Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Models in Montfort’s Life: 1. Persons; 2. The works of spiritual masters. II. Models in Montfort’s Works: 1. The Trinity; 2. Jesus Christ Wisdom; 3. Mary; 4. The saints; 5. The Apostles: a. A life of poverty abandoned to Divine Providence, b. Burning with zeal for the Lord, c. Wisdom crucified, d. The apostolic community, e. Mary, Mother of the Montfort apostles. III. Montfort as Model.

A "model" should be understood in the context of human and spiritual growth. A model’s function is to share with another person the ideals which he himself has lived; the model’s values, then, become principles of behavior for other persons and, "a means of historical continuity for society."1 For the model to fulfill his role and effectively contribute to the education of another, he must be chosen consciously.

A model not only clarifies "real life" for another but often represents what the subject would like to become; the model is, then, the "ideal image of the self." It is according to the behavior and values of the model that the subject evaluates himself, corrects himself, and matures. From one point of view, the model is chosen only to be outmatched and thus reinterpreted in an original way by the subject when the model is God.


1. Persons

We do not know exactly what Louis Marie’s family or other personal relationship models were, nor what influence they may have had during his childhood. Following Grandet, we might mention a deep affection between the child Louis and his mother Jeanne Robert.2 She became, one can presume, a model which influenced his understanding of Our Lady.

When Louis Marie moved to Rennes, it marked the beginning of his human and Christian adventure. The adolescent Montfort had his first contact with the Jesuits at the College of St. Thomas Becket, and they served as a springboard for his later Sulpician experience in Paris. During this whole period (from 1684 to 1700, the year of his ordination), Montfort had contact with people and institutions that would profoundly influence his personality. They were the models from whom Louis learned in a most special way, the art of the interior life and of the apostolate.

Fathers Descartes, Gilbert, and Bellier were among the first of his instructors to have an influence on him. They initiated him into a more intense spiritual life. From Fr. Descartes he learned loving intimacy with God and a knowledge of the mysteries of Christ. He also learned to appreciate a life of poverty where God was the sole possession.3 These are also themes he learned from Fr. Gilbert, whose "pious behavior" made him the butt of jokes and mockery on the part of the students of the Jesuit school. Louis imitated and developed this behavior, while at the same time learning from his teacher how to bear crosses, insults, and pain in silence. During this Rennes period, he also experienced the influence of another teacher, Fr. Bellier. He introduced Louis to the love of the poor (expressed by the charity Bellier showed toward them ) and to the missionary ideal (Bellier participated from time to time in the activities of Father Leuduger’s parish mission team). At Rennes Louis joined the Marian Sodality, which was directed by Fr. Prévost. The Montfort ideal of Christian perfection and of a concrete love for the poor found a favorable environment in the intense spiritual climate of the Marian Sodality. This especially influenced Louis in his devotion to Mary. During these years it was to take on the quality of an affectionate and stable relationship toward the Mother of God.

When he was a student in Paris, his love of poverty received a decisive impetus within the environment of Father de la Barmondière’s residence for poor seminarians. He lived the rules of the house quite strictly. He refused stipends in order to be utterly poor and "have no personal possessions." In doing this, he accepted as a normal condition of life the insecurity of the poor, deprived of any economic support and laid open to the uncertainty of tomorrow. In this way, he could become rooted in an absolute trust in God’s Providence (cf. L 2).4 Perfectly linked to love, voluntary poverty had a twofold direction: toward God and toward his brothers and sisters in need. In Paris, Montfort continued to help the poor in all the ways he could. He found a model in the person of Fr. de la Barmondière, who, despite the fact that he had a considerable personal fortune, lived like a poor man and spent his time in works of charity. Montfort cherished his regularity in prayer, his disregard for Paris society, his practice of penance, his Marian devotion and his apostolic zeal. Montfort also imitated Father Bayün’s practices of penance, poverty, patience in illness, and Marian devotion to the point of slavery. But before everything, he imitated the mystical orientation of his spiritual life (the splendor of God expressed in a horror of sin and the fear of desecrating the Sacraments, as well as in the experience of God’s infinite bounty). He also imitated the strongly apostolic dimension of his spirituality.

2. The works of the spiritual masters

During his formation period, Montfort came in contact with the central persons and spiritual movements of his time and with the classical works of the spiritual masters. He was profoundly moved by certain ones who became genuine models for him.

Montfort’s behavior and his doctrine on the Cross were influenced by the works of H. Boudon (1624-1702), including The Holy Ways of the Cross.5 On a Marian level, Montfort changed some of his attitudes in response to another of Boudon’s writings, God Alone, or the Holy Slavery of the Admirable Mother of God. Louis Marie’s devotion to shrines and images of Our Lady, as well as his entry into a confraternity of "Holy Slavery," flow in great part from his readings of Boudon.

In the formation years at Saint-Sulpice, Louis Marie came to know the writings of Surin. He discovered in those works a spiritual man, completely centered on the love of God who lived on a supernatural plane. Montfort learned how to pray for hours, through a spiritual and sapiential rather than a speculative theological approach. He discovered in Surin an apostolic passion to defend the love of God, and extraordinary penances as indispensable means of acquiring the virtues. Surin’s spirituality, which at this particular time permitted Montfort to unify his spiritual life, he subsequently surpassed. Louis Marie found the unifying center of his life in the experience of Jesus as Wisdom and in the living example of Christ and his poor Apostles.

At the Saint Sulpice Seminary, Montfort came to know another model of the spiritual life, J.J. Olier (1608-1657). In addition to imitating his external behavior (e.g., speaking of God during recreation, kissing the wounds of the sick, making pilgrimages, renouncing academic degrees and ecclesiastical stipends), Montfort drew from Olier an important aspect of his Marian spirituality, the doctrine of Jesus living in Mary. A number of passages from TD were in fact developed from notes taken from the Letters of M. Olier. They are the pages where Montfort speaks of the profound union of Mary and Jesus, based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word in her womb, which the saints called aula sacramentorum, "the throne-room of God’s mysteries" (cf. TD 246-248).

Montfort again borrowed from Olier certain ways of looking at things that marked his apostolate. In the first place, there was the idea of the Company of Mary itself, which he had been thinking of since 1700 (cf. L 5), as an "apostolic group." Louis was to broaden his understanding of this idea, in that those who were to follow this path would burn with zeal to renew the spirit of Christianity among Christians themselves (cf. RM 2). The very notion of a priest as a man burning with zeal and marked with the royal dignity of Christ, which for Montfort was manifested especially in voluntary poverty (cf. LCM 6, 8), was influenced by Olier.

The years that followed immediately upon his ordination to the priesthood (1700) were governed by the discovery of Wisdom, thanks to the reading of the works of Saint-Jure. From him Montfort took the very idea of Wisdom and the first three means for obtaining it: a burning desire for Wisdom, continuous prayer, and universal mortification (cf. LEW 181-202). The writings of Saint-Jure intensified Louis Marie’s solid Christocentricity.


1. The Trinity

Among the reasons Montfort gives as proofs of the goodness of God and of the "perfect practice" of true devotion, there is God’s very own way of acting. Montfort asserts that to consecrate oneself to Christ through Mary is to imitate the Trinity itself in the "dependence" the triune God chose to have on Mary (TD 140). In TD, as in SM 35, he gives the motives for it: the Father gives us Christ, makes us His children, and gives us His graces through Mary; the Son came to us through Mary and invites us to go to him via the same path; the Holy Spirit forms Christ and the members of his mystical Body in union with Mary, just as it is through her that He communicates His graces. For all these reasons, Montfort can say: "It is only right then that we should imitate His [God’s] conduct" (TD 142).6

2. Jesus Christ Wisdom

In H 44:14, Montfort describes the twelfth practice of devotion to the Heart of Jesus: imitation. This consists in identifying one’s thinking with that of Christ and in deciding to walk along behind him. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is "the only model that we should imitate" (TD 61), because in him is the fullness of divinity and grace. Montfort here is referring to Eph 4:13, where St. Paul invites us "to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ."7

Above all, Jesus is to be imitated in his submission to Mary. In TD 18, Montfort reviews the whole human adventure of Jesus from the point of view of the "dependence" he had on his mother. That would include the humility and obedience of Jesus, so clear in the mystery of Jesus living in Mary. Montfort sees in Christ’s conception, his birth, His presentation in the temple, and in the sacrifice of the Cross irrefutable evidence of Christ’s dependence on Mary. He reminds us that it was Mary who "nursed Him, fed Him, cared for Him, reared Him and sacrificed Him for us." And this manifests "the independence and majesty of Christ," i.e. the freedom of love (another attitude to be imitated). Those who consecrate themselves to Mary, Montfort says, "behave in the same way as Christ by utterly and completely submitting themselves to her" (TD 196).

Accepting the Cross like Christ is a second requisite of Montfort’s in the imitation of Jesus. Its principle is asserted in FC 42. In this passage, Montfort invites his followers not to seek crosses voluntarily for themselves but, rather, "to imitate our Lord, of whom it was said, ‘He did all things well.’" Why and how are we to imitate Wisdom crucified? Montfort answers this "why" in LEW 173-80, where he reflects on the theme of the Cross in relation to man. Since the Cross is the victory standard of Jesus, it is the same for his friends. It makes us more like Christ and worthy of being sons of the Father, members of Christ, and temples of the Spirit. When it is borne well, the Cross is the sign of the love we have for God and a proof of the love God has for us. Finally, it brings joy, peace, and an "immense weight of glory in heaven." What the imitation of Christ crucified means for man in the concrete is explained in FC 18. Here, in referring to the spatial dimensions of "breadth, length and depth" of the Cross, Montfort seems to indicate three modalities of imitation. The first (the "breadth" dimension) recalls the solidity of the Cross, which is even heavier than foreseen; the second (the "length" dimension) stresses the patience needed to bear crosses by remaining faithfully united to the One crucified; the third dimension (that of "depth") returns us to the inner moral sufferings that allow us to sacrifice ourselves with Christ.

To imitate Christ crucified, to live in his Cross, is also to abide in Wisdom, which has set up its dwelling place there and has so intimately united itself to the Cross: "Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 180). To search for Christ crucified is to search for Wisdom, and to find Wisdom is to find Christ crucified.

3. Mary

The essential practice of true devotion to Mary, Montfort says in SM 45, is to do everything with her: "This means that we must take her as the accomplished model for all we have to do." And this "all we have to do" is made explicit in TD 260: take her as "the perfect model of every virtue and perfection." After reading the two texts side by side, we may conclude that one of the ways that the Virgin Mary is a model is through the superlative nature of her virtues. Montfort mentions three in TD 260: "Mary’s faith, her profound humility and her godlike purity." In TD 108, he asks his readers to model themselves on the ten chief virtues of the Virgin Mary: "her profound humility, her living faith, her blind obedience, her continuous prayer, her universal mortification, her godlike purity, her fervent charity, her heroic patience, her evangelical gentleness and her godlike wisdom."

In other Montfort texts, Mary is seen not only as a model to be imitated but as the one who models us into the image of Jesus Christ (cf. TD 33). Mary is in fact the mold in which Christ was formed (cf. TD 220). And this is why a person who gives himself to her "is quickly shaped and molded into Jesus and Jesus into him" (TD 219). As a means to a deeper life in Christ, Our Lady goes beyond the understanding of "instrument" to become a vital, personal, maternal presence with the devout soul, who then finds himself glorifying God with the very soul of Mary and rejoicing in God with her spirit: "Her spirit will take the place of yours" (TD 217).

4. The Saints

In the eyes of those who look upon them, the saints (those of the past and those of today, canonized or not) are models to be imitated in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin, chosen as an easy path for reaching Christ (cf. TD 152). In the stormy sea of this world, these souls are bound to Mary and in such a way that they are saved. This is why Saint Louis de Montfort can say: "Blessed, indeed, are those Christians who bind themselves faithfully and completely to her as to a secure anchor!" (TD 175). But the imitation of the saints does not only have to do with their attachment to Mary. In fact they are also to be imitated insofar as they have let themselves be formed by her. "The formation and the education of the great saints who will come at the end of the world are reserved to her" (TD 35). And they will be enlightened, nourished, generated, sustained, and preserved by her with the mission to destroy evil and to rebuild the city of God, which is Mary herself as the sheltering womb of God (cf. TD 98).

Finally, from the texts of Montfort, we are able to draw up a series of virtues typical of saints: humility, prayer, abandonment to Providence, obedience to God, mortification (cf. SM 4; RM 19; H 8:24; H 16:12), praying the Rosary (cf. SR), devotion to Mary (cf. SM 1, 6; TD 156), hope (cf. H 7:2), charity (cf. H 14:6) steadfastness (cf. H 38:120), and finally the love of the Cross (cf. LEW 175).

5. The Apostles

Montfort looks upon the Apostles as models of his missionaries of the end times.8 He speaks of them in TD 55-59 and in the Triptych (PM, RM, and LCM), where Montfort traces a profile of them characterized by five basic qualities. They are the same characteristics that Montfort requires for the members of his Company of Mary:

a. A life of poverty abandoned to Divine Providence.

To live in voluntary poverty and in the abandonment to Divine Providence constitutes one of the primary characteristics of an apostolic person, in Montfort’s thought. This distinguishes the manner of living the apostolate (the refusal of funded missions and a living that depends on salaries from the people) (cf. RM 50);9 the style of life of the missionaries during a parish mission (detachment from the self in order to cling to God; detachment from things and persons; detachment from the outcome of the mission) (cf. PM 7-10, 23); and the idea itself of the missionary’s status understood as "itinerant," with docility to the motion of the Spirit, Who sends the missionary where He will. Trust in God (cf. LCM), love for real poverty, which accepts the fact that one earns one’s living by missionary work, and experience of the privations that accompany poverty in the matter of clothing, housing and travel are all intrinsic to a life of voluntary poverty (cf. LCM 9-11).

b. Burning with zeal for the Lord.

Poor and abandoned to Divine Providence, Montfort’s apostolic missionary has a passion for the Kingdom of God and the salvation of man (cf. H 21). It is only obedience that keeps zeal from taking an undisciplined and inhibiting course, because it gives direction to the total availability required of missionaries (cf. PM 21; RM 19-27).10 Montfort’s zeal finds its specific focus in fervent and sound preaching. Filled with the Spirit of God and with a thorough familiarity with the Word of God, the missionary can light the way for his hearers so that they may be converted to the love of God (cf. RM 60-64). Preaching can become a centrifugal force, in the sense that it is always capable of affecting the missionary himself, urging him on to a deeper union with Christ. To do this, Montfort asks his followers to be constantly concerned about their own sanctification (cf. H 22) by fulfilling the duties it requires: asceticism, prayer, retreats, study. Zeal also possesses its own special characteristics. It is gentle like the zeal of Christ because it brings man closer to the very tenderness of the Master; it is creative and enterprising; it urges one to become all things to all (cf. H 21:17-24; H 22:19-21, 25-28).

c. Wisdom crucified.

There is, in Montfort’s eyes, an identity between Wisdom and the Cross (LEW 180). There is, therefore, an identity between the authentic preacher of Wisdom and the Cross (cf. PM 24-25). In the school of Wisdom crucified, the missionary learns how to be wise according to the Cross, thus becoming a sign of contradiction to the world. In fact, to follow the scientia sapida of the Cross is to place oneself naturally in conflict with the wisdom of the world (cf. RM 37), because its principles and pseudo- values are rejected. Moreover, the apostle lives the Pauline motto of nonconformity to the mentality of the world (cf. Rom 12:2). Humiliations, mockeries, calumnies, and conflicts are the Cross that the missionary carries with Christ. An apostolic person must therefore be well trained in order to make a total commitment to such an evangelical life.

d. The apostolic community.

The Montfort community is presented as a group of people gathered together, ready to set out as "itinerants" on the mission where the Spirit of God and obedience is calling them (cf. PM 9-10; RM 6). The mission to which the missionaries are called actually gives form to the community because it sets up its rhythms of life and prayer (cf. RM 66- 67). Yet community is also a prerequisite of mission because it is "together," as a united and compact group, that apostolic men live the mission of evangelization in the midst of the people of God, especially among the poor. Montfort insists upon community apostolate. In its life, the community has a special rhythm, with moments of prayer and common life that cannot be neglected except when certain mission commitments may dictate otherwise. The apostolic community lives poverty and obedience in a total abandonment to Divine Providence, which provides for all the missionary’s needs (cf. RM 45).

e. Mary, Mother of the Montfort apostles.

It is in a threefold way that Montfort describes the relationship between Mary and the Company of Montfort’s apostolic men. Above all, Mary is the Mother who generates, feeds, and sustains her missionaries. She makes them strong to enable them to accomplish the mission to which they have been called. She acts through her children in their very apostolate. Her motherhood is a missionary motherhood (cf. PM 11; TD 54- 56; SM 59).

Since Mary is Christ’s mother, it follows that her motherhood in regard to the missionaries consists also in conforming them to the image of her Son. To the precise extent that apostolic men become part of Mary’s household and abide in her, they will be progressively and unceasingly configured to Christ, and they will learn from Christ himself, who abides in Mary permanently, to live in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. PM 25).

This relationship with Mary leads to the experience of Christ the Savior. Living in Mary brings about intimacy with the Son. Christ the Savior came to humanity by means of the Virgin Mary, and it is through her that he is to reign in the world, thus extending over all the lordship of love. Mary’s place in the saving plan of God is intrinsic; to pull the Mary-thread out of the weaving of salvation history is to destroy the tapestry as God has designed it. For this reason, preaching Mary and a tender devotion to her plays a central and precise part in the evangelizing activity of Montfort’s missionaries of the Company of Mary (cf. PM 12; RM 57).


We may speak of Montfort as a model from two points of view: those of imitation in particular (exemplification) or in general (exemplary nature).

Montfort may be considered, first of all, as a model to be imitated in the here and now. This imitation of Saint Louis Marie’s ways enables us to live a life in keeping with Gospel values. In this perspective, we can think of his devotion to the poor, the tenderness and patience of his behavior, his great mastery of self, his creativity in preaching, and his style of living as a poor man, humble and abandoned to Divine Providence. Choosing Montfort as a model requires solid knowledge of his life and teachings, which influence us to choose the Montfort model instead of so many others set forth by modern culture. The choice carries with it all the implications that flow from such a decision.

To consider Saint Louis Marie as a model in general, it is not so important to consider what Montfort "is" as to see him as a person who strongly directs us towards the Absolute. His life, whether in its entirety or in individual actions, here becomes the sign of the Other to whom we are sent: God Alone. In this sense, the Montfort model is a means whereby we arrive at a personal encounter in the Spirit with God and with His Son, but with a special evangelical stress on Mary. We are now in the domain of "charism" understood as an "experience of the Spirit" (Mutuae relationes, 11), as a means of entering into the life of the divine archetype, God.

R. Gabbiadini

Notes: (1) S. De Giacinto, Modello, in G. Flores d’Arcais, ed., Nuovo Dizionario di Pedagogia, Paoline, Brescia 1882, 834. (2) Grandet, 2. (3) An echo of this placing of oneself on the side of Divine Love with its practical consequences can be found in FC 7-12. (4) "Poverty thus returns to its mystical and theological aspect: it is a detachment from the realm of the ephemeral in order to be anchored in the absolute, in God Alone." S. De Fiores, Itinerario, 95. (5) Boudon’s recommendations concerning behavior, although strange to contemporary ears, are rather typical of the spirituality of the French school. Cf. ibid., 104- 105. (6) On the connection between the Trinity and Mary, TD 14-39 are enlightening. These texts describe a threefold bond between the Virgin Mary and each of the Persons of the Trinity. The first bond results from the mystery of the Incarnation, where, after giving Mary her fruitfulness, the Father generates the Son through her (cf. TD 16, 17); the Son, by permitting himself to be "imprisoned in her womb" (TD 18), became man for us in Mary and through Mary (cf. TD 16, 18, 19); the Spirit, though sterile in God, became fruitful by forming Christ in Mary (cf. TD 16, 20, 21). The second bond results from Mary’s mission (the relationship between the Trinity, Mary, and humanity). The Father makes Mary the immense treasury of His graces and gathers them together in her, just as all the waters come together in the sea (cf. TD 23); the Son makes Mary the merciful channel through which he showers his mercies on human beings (cf. TD 24); the Spirit communicates His gifts to Mary and makes her the administrator of what He possesses (cf. TD 25). The third bond is that intervening between the Trinity and the Church, where the Father generates children for Himself through Mary (cf. TD 29-30); still through her, the Son wishes every day to become incarnate in his members (cf. TD 31-33); finally, the Holy Spirit wishes to form the elect in and through her (cf. TD 34-36). (7) In TD 62, Montfort asserts that Jesus Christ is the ultimate goal of the veneration given to the Virgin; or better, "this devotion is necessary, simply and solely because it is a way of reaching Jesus perfectly, loving Him tenderly, and serving Him faithfully." We imitate Christ, of whom Mary is the mold (cf. TD 129). Mary’s life is a life that follows Christ, the perfect model. (8) As regards the basic characteristics of missionaries of recent years, see R. Gabbiadini, "La formazione dell’uomo apostolico nella congregazione montfortana. La ‘Ratio Montfortana’ del 1987; analisi del testo e rilievi critici" (The Formation of an Apostolic Man in the Montfort Congregation. The Montfort ‘Ratio’ of 1987: Analysis of the Text and Critical Notes), dissertation for the licentiate in the science of education, given at the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome 1991, 33-61. (9) On the custom of funded missions, see P. L. Nava, "La missione al popolo di s. Luigi di Montfort: natura e metodo" (Montfort’s Mission to the People: Nature and Method), Sussidi di animazione montfortana 5, Rome 1984, 25-26; S. De Fiores, La "missione" nell’itinerario spirituale e apostolico di s. Luigi Maria da Montfort (The "Mission" in the Spiritual and Apostolic Itinerary of Saint Louis de Montfort), in QM 2 (1985), 27 (10) On obedience in Montfort’s works, see H. Frehen, Le "caractère particulier" de la Compagnie de Marie suivant le P. de Montfort (The ‘Particular Character’ of the Company of Mary, following the Thought of Father de Montfort), in DM 41 (1968) 6- 12.

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

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