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St Louis Marie was a prolific writer, and has left us many books and booklets, as well as his personal letters and a large body of hymns that he composed for use in his missions as a teaching vehicle, and a Notebook and Book of Sermons. He was a missionary, preaching the Gospel wherever he went and whatever he did, and all his writings bear the stamp of the zealous missionary.
The main body of his writings can be found in the book God Alone - The Collected Writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, while all 164 of his hymns have been published in English translation in God Alone II - The Hymns of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. Both these books are available for purchase from Montfort Press, along with individual volumes of his major works, such as True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, The Secret of Mary and The Love of Eternal Wisdom.
Use the menu at the right to access short descriptions of each of his writings.
St Louis Marie wrote a number of personal letters during the course of his life, only 34 of which (or fragments of them) have been preserved. They are written to 14 recipients, the principal ones being M. Leschassier (his confessor and spiritual director), his sister Guyonne Jeanne, and Sr Marie Louise of Jesus (Marie Louise Trichet). They help us to understand him as an author and what he wrote in his works. Some of them (especially Letters 5, 6, 8-11 and 15-16) throw a great deal of light on the early period of his priestly life, when he was struggling to find the Will of God for him.
This book gives the essential context of all the other writings of St. Louis Marie. In it he treats of the relationship between God and mankind, stressing first and foremost the love of God for human beings, and the plan he devised for saving them from the consequences of sin. Using many texts from the Old Testament Wisdom literature, he meditates on the extraordinary desire God has to love them and be loved by them. He, like St Paul and St John, sees the Saviour, Jesus Christ, as the embodiment of the Wisdom of God, and applies to Christ the title "Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom of God" - therefore the "Eternal Wisdom" in the title of the book is to be taken as Jesus Christ himself. In his reflections on the love of God for humans, St Louis Marie picks out the death of Christ on the Cross as the greatest manifestation of this love, to the point where he can say:
Wisdom is the Cross, and the Cross is Wisdom.
Making the assumption that all human beings desire happiness, and that "wisdom" (in a natural sense) is the way to achieve this, he discusses various forms of wisdom, and states that the only true wisdom is the Wisdom of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ himself. It then becomes the life-long quest of all Christians to seek to acquire this Wisdom, or, in other words, to seek to know and love Jesus Christ, the Eternal Wisdom of God. He proposes four principal means to achieve this:
He claims that this fourth means (devotion to the Blessed Virgin) is the most effective way to acquire and preserve Divine Wisdom, and it is this theme which he develops in the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and The Secret of Mary. The third means (universal mortification) is seen as a way of participating in the Cross of Christ, by accepting our own "crosses" and so becoming more aware of the love shown by the sufferings of Christ. He develops this theme more in A Letter to the Friends of the Cross.
The Letter to the Friends of the Cross is largely a meditation on the words of Christ:
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
It is addressed to the members of an association which he seems to have established in various places during the course of his missions, and presents the self-renunciation called for by Christ as a necessary, beneficial and glorious means of becoming a true disciple of Christ. St Louis Marie here gives practical "rules" for making our own sufferings and acts of penance and mortification a real "following of Christ". It could well be read in conjunction with what he says in The Love of Eternal Wisdom on the third means for acquiring Divine Wisdom: universal mortification.
One of the most honourable titles given to St Louis Marie ("the priest with the big rosary") is that of "Apostle of the Cross and of the Holy Rosary". The Rosary occupied an important place in his own spiritual life and in his apostolate. The Secret of the Holy Rosary is not as original in its composition as his other books, for here he is demonstrating the value of one particular devotional practice (among others mentioned in the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin), and at the same time borrowing extensively from many authors.
As he was primarily a missionary of the ordinary people, concentrating especially on the poor and abandoned, he set out to renew in them the spirit of Christianity, believing that this could be achieved by devotion to Mary which could only lead people to Jesus and holiness. He believed that the Rosary was a wonderfully secret way of knowing Mary and finding Jesus through her. He established the devotion of the Rosary wherever he preached and had it recited publicly every day during his missions. This book, though not published in his lifetime, was certainly intended for all classes of people, as is clear from the "Little Roses" in the introduction. In the body of the book, which (like the Rosary itself) is divided into Decades, each with ten "roses", he speaks about the origin of this form of Marian devotion and the climate of miracles in which it developed over the centuries. Well aware that critics would express doubts about some of his stories, he simply points out that he has quoted them from reputable authors. Other sections of the book deal with the power and effectiveness of the Rosary, the prayers of which it is made up, the beauty and usefulness of the meditations which should accompany it. He describes how to say the Rosary "worthily", and at the end provides some Methods of Reciting the Rosary.
As would be expected from a popular missionary, St Louis Marie's book, The Admirable Secret of the Rosary, was meant to serve as a practical apostolate, and with this in mind he added to his book three methods for saying the Rosary, including one which he had composed for the Daughters of Wisdom. He gives two further methods in his Book of Sermons, and these are included in "God Alone - The Collected Writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort". An appendix to Methods of reciting the Rosary in God Alone adds some passages which St Louis Marie quotes verbatim from other authors, on The Principal Rules of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, the power and dignity of the Rosary and the dignity of the Hail Mary.
The Secret of Mary presents much the same matter as the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, in a shortened form, but it also includes a section on "The Tree of Life". It seems to have been written for a member (or members) of a Religious Congregation. The title indicates the way in which St Louis Marie presents his topic: he wishes to disclose a "secret" of holiness, or a "secret" for finding happiness, and that "secret" is to be found in Mary, and in particular in the form of devotion to her which he proposes in the book.
As in the True Devotion, the first part of the book is concerned with the "necessity" of a genuine devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, for a real knowledge of, and adhesion to Jesus Christ. Again, this devotion to Mary is a means to this end, never an end in itself, and is necessary only because God himself has chosen the way of Mary to reveal himself in Jesus Christ.
In the second part of the book, St Louis Marie examines briefly some genuine forms of devotion to Mary, before presenting what he calls "the perfect practice of devotion to Mary", which he says is "unknown to many and practiced by very few". This perfect devotion, he says, consists in "surrendering oneself in the manner of a slave to Mary, and to Jesus through Mary, and then performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary and for Mary", referring to this as a "consecration". He goes on to discuss what this means, and in particular what he means by performing all our actions "with Mary, in Mary, through Mary and for Mary".
In a kind of supplement at the end of the book, we find two very beautiful prayers: a Prayer to Jesus, and a Prayer to Mary; and a short metaphor for this form of devotion, which he calls "The Tree of Life".
The matter presented briefly in the Secret of Mary is much more developed in the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
This is the book for which St. Louis Marie de Montfort is probably best-known. It should, however be read in the context of The Love of Eternal Wisdom, where he makes it plain that a "tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin" is only a means (although the most effective means) to acquire and preserve Divine Wisdom.
In the True Devotion, St. Louis Marie sets out his teaching on devotion to Mary in general, and proposes a particular form of devotion, involving a total dedication or consecration of oneself to Jesus through the hands of Mary. The first part of the book is devoted to showing that devotion to Mary is not an end in itself. It is always a means to becoming more dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ. It is, however, he claims, a necessary means to this, and is indeed the surest way to achieving this goal. He examines the qualities of what he calls "true" (or genuine) devotion to Mary, as opposed to false devotion. And he makes it clear that there can be many different kinds of "true" devotion to her. Yet he claims, based on his own experience and reading, to have found one form of devotion to Mary which achieves its aim (to bring us closer to Jesus Christ) more effectively than any other.
The form of devotion to Mary to which he refers (and which he earnestly proposes to his readers) consists in a total dedication of oneself to Jesus Christ through the hands of Mary. This total dedication he calls "consecration", and he is careful to explain that, even though we may speak of "consecration to Mary", this must always be understood as only a step on the way to "consecration to Jesus Christ". The rest of the book is taken up with an explanation of what this total dedication means in practice, and with descriptions of its effects in a person who undertakes it, intended to encourage us to embrace it. It also examines various "practices" of devotion intended to help us to live it out, both "exterior" and "interior" practices, as he calls them. Among the exterior practices, he speaks of the recitation of the Rosary, a topic which he treats more fully in The Secret of the Rosary.
This form of devotion to Mary was known in St Louis Marie's day (and before) as "Holy Slavery", and he spends some time explaining the meaning of this phrase, insisting that, far from being a slavery of compulsion, it must be a "slavery of love". Other phrases, more in tune with our modern way of thinking, could easily be used in place of this.
Another of St Louis Marie's works, The Secret of Mary, is a shorter presentation of much the same matter as is found in the True Devotion.
From very early on his priestly life, St Louis Marie de Montfort dreamt of "a small company of priests" who would be dedicated to the preaching of missions to the poor, under the banner of the Blessed Virgin. As the years went by, his efforts to secure some recruits who would work with him in this way were redoubled. This prayer, known in French as the "Prière Embrasée" (burning prayer), composed by him probably towards the end of his life, is a heart-felt cry to God to fulfill his dreams. It describes the sort of "apostles" he is seeking, who he foresees will be particularly necessary in what he calls in the True Devotion (nos. 35, 45-58), the "latter times".
This Prayer for Missionaries, together with The Rule of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary and A Letter to the Members of the Company of Mary, forms a kind of "triptych" which is the inspiration for the modern Rule and Constitutions of the Company of Mary (Montfort Missionaries).
This original rule of the Company of Mary was probably written about 1710, maybe even before any priests had yet joined St Louis Marie in his work. It is fairly typical of the sort of rule which was common for Religious Congregations about this time, except for some interesting details. For example, St Louis Marie speaks of only two vows, those of poverty and obedience, instead of the normal trilogy of poverty, chastity and obedience. It may be presumed that, as he expected any priests who joined the Company of Mary to be already ordained, they would already be bound to chastity; but it is probable that he insisted on poverty and obedience as being essential for the freedom and availability of which he speaks in the Burning Prayer for Missionaries. For the same reason, he insists that the members of the Company of Mary must hold no benefices, must not be "installed" in parishes, must have only two houses in France, etc. Their task was to travel to bring the good news to the poor, and a great part of the Rule is concerned with the Directives to be Followed during their Missions, Their Timetable during Missions and Rules for Catechetical Instruction.
This Rule, together with the Burning Prayer for Missionaries and the Letter to the Members of the Company of Mary, forms a triptych which has been accepted by the Holy See as part of the official Rule and Constitutions of the Company of Mary today, in the sense of their being the source of the modern Rule.
Beginning with the words of Christ: Fear not, little flock, because it has pleased your Father to bestow a kingdom on you (Lk 12:32), St Louis Marie applies these words to his Company of Mary. This short letter is an exhortation to the members of the Company to be faithful to their spirit of evangelical poverty and trust in the Providence of God. When it was written, it is probable that there were as yet no priests belonging to the Company, and St Louis Marie seems to foresee that the Congregation would always remain relatively small, since he insists on their not being discouraged on account of their small numbers. He insists, too, on hope and joy in the knowledge that God will care for them in his Providence.
The end of the manuscript is missing, finishing in the middle of a sentence, but an ending was supplied (probably by Fr Gabriel Deshayes) in 1837.
This Letter, together with the Burning Prayer for Missionaries and the Rule of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, forms a triptych which has been accepted by the Holy See as part of the official Rule and Constitutions of the Company of Mary today, in the sense of their being the source of the modern Rule.
When St Louis Marie was chaplain of the "General Hospital" (poorhouse) at Poitiers from 1701-1703, he formed a group of young girls who gathered together regularly in a house which he called "La Sagesse" (Wisdom). Soon afterwards, Marie Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet, who were to become the first Daughters of Wisdom, joined them. St Louis Marie composed for them a programme of the spiritual life based on the words of Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom: "We must renounce self and carry our cross after Jesus Christ, under Mary's guidance". He wrote this programme in a very simple way on a cross, which has been preserved by the community of the Daughters of Wisdom.
This original rule of the Daughters of Wisdom was almost certainly written in 1715, when Blessed Marie Louis Trichet and Sr Catherine Brunet arrived in La Rochelle to become the nucleus of the new Congregation. It is clearly inspired by M. Tronson, one-time Superior of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, but other influences seem to have been St Francis de Sales and St Vincent de Paul. Almost all its sections containing rules are followed by "Counsels" addressed personally to the Daughters of Wisdom by St Louis Marie himself. As with the Rule of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, there are passages which are very practical descriptions of the work which St Louis Marie foresaw his Sisters undertaking: there is a whole section, for example, on Rules to be observed in the Charity Schools of the Daughters of Wisdom, which refer to the free schools for boys and girls which he set up in La Rochelle in collaboration with the Bishop.
St Louis Marie inscribed on the "Wisdom Cross" of Poitiers a concise programme of the spiritual life. He enlarged upon this programme for the benefit of the Daughters of Wisdom and wrote this small book of maxims and lessons, which contains the same message as that given in chapter 12 of The Love of Eternal Wisdom which is entitled "Principal Oracles of Divine Wisdom". They are clearly intended to be maxims to which the Daughters of Wisdom should conform if they sincerely wish to acquire the spirit of true wisdom.
In 1705, having been released from his post as chaplain to the "General Hospital" in Poitiers, St Louis Marie began preaching missions in the town and suburbs of Poitiers. He began by concentrating on those districts, such as Montbernage, where the ordinary people lived. He immediately met with great success, but at the same time encountered serious opposition, especially from the Vicar-General. For the sake of peace, the Bishop chose to sacrifice Louis Marie, who was forced to leave the town at the beginning of Lent 1706. Before leaving Poitiers and making a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Pope, he wrote a circular letter to the people of the parishes where he had preached, now known as the Letter to the People of Montbernage. In it he encourages them to be faithful to all that they had promised during his missions, and asks for their prayers at this particularly difficult moment for himself.
For more details on his life, see A Brief Life of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
St Louis Marie established a variety of "Associations" during the course of his missions, with the purpose of continuing the benefit gained by those who attended the missions faithfully. Some of these Associations (e.g. the Confraternity of the Rosary) already existed and had their own rules; others were apparently invented ( or adapted) by himself, and he wrote rules for these. Two of them were The Society of the Forty-four Virgins and The White Penitents. The Society of Virgins was formed to protect girls from the corrupting influence of the world and the temptations arising from attending dances, etc. It was restricted to 44 girls at any one time, who took a temporary "vow" of chastity for the time that they remained a member. The White Penitents was modelled on the confraternities of penitents which began in Italy, and was intended to deter men from giving way to drunkenness, immorality, swearing and slander. Apart from the general rules for the White Penitents, St Louis Marie also wrote a set of rules for the Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Saumur made by the Penitents to obtain from God good Missionaries, a pilgrimage made by the White Penitents of Saint-Pompain to the shrine of Notre Dame des Ardilliers in early 1716.
St Louis Marie's aim in all his missions was "to revive the Christian spirit through the renewal of the baptismal promises" (according to his earliest biographer, Joseph Grandet). Grandet adds: "And to help them to remember their undertakings, he had a formula of renewal printed, and those who could write were required to sign it" during a special ceremony which was the highlight of the mission. St Louis Marie speaks of the consecration which he proposes in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin as a "perfect renewal of the vows of Baptism".
Four printed copies of this Contract of Covenant with God have been preserved. Two of them, showing slight variations, are reproduced in God Alone - The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
On the eve of his death at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, St Louis Marie dictated his last will and testament to Fr Mulot, whom he appointed his successor as Superior of the Company of Mary. He had very little to leave: a few books, some banners and other things which he used in his missions, and a little money. He also left instructions concerning some properties which had been offered to him for the Company of Mary. From his will, we also learn something more of the few Brothers who had accompanied him in his missions.
In the original rules of the Daughters of Wisdom and the Company of Mary, St Louis Marie speaks of prayers that both Congregations must say, but he does not give any further details. We know however that he did write a manuscript version of the prescribed Morning and Evening Prayers, which was printed in 1859. The main part of the Morning Prayers is The Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, versions of which were popular in the 17th Century. The form of the Evening (or Night) Prayer was also commonly used at that time, but St Louis Marie's version contains some prayers (notably "O Jesus living in Mary" and prayers relating to the theme of rest and sleep) which are clearly drawn from the French School of Spirituality.
St Louis Marie believed in the people being involved at every level in his missions, and one of the ways he brought about that involvement was through singing. He was a copious writer of hymns, which he often set to the popular tunes of his day. In all 164 of these hyms have been preserved. Their intention is, as always with St Louis Marie, to teach and encourage the ordinary people. They are not, therefore, of any great poetic merit, but they contain many indications, not found elsewhere in his writings, of the completeness of the spirituality which he lived and taught. Often they are very long - they were sung during the processions and dramas which were a very effective part of the mission programme. A few of them can be found in God Alone - The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort. All are to be found in God Alone II - The Hymnns of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
From the time when he was a seminarian, and off and on perhaps for the rest of his life, St Louis Marie made notes on what he had read, or at least on some of this; for his Notebook certainly does not reflect all that he read, particularly when he was librarian at Saint-Sulpice. It contains especially notes on the Blessed Virgin and on devotion to her, and from it we can see clearly some of the sources he used in writing his great Marian works: True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and The Secret of Mary.
On some pages in the manuscript of the Notebook which had been left blank, there appears a text which is unrelated to the rest of the matter in the Notebook, entitled Rules on Voluntary Poverty in the Early Church, which appears to have been intended for some Brothers who, though living in community, still remained in close relationship with their environment and their families. These Rules are to be found in God Alone - The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
This is a manuscript notebook, in which from time to time, probably beginning in his days as a seminarian, St Louis Marie wrote notes for sermons to be preached in missions. A few extracts from this notebook have been included in God Alone - The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
On the eve of the death of St Louis Marie, a copy of the Dispositions for a Happy Death was found among the effects of the missionaries accompanying him. On a few blank pages of this little book, Fr. Mulot wrote the Last Will and Testament that the dying man had dictated to him. This explains why the copy of this little work, the only one now existing, has been preserved. It comprises five parts, the last three of which are certainly not the work of St Louis Marie, but rather of Fr. J. Nouet, S.J. The second part "Vast expanses of Paradise" appears also to be borrowed from someone else. The first part, however, on the remote, proximate and final dispositions for death, which are similar to drafts of sermons found in St Louis Marie's Book of Sermons, could well be his own work. In the final dispositions, we find exhortations to true devotion towards the Blessed Virgin, and to renew our Baptismal promises, themes very dear to St Louis Marie.