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"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT AND THE END TIMES

ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT AND THE END TIMES
 

In order to penetrate Montfort’s thoughts, we will look at his texts on the end times, attempt to recover the sources that inspired Montfort, and describe the protagonists and scenario of the end times. 


1. A progressive discovery
Montfort devoted few pages in his writings to the end times (about 17 pages out of 1,700), but they form an elaborate and coherent whole that was the fruit of his reading, reflection, and prayer.
His perspective on the future of the Church and the world is not immediately apparent but becomes progressively clearer and more precise.4 In LEW, Montfort makes no mention of the end times or, consequently, of the role that Mary and the Holy Spirit will play in them; he merely remarks that Wisdom will be preceded by the Cross, "and with this Cross and by it, he will judge the world" (LEW 172). In SM 58- 59, Montfort speaks of the Second Coming of Christ to "reign over all the earth and to judge the living and the dead" and of the "great men filled with the Holy Spirit and imbued with the spirit of Mary" who will destroy sin and establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In PM, the saint does not explicitly mention the Second Coming of Jesus (although he does speak of the coming of God the Father in PM 5), but he emphasizes the Spirit-filled times to come (the special reign of the Spirit and the deluge of fire) and the apostolic spirituality of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary.
In TD 46-59, Montfort expressly refers to the "end times" (a phrase used in TD:35, and three times in 50, 54, 58). In these passages he writes at length on the works and the spirituality of the "apostles of the end times" (TD 58), and he speaks of the Second Coming of Christ and of his reign in the world, as well as of the roles of the Holy Spirit and Mary. In TD, the deluge of fire is not mentioned, but it exists interiorized or as seen in its effects (the apostles are like a blazing fire and driven by the Spirit). In other passages of the book, this perspective reappears in different forms: he speaks of the difference between the first and second comings of Jesus (TD 1, 13, 22, 158), and he foresees the participation of men and women of the laity in the battle against the devil and in preparation for the kingdom of Christ (TD 113-114). Montfort also writes of a "happy time" when Mary will reign over hearts, "subjecting them to the dominion of her great and princely son" (TD 217).
In other works, including H, the end times do not appear, but certain aspects of the subject are present, such as the necessity of the coming of Christ’s kingdom and of its extension to the Crescent (H 126:11). 

2. Sources
It is not easy to identify Montfort’s sources for his thinking on the end times.5 Current research indicates clearly that none of his predecessors had developed their thoughts on the subject to a comparable extent. Among his contemporaries, we find various elements scattered widely but never discussed with such coherence and organization as we find in Montfort. One or another of the musical themes may have been composed previously, but the symphony is the work of Montfort alone.

We can distinguish three sources on which Montfort apparently drew in his teaching on the end times.

a. Bérulle and Saint-Sulpice.
We have no indication that Montfort possessed a doctrine of the end times during his seminary years in Paris. We find no such doctrine either in Bérulle, leader of what is called the French school of spirituality, or in Olier, founder of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. In their spiritual works are found significant elements that may have influenced Montfort.
Bérulle, cited by Montfort in TD 162, speaks of the imminence of the kingdom of Jesus and of his Second Coming; he even asserts that priests are "on earth and in the Church to establish and hasten the glorious and desirable coming of Jesus."6 Rather than reflecting on the role of priests in the end times, Bérulle discusses how the sacerdotal ministry is essentially oriented toward the "final coming of the Son of God."7
Olier also reflects on the formation of priests for his own time, and not for the end times as Montfort does. But Montfort does integrate into his thought two ideas that Olier proposed: reform of the Church by the sacerdotal ministry and the description of priests as "men of flames and fire."8
During his time at Saint-Sulpice, Louis Marie notes in LS two ideas that he will take up again in his writings: the "deluge of fire" that falls from Heaven and the "difference between the first and second comings of Our Lord."9

b. Eudist sources.
Textual comparison seems to suggest a certain literary dependence in Montfort on Saint John Eudes; both writers discuss the general conversion predicted by several saints and the cry of "Fire! . . . Fire!"10 On the other hand, Eudes says nothing on the subject of the apostles of the end times.
More certain and more direct was the influence exerted on Montfort by Marie des Vallées († 1656), the so-called saint of Coutances and the spiritual daughter of St. John Eudes. Louis Marie read her biography, which was written by M. de Renty, and cites her in his description of the great saints to come "who will surpass in holiness most other saints as much as the cedars of Lebanon tower above little shrubs" (TD 47). It is probably to Marie des Vallées that Montfort owes the scenario of the end times: the reign of sin, the trials ordained by the Antichrist, the reign of grace, the coming of Christ for the Last Judgment. Above all, he takes from her the idea of the "three deluges," in connection with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the affirmation that "all of this will be accomplished by the Blessed Virgin."11 In Montfort’s hands, the subject receives a more rigorously theological treatment than in de Renty’s biography, which is wordy and given to inorganic and incoherent symbolism. Saint Louis Marie uses only that which enters into his theological perspective, and he then completes and develops it. Thus, he precedes the "three deluges" with the "three reigns" (PM 16), so that the vision of Marie des Vallées is made more positive, less somber.12 Moreover, he invests the saints of the end times with a high evangelical and communal spirituality (PM 7-13, 18-25; TD 46-48, 55-59). And using several different arguments, he creates a theological foundation for the role of Mary in the end times, connecting her with the battle against evil, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Second Coming of Christ (TD 49-56; PM 13, 15, 24).

c. Post-Joachimite sources.
Montfort was probably not familiar with the work of Joachim de Flore (died 1202). Although there are numerous differences between them, Montfort and the Calabrian priest share a number of views: the tripartite division of history, including a third age to exist in time and on earth and ushered in by the Holy Spirit; the anticipation of an abundance of grace, as if for a new Pentecost ("tempus maioris gratiae," according to Joachim); the announcement of the coming of "spiritual men" who will bring about the existence of the eternal Gospel. Like the religious orders that had appropriated it earlier, Montfort applies the Joachimite prophecy of the "spiritual men" to the prophetic roles of evangelical men from which saints such as Francis of Paola, Vincent Ferrer, and Catherine of Siena had profited. These names appear in St. John Eudes’s work, but in inverse order. With respect to Vincent Ferrer, however, Montfort indicates that he had direct access to the source material, because he cites "one of his works."13 Was he, then, familiar with the opinion of St. Vincent de Paul on the prophecy of Vincent Ferrer? There is nothing to suggest he was; in any case, he dissociates himself from that opinion by applying to the Missionaries of the Company of Mary the prophetic vision of Ferrer.14 Similarly, Montfort’s reliance on Mary of Agréda († 1665) seems to be slight; she is cited anonymously in TD 206, but not in connection with the end times.15 




3. Scenario of the end times
Comparative study of the three works in which Montfort speaks of the end times (SM, PM, TD) leads us to distinguish four successive and intersecting stages. Together they make up the scenario of the final days of the Church.

a. First stage: tragic state of the Church.
In the eyes of a missionary and mystic like Montfort, the state of the Church and the society of his time offered scarce consolation. Although historians argue that conditions at the close of the seventeenth century improved as a result of the intense pastoral commitment of the French clergy,16 Montfort would disagree. In his converging texts, he refers to the "universal failure" of contemporary Christian practice (TD 127), to the "corrupt kingdom of the world" (SM 59) and the reign of the enemies of God (PM 4). The encroaching wave of sin takes on cosmic dimensions and does not spare even the Church herself: "Your Gospel is thrown aside, torrents of inequity flood the whole earth carrying away even your servants. The whole land is desolate, ungodliness reigns supreme, your sanctuary is desecrated and the abomination of desolation has even contaminated the holy place" (PM 5; see also PM 14: "the ever-swelling flood of iniquity"). The Church herself has become a "languishing heritage," "so weakened and besmirched by the crimes of her children" (PM 20). Behind the domination of sin, Montfort sees the work of the devil, which is "daily increasing until the advent of the reign of anti- Christ" (TD 51). Montfort is so dismayed that he invokes his own death if divine intervention does not bring a change: "Send me your help from heaven or let me die" (PM 14). Thus does he feel compelled to send up a cry of alarm when confronted with such a grave and imminent danger: "The House of God is on fire! . . . Help!" (PM 28).

b. Second stage: divine intervention within salvation history.
This intermediary stage is the most dynamic and active, because during this stage we pass from the reign of sin to the reign of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men and women. Montfort is convinced that the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ should not be projected into the hereafter but must come into existence on earth, in this world: "Is it not true that your kingdom must come?" (PM 5). This is the leitmotif of TD from its first sentence: "It was through the blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world" (TD 1; cf. 13, 22, 49, 157, 217, 262). Who will be able to transform the world? For Montfort there is no doubt: God alone can accomplish such a task. He will intervene with "a deluge of fire, love and justice" through the mediation of the Spirit and the manifold acts of Mary (PM 13, 15, 24-25; TD 49-56). This divine intervention will be through and in mankind, especially through the "apostles of the end times" (TD 58). Their task will be twofold: "destroying sin and setting up the kingdom of Jesus" (SM 59).

c. Third stage: the Second Coming and reign of Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that "the whole Church expect[s] him [God] to come and reign over all the earth and to judge the living and the dead" (SM 58). This Second Coming of Jesus will lead successively to the reign of Jesus in the world and to the Last Judgment, although not in tandem. Here we see the characteristic vision of Montfort: the universal and stable reign of Jesus (PM 4) anticipated in time as an effect of his coming. Jesus "comes in glory once again to reign upon earth" (TD 158), "the knowledge and the kingdom of Jesus Christ must come into the world" (TD 13), "you yourself will ask of Jesus, together with Mary, that he come with his kingdom on earth." It is not a visible and personal advent of Jesus and a temporal kingdom, as millenarians would hope for; Montfort insists that the kingdom of Jesus is "in the hearts" (TD 113) or "in our soul" (TD 68). In other words, Jesus will reign when, by the intervention of Mary, he is known, loved, and served (TD 49). In TD 217, we have the logical and perhaps even chronological steps: reign of Mary, coming of the Spirit, reign of Jesus Christ. We also see here how Montfort spirituality has as its goal the establishment of the kingdom of Christ: "‘When will that happy day come . . . when God’s Mother is enthroned in men’s hearts as Queen, subjecting them to the dominion of her great and princely Son?’" (TD 217).

d. Fourth stage: the deluge of the fire of justice and the Last Judgment.
Montfort describes the end of time and the world from a pneumatological and then a Christological perspective. In the first, the deluge of the fire of love will be followed by the deluge of the fire of justice, an expression of divine anger, which "reduces the whole world to ashes" (PM 16-17). In the Christological version, the reign of Christ in the world is followed, as if in continuation of his Second Coming or the Parousia, by the universal judgment: God will "come and reign over all the earth and to judge the living and the dead" (SM 58). Then the end times themselves will end, and the true eschatology—that is, eternity—will begin. 

4. The protagonists
In the four stages (tragedy, drama, happiness, and finally destruction and judgment) of the end times, various personages will play a role.

a. The Trinity.
This is the principal and final Agent, Who is the origin of the plan for salvation and on Whom the glory of what has taken place in time reflects (TD 22; 50,6).
The three Divine Persons display Their efficacious works in the end times, beginning with God the Father, to Whom Montfort attributes "merciful plans" (PM 2); the selection, dispatch, and formation of the great saints at the end of time (TD 47-48, 57); the revelation of Mary (TD 50, 55); the enmity between Mary and her children and the devil and his children (TD 52, 54); and the knowledge of time and of how the end times will unfold (TD 59; SM 58).
The protagonist of salvation is Jesus Christ. His Second Coming on earth becomes real, and he once again reigns over men and judges them (SM 58- 59; TD 48, 217); the purpose of the time of revelation is to lead us to know, love, and serve him (TD 49). The apostles of the end times will be "the true disciples of Jesus Christ" (TD 59). The Lord Jesus will again assume the power to give to Mary "this new company so that you may renew all things through her" (PM 6). The missionaries will be established on Mary, the mountain of God, and "Jesus Christ, who dwells there forever, will teach them in his own words the meaning of the eight beatitudes" (PM 25).
The work of the Spirit is preponderant and efficacious. The Spirit intervenes in the end times with a "deluge of fire, love and justice" (PM 16-17), like a new Pentecost. The Spirit will "create priests who burn with this same fire and whose ministry will renew the face of the earth" and renew the world (PM 17); the Spirit will sanctify them (PM 15), assemble them (PM 20-21), and send them on their mission (PM 9; TD 57).

b. Mary.
She is one of the principal protagonists and supports, acting in many ways in the end times and in collaboration with the three Divine Persons. With the Most High and by His will, Mary forms the apostles and the great saints (TD 47, 59). With Christ, she does battle with the proud Satan (TD 52, 54; PM 12-13) and brings the years of grace to an end with the new company of missionaries that the Son, dying on the Cross, entrusted to her (PM 1, 6). With the Holy Spirit, Mary is entrusted with begetting the sons of God and forming the saints of the end of time (PM 11, 15). The end times bring the full revelation of Mary, not in the sense of a deeper abstract knowledge, but insofar as we will experience her presence. She will be revealed in her merciful love toward sinners, in her battle against the enemies of God, and in her support of the faithful disciples of Christ: "In these end times Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, power and grace" (TD 50,6). The Mother of God is a spiritual leader and teacher for the apostles of the end times, particularly the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. Montfort affirms this by applying to Mary the symbolism of the mountain: those who live in her grow in holiness and learn of contemplation and intercession. They are introduced to the logic of the evangelical beatitudes and participate in the mysteries of Christ that took place on the mountain: the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension (PM 25).

c. The apostles of the end times.
They are the necessary instruments for the realization of God’s plan, as will be detailed below.

d. Satan.
Satan establishes his own plan in opposition to God’s plan. He will plot dire attacks on the heel of Mary (TD 54; PM 13), he will redouble his attacks (TD 50), and he will instigate wicked persecutions that will increase until the reign of the Antichrist (TD 51). The devil will lead the battle with the enemies of God, who will be his active intermediaries in the end times; trembling with rage, they are ready to break out in every direction, rebelling, uniting, and sounding the alarm (TD 48, 50; PM 5, 27, 28).





III. THE APOSTLES OF THE END TIMES

Although this phrase, (TD 58) of Montfort, is used only once, it summarizes his thought on the end times. He describes at length the condition, activity, and spirituality of these apostles.

1. Who are they?
Their identity gradually becomes clear. Montfort speaks first of "great saints" (TD 47), "great souls filled with grace and zeal" (TD 48). He then refers to them as "the valiant soldiers and loyal servants of Jesus Christ . . . . the true children and servants of the Blessed Virgin" (TD 50,6; 52; 54), "the elect" (TD 55), "these servants, these slaves, these children of Mary" (TD 56). Finally he refers to their sacerdotal character: "ministers of the Lord . . . . the children of Levi" (TD 56), "true apostles of the end times . . . . in the midst of other priests, ecclesiastics and clerics" (TD 58). In his ardent prayer for vocations to the Company of Mary, he speaks of "missionaries" (PM 3, 20, 21, 25) and of "priests" (PM 2, 18, 25, 29). His proposed congregation of missionary priests forms the core of these apostles. But the activity and the mighty battles of the end times must not be reserved to them alone. In two other prophetic texts, Montfort speaks more generally of "chosen souls" in whom Mary will reign sovereign (TD 217), and he enlarges the horizon to embrace "a mighty legion of brave and valiant soldiers of Jesus and Mary, both men and women" (TD 114).

2. Their activity
The work of the apostles of the end times swings essentially around two poles, one negative, the other positive: "destroying sin and establishing the reign of Jesus Christ" (SM 59). The first pole involves a series of aggressive actions against the forces of evil: they "will give battle, overthrowing and crushing" (TD 48), they "will thunder against sin, they will storm against the world, they will strike down the devil and his followers" (TD 57), they "will be the odor of death to the great, the rich and the proud of this world" (TD 56). In the PM, along the same lines, Montfort foresees missionaries who will attack and overthrow the "enemies of God" (PM 8, 29), who will "crush the head of the serpent" (PM 12), "address their ardent prayers to heaven, turning them into the weapons which will overcome or convert their enemies" (PM 25). The positive pole, which is described in more detail, consists of actions directed at the reform of the Church and its extension into the world: their "ministry will renew the face of the earth and reform your Church" (PM 17). With this objective, the apostles of the end times will carry out sanctifying apostolic work: they "will enkindle everywhere the fires of divine love" (TD 56); "wherever they preach, they will leave behind them nothing but the gold of love" (TD 58); they will be the "sweet fragrance of Jesus" (TD 56). They will "build the temple of the true Solomon and the mystical city of God" (TD 48), and they will "shower down the rain of God’s word and of eternal life" (TD 57). Moreover, they will work to extend the Lord’s empire "over the impious, the idolators and Muslims" (TD 49), receiving the deluge of fire that will empower them to convert "Muslims, idolators and even Jews" (PM 17).




3. Their spirituality
Montfort’s spiritual portrait of the apostles of the end times (TD 48) includes four aspects of their spirituality:
a. Union with God.
They are "great souls filled with grace" (TD 48), "rich in God’s graces . . . . great and exalted before God in holiness" (TD 54), "closely joined to God" (TD 56). The union with God (the Father) includes "the gold of love" (TD 56, 58), "the frankincense of prayer" (TD 56), "the resolve to seek the glory of God" (TD 58). In connection with the Son, Montfort calls the apostles of the end times "true disciples of Jesus Christ" and of the crucified Jesus because they are radical followers of the Gospel and they speak the Gospel "in pure truth . . . . Their hearts will not be troubled, nor will they show favor to anyone" (TD 59). With the Holy Spirit they live in total mystical availability: they "will be like thunder-clouds flying through the air at the slightest breath of the Holy Spirit" (TD 57; cf. 58).

b. Apostolic zeal.
They are the "great souls filled with . . . zeal" (TD 48), "superior to all creatures by their great zeal" (TD 54). The action of the "true apostles of the end times" (TD 58) consists of spreading "the fire of divine love" everywhere; they are themselves "a flaming fire" (TD 56). In the battle against evil and the enemies of God, these great saints "will become, in Mary’s powerful hands, like sharp arrows," and they will leave "an odor of death" among the worldly (TD 56). Their work will not be limited to reforming the Church, but will include extending it to "the idolators and Muslims" (TD 59).

c. The Marian experience.
Montfort describes this with enthusiasm: "these great souls . . . will be exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Illumined by her light, nourished at her breast, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection" (TD 48; cf. also 55). They are "those who belong to the Blessed Virgin," her "true children and servants," "her humble slaves and children," "her heel," who will crush the head of the serpent (TD 54).

d. The experience of the Cross.
There are various reasons for this experience: the need to be "thoroughly purified by the fire of Great Tribulations" and to carry "the myrrh of mortification in their body" (TD 56); the fact that they will be preaching devotion to Mary, which "will make many enemies" (TD 48); the description of the "heel" of Mary, which implies that they will be "down-trodden and crushed" (TD 54).
These four elements are found in the spirituality of the apostolic men whom Montfort describes in the PM. These apostles will be united with God, because they are "enriched by the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth" (PM 25); "entirely dependent on Providence, who will feast to their heart’s content on the spiritual delights you provide" (PM 21); and endowed with "their great love for Jesus Christ which enables them to carry his cross" (PM 24); uniquely preoccupied with the "glory" of the Holy Spirit (PM 23), whose breath urges them forward to their mission (PM 9). In addition, they will burn with "holy anger" and "ardent zeal" (PM 21), because the Holy Spirit will create "priests who burn with this same fire" (PM 17) and who will have a "perfect love . . . for their neighbor" (PM 24). They will do battle against the enemies of God "with the Cross for their staff and the Rosary for their sling" (PM 8) and with an irresistible wisdom (PM 22, 25), and "they will crush the head of the serpent wherever they go" (PM 12). They will thus become the "true children . . . . true servants of the Blessed Virgin" (PM 11, 12), characterized by "their true devotion to Mary" (PM 12) and her maternal solicitude (PM 11, 25). Finally, they will experience persecutions and crosses, because "the devil will lie in wait to attack the heel of this mysterious woman, that is, the little company of her children" (PM 13).

Montfort expresses the spirituality of these missionaries using meteorological symbols (rain, snow: PM 20, 25), cosmic symbols (fire, sun: PM 12), and animals (dogs, lambs, doves, eagles, bees, deer, lions: PM 13), especially those of the four evangelists (man, lion, ox, eagle: PM 21). The key word that embodies this spirituality and that Montfort repeats six times, each time in a way that gives it new meaning, is liberos, in the twofold etymological sense of "free" and "son": the missionaries of the "special reign" of the Spirit are free of all human ties (PM 7). They will accomplish God’s plans with a total availability; their means will be poverty (PM 8), always open to the breath of the Spirit (PM 9) and "to the voice of authority" (PM 10), "true children . . . and servants of the Blessed Virgin" (PM 11, 12).