Saint Louise de Marillac, a mystic

by: Benito Martínez Betanzos, CM


(This article first appeared in Santa Luisa de Marillac, ayer y hoy, XXXIV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, [Saint Vincent de Paul, Yesterday and Today, XXXIV Vincentian Studies Week], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2010).


The “why” of this presentation

When I was asked to speak on the mysticism of Saint Louise de Marillac (because Elisabeth Charpy had to excuse herself) I began to wonder if people, who are immersed in the social, economic and labor crisis, would be interested in a presentation on mysticism. What solution can mysticism present to the problems of immigration or the present economic situation? What can mysticism offer to those who are living in a globalized society and currently unemployed as a result of the worldwide crisis? I became even more doubtful about this presentation when I realized that I would be speaking about the mystical experience of a woman who lived some four hundred years ago. Bérulle said that from a mystical perspective God became man in order to deify the human person. But in this modern era who wants to be deified; people want to be humanized.

Despite all of this, I believe that the reality of mysticism is very relevant. As a witness to this belief I place before you the words of the Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, who wrote: future Christians will either be mystics or they will not be Christian. The writer and philosopher Malraux stated: the twenty-first century will either be religious [mystic] or it will not. These words are said to have been spoken by Malraux shortly before he died in 1976. He expressed this same idea, however, in a different manner during an interview in 1975 for Le Point magazine: What I say here is more doubtful: I say that we cannot exclude the possibility of a spiritual event on the level of the planet. In other words, Malraux envisioned the whole world becoming mystic in the twenty-first century. If his words have become known worldwide and have been repeated an infinite number of times, it is because during the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century many thinkers and writers have affirmed the urgency of a spiritual realignment.

Continuing with Malraux’s concern, another Frenchman, the politician Jacques Delors expressed this same sentiment in 1992: If in the next ten years we do not give a soul, a spirituality, a meaning to Europe, then we will have lost the debate. In 1997 the European Union finally gave official recognition to the program “give a soul to Europe”, “give a soul to Europe, an ethic and a spirituality”.

I find it difficult to believe that Rahner’s prediction or the dream of Malraux or the desire of Delors will become a reality in the present society. The Church that once molded and formed the lives of individuals as well as family life and the life of the larger society is collapsing. In fact J. Delumeau asks: is Christianity going to die? and Tillard states that we are the last Christians. Christianity has lost the place that it once occupied and is no longer seen as a leader in society. Nevertheless, I believe that what is disappearing is one form of Christianity and not Christianity itself. Perhaps the new form of Christianity that is beginning to appear is that which was proposed by Karl Rahner, namely, that we, men and women living in the twenty-first century either become mystics or else we are no longer Christian. Here we are speaking about mystics who pray in the manner of the great mystical tradition of the Church, a tradition exemplified by Saint Therese of Jesus and Saint Louise de Marillac.

I believe that mysticism is a responsibility of Christian believers who have much to contribute to the discussion on spirituality, a matter of great interest since the close of the Second Vatican Council. If this is an obligation of all Christians then it is even more of an obligation for those of us who are followers of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise, those of us who continue the mission of giving life to a spirituality that is able to make the Kingdom of God present in the midst of the poor … a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of communion, respect and solidarity. We do this by beginning to make this kingdom a part of the human spirit and then by establishing it in the life of the poor.

Every day the Daughters of Charity recite the beginning of the well-known phrase of Saint John of the Cross: In the evening of life we shall be judged on love. Learn to love as God desires to be loved and put aside your position in the community (Sayings of light and love, #59). In other words, we must ask ourselves: how has our love benefitted the poor? Allow me to be rude and to ask what are we doing here reflecting on Louise’s mysticism when in Spain there are four million people who are homeless and unemployed and countless others who are undocumented and hiding so that hunger and misery and death do not overtake them. I respond that we are doing much good since the mysticism of Saint Louise teaches us that the intimate union that God established with her was done out of pure love and enabled her (and enables us) to offer this same love to those who are poor … enables us to act as prophets and denounce the injustice of the suffering of the innocent. From Saint Louise we learn that it is necessary to make mysticism and contemplation a part of our lives and to continue this process until it becomes “pure love” that we, in turn, are able to offer to the poor (SWLM:827-831 [A.27]) [1]. Individuals cannot offer love to another unless they themselves first possess that love and no one can love unless they have first experienced God’s free gift of love, a love that God shares with them precisely because they themselves are poor.

We have to take care of our earth and our history because this is the only place where we are able to live and it is here on this earth that we have to establish the Kingdom of God. Moreover, every saint is a mystic and every mystic is a saint because one becomes a mystic when one achieves holiness. Jesus tells us and both Saint John and Saint James affirm the same reality in their letters when they say that holiness is union with God through love for the poor [2]. Mysticism continually leads us to experience God present in the poor, in those men and women who are part of the society that we must transform into the Kingdom of God. Using theological language, I would say that mystics are those individuals who experience God in the realities of the world, who contemplate his Kingdom in our history and who discover the history of salvation as the one human history. True mysticism commits us to a profound responsibility. Therefore, as we reflect on the mysticism of Saint Louise we come to understand that as we become mystics, we also become prophets and more committed to serving the poor.


Mystical contemplation and service

In order to understand this we must avoid confusing the contemplative life with contemplative prayer and mysticism. The contemplative life is a religious state in which certain individuals who have embraced this lifestyle dedicate their life to contemplative prayer. This is not the lifestyle of the followers of Saint Vincent who dedicated his life to serving the poor. During their daily life, however, the followers of Vincent dedicate time to prayer and are obliged to achieve mystical contemplation. If the Christian spiritual life is developed through following Jesus Christ, then the more fully individuals engage in the following of Christ, the more they will be able to identify themselves with Jesus’ humanity. We must remember that Jesus began his ministry with temptations, a sign of the obstacles that makes service difficult … and his ministry ended with his death and resurrection. During the course of his mission the transfiguration event occurred, an event which the evangelists present as inseparable from the mission.

For a brief time the three Apostles, Peter, James and John, experienced with their senses the presence of the divinity on Mount Tabor. This is the prayer that we refer to as mystical contemplation … and it is better to speak about this prayer as a level of prayer rather than a prayer form. In mystical contemplation, individuals experience the presence of God and listen to God speak. They are passive while God is active. All those who have been baptized can attain this level of prayer because through Baptism we are filled with grace and given the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In active prayer the individuals who are praying rely on the virtues of faith, hope and charity in order to encounter God but in contemplative or mystical prayer it is the Holy Spirit who is active and becomes united with the human person through means of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that contemplative prayer is defined as passive and therefore not simply the result of human effort.

Louise was not always able to live on the mountain top. In the beginning she followed Christ but her perspective was quite narrow and focused on her son, her husband and herself. God invited Louise to go to the top of the mountain and there she entered a dark cloud, but through faith she also experienced the divine presence. Louise, however, had to descend the mountain and become involved in the real problems and situations of the poor in order to provide them with hope and solutions. During a retreat that took place three years before her death, Louise wrote: My meditation was more reflective than reasoning. I felt a great attraction for the holy humanity of Our Lord and I desired to honor and imitate it insofar as I was able in the person of the poor and of all my neighbors. I had read somewhere that He had taught us charity to make up for our powerlessness to render any service to His person. This touched my heart very particularly and very intimately (SWLM:820 [A.26]). Mystical prayer committed Louise to the poor. In light of the anguish and the needs of those men and women living in situations of poverty, Louise, like Moses, heard God speak: I see the suffering and I hear the cries of my people! Come and deliver my people from slavery! She listened as Jesus sent forth the disciples after their experience on Mount Tabor: Come, let us go down the mountain to those places where the poor live surrounded by problems!

The mystical love of contemplation ought to take possession of the active person and enable these individuals to cultivate the habit of contemplation in service. Christian faith should fill people with the hope of being able to fulfill the commandment that Jesus gave us before he died: love one another as I love you (John 15:12). In light of the fact that divine love is expressed in serving the poor, Louise, one month before her death, wrote to one of the Sisters: If while they were occupied with exterior service, the sisters’ minds are distracted toward vigilance over themselves … they must realize that these external actions, although they are for the service of the poor, cannot be very pleasing to God, nor can they merit a recompense for us because they are not united to those of Jesus Christ who always worked in the sight of God, His Father (SWLM:678 [L.656]). We must remember that the Spirit of Jesus led Louise to the heights of mystical contemplation as she visited the charities in Ansi?res and Saint-Cloud.


The stages of Louise’s mystical journey

Step by Step Louise moved through the different stages of mystical prayer which though passive, nevertheless involved activity because she was the person who was engaged in the process. Indeed Louise was called to embrace the charism of serving the poor while living a life of prayer in which she attained the heights of mystical contemplation like John of the Cross, Saint Paul, Saint Therese of Jesus and Saint Vincent de Paul.

We can learn much from Louise, the mystic and in fact there are movements that are attempting to revitalize Christianity from the mystical perspective. These individuals are searching for an experience of union with God, an experiential knowledge of God, a felt experience of the loving presence of God in the soul, in one’s interior.

I have just described my understanding of the mystic [3]. If we want to talk about the mysticism of Saint Louise de Marillac we ought to begin with a definition of how this word is understood. The word has been used in so many different religious, philosophical, psychological and even worldly senses that it could be said that the various authors give a personal meaning to the word, a meaning that has greater significance for them as individuals. Thus we have a philosophy of mysticism, a mysticism of the theatre and art, a mysticism of action and service, a mysticism of the poor and the elderly [4]. In the Catholic religion we still understand mysticism in the sense that Saint John of the Cross and Saint Therese of Jesus gave to this word and this is the meaning that I want to give to the word as we speak about the mysticism of Saint Louise de Marillac. In other words by mysticism we mean that individuals feel and experience, in an immediate and passive manner, the presence of the divine spirit in their interior, in the depths of their being. Their awareness of this experience is beyond ordinary, objective experience and could be defined as a reality beyond the efforts of the human person. In summary, some people define mysticism as an awareness of direct, intimate, passive and immediate union with God, One and Triune, which the Spirit bestows upon people so that they might come to know Jesus of Nazareth [5]. Here we must highlight the fact that these authors are aware of the fact that the mystical experience is not the fruit of human effort, but rather is a gift, a freely given gift of God.

When we read the mystical experiences that Louise described we realize that Louise is not talking about concepts that she knew and understood on a theoretical level but rather she is speaking about a lived experience. Yet these experiences cannot be expressed adequately in words because divinity is inaccessible and indescribable … thus Louise used the phrase, it seemed to me. The presence of God is always dark because divinity, like the sun, is such a powerful light that people are blinded if they attempt to look at it directly. Thus in this life people can only contemplate the reflection of divinity in creation. At the same time mystical contemplation is a passive communication, a freely given gift of God, the Other, who became present in the depth of Louise’s being and there was no way for her to avoid this. Therefore, like all mystics, Louise expressed her experiences in a passive form: I was told; I was made aware; I was enraptured.

Before going any further we should remember that the Christian experience of union can be perceived into two different ways. First, it can be experienced as the mystical experience of spouses which can be seen as analogous to an engagement, a betrothal or the spiritual marriage of an individual with Christ (as experienced by Saint Bernard, Saint Francis Assisi, Saint Therese of Jesus). Another way of experiencing this union with God is through the mysticism of essences, represented by Rhenish-Flemish mystics in Spain by Saint John of the Cross and in France by Bérulle, Canfield, Michel de Marillac and the followers of the Abstract School of mysticism. This form of mysticism viewed union with God as the mystery of unity with the Three in One, an experience of union between the created being and the Creator … thus the human person participates in the absolute being of the Creator. This is the way in which Louise experienced the divinity, the way in which she experienced this when she became a widow: The infinite perfection of God contains within itself the perfection of all His creatures who, by necessity or willingly, act only through His power. I should humble myself, therefore, because in a certain sense, His permissive will causes Him to contribute to my iniquities. Consequently, in order to be no longer the occasion of such an evil, I shall, with the help of His grace, keep myself in His presence, which I hope never to leave, although I am not always consciously aware of it (SWLM:700-701 [A.7]). This idea was so essential that she preserved this throughout her life: In the one true being of God resides the essence of all the other beings which, in His goodness, He has created … Everything has been created by Him in the most perfect order; therefore, I shall strive more than I have in the past to live as well-regulated a life as possible. I shall begin this month by honoring the sacred order of creation as it was accomplished by the true and only divinity (SWLM:801 [A.24]).


Beginning of her mystical life: the dark night

As with any mystic, we must be mindful of this dynamic when we speak about the mysticism of Saint Louise. We must also be mindful of the fact that Louise did not write any treatise on spirituality. We only have at our disposal some undated writings, at times short notes that she wrote while at prayer to remind her of the things that she wanted to do when she left prayer and returned to her room. In 1645 when she was fifty-four years old, she proposed to write her mystical prayer, that which we call contemplation or contemplative prayer. Why did she write this? She does not give us any reason. She began the year by describing what had happened twenty-two years before.

Aided by her directors, young Louise had entered into profound prayer in the tradition of the Rhenish-Flemish spiritualists or the abstract mystics. Thus, one day God opened to her the doors of mystical prayer or contemplation. Fearful, Louise entered and experienced God purifying her so that she could dispel the heavy cloud that surrounded her birth and overcome the pain that she experienced during the time of her husband’s infirmity.

For fifteen years Louise exerted much effort as she dedicated herself to prayer in the form of meditation. Then on January 20, 1622, when Antoine Le Gras first became ill, God became present to Louise even though she did not recognize this reality. God became present in a harsh and terrifying manner in order to purify her from all those things that she herself was unable to remove from the depths of her interior life. This was the passive dark night of the senses which Saint John of the Cross and Saint Therese of Jesus spoke about. God, through light and darkness, purified Louise until June 1623, then more gently until December 1625 when her husband died.

The Christmas season of 1621-1622 was horrible. The expressions that Louise used to describe and narrate this purifying experience cry out. Years later she would recall this when she wrote: The pain was so great that if I had said and done what I felt impelled to do, I believe that … (SWLM:692 [A.15b]) … she was afraid to complete the sentence. In March 1623 she could no longer bear the pain and wrote to her uncle, Michele. We do not know what she told him but his response hints at the depth of her pain: I cannot put into a few words what I think about the things that you have written (D:832, p. 841) [6].

The mystical night continued until it exploded in May-June 1623. Then God made use of the illness of her husband which had caused deep feelings of guilt in Louise’s interior: In the year 1623, on the Feast of Saint Monica, God gave me the grace to make a vow of widowhood should He call my husband to Himself. On the following Feast of the Ascension, I was very disturbed because of the doubt I had as to whether I should leave my husband, as I greatly wanted to do, in order to make good my first vow and to have greater liberty to serve God and my neighbor. I also doubted my capacity to break the attachment I had for my director which might prevent me from accepting another, during his long absence, as I feared I might be obliged to do. I also suffered greatly because of the doubt I experienced concerning the immortality of the soul. All these things caused me incredible anguish which lasted from Ascension until Pentecost. On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. I then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom He seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change. My third doubt was removed by the inner assurance I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things and that, believing there is a God, I should not doubt the rest. I have always believed that I received this grace from the Blessed Bishop of Geneva because, before his death, I had greatly desired to communicate these trials to him and because since that time, I have had great devotion to him and have received many graces through him. On that occasion, I had a reason for believing this to be so, although I cannot now remember it (SWLM:1-2 [A.2]).

An unfortunate event occurred at a crucial moment for the financial future of the family: her husband became gravely ill. As a woman who feared God, Louise’s first thought was: I have done something wrong; I have sinned. Louise began to reason with herself and in her unquestionable logic concluded that her husband was a good person and her son, nine years old, was an innocent boy. She, however, felt guilty for not having fulfilled her first vow by becoming a religious. Instead she married and now God was punishing her by taking away her husband. Immediately there sprang up in her a desire to placate God, to wipe out her sin by moving in a different direction so that God would once again be her friend … I should leave my husband.

Together with these physical and psychological pains, Louise suffered spiritually. Her affectivity and insecurity led her to become very attached to her spiritual director who had to leave Paris for an extended period of time [7]. This created an internal struggle: on the one hand she knew that she should look for a new spiritual advisor but on the other hand she felt she would become obliged to another spiritual director ... and therefore hesitated. In other words, she felt she should look for a new director but she did not want to do this … and so she suffered.

Lastly, she looked back at the past sixteen years of her prayer life and felt that she had encountered God in prayer. Now suddenly the darkness of night encompassed her. She saw herself as a sinner, as one who was lost. Everything was a lie and an illusion. God was ridiculing and laughing at her. Perhaps God did not exist and perhaps the soul is not immortal ... and yes, perhaps at the time of death everything is ended. For a woman who loved God, these doubts were terrifying.

Yet God would lift her out of this cloud of darkness. Louise was passive even though she was not quiet in her acceptance of the situation … she was filled with faith and hope and love and aware of the purifying presence of God. All the signs point to this awareness. The verbs are passive: I was advised; I was assured; my third doubt was removed. In other words, Louise was passive and there was an Other who was active. Louise was convinced and certain that God acted in this Other: I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things.

The ascetical practices that she had utilized, as well as the different virtues that she cultivated … all of these were insufficient to detach her from the attractions of the sensual world, from the wandering of her imagination and her fascination with material things and from becoming absorbed in memories of the past. Louise’s faith, hope and charity had reached a certain level but now the divine Spirit would act and purify her in a way that was beyond her efforts. As a result of this she would become a spiritual woman. Using an expression of a contemporary of Louise, Louis Lallemant [8], we can refer to this phase of following Jesus as a second conversion.

The mystical presence of God is confirmed by three mystical phenomena. First, everything happened suddenly … Louise neither caused this to happen nor could she prevent it … it happened in an instant. Second, the Other filled her with peace and calmness and serenity. Finally, the event was unforgettable. Some insignificant incidentals might have been forgotten but twenty-two years later Louise was able to write about this experience in a very detailed manner.

Neither at the time of this experience nor in the years immediately following this experience did Louise understand the mystical meaning or the importance of this experience for the development of her spirituality or the development of her contemplative life. She could not imagine that at that time God was beginning to reveal to her a special charism. Louise viewed all of this as another spiritual reality among many other realities that were common to those persons who sought God in a sincere manner. Therefore it was not strange that she did not write about this dark night in her act of consecration (SWLM:693 [A.3]), her oblation to the Blessed Virgin (SWLM:695 [A.4]), her rule of life in the world (SWLM:689 [A.1]) [9].


The stage of growth or the illuminative way [10]

Using the mystical language of that period, language that is still used by many modern authors, Louise moved from the stage of purification or the purgative stage to the illuminative stage. At later moments the Holy Spirit would personally enlighten her during her prayer.

Many summaries of these prayers have been preserved but the majority of them are undated. She does not give us the impression that anything extraordinary happened because she did not want to develop some theory or explain and analyze her prayer. She simply wanted to share, in a very natural manner, the fruits of her prayer with her director.

In these summaries we see that there were times when Louise moved from meditative prayer to mystical prayer of the illuminative stage. Again the verbs are passive and she experiences love and enlightenment that the Other bestowed upon her. Everything occurred suddenly, unexpectedly and without her intervention. The result was spiritual happiness: The words “God is He Who is” filled me with peace (SWLM:352 [L.305]).

In some of her writings the mystical character of her prayer is not so obvious. If we do not read those writings slowly and meditatively it can appear that Louise is writing about some common human feelings. Yet if we reflect on these writings we recognize the activity of God and the passivity of Louise (SWLM:714 [A.5]), 717 [A.8], 725 [A.43]). Parts of her writing are dominated by the word feel: I felt consoled; I had this powerful feeling; I was made to feel. All of this, however, was the action of God, in a powerful way He has taken strong possession of my spirit (special emphasis on the words: in a powerful way which could also denote that this experience continued for an extended period of time).

At other times the mystical experience is clearly expressed. In those passages the passivity of Louise is obvious: I shall have great confidence in Him who has assured me that, despite my misery and powerlessness, He will accomplish all that he desires in me (SWLM:717 [A.8]). At other times we are made aware of the presence of God, a presence that cannot be controlled by the human person. In fact, the words do not create the presence but rather the situation of the writer accounts for this: On the Feast of Saint Benedict … after having failed to receive Holy Communion and grieving for my sins, I was moved by a strong desire for the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, I asked God that, if such be His holy will, He might inspire my confessor with this thought. I had said nothing to him about my desire when he sent for me to speak to me about it. I was greatly consoled by this very special grace of Divine Providence. In His goodness, God had revealed His great love for me by making me realize that, although I had forgotten some sins in confession and knew full well that sin alone could separate me from Him, His love was so great that not even sin could prevent Him from coming to me (SWL:733 [A.16]).

Presence and passivity

We are continually talking about the presence of the Other in Louise de Marillac’s interior. At different times there have been mystics who have seen Jesus and heard him speak, etc, but properly speaking these visions are not mystical but extraordinary phenomena that might or might not accompany a mystical experience. The presence of the Other in the mystic is not a physical or an objective presence that can be achieved through study and meditation. This presence is also not the substantial divine presence which is part of all created things and prevents them from returning to nothingness … a presence that Louise summarized in the following words: Considering myself as belonging to God because He is God and because he created me, which are the two foundations of His proprietorship over me, I saw that I belong to Him also because he preserves me. This preservation is the support of my being and a sort of continuous creation (SWLM:817 [A.26]). The mystical presence was a real presence of God that Louise experienced as a result of divine revelation; a presence of God who desired to communicate with her and unite himself with her. This required a willingness on the part of Louise to accept and embrace this presence through an attitude of faith and hope and love.

Therefore passivity was not an absolute quality in Louise and in fact, is not an absolute quality in any mystic. God wanted Louise to be active, wanted her to accept and embrace God presence. Louise could do this only through her attitude of faith, an attitude that we are accustomed to refer to as an experience of faith. Louise knew that mystical experiences only occurred in the context of faith and that no mystical experiences could ever supplant faith [11].

We read about these experiences in much of her writing and we are surprised by the clarity of this mystical communication … so much so that we are in awe as we reflect upon the fact that this very active woman had such profound experiences of the divine. As we mentioned previously she expressed these experiences using the phrase, it seemed to me (this is the language used to describe something indescribable: At holy Mass, as I was giving myself wholeheartedly to the Blessed Virgin so as to belong entirely to God according to His good pleasure, it seemed to me that Our Lord was presenting my past and future unworthiness to His Holy Mother. Believing that they both had accepted me, I asked a proof that…

Stage of fullness or the unitive stage

Louise de Marillac achieved wholeness in her life with God. Using the classical language that we find in the literature that deals with the history of spirituality, we might say that Louise achieved the unitive stage. Here we refer to the almost divine life of Louise … united in silence with God she desired that God take complete possession of her and become her Master and Spouse. We are deeply touched by Louise’s words: From time to time, especially on solemn feast days … my soul was made to understand that my God wanted to come to me. However, he did not wish to come into some temporary dwelling but to a place that was rightly His and which belonged entirely to Him (SWLM:697-698 [A.17]). I suddenly felt moved by the desire that Our Lord should come to me and communicate His virtues to me (SWLM:825 [A.18]).

Vincent considered this to be something extraordinary, the prayer of a woman with a profound relationship with God. He respected her and, in accepting this reality that Louise spoke about, he encouraged her to be open to what God might be asking of her.

On one occasion, after experiencing the presence of God in prayer, she joyfully shared this experience with her director and asked for his advice: My heart is still filled with joy at the understanding our good God seems to have given it of the words “God is my God,” and the awareness I had of the glory which all the blessed render Him in consequence of this truth. I cannot refrain from speaking to you this evening to entreat you to help me make good use of these excesses of joy (CCD:III:233) [12].

Without any delay Vincent responded on the same piece of writing paper and through means of the same person who had brought him the message: Blessed be God, Mademoiselle, for the caresses with which His Divine Majesty honors you! They must be welcomed with respect and devotion and in view of some cross he is now preparing for you. His goodness is accustomed to forewarn in this way souls He loves, when He wishes to crucify them (CCD:III:234).

Mystical espousal

At the most opportune moment Louise met Vincent de Paul who became her spiritual director [13]. She had been initiated in the spirituality of Bérulle and as a result entered into mysticism. Even though Louise was living what today we would call a Vincentian spirituality (a result of the influence of Francis de Sales and her encounter with the poor) Louise was aware of the Rhenish-Flemish spirituality because she had experienced this … living this spirituality she had passed through the mystical night of the senses.

Without violating her personal interior life Vincent knew how to direct Louise to the heights of mysticism, to a point of spiritual espousal which Saint Therese spoke about enthusiastically in the sixth Morada (a stage few mystics speak about having attained). As always Louise spoke about her experiences in prayer with Vincent in a very ordinary and natural way. In fact, we are surprised that such sublime prayer can be presented in such a simple manner. Since this experience occurred on the anniversary of their marriage, Louise explained this mystical experience as a prolongation of her marriage with Antoine Le Gras.

Saint Louise sent a report to Vincent about her visits to the Charities in Asniéres and Saint-Cloud on December 14th 1629 and February 5th, 1630. Louise was thirty-eight years old and had been faithful to prayer for twenty-two years … eight years before she had received an experience of God during prayer. Identifying the sign with the gift, that is, mystical espousal, (the spiritual height of contemplation), Louise received this gift in the midst of serving the poor (the human height of the loving presence of Jesus Christ in the poor). There are not two experiences of God but rather one experience. The experience of God in prayer or the Eucharist I call contemplation and the experience of the same God in the poor I call general mysticism. It is curious that Louise had expressly committed herself to the poor only a few months before this had occurred. On Ember Wednesday preceding Christmas, I left for Asni?res. I was fearful of making this trip because of my ailments, but the thought of the obedience which was sending me on this trip strengthened me considerably. At Holy Communion, on that day, I was moved to make an act of faith, and this sentiment stayed with me for a long time. It seemed to me that God would grant me health so long as I believed that He could sustain me, despite all appearances, and that He would do so if I often reflected on the faith that enabled Saint Peter to walk on the waters. Throughout my trip, I seemed to be acting without any contribution on my part; and I was greatly consoled by the thought that God wished that, despite my unworthiness, I should help my neighbor to know Him. I left on the Feast of Saint Agatha, February 5th, to go to Saint-Cloud. At the moment of Holy Communion, it seemed to me that Our Lord inspired me to receive Him as the Spouse of my soul and that this Communion was a manner of espousal. I felt myself more closely united to Him by this consideration which was extraordinary for me. I also felt moved to leave everything to follow my Spouse; to look upon Him as such in the future; and to bear with the difficulties I might encounter as part of the community of His goods (SWLM:704-705 [A.50]).

This extended experience of God was presented as a mystical espousal. Aside from the imprecise language used to describe an indescribable experience (it seemed to me …), aside also from the felt conviction of the action of being espoused, characteristics of the act of contemplation are present in this experience. Louise did not intervene and was the passive subject while God acted. The Other appeared and communicated a message while Louise experienced a supernatural sensation, something that was not ordinary. It was a feeling of well-being that continued for a long period of time; it was the result of the action of the Other, of God, of Our Lord. Louise was aware of the fact that God had done something extraordinary in her and through faith she accepted this. This something appears to have been spiritual espousal and was seen as a completed act: I felt, she said, myself more closely united to Him by this consideration which was extraordinary for me. I also felt moved to leave everything to follow my Spouse; to look upon Him as such in the future. She emphasized that as a result of this espousal there was, like in a human marriage, a community of goods.

At another moment, equally transcendental, Louise experienced that the Other had possessed her and had acted upon her, the subject, without any contribution on my part. I do not doubt that this union with God was a transformative union … a union referred to by Therese of Jesus and John of the Cross as the most sublime form of mystical union that occurs during contemplation. I base this statement on the fact that on another occasion Louise spoke about this with complete naturalness: It seemed to me that our good God was asking it of me. Therefore I gave Him my full consent to operate in me by His power whatever he willed to see accomplished (SWLM:720 [A.12]).

Mystical union with Jesus

Influenced by her director and yet without putting aside the profound strength of the divinity which she bore within herself, Louise day by day united herself more closely to the humanity of Jesus even though Bérulle considered the humanity as a divinized reality. Thus Louise mediated on the incarnation of the Son of God (SWLM:784 [A.14]); the redemption of the Son of God (SWLM:800 [A.13b], 709 [A.19]), the passion and the resurrection (SWLM:701, [A.21], 732 [A.21b]), imitating Jesus Christ at his death (SWLM:825, [A.18]), fidelity in the service of Jesus Christ (SWLM:693 [A.31]), the Eucharist (SWLM:733 [A.30], 789 [A.14], 779 [A.71]), the patron saint of France (SWLM:725 [A.35]), and on different Marian themes (SWLM:695 [A.4], 815 [A.32], 774 [A.14b], 830 [A.31b]).

Therefore it is not strange that in a mystical explosion Louise exclaimed: Let us live as if we were dead in Jesus Christ. Henceforth, let there be no further resistance to Jesus, no action except for Jesus, no thoughts but in Jesus! Let my life be solely for Jesus and my neighbor so that, by means of this unifying love, I may love all that Jesus loves (SWLM:786 [A.23]).

Jesus loved the poor in a preferential way. Mystics commit themselves to serve the poor in a radical manner. The commandment to love God encompasses the dimension of love of one’s sisters and brothers. Jesus’ love is prolonged in the poor making real Jesus words to love as I have loved you. Louise wrote: I had read somewhere that Our Lord had taught us charity to make up for our powerlessness to render any service to His person (SWLM:821 [A.26]).

A profound change had occurred and this leads us to consider the fact that this change represented a new life. The Incarnation of the Son of God became the center upon which Louise’s theology and spirituality rested. In this manner Louise, like Duns Scotus, viewed the Incarnation as the moment in which men and women were saved. In this respect it is certain that Louise had read about this in the writings of Bérulle (SWLM:709 [A.19]). As a result of the Incarnation and the institution of the Eucharist the person of Jesus (in a different manner) takes on the presence of the divinity on earth: His love appeared to me to be all the greater from the fact that, His Incarnation having sufficed for our Redemption, it would seem as if He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion solely for our sanctification (SWLM:779 [A.71]).

Deeply engaged in prayer and guided by Vincent de Paul, Louise experienced, in a mystical sense, the presence of “the humanness” of God … she experienced this during the celebration of the Eucharist and especially at the time of the reception of Communion. She explained to the Sisters that the Incarnation occurred in order to redeem men and women and that the Eucharist was instituted to sanctify them not merely by the application of the merits of His Incarnation and death, but also by the communication which His goodness desires to makes to us of all the actions of His life (SWLM:779 [A.71]). This mystical experience of Louise during Communion could be seen as a type of symbiosis between Jesus’ actions and hers … a very powerful experience. This manner of experiencing Jesus was not simply a communication of Jesus’ merits but a communication of Jesus’ very actions (an idea expressed by Bérulle) [14]. Thus invisible presence of Jesus became visible and active in the Eucharist and in Communion.

Here it should be remembered that during the XVII century Communion was generally viewed as more than an integral part of the Eucharist, that is, Communion was seen as a personal union between Jesus and the person who received Communion.

God responded to the anxiety that Louise felt and gifted her with wonderful experiences of the divine as she received the Body and Blood of God’s Son. She understood this and wrote about this on different occasions: on the Feast of Saint Bernard, after Holy Communion (SWLM:725 [A.43]); at holy Mass (SWLM:719 [A.8]); on the feast of Saint Benedict … after having failed to receive Holy Communion (SWLM:733 [A.16]); at other times, I am afraid … in approaching this most Holy Sacrament (SWLM:697 [A.17]); immediately after the reception of the Host, my heart was filled with sorrow for having been preoccupied with creatures (SWLM:711 [A.29]); the great mystical prayer of espousal occurred after Louise had received Communion (SWLM:705 [A.50]).

God became present on earth through the Incarnation and the Eucharist and also becomes present in the human person. The eternal and immense God made possible the continual invisible presence of Jesus in the soul. This is a presence that the Father grants to men and women as he communicates to them the merits of the Incarnate Son. In other words, through the Incarnation the divinity, in its wholeness, becomes united with the human person in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the Creator becomes united with the created and as God looks upon humankind, God sees the Son and therefore forgives and accepts the actions of created human beings and communicates to them the merits of the Word: His presence is like air without which the soul is lifeless. It is thus that I see the Redemption of men in the Incarnation and their sanctification by means of this union of man with God in the person of His Son and by this continual presence, whereby His merits are applied to each soul joined to the personal union of a God to man (SWLM:785 [A.14]).

Pure Love

Thus we come to reflect on a spirituality that could appear to be strange for Daughters of Charity, a form of spirituality that Louise expounded on in her writings a few years before her death … writings in which mystical contemplation is quite clear.

In 1653 Louise began to encourage the Sisters to seek pure love [15], and in the final years of her life this love became a most attractive motive that led her to complete surrender to God. This was a love that expected no reward, a pure love not obscured by extraneous matters. Louise had always been enraptured by the purest love that could possibly exist in creation, namely, the presence of divine love in the human person. This idea is expressed in some of Louise’s undated writings (SWLM:827 [A.27]) [16]. Without a doubt these are written after the foundation of the Daughters of Charity because they are addressed to them. These writings refer to a period in which Louise had attained a very high degree of holiness. There is a perfect union of Vincentian and Rhenish-Flemish elements (in this case the Rhenish-Flemish elements predominate) [17]. Louise entitled these writing The Practice of Pure Love, and the focus of pure love is not the divine but Jesus Christ.

Many seventeenth century writers dealt with this theme, that is, with the search for God’s love in all its pureness, devoid of any self-interest or any desire to attain heaven and avoid hell. This search implied that even if God desired to condemn a person (which is impossible) said person would gladly accept this condemnation in order to please God.

A century before these same ideas were prevalent in Spain [18] and were taken to an extreme by the alumbrados (illuminati/enlightened ones) who defended the idea that if mystics are possessed by God then they do not sin even if they engage in all kinds of sexual aberrations (an idea that was condemned). In the seventeenth century in France there was discussion about the condemnation of Quietism. For this reason from the time of Louise’s death, mysticism was viewed with suspicion and a mystical woman was seen as suspect. In light of this Gobillon removed any traces of mysticism from Louise’s writings and rewrote her meditations.

Where did Louise get the idea to make pure love the object of her prayer and thus encourage the Daughters to do the same? Did this idea occur to her as a result of living the fullness of love? Did Francis de Sales influence her? In the writings of Francis de Sales we read: so that if by supposition of an impossible thing the soul should know that damnation would be more agreeable to God than salvation, the soul would quit salvation and run to damnation. Louise frequently read The Treatise on Pure Love, especially book IX [19].

Louise might have listened to a sermon, like the anonymous sermon, the love of Mary of Magdala, which today is attributed to Berulle [20]. She might have also read the work of the Capuchin, Laurence of Paris who wrote The Palace of divine love of Jesus (editions were published in 1603, 1614, 1622, 1626). This author also refers to the acceptance of hell (though impossible) if this were God’s desire. It is certain that Louise knew Laurence of Paris and it is easy to imagine that at some time when she dreamt of being a Capuchin that she opened her heart in the parish of Saint-Honoré. There are many similarities in ideas and phrases, especially with regard to the concept of love and detachment and love of self and the divisions of the will.

Louise wrote about pure love in order to share this idea with the Sisters who were called by God to a higher perfection than other persons [21]. These writings are the fruit of various meditations. She made an outline --- which she preserved --- and then point by point she expanded her thoughts. She supported her writing with John 12:28-34, but especially verse 32: And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. There are no extremes in her writing and we find no reference to the acceptance of hell, if such were the will of God. For Louise pure love is identified with the total self-surrender of the created beings, and this is done in four steps: Let us take the first step in following Him which is to exclaim, 1] I desire it thus, my dear Spouse, I desire it thus. 2] As proof thereof, I am going to follow You 3] at the foot of Your Cross which I choose as my cloister … 4] At the foot of this holy, sacred and adored Cross, I sacrifice everything that might prevent me from loving, with all the purity that You expect of me, without ever aspiring to any joy other than submission to Your good pleasure and to the laws of Your pure love” (SWLM:828 [A.27]) [22].

This is a very vague paragraph but later Louise wrote something similar: the love which we are obliged to bring to God must be so pure that, when we receive His most particular graces, we must hope for nothing other than the glory of His Son (SWLM:802 [A.25]).

Pure love as the fruit of mystical prayer

Even though her writings were initially directed toward the Daughters of Charity as if she was explaining some insight from her prayer, nevertheless, her writings were in fact the fruit of prayer in which she experienced the presence of Pure Love in the unity of the Trinity, in creation and in the Incarnation of the Son. Louise made an outline but because she was enraptured by the divine presence she was unable to follow this outline either in her prayer or in her writing. She writes in the form of a monologue that is addressed to the three Persons of the Trinity.

This was not the only time that Louise experienced ecstasy in her prayer on pure love. When she meditated on Holy Communion she experienced identical feelings even though she wrote about this in a descriptive manner: We must try to discover in God some motive for this admirable and, in a human sense, incomprehensible action. Since there is no apparent reason, other than His pure love, we must render honor and glory to God by acts of praise, adoration, love, and gratitude for His loving invention which unites Him to us. At times, we should ask Him if becoming man was not sufficient to win our hearts completely. At others, we should seek to discover what there is in us that He wanted to acquire at so high a price and offer it to Him (SWLM:822: [M.72]).

The mystic is the work of the Holy Spirit

The spiritual life of human beings is the result of their response to the action of the Holy Spirit within them, an action that inspires them to follow Jesus Christ and to be concerned for the salvation of the poor. If we compare normal human life (that which we refer to as the ascetical life) with what we traditionally refer to as the mystical life, we notice that the difference is found in the manner in which the Holy Spirit acts.

The activity of the divine Spirit within us can be experienced in two ways (generally in accord with the stages of the following of Jesus Christ). One way is through the intellect and the will which activate the virtues of faith, hope and charity and the other virtues. These are people who are guided and assisted by the Spirit of Jesus, people who through their effort (in Greek, ascesis) attain a spiritual life. This is the more common path and is also a very human and normal way to function. In this stage, however, one does not feel or experience the presence or the action of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit can take possession of human beings, take possession of their intellect and will in such a way that the Spirit activates the virtues by means of grace and gifts that have been traditionally referred to as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [23]. In such cases these individuals are passive and, without being able to act themselves or prevent some action, they feel that thoughts are being stirred up in their mind and affects are being created in their will … all of this being produced by the Other, by the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that said action of the divine Spirit (an action outside the normal sphere of occurrences) is considered beyond human effort. In other words, since this is not the normal way in which human potential normally functions, human persons experience the divine presence and the action of the divine. We call this experience, mystical experience. During mystical prayer the divine Spirit generally acts by means of the gifts of intelligence and wisdom and is known as contemplative prayer [24].

We should state here that not every author who deals with the subject of spirituality gives the same significance to the experience of the presence of the divine Spirit. While all admit that this experience is not one of the senses (even though the mystics frequently use the verb to feel), some authors present the experience as an act of consciousness, something that occurs within the sphere of knowledge. Other authors simply refer to this as an experience of faith. The mystical experience is a profound and sure conviction of the divine presence in the intimate depths of the person. Segundo Galilea explains this in the following way: the mystical experience is a conviction, vaguely experienced (Saint John of the Cross), in the depths of one’s spirit … something beyond the senses and reason … a conviction that the God of Jesus is present in us, in others, and in history, as well as in nature. To contemplate God is to know experientially that we are in God’s hands. At times as we try to explain this we do not know if we should consider such an experience as a natural human conviction or something that is beyond us, something that is occurring because of the Holy Spirit [25]. José María Vigil and Pedro Casaldáliga state: without denying the intuitions of the great mystics and theologians who used these expressions, we … understand and express our experience of God utilizing various categories and approaches. We give witness to our experience of God when we say that we experience ourselves as collaborators with the Lord in the act of creation that is unfinished. Thus, we are continuing creation [26].

There is no doubt that Louise knew about mystical experiences, not only because she had read about this subject or explained it to others, but because she herself had lived and frequently experienced this in her own life. A passage that she wrote clarifies her thinking but we do not know if these words were directed toward herself, toward her director, or toward the Sisters: Souls that are truly poor and desirous of serving God should place their trust in the coming of the Holy Spirit within them believing that, finding no resistance in them, He will give them the disposition necessary to accomplish the holy will of God …In order to be in a state of receptivity, the soul must imitate the obedience of the Apostles by freely confessing its powerlessness and by detaching itself completely from all creatures and even from God Himself, insofar as the senses are concerned, because the Son of God, who prepared His Apostles to receive the Holy Spirit, did so by depriving them of His divine presence at His Ascension. The Holy Spirit, upon entering souls that are so disposed, will certainly remove any obstacle to His divine operations by the ardor of His love. He will establish the laws of holy charity by endowing them with the strength to accomplish tasks beyond their human powers … The love which we are obliged to bring to God must be so pure that, when we receive His most particular graces, we must hope for nothing other than the glory of His Son (SWLM:802 [A.25]).

At the end of her life Louise understood that her contemplative prayer was the work of the Holy Spirit and this was the period of her life in which the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity became the focus of her life. Therefore it was not strange that in 1656, three years before her death, she made her annual retreat and reflected on the reasons for giving oneself to God in order to receive the Holy Spirit ((SWLM:817 [A.26]).

She said that during her retreat many of her prayers were prayers of contemplation. This was the divinization of a woman who was totally possessed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is certain that she had read Bérulle: It is not enough for you, O Lord, to have taught me the means for disposing myself for the coming of the Holy Spirit. I must also labor diligently, O my soul, to remove all obstacles and to act, or better, to let the grace, with which the Holy Spirit wills to fill all the powers of my being, act in me. This can only come about by the destruction of the evil habits which, on diverse occasions, hinder action in me. O Eternal Light, lift my blindness! O Perfect Unity, create in me simplicity of being! Humble my heart to receive Your graces. May the power to love which You have placed in my soul no longer stop at the disorder of my self-sufficiency which, in reality, is but powerlessness and an obstacle to the pure love which I must have as a result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Confusion then for myself because of my errors which often attached me to falsehood and led me to abandon eternal truth. Consume all that, O Fire of Divine Love, although I do not merit this grace (SWLM:818 [A.26]).

She became a divine poet and during her contemplative prayer she continued to exclaim but did so in the form of questions: Is there anything more excellent in heaven or on earth than this treasure? How is it possible to live a disorderly life after having given oneself entirely to be open to this Infinite good? Should I not desire, O my God, to die upon receiving it? To live for as long as it pleases You, but with Your life which is one of total love. May I not, beginning in this world, flow into the ocean of Your Divine Being? (SWLM:819 [A.26]).

Conclusion

I want to make two conclusions. First, mysticism can be achieved through any form of rational and affective spirituality as long as said spirituality is lived from the perspective of faith, hope and love. Therefore mysticism can be achieved in any school of Catholic spirituality which includes the Vincentian school of spirituality.

Louise had begun her spiritual journey on the path that was laid out by Bérulle and the other followers of the French Abstract school of spirituality. Later, with the assistance of her director, Vincent de Paul, she began to journey along a path that today is known as the Vincentian way but she would never forget the spiritual formation that she received from her first directors who were Capuchins. The formation she received from them marked her youth and gave rise to her own proper spirituality which she lived during the last years of her life. We could call this “Louisian” spirituality … a wonderful mixture of Vincentian spirituality and the Abstract School of spirituality.

This raises a question: why has Louise de Marillac not been viewed as a mystic until now? Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that until the twentieth century we only had her letters at our disposal. Generally her letters dealt with the ministry and the community life of the Sisters while her spiritual writings had, in a certain manner, been falsified by Gobillon. Let me explain this. Louise’s writings which were published by Gobillon under the title of meditations were simply reworked compositions based on some fragments that were written by Louise. In both the meditations and the biography that Gobillon wrote he removed every trace of mysticism. Why. Because as a result of quietism, mysticism remained under a cloud and all those who experienced mystical phenomena or spoke about mysticism were suspected of quietist heresy or semi-quietist heresy [27].

“Public manifestation of mysticism, especially among women, became less tolerated by ecclesiastics and the laity. This reality clipped the wings of the mystics who in many cases (especially during the more creative periods of its existence) led a semi-religious life in which compassion toward the neighbor was based on “being absorbed” by the divine Lover. Therefore, the mystics had to be isolated and controlled by their confessors and spiritual directors. Nevertheless, there were occasions when, as in the past, the spiritual director, little by little, became an equal, a friend and even a disciple of the person being directed and this presented some very delicate problems” [28].

The second conclusion corresponds to the statement that I made at the beginning: mysticism, if it is true mysticism, leads us to work for the salvation of those who are poor. This is very different from quietism which put forth a personal spirituality of withdrawal and interiority in which the union of the human persons with God became total and there was no need for mediators or sacraments or Jesus Christ or moral barriers. Mysticism led Louise de Marillac to serve the poor.

Beginning in 1629 Mademoiselle Le Gras, who had become a new woman at the side of Vincent de Paul, entered into a world that was somewhat foreign to her: the world of the poor. This woman, directed by Vincent de Paul, was now unable to put aside the poor. The poor became the center of her life, and also a part of her prayer, a part of her contemplation. This appears to be very logical since Louise was intimately united with Jesus … the poor, however, were not the center of her prayer, God was always the center. Her prayer was meant to unite her with God and therefore God was the object and the aim of her prayer. The poor were not the object of her prayer but the fruit of her prayer. The poor, however, were the object of her action, her conferences and her letters.

In contemplative prayer Louise discovered that it was not so important to see God in the poor but rather that the poor would see Christ in her when she approached them to comfort them. Therefore it was most important that she empty herself and clothe herself in the Spirit of Christ … in this way she became an active and a contemplative saint.

Notes

[1] Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, edited and translated by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, New York, 1991. Future reference to this work will be noted with the letters, SWLM followed by the page number, followed by [the number of the letter which will be bracketed] --- at other times the letter “A” or “M” will appear in brackets and these are references to Louise’s other writings. All the numbering is in accord with the English edition.

[2] Cf., Matthew 25:31-46; John 15:9-17; James 2:14ff; I John 3:17.

[3] Mystic in the Latin language comes from the Greek word mystikos. Because this word is plural the Greeks wanted to point out the steps that those who were initiated into some religion would have to take in order to enter the mysteries of said religion, mysteries that were not available to the uninitiated. In other words, the word mystic has the meaning of secret, mystery.

[4] Segundo Galilea in El camino de la espiritualidad (The Spiritual Path), Ed. Paulinas, Bogotá, 1990, breaks spirituality down into attitudes and dispositions of the heart and into practices and actions. He refers to the attitudes and dispositions of the heart as mysticism (p. 17-26). He writes: all human beings are inspired and motivated and when this motivation is profound and idealistic, when it is experience as a “motor” or as a “permanent source of water”, said motivation is called mysticism (p. 20).

[5] This meaning we find beginning in Pseudo-Dionysius (Obras Completas [Complete Works] BAC, Madrid, 1990, pp. 371-380), then in Gerson and Saint Therese of Jesus (Obras Completas [Complete Works], three volumes, BAC, Madrid, 1951-1960) and Saint John of the Cross (Vida y obras de San Juan de la Cruz [Life and Work of Saint John of the Cross], BAC, Madrid, 1956) until we arrive at the time of Saint Louise de Marillac. All of this can be found in Juan Martin Velasco, El fenómeno místico. Estudio comparado [The mystical phenomenon, a comparative study], Trotta, Madrid, 1999. This work contains a good bibliography.

[6] La Compania de Las Hijas de la Caridad en sus Orígenes: Documentos, Editorial Ceme, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2003, D:832, p. 841. Future references to this work will noted with the letter “D” followed by the document number and the page number. The numbering is according to the Spanish edition of this work. Future references will appear in the text and not as footnotes.

[7] Louise’s director was Jean-Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley. On January 29, 1623 he participated in the funeral services for Francis de Sales in Annecy. Later he left for Spain on a diplomatic mission. He stopped in Toulouse where he preached during the Advent season (1623) and the Lenten season (1624) … then he traveled to Spain.

[8] Louis Lallemant, La doctrine spirituelle [The spiritual doctrine], DDB, 1959; Javier Garrido, Proceso humano y Gracia de Dios. Apuntes de espiritualidad cristiana [Human process and the grace of God. Notes on Christian spirituality], Sal Terrae, Santander, 1996, pp. 375 ff.; François-Regis Wilhélem, Dociles à l’Esprit [Docile to the Spirit], Ed. Des Béatitudes, CORDES, 2004, pp. 40ff.

[9] See the biography of Saint Louise, Benito Martínez, CM, Empeñada en un paraíso para los pobres, Ceme, Salamanca, 1995, pp. 30-32.

[10] From the time of Dionysius Areopagita it has been traditional in the history of spirituality to divide the following of Jesus Christ into three stages: the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive stage. Even today many writers in the area of spirituality (for example, Martín Velasco) use the same language because it is grounded on the stages of human growth: birth or beginning, growth, fullness.

[11] This is expressed very clearly in the writings of Saint John of the Cross, especially in Book two of the Ascent of Mount Carmel 6.1.

[12] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, New City Press, New York, 1985-2012, volume XIIIb, p. 325. Hereafter, references to this work will be noted with the letters CCD, followed by the volume number, and then the page number, for example, CCD:XIIIb:325. These citations will appear in the text and not as footnotes.

[13] Sisters Maturine Guérin stated that one day Louise told her that there were few directors who had the method of our honorable Father, who had the special gift of knowing the paths on which God was leading those whom he had chosen and then directed them along this path. This method was different from that of many other directors who instead of making an effort to discover what God was asking of different individuals, imposed their own direction on that of God and, even though this might be good for some people, it is not appropriate for everyone. (D:831. Translator’s Note: “D:831” is an incorrect citation but I do not know what is the correct citation from the Book entitled: La Compañis de las Hijas de la Caridad en sus orígenes: Documentos.

[14] See Yves Krumenacker, L’école française de spiritualité. Des mystiques, des fondateurs, des courants et leurs interpr?tes, Cerf, Paris 1999, pp. 138, 147, 190-192.

[15]The first time that I found Louise talking about pure pure love to the Sisters was in 1653 (SWLM:436-437, [L.385]) … this letter was addressed to Sister Barbe Angiboust.

[16] Even though some date this document in 1640 because the ideas expressed here are very similar to those found in letter 426 (SWLM, p. 36 …letter addressed to the Sisters of the Hospital of Angers), I believe that both of these documents were written in 1656, after Louise had recovered from a serious illness which she thought was the end of her life. This illness had a special impact on her as we see from letter 478 (SWLM, p. 507 … letter addressed to the Sisters of Angers) and it surely led her to meditate on the fifty years that had followed her initiation into the spiritual life and a life of prayer (a type of conversion as one enters into the charism of the founder) that resulted from her encounter with a Capuchin. Thus fifty years later Louise gave great importance to perseverance and to a spirituality of total detachment in search of pure love. It would be good to study the impact of Louise’s first encounter with the Capuchin (when she was sixteen years old) on her spiritual life. The words with which she begin the letter … in my mind’s eye I see myself now among you (SWLM:36 [C.426]) … does not indicate that she had been among the Sisters for a short period of time but rather that her presence had been on-going as seen from letter 548 (SWLM:573) where she writes: I imagine that you are vying with one another in your efforts to work … here she is referring to the work in the Hospital of Nantes where the Sisters had been ministering for ten years.

[17] Translator’s Note: The Spanish text uses the word nórdicos, which means Nordic. However because of the relationship of Nordic spirituality to Rhenish-Flemish spirituality and because of the previous reference of this school of spirituality, I felt it better to use the word Rhenish-Flemish rather than Nordic.

[18] Typical of this mentality is the sonnet: No me mueve mi Dios para quererte / el cielo que me tienes prometido … (I am not moved to love You, O my Lord / by any longing for your Promised Land …).

[19] CCD:I:80-81; SWLM:704 [A.10].

[20] Anonimo Francés del siglo XVII, El amor de magdalena. L’Amour de Madeleine. Sermón descubierto por Joseph Bonnet hacia 1901, Herder, Barcelona, 2007. Until recently this sermon was attributed to Bossuet, but historians are more inclined to attribute this work to Bérulle. In this work we find two ideas that were the focus of Louise’s writings: total detachment and the attraction that Jesus has over human love. The author of this sermon does not use the word pure love but rather speaks of holy and divine love.

[21] SWLM:36 [L.426], 95 [L.104], 480 [L.448].

[22] Translator’s Note: I have inserted the numbers 1-4 in the text to indicate the four steps. These numbers, however, do not appear in the text of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac.

[23] The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspiration (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1830-1831).

[24] See the May 31, 1648 conference of Vincent to the Daughters of Charity. The theme of this conference was mental prayer but notice the section where Vincent refers to contemplation, CCD:IX:330-331.

[25] Segundo Galilea, op.cit., pp. 145ff.

[26] Contemplativos en la liberación, Web Archives of Redes Cristianos, April 24, 2008.

[27] We must remember the ways in which politics and religion were related to one another during the seventeenth century. We note here the political persecution of the illuminati. It is a well known fact that ion 1623 Cardinal Pacheco, the Grand Inquisitor, published an edict against the illuminati in Sevilla and Cádiz. This edict was also published in France for the purpose of attacking mystics. This edict was very much in the forefront among the spiritual writers of the seventeenth century.

[28] Elisjia Schultz Van Kessel, “Virgenes y madres entre cielo y tierra. Las cristianas en la primera Edad Moderna” [Virgins and mothers between heaven and earth. Christian women in the first modern era], in Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot (direc.), Historia de las mujeres. 3. Del Renacimiento a la Edad Moderna, Taurus, Madrid 2000, p. 215.

Translated: Charles T. Plock CM

For an down to earth insight into mysticism visit "Mysticism as Frontier of Consciousness Evolution" By Brother David Steindl-Rast.