Thursday, November 19, 2015

Secret of the Rosary- Simplicity

The difference in reading St Louis de Montfort's Secret of the Rosary and Sor Maria de Agreda's Mystical City of God is quite striking. As we discussed in class, Maria's work seemed to have a goal of communicating God and Mary's glory to the reader, in a style that potentially leaves a somewhat confused and bewildered effect on the reader. The Secret of the Rosary, on the other hand, generally comes off as more practical and simple to read. This is immediately laid out in a White Rose: " my fellow priests who preach the truth of God and who teach the gospel to all nations, let me give you this little book... The truths contained in it are set forth in a very simple and straightforward manner..." It is perhaps later exemplified by "a Rosebud," where Louis's intended audience is actually children, and he takes that into account: "Of course it would be too much to expect you to say the whole fifteen mysteries every day, but do say at least five mysteries..."

Louis de Montfort's writing's simplicity stems from the Rosary that he preaches. Although he might have simplified matters for children, this was by no means because it was necessarily too complicated for them. He relates in the third Rose how Saint Dominic delivered a sermon in Notre Dame to a congregation "made up of theologians and other eminent people who were used to hearing unusual and polished discourses; but Saint Dominic told them that it was not his wish to give them a learned discourse, wise in the eyes of the world... so he began preaching the Holy Rosary and explained the Hail Mary word by word as he would to a group of children..." The values of taking this simple approach to a sermon even to individuals well-versed in theology are laid out later in the third Rose. For one, Dominic refrained from using his own wisdom but instead humbly preached the book that Mary had offered him. For another, this more unassuming method of preaching is necessary and more effective than the approach that many other priests would take; "[they fail] to realize that before a sick person is given bitter medicine he needs to be prepared by being put in the right frame of mind to really benefit from it."

Secret of the Rosary, therefore, is simple and straightforward compared to Mystical City of God  because the nature of its subject matter is elegantly simple. The rosary is presented as an easy, effective and accessible means of glorifying God, usable even by children and particularly good for establishing a love for Jesus, Mary and prayer prior to instilling fear of sin. This is illustrated in the thirty-seventh Rose; the introduction of the Rosary into a lax monastery virtually single handedly caused the reformation of the proud and worldly nuns. "So the Holy Rosary worked more changes in their hearts than the priest could have worked by exhorting and commanding them." Similarly in the thirty-eighth Rose, a bishop who introduced it into his sermons noticed that his diocese improved "in almost no time," and "these changes were all the more striking because this Bishop had been striving to reform his diocese for some time but with hardly any results." Essentially, proper Christian devotion stems from sentiment, and this sentiment can be easily provided by the Rosary in a way that other exhortations or sermons cannot; once that sentiment is in place, it maintains the other devotions. A Mystical Rose Tree says: "If it [the Rosary] is carefully watered and properly attended to each day it will grow to such a marvelous height and its branches will have such a wide span that, far from hindering your other devotions, it will maintain and perfect them." Given how long, overwhelming and frequently confusing I found The Mystical City of God to be, I might be inclined to agree.

Something that I found in common between The Mystical City of God and Secret of the Rosary, however, is that both do indulges in seeming hyperbole or exaggeration on occasions. This is especially noticeable in the later Roses; for example, the thirty-fourth discusses the military feats performed under Mary's patronage by Simon de Montfort, Alan de Lanvallay and Othere. The thirty-third is a very detailed recounting of an exorcism that Saint Dominic performed near Carcassone. According to the text, there were fifteen thousand devils in a single man, who pleaded at length with Saint Dominic to have mercy on them; at a point during the exorcism, the man virtually combusted—"... a glowing flame leaped out of the ears, nostrils and mouth of the Albigensian." This flame imagery is recurrent throughout Louis de Montfort's work; in the thirty-seventh Rose, the single devout nun knelt to a Lady surrounded by angles with "flaming spears by with which they repelled a crowd of devils who wanted to come in." Othere's army was also apparently "surrounded by flaming swords" while in battle against heretics.

The effect of these florid descriptions undermines the veracity of the events described—in particular, the reports of the military victories against Saracens and heretics seem very exaggerated—but the structure of the work somewhat limits this. I found the way that Louis de Montfort laid out his work easy to make sense of. The first section of assigned Roses explained the value of the Rosary and its importance, many Roses of the second section broke down and analyzed the actual language and the significance of the words, while the third illustrated its power. This rough layout made it a lot easier to follow along than Mystical City of God.



  1. Something that's worth considering is the degree towards which the protestations of simplicity which are made in St. Louis's writings are a mask which cover a fair bit of rhetorical complexity. It's often the most simple seeming works which are in fact the most highly constructed and sophisticated, just sophisticated/complicated in a different sense than Sister Mary's work.

    Something that might be interesting to consider further is in what sense the rosary might have proved an especially effective tool in the types of struggles that Louis describes, not the military struggles themselves but the larger "war" against heresy in the south of France at the time. Is it the simplicity of the rosary that makes it so effective? The devotion to Mary that it entails? or something else? Why would this particular form of devotion be pushed as a weapon against heretics in this way, and what might that tell us both about the heretics and those combating them?

  2. It is true that Louis insists that saying the rosary is "simple," but he also makes the point that it is not, in fact, easy; rather, it requires great efforts of attention to be able to sustain one's meditations on the various mysteries as well as the repetitions of the "Ave, Maria" and "Pater noster" throughout. I suggested at the end of class that one way to think about Sor Maria's "Mystical City" is as a kind of elaborate rosary--exactly the kinds of extended meditations on the scenes in Jesus's and Mary's life that Louis recommends. Does having these scenes in mind not help make Sor Maria's elaborate meditations a little easier to understand? If you spent an hour or so every day of your life saying the rosary (as Louis suggests), the meditations that you had on the scenes in the mysteries could quite easily get fairly elaborate--and yet the practice still be "simple." RLFB

  3. While I agree that "Secret of the Rosary" was much easier to read and follow, I view the rosary as simple in format yet difficult in ideal execution. To a certain extent, the mind likes to slow down and savor all the details of a particular topic like one of the mysteries of Jesus’ life, yet on the other hand, when it gets bored the mind likes to jump around and think about various things which can make concentration difficult. Fighting this second appetite of the mind compromised by acedia is itself not so simple a battle, but the easy-to-follow format of the rosary allows one to become refocused quickly. Nonetheless, maintaining focus during one Rosary is only the beginning of the battle; making it a daily habit to say the Rosary, even when you don’t want to, takes a lot of time. In the same way, you cannot water a tree once and expect it to grow overnight. Like a lot of simple things, they turn out to be so deceptively; at their core it is often found that they are much more complicated and detailed. Perhaps this seeming simplicity is a good thing since the Rosary has become a wide-spread devotion for many laypeople unable to pray longer and more demanding prayers.

    - J.B.

  4. While I agree completely with the above commenters that Momfort is not so "simple" as he may appear, I think that his claim of simplicity is significant. We have discussed how a modern conception of Mary as simple, poor, loving, and pious contrasts with the Medieval Mary as perfect master of the 7 liberal arts. I think Momfort is intentionally creating this contrast in order to accomplish his purpose.

    As is abundantly clear from the text, Momfort is primarily interest in the reform of Christian souls. He sees today's Christendom as lax and worldly - and he sees the rosary converting people from this mindset to true Christianity. His sometimes over the top claims of the rosary's efficacy can be understood in terms of his perceived alternative. Momfort believes the devout recitation of the rosary is infinitely more efficacious than any efforts we may make for knowledge or worldly success. "True Christianity" is in faith and simplicity, where simplicity is understood as focus and reliance on God. As part of this, we see significant emphasis in Momfort on moral reform. His version of the rosary seems in some ways not strictly Marian -- with each decade we are to contemplate a virtue, something clearly intended to make us focus on the moral state of our souls. I don't really have the concrete knowledge to justify this claim, but I think Momfort resembles some Protestants in this regard - an orientation toward faith and the moral life, more so than towards, say, scholastic theology. This orientation, I think, is also helpful in understanding Ratzinger. When he describes the Marian as emotional and affective and somehow "yin," I think he is looking at the kind of Marian piety emerging from people like Momfort.