus. We will now examine it and bring together the main themes dealt with in LEW and TD.

1. In the light of LEW

a. Jesus Christ, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom.

In Montfort’s writings, the expression "eternal and incarnate Wisdom" recurs like a leitmotif. It is his way of identifying Jesus of Nazareth. The description indicates Jesus’ divine nature as eternally begotten of the Father, as well as his human nature as conceived in Mary’s womb. Gilbert has rightly pointed out that Montfort discovered the riches contained in the OT by linking it with Jesus: "Montfort rereads the Wisdom books as a framework, but the Old Testament gives way to the New when it comes to expressing the mystery: it is the coming of Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, that makes it possible to understand the Book of Wisdom and, consequently, all the Wisdom books."10 For Montfort, the mystery of the Incarnation gives access to the mystery of Wisdom: when he speaks of Eternal Wisdom "before the Incarnation," his thoughts are still with what he has found out about Wisdom in Jesus.11

His theology is perfectly right. He does not confuse the human and the divine natures of Christ. Though he clearly traces the stages in the carrying out of the divine plan, he always keeps in mind the unity of the Person. When he turns to Jesus and speaks about him, even when he mentions the "humiliations" of his humanity in most realistic terms, he never loses sight of the fact that he is talking about Eternal Wisdom: "Substantial or uncreated Wisdom is 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).

His meditation is deeply biblical: it is based on the revelation of God Himself and of His love for humanity, which is shown in the economy of salvation (including the Incarnation).

b. "The prodigious excess of the love of God" (LEW 108).

It is obvious to all believers that the Incarnation, which took place "for our sake and for our salvation," is a mystery of love. Following Bérulle’s example, the French school laid much emphasis on this.12 Montfort followed in their steps and once again approached the mystery in his own way, especially through his interpretation of the Wisdom books.13

In his view, the love of God for us is revealed in the Incarnation as it took place in history.14 In other words, in the "economy of salvation." Jointly with the Father and the Spirit, Eternal Wisdom decided to become flesh in order to "restore"15 man after he had fallen victim to sin and was unable to save himself (LEW 40): "I seem to see this lovable Sovereign convoking and assembling the most holy Trinity, a second time, so to speak, for the purpose of rehabilitating man in the state he formerly created him" (LEW 40; cf. 104).

According to Montfort, what prompts Eternal Wisdom to take this initiative is his love of preference for humanity: "Eternal Wisdom was deeply moved by the plight of Adam and all his descendants. He was profoundly distressed at seeing his vessel of honor shattered, his image torn to pieces, his masterpiece destroyed, his representative in this world overthrown. He listened tenderly to man’s sighs and entreaties and he was moved with compassion when he saw the sweat of his brow, the tears in his eyes, the fatigue of his arms, his sadness of heart, his affliction of soul" (LEW 41; cf. 104). Several things are worth noticing in this passage. It is undeniable that in LEW, in particular, Montfort dwells on the very special loving link between the Second Person of the Trinity and man (cf. LEW 35-38, 45, 47-50, 64-69). What Eternal Wisdom reveals of himself in the Incarnation enables Montfort to discover him better within the Trinity. And, conversely, the Wisdom books throw light on the mystery of Incarnate Wisdom.

This is a perfectly logical approach. The fact that it was the Word Who "became man" is an invitation for us to find the "reasons" that justify this decision; for, God never acts without some "reasons," even if his reasons are infinitely beyond our comprehension. As Montfort discovers in Christ’s earthly journey a love for man carried to extremes (cf. LEW, chap. 9-11, 13), he attributes it quite naturally to Eternal Wisdom, for the person of Jesus is the 2nd Person of the Trinity. This accounts for the vocabulary borrowed from human love that he uses when speaking of the love that Eternal Wisdom bore man before the Incarnation.

Finally, the Incarnation is the result of the love of the Father and of the Spirit as well as of the Son. The contrast in LEW 42-45, between the attitude of the Father exacting justice and that of the Son pleading for mercy, should not be made too much of. Although Montfort’s vivid description and his vocabulary are rather ambiguous, it would not be fair to quote only this passage as typical of his way of thinking. Many other passages could be quoted that can redress the balance. For example, this one about Incarnate Wisdom: "She is a gift sent by the love of the eternal Father and a product of the love of the Holy Spirit. She was given out of love and fashioned by love. She is therefore all love, or rather the very love of the Father and the Holy Spirit" (LEW 113).16

c. The Incarnation and the Cross.

In order to find out Montfort’s thought about the Cross, we have to look at this mystery in connection with the Incarnation because the Cross comes within the scope of the Incarnation.

The love of Eternal Wisdom for us leads Him to choose not only to become man but also to opt for a type of Incarnation making it possible for him to die on the Cross (LEW 167-168; cf. 163-164). In LEW 169, Montfort writes: "Incarnate Wisdom loved the cross from his infancy. At his coming into the world, while in his Mother’s womb, she received it from the eternal Father. He placed it deep in his heart, there to dominate his life, saying, Deus meus, volui, et legem tuam in medio cordis mei (Ps 39:9). My God and my Father, I chose this cross when I was in your bosom. I choose it now in the womb of my Mother. I love it with all my strength and I place it deep in my heart to be my spouse and my mistress."17 Montfort goes on to show how Eternal Wisdom longed passionately for the Cross throughout his life on earth until it held him in its arms on Calvary (LEW 170-172). Finally, Montfort says that Wisdom and the Cross will be one "in glory" (Cf. LEW 172).

This is because the bond uniting Wisdom and the Cross is as indissoluble as the Incarnation, which binds them together: "He espoused the cross at his Incarnation with indescribable love. At his coming into the world, while in his Mother’s womb, he received it from his eternal Father" (LEW 170). So Montfort is justified in writing: "Do not think that, wanting to be more triumphant, he rejected the cross after his death. Far from it; he united himself so closely to it that neither angel nor man, not any creature in heaven or on earth, could separate him from it. The bond between them is indissoluble, their union is eternal. Never the Cross without Jesus, or Jesus without the Cross" (LEW 172). Although the Cross implies suffering or trial in this world, this obviously does not apply after the glorification, except in the sense that glory is the fruit of the Cross. If we look at it in this perspective, it is clear that, for Montfort, love is central to the Cross, as required by the Incarnation, by the mystery of saving love.

This explains why Montfort concludes: "Wisdom has so truly incorporated and united herself with the Cross that in all truth we can say: Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 180).18

2. In the light of TD

Montfort cannot consider Mary without considering the Incarnation. In all she is and does, the Blessed Virgin refers us back to this mystery in all its dimensions.

a. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity played a part in the Incarnation.

In TD, and more briefly in SM, Montfort makes it clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were involved in the Incarnation. He does so with reference to Mary in view of the aim he is pursuing.

Because the three Divine Persons freely chose to have need of Mary for the Incarnation, each of them in their own way took her into consideration (TD 16-21; SM 9-13). The love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bore Mary and the riches with which they lavishly endowed her are justified by the role they entrusted to her. Now, her role did not consist merely in giving his individual humanity to the Word; she was meant to extend this role to the accomplishment of the whole Christ, Head and members. For according to the economy of salvation planned by the Trinity, from the first moment of its realization, the Incarnation is the beginning of the vast act of giving birth to the new humanity in Jesus Christ. This birthing will only come to an end "at the end of time" (TD 29). Montfort examines the two aspects in close connection and in a Trinitarian perspective. The "power" communicated by the Father to Mary for her to "produce her Son" extends to "all the members of his mystical Body" (TD 17); the Holy Spirit "becomes actively fruitful in producing Jesus Christ and his members in her and by her" (TD 21). Montfort’s view is that when it comes to realizing the mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ, the Persons of the Holy Trinity act in the same way as in the Incarnation: "The plan adopted by the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity in the Incarnation, the first coming of Jesus Christ, is adhered to each day in an invisible manner throughout the Church and they will pursue it to the end of time until the last coming of Jesus Christ" (TD 22). Then he draws conclusions from this about Mary herself and her maternal role towards us, as this role is part and parcel of her role as mother of the Incarnate Word (TD 23-36).19 We are therefore directly concerned: our salvation "began" when Eternal Wisdom took flesh; the three Divine Persons had us in mind then, and Mary’s consent concerned us objectively. Now, according to the principle laid down by Montfort, the "beginning" is an indication of how we are to continue to grow until we "come to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (TD 159; cf. 33, 119, 156, 164, 168). Consequently, if we consider our Chris-tian life in the light of the mystery of the Incarnation, we realize that it is, as it were, a Trinitarian life in Christ under the motion of the Holy Spirit with the "necessary" presence of Mary.

b. What the Incarnation involves for Christ and Mary.

We will confine ourselves to considering only a few aspects that Montfort emphasized which are important for an understanding of his spirituality.

Bérulle and his followers of the French school considered that in the Incarnation, Christ had "emptied himself."20 Montfort does not reject the expression but he uses it very seldom.21 On the other hand, he emphasizes "dependence,"22 which is a more concrete term and refers to the attitude of "obedience"23 to Mary that the Incarnate Word chose to adopt towards her. Montfort is aware that this attitude of dependence on Mary, and of obedience to her as her child, was adopted by Eternal Wisdom, that is, one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity: "God- made-man found freedom in imprisoning himself in her womb. . . . He glorified his independence and his majesty in depending upon this lovable Virgin in his conception, his birth, his presentation in the temple, and in the thirty years of his hidden life. Even at his death she had to be present so that he might be united with her in one sacrifice" (TD 18). Montfort is talking not only about the "physical" dependence consequent on the Incarnation but also about the personal dependence of a son on his mother, which Christ fully accepted. This "state" of loving dependence is as permanent for Jesus as is his "state of Incarnation." So, Montfort does not hesitate to extend it to the condition of Christ in glory: "Since grace enhances our human nature and glory adds a still greater perfection to grace, it is certain that our Lord remains in heaven just as much the Son of Mary as he was on earth. Consequently he has retained the submissiveness and obedience of the most perfect of all children towards the best of all mothers" (TD 27; cf. LEW 205). Although he has retained this dependence, "we must take care not to consider this dependence as an abasement or imperfection in Jesus Christ. For Mary, infinitely inferior to her Son, who is God, does not command him in the same way as an earthly mother would command her son who is beneath her" (TD 27). Jesus’ filial dependence on Mary must therefore be viewed in different ways according to the situation. It is different in glory from what it was on earth.24

The dependence of Jesus on Mary that results from the Incarnation becomes the foundation of Montfort’s spirituality and of the obedience to Mary that it requires from us. It is a question of "imitating" Jesus (LEW 226; TD 139, 155-156, 157, 162, 198, 243; SM 63; H 76:2), and even of imitating the Trinity, Who chose to "depend" on Mary for the Incarnation (TD 140).

We must, however, realize that the imitation in question is not to be formal, or optional, depending after all on our personal initiative; it is made necessary, as we have seen, by the fact that the Incarnation of the Word in Mary entails for her a real spiritual motherhood in our regard; Mary is endowed with a corresponding "power." By becoming man, Eternal Wisdom actually involves us in a filial dependence on Mary, as far as our spiritual life is concerned. It is our responsibility to acknowledge and live it at our own level, as Jesus himself accepted and lived it at His own.

For Mary, it must be added that Jesus, Incarnate Wisdom is her whole raison d’être. It is therefore in the Incarnation, considered in its full extension and with its saving dimensions embracing all human-kind, that we will find an explanation for Mary being so lavishly endowed by God, for her special relationships with the three Persons of the Trinity, and for her universal mission (cf., among others, TD 14-36). As Montfort says, Mary is the "worthy Mother of God," "Mother of Jesus" (TD 247; cf. TD 63), and it would be just as appropriate to call her "Mary of the Incarnation."

c. Incarnation and mission.

Let us repeat that in Montfort’s view, the way in which Jesus is to carry out his mission, even to the Cross, is already included, in a certain sense, in the plan for the Incarnation. The Incarnation is a mystery of love, proximity, and mystical identification, since Wisdom comes to sinful man in the total "mission" of Christ; that is, in the full accomplishment of the mystery of salvation. "It was through the Blessed Virgin that Jesus Christ came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world" (TD 1). By the same token, the association of Mary with the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation entails her permanent cooperation with Him until the mystery is accomplished. This holds good for the formation of the "apostles of the end times" (TD 55-59) and for the birth of the Company of Mary.25

3. The "mystery proper" to the perfect practice of the true devotion

Montfort shares with us his thoughts on the Incarnation in a very forceful way when he speaks of the "mystery proper" to the perfect practice of the devotion to Mary that he proposes (TD 243-248; cf. SM 63). Here is the main passage: "Time does not permit me to linger here and elaborate on the perfections and wonders of the mystery of Jesus living and reigning in Mary, or the Incarnation of the Word. I shall confine myself to the following brief remarks. The Incarnation is the first mystery of Jesus Christ; it is the most hidden; and it is the most exalted and the least known. It was in this mystery that Jesus, in the womb of Mary and with her cooperation, chose all the elect. For this reason the saints call her womb the throne-room of God’s mysteries, aula sacramentorum. It was in this mystery that Jesus anticipated all subsequent mysteries of his life by his willing acceptance of them. Consequently, this mystery is a summary of all his mysteries since it contains the intention and the grace of them all. Lastly, this mystery is the seat of the mercy, the liberality, and the glory of God" (TD 248).

a. "The mystery of Jesus living and reigning in Mary".

At first sight this definition of the Incarnation may appear rather restricting. In order to understand it properly, we must place it in its immediate context, that of the prefect practice of the true devotion, and "Jesus living in Mary," both of which opens wider vistas.26 Montfort uses the expression "Jesus living and reigning in Mary" to describe what the Incarnation brings about in Mary and, at the same time, what it should bring about in us: the life-giving reign of Christ in those who welcome it into their inmost being. To this, Montfort will add that Mary not only derives benefit from the extension of the mystery to us, but that she takes an active part in the process. In H 111 Montfort says, "To the glory of your Father, By the power of your name, Reign in us through your Mother."

b. "The first mystery of Jesus Christ, the most hidden, the most exalted, the least known".

"The first mystery"—The context tells us that we are to interpret this as more than an indication of just a numerical order, as this would be obvious; Montfort did not mean to state the obvious. Because it is the first, this mystery is the source, the foundation, and all the others are to show how pregnant with meaning it is, for they express its potentiality.

"The most hidden"—Montfort deeply appreciates this aspect. It is true that of all the mysteries of Christ, the Incarnation is the one that proves most elusive to the grasp of our senses and of our imagination. And the vistas it opens up for our reason are breathtaking.

This is because it is "the most exalted," the most elevated, the greatest mystery. It is, of course, not to be compared with the mystery of the Trinity, which is the mystery of mysteries.27 But as Montfort considers it in the framework of the economy of salvation, it is the one that gives the deepest insight into the unfathomable depths of God, by giving a glimpse of His love. The other mysteries of Jesus are "mysteries of salvation" in relation to the Incarnation. They include the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection, which is the sign clearer than any other sign and draws its effectiveness from the mystery of Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ.

"The least known"—This is consequent on its being the most hidden. But Montfort does not seem resigned to this and does his best to make it more widely known.

c. "It is in this mystery that Jesus . . . in cooperation with Mary, chose all the elect".

Montfort mentions again the aim of the Incarnation, which is our salvation. Mary is associated in a unique and universal way with the work of her son: "In this mystery the elect / Have been given birth. / Mary and Jesus together / Have chosen them in advance / That they may share in their virtues / Their glory and their power" (H 87:7). Does Montfort mean that from the moment of the Incarnation, Mary knew clearly and distinctly all who were to be her children? In the context of his time, it would not be surprising.28

d. "It is in this mystery that he anticipated all subsequent mysteries of his life by his willing acceptance of them".

As a consequence, this mystery is "a summary of all his mysteries since it contains the intention and the grace of them all." In this passage Montfort expressed what is probably his deepest insight into the Incarnation as the source mystery that contains in advance, as it were, all that it makes possible.29 It is true of the purpose of God, it is true in Jesus, who, from the moment he became man was the Savior, the "grace," i.e., the gift, the communication par excellence of God to man. In and through the Incarnation, Christ in his very being is constituted the Head of saved humanity, the Source from which divine life will spring through all that he is and does. Far from being made superfluous, the other "mysteries" of Jesus appear like the realization in time of all the potentialities and "intentions" contained in that "first" mystery, so that the new humanity beginning with it may be born. The mystery of the Cross, for example, which leads on to the glory of the Resurrection, is the supreme realization of the redemptive Incarnation.

e. "The seat of the mercy, of the liberality and the glory of God".

Montfort continues his consideration of the Incarnation as "the mystery of Jesus living and reigning in Mary." He sees it as the seat of divine mercy "for us" precisely because in it we find Jesus "through Mary." Mary is really the way of mercy by which Jesus came to us and by which we should go to him.

"The seat of liberality for Mary," because "while the new Adam dwelt in this truly earthly paradise, God performed there so many marvels beyond the understanding of men and angels." How could Jesus fail to repay his mother a hundred times over for what she gave him while she was carrying him in her womb?30

Finally, "the seat of glory for his Father"—Montfort knew better than to forget this purpose of the Incarnation: in Mary, Jesus "gave more glory to God than he would have given had he offered all the sacrifices of the Old Law. In Mary he gave his Father infinite glory, such as his Father had never received from man" (TD 248). Jesus’ dependence on Mary, consequent on the Incarnation, enabled him to "give more glory to God his Father by submitting to his Mother for thirty years than he would have given him had he converted the whole world by working the greatest miracles" (TD 18; cf. also 139). LEW presents the salvation of humanity as the means to obtain this glory and, therefore, as being the reason for the Incarnation (LEW 43).

4. The fundamental mystery

For Montfort, the Incarnation is not only an essential mystery: it is the fundamental mystery in the economy of salvation and the one at the heart of his spirituality.

a. The "state". Montfort does not use the term in the sense that Bérulle and the adherents of the French school did.31

But he has perfectly grasped the deep reality they were trying to express, i.e., everything that Jesus achieved on earth has not purely and simply vanished into the past beyond recall. Though his "actions" as such were transitory, the interior dispositions from which they proceeded and that they expressed were not. We must, therefore, distinguish the "actions," which are transient, from the "states," which are permanent and retain all their saving power (their "virtue") for us.32 The "first" state, which is absolutely fundamental, is the Incarnation. From this Montfort draws conclusions about, more especially, the filial relation between Jesus and Mary: through the Incar-nation, and from then on, the Father’s Son is established in "the state" of "Son of Mary," and Mary herself in "the state" of "Mother of Jesus." Since her spiritual motherhood (of humanity) is ultimately based on the Incarnation, when it took place she also began to be in "the state" of "Mother of humanity," which essentially "qualifies" her to play her role as mother.

b. Montfort’s spirituality is imbued with the mystery of the Incarnation.

The contemplation of Eternal Wisdom, Who took flesh in Mary for our salvation, pervades and characterizes Montfort’s spiritual life. The mystery of the Incarnation, as he perceives it, is not only fundamental in itself according to an abstract theological view but is the "mystery proper" to his way of living in Christ with Mary and, therefore, to his life and spirituality. It acts in him like a welling spring that comes to the surface in his writings whenever the occasion calls for it.33


The Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II give us grounds to say that Montfort’s teaching is relevant today. Together with the recent advances in theology, they point the direction in which research is to be done to "actualize" Montfort’s way of thinking and develop it.

1. The Second Vatican Council: "The supreme mystery of the Incarnation"

"Devoutly meditating on Mary and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more intimately into the supreme mystery of the Incarnation and becomes ever increasingly like her Spouse" (LG 65). For the Council, and for Montfort as well, it is "in the light" of the Incarnation that we must try to discover Mary and also the Church.

Furthermore, the significant meaning of the expression "supreme mystery" must be emphasized. Although he phrases it differently, Montfort expresses the same thing (cf. among others TD 248) when he looks at the Incarnation from the viewpoint of the economy of salvation, as the Council did.34

2. The encyclical Redemptoris mater by John Paul II

The theme of the Incarnation runs through the encyclical, and in many cases it is dealt with along the lines adopted by Montfort.35 For example, in the Encyclical, the mystery of the Incarnation is approached from the angle of the economy of salvation: pointing out how the Holy Trinity intervened in the Incarnation itself (RMat 1, 9); the consequences that result from this for Mary (RMat 8-9); and the fact that the reality of the Incarnation finds a sort of extension in the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ. We cannot think of the reality of the Incarnation without referring to Mary, the mother of the Incarnate Word (RM 5. "Mary’s mediation is intimately linked with her motherhood of Jesus" (RMat 38) and that, as a consequence, her spiritual motherhood is rooted in the Incarnation (RMat 20). All this is the more significant as John Paul II constantly refers to the Council in order to promote "a new and more careful reading of what it said about the Blessed Virgin Mary" (RMat 48).

3. For an actualization and a development of Montfort’s way of thinking

The current teachings of the Magisterium, which take into account the modern advances of theological research, open up new vistas.

a. The Incarnation, Mary, and the Church.

In Montfort’s time, ecclesiology was inclined to center on the Church as an "institution." However, this does not mean that the "communion" aspect of it was ignored. Montfort can obviously not be blamed for not looking at it in the perspective of Vatican II. In his writings, especially in the way he looks at the mystery of the Incarnation, he offers enough raw material to integrate in an organic way, as it were, the relationship between Mary and the Church that is highlighted today.36

b. The "historic" dimension of the Incarnation.

In RMat, John Paul II underlines the historic dimension of the Incarnation: it "marks" the moment when, with the entrance of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed and, being filled with the mystery of Christ, becomes definitively "salvation time" (RMat 1). It is the "fundamental event in the economy of salvation"; it is recorded at the center of human history to direct it to its true goal. It establishes a "great transformation" that "belongs to the entire history of man, from that beginning which is revealed to us in the first chapters of Genesis until the final end" (RMat 52; cf. 11, 24).

Though Montfort is well aware of the "restoring" effect going back to the beginning of humanity, and that we are now in the "end times" moving towards the ultimate accomplishment, it is possible to widen his perspective by adding the proper historic dimension, insofar as it affects human history as such. Along the same lines, current theological research on earthly realities considered in the light of Creation and of the Incarnation can help us to nuance and enrich Montfort’s vision.

c. Mary, the guarantor of the identity of Jesus, true God and true man.

Finally, in connection with the present-day Christological currents, greatly concerned with highlighting the reality of the humanity of Jesus, presented as similar to ours in every respect (Christologies "from below"), Montfort draws attention to two things. First, it is essential to keep the realism of the Incarnation in order to avoid falling into a sort of Docetism, which destroys true faith. With his deep insight into Eternal Wisdom, which helps him to preserve the teaching of a Christology "from above," he warns us against an equally damaging drift that leads to leaving in the background, or even rejecting, the specifically divine character of the person of Jesus.

Besides, Montfort makes a point that always holds good, namely, that Christologists claiming to do without reference to "the Mother of the Lord" would be hard put to keep the balance required by faith in the mystery of the Incarnation. We have need of Mary to gain access to the mystery of Jesus in its entirety. From this point of view, again, she is "necessary." For, her motherhood makes her the privileged and indispensable guarantor of the realism of the Incarnation: she gave the Eternal Word the humanity that makes him our Brother. She is just as much the witness of his divinity, if we take seriously the title Mother of God, which refers us to the divinity and eternity of the One she brought forth in time. "Eternal and incarnate Wisdom, most lovable and adorable Jesus, true God and true man, only Son of the eternal Father and of Mary always a Virgin, I adore you profoundly dwelling in the splendor of your Father from all eternity and in the virginal womb of Mary, your most worthy Mother, at the time of your Incarna-tion" (LEW 223).

d. The sense of the greatness of humanity.

Montfort is a realist: he sees humanity in its concrete situation, that is to say, bearing the scar of sin but redeemed by the wonderful love of God. His insistence on the misery of sinful humanity actually leads to the highlighting of its admirable dignity, created out of love, humanity is saved by love (cf., among others, SM 3; LEW 35-46, 64-71). Nowadays, when there is so much talk about human rights, and when the rights of the weakest are so frequently flouted in so many ways, it would be profitable to engage in a deep contemplation of the greatness of humanity as revealed to us in the Incarnation. It is none other than Christ, "eternal and incarnate Wisdom," Creator and Redeemer, who is the best guarantor of human values. It is Christ who protects the "inviolable rights of human beings" and of their dignity, from the very beginning till the last moment of their life on earth. Montfort can help us in this respect both by his teaching and his way of acting. He looked beyond the physical and mental misery of those he met and saw in them, especially the poor and those who were most despised, a reflection of the glory that the Incarnate Word sheds on them.


What sets great spiritualities apart from others is that they delve deeply enough into the mystery of Christ to acquire in their essential elements a universal dimension that transcends the accidental characteristics reflecting the mind-set of a particular time or cultural milieu. That is why, without losing any of their rich teaching, they prove suitable for the integration of values highlighted in other times and places, This is true of Montfort spirituality, which is rooted in the supreme mystery of the Incarnation.

A. Bossard

Notes: (1) R. F. Littledale, A Commentary on the Song of Songs Ancient and Medieval Sources, 1869. (2) St. Bonaventure, Mirror of Perfection, chap. 46. (3) On this evolution and discovery, cf. S. de Fiores, Itinerario. (4) It is obviously possible to grasp the immediate meaning of Montfort’s spiritual way and to act on it without studying the historical context (otherwise it would remain the preserve of scholars!). It is, however, important to be acquainted with the cultural environment in order to grasp the ins and outs of Montfort’s theological and spiritual teaching. (5) It is beyond doubt that Montfort drew on all the material available to him that suited his personal concerns and his spiritual insights, consequently, we cannot restrict his sources to the members of the French school, like Bourgoing, Boudon, Olier, Saint Jure, and Nepveu, to say nothing of Bérulle himself. Besides, whenever these are mentioned, the precise references to them that we can establish thanks to N and the texts of the principal works (not least N) do not tell the whole story. Just as important is the fact that when he was at Saint-Sulpice, especially when under the influence of Olier, he lived in an atmosphere steeped in the teaching of the French school. Cf. H. Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France (History of Religious Feeling in France), vol. 3, La Conquête mystique de l’Ecole française (The Mystical Victory of the French School), Bloud et Gay, Paris 1921; S. De Fiores, Itinerario spirituale di S. Luigi di Montfort, passim. (6) Cf. Abbé A. David, Le Père de Montfort par ses meilleurs historiens (Father de Montfort by the Best Historians), Librairie mariale, Paris 1947, 113. (7) J. Dagens, preface to Bérulle et les origines de la restauration catholique (Bérulle and the Origins of the Catholic reform [1571-1611]), DDB, Paris 1952, 8 ("He [Bérulle] heralds the work of M. Vincent, Olier, Father Eudes, Father Grignion de Montfort"); A. Molien, avant-propos to Les grandeurs de Marie d’après les écrivains de l’Ecole française (The Greatness of Mary in the Writings of the French School), DDB, Paris 1934, 7, and especially preface, pp. 106-109; P. Cochois, Bérulle et l’Ecole française (Bérulle and the French School), Seuil, Series Maîtres spirituels, Paris 1963, 164-165; R.P. Poupon, avant-propos to Le poème de la parfaite consécration Marie, Lyon 1947, 7-17. We must also remember the work by Fr. Lhoumeau, S.M.M., who was the first to investigate Montfort’s sources: La vie spirituelle à l’école de saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (The Spiritual Life of the School of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort), Beyaert, Bruges 1954. H. Bremond thought highly of this work, which he studied carefully in one of its early editions. We must also mention the solid Préface by Father Huré, S.M.M., to the "typeset" edition of L’Amour de la Sagesse Eternelle (LEW), Librairie mariale, Calvaire de Pontchâteau (Calvary of Pontchâteau), 1929, 57-82, in which he widened the perspective, which had been mostly Marian until then, by showing the value of Montfort’s book. (8) "The Incarnation holds a very central place in all of Bérulle’s doctrine, "the apostle of the incarnate Word" (J. Dagens, Bérulle et les origines (Bérulle and the Origins), 291); cf. H. Bremond, Histoire littéraire, 43ff. Father Molien, Les grandeurs de Marie (The Greatness of Mary), 14, quotes, and expresses his approval of the following by Fr. Houssaye: "With inexorable logic he would always refer everything back to the the one source of the Incarnate Word." See also H.-M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP, Maternité divine et Incarnation (Divine Maternity and the Incarnation), Vrin, Paris 1949, 202-218. (9) We refer the reader to Fr. Gilbert, SJ, L’exégèse spirituelle de Montfort (The Spiritual Exegesis of Montfort), in NRT 5 (November-December 1982), 678-691. The author demonstrates both the quality of Montfort’s biblical interpretation and originality (in his exegesis of the Book of Wisdom), p. 684. For his part, Father Grelot, SJ, La Bible et la Parole de Dieu (The Bible and the Word of God), Desclée, Paris 1965, wrote: "For a proper use of the texts relating to Wisdom, it is advisable to turn to the well-known Book of Eternal Wisdom by Blessed Suso and LEW by Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. (10) Gilbert, L’exégèse spirituelle (Spiritual Exegesis), 688. (11) A study of Montfort’s vocabulary in LEW is very illuminating. On many occasions the word "wisdom" used on its own refers to Jesus, e.g., LEW 11, 19, 73, 155, etc. Sometimes the expression "eternal Wisdom" refers directly to Christ, e.g., LEW 9, 11, 70, 71, 118, 131, 155, 167, 173, etc. The same is true for "divine wisdom," e.g., LEW 6, 8, 95, etc. (12) As far as Bérulle is concerned, cf. P. Cochois, Bérulle et l’Ecole française (Bérulle and the French School), 87-89: "The Mystery of the Incarnation, is one of self-emptying for love," "The Incarnation, an ecstasy of eternal Love." (13) According to Gilbert, L’exégèse spirituelle (Spiritual Exegesis), 684: "This example of Montfort as a spiritual exegete of the Book of Wisdom is exceptional." (14) Montfort did not much care for theological speculation for its own sake. And he does not appear to have taken much notice of the celebrated theological controversy on the theme of the Incarnation. Supposing humanity had not sinned, would the Word have become man? To this question St. Thomas Aquinas answered in the negative, whereas Duns Scot answered in the affirmative. Similarly, in Montfort’s time Bérulle linked the Incarnation to the Redemption, whereas Olier was inclined to think that the Incarnation would have taken place anyway. As for Montfort, he bluntly states that the Incarnation, as it actually took place, aimed at the salvation of humanity and, consequently, at the resulting glory of God. Should we go further and infer from the loving complicity that he discovered between Eternal Wisdom and humanity (by virtue of the Creation, and therefore before sin), that the logic of this love would have involved the Incarnation? Similarly again, since Montfort is so much concerned about the glory of God, and the Incarnation in itself can procure it in an unparalleled way, was he not inclined to share Olier’s view? (15) Montfort uses the word "restore" several times to express the purpose of the coming of Incarnate Wisdom: to restore man by restoring him to the original dignity that he lost by sinning (LEW 40, 42, 95, 104; TD 156). (16) Throughout his writings, Montfort regards the Incarnation as a mystery of love. We shall see this when dealing with other themes. It is particularly noticeable in H 64:41, H 90:4. (17) The close connection between the Incarnation and the Cross is mentioned in, among others, FC 3, 16, and in H 28:2, H 97:9, 12. (18) All this presupposes that in order to understand Montfort’s teaching, it is necessary to refer to what the French school says about the "states" of Jesus and their mystical permanence, the fundamental state in which all the others are rooted being the Incarnation. (19) In fact Montfort takes up this theme throughout TD and SM, as he does in LEW, chap. 17. (20) Cf. P. Cochois, L’Incarnation, mystere d’aneantissement par amour (The Incarnation, a mystery of self-emptying out of love), 87-88: in line with Phil 2:7; cf. also Poupon, Le poème, 45-49. (21) It occurs in the Consecration formula (LEW 223): "I thank you for having emptied yourself in assuming the condition of a slave." But it does not occur anywhere else in Montfort’s major works. The word also occurs in H 158:4 on the Eucharist: "See the vanished glory." (22) Cf. TD 18, 27, 139, 243; SM 63. (23) LEW 205, 223, 226; TD 27, 139, 156, 157, 198. (24) Even in the latter instance, Montfort draws a clear distinction between the time of the hidden life and that of the public life: the fact that he mentions a form of dependence during the "thirty years" of his hidden life (TD 18 139, 198) prompts us to conclude not that all that time Jesus remained dependent on Mary like a young child does on its mother but, rather, that a radical change took place when he began his "public life." (25) PM is rich in explicit or implicit references to the Incarnation being fundamental, especially when Montfort speaks of the Son (PM 6) and of the Holy Spirit (PM 15). As for the maternal role of Mary in raising up and forming the missionaries for whom Montfort is praying (PM 11, 12, 13, 15, 20, 24, 25), we must remember how closely connected she is with the Incarnation. (26) N shows how deeply interested Montfort was in this theme, as he quotes passages borrowed from Argentan, Bourgoing, and Olier. Cf. Eyckeler, Cahier de Notes, xix, 176-178, 10, 185. It appears certain that he learned the prayer of Olier "Jesus, living in Mary" from the Sulpicians; he paraphrases it in Hymn 111 and adds the word "reign": "Jesus, living in Mary. . . come dwell in us and reign"; he also wrote a hymn dealing at length with the presence of Jesus in Mary: "In honor of Jesus living in Mary in the Incarnation" (H 87). (27) Bérulle himself was careful not to rank the Incarnation above the Trinity: "After the mystery of the Trinity, there is no greater mystery." De la Visitation, in Oeuvres de pieté, Migne, 973). (28) Without any doubt, it is difficult for us to share Montfort’s psychological perspective and to appreciate the expressions he used. But leaving aside the "psychological" side of it, we have to face the objective reality of the Incarnation, of which Mary was sufficiently aware to utter her fully conscious and responsible "fiat." According to Vatican II, on the day of the Annunciation she said yes to the saving love of God expressed in the mystery: "Embracing God’s saving will with a full heart . . . she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son . . . she served the mystery of redemption" (LG 56). There is no question in her having a clear and distinct Knowledge of those who were to be saved. The fact remains that, implicitly but really, we are concerned with the "yes" of Mary in union with her Son’s divine will of salvation. It is in this sense that today we can try to sift the truth from Montfort’s assertion. (29) In Montfort’s time, the conscious acceptance by Jesus, from the first moment of his human existence, of all that he was called to accomplish, presented no problem. What Christ was humanly conscious of, however, especially at the time of the Incarnation, remains an unfathomable mystery that commands our respect. Montfort’s assertion as a theological proposition can be defended. It was widely accepted and taught until relatively recent times. Be it as it may, here again it is wise to concentrate on the "objective" content of the mystery, which is enough to justify Montfort’s assertion. (30) This is another theme that recurs in Montfort’s sources, notably in Bérulle and Olier (cf., among others, Molien, Les grandeurs de Marie, chap. 17-19). (31) The reason may be quite simply that he does not want to use terms that are too complicated which would require an explanation for his audience of simple people. (32) This is how Father Molien, Les grandeurs de Marie, 42, quotes Bérulle’s thought on this point: "The Incarnate Word living on earth was in a new state that is permanent in heaven and in eternity. Undoubtedly the facts of his life occurred only once. They were carried out in the past, but their virtue remains and will never pass away, nor will the love with which they were carried out. . . . The Spirit of God, through whom this mystery was accomplished, the interior state of the exterior mystery. . . . The living disposition through which Jesus accomplished this mystery is stili alive, actual, and present to Jesus." The French school has highlighted in a special way a deep reality that sustains the Church, which keeps it alive for us in the liturgy and invites us to live it. (33) It does so, for example, when he speaks of the Eucharist (H 134), on the occasion of Christmas, as is only natural (H 57, H 61, H 63-66), when he speaks of the Sacred Heart (H 40, H 41). Although it is abundantly clear that Montfort does not speak only of the Incarnation and does not approach every subject only with immediate reference to this mystery, the fact that the subject comes up so frequently is significant. (34) Paul VI, Signum magnum, I, 3; RMat 27. (35) Pointing out these "convergences" does not mean that we have to go out of our way to see them as the result of a direct, still less exclusive, influence of Montfort. John Paul II, however, makes no mystery of the fact that he is imbued with Montfort’s way of thinking, which explains why we find the same emphases in both of them. (36) See, among others, LG, chap. 8, no. 63-65; MC, introduction, 17, 19; RMat 1, 5, 24, 26, etc.

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

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