Wisdom and St. Louis
In order to fully comprehend the spiritual doctrine of St. Louis de Montfort, it is necessary to see it in its totality, since it forms an organic whole, and each part will shed light on the other.
We will treat here of a key doctrine in the thought of Montfort, if not the key principle of his spirituality – his teaching on Wisdom. We are not claiming in this essay to be exhaustive in our study of the subject, but rather to indicate the main lines of this doctrine, and to point out the far reaching role it has in understanding the rest of the thought of St. Louis.
For our Saint, Wisdom principally means Jesus Himself. “Substantial or Uncreated Wisdom is the Son of God, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; Eternal Wisdom in eternity, or Jesus Christ in the course of time.” (Love of the Eternal Wisdom, n.13} (1)
” … the Holy Spirit does not tell us here to seek charity, humility, patience, or any other most excellent virtue, but to seek Wisdom. For by asking for Divine Wisdom, we ask or all the virtues contained in Him (Jesus).” (no. 184 )
“… she (Mary) gives… all the graces of God, all the virtues of Jesus Christ, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all good things in the order of nature, of grace and glory… whatever gift this sovereign Princess bestows on us, she is not satisfied until she has given to us the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus, Her Son.” (no. 207)
Now if it is clear that we are to strive to attain union with the Eternal Wisdom, Jesus Christ, there yet remains the greater part of the question concerning Wisdom in St. Louis; we must consider the precise aspect under which we are to attain Wisdom. It is easy to say that our end is Christ, but it is not so easy to delineate more closely what sort of union we are called to have with him during this life. And this inquiry is identical to a penetration into the fuller meaning of Wisdom in St. Louis, for the very fact that after seeing what Wisdom means in itself (Jesus Christ), it is fitting to examine what Wisdom means in relation to us, and this is a study of our union with the Eternal Wisdom.
For this fuller understanding of the word wisdom according to St. Louis, we turn for the most part to his, Love of the Eternal Wisdom. There we find that there are a number of secondary meanings, which pertain to Wisdom as related to us. We discover that the concept is heavily nuanced, and burdened with significations, as if it could not stand up to the weight of meaning it was trying to convey.
St. Louis himself says,
“If I lack words to express even a very small idea which I have conceived of this beauty and sovereign delight – and my conception of them falls far short of the reality – who can have a right idea of them and explain them correctly?” (no. 19)
We must examine then, several of the meanings that Montfort gives to wisdom either explicitly in his work, or implicitly by a clear but unnamed reference.
First, wisdom is the entire ensemble of graces that go to make up our supernatural being.
“Accidental and created wisdom is the share of Uncreated Wisdom communicated to men. In another manner of speaking, it is the gift of wisdom.” (no. 13)
“When the Eternal Wisdom communicates himself to a soul, He confers upon it the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and all the great virtues in an eminent degree.” (no. 99) (2)
Secondly, when St. Louis comes to treat of the effects that Jesus produces in our souls, (nos. 90-103), he says of the first,
“Eternal Wisdom communicates to the soul that possesses Him His all enlightening spirit; I wished and understanding was given to me; I called and the spirit of understanding came upon me.” (Wisdom 7:7) This subtle and penetrating spirit causes man, after the example of Solomon, to judge all things with great discernment and a keen intelligence. On account of the Wisdom which has been communicated to my mind, I shall be found of quick conceit in judgement and shall be admired in the sight of the mighty.” (Wisdom 8:11) ( no.92) (3)
A little later, after speaking of the knowledge given by the Eternal Wisdom, he continues,
“You will notice that the gifts of light and knowledge given by Divine Wisdom are not dull, barren and void of piety, but enlightening, full of unction and conducive to activity and holiness; they move the heart and satisfy it while they illuminate the mind.” (no. 94)
And speaking of Jesus again and his communications,
“He gives that man (who possesses him) a relish for the things of God, and makes him lose a desire for things created. He enlightens his mind with the brightness of His Divine light.” (no. 98)
Moreover through his work, our saint has taken to referring to Eternal Wisdom as beautiful, as Beauty himself, and the cause of joy in our hearts,
” If we knew the delight of a soul that knows the beauty of Divine Wisdom and that is nourished at the bosom of the Father.” (no. 10)
“The greatest delight of this sovereign beauty… is to diffuse Himself… and it is by this communication of Eternal Wisdom that the friends of God and the Prophets are made.” (no. 90)
Speaking of Adam in the state of innocence, St. Louis says,
“He (Adam) was endowed with the light of Wisdom in his mind, which gave him a perfect knowledge of the Creator and his creatures.” (no. 38)
But Adam sinned: “Man sins and by sinning he loses his wisdom, his innocence, his beauty, his immortality.” (no. 39)
Now we hold that what St. Louis had in mind when he wrote about this the first of the most usual effects was one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Wisdom (nos. 92, 94, 98) The other passages which we have quoted here, (nos. 10, 90, 38, 39) show evidence in favor of such a view.
Let us see how this gift of Wisdom is described in St. Thomas and one of his great commentators, John of St. Thomas, to see the similarity between their doctrine and that of St. Louis.
“Wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgement according to Eternal Law… it belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge right about them (divine things) on account of connaturality with them: thus Dionysius says (Div., Nom.,ii) that Hierotheusis is perfect in divine things, for he not only learns, but is patient of divine things. Now this sympathy or connaturality with divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to I Cor. 6: 17, “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” (Summa IIaIIae Q45, a2)(4)
“The gift of Wisdom is not any sort of Wisdom, but the spirit of Wisdom. It proceeds from love and a spirit, from a giving by which men experience within themselves how good the will of God is. In it they rejoice, and through it they judge perfectly of divine things. Therefore the formal aspect under which the gift of wisdom reaches the highest cause, the divine cause, is an experiential knowledge of God, in which He is united to the soul in its very depths and gives Himself to it. This is the meaning of ‘knowing by the Spirit,’ knowing not from an illumination or speculation on the divine nature, but through a loving experience of union. (Gifts of the Holy Spirit, John of St. Thomas, chp 4, no. 9)
We must notice the points common to both: a judgement concerning divine things, the sweetness of this knowledge, the essential need for charity in order for this knowledge to exist, the accent on experience and the role of the spirit etc. (4a)
This view that St. Louis is formally treating of the gift of Wisdom is heavily supported by the very structure of his chapter on the effects of Wisdom. In no. 99, Montfort writes,
“When Eternal Wisdom communicates Himself to a soul He confers upon it the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the great virtues in an eminent degree.” But in continuing he makes no mention of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but limits himself to describing a number of the virtues. Why? Because in the preceding numbers he has already treated of the gifts, and this beginning of no. 99 is a transition to a quick glance at the virtues.
Also, after treating in nos. 92 and 94 of what we have identified as the gift of wisdom, St. Louis writes,
“Wisdom not only gives man a light to know the truth, but also a wonderful capacity for making the truth known to others.” (no. 95) This follows the order found in the Summa of St. Thomas, who explicitly treating of the gift of wisdom says,
“Some however receive a higher degree of the gift of wisdom both as to the contemplation of divine things (by both knowing more exalted mysteries and being able to impart this knowledge to others) (5) and as to the direction of human affairs according to Divine rules (by being able to direct not only themselves but also others according to those rules.)” IIa IIae Q45,a 5c That St. Louis is following the thought of St. Thomas is made all the more probable by his reference to Thomas in no. 94.
This brings us to another use of the word wisdom, implicitly used by St. Louis, wisdom as communicating to men “a wonderful capacity for making the truth known to others.” (no. 95) This is known in traditional terminology as the “word of wisdom.” According to St. Louis (following the train of thought of St. Thomas quoted above) this gift of wisdom, or more precisely, word of wisdom is a plenitude of the gift of the Holy Spirit called wisdom:
“… Divine Wisdom indicates three degrees of piety, of which the last one is the perfect one: 1. to listen to God with humble submission. 2. To act in Him and by Him with persevering fidelity. 3. To obtain the necessary light and unction with which to inspire in others the love of Wisdom that will lead them to eternal life.” (no. 30)
“0h how few preachers today who possess this effable gift of eloquence and who can say with St. Paul: ‘We speak the wisdom of God’ (I Cor. 2:7). Most of them speak from natural knowledge of their intellect, or from what they have borrowed from books; not from the love which Divine Wisdom has put in their hearts; nor from the divine abundance which Wisdom has communicated to them… If a preacher had truly received from Wisdom this gift of eloquence, his listeners could have scarcely resisted his words. . .” (no. 97)
We summarize what we have been saying as follows: we are to strive to be united to Jesus Christ who is called Eternal Wisdom by appropriation because he proceeds from the Father by way of knowledge. His gratuitous communication to us is an ensemble of graces, virtues and gifts, among which the gift of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, is first in the order of knowledge. The plenitude of this gift is manifested by an ability to communicate this wisdom to others.
Now it is true that not all are called to be preachers as we usually understand the term, but all of us are called upon to work for the salvation of our neighbor, to bring him to union with the Eternal Wisdom, and this demands that we possess Him ourselves. (see note 6) We are all called to have a plenitude of the gift of wisdom, though how it might manifest itself will vary.. The very reason why we must have fullness of this gift of wisdom is because we are called to have a full, intimate union with Jesus himself, and Jesus communicates his gifts to us for the precise purpose of elevating us so we will have the capacity for union with Him. In other words, by establishing the nature of the gifts we are to receive from the Eternal Wisdom, we establish the specific sort of union we are called to have with Jesus, and so arrive back at our original question.
It is certain that all men are called to perfection, to the fullness of charity, to the conforming of our will to the will of God. Now our perfection is related to our fullness of possession of the gift of wisdom. To have a fullness of this gift of wisdom is to enter into the mystical life, the true perfection of the normal Christian life. (7) Garrigou-Lagrange, speaking of the degrees of the gift of wisdom as related to the degrees of charity, says,
“In the third degree the soul is transformed by the gift of wisdom… Evidently this third degree of the gift of wisdom belongs to the mystical life strictly so called, even when this degree of wisdom appears under a practical form, as it does in the saints called to the active life.” (Christian Perfection and Contemplation, p. 308) Which indeed is the case of St. Louis. Further, it is to be noted that the common teaching of the spiritual writers, and theologians, see the mystical life characterized by a full flowering of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the abounding of charity and mystical wisdom in our soul. It is clear that this is the teaching of St. Louis also as seen in the passages quoted throughout this essay: (see note 7)
“… Wisdom looks among the nations for worthy people… and it is by this communication of Eternal Wisdom that the friends of God and the Prophets are made.” (no. 90) St. Louis continues in the following numbers with a description of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in the midst of it remarks, “He communicates to man the great science of the saints..” (no. 93)
The point that we are establishing is this: St. Louis is teaching us to strive after a mystical union with Christ which is characterized by a full development of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of wisdom. In so teaching us, he is following in the line of many great saints and theologians. (8)
It is only possible to understand St. Louis’ doctrine on wisdom when we see it against the background of the mystical theology of Augustine and Thomas, (9) for it is one with them. To fail to integrate this Montfortian heritage with the great currents of mystical wisdom in the Church and the experience of the saints, is to deprive ourselves of a unification of our spiritual lives which is very strengthening. Indeed since the doctrine of St. Louis is a genuine mysticism, to fail to interpret his writings from this point of view will lead to a deadly distortion. This point is essential and must be repeated. We must read the writings of St. Louis in the light in which they were written, which is the light of the mystics, the ‘gift of light,’ and this goes not only for his doctrine on wisdom, but also his teaching on the means to attain wisdom. (10)
But this last point – the application of this understanding of wisdom to the means proposed by St. Louis could be a paper in itself. Let us conclude that St. Louis is by his doctrine of wisdom urging us to enter into the fullest communion with Jesus Christ, which is a prelude to the vision we are destined for in heaven. May it be granted to all of us.
This article borrowed from https://www.innerexplorations.com/chmystext/wisdom.htm
1. The numbers indicated in this fashion refer to St. Louis’ small treatise (146 pages in the original manuscript} entitled, “Love of Eternal Wisdom,” which is by far the chief source of his teaching on this matter, though other references are found in some of his hymns and letters. For a physical description of the actual manuscript see,” L’Amour de la Sagesse Eternelle” by Fr. Guidon S.M.M. an article appearing in “Documentation Mariale” No .16. And for a discussion of the proximate source background of the work, and actual circumstances of its writing, see, “La Spiritualite de Saint Louis-Marie”, in a study privately circulated by Pierre Eijckeler S.M.M., or “La Spiritualite Montfortaine, I ,La Sagesse Eternelle, J. Bombardier S.M.M. mimeographed in a limited number from the Montfort scholasticate of St. John in Ottawa in 1941. This latter extensive study is to my knowledge the most complete and adequate one written on wisdom in St. Louis.
2. The question might arise why St. Louis gave this totality the name of the gift of wisdom, when traditionally this name has been reserved for one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we can see his reason in the fact that since he has called Jesus, Wisdom, then the communication of Wisdom to a soul is a gift of the wisdom, (no.13). Or else since the gift of the Holy Spirit called wisdom is the most eminent of the gifts it lends its name to the whole supernatural organism. In any case, St. Louis will then avoid giving the name wisdom to the gift of the Holy Spirit when he treats of it. For a treatment of the various meanings given to wisdom see, Bombardier cited above, and also, “La Consecration, Plentitude de Sagesse” a paper given by R.P. Richard at the IIeme Recontre Internationale Montfortaine, held at Saint-Laurent-sur -Sevre in Sept. 1958 and printed in the “Rapports et Documents” published from that session.
3. This point, namely the identification of this ‘effect’ spoken about by St. Louis is so important that it must be developed at considerable length.
4. This identification might be a bit hard to appreciate, but we hope that conclusions of the essay will throw light on it. Suffice to say here that “the gifts of the Holy Spirit are habits (or essentially supernatural permanent qualities) whereby man is perfected to obey the Holy Spirit.” IaIIae Q68,a3. (The parenthesis is that of St. Thomas.)
4a. It is also noteworthy to see St. Louis’ use of the word beauty which invokes the idea of connatural knowledge – knowledge through the medium of the will, which is found on a natural level in the arts, and on a supernatural plane in mystical wisdom.
5. Parenthesis of St. Thomas.
6. To speak of this gift of eloquence as the plenitude of the gift of wisdom might bring an objection before our minds, for the word of wisdom is a charism – a grace given primarily for the good of others, and does not necessarily demand sanctity on the part of the one exercising it. But this difficulty is cleared away once we realize that it is by way of exception that one would have the grace of moving hearts to accept divine truths, and not possess the gift of wisdom in plenitude, for God wills to use instruments according to their nature and intrinsic perfection and so it is much more fitting for a man to move hearts because his own heart is full of divine light and unction. This indeed is the thought of St. Thomas and St. Louis in the passages just quoted.
7. This seems somewhat freely asserted, but it can be seen in Garrigou-Lagrange’s work on contemplation, (Christian Perfection and Contemplation) solidly developed, and richly expounded. The gift of wisdom makes us contemplatives, experiencing the divine truths which we had before just assented to with faith. Because of our love of God we adhere to him and through our love for him we experience more fully the truths about him which surpass all concepts. Further our increase in knowledge leads to a growth in love…” the illumination of the gift of wisdom invites charity to the intimacy of divine union.” (Christian Perfection and Contemplation p. 293) St. Louis himself says, “Why then is the adorable Jesus, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, loved so little? Because he is not known, or known but little.” (no. 8)
8. St. Louis (in line with the call to contemplation as presented in the work of Garrigou-Lagrange) teaches the universality of the call to attain wisdom, nos. 184,186,187, and at the same time maintains that few will reach the fullness of wisdom, nos. 188, 8.
9. For the literary and doctrinal antecedents (see note 1) as well as the “edition type” of L’Amour de la Sagesse Eternelle, Libraire Mariale Calvaire Mont. a Pont-Chateau (Loire-inf.) 1929, with introduction and notes by H. Hure. As well as articles appearing in the various Montfortian reviews.
10. In the very language of St. Louis we can discover a number of interesting points. It is a concrete and vivid language, suitable not only to a preacher but also to a mystic who wishes to describe things which of their very nature surpass concepts. And perhaps in the absence of technical terms we can see one of the great merits of the writings of St. Louis, to make the heights of sanctity appeal to all people, as well as an indication of the spirit of the times, when in reaction against the false mysticism of the Quietists, even authentic mysticism was under attack, and so there would be no point in using words that would needlessly provoke. (On this point see Bombardier).