The text of St Louis de Montfort, The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, is a classic in the genre of Mariology. It is through this book that many people have come to a deeper understanding of the role God wants Mary to play in the lives of His people.
Louis Marie Grignon de la Bachelaraie was born in Montfort, France, in 1673, in a Europe that was still heaving from the effects of the Protestant Reformation. He was a man of great intelligence and simple faith at the same time. Though he studied in Paris (one of the world’s most prestigious places to study at the time), his mind was not one divorced from the faith of the humble and poor of the earth. As a missionary in his home country, he had great influence amongst the locals.
Although the manuscript of True Devotion wasn’t discovered until 1842, over a hundred years after his death, it was received with great enthusiasm. In the book, de Montfort was responding to the needs of his time, especially the need to defend the value of honouring the Blessed Virgin despite the growing number of her detractors.
Though short, True Devotion is a comprehensive book, exploring the nature of true devotion in all its aspects and distinguishing it from false devotion. For those wanting to deepen their devotion to the Blessed Virgin, or who simply want to wrestle with Mariology, this book is not to be ignored.
For a little taste of what’s in store, we highlight three key ideas in True Devotion in the hopes you will pick up the book yourself.
This is something de Montfort stresses with great rhetorical and theological force. What he calls ‘the first truth’ of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is that Christ is the ultimate end of everything, especially our souls. ‘Jesus Christ, our Saviour, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions; otherwise they would be false and misleading . . .
God has laid no other foundation of our salvation, of our perfection, and of our glory, than Jesus Christ. Every edifice which is not built on that firm rock is founded upon shifting sand, and sooner or later will infallibly fall . . . If, then, we are establishing solid devotion to Our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ’ (§61-62).
If devotion to Mary did take us away from Christ, then de Montfort says we would have to ‘reject it as an illusion of the devil.’ This point is essential to defending the value of Marian devotion, which is abandoned entirely amongst other Christian traditions for precisely this reason: the belief that it detracts from Christ. De Montfort is at pains to stress that it is impossible for true devotion to do this.
One of the reasons why true devotion to Mary does not detract from Christ is because her will is perfectly united with her Son’s. De Montfort tells us this:
Inasmuch as grace perfects nature and glory perfects grace, it is certain that Our Lord remains in heaven just as much the Son of Mary as He was on earth; and that, consequently, He has retained the submission and obedience of the most perfect of all children towards the best of all mothers’ (§27).
Heaven, in other words, is the perfection of our earthly relationships, the perfection of everything that is good. Christ humbled himself in obedience to an earthly mother during his life on earth, and this good thing becomes perfected in glory. However, de Montfort says, their relationship is not like what it was on earth. ‘Mary,’ he says, ‘completely transformed in God by that grace and glory which transforms all the Saints in Him, neither asks, wishes nor does anything contrary to the eternal and unchangeable Will of God . . .
her prayers and requests are so powerful with Him that they are taken as commands by the Divine Majesty, who never resists His dear Mother’s prayer because it is always humble and conformed to His Will’ (§27).
This is, in some ways, the crux of de Montfort’s argument. He has already established that union with Christ is the only goal of the spiritual life. That is the end to which our whole existence is oriented. What devotion to Mary offers, however, is ‘an easy, short, perfect and sure way of attaining union with Our Lord’ (§152).
In other words, we have the end, but now we have to think about the means. How do we get there?
Devotion to Mary offers a way that is easy in that other paths involve heavier crosses, ones not steeped in ‘the sugar of her maternal sweetness’ (§154). It is short in that through Mary we do not wander away from Christ or slow the journey (§155). It is perfect because Our Lady is ‘the most perfect and most holy of mere creatures’ (§157). It is secure because it leads us straight to Jesus ‘directly and safely’ (§168).
Be persuaded, then, that the more you behold Mary in your prayers, meditations, actions and sufferings . . . the more perfectly will you find Jesus Christ, who is always, with Mary, great, powerful, operative, and incomprehensible' (§165).
Melbourne Catholic15 March 2023
Melbourne Catholic14 March 2023