The Human and Christian Formation of Louise de Marillac

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Juan Corpus Delgado, CM

[This article first appeared in Santa Luisa de Marillac, ayer y hoy, XXXIV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2010, p. 53-109].


As soon as she began her meetings, the women came in great numbers and were charmed by her talks. The men, not being allowed to attend, went into the houses where she was giving her conferences, hid themselves in order to be able to hear them without being seen and went away overjoyed and astonished [1].

That observation of Nicolas Gobillon with regard to the interest in the words that Louise de Marillac spoke when visiting the Confraternities can guide us in our search: what was it about Louise’s words that left people enchanted when they listened to her? It is obvious that she was at ease as she addressed very diverse groups of listeners.

As a result of the research into the social and cultural situation of France during the seventeenth century we know that seventy-five percent of the men and ninety percent of the women were unable to read or write [2]. Therefore only about two million people of the some twenty million inhabitants who lived in France at that time were able to read and write. The wars had serious consequences on education: two generations of children came to maturity without learning anything about the Catholic Church. Nothing about its practices or customs was transmitted to the children by their parents [3]. The number of illiterate persons increased and many parents did not send their children to school because they saw no usefulness in education.

To read and write; human and Christian formation … it is not easy to distinguish where one ends and the other begins and not easy to distinguish the limits of human and Christian formation during the seventeenth century. In fact, it seems that this formation was united together as one. The teaching that was given in school was impregnated with religion and twice a week catechism lessons were taught in the schools. Furthermore, the teaching of the catechism and instruction in the other subject matters were almost always done by the same person and in the same place. When Madame de Lamoignon wrote to Vincent de Paul requesting two Daughters to minister to the Confraternity in Auteuil, she stated: These Sisters must be able to teach young people to pray well, to learn their catechism and the truths of their faith, how to read, and other things, if possible, because many young people in Auteuil are wasting their time for lack of instruction [4].

At the time of Louise’s childhood there was no organized educational system (as we have today) nor was there any classification with regard to the subjects that should be taught at each level. Such organization was, however, found in the educational centers of men who were studying grammar and rhetoric … women did not go to school until the time that various religious Congregations for women began to dedicate themselves to this ministry. Until that time the only path that was open to women in the area of formation was to be educated in their home (this was often the situation for noble families) or to be educated in some convent [5].

In this social and cultural context it is even more interesting to discover and understand the human and Christian formation of Louise who was able to read in Latin and able to converse about the principal currents of thought of her time [6].

The description of Louise’s human and Christian formation is the result of the information that we have been able to gather together from her biographies as well as her correspondence and writings … and there are not many references to this formation. Therefore, you will not discover here something that cannot be found in the biographies that have been written about Louise. Rather, here you will find the above mentioned material presented in an organized manner. As you are well aware, we have about seven hundred of Louise’s letters and some of her writings. Therefore, it must be remembered that statements with regard to Louise’s human and Christian formation are approximations and are formulated from the limited information that we have available to us.

Formation, as stated in the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity, is, before all else, the work of God living and acting in the heart of the person who is called. Next it is the work of the Sister herself, prompted by her desire for increasing fidelity to her vocation (Constitutions [2004], #51a). We cannot analyze God’s actions, but only the manifestations of God and therefore in this presentation our objective is to analyze the ministry of Louise as she utilized the means that God provided her.

Louise’s formation during the distinct stages of her life

Formation at the Royal Monastery of the Dominicans at Poissy

Louise’s first biographer affirmed that her father placed her as a boarder in the monastery of the religious of Poissy, where he had some relatives, so that in that house she would be given the principles of Christian piety. Having taken her away from there some time later, he placed her in Paris, in the hands of a capable and virtuous woman, who would give her suitable training in household skills. He forgot nothing that could perfect her in mind and body. He had her instructed in painting, and she had such a leaning towards this fine art that she continued to practice it in the different stages of her life, as far as her infirmities and occupations allowed, and some of her devotional pictures are still kept in her family … He had her learn philosophy to form her reasoning and to give her entry into the higher reaches of knowledge [7].

Louise’s first biographer does not specify the time of her arrival at the convent in Poissy nor the length of time that she stayed there. More recent biographers are in agreement that Louise was brought there a few months after her birth and remained there until she was thirteen or fourteen years old [8]. It was not uncommon for noble families to select a convent in which their daughters could be formed, especially if they were destined for the religious life.

In 1297, King Louis X (also known as Louis the well-beloved), in order to commemorate the canonization of his grandfather, Louis IX, transformed a former Augustinian convent into a Dominican priory for women. In 1304, the priory, which had been granted generous gifts and privileges, was ready for occupancy [9].

Chistine de Pisan, an outstanding representative of Medieval European feminism [10], has provided us with a detailed description of life in the monastery of Poissy (though somewhat idealized). We also find in that description details of a journey that she undertook to visit her daughter (nineteen years old) who lived at the monastery: The women found themselves in the company of other women of noble lineage. Since the convent was a royal foundation, only young girls from noble families were accepted, and those girls had to have the express authorization of the king in order to be admitted [11]. In the same narrative we find the following: a description of the beauty of the convent, its well-organized yet simple elegance, the modest and devout Sisters, the large pine tree on the lawn of the central cloister … the excellent condition of the building and its furnishings and the orderly manner in which the monastery was governed.

When Louise was brought there, Poissy was one of the most prestigious monasteries in France, magnificent in its splendor, décor and possessions. The members there encouraged the cultivation of piety and human values. The prioress was Dame Jeanne De Gondi, and among the other distinguished religious women was a family member of Louise who had the same name.

In Poissy, Louise would acquire a very sound foundation [12]:

• Knowledge of the arts, reading and Scripture, in other words, an ability to know, love and pray to God.

• The living situation of the religious women became the natural environment of Louise during those pivotal years in which her personality as a young girl and an adolescent was formed.

• Louise’s reading material and her conversations with regard to the Christian life and the lives of the Saints, especially her reading about the models of holiness in the Dominican Family, provided her with some fundamental points of reference for her life [13].

• At the side of her aunt, who translated the Office of the Blessed Mother into French verse, Louise learned Latin, literature, history, philosophy, and was initiated into the fine art of painting

Formation at the boarding house of a poor, devout woman

We have already mentioned the imprecision of Louise’s first biographer who stated that her father placed her in Paris, in the hands of a capable and virtuous woman, who would give her suitable training in household skills [14]. This probably occurred in 1604 at the time of the death of Louise’s father and of her departure from Poissy and her subsequent residency in the house of a devout women. She continued to live at that house until she was twenty-one, a short time before her marriage.

Sister Barbara Bailly has left us the following testimony: At times she told us that when she was a young woman she lived with some other women in the boarding house of a devout woman. Since the woman was poor Louise suggested to her to take orders from merchants, and she worked for her, encouraging her companions to do the same. She even took upon herself the lowliest household chores, such as cutting wood and doing the menial tasks ordinarily confined to domestics [15].

During this time at the boarding house (1604-1613) Louise continued her intellectual and artistic formation: her water-color paintings that expressed her religious sentiments were done during this time. Her humanistic formation was concluded with practical formation in administering the household.

During the Council Meeting of September 8, 1655, Vincent praised Louise’s administrative abilities. After listing the qualities of a good superior, he began to praise Louise, (something that was unusual for him): Mademoiselle has managed affairs well --- so well that I know of no Sisters' house in Paris in the condition in which you are. They are all complaining that they owe money, including the Visitation Nuns and several others. If I'm not mistaken, even the Filles-Dieu told me that they were in debt. See how Our Lord has blessed the good management we've had. There are two or three houses of Sisters, who recently had to give up everything because they hadn't been careful about that, and perhaps they had more in reserve than you. You, however, haven't had a Superioress who has let the house fall apart; on the contrary, she has put aside enough to maintain it. You should really thank God for that, finding yourselves in such a good situation that I know of no Sisters' house so well provided for. No, I tell you, I know of none in Paris, and this is due, after God, to the good management of Mademoiselle (CCD:XIIIb:325).

Thus, during all those years Louise continued to tend to her Christian formation. At the age of seventeen she was introduced into the spiritual life. Since she had the time, she applied herself to reading The Guide for Sinners (Granada), The Imitation of Christ (Thomas à Kempis), The Introduction to the Devout Life (Francis de Sales), The Discourse on Interior Abnegation (de Bérulle). She liked to listen to the preaching of the Jesuits and the Capuchins. Every day she dedicated an hour to meditation and it seems that she had a facility in this regard. According to the testimony of Sister Mathruine Guérin, Louise engaged in the practice of mental prayer at the age of fifteen or sixteen (D.822). Therefore, we should not be surprised that she wanted to become a member of a religious Congregation.

Marriage formation and preparation for motherhood

Louise’s marriage to Antoine Le Gras (February 6, 1613) [16] and the birth of her son, Michel Antoine, did not interrupt her human and Christian formation. Indeed, we are able to see the truth of those words reflected in her correspondence that has been preserved from those years and in the testimony of those persons who knew her. Thus we come to realize that this process of formation was continued.

Her social relationships allowed her to develop the human qualities of tolerance, respect, kindness and even a simple elegance.

The administration of the home, the organization of service, caring for the material possessions and being attentive to her son as he matured as well as caring for her infirm husband … all of this put a finishing touch on Louise’s human formation (a formation of high quality).

The members of the Le Gras family were fervent Christians: they had permission to read the Bible in the vernacular (D.831) and were attentive to the needs of the poor. Louise belonged to various pious Confraternities.

Brother Ducourneau has provided us with a note that was written by a woman who served in Louise’s household (De La Cour): As a young woman she was very pious and dedicated in serving the poor: she brought them candy and sweetmeats, biscuits and other good things. She combed their hair and cleaned their sores and vermin; she sewed them in their shrouds. She pretended to eat at table but did not. At night, when her husband was asleep, she would get up and lock herself in her oratory where she made use of the hairshirt and the discipline. She would leave her company and despite the rain or hail, she would climb a hill in order to help some poor man who was shivering with the cold [17].

Nicolas Gobillon, with a grandiloquent tone, saw in all of these pious works a foreshadowing of the organization of the Confraternities … a work in which she would collaborate with Vincent de Paul [18].

During those years of marriage Louise experienced darkness, but even more importantly, she experienced light. Neither the periods of darkness nor the time of light can be understood apart from the process of her Christian and human formation. We know that she had constant recourse to prayer and to other devotions that were suggested by her spiritual guides. Louise also listened to the sermons of renowned preachers who came to Paris and at the same time she visited various spiritual centers of dialogue and meeting places that were know as centers of the devout movement (SWLM:1-3 [A.2]; D.837).

Later we will refer to the guidance that she received from her uncle, Michel de Marillac and from Jean-Pierre Camus, as well as the books that became a source of inspiration. In the letter (July 26, 1626) that Jean-Pierre Camus (then the bishop of Belley) addressed to Louise we can deduce that in her search to deepen her Christian formation she frequented the monasteries that were near her home. With regard to these spiritual retreats, allow yourself to be guided by some holy priest, such as Father Ménard from the Oratory or Reverend Mother Magdalena or the Mother Superior of the Visitation Order [19]. The letter (1625) of Mother Catherine de Beaumont, Superior of the Visitation Monastery in Paris, reminds us of the meetings that took place in the monastery: Beloved daughter, I share in your suffering, but at the same time I am not afraid but I hope that the hand that wounds you will also heal you. Clothe yourself in gentleness and courage so as to endure with patience that which is given to you with such great love. Do you think that God makes you suffer for any other reason than that of making you deserving of merit? You must stop asking the question “why?” since we are not privy to that information. On the other hand entrust yourself to the divine will. Do this, my beloved daughter, and do not focus on what you feel and what you suffer. Unite your will to that of the heavenly Father so that you might do and endure all that is pleasing to him. Then do all that you can to provide for the health of you dear husband, leaving whatever might happen to the hands of God … No, I have absolutely no news with regard to M. Vincent. I pray that the grace of God might strengthen you and help you … Farewell, beloved daughter, may God be the joy and the consolation of your heart. Our community will be very mindful of you in their prayers … mindful of you and of all people (D.838).

This letter reminds us of Louise’s formation process during the time of the lengthy and difficult illness of her husband, a process that included the acceptance of her loss (Christmas 1625). If we pay close attention to the expressions in Vincent’s letters we realize that the education of her son constituted a lengthy and laborious learning process for Louise: In the name of God, Mademoiselle, do not worry about the bailiff. Do you not see the extraordinary care Our Lord is taking of him, almost without you? Let his Divine Majesty act; he is quite capable of showing the mother, who takes care of so many children, his satisfaction in this, by the care he will take of her child, and that she could never anticipate or surpass him in goodness (CCD:III:432) [20].

Formation during the time of “doing nothing”

I refer to Louise years “of doing nothing” as that time which her biographers call the years of her widowhood or, quite inappropriately, the years of her novitiate: the four years between 1625-1629 that Louise, after entering under the guidance of Vincent de Paul, spent in impatient expectation … a time of many trials.

Upon the death of her husband, Louise moved from her house and took up residency near rue Saint-Victor, in the parish of Saint-Nicholas-du-Chardonnet, not far from the Coll?ge des Bons Enfants where Vincent resided and where her son, Michel Antoine, would study.

Her detailed Rule of Life in the World, allows us to recognize Louise as a truly devout woman (SWLM:689-691 [A.1]). The “devout” were those persons who dedicated their life to prayer and to a strict lifestyle. The devout movement was a form a morality, a life of specific practices ordered in such a way as to obtain the perfection of life in the midst of the world and in the concrete circumstances of everyday life, regardless of one’s profession or state of life. It was above all a school of personal holiness: a doctrine, undoubtedly a theology, affective and wholly directed to certain specific practices. Nevertheless the movement intended to involve all the faithful, even the most simple [21]. This Rule of Life in the World reveals to us a woman totally focused on the presence of God and on those practices of a devout Christian life … a woman dedicated to the various activities that were intended to make her pleasing to God and that were, at the same time, proper to her state as a widow/mother.

Formation when visiting the Confraternities

Was Louise wholly formed when Vincent sent her to visit the Confraternities of Charity? Hardly … rather this event marked the beginning of a new stage of her Christian and human formation … the stage of formation in action.

As time passed, the members of the Confraternities of Charity, established by Vincent and his Missionaries in those parishes where they preached popular missions, did not always maintain their enthusiasm for this ministry. Mindful of the autonomy of each Confraternity and the impossibility of having the Missionaries return to those places, the question arose: how to renew and encourage the members of these groups that were often composed of persons who had little formation. In May 1629, Vincent entrusted this service to Louise de Marillac (CCD:I:64-65).

Louise’s visits to the country parishes allowed her to continue her human and Christian formation while at the same time contributing to the organization and the revitalization of the Confraternities of Charity.

• Louise discovered the importance of working together, of team work: she was always accompanied by other women when she visited the Confraternities.

• Louise understood the difficulties that the Confraternities had to confront. She entered into their reality and shared their simple lifestyle (food, lodging). She brought with her medicine, clothing for the people and reading books for the schools.

• During her travels Louise was focused on the Lord … the Lord whom she greeted when she caught sight of the church towers, the Lord whom she visited in the person of the poor and whom she visited in the Blessed Sacrament in those places where the coach, in which she traveled, would pause during her journey.

• The methodology that Louise utilized reveals her understanding of formation: when she arrived at the place where she was going, she gathered together all the members of the Confraternity and listened attentively as they described their work and the difficulties they encountered. Through asking some further questions she would obtain additional information … then the work of renewal began by praising the good, reproving the bad, dealing with [specific] problems, but above all by encouraging everyone to a holier life, a deeper dedication, and to harder work [22].

• Louise gave detailed information to Vincent about the difficulties that she encountered and the suggestions that she offered … awaiting his approval. Vincent became concerned for Louise’s health as a result of those lengthy dialogues and insisted: let me know right away whether your lung is being irritated by your talking so much, or your head by so much confusion and noise (CCD:I:67) [23].

• Louise was not satisfied with offering good recommendations to the members of the Confraternities. Louise herself put those recommendations into practice and thus put her teaching into action … on a certain day she would take on the functions of the president, then the functions of the treasurer and later the functions of the individual visiting the infirm. In that way everyone was given a model as to the manner in which their ministry should be carried out.

• Louise was also concerned in general about the formation of the people in the place that she visited. In those places where there was a teacher, Louise encouraged that individual’s work and provided the teacher with the means to better his/her teaching. In those places where there was no teacher, she would seek out one of the more alert young women and prepared her to engage in this most important service.

• In her visits to the Confraternities Louise discovered the importance of ministering in close collaboration with the pastors and bishops: in order for the Confraternity of Charity to function and in order to provide effective service to the infirm, it was necessary to have the support of the pastor (SWLM:13 [L.6]).

The visits to the Confraternities of Charity, which Louise continued even after the establishment of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, constituted a true formation in the mission. Louise became aware of her abilities as an organizer and as an advisor to the Confraternities. Vincent would always ask for her observations and insights when he was planning some new project of service on behalf of the poor. Her experience led to the establishment of the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of Paris [24] and to the organization and the formation of the Daughters of Charity.

Formation in founding and organizing the Company of the Daughters of Charity

On November 29, 1633, after a time of discernment that was imposed on her by Vincent, Louise gathered together in her house some good country women who gave themselves to God for the poor [25]. Thus the Company of the Daughter of Charity was born and a new stage of Louise’s human and Christian formation was begun

These good women would become the foundation of the Company and were precious stones that Louise had to form: When Solomon built the temple he was intending for the service of God, he had quantities of precious stones cast into the foundation …it means that the Daughters of Charity who are now being chosen, and who will be chosen in the future must be precious stones embellished with beautiful virtues (CCD:IX:203). This work required Louise’s concentrated dedication because many of these young women who came forward and presented themselves to Louise were, in the words of Vincent, poor unlearned country girls who did not know how to read or write (CCD:IX:17). Therefore, when they have all returned to the house, they shall continue their work, study and then after repeating the principal points of their faith in the form of a short catechism, they shall read a passage of the Holy Gospel so as to stimulate themselves to the practice of virtue and the service of their neighbor in imitation of the Son of God (SWLM:726 [A.55]).

Louise undertook a tremendous work: she had to help these women build up the structure of their spiritual life on the foundation of their human poverty. Vincent indicated some aspects that she should be insistent upon: As for what you tell me about them, I have no doubt that they are as you describe them to me, but we have to hope that they will mature and that prayer will allow them to see their faults and encourage them to correct them. It would be well for you to tell them what constitutes solid virtue, especially that of interior and exterior mortification of our judgment, our will, memories, sight, hearing, speech, and the other senses, of the attachments we have to bad, useless, and even to good things; all this for the love of Our Lord who acted in this way. You will have to strengthen them a great deal in all these matters, especially in the virtue of obedience and in that of indifference. But, because too much talking is harmful to you, do so only occasionally. It would be well for you to tell them that they must be helped to acquire this virtue of mortification and given practice in it. I shall also tell them so that they will be well disposed to it (CCD:I:223-224).

On March 25, 1634 Louise de Marillac made a vow and committed herself to the formation of the young women so that they might serve Christ in the poor. We can imagine that as a formator Louise herself was in a state of on-going formation because it was through the inspiration of divine Providence that she saw the way to move forward, namely, she had to provide Christian and human formation in action so that the Company would remain faithful to God’s desire [26].

• Louise promoted the integral formation of those women who desired to enter the Company: she seemed to know the failing of each of us because she told us about them before we mentioned them to her; however, she was very prudent in her admonitions … always bearing with the Sisters and excusing them (CCD:X:571, 578)

• Louise would help the women to discern the authenticity of their vocation: they presented themselves to the Company not out of curiosity or a desire to see Paris but because they wanted to give themselves totally to God and thus serve God in the person of the poor.

• She would animate their prayer life.

• She would help the women sustain their commitment when difficulties arose in their service on behalf of the poor.

• She would guard the uniqueness of their vocation in the Church (since they were not religious there were no juridical bonds at that time that established their relationship with the Church) … these women were to live together in a way that was pleasing to the Lord.

• She initiated and promoted the work of the Company: visiting the infirm in their homes, caring for abandoned children, ministering in schools and hospitals, caring for the elderly and for wounded soldiers.

• She created a true family spirit among the Sisters: she showed as much affection for one Sister as for another (CCD:X:574) … I heard her say that she loved all our Sisters very much and wanted all of us to be as perfect as our model Jesus Christ (CCD:X:584) … one day, during her last illness, I asked her what she would ask God for me and for all our Sisters. She said she was asking him to grant us the grace to live in great union and charity as true Daughters of Charity, as he desires of us (CCD:X:585)

• She provided for the administration of the various works by writing rules that provided for the good functioning of those various services.

• She would intervene in a decisive manner so that the Company could obtain its own juridical framework … she insisted that the Company be placed under the direction of the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission

• She instilled in the Daughters a true spirit of charity and insisted on nothing less than excellence when they served the poor: she was very careful and ardently desired that the spirit of humility and poverty be maintained in the Company, and she often used to say, “We are the servants of the poor; therefore, we must be poorer than they are” (CCD:X:572).

Formation, a process that continued throughout Louise’s life

The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity describe the formation of the Sisters in a manner than can also help us when we speak about the experience of Louise with regard to formation: In Scripture, when choosing someone for a special vocation, God promises to point out the way. Gradually, by the light of the Spirit, the path becomes clear (Constitutions [2004], #49). The life of Louise and her human and Christian formation can be understood from the following perspective: God entrusted this work of formation to Louise and slowly pointed out the path that she would have to follow. At the same time God provided her with the necessary means that enabled her to respond to this task.

The Company gives great importance to both initial and ongoing formation, in order to strengthen and energize the Sister in her vocation, to offer quality service to those who are poor, and to know and discern the signs of the time (Constitutions [2004], #49). Louise’s whole life, from those early years in Poissy to her formation as a young woman, to her preparation for marriage, up until the time of her ministry as advisor to the Confraternities of Charity and as formator of the first Daughters of Charity, had been a time of formation that was experienced and shared in order to provide the best service to the poor. In Louise we understand that formation, a lifelong process, prepares the Daughters of Charity to respond anew to the constant calls of God (Constitutions [2004], #52a). We also see that every stage of Louise’s life involved formation.

Human and Christian formation are inseparable since formation allows that woman to live her vocation as a progressive modeling of herself on Christ, with renewed fidelity to the Spirit and to the aim of the Company (Constitutions [2004], #49). In my opinion this is the perspective that enables us to understand the quality of Louise’s formation.

The formation Louise received from those whom the Lord placed in her path

The guidance that Louise received from those individuals who accompanied her spiritually proved to be decisive in her human and Christian formation [27].

On various occasions Louise expressed in her writings her decision to offer her whole life to God, to give herself totally to God. In order to achieve this reality she sought guidance through spiritual direction. Louise was convinced that the will of God was made known through those persons whom the Lord placed in her path to guide her (SWLM:121-122 [L.111]).

Guidance from the Capuchins at San Honore

The beginnings of Louise’s spiritual life can be traced back to that time when Louise was living in the boarding house of that poor, devout woman. Her first guidance came from the Capuchin community in Saint-Honoré, whose church she frequented.

That community was part of what historians of spirituality have referred to as the school of abstract spirituality. Benôit de Canfield and his work The Rule of Perfection had a decisive influence on that school … The Rule of Perfection created an excitement in the community because of the manner in which the Christian life was presented. This school attracted many followers [28].

The spiritual life seeks unity and an encounter with God … seeks mysticism. Since in God there are no potencies but only essence, so also in the human person there is the essence to desire, to love and to understand and these are present without the need of any potency. Thus the objective of the Christian life consists of moving toward the divine essence and this includes moving toward God without the need for recourse to the mediation of Christ. In order to achieve this there is only one path, that of wonderment: the extermination of everything that is not proper to the essence of the human person so that God can now take possession of the soul and remold it. The ultimate reality of the interior life is union with the divine essence that overcomes all the created mediations, including the humanity of Christ [29].

A more negative concept of the human person and his/her possibilities, the insistence on fasts, vigils and the discipline, the true recognition of the person’s inability to enter into union with God … all of these are characteristics of a Christian life that fears God and his justice and that admires his plans.

This orientation which was further affirmed by Louise’s uncle, Michel de Marillac and also by Jean-Pierre Camus (which we will now examine) not only characterized the years prior to Louise’s marriage but also characterized most of the years of her marriage. Echoes of these themes are found in some of Louise’s writing that are dated from other periods of her life.

The guidance of the Capuchins from the district of Saint-Honoré was decisive in Louise’s decision with regard to her state of life. The Provincial, P?re de Champigny reassured Louise when she expressed her desire to enter religious life: I believe that God has other plans for you [30].

The marriage of Louise de Marillac (1613) and the subsequent change in residency that established the Le Gras family in the neighborhood of Marais, the parish of Saint-Merry, meant the progressive separation of herself from the direction of the Capuchins at Saint-Honoré.

Guidance of Jean-Pierre Camus

The change in Louise’s state in life and in her residency, as well as the change in her relationships, proved to be decisive in her encountering Jean-Pierre Camus (1583-1652) [31], the person whom the Lord had placed in her path to counsel her.

Jean-Pierre Camus was Louise’s spiritual director from 1614 or 1615 until 1625 [32]. The meetings between the Bishop of Belley and Louise would occur during those times when the bishop traveled to Paris during the year of 1613-1623, the time when he was an extraordinary preacher in Paris and also a deputy of the clergy in the Estates General of 1614

Jean Pierre Camus was an intimate friend and an admirer of Francis de Sales. He viewed himself as an interpreter and one who furthered and promoted the thinking of Francis de Sales. He possessed a broad spiritual-cultural background: he knew the Rhenish-Flemish spiritualists Ruysbroeck, Taulero and Harphius. Later he explored the writings of John of the Cross. The first stage of his thinking is exemplified in The Guide to Mental Prayer (1617) which was intended to complete, in some manner, the second part of The Introduction to a Devout Life. Among his inspirational sources we mention here Louis de Granada, Pedro de Alcántara, Matías Bellintani, Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis de Sales, Benôit de Canfield (even though Jean-Pierre does not cite him). Camus affirmed the classical distinction between the three ways: the purgative, illuminative and unitive, but his originality is found in his writing about active and passive mental prayer.

• Active mental prayer elevates people toward God according to the strengths and faculties of their soul, thus making use of its imaginative, intellectual and other potentialities.

• Passive mental prayer is when God, by pure grace and in complete freedom, visits the soul and acts on it, purifying it in a subtle, delicate and most excellent manner.

Prayer involves meditation and contemplation. Thus there is active and passive meditation and active and passive contemplation. At this first stage we see that Louise was attracted to the abstract school of spirituality [33].

The guidance of Jean-Pierre Camus coincided with a decisive time in the spiritual journey of Louise de Marillac: the year of light which arose in the midst of darkness.

Without distancing himself from what we have referred to as the abstract school of spirituality, Jean-Pierre incorporated into his spiritual direction elements that invited Louise to the practice of meditation, to have a positive view of people and to find joy in living a peaceful life. These were also very prominent themes in the spiritual thinking of Saint Francis de Sales: I am consoled to know that the exercises of recollection and spiritual retreats are so useful to you and so much to your liking, but it is necessary for you to take them like honey, rarely and in moderation because you have a certain spiritual avidity which needs to be controlled [34] … I am still waiting, my dear daughter, for serenity to return to you after these clouds which prevent you from seeing the beautiful light of joy which there is in the service of God. Don't make so much difficulty about indifferent matters; turn your gaze away from yourself a little and fix it on Jesus Christ : therein, according to my judgment, is your perfection, and I can say with the apostle, that in that I think I have the Spirit of God [35]

During the most difficult years of the illness of Louise’s husband, Jean-Pierre Camus wrote to her and expressed his nearness and concern (October 1623): Your beloved husband has been on the point of death and your poor Father, who is now writing to you, cannot go to Paris this winter ! Do not grieve over yourself, my dearest daughter, but grieve over me, separated from my home and friends, and relegated to a place of exile that has nothing amiable about it except the most lovable will of him who renders all things amiable .... So I must leave Paris alone, and those two foremost pulpits in Paris, in which, to tell the truth, I am not worthy to appear, and this because it so pleases him whose will is our life. O Jesus! Soul of our souls, preserve my dear daughter to me; bless her with Thy gracious hand, her and her husband, child and house; pour forth your consolations on this dear soul, of which, as you know, I think so highly since I am, in you, her most humble brother and friend? [36]

A few months later, on January 30, 1624, Jean-Pierre wrote in a different style, one that appears to be distant and firm: I sympathize with you in the inertia of mind in which you feel yourself because of the illness of your dear husband. Behold your cross and why should I be disturbed at seeing in on the shoulders of a daughter of the cross? You are not in need either of skill, advice, books or intelligence to bear it well; may God grant that you may not be lacking in courage … There you go again! Ever the general confessions! Oh how many times have I told you: short shrift to general confessions for your heart! Oh, no, that is not what the Jubilee means for you, but for you to rejoice in God your Savior … for you to say, Jubilemus Deo salutari nostri! [37].

This idea of wanting to create some distance appears in the letter that Jean Pierre Camus wrote in July 1625: Forgive me, dearest Sister, for telling you that you attach yourself a little too much to those who guide you and rely too much on them. Here is the situation in which M. Vincent is absent and now Mlle. Le Gras is quite upset and disconcerted … You should see God in your guides and directors and see them in God; but sometimes one should look to God alone, whom, without man and without the pool of Porbatica, can cure our paralysis. With regard to spiritual retreats, allow yourself to be guided by some good holy priest, for example, Father Ménard, an Oratorian or by Reverend Mother Magdalen or the Mother Superior of the Visitation Sisters … and once you have decided on the person go forward then with confidence. It is not that I myself do not want to guide you or counsel you. Quite the contrary, because I hope that through means of this spiritual direction it is you who will lead me to heaven. Indeed, your example guides me along that path more than my counsel can lead you or guide you along the same path. I do not want to see these little weaknesses and shadows in Mlle. Le Gras whose spirit seems to me to be clear and strong … may the father, the mother and their son receive from, an unworthy servant, the blessing of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. May God be blessed! [38]

The sensitivity and consolation, the accompaniment and gentleness of the journey along the path of the spiritual life once again appear in the letters that Jean-Pierre Camus wrote to Louise at the time of the death of her beloved husband: At last, my dearest sister, the Savior of our souls, after having taken your spouse to his bosom, has now placed himself in yours. O heavenly Spouse, be forever the Spouse of my sister, who chose you to be so, when her heart was yet divided; but remain upon her breast, O Lord, like a bundle of myrrh, soft to the touch but bitter to the taste, and grant her sweet consolations in the unavoidable sorrows of her widowhood. O, my dearest friend, this is the time when the cross must be clasped and pressed close to the heart, since you have now no other support upon earth; now is the time for you to tell God that he must remember his word. And what is that word, my dearest daughter? That he will be a father to the orphan and a judge to the widow; a judge, my dearest sister, to defend her cause and judge her adversaries. Now is the time when we shall see if you love God as you should, since he has taken away from you him whom you loved so dearly. Eternal rest and peace on this dear soul for whom we pray and consolation on you from the Father of all consolation and the all-merciful God! Amen [39].

Guidance from Michael de Marillac

Jean-Pierre Camus, who for ten years had accompanied Louise as her spiritual director, put her in contact with Vincent de Paul. But before dealing with the guidance that Vincent provided her, we must first reaffirm the impact of Francis de Sales and Michel de Marillac on her spiritual journey.

Some letters from the years 1619-1623, letters that Michel de Marillac wrote to Louise, have been preserved for us [40]. We can see that those letters contain spiritual guidance but we do not know if this type of advise was given occasionally or was something that continued over a period of years. Unfortunately we do not have the corresponding letters that Louise wrote to her uncle. In a tone that appears to be cold and distant, Michel de Marillac continued to insist on the same abstract orientation.

The text of the letters that are dated 1619 insist on humility and on humiliating oneself before God and in recognition of the faults that one has committed: Be always most courageous in seeking for God and in conforming yourself entirely to whatsoever he pleases and walk with humility and confidence in God, to whom I pray that you might enjoy a long and happy life [41]. Have patience and humiliate yourself before God for the failing you may have committed in submitting your soul in his sight, and await from him all the graces of which you stand in need. Do not strive to force God to grant you more graces than he wishes to give. Remain humble and tranquil at the sight of your own faults since faults are our inheritance and nothing else is to be expected from us [42].

In 1620 Michel de Marillac invited Louise to remain passive before God, recognizing her own poverty: It is good to learn from experience that God is not attached to our plans and propositions and those find him everywhere who seek him in the way he wishes to communicate himself and not in that which they imagine is useful and profitable to themselves, for often the usefulness thus imagined in our minds is merely dictated by our own failings. The poor soul who knows itself as such and accepts that knowledge in peace awaits from God whatever comes, without expecting it in one way rather than another. She is content to submit herself to God, and does not wish to prescribe to him the manner of leading her. She takes what comes, uses all things with humility, gratitude and profit, even remains poor and is satisfied to do the best she can without grieving over what is beyond her, what is not in her power. In order to judge and make a decision about the things that we can or cannot do we must reflect on our past experience and not on what our thoughts are telling us. I pray that God will grant you the strength to take advantage of this grace and to live all your days in God’s fear and love [43].

In 1621 the invitation to remain humble and passive was repeated: It is good for the soul to recognize itself as poor and as deprived of the ability to know itself or to know other things as they are … and to accept this state without grieving over it. By understanding this privation we are able to ask God for the strength to make use of and to take advantage of the means that God provides for us. For example, when we commit some fault let us ask God for the strength to take advantage of the dispositions of the soul that such a fault has produced, Furthermore, when we see the good in someone, let us recognize our own inferiority. Finally the soul that is faithful to God has at every moment the necessary means to humble itself when it finds itself in that poor and simple state … a state in which it recognizes that it possesses nothing, not even the knowledge of its own poverty and therefore it remains as a beggar before God who alone is everything. God awakens the soul to everything that has to be done and to everything that must be avoided. The more the soul that is faithful to God strips itself of its own anxieties and activities, the more it will clearly see what should be done and what should be left undone. Let its practice be to be with God; let it seek and love Jesus Christ; let it bind itself to him; let it honor his life, workings and sufferings! As for all the rest, the mere fidelity of the soul that adheres to God, who is want in none of those things of which the soul is aware or desires, will supply it with plenty of opportunities [44].

During this time when Louise experienced great doubts, doubts that she should would be freed from at the time of her Pentecost experience, Michel de Marillac exhorted Louise to deepen her humility and her passive dispositions. He told her that the only security she could rely on was that of not being sure of herself: I cannot say in a few words that which seems necessary with regard to the things you have written. There is no remedy for the grief which the soul experiences when the only thing it is able to find is uncertainty with regard to God. Indeed, the remedy is worse that the evil itself. It is dangerous to want to feel this certainty about God and to want to feel enlightened. Such feelings reveal a lack of humility which then becomes an impediment to what one is searching for. There is great security in that humble state that enables one to peacefully live with uncertainty and that enables one to resist the temptation to ask for the grace to acquire such understanding and thus to be content with not having that security … such a request could also be an evil. That should be enough about that. With regard to spiritual direction it is also dangerous to not desire or want this because at every moment we need counsel. I do not mean that we should not continue to walk with our uncertainty or that we should no longer feel uncertain about ourselves but rather I say this so that we are open to such advice and docile to God in all things. One must always be open to God, without any self-justification, and find one’s stability in the peace one possesses in this state of uncertainty while relying on nothing but the mercy of God. If we have no confidence in him, then I know not where one can find assurance in this world; whoever finds it apart from God is, in my opinion, well worthy of compassion (D.832).

Because we are dealing with letters that are a response to things that Louise wrote and because we do not have those letters of Louise, it is difficult to present a complete picture of the counsel that Michel de Marillac offered to his niece. In any case during some time, and most probably this was occasionally, Louise sought advice from her uncle who was known as a man of God and a prayerful man. In light of the material that is available to us we can affirm that the guidance that Michel offered was founded on the themes that were put forth by the abstract school of spirituality, themes that were dominant in many of the spiritual circles of Paris.

Guidance from Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales had a great influence on the Christian formation of Louise. She spoke with him on various occasions and read and meditated on his writings. One of his disciples, Jean-Pierre Camus, became her spiritual director. It could be said that Vincent de Paul, who was a friend and an admirer of Francis de Sales, was also one of his disciples.

Francis de Sales 1567-1622)[45] provided significant guidance to Louise as she continued to develop her spiritual life, guidance that was quite distinct from that of the abstract school. Francis would have a significant impact on French spirituality and on Christian spirituality, in general. From the perspective of a pastoral concern, Francis wanted to offer Christian perfection to all people regardless of their state in life. Perfection is not the exclusive patrimony of those who are living in the various monasteries, but rather the paths of Christian perfection are open to all those Christians who find themselves in the midst of the world. People, wherever they are, can be devout men and women.

The fundamental spiritual insight of Francis de Sales is that God is love. God has created our heart in his image and likeness. If we want to live a spiritual life, then naturally we have to live in love [46]. As a result, the relationship between God and the human person is essentially a relationship of love. All people experience in their heart a movement that impels them toward God.

According to the thinking of Francis de Sales, the whole spiritual life involves an on-going dialogue between God and the human person. Devotion then is an availability and a willingness to serve God and implies the practice of a prompt and joyful charity in serving God. Devotion, then, is the flame of the fire of charity.

We are attracted to God as a result of the inspiration that touches our heart … No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them (John 6:44). Our freedom is a gift that was attained at the price of a great sacrifice. Devotion is a sacrificial disposition to live the fullness of a life of charity. Thus, we come to understand the importance that Francis de Sales gave to retreats and devotional practices centered on the Eucharist.

The saintly bishop of Geneva (an expression that both Vincent and Louise used) developed a very balanced concept of Christian mysticism, one that was focused on the love of neighbor. He also presented a very optimistic vision of the natural possibilities of the human person.

Louise, an avid reader of the writings of Francis de Sales, especially The Introduction to the Devout Life and The Treatise on the Love of God, had the opportunity to dialogue with him in person during his prolonged stay in Paris. It seems that in 1619 the Bishop of Geneva visited Louise in her house [47]. The decisive experience of the Light (1623) was viewed by Louise as a 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 (SWLM:1-2 [A.2]).

Guidance from Vincent de Paul

Despite the initial hesitations of both parties, nevertheless the encounter between Louise and Vincent would prove to be decisive. Whether it was Jean-Pierre who introduced Louise to Vincent or whether Louise had heard the Visitation Sisters speak about Vincent, the encounter between Louise and Vincent brought about a revolution in the charitable activity of women, which from that time forth combined the life of perfection as lived by the cloistered nun with the life of activity in the world and literally, in the open air. This new form of charitable work took hold once and for all of the public spirit in France and thereafter throughout the world; it focused attention on the unfortunate and the sick, from which emerged the modern forms of social institution. One fact is indisputable. The world of today, where cruelty is so common in public conduct, dare not disdain the poor, and public men now make open profession of honoring the human dignity of the unfortunate and the weak. This is Christ’s teaching put into action and is the result of Vincentian charitable works which are what they are because Louise de Marillac put her hand to them [48].

Vincent de Paul (1580-1660) [49], respectful of the spiritual journey that Louise had undertaken until the time of their encounter (either at the end of 1624 or the beginning of 1625), would begin to guide her and would insist on the following points [50]:

A] The mystic in action, as Vincent has been called [51], guided by God through particular events, especially those events that led to his encounter with the poor in Folleville and Châtillon (1617) led Vincent to focus the whole of his life on the reality of Jesus Christ in the poor // the poor in Jesus Christ. It is in the poor where one discovers Jesus Christ and his evangelizing mission: He has sent me to proclaim Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18). Jesus Christ, came to evangelize the poor as the Missionary of the Father and calls us to continue his mission and to do what the Son of God did when he was on earth, namely, to evangelize, to live and to teach the gospel, to provide for the spiritual and the material needs of the poor and to do this without separating the spiritual life from the life of charity, without separating the love of God from the love of neighbor (without separating affective love from effective love).

As a result of the guidance that Vincent provided to Louise, the poor became for her the privileged members of Jesus Christ, her lords and masters in whom Jesus wanted to be served. The collaboration between Louise and Vincent led to a new way of understanding the following of Christ, a new way of understanding the Christian life as well as a new way of understanding the meaning of placing oneself at the service of charity.

B] Knowledgeable with regard to the spiritual movements of his time and guided by Pierre de Bérulle and André Duval, but more especially by Francis de Sales, Vincent encouraged Louise to discover God’s providence and action in the unfolding of history and to live with confidence and joy: Be quite cheerful in the disposition of willing everything that God wills. And because it is his good pleasure that we remain always in the joy of his love, let us remain in it (CCD:I:36) … Please be very cheerful with her, even though you should have to lessen a bit that somewhat serious disposition which nature has bestowed on you and which grace is tempering (CCD:I:492; see also CCD:I:79-80, 111).

This calm confidence allowed Louise to moderate her affectivity and thus enabled her to act with a delicate gentleness (CCD:I:63, 67, 69-70, 576,577).

Reading Material

The first biographer of Louise affirmed that she possessed such a love of reading that it was the most ordinary of occupations for her [52]. In order to provide an overall perspective with regard to Louise’s human and Christian formation we must attempt to know the books that she read.

In light of the information that is available to us today we can list the following as the books that Louise read and that helped to form her.

The Bible

As a result of the ideas formulated at the time of Protestant Reformation, the laity had to obtain the permission of the Ordinary in order to read the Scriptures in the vernacular [53]. The more common means that provided the laity with access to the Bible were the preaching of ecclesiastics and instruction in the catechism.

According to the testimony of Jean-Pierre Camus, who at that time was Louise’s spiritual director, the Le Gras family had obtained the required authorization to read the Bible in the vernacular: I believe that the authorities may permit, not only without danger, but even with utility, M. Le Gras and Mlle. His wife to read the Holy Bible in French, in the translation made by the theologians of Louvain. I therefore write and sign this present document in Paris, March 8, 1623, Jean-Pierre, Bishop of Belley [54].

We find proof of her practice of reading the Bible in her Rule of Life in the World that was redacted by Louise: Immediately after rising, I shall meditate for an hour or at least three quarters of an hour on a subject taken either from the Gospels or the Epistles to which I shall add a reading from the life of the saint of the day (SWLM:689 [A.1]). This practice was also part of the order of day that was observed by the first Daughters of Charity: when they have all returned to the house, they shall continue their work, study and then after repeating the principal points of their faith in the form of a short catechism, they shall read a passage of the Holy Gospel so as to stimulate themselves to the practice of virtue and the service of their neighbor in imitation of the Son of God (SWLM:726 [A.55]).

The catechism that Louise wrote and many of her meditations reveal a familiarity with the Word of God, especially with the writing of the New Testament which was used to make certain conclusions about the Christian life and the following of Christ [55].

Dialogues with Saint Catherine of Siena

These dialogues were published in French in 1585 and it seems most probable that Louise read those during the time that she lived at the Dominican Priory in Poissy. Louise, in passing, mentioned Saint Catherine in several of her letters (SWLM:114 [L.105], 231 [L.227], 620 [L.553]). Also one of Louise’s paintings was inspired by the image of the Good Shepherd of Saint Catherine [56].

Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380) had no formal education yet even as a child people noticed that she was fond of prayer and solitude. While her parents were planning her marriage, she reacted by cutting her hair and placing a veil over her face. At the age of eighteen she clothed herself in the habit of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. In 1366 she experienced what she described in her letters as a mystical marriage with Jesus, an experience that occurred in the Basilica of Saint Dominic in Siena.

In 1370 she received a series of visions of hell, purgatory and heaven after which she heard a voice that ordered her to leave her seclusion and enter into the public arena. She then began to write letters to men and women from every walk of life and at the same time prayed for peace among the Italian states and also prayed for the return of the Pope to Rome. She wrote to Pope Gregory XI and exhorted him to reform the clergy and reform the administration of the Papal States. In 1377, after speaking with the Pope in Avignon, she was able to obtain the Pope’s return to Rome. In 1378 she negotiated peace between Florence and Pope Urban VI (the successor to Gregory XI). On the occasion of the schism of the anti-popes she was called to Rome by the Pope and she remained there until the time of death in 1380.

During the time of the Plague (1374) Catherine cared for the infirm and several miracles were attributed to her. On April 1, 1375 in Pisa, Catherine received the invisible stigmata (she felt the pain but no wounds were visible).

During five days of ecstasy (October 9-14, 1378), she wrote The Dialogue with Divine Providence, also known as The Dialogue [57].

The Imitation of Christ

Without a doubt The Imitation of Christ [58] has been one of the most influential spiritual books that has been published during the past six centuries (aside from the Bible it has been the most edited Catholic book in the world). Louise had read this book and recommended it to the first Daughters of Charity: With the limited time you have for reading, I urge you to read your Rules once a month and also the Imitation of Christ and Philotée. These are the books necessary for the Daughters of Charity (SWLN:434 [L.383]).

The book is composed of four parts and is written in a style that appears to favor memorization … the style also suggests that the book was written at different times in the life of the author. The colloquial tone highlights the affective character of the work as well as the experience of the author as he journeyed toward God … at times the author is speaking to himself and at other times his words are directed to Christ and still at other times the author joins himself to the reader and uses the plural.

In the Imitation we find a certain disillusionment with historical realities, a mistrust of the human person and of intellectualism and a contempt for worldly realities. This seems to respond to the historical principles of the fifteenth century, an era in which it was written: We cannot trust in ourselves because frequently we lack good judgment and the grace of God. In line with the thinking of the mystical school which had spread from Northern Europe and Switzerland into Holland, the author, a follower of Groote and the Brethern of the Common Life, highlighted evangelical perfection and presented Jesus Christ as the only model of authentic knowledge.

During a lengthy period of time (that includes the present time) the authorship of the Imitation of Christ has been disputed. Father Pierre Cost assures us that in the Vincentian writings the name Gerson is identified with the Imitation of Christ (CCD:I:159, note 4). Vincent wrote to Louise and stated: Mademoiselle, as for your little retreat, make it in a leisurely way according to the order set down in the Introduction by the Bishop of Geneva, but make only two meditations a day: one hour in the morning and half an hour after dinner. In the intervening time, read something from Gerson or the lives of the holy widows to whom you have a more particular devotion. Use the remaining time to reflect on your past life and on the time you still have left. But please do all this quite calmly, after you have changed your lodgings, and be satisfied with doing so for six days. Do not forget me in your prayers. Perhaps I shall make my retreat at the same time. May God grant us the grace to make it well! (CCD:I:158).

Gerson is the name of Jean Le Cartier de Gerson or Jean Gerson (1363-1429), who for some time was recognized as the author of the Imitation. He was the chancellor at Notre Dame and then in 1395 the chancellor of the University of Paris. He was the delegate of the King at the Council of Constance and also a professor of theology and mysticism. He was a preacher and the author of numerous books in Latin intended for the formation of the students in Paris and later he wrote a book for those preparing to become Carthusians in Lyon. He also wrote two books in French for the formation of Sisters, The Mountain of Contemplation and Spiritual Begging. Through his writings he attempted to show that the best knowledge of God is not intellectual knowledge but affective knowledge which does not consist of an elaboration of concepts but a union in ecstatic love.

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was born in Kempen where he began his studies under the guidance of the Brethren of the Common Life, representatives of what was known as the modern devotion movement. As a copyist of the Divine Office he requested admission into the Augustinian house of Mount Saint Agnes (not far from Amsterdam) where his brother was prior. Only after concluding his studies in the humanities (1406) was he admitted as a novice and he was ordained a priest in 1413 in the above cited house of the Augustinians. He would live the rest of his life there in that place where he dedicated himself to the practice of devotion, to reading, to the formation of the novices and to his activity as a copyist (he copied the Bible four times. His writings contained many references to the Bible and the Fathers of the Church and he wrote in a very simple pedagogical style [59]. The Imitation of Christ seems to have been written during the whole of his life and it is very possible that this was the material which the author used when teaching the novices at Mount Saint Agnes [60].

The Introduction to the Devout Life and The Treatise on the Love of God (Francis de Sales)

We have previously referred to Francis de Sales as a person whom God placed in the path of Louise de Marillac in order to guide her. In addition to the personal encounters with De Sales, his writings sustained Louise in her spiritual journey.

When she wrote to L’Abbé de Vaux about the manner in which the first Sisters made their spiritual retreat she stated: They make two half-hour meditations at different times in the morning and one after supper at 5:00pm. The subjects are taken from the book of our Blessed Father. After they have been to confession, they are given meditations on the life and death of Our Lord (SWLM:69 [L.63]). This is exactly what Vincent had recommended (CCD:I:158).

Louise’s first biographer states: she often read books of piety and had a special love for the "Imitation of Christ" and for the "Spiritual Combat", as also for the works of St. Francis de Sales and Louis de Grenade [61]. The Act of Consecration (SWLM:693 [A.3]) that was written by Louise is almost a literal reproduction of the proposals that are made in the Introduction to the Devout Life.

Introduction to the Devout Life: brings together, in a written form, advice and counsel that had been offered during spiritual direction. The first edition appeared in Lyon (December 1608). After defining the concept of devotion (Part I) the author attempts to convince Philotée about the need for prayer (Part II). In the third part the author insists on the practice of virtue, especially gentleness and humility and also outlines how a person, living in the world, should live in accord with obedience poverty and chastity. The fourth and final part refers to the various temptations that one will encounter and the fifth part presents various means to renew the soul and confirm it in devotion [62].

Treatise on the Love of God was published in 1616. The first four sections, more theoretical in nature, describe the characteristics of love and the manner to become rooted in love and to grow in love … we also find in this section a description of how one destroys love. The fifth section develops the two primary practices of love: contemplation and kindness. The sixth and seventh sections form a short treatise on prayer and we also see in those sections the influence of Saint Therese of Jesus. The eighth section is focused on pleasing God by uniting one’s will to the will of God. The ninth section is dedicated to the theme of the love of submission, which consists of holy indifference. The last three sections complete the theme: love God above all things (section 10), charity is composed of all the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and therefore sadness is contrary to love (section 11), ways to progress in the life of holy love (section 12) [63].

The Spiritual Combat

As we have already pointed out, the first biographer of Louise lists The Spiritual Combat as one of the books that she read [64].

The Spiritual Combat written by the Thestine, Don Lorenzo Scupoli (1530-1610) at the end of the sixteenth century is one of the most famous treatises on the spiritual life. During eighteen years Francis de Sales carried this book in his book and read from it every day, recommending it to the people whom he directed. We should not be surprised that it was one of the books that Louise read.

The spiritual life consists in knowing the infinite greatness and goodness of God, together with a true sense of our weakness and tendency to evil, in loving God and hating ourselves, in humbling ourselves not only before Him, but for His sake, before all men, in renouncing entirely our own will in order to follow His. It consist, finally, in doing all of this solely for the glory of His Holy Name, for only one purpose—to please Him, for only one motive—that He should be loved and served by all His creatures.

Therefore, you must wage continual warfare against yourself and employ your entire strength in demolishing each vicious inclination, however trivial. Consequently, in preparing for the combat you must summon up all your resolution and courage. No one shall be rewarded with a crown who has not fought courageously.

God expects of us, above all else, is a serious application to conquering our passions; and this is more properly the accomplishment of our duty than if, with uncontrolled appetite, we should do Him a greater service.

In order to attain this perfection, you must resolve on a perpetual warfare with yourself, begin by providing yourself with four weapons without which it is impossible to gain the victory in this spiritual combat: distrust of one’s self, confidence in God, proper use of the faculties of body and mind, and the duty of prayer [65].

The writings of Granada

As we continue to read the letter that we have referred to, a letter in which Louise explained to L’Abbé de Vaux the manner in which the Daughters of Charity in Paris made their retreat, we find the words: The meditation before confession is taken from a lengthy text in Grenada designed to obtain from God the grace of true contrition (SWLM:69 [L.63]). N. Gobillon also lists the writings of Louis of Granada among the books that Louise read [66].

Fray Louis de Granada (1504-1588)[67] a Spanish Dominican writer. His father died when he was a child and together with his mother he became a beggar in order to survive. Those experiences of poverty and humility and helplessness formed his personality in two areas: a firm option for the poor and devotion to the child, Jesus. He was taken under the protection of the Mendoza family who had listened to him recite from memory the sermons that he had heard in church … the Count made him a page to his son, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. This enabled Louis to study the humanities

At the age of nineteen he requested admittance into the Dominican convent, Santa Cruz la Real in Granada. He professed his vows in 1525 and as a distinguished preacher he was sent to further his study of theology in Valladolid where he developed a friendship with Archbishop Carranza

In 1534 he was sent to the convent Scala Coeli in Cordoba where he developed a deep friendship with Saint John of Avila and on numerous occasions stated that he was a friend and a disciple of John of Avila. It was there that he wrote The Book of Prayer and Meditation, a work which revised in Evora (Portugal) where he lived beginning in 1551. This book was published in Salamanca (1554) and that event also marked by beginning of his problems with the Inquisition where he was accused of attempting to make everyone a contemplative and perfect and also attempting to teach the people using the Spanish language … of having promised that the path of perfection was available to people regardless of their state in life and therefore included those who did not take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. His treatise was placed on the Spanish Index in 1551 even though this work continued to be published in other countries. That work, however and The Guide for Sinners (1556) which had also been placed on the Spanish Index, were revised and approved by the Council of Trent and by Pope Pius IV. It is almost certain that Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) was very influential in this matter since he was very enthused about Louis’ writing. Louis had been invited by the Archbishop of Evora, Portugal to take up residence there and he would become the confessor to the Kings and Provincial of the Dominicans of Portugal. He was a renowned and distinguished preacher and spent the reminderof his life in Evora and Lisbon, where he died in 1588.

Other writings

It is easy to imagine that besides the books that we have been able to document and have already mentioned, Louise would have also read some of the writing of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross as well as the Brief Discourse of Bérulle. The writings of these authors were well-known in France. The fact that her uncle had been active in the establishment of Carmel in France and the recognized importance of Bérulle in this same work and his presence in the spiritual circles that existed in Paris at that time seem to suggest that the writings of these authors had great acceptance in France [68].

Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)[69] was born in Avila, the daughter of Don Alonso Álvarez de Cepeda and Doña Beatriz de Ahumada. She took the habit of Carmen in 1536 and soon after her profession became ill (1537). She experienced a cure (1542) and attributed this to the intercession of Saint Joseph. In 1556 she experienced her Mystical Dispossession.

In 1562 she finished writing the Book of Life and clothed the first four Discalced Carmelites in the habit. Pope Pius IV approved the Constitutions (1565) and the Father General approved the reform that Teresa had carried out (1567) and allowed her to establish convents for friars.

She wrote The Spiritual Challenge (1572), The Path of Perfection (1573), The Foundations (1573), The Interior Castle, The Abodes (1577). She died on October 4, 1582 in Alba de Tormes Salmanca).

Theresa was a reformer, a writer, a Doctor and a saint … she has been recognized as one who sang the praises of Jesus Christ, a devotee of Mary and Joseph, a Daughter of the Church, a teacher of prayer, a garden in which all the virtues flourished.

On the statue of Saint Teresa of Avila that is located in Saint Peter’s Basilica, one finds the words, spiritual mother. Along with Saint John of the Cross, Teresa is considered to be the person who inspired and taught Carmelite spirituality and is also seen as an example for all those persons who seek to develop their interior life.

For those persons who are dedicated to prayer, it is recommended that they focus their attention on Jesus Christ who will lead them to the Father. Teresa’s advice, which became well-known through her writings, is an invitation to allow God to act on one’s heart, an invitation to grow in friendship with God through prayer, an invitation to struggle against that which alienates one from God and finally, an invitation to strive for holiness regardless of the cost.

Saint John of the Cross (1541-1591)[70] was the son of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catalina Álvarez and was born in Fontiveros, the Province of Ávila (Spain). At the age of twenty-one he clothed himself in the habit of the Carmelites in the convent of Medina del Campo. After making his process, he requested and received permission to observe the original rule of the Carmelites. His superiors, however, did not allow him to be a lay brother as he requested. He was ordained a priest in 1657. After his ordination he desired more solitude and considered becoming a Carthusian.

At the time when Teresa was establishing the reformed convents she heard people speak about Brother John in Medina del Campo. She met with him and admired his spirit. She told him that God was calling him to sanctify himself in the order of Our Lady of Carmel. John became a member of the first convent of Discalced Carmelites (in a house that was in ruins) and took the name, John of the Cross

In 1571, in obedience Teresa assumed the office of superior at the convent of the Incarnation in Avila (a non-reformed convent) and called John of the Cross to her side and asked him to become her spiritual director and her confessor.

As a result of the serious problem that arouse between the Discalced and the Calced Carmelites, the Provincial of Castilla asked John of the Cross to return to the convent at Medina del Campo. In light of his refusal, stating that he had been sent to Ávila by the Papal Nuncio, the Provincial sent a group of armed men who brought him to Toledo where he was locked in a small dark cell and harshly treated. You should not be surprised by the fact that I have a great love for suffering. God gave me an insight into its value when I was imprisoned in Toledo. His first poems reveal his state of mind at that time: Where have you hidden yourself, my beloved, and why have you abandoned me as I cry out? Even though I was wounded you fled from me like a deer; I cried out behind you but you continued on your way.

After nine months he was able to escape that prison and the abuse that he endured there. He went to the reform convent in Beas near Andalucia. He was appointed the superior of the school of Baeza in 1579 and two years later, in 1581, was elected the superiors of Los Martires (Granda). The on-going dispute between the reformed and the Calced Carmelites resulted in further suffering for John of the Cross. He went from being the Vicar Provincial of the newly reformed province to exile to the convent in Baeza.

In the midst of these sufferings he dedicated himself to prayer the writing: The Ascent to Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, The Living Call of Love.

In the opinion of John of the Cross the purpose of the human person on earth is to achieve the perfection of charity and through love to raise oneself up to the dignity of a child of God. Contemplation is not an end in itself but ought to lead people to love and to a union with God through love. Ultimately it ought to lead one to the experience of that union toward which everyone is inclined. There is no better or more necessary work than that of love. We have been created to love. The only instrument that God uses is love. As the Father and the Son are united by love so also love is the bond that unities the soul with God.

Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629) even though he was formed in the abstract school he gave a new interpretation to the themes of the devout movement as he presented a new focus for the supernatural life: the humanity of Christ and the Incarnation of the Word.

Berulle had a great influence on French spirituality. He had a direct influence on French spirituality through his many disciples among whom were Burgoing, Condren, Olier, Saint-Cyran … and he also had an influence on many founders and teachers who listened to him and among these individuals we include Vincent de Paul. Indirectly he influenced French spirituality through the Carmelites and the other religious families which he helped to reform. We must also remember his work with regard to the reform of the clergy and with regard to implementing the reforms recommended by the Council of Trent [71].

The Discourse published by Bérulle when he was eighteen, his sermons, his writings on the state and the greatness of Jesus and his final work, The Life of Jesus, present the supernatural life as being centered on Jesus Christ and on the mystery of the Incarnation: the following of Jesus Christ is a demand of prayer and contemplation and the apostolate. Giving glory to God should be centered on honoring Jesus and the love of Jesus should lead people to imitate Jesus. One should not only focus on the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity and Redemption but should also focus on all the dimensions of Jesus and all the events of Jesus’ life: his infancy, the visitation, etc. Each order or congregation within the Church should attempt to imitate some of these mysteries.

The inspirational sources of Louise’s spiritual experience

If we want to speak about the human and Christian formation of Louise, then we must also make reference to the inspirational sources of her spiritual experience. The progressive configuration of her life to that of Christ was not only the result of reflective reading, spiritual direction and experiences that occurred during the various stages of her growth … rather modeling her life on Christ was primarily the result of an encounter with Christ, an encounter with the living Christ and the source of new life.

What were the sources that governed and gave life to Louse’s spiritual experience? Where were the roots of this new Christian life grounded … the roots that gave meaning to her life? The sources of Louise’s spiritual experience were no different from those of other Christians [73] and yet it is important to discover the impact of those on Louise’s experience.

Following the descriptive method [74], we mention the following sources:

The Word of God, the Gospels

The Word of God is the fundamental source for Christian spirituality because it generates the faith. Furthermore, the true followers of Jesus Christ are those persons who listen to the Word, who accept the Word and practice it (cf., Matthew 7:21). To listen to the Word in any of the various forms in which the Church offers this to us makes the Word of God, and especially the gospel, not only some book that should be read but makes it a source of life … the Word invites us to dialogue with God.

Louise’s life can only be understood from the perspective of this dialogue that was maintained throughout her life. As we recalled in another place [75], God was the “thou” of her life. The Word of God that was embraced and accepted in personal meditation and in the reading of the Scriptures, the Word of God that was affirmed as she listened to the preaching of various sermons … all of this enabled Louise to respond to this Word with a sustained dialogue that ultimately led her to be all for God and only for God.

We know that Louise, who was able to cite by memory texts from the Word of God, viewed the Word of God as the primary source of her spirituality

The sacramentality of the Church

The humanity of Christ, filled with the Spirit, has been and continues to be the source of inspiration for the followers of Jesus Christ and for Christian spirituality. But after his resurrection the humanity of Christ can only be accessed through the sacramentality of the Church (the Church is the fundamental sacrament of Jesus Christ) and through Jesus’ activity on our behalf (the sacraments of the Church).

Jesus Christ is life and the source of life. The encounter with Jesus Christ is the cause of life and salvation. Historically participation in the presence and in the life of Christ occurs in the Church as sacrament [76]. The Church is the original and privileged sacrament of Christ … a sacrament that is offered to society and to all humankind as life and salvation.

The Church --- the sacrament of Jesus Christ --- as it becomes incarnated and actualized in the human condition and in everyday life, also becomes more visible in various sacraments: Eucharist, penance, baptism. Therefore, the experience of the sacraments is essential as a source for Christian spirituality because in the sacraments faith finds its strength and its full ecclesial dimension. The sacraments suppose an experience of the faith and yet at the same time the sacraments nourish and provide a community dimension to faith.

At a previous time we had the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the importance of the Church in the life of Louise de Marillac. We were also able to reflect upon her experience of the sacramental life which in turn provided us with a perspective with regard to the sacraments [77]. There is no doubt that the Church and the sacraments of the Church were sources of inspiration for Louise’s spiritual life.

The witness of the Church

In every era, the Spirit who acts in the midst of the ecclesial community and guides it to the fullness of life in Christ, raises up living witnesses who give life to the following of Christ in a variety of different situations.

Mary is the perfect witness of Christian spirituality. In this sense the Church call her a model for Christians and a model for the Church (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #21).

The saints, the faithful and the heroic followers of Christ, together with Mary, are a living commentary on the gospel: they are brothers and sisters whom the Church offers to us as a model for Christian living, as inspiring witnesses and as sources for our spirituality.

Louise found in the Blessed Mother, the only mother, an inspiration for the Christian life and she placed Mary before the Sisters as a model for the manner in which they should follow Jesus Christ. Louise also extracted from the lives of the saints some concrete examples for herself and for the Sisters, sending them holy cards at the beginning of the year and reminding them of their patron saints whose witness was to be a continual source of inspiration for the development of their own spiritual life [78].

The poor, members of Christ and teachers

The decisive proof of following Jesus and of living in accord with the Spirit is found in the reality of our love for our brothers and sisters (cf., 1 John 2:7-11, 4:7-16).

From the time that God revealed himself as Father of all people and Jesus identified himself with each and every one of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40), the neighbor has become the sacrament of God: in the face of our brothers and sisters we find the face of Jesus Christ.

From the time that God revealed himself as one who opted in a preferential manner on behalf of the poor and from the time that Jesus identified himself as one who was in solidarity with the poor we discover the face of Jesus in the face of the poor … and this is a great privilege.

The many way of communicating the fruits of the Holy Spirit

In this sense, Louise is truly Vincentian … she made her encounter with the poor and her service of Christ in poor the source of her spiritual experience [79].

There is no substitute for personal experience and so also there is no substitute for spiritual experience. One’s unique personal and existential journey through life, one’s individual formation and relationships, as well as the various events that occur and impact one’s life … all of these provide a distinct dimension to the spiritual experience of the individual person. This is also the manner in which the Holy Spirit communicates his gifts.

In the various circumstances of her life and, indeed, throughout the lengthy journey of her life, Louise allowed herself to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit. The writings of Louise give witness to the various ways in which the fruits of the Holy Spirit were communicated to her and to the Company and to the Church.

Aware of the reality that the Christian life and the following of Jesus Christ are in fact life in the Spirit and through the Spirit, Louise invoked the Holy Spirit with special devotion [80].

The Holy Spirit, the source of Louise’s spiritual experience, guided her to be the Founder (together with Vincent de Paul) of a new charism in the Church … a gift of the Spirit that is given to people so that they might grow in the fullness of Christ.


The human and Christian formation of Louise de Marillac that we have attempted to present here, allows us to understand how a woman in seventeenth century France was able to accomplish such an important service in the education of young girls and women, in the spiritual accompaniment of women, in the Christian animation of the laity, and especially in the formation of the Daughters of Charity. All of those services are visible and clear elements of a solid formation that occurred throughout the whole of Louise’s life.


[1]Gobillon, The Life of Mademoiselle Le Gras (1984), English, Paper 1, p. 15 …

[2] Cf., André Dodin, CM, Vincent de Paul and Charity, translated by Jean Marie Smith and Dennis Saunders, edited by Hugh O’Donnell, CM and Majorie Gale Hornstein, New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 1993, p. 11; R. Mandrou, Francía en los siglos XVII y XVIII [France in the XVII and XVIII Centuries], Labor, Barcelona, 1973; R, Mousnier, Los siglos XVI and XVII [The XVI and XVII Centuries], Destino, Barcelona, 1974.

[3] J. De Vigerie, L’institution des enfants. L’éducation en France, XVI-XVIIIe si?cle, [The institution of children, education in France during the XVI-XVIII centuries], Paris, Calman-Levy, 1978, p. 4.

[4] Letter of August 9, 1660 is found in La Compañia de Las Hijas de la Caridad en sus Orígenes: Documentos, edited by Sisters Elisabet Charpy, DC, Translated by Sister Pilar Pardiñas and some documents are taken from Obras Completas. [Future references to this work will be inserted in the text using the letter “D” followed by the number of the document (not the page number)]. This letter also appears in VINCENT DE PAUL, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germounik, CM (Vol. 1-8 [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 12); Evelyn Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Devitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (2-13b), Julia Denton, DC (Vol 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol.3), Paule Hamwey, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13a), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); anotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009, Vol. VIII, p.428. [Future reference to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number]. This union between the Christian life and learning how to read and write is clearly expressed in “The Order of Day (Observed by the First Daughters of Charity)”: When they have all returned to the house, they shall continue their work, study and then after repeating the principal points of their faith in the form of a short catechism, they shall read a passage of the Holy Gospel so as to stimulate themselves to the practice of virtue and the service of their neighbor in imitation of the Son of God. (LOUISE DE MARILLAC, Spiritual Writing of Louise de Marillac, Edited and Translated from the French by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 726 [A.55]). Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [SWLM] followed by the page number, followed by the number of the letter or the number of the writing and/or manuscript. Cf., Louise received permission to open the first school for girls in order to educate them in good morals, grammar and other pious and honest subjects (SWLM:51 [L.41]).

[5] Cf., Ph. Aries, L’enfant et la vie familial sous l’ancien Régime, Paris, Librarie Plon, 1960, 207-222.

[6] On May 4, 1630 Vincent wrote to Louise: I beg God to strengthen you completely and in such a way that, one day, it may be said that the following words of Holy Scripture apply to you: Mulierem fortem quis inveniet? [Who shall find a valiant woman?]. You understand Latin, so I shall not explain it to you (CCD:I:47).

[7] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p.3.

[8] B. Martínez, Empeñada en un paraíso para los pobres [Creating a Paradise for the poor], CEME, Salamanca, 1995, p. 21.

[9] M. Wade Labarge, La mujer in la Edad Media [A Small Sound of the T9umpet: Women in Medieval Life ], Nerea, San Sebastián, 2003, pp. 146-148.

[10] Chistine de Pisan, Oeuvres poétiques [Poetic Works], Paris; M. Roy, Le livre du dit de Poissy [Life at Poissy], pp. 155-222.

[11] M. Wade Labarge, op.cit., pp. 146-148

[12] We do not want to exaggerate in the same manner as the Dominican, D. Poinsenet in his work, De l’anxiété à la sainteté [From Anxiety to Sainthood], Paris, Taffin-Lefort, 1919.

[13] There Louise heard people speak about another great Dominican, Catherine of Siena, who for quite some time only left the house to cure someone who was infirm and/or to care for and encourage someone who was dying. Louise read her writings (we shall talk about this matter later) and it should be noted that one of Louise’s paintings was a reproduction of the image of the Good Shepherd, an image that Catherine saw during one of her visions.

[14] N. Gobillon, op.cit. p. 7.

[15] D.803; cf., Joseph I. Dirvin, Louise de Marillac of the Ladies and Daughters of Charity, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1970, p. 17.

[16] Antoine Le Gras was secretary to the Queen Regent, Marie de Medicis, and he was thirty-two years old when he married Louise, who was twenty-two.

[17] D.809; cf. Dirvin, op.cit., p. 29, 31.

[18] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 10-11.

[19] Mother Magdalena of Saint Joseph was the Prioress of the Carmel of the Holy Mother of God and Mother Ann Catherine de Beaumont (1595-1656) was the Mother Superior of the Visitation Sisters.

[20] Oh! Our Lord most certainly did well not to choose you for His Mother … (CCD:I:109); Mademoiselle, how good it is to be God's child, since he loves those who have the happiness of possessing this quality in his sight even more tenderly than you love your child --- although you have more affection for him than almost any mother I know! (CCD:I:69).

[21] H. Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusque’à nos jours [Literary history of religious sentiment since the end of the wars of religion until the present time], Paris, 1967-1971 (re-edited), 12 volumes, Vol. I, p. 17.

[22] Dirvin, CM, op.cit., New York, 1970, p. 83-84.

[23] The information that Louise sent to Vincent provides us with a record of the situation of the various Confraternities and enables us to appreciate the quality of Louise’s ministry as she revitalized those groups.

[24] Because of the Foundational Contract, the Missionaries could not preach popular missions in those cities where a bishop resided. Louise de Marillac was the founder and the first president of the Confraternity of Charity in her parish (Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, 1630) and in other parishes in Paris,

[25] Dodin, op.cit., p. 35.

[26] Gobillon, op.cit., p. 19.

[27] During a previous Vincentian Studies Week, Father Benito Martínez dealt with the theme of the guidance that Louise received from various individuals; cf., B. Martínez, San Vicente y la oración de Santa Luisa [Saint Vincent and the prayer of Saint Louise] in Vicente de Paúl, la inspiración permanente [Vincent de Paul, a permanent inspiration], CEME, Salamanca, 1981, p. 315-360.

[28] J. Orcibal, Benôit de Canflield, La Regle de Perfection [Benôit of Canfield, The Rule of Perfection], Paris, Presses Universitaries de Francs, 1982. Benôit of Canfield (1562-1610) was born into a noble, Anglican family in the county of Essex. He converted to Catholicism in 1585 and traveled to France in order to receive a Catholic formation. In 1586 he entered the Capuchin monastery at Saint-Honoré and there he spent the time of his Novitiate and professed his vows. He changed his name from William Fitch to Benôit of Canfield. At the end of his Novitiate, during which time he had some mystical experiences, he traveled to Italy where he completed his studies and was ordained. He returned to France where he distinguished himself as a preacher, professor and Novice Master. He went to England where he was imprisoned because he was a Catholic priest (1599-1602). He then returned to France and as a result of his ministry of spiritual direction, he was able to further his influence. Beginning in 1608 The Rule of Perfection was published in three parts in various editions, with variations in the text. The work, which in 1685 was placed on the list of prohibited books, had a decisive influence on the spirituality of various generations.

[29] H. Jedin, Manual de Historia de Iglesia [Manual of the History of the Church], Herder, Barcelona, 1978, vol. VI, p. 141.

[30] Gobillon, op.cit., p.9; Dirvin, op.cit., p. 22.

[31] Jean-Pierre Camus was born in 1584 in Paris. He obtained a licentiate in Canon Law and a doctorate in Civil Law and was a lawyer in the Parlement. He was ordained in 1609 after a brief experience with the Carthusians. During the same year of his ordination, King Henry IV appointed him the Bishop of Belley. He 1609 he was consecrated a bishop by Francis de Sales and for twenty years was the Ordinary in the Diocese of Belley. In 1629 he collaborated (as coadjutor) with the Archbishop or Rouen. In 1649 he retired and lived at the hospital of the Incurables in Paris where he dedicated his time and his possessions to pious work and service on behalf of the poor. In 1652 he died at that place. He was a prolific writer and published more than two hundred volumes which included works of poetry, novels, etc. Among his more important works we cite here: The Protestants approach the Roman Church and The Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales. Cf., J. Descrains, Bibliographie des aeuvres de Jean-Pierre Camus, évêque de Belley (1584-1652), Société d’études du XVIIe si?cle, Paris, 1971.

[32] It was either during the final months of 1624 or the beginning of 1625 when Vincent de Paul became the spiritual director of Louise de Marillac.

[33] Cf., L. Cognet, Historie de la spiritualité chréstienne [History of Christian Spirituality], Aubier, Paris, 1966, III/2, pp.304-309. Beginning in 1642, the year in which his work Civil Devotion was published, he seemed to have more reservations with regard to the super-eminent way. The accusations that were leveled by some religious obliged him to step back and in his work Mystical Theology (1640) he no longer supported the Rhenish-Flemish spiritualists and their passivity. He no longer liked the distinction he had made between active and passive prayer and stated that every mystical state is both active and passive. The difference is only a matter of perspective: in the active state we are able to perceive our own cooperation more clearly than the divine action whereas in the passive state we perceive the dominance of God’s action. Therefore there is no such thing as a purely passive state. At that time he preferred to use the moral categories of acquired and infused. Contemplation is one dimension of the virtue of prayer and is distinguished, like all the other moral virtues, by the category of acquired and infused. The infused dimension refers to sanctifying grace. Jean-Pierre Camus would remain faithful to the Salesian ideas and never renounced his acceptance of the concepts of Francis de Sales … he defended the idea of pure love and disinterested perfect charity.

[34] D.830; Dirvin, op.cit., p. 39.

[35] D.833; Gobillon, op.cit., p. 6.

[36] D.834; Pierre Coste, The Life and Work of Saint Vincent de Paul, 3 vol., translated from the French by Joseph Leonard, CM, The Newman Press, Westminister, Maryland, 1952; vol. I, p. 190.

[37] D.836; Dirvine, op.cit., p. 41-42.

[38] D.837; Coste, op.cit., I:191.

[39] Letter dated February 22, 1626 [D.840]. One month later, on March 26, 1626, Jean-Pierre wrote even more firmly: I do not know why your spirit is troubled and believes that it is in darkness and abandonment. For what reason? You are no longer divided. You now belong entirely to your heavenly Spouse, having no longer an earthly one. You determined long ago to have no other spouse, and now that he has broken your bonds and when you should offer him a sacrifice of praise, you are astonished. Oh! daughter of little faith, what do you fear? You must be told what Our Lord said to Mary at the resurrection of Lazarus: if you had more confidence, you would see the glory of God upon you [D.842].

[40] Michel de Marillac (1563-1632), an uncle of Louise, participated actively in French politics and held the position of “Keeper of the Seals” (the equivalent of a Minister of Justice) during the years 1626-1630. He would end his days in the prison in Châteaudum as a result of the “Day of the Dupes”. Vincent de Paul referred to Michel as a great servant of God and a very prayerful man (CCD:XI:233). As a distinguished member of the “devout party” and a brother in the Third Order of Saint Francis, he made an important contribution to the establishment of Teresa’s Carmel in France. During the time of his imprisonment he translated the Psalms and the book of Job.

[41] D.826; Coste, op.cit., I:184.

[42] D.827; Coste, op.cit., I:185.

[43] D.828; Coste, op.cit., I:185.

[44] D.829; Coste, op.cit., I:185-186.

[45] Francis was born in 1567 in the Castle of Sales. Despite the plans of his family which were intended to prepare him for some great political mission, Francis studied Law in Paris and in Padua (out of obedience to his father) and combined this with the study of theology (self-taught) and was then charged with the responsibility of Provost in the diocese of Geneva. He was ordained a priest in 1593. His pastoral zeal and his missionary dedication contributed to the fact that he was entrusted with making the ad limina visit in the name of his bishop. Francis was responsible for the conversion of the area of Chablais (where he published leaflets to convince the Protestants and for this reason he is revered as the patron of reporters). At the same time he was an extraordinary preacher in Annecy and was involved in various diplomatic missions in Rome and Paris. He was consecrated a bishop in 1602 and had a decisive influence in the reform of the clergy. He was distinguished as a preacher (both inside and outside of his Diocese) and renowned as a spiritual director (every day he wrote about twenty letters that were addressed to persons seeking his advice). His Introduction to the Devout Life (published in 1609 and in various editions until the definitive edition appeared in 1619) brought together various short treatises that were initially prepared for persons whom he was directing … these writings were received with much enthusiasm. Because of his involvement in his pastoral ministry and in the establishment of the Visitation Sisters (this was done with the collaboration of Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot Chantal, Amnnecy, 1610) it was not until 1616 that he was able to publish The Treatise on the Love of God. After preaching in Grenoble and Paris (1618-1619) and new diplomatic missions that led to travels back and forth from France, he died on December 28th, 1622 in his diocese. Cf. K, Nuovo, Francesco di Sales, il fascino della santità [Francis de Sales, the fascination with holiness], Roma, Città Nuova Editrice, 2002.

[46] Cf., A. Ravier, Saint François de Sales, MISSION ET CHARITÉ, 29-30, (1968), p. 7-25.

[47] Cf., Gobillon, op.cit., p. 7.

[48] Jean Calvet, Louise de Marillac, translated by G.F. Pullen, P.J. Kennedy and Sons, New York, p. 46.

[49] Cf., L. ABELLY, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul: Founder and First Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, 3 vol., edited by John E. Rybolt, CM, translated by William Quinn, FSC, notes by Edward R. Udovic, CM and John E. Rybolt, CM, introduction by Stafford Poole, CM, New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993; J. M. ROMÁN, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, translated by Sr. Joyce Howard, DC, Melisende, London, 1999.

[50] Cf., B. Martínez, Empeñada en un paraíso para los pobres [Creating a Paradise for the Poor], p. 52; the author highlights three objectives as Vincent guided Louise: to convince her of the importance of living with joy; to control her affectivity toward her son and as the years passed, to control her affective displays toward him; to propose another objective with regard to the development of her spiritual life, namely, to free the poor.

[51] Cf., J. Corera, La revolución perdida. El lugar de san Vicente en la historia de la espiritualidad [The lost revolution: the place of Saint Vincent in the hisitory of spirituality] in Diez estudios vicencianos [Ten Vincentian studies], CEME, Salamanca, 1983, p. 285. The autor has no hesitation in referring to the original manner in which Vincent understood Christian spirituality as the lost revolution because of the power of Vincent’s insight which finally in our time is being further developed; cf., G.L. Coluccia, Espiritualidad vicenciana, espiritualidad de la acción [Vincentian spirituality, a spirituality of action], CEME, Salamanca, 1979.

[52] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 3.

[53] Cf., A. Antón, El misterio de la Iglesia: evolución histórica de las ideas eclesiológias [The mystery of the Church: historical evolution of ecclesiological concepts], Madrid, Editorial Católica, 1986 (2 volumes).

[54] D.831; Coste, op.cit., I:187.

[55] The reference here is to the Catechism that Louise wrote but this document has not been translated into English and is not included in the 13 volumes of Correspondence, Conferences, Documents.

[56] Cf., L. Baunard, op.cit., p. 8.

[57] Other works of Saint Catherine include 281 letters and 28 prayers; cf. Obras de Santa Catalina de Siena. El Diálogo. Oraciones y Soliloquios [Writings of Saint Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue, prayers, and colloquies], Editorial Católica, Madrid, 2002 (BAC); J. Salvador Conde (editor), Epistolario de Santa Catalina de Siena [Writings of Saint Catherine of Siena], San Esteban, Salamanca, 1982.

[58] Tomás à Kempis La Imitación de Cristo [The Imitation of Christ], Bíblico Católico, Bogata, 3102a edition, 1987.

[59] Among his writings we mention here: La Imitación de Cristo [The Imitation of Christ], La verdadera Sabiduría [True Wisdom], Sermones a los Novicios Regulares [Sermons to the Novices], Oraciones y Meditaciones sobre la Vida de Cristo [Prayers and Meditations on the Life of Christ], La Encarnación y Vida de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo [The Incarnation and the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ]; Vida de Santa Lydwine, Virgen [The life of Saint Lydwine, Virgin].

[60] If Thomas à Kempis wrote this for the novices, it is probable that he was not interested in publishing it. These ideas would have been his “class notes from which he taught”. The first publication of this book occurred in 1418 and appeared as an anonymous work.

[61] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p.5.

[62] Obras de San Francisco de Sales. Introducción a la vida devota (The Works of Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life), Editorial Católica, Madrid (BAC 109), 1953.

[63] Obras de San Francisco de Sales. Tratado del Amor de Dios (The Works of Francis de Sales:Treatise on the Love of God), Editorial Católica, Madrid (BAC 127), 1954.

[64] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p.5.

[65] The preceding paragraphs were taken from The Spiritual Combat which can be found at the following website:

[66] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 5.

[67] Cf., A. Huerga, Fray Luis de Granada, Editorial Católica, Madrid, 1988 (BAC); Luis de Granada, Vida de Cristo, para conocer, amar e imitar a nuestro Señor Jesucristo [The life of Christ, to know love and imitiate our Lord, Jesus Christ], Sígueme, Salamanca, 2006; Guía de pecadores [Guide for Sinners], Simancas, 2005; Pasión de nuestro Señor Jesucristo [The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ], Sígueme, Salamanca, 2003; Libro de Oracion [Book of Prayer], Editorial Católica, Madrid, 1999 (BAC); Vida de Jesucristo [Life of Jesus Christ], Pialp, Valencia, 1997.

[68] It is not easy to establish which themes in Louise’s letters and writings are dependent on these writings: are these themes and expressions that were extracted from specific works or are these themes and expressions part of the common spiritual culture? This question, which can be asked with regard to any spiritual writing, is all the more difficult to answer in the case of Louise who never intended to redact, in a systematic manner, her spiritual experience.

[69] Cf., Saint Teresa, Obras Completas [Complete Works], Monte Carmelo, Burgos, 1990 (Text revised and annotated by Father Tomás de la Cruz).

[70] Cf., Saint John of the Cross, Obras Completas (Complete Works), Monte Carmelo, Burgos, 1990 (edition prepared by Eulogio Pacho).

[71] Cf., M. Dupuy, Bérulle, Dondren, Olier, Mission et Charité 29-30 (1968), pp. 48-66.

[72] Cf. J. Sastre, ¿A qué convocamos a los jóvenes? A seguir a Jesús con toda la persona y toda la vida, [To what are we convoking young people? To follow Jesus with their whole life and for their whole life], Ediciones San Pío X, Madrid, 1988; A. Cencini, Vida consagrada, itinerario formativo [Consecrated life, a formative journey], San Pablo, Madrid, 1994; AA.VV., Formar hoy para la vida religiosa de mañana [Forming today for religious life tomorrow], Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid, 1991; P. Finkler, El formador y la formación para la Vida Religiosa [The Formator and formation for religious life], Ediciones Paulinas, Madrid, 1984; J.M. Avendaño, Beber en las propias fuentes [Drink from their own Wells], Sal Terrae (1998), 812.

[73] Cf. S. Galilea, El camino de la espiritualidad [The path of spirituality], Bogotá, Ediciones Paulinas, 1982; G. Gutiérrez, Beber en su propio pozo [We Drink from our own Wells] in el itinerario espiritual de un pueblo [The spiritual journey of a people], CEP, Lima, 1983.

[74] We do not believe that this can be accomplished with a deductive method since Louise did not speak about her process or her spiritual experience.

[75] Cf., C.J. Delgado, La oración de Santa Luisa in San Vicente de Paúl y la oración, CEME, Salamanca, 2000, pp. 179-236.

[76] Cf., E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus, la historía de un viviente, Cristiandad, Madrid, 1981.

[77] Cf., C. J. Delgado, Luisa de Marillac y la Iglesia [Louise de Marillac and the Church] in Luisa de Marillac [Louise de Marillac], CEME, Salamanca, 1991, pp. 279 -312.

[78] SWLM:123-123 [L.113B], 190 [L.168], 278 [L.241], 314 [L.276], 350-351 [L.345], passim.

[79] So that in all our actions we may honor Our Lord by the witness he wishes us to bear to him by performing the actions he accomplished on earth and to which, on account of his love for us, he will apply the merits of his own. He wills by this means that Christians experience in this life that union with God which he has merited for us. To this end, I shall strive, with the help of his grace … to look upon all the occasions for doing some good for my neighbor not only in terms of the recompense which Our Lord has promised to me because he considers such acts as done to himself, but also in light of the fact that the neighbor has been given to me in the place of Our Lord, by means of a love which his goodness knows and which he has revealed to my heart, although I am unable; to put it into words (SWLM:821 [A.26]).

[80] Cf., C.J. Delgado, Louise de Marillac ante el Espíritu Santo [Louise de Marillac and the Holy Spirit], ANALES (1998), pp.26-41.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM