Saint Louis de Montfort, His Life and Work – Father De Montfort’s Originality

cover of the ebook 'Saint Louis de Montfort: His Life and Work', by Georges RigaultA saint cannot be just as other men; he does not remain on the natural plane, for he is ever straining after the perfection of the Father in Heaven. And thus his constant progress towards God, a progress which will go on eternally, daily increases the distance between him and the earthbound soul. The saint astonishes average humanity, he shocks it until his efforts have modified its point of view. The saint is like nobody else; just because his time, his setting, his listeners, are farther from Heaven than he, because he looks beyond and makes light of custom and prejudice and contingency, while he leaves behind him this present time, to lead his brethren to that mysterious goal which only the prophet can descry. Even among genuine Christians he causes surprise; he makes use of them as it were for still bolder flights. The starting point was already on the heights, but his gaze is fixed on the summits. And this soul which asks its God “Whither shall I not ascend?” is without pride and without fear. But he baffles his contemporaries.

Louis Grignion was such a soul – a fearless idealist, a forerunner, a prophet. God destined him to superhuman tasks and gave him a part to play which was to outlive him.

For it was to cover the revival of Catholic France, the development of Marian theology, the discovery of the deepest and most abundant springs of the supernatural life. Like a statue upon the mountainside, Grignion would stand for the gaze of future generations, but to judge well of him we must step back a little, for seen close to, there is an abrupt forcefulness about him; he is like a giant whose proportions and outline we normal mortals cannot grasp at a glance, whose harmony escapes us. His teachers, his fellow-students, his colleagues, his superiors, all found him hard to understand; many of them would fain have silenced him, hidden him under a bushel, because he upset their sense of proportion, did not conform to their moral and aesthetic canon or fit into any classified category. Because his genius was exceptional, it seemed to them eccentric. He was at once too great and too simple for the eighteenth century. He did not fit into these trim French gardens, these seminary walks, the bishop’s palace. He was most at home in the open air and in the wide field, and for his setting there must be waving cornfields, wide meadows, forest, rock and river, a praying crowd and church towers, rising as by magic from the depths of the valleys. He has the make-up of a Saint Vincent Ferrer, of a Savonarola – once we have got him into the right perspective, we realise it.

He was a Breton and the father of the people of Vendee, that land of faith, energy and devotion, of the independent spirit and the obedient heart. Brittany meant to keep her special character; what did she care for the rest, for the fashion? Hers were personalities, ideas and ways which elsewhere were neglected. She resisted the powers that were, when they wounded her conscience or her pride. When Louis XIV gave laws to the rest of the world, an insurrection broke out at Rennes, for had not the king disregarded their privileges, scorned the remonstrances of the Estates of Brittany? And citizen and peasant took arms. The Due de Chaulnes was to quell them with great cruelty; thousands were hanged, martyred on the wheel, quartered; whole parishes destroyed. Quiet was reestablished but it was not the quiet of hatred or despair; the Breton pardoned his enemies and kept his faith in God. And Mme de Sevigne, who had been much alarmed, breathed once more and spoke of the hangings with philosophical calm. A century later came the Chouannerie, but no defeat could crush this stubborn race. Conquered they might be, but the war went on underneath with leaders whom no one could capture. The land seemed at rest, the peasant followed his plough, the smoke rose straight from the cottage chimney. But it was ill travelling for those who hailed from Paris; couriers disappeared, the mounted police fell into ambushes, the treasury was robbed. Brittany defended her beliefs and her priests, and Georges Cadoudal, the fierce giant and humble Christian, was a foe whom Bonaparte could not despise.

The same soil gave birth to Cadoudal and Grignion. We can picture them on the roads of a dream Brittany, walking side by side, in step, tireless, bare-headed, dusty, bearing burdens for the love of God and speaking of Him and His Holy Mother.