Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Introduction. II. The Context of Saint Louis Marie’s Doctrine on Sin: 1. Montfort, the parish missionary; 2. Montfort’s overarching theology; 3. Montfort’s sanctity. II. The Nature of Sin: 1. Sin in general; 2. Sin as rupture of covenant love; 3. Sin as lack of harmony. III. Kinds of Sin: 1. The sin of the angels; 2. Original sin; 3. Actual sin. IV. Consequences of Sin: 1. Weakness of sinful man: a. A Christological statement; b. Nature and grace. V. Forgiveness of Sins: 1. Jesus, friend of sinners; 2. Jesus, redeemer of sinners; 3. Mary and sinners. VI. Means of Avoiding Sin: 1. Mindfulness of God’s love; 2. Devotion to Our Lady. VII. Relevance of Montfort’s Teaching on Sin: 1. Sin Exists; 2. Social sins; 3. The mercy of God; 4. Asceticism; 5. Frequent use of sacraments; 6. Avoidance of moral relativism; 7. Sin and psychological development.

I. Introduction

“Cry out full throated, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Is 58:1). This Introit, which was sung for the feast of Blessed Louis Marie de Montfort (Clama, ne cesses), underlines the missionary’s powerful call to repentance. Saint Louis Marie’s vocation was to be a preacher of renewal and reform, especially through parish missions; the proclamation of the horror of sin and the infinite mercy of God is a prominent and central element of his ministry.

After reviewing some prerequisites for an authentic understanding of Montfort’s doctrine on sin, the article examines St. Louis’s explanation of the nature of sin, the kinds of sin, its consequences, and the forgiveness of sins, which strengthens the resolve to take the means necessary to avoid sin. The article closes with some brief reflections on the relevance of Saint Louis Marie’s teaching on sin for contemporary men and women.

II. The Context of Saint Louis Marie’s Doctrine on Sin

In order to grasp Saint Louis de Montfort’s understanding of the “mystery of iniquity” three points especially should be underlined.

1. Montfort, the parish missionary

It is to be expected that a priest engaged in bringing about the reform of the Church (PM 17) would preach resolutely against sin. And that is precisely what Montfort did.1 Boldness and urgency form the persistent, repetitive background beat of all Montfort’s preaching on sin. Sinful transgressions are the destructive force engulfing individuals and the entire human family. They offend Jesus, holding back the reign of love: sinners must either change the direction of their lives without delay or risk the fires of hell. With Jesus, the missionary cries out: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). The time is “now” and repentance is not to be put off for one moment (H 94:5; 126:11; 137:14) for the kingdom of God is already present in Jesus (LEW 193) and we must strive for its fulfillment by turning away from sin and turning towards the Gospel, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom.

Montfort’s conviction that it is his vocation to destroy sin and establish the reign of Christ through Mary is found throughout his writings.2 He joyfully puts the meaning of his vocation to song: “I run around this world, / I have taken on a vagabond spirit / in order to save my poor neighbor / What! Should I see the soul of my dear brother/ perish all around by sin, / without it touching my heart?” (H 22:1); “I cannot rest an hour / nor stay in the same place, / seeing Jesus so offended! / Alas! everywhere they wage war against him. / Sin reigns all over. / Souls fall into the fire / I want to cry out like a clap of thunder” (H 22:12); “If by my life and the blood of my veins / I destroy one only sin, / If I bring about only one heart touched by you / You are paying too much for all my troubles” (H 22:13). His parish missions are a call to the village to seek “pardon for sins committed” (H 163:12).

Writing autobiographically, he indicates one of the chief roles of the apostles of the end times: “They will give battle, overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, schismatics and their schisms, idolaters and their idolatries, sinners and their wickedness” (TD 48). “They will be like thunder clouds flying through the air at the slightest breath of the Holy Spirit . . . They will thunder against sin, they will storm against the world, they will strike down the devil” (TD 57).

2. Montfort’s overarching theology

In order to understand Montfort’s sense of sin, one must first grasp his overarching theology embodied in his Collected Writings and explained in the many entries of this Handbook (particularly the articles on “Trinity,” “Sacred Heart,” and “Love”). Montfort spirituality is, in the final analysis, a path to the Triune God. Thus, Montfort spirituality entails a personal, intimate, and loving relationship with God. The Montfort disciple lives a mystical marriage, a spiritual espousal, a Song of Songs relationship with God, belonging to God as the beloved of the Divine Lover. The immense mystery of God’s triune nature as a community of persons yet one love is the starting point and the goal of Montfort’s spirituality. In the words of the Song of Songs, the bridegroom says to all of us, “How beautiful you are, O my love,” and the bride responds, “How beautiful you are my love” (Sg 1:15—16).

It cannot be emphasized enough that the entire corpus of Montfort’s writings must be placed in its authentic framework: the tenderness of God who is Love itself. The saint revealed in a rather unique way the degree to which his love model of salvation is central to his teaching, by choosing it as the theme of the final sermon he would preach. Knowing that he was in the grip of death, he struggled to the pulpit to preach once more before he would go to the Lord. It was to be his farewell gift to the parish of St. Laurent, and also to his friend, Bishop de Champflour, who was present that evening. In a sense it was to be the summary of his teachings, his final word. The topic was apparently not difficult for him to choose: the tenderness of God in Jesus Christ, a theme that he was convinced moved people to repentance.3 (A probable outline of the sermon is found in LS 80–90; the content is spelled out in LEW 117–32.)

It is Montfort’s conviction that God is merciful that made him known as the simple “good Father from Montfort.” Louis Marie’s insistence that God shows tender mercies cannot be twisted into alignment with some contemporary thought denying eternal punishment. Far from it: Montfort knew the ugliness of sin and did not hesitate to preach the horrors that await the damned. But his call to forgiveness, his appeal to heed the tender mercy of God, qualifies all his preaching. Montfort cannot seem to find the terms to explain the abomination of sin; he is far more lost for words when trying to express the forgiving love of God.

3. Montfort’s sanctity

Montfort’s thought on sin must also be contextualized by the historical truth that he was a great saint—in fact, an extraordinary saint. There is clearly present in Father de Montfort a deep, sincere conviction not only of his own sinfulness but of the sinfulness of all people. His words seem to echo Paul’s: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). It would, in fact, be quite shocking not to find that experience of sinfulness in his life, for the closer one is to God, the more that person experiences distance; the more immersed in Holiness, the more sensitive to sin.4 It is only the great saint who can tastes the horrible bitterness of sin even the slightest. And as vehement as Montfort is in declaring himself “by nature” nothing, he becomes even more passionate about his dignity and power “in Christ Jesus.” Sensitivity to sin is a hallmark of Saint Louis de Montfort, as it is for all those who live so deeply within the All-Holy, Love Itself.

Montfort is, therefore, extremely conscious of his own sinfulness. His vocation to preach to sinners does not spring from any elitism or triumphalism: he sincerely counts himself as one of the greatest sinners: “Although I deserve only punishment for my sins” (L2); “I only spoil things whenever I get involved in them” (L 4); “Our human nature is so spoilt” (TD 83); “Providence has established spiritual ties between me and several other persons who are sinners like myself” (L 9). He thinks of himself as a “wretched sinner” (L 15, 16), a “poor sinner” whose “criminal hands” (L 15) hold the Holy of Holies every day. “I beg the prayers of all the ‘Friends of the Cross’ so that God will not punish my sins” (L 33); “Poor men and women who are sinners, I, a greater sinner than you” (SR 3); “Dear Friends of the Cross, we are all sinners; there is not one of us who has not deserved hell, and I more than anyone.” (FC 21) He too calls upon the mercy of Christ Jesus and in the power of that love does not fear to undertake great things—joyfully—for God and the salvation of souls (cf. TD 214).

He speaks also in his own name when he has his congregation sing: “In your blood I drown my sins and my evils” (H 46:38); “My sins have only merited an eternal death” (H 79:2). Montfort himself surely prayed the formula of consecration he placed at the end of LEW, which includes: “I . . ., a faithless sinner . . .it is by this means (i.e., through Mary) that I hope to obtain from you contrition and pardon for all my sins” (LEW 223). The preacher, Saint Louis Marie, applies to himself first of all the harsh language, characterized by dramatic emphasis, describing the weakness of sinful humankind: “by nature we are prouder than peacocks, we cling to the earth more than toads . . . more envious than serpents, greedier than pigs . . . we have nothing in us but sin” (TD 79). Montfort does not exclude himself when speaking to sinners: “be- cause of our sins” (SM 36).

II. The Nature of Sin

1. Sin in general

“But thou, our God, art kind and true and patient. . . . To know thee is the whole of righteousness, and to acknowledge thy power is the root of immortality. We have not been led astray by the perverted inventions of human skill or the barren labors of painters, by some gaudy painted shape, the sight of which arouses in fools a passionate desire for a mere image without life or breath. They are in love with evil” (Wis. 15:1–6). Sin is choosing resentment over compassion, ugliness over beauty, deceit over wisdom.

Sin is a moral evil. And as Montfort tells us, sin is rarely presented as evil but rather as good. “In general, they do not teach sin openly, but they speak of it as if it were virtuous, or blameless, or a matter of indifference and of little consequence. This guile which the devil has taught the world in order to conceal the heinousness of sin and falsehood is the wickedness spoken of by St. John when he wrote, ‘The whole world lies in the power of evil’, and now more than ever before” (LEW 199). Montfort throughout his ministry presents a clear and direct warning to sinners, to be aware of God’s righteous justice and of the eternal punishment in Hell that awaits those with unforgiven grave sins: “Every sin, says St. Augustine and Tertullian, is a debt which we contract with God, and in his justice requires payment” (SR 40). But Montfort first and foremost gave witness, as compassionate confessor and teacher, to the gentleness and unfathomable mercy of God.

2. Sin as rupture of covenant love

Montfort conceives of sin not so much as an abomination, or a revolt, or a betrayal, but more as the breaking of a relationship with Love who is God. His own thundering against sin flows directly from his conviction that sin is nothing less than a disdain for Infinite Love Incarnate (cf. L 7; LEW 1, 72; H 13:81). Although he can speak of rules that cannot be broken without sinning, his underlying concept of sin is not based on a legalistic model but on the model of the spousal relationship. Montfort appears to grasp that calling sin an infraction of the Law places us immediately within the context of God’s love, since the Law is intrinsic to God’s free, loving covenant with man.5 “You should consider your sins in the light of God’s holiness” (FC 48).

3. Sin as lack of harmony

It is for this reason that he speaks of the horror of sin; for sin is “against God Himself” (cf. H 13:81; 98:17). As his many hymns on the passion of the Lord and the Sacred Heart show, sin is “against Jesus” (H 98:7) and also against the Holy Spirit (98:13). To sin is to be out of order, to be in disharmony with the Source of all; thus sin can also be against creation itself (H 157:19). At the same time, Montfort insists that sin is also a transgression against one’s brothers and sisters (cf. H 2; 148). In a special way sin is also an offense against Our Lady. Since Mary plays a part in the redemption of sins, to refuse redemption, to refuse forgiveness, to break out of harmony with her Son is to disrupt harmony with the woman who is perfect harmony with Christ. “Sinners, we by our crimes make Mary and Jesus two very innocent victims” (H 74:7).

In the light of the above, it can be said that Montfort has the raw material for building a contemporary understanding of sin as against both God and neighbor. “Just as love of God and love of neighbor form a unity, so too sin is against both.”6 “It might be said that sins solely against God are impossible. Every sin is at least against the self (and hence is its own punishment), and God encounters us with his gifts and invitations in our fellow men, especially in Christ.”7 Contemporary teaching of the Church states in the same vein: “The sinner wounds God’s honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone.”8

III. Kinds of Sin

1. The sin of the angels

“Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy” (cf. Gen 3:1–5; Wis 2:24).9 God created the angelic world out of the self-effusiveness of his love. Angels are immaterial supernatural beings of intelligence set apart for the service of God (Ps 88:6; Jb 5:1). The angels share in the Divine Life, and were given the gift of freedom in order that they might know and love God. Lucifer, joined by other angels, chose self over God (cf. 2 Pet 2:4). Lucifer (meaning “the light bearer”) is hereafter known as Satan (meaning “the opposer”) or the Devil (meaning “the accuser”). Saint Louis de Montfort, closely following his predecessors, tells us that “Saint Michael, armed with his zeal / Struck the rebel Lucifer / And plunged him from heaven into fire” (H 21:2). “Satan fell because of pride.” (H 29:68). An allusion to this primordial battle may be found in Rev 12:7–9: “Then the war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels waged war on the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought, but they had not the strength to win, and no foothold was left to them in heaven.” The devil, humiliated in seeing that human beings are called to take his place in heaven (H 127:74; LEW 43) tries to separate people from God through sin. Montfort echoes the words of 1 Pet 5:8: “Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls around looking for someone to devour.” Montfort refers to “the self-sufficiency of proud Lucifer” (FC 18) and “that self- complacency of Lucifer” (FC 48) and “what Lucifer lost by Pride” (TD 53). Montfort presupposes that all sin, even original sin, is to be placed within the context of the fall of the angels.

2. Original sin

Saint Louis’s treatment of original sin10 is found principally in LEW, where he gives a synopsis of salvation history.11 After characterizing the first human creatures as “His supreme masterpiece, the living image of his beauty and his perfection, the great vessel of his graces, the wonderful treasury of his wealth and in a unique way his representative on earth,” Montfort dramatically describes the horror of the first sin: “The vessel of the Godhead was shattered into a thousand pieces. This beautiful star fell from the skies. This brilliant sun lost its light. Man sinned and by his sin lost his wisdom, his innocence, his beauty, his immortality. In a word he lost all the good things he was given and found himself burdened with a host of evils. His mind was darkened and impaired. His heart turned cold towards the God he no longer loved . . . Adam could see God’s justice pursuing him and all his descendants” (LEW 39–40); “The sentence of death and eternal damnation has been pronounced against man and his descendants” (LEW 44). “Even from birth, / This sin (original sin) reigns in us; / Adam, by his offense, has infected all of us” (H 109:16). Man, created to be divinized by God in glory, chose to divinize himself. Satan convinced Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Using envy of God as the basis for temptation to the sin of Pride, he said, “Of course you will not die . . . your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods knowing both good and evil” (Gen. 2:5). The Fall—man’s envy, pride, hatred, and attempted overthrow of God—was followed by man’s envy, pride, hatred, and murder of his neighbor.

Saint Louis de Montfort’s thought on original sin dovetails with the theology of his time on this subject. The question of the historicity of the Genesis account and the subsequent issues concerning original sin were, of course, unknown to him. His teaching on sin of our first parents is in harmony with the contemporary doctrine of the Church on this point: “The ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust . . . In (original) sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him . . . Created in a state holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God’. . . All men are implicated in Adam’s sin.”11

3. Actual sin

The actual sins of man are the personal and individual offenses committed against an all-loving, all-just, and personal God. Evil is that which turns man away from the incarnate and redemptive God of Love. Sin is what disrupts a person’s intimacy with and commitment to God. It is what erodes the human beloved’s spiritual marriage to the Divine Lover. Montfort states: “All natural evils which befall us, from the smallest to the greatest, come from the hand of God. The same hand that killed an army of a hundred thousand men on the spot also causes a leaf to fall from the tree and a hair from your head; the hand which pressed so heavily on Job gently touches you with a light tribulation. It is the same hand which makes both the day and the night, sunshine and darkness, good and evil. He has permitted the sinful actions which hurt you; he is not the cause of your malice, but he permits the actions” (FC 56).

To sin is to choose voluntarily a moral privation. The degree of evil that exists depends on how serious the privation is objectively and on the character of the subjective knowledge and intention of the person who is choosing a particular privation. Sin is an evil human act. It is a word, deed, desire, or omission in opposition to the eternal law of God. Serious sin requires a deliberate act. It requires the adequate exercise of the intellect and will. To understand the degree of sin one must consider “what” was done, “why” it was done, and the circumstances surrounding both. Sin is so often a subtle reality, disguised as a good. In the words of Montfort, “You must not allow this Tree [Holy Slavery of Love] to be damaged, by destructive animals, by sins, for they may cause death simply by their contact. They must not be allowed even to breathe upon the Tree, because the mere breath, that is venial sins, which are most dangerous when we do not trouble ourselves about them” (SM 75). According to the theology of his time, Saint Louis speaks of “the sin named actual, whether mortal or venial, . . . committed freely, knowingly” (H 109:16).

His distinction between the two types of sin is traditional: “Grace is always lost by a mortal sin . . . venial sin cools the charity of the Holy Spirit, its punishment is temporal” (H 109:17). In LS, the missionary has this note: “Mortal sin is an incurable evil in its very nature since no natural remedy is able to cure it, nor can man, nor the angels, etc.” (LS 625). Saint Louis’s description fits in with the teaching of the Catechism issued by Pope John Paul II: “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man . . . venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”12

IV. Consequences of Sin

1. Weakness of sinful man

Father de Montfort is very much the parish preacher when he says that “the sin of Adam has almost entirely spoiled us and soured us . . . we have in us nothing but sin and deserve only the wrath of God and the eternity of hell” (TD 79). That a deep, crippling scar remains in the baptized is forcefully taught by Montfort: “Our soul, being united to our body, has become so carnal that it has been called flesh . . . Pride and blindness of spirit, hardness of heart, weakness and inconstancy of soul, evil inclinations, rebellious passions, ailments of the body—these are all we can call our own” (TD 79). “You must realize that through the sin of Adam and through the sins we ourselves have committed, everything in us has become debased, not only our bodily sense, but also the powers of our soul” (FC 47). “By the light of the Holy Spirit given you through Mary will perceive the evil inclination of your fallen nature and how incapable you are of any good apart from that which God produces in you as Author of nature and of grace. As a consequence of this knowledge, you will despise yourself and think of yourself as a snail that soils everything with its slime, as a toad that poisons everything with its venom, as a malevolent serpent seeking only to deceive” (TD 213). What saves Louis Marie from despair is his complete trust in God who is Love, in Jesus who is all Love manifested especially through the victorious Cross, in the Holy Spirit who is the loving of the Father and the Son, and in Mary, the Mother of Fair Love. In Jesus, the threefold concupiscence is overcome: “A Friend of the Cross is an all-powerful king, a champion who triumphs over the devil, the world and the flesh in their three-fold concupiscence” (FC 4; cf. FC 6, 9, 12). Montfort’s insistence on the “nothingness” of man—which is not removed by the grace of baptism—is overwhelmed by his conviction that man is “omnipotent” in Christ Jesus.

Moreover, this experience of his weakness “by nature” never impeded his joyful creativity and his determination to reform the Church and renew the face of the earth. He is not (as some of his writings read out of context would lead one to believe) a heavy, morose man, pessimistically harping on sin: far from it. When he writes the introduction to his hymn book, he tears into prophets of gloom: “Since God is in eternal bliss, He wants his servants happy!” (H 1:10). It was precisely this mystical taste of his own nothingness which was at the same time a taste of God’s omnipotence. And all, claims the saint, are called to share in the infinite love who is God. Priests, religious—in fact all men and women are to rise up and overturn the power of sin (PM 29). Montfort assures us that the slimy toads, the proud peacocks, and the greedy pigs perform incredible wonders in building the City of God. They are personal instruments of the Spirit to the extent that they recognize their absolute nothingness and are open to the omnipotence of God.

a. Christological Statement.

Saint Louis Marie’s sincere conviction of his sinfulness and of the impossibility of doing anything “on our own,” is primarily a Christological statement. He is affirming with the divine word of Scripture that “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all else that is and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16- 17); and he adheres literally to the words of Jesus: “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Only in and through Christ Jesus, the saint would insist, do we have any worth, for all creation derives its meaning from Christ as its highest point. His doctrine on the utter destruction left in man in the wake of sin is an affirmation of the primacy of Christ, who, through this sinful world, brings about the kingdom. Everything is grace, the grace of Christ Jesus. Montfort experiences, then, a Gospel paradox: “without me you can do nothing,” and “nothing is impossible with God.” Even as divinized by the Lord, Montfort would say, we must be conscious of the truth that it is only by grace that we are made whole. Montfort’s “joy in the Cross,” his seeming delight in proclaiming his nothingness and the nothingness even of Mary and of all creation, is never to be considered in isolation from its essential context: Christ’s divinization of creation precisely in its emptiness. Since no one is so much a “slave of the Lord,” since no one has so emptied oneself of self as Our Lady, she is, then, the summit of those divinized in and through Christ Jesus.

b. Nature and grace.

“The intrinsic orientation of man in Christ radically excludes any dualism between nature and grace. The merely natural relationship of man to God, possible in the abstract . . . does not and cannot exist in fact.”13 Man is of his very nature in the present economy of salvation open to the infinite, and only the infinite will satisfy him. The cosmos itself has been affected in its very being—ontologically—by the redemptive Incarnation.

Montfort, like writers before and after him, continuing even up to Vatican II, speaks as if grace were superimposed on sinful nature, and did not totally penetrate and in principle heal it. Nature and grace are for this saint always in mortal conflict. His language about “this wicked world,” which is “the universal assembly of sinners” (H 29:5), and the utter misery of man in himself should be understood today as placing significant emphasis on the power of concupiscence intensified by the sin of the world, and on the absolute necessity of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Whatever may have been Montfort’s underlying theology, his thought must be interpreted to mean that whatever does not foster a deeper relationship with Christ should be avoided. To deepen this relationship, experience proves that we must stand as beggars of God’s grace. The problem involves more than outright sin; it embraces whatever may be even remotely called an occasion of sin. The “world” that lures us, in our inherent weakness, away from total surrender to the Lord and into sin would include, for Montfort, village dances, cabarets (H 31), games of chance (H 30), luxury (H 33), poetry for itself (H 2), etc. The list appears broad and long to modern men and women. However, the total historical and moral context of Montfort’s time is difficult for us today to grasp; our primary concern should be to recognize honestly in our own “world” those things that are sinful and also those that so easily and so powerfully remove us, in our inherent weakness, from the Lord. Contemporary Christians surely can list modern activities that would fall into such a category, e.g., many TV sitcoms, some modern types of dancing, etc. However, in all this it must be remembered that Montfort stresses far more the power of God’s forgiveness than of man’s sin.

V. Forgiveness of Sins

1. Jesus, friend of sinners

If Montfort so strongly believes that his vocation is to proclaim Good News to sinners, it is primarily because that was the vocation of Christ Jesus. He has the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom plead: “Do not be afraid, it is I. Why are you afraid? I am just like you; I love you. Are you afraid because you are sinners? But they are the very ones I am looking for; I am the friend of sinners . . . come to me and I will unburden you, purify you and console you” (LEW 70). Jesus “tender and mild towards all, especially towards poor sinners” (LEW 126), is “the friend of sinners” (LEW 125), who requests “to be struck in the place of sinners” (LEW 130) for “I love sinners so much,” . . . “that I would be ready to die a second time for each one of them if that were necessary” (LEW 130). Montfort’s theology of love is the absolutely essential framework for any attempt to understand his doctrine on sin. Sin’s malice derives from the rupture of the love relationship God has established with us; its redemption flows from the Infinite Love Who is God. “Where are you fleeing, O sinner so filled with crimes? why are you putting yourself so far from me? / You’ll fall into the abyss / My Heart calls out to you . . . Come close!” (H 42:8). A hymn that was quite popular in French-speaking lands for about two centuries expresses beautifully this yearning of Jesus for the sinner: “Come back, O sinner, it is your God who calls out to you / Come quickly and submit to his law. / You have been already too rebellious;/ Come back to Him, since He comes back to you” (H 98:3). When Montfort urges oil rather than vinegar for the treatment of sins, he is proclaiming his conviction that stressing God’s love is more powerful than insisting on the wrath of God: “Get far from me you austere zealous people / so filled with rigors and anger / pretexts for charity! / A little vinegar with plenty of oil /. . . converts the greatest sinners / as we see in the Gospel” (H 22:17).

2. Jesus, redeemer of sinners

Jesus is not only friend of sinners (cf. Mt 11:19) but far more so the redeemer, the only medicine who can heal the wounds of sin: “How sweet his conduct towards all sinners! . . . / On the Cross, he uses all his strength / To obtain grace for the poor sinner, And even for his own executors so filled with rage and envy, / who by a thousand evils take away his life” (H 9:10). He includes a rather detailed description of the sufferings of Jesus in order to reveal the infinite love that God has for sinners and to demonstrate that in that love, all sin is forgiven (cf. H 67–73). His refrains, especially in H 68, sing the dirge: “. . . It is for us, O sinner, that he endures such sufferings! . . . Oh! We are the ones, we sinners, who merit such sorrows!” “Jesus, your immense Love/ Having Carried our Sins . . .” (H 71:9).

His boldness in language can only be explained by his own mystical experience of God’s merciful forgiveness for himself and for others: “In piercing Him through, they actually comfort Him,/ for the lance is making a passage / for the fire devouring his Heart / to enter the heart of the sinner” (H 41:36). “Finally,” Montfort bursts out in a cry of love: “my request is bold: / Remove from me this sinful heart / so that I will have in this life / no other heart but Yours” (H 47:30). “Oh abominable sinners! It’s over, Jesus is dead. / We are all culpable, What will become of us?/ It is for us, O sinners, that He dies in sorrows” (H 73:1). “Ah! Sinner, God for you dies out of Love!/ It is time to weep over your deed, / it is time that you love him in return” (H 137:14). The Cross is victorious for it becomes for us the true Tree of Life bearing the bread of angels as food for sinners. “He (Jesus) has closed hell, / pulled out of prison our ancestors, / opened eternal glory, / made universal peace./ Finally, Jesus is Conqueror / for the salvation of the sinner. / Let us all sing: Alleluia! / And then, Ave Maria!” (H 84:3).

Montfort attributes to the Eucharist the saving power that he attaches to the Cross: “Come, O sinners, Find in the Eucharist / the True Life / with all its goods; / Come hide yourself here, place yourself safely / in the midst of my Sacred Heart, / to encounter there sorrow / and the pardon of your offenses” (H 131:5); in the Eucharist, “A God immolates himself / to God as priest and victim /. . . to press Him to pardon us” (H 158:6).

3. Mary and sinners

To speak of Our Lady in the context of sin we must state, first of all, that she is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of the Divine Forgiveness who is Jesus. She is the Mother who in a mysterious way brings the new life of Jesus to man.

There is no doubt that Saint Louis Marie fervently upheld the dogma of Mary’s fullness of grace from the first moment of her conception. It is as the holy one sharing so fully in divine life that she is the “refuge of sinners,” a title especially dear to Saint Louis de Montfort (cf. LEW 224; SR 58; H 7:9). As the Immaculate One, she shares so intensely in the life of God that she too shares in God’s mysterious yet infinite love for sinners: “(Mary), thou who art always filled with compassion for those in need, who never despise sinners or turn them away . . . gentle Mother of pity . . .” (SR 58). “These two hearts (Jesus and Mary) love sinners” (H 87:10).

Mary participates by her total “Yes” in the redemption wrought by her Son, and Montfort can therefore write: “Sinners, we make of Jesus and Mary two innocent victims by our crimes. Ah! . . . may we never sin again!” (H 74:7; cf. H 87:6).

It is fundamentally because of Mary’s role in the redemptive incarnation that Montfort speaks of her actual tasks as mediatrix of God’s forgiving graces. The role she plays in the pattern of all mysteries, the Incarnation, is the role that she plays throughout salvation history. And it is in her and through her faith-filled womb that Incarnate Forgiveness comes into a rebellious world. It is through her “Yes”—which indicates her very personality—that divine forgiveness is forever granted. Saint Louis Marie’s Hymn on the Ave Maria is filled with references to the power of the Hail Mary uttered by Gabriel (cf. H 89); Mary’s role in the destruction of sin through her consent is again stressed by Montfort (H 89:7).

VI. Means of Avoiding sin

Saint Louis Marie insists that anyone sincerely desiring to live a life free from serious sin must avoid all occasions of sin. He also recommends the means found in all manuals of spirituality, e.g., a life of prayer, frequenting the sacraments, a spiritual director, etc. There are, however, some means to avoid sin on which Saint Louis especially insists.

1. Mindfulness of God’s love

The primary means to avoid sin, taking all Montfort’s works into account, would be to understand and accept the Infinite Love that God is for us. To be ever-conscious of being loved by Love Itself, a love that pursues and never rests, makes one understand that sin is a rupture of a spousal relationship. Montfort can therefore sing: “Come, O Holy Spirit, God all aflame / Be again my Spouse. / Pardon, Pardon, God of my soul, / May I return to grace with you! (H 98:21). “Father, you love us / as your true children / . . . O God of charity, Pardon, mercy! / O God full of goodness, Be merciful! (H 127:39). “Pardon, my tender Jesus . . .” (H 136:18). With this motive, Montfort hopes all can say “I would prefer to die at this very instant than to commit a mortal sin” (RW 292).

Conscious of this great love, even after having fallen into sin, we quickly reach out for the loving hand of God, which yearns to lift us up: “If you make a blunder which brings a cross upon you whether it be inadvertently or even though your own fault, bow down under the mighty hand of God without delay and as far as possible do not worry over it. You might say within yourself, ‘Lord, here is a sample of my handiwork.’ If there is anything wrong in what you have done, accept the humiliation as a punishment for it . . . (FC 46). “Do not despair, do not get upset when you fall into some sin, but humble yourself and ask me pardon” (MLW 78). And Montfort gives insight into the sins of saints: “Frequently, even very frequently, God allows his greatest servants, those far advanced in holiness, to fall into the most humiliating faults so as to humble them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.” (FC 46).

2. Devotion to Our Lady

Devotion to Our Lady is Montfort’s strong remedy for those in sin and for those hoping to avoid sin. Not only does the consecration bring about a share in Mary’s faithfulness, but her intercession is especially strong for her children who have fallen: “Are you in the miserable state of sin? Then call on Mary and say to her, ‘Ave,’ which means ‘I greet you with the most profound respect, you who are without sin,’ and she will deliver you from the evil of your sins” (SR 57). In particular, Montfort insists on the power of the Rosary to keep us from sinning and to bring us to the Lord for pardon: “If by chance your conscience is burdened with sin, take your Rosary and say at least a part of it in honor of some of the mysteries of the life, passion and glory of Jesus Christ, and you can be sure that, while you are meditating on these mysteries and honoring them, he will show his sacred wounds to his Father in heaven. He will plead for you and obtain for you contrition and the forgiveness of your sins” (SR 83). “We earnestly advise everyone to say the Rosary: the virtuous that they may persevere and grow in the grace of God; sinners, that they may rise from their sins” (SR 118).

The perfect baptismal consecration, so ardently advocated by Montfort, entails a life “in Mary”; and, St. Louis Marie assures us, “Those who live in her will never sin” (TD 264).

VII. Relevance of Montfort’s Teaching on Sin

Saint Louis Marie’s doctrine on sin is highly relevant for contemporary society, which has to a large extent lost a sense of sin.

1. Sin exists

The missionary insists first of all that sin definitely exists. To say that because of the redemptive Incarnation, all is now good, without qualification, is to deny the obvious. The effects of original and personal sin are real; the polluted atmosphere of the world—the sin of the world—is difficult to resist, and Montfort reminds us over and over again of these pitfalls. Saint Louis Marie asks for “confession,” i.e., an admission that we have done wrong and that all is not to be excused through recourse to human weakness. Only in that honesty can there be forgiveness. That there are situations that reduce the voluntarium he surely admits; but in a society that stresses free choice and a purely subjective norm of morality, Montfort rises like a powerful prophet to denounce a world alienated from God and turned within itself.

2. Social sins

Montfort sounds quite contemporary in constantly insisting on love of neighbor and the horror of sins against one’s brothers and sisters. His thought has to be broadened to take in the magnitude of contemporary international relations where “neighbor” also means another country, another race, another nationality. It would be totally out of harmony with his doctrine not to denounce the sins of injustice and prejudice which can become part of the very fabric of “civilized society.”

3. The mercy of God

Montfort’s heightened sensitivity to sin is only outweighed by his conviction of God’s mercy; again, we encounter the capstone of Montfort spirituality, God Alone who is overflowing Love. The saint’s insistence that sin must never cause a person to turn further within him or herself or to grovel in guilt, is pure Gospel. It also indicates the attitude of the Church in all its members towards those who are “in sin.” God is forgiveness to all who sincerely confess their guilt; the Body of Christ must be likewise.

4. Asceticism

The reality of man’s weakness is strongly expressed in Montfort’s thought. All strength is given to us in and through Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, for the order of salvation is the order of the redemptive Incarnation. Montfort therefore prescribes asceticism as a powerful means to remain in grace, to live in Jesus Christ in spite of the triple allurements of concupiscence. Mortification and penances, avoiding occasions of sin, and showing fidelity to one’s state in life, are not principles to be tossed aside without dire consequences. Spiritual flabbiness is the cause of spiritual death. Montfort’s doctrine on the Cross is an essential part of his doctrine on both the meaning of sin and the means to avoid sin. The joyful asceticism demanded in living the baptismal consecration must be proclaimed to modern men and women in order that they may reach the true fulfillment God has planned for them.

5. Frequent use of sacraments

The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are among the prime means that Montfort requires of those who are serious about persevering in their life in Christ. The necessity of frequenting the sacraments is of no less importance today than it was in the eighteenth century. The Sunday Eucharist especially, combined with Montfort’s recommended monthly confession and spiritual direction are means that cannot be discarded by anyone who is serious about avoiding sin so as to live forever in Christ Jesus.

6. Avoidance of moral relativism

There has been a not-too-subtle return of an ancient Gnostic danger of separating the experience of God, or the mystical life, from the practice of virtue, the moral life. The result is a confused abstract esotericism and a practical moral relativism. This contradicts the lives of the saints and certainly the example and doctrine of Saint Louis de Montfort. Living according to the Christian moral law is a process of becoming that goes beyond self selection, good intentions, trying hard, or an exercise in probability. Life always presents people with new mountains for them to climb to God. For everyone on the path to perfection, yesterday’s practice of virtue may seem today to have been presumptuous, egotistical, or self-deceptive. It may appear to have been a defense mechanism, rationalization, or escape. The evil one uses such deceitful defenses against moral rectitude in his attempt to subvert our relationship with God. This has been true not only for individuals but for whole civilizations.

7. Sin and psychological development

Another important consideration is the effect of modern depth psychology on our contemporary understanding of sin. So much of this modern science has been devoted to the study of the abnormal self from a post-enlightenment analytical, empirical, and positivistic perspective, one for the most part divorced from a Catholic spiritual perspective. The benefits of modern depth psychology will be discerned by history. But clearly it has tended to reduce immorality to psychic pathology. If a sickness results from a falling away from the Absolute, from God’s laws, then a therapy not including a return to such laws will fail. If they are to be seen in a legitimate way, human mistakes, weaknesses, and failures must be seen in their relationship to God, sin, and evil. To reduce sin to an anthropocentric reality is to avoid its true reality, which is found in man’s relationship or lack of relationship with God. Not all sin is the sin of human weakness. Sin is not about something, it is about someone. Sin cannot be considered merely as the absence of a psychological or physical healing: sin has to do with the character of a person’s relationship with God and with falling short of the Ideal. To deal with sin merely from a humanistic point of view is to deal with the symptoms, rather than causes of human problems. And in the end it rejects true healing. Therapy that attempts to remove guilt while avoiding its cause increases guilt. Psychological abnormalities cause illusion, allusion, or delusion and their concomitant obsessions or compulsions. But to reduce sin to the level of the individual psyche is to create an epidemic of such behavior.

P. Gaffney - R. Payne

Notes: (1) Saint Louis Marie’s first biographer, Grandet, includes an entire chapter to explain the missionary’s “implacable hatred for sin.” He begins the chapter by stating: “Monsieur Grignion, having learned by faith that mortal sin, which inflicts death to the soul, is the greatest evil in the world, the sovereign evil, as God is the sovereign good, the one evil and the source of all other evils, fought without any limits against sin . . . it is his zeal against all sins which brought on him persecutions, calumnies, injuries, contradictions on the part of the devil, the world and the flesh whose empire he absolutely wished to destroy” (Grandet, 320–21). (2) In addition, the saint’s LS contains sermon notes on venial sin (567–74) and mortal sin (577–631). Most of the notes are taken from Lejeune, some from Joly. (3) “Burning with fever, he went up to the pulpit . . . his voice weak. The congregation believed that he was going to pass out . . . he chose for the subject of his last sermon the meekness of Jesus. More than ever before, he spoke from the abundance of his heart.” Such is the description of Montfort’s final sermon as given by Louis Le Crom, Un Apôtre Marial: Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (A Marian Apostle: Saint Louis Marie de Montfort), Librairie Mariale, Pontchateau 1942, 36. (4) Cf. Klaus Hemmerle, Holy, in Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi, Karl Rahner, ed., Crossroad-Seabury, New York 1975, 640–41. (5) Cf. Piet Schoonenberg, Sin, in Rahner, ed., Sacramentum Mundi, 1580: “Men do evil against him (Yahweh) by transgressing his law, but this law functions in the covenant. Sin is hated by Yahweh as Lord of the covenant and so its most definite expression is in idolatry, forbidden in the first command of the Decalogue and denounced by the prophets.” (6) Ibid., 1581. (7) Ibid. Schoonenberg goes on to state: “God encounters us with his gifts and invitations in our fellow-men, especially in Christ. But it iis necessary to stress today that it is God, with his initiative transcending our reality, who meets us in this way.” (8) CCC 1487. (9) CCC 391. The Catechism goes on to quote the Latern Council IV (DS 800): “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” (10) For a contemporary understanding of the traditional meaning of original sin, cf. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, Crossroad-Seabury, New York 1978, 106–15. (11) CCC 396, 398, 402. The quote “be like God but without God, before God, and not in accordance with God” is taken from St. Maximus the Confessor. Ambigua: PG 91, 1156C. (12) CCC 1855. (13) Juan Alfaro, Nature, in Rahner, ed., Sacramentum Mundi, 1034.

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

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