Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Counter-revolutionary Nexus Among the Three Works of
Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort
Saint of the Day, Friday, April 28, 1967
Today is the feast of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Monfort; tomorrow is the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, martyr. He fought against heretics from childhood and received a peculiar grace to refute them vehemently. He was killed by Manicheans in the exercise of his office as Inquisitor General. Wounded to death, he wrote his profession of faith in his own blood. Dominican, thirteenth century.
It is also the feast of Saint Hugh, abbot. From an illustrious family of the counts of Semur, he ruled Cluny and its thousand affiliated monasteries for 35 years. The Cluniac congregation began to decline with his death. 11th century. Feast of Blessed Benedict of Urbino, confessor of the Capuchin Friars Minor. His relic is venerated in our chapel.
St. Peters's Basilica, Vatican
They asked me to show the concordance among the three works of Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort: The Treatise on True Devotion, which deals with Our Lady; the Letter to the Friends of the Cross, which deals with those who appreciate the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and his book commenting on the Book of Wisdom. I found in these books no indications that Saint Louis Grignion was aware of the concordance I am now going to explain.
There was undoubtedly a certain unity among these books because St. Louis Grignion de Montfort had a single goal when writing all three. Usually--there are exceptions—a wise mind that produces several things has a general intention for those various things. So we must ask what that nexus—perhaps still not fully explicit--was in the mind of Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort.
In my view, we can say this nexus is in St. Louis’ stand against the errors of his time. The time he lived in violently collided with him and his ideas and apostolate. Yesterday we saw how he lamented his extreme isolation, how all the mighty people of the time fought against him and sought to destroy his apostolate through silence and mockery.
That era was characterized by defects of the nascent Revolution, which have only worsened since. When we study the works of St. Louis Grignion, we see they amount to taking a stand against the defects of that time. We see they are a set of books intended to react against the times. That reaction indicates their unity because the three defects of the time had unity. There is at least an implicit unity in the works to refute and combat these three defects, and here we find the concordance among the works of Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort.
What were the defects of that time? In the religious sphere, Jansenism was the most blatant. One can say that the vast majority of the French episcopate was Jansenist and conspired to separate from Rome. They enjoyed the support of countless clerics and, therefore, a vast number of faithful.
St. Louis lived when the dispute over Jansenism was still in its heyday. Jansenism was a doctrine concocted by Jansenius, bishop of Ypres, and published in his posthumous book called Augustinus. In it, he re-edited all the errors of Calvin under the pretext of dealing with questions of grace.
The errors of Calvin that directly interest us are those of Protestantism: free examination, rejection of veneration for Our Lady, the saints, the Holy Eucharist, and especially hateful opposition against devotion to Our Lady. Also, errors concerning predestination, as he claimed that all men are born predestined for heaven or hell. When God creates a man to go to hell, God forces him to be bad at the time of death and sends him to hell even though he may have loved God throughout his life.
Conversely, if he blasphemed God all his life, but God created him to go to heaven, God forcibly converts him at the time of death, and he ends up going to heaven. Jansenius’ religion was typically sad, hypochondriacal and gloomy, instilling a kind of horror for all lawful pleasures of life. As one can see by consulting engravings of the time depicting Calvin and his later follower, Mère Angélique, the famous mother superior of Port Royal, it was institutionalized and horrible bad humor.
When we confront that with the Treaty on True Devotion, we see that it clashes violently with Jansenism and Calvinism by asserting Our Lady’s role. It not only confirms the doctrine of those who write against Protestantism but affirms Our Lady’s role in the most powerful and sublime way imaginable. It takes devotion to Our Lady to the ultimate extreme within Catholic theology.
That means his work is not only one of reaction but of ultra-reaction. In the face of error, it proclaims the truth in the most brilliant, energetic, and radical way imaginable. One feels these two more formal ideas of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort in the concept of Our Lady’s universal mediation and slavery to Our Lady symbolized by the chains around the crown in the Reign of Mary Hall. The idea is that man must give himself and become enslaved to Our Lady completely to obtain salvation.
St. Louis Grignion’s book also fights the other premises of Calvinism and Jansenism because he shows well that there is no predestination as Calvin defined it and that authentic predestination is in those who follow Our Lady, whom She loves and supports. Everyone is called to have his devotion and thus has the gates of heaven open before him.
In other words, Saint Louis Grignion’s religion is profoundly opposed to Calvin and Jansenius. While Saint Louis Grignion is a living, energetic, fiery, and fighting saint, he is also a joyful, luminous soul. He talks about heaven and Our Lady with joy and satisfaction, the exact opposite of Calvinism.
Another tendency running counter to Calvinism was also present at Saint Louis Grignion’s time: a horror of the Cross of Jesus Christ. As we look at artworks of that time, we see they are dominated by the idea of pleasure. All figures depicted are smiling. People illustrated in engravings and statues appear ready to dance. Ball gowns are especially beautiful. The language was one of gala and celebration. Those people wanted to live only for frivolous, superficial pleasure, without seriousness or greatness of soul; life was nothing but pleasure and enjoyment.
You can see that in the colors they used, which became increasingly light and watery. They were very beautiful colors but emollient for the soul: a rosy pink that almost fades into cream and white; a blue so tender and delicate as the blue of early dawn; a green like grass when it just starts sprouting. The same happened with all hues; watery, light shades to nourish a mentality of easygoing, superficial and frivolous optimism.
The Letter to the Friends of the Cross is precisely the opposite. It teaches love of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, love of sacrifice, instills a resolve to bear most serious evils for Our Lord’s sake and to fight and take things seriously. The Letter is an immense lesson in seriousness, a head-on collision with the world’s increasing softness, culminated in the overthrow of ancient institutions in the face of the French Revolution. That softness even affected the clergy.
Take, for example, engravings or paintings of priests and bishops of that time. They extend their hand out to be kissed as if they were marquises. They bless with a white, chubby hand. Many treated their hands by placing them in almond paste for hours to make them very white and beautiful when blessing. Pope Pius VI did that too. They had small hands and little gestures like an old lady kissing her grandchildren and giving them a mini-blessing. All their gestures were delicate; for example, wielding the crozier more or less as a marquise wielded her long staff covered in ivory with gold and ribbons to walk in the park. They did everything on that basis. So, the Letter to the Friends of the Cross is a howling, radical rejection of the frivolity of the time that was part of the Revolution.
The mentality of that time was linked to these attitudes. People were more concerned with formulas than with the substance of what they said. It was more important for a sentence to be brilliant than to contain truth. It was more important to be funny than serious. The most brilliant and charming salon conversations increasingly adopted what the French call badinage, charming playing around and leaping elegantly from one subject to another while laughing with pseudo-superiority at the seriousness and profundity of everything.
Instead of looking for the truth and the outcome of thought, instead of loving wisdom, the human mind loved precisely the opposite: frivolity. So the Treatise on Wisdom is a refutation of the idiotic superficiality being introduced into perhaps the most brilliant society that had existed up to that time.
So you understand that the three books reacted to the errors of the time, which played a decisive role in the outbreak of the French Revolution. As is well known, the Jansenists supported the French Revolution; that frivolity and a thirst for pleasure rendered the clergy and nobility useless in the struggle against the Revolution; that the lack of wisdom closed the eyes of nobility and clergy so they could not foresee the coming Revolution. For this reason, they were unable to implement policies that would have prevented the Revolution.
One can say for sure that, had Saint Louis Grignion been heeded, the Revolution would not have broken out. It would not have erupted mainly because a fervent devotion to Our Lady brings every form of good and would thus have brought a revival of religion. That religious revival would have blocked the way to the Enlightenment, the Encyclopedia, and skepticism. It would thus have cut the sinews of the revolutionary hydra, which would have come undone.
I do not know to what extent St. Louis de Montfort was aware of this. Still, it is undeniable for those who know French history. Saint Louis Grignion published three books of great depth and value with minimal repercussion. If heeded, they would have prevented the Revolution. You see, then, that the counter-revolutionary struggle is what unites these books. They are a magnificent preventive work of anti-sophistic Counter-Revolution in the ideas while at the same time fighting the tendentious Revolution.
The proof is that the French Revolution did not break out in all the places where the congregation founded by Saint Louis Grignion kept spreading his doctrine and a fervent spirit. On the contrary, Counter-Revolution was born there. The French Revolution erupted in places not reached by his influence. So you can see how his preaching really was the preaching of the Counter-Revolution. Therein lies the nexus of the works of Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort.
The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, from which Our Savior hung, undoubtedly is the most remarkable relic in Christendom. In the Middle Ages, the great potentates of the earth made the most extraordinary sacrifices to acquire fragments of it and built cathedrals to house them. Now, as precious as the Cross of Christ is, I do not hesitate to say that given the monarchical principle in all things, one of the three books must be superior to the others. If so, we must ask which one it is. I do not doubt answering that the Mother of Christ is worth more than the Cross of Christ.
Accordingly, the top book inculcates devotion to Our Lady, Universal Mediatrix, and slavery to Our Lady in union with the slavery that Christ himself had to Her. That is the key book to which the two others are stupendous additions. Before heaven and earth, and despite the hatred of hell, Saint Louis was an admirable doctor of both the Cross and wisdom. But through all ages to come, he will be above all the leading Our Lady’s apologists, the one who took devotion to Our Lady to its ultimate limits at least until our days—I will not say at the dawn of the Reign of Mary. There you have his grandeur.
Whoever has a devotion to Our Lady has a devotion to the Cross. That is a good, and all good comes through her. Whoever has Our Lady has the virtue of wisdom because it is good, and all good comes through her. Whoever has a devotion to the Cross and the virtue of wisdom but does not have Our Lady has neither wisdom nor authentic devotion to the Cross. Because whoever does not have the channel of all graces is graceless. Therefore, the devotion to Our Lady is placed at the very center of all these considerations about Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort.
I have spoken here of progress in devotion to Our Lady. One might wonder if after St. Louis Grignion de Montfort, there was any promising progress in devotion to Our Lady. Yes, there was progress in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a kind of quintessence of devotion to Our Lady just as the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus it is a quintessential devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ. I say this based on the messages of Fatima.
I have been reading the Fatima messages to write an article for Catolicismo. It is astonishing the number of times Our Lady refers to Her Immaculate Heart much more than to other devotions – Carmel, Rosary, etc. We can see this is the devotion of the dawn of the Reign of Mary. From our daily experience, we know this devotion is sometimes in very bad hands, but it does not matter because the Immaculate Heart of Mary loses nothing. The shield of the Fathers of the Heart of Mary displays Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. On top of it is an armed angel; below, the words, “Filii ejus surrexerunt et beatissimam praedicaverunt.” Her children rose and proclaimed her most blessed.
Who are these children? May Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort give us the grace to be those children who arise to proclaim her blessed, who march against the Revolution with the “Treatise on True Devotion” placed on an interior throne in our minds, and on either side of that interior throne or altar, his other two books, the Letter to the Friends of the Cross and the Book of Wisdom.
With both placed on the altar of our soul, we can become sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, armored-clad angels rising and proclaiming her most blessed in a world seeking to dethrone her and subject her to unspeakable humiliations. May Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort grant us this priceless grace.