Marian Consecration: A Little History

To whet the appetites of our readers for our conference theme, I present here a small chunk of my own talk, which is the “title cut” of the conference, since it has the same name: “Total Consecration to Mary: The Remedy for our Ills.” This little section is a micro-history of Total Consecration to Mary.

What is total consecration?

I will not take the time to answer this question in any detail for this audience. I assume that the greater number of my listeners are familiar with what I am speaking of, and have made their Marian consecration. However, if there are any here who are not familiar with the subject matter, we offer various talks and books which detail it and give practical instructions on how to make one’s consecration. For clarity’s sake I am speaking in general of total consecration to Jesus through Mary. In specific, I am speaking of that form of Marian consecration that is spelled out in detail by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716).

Because I have just invoked his name for the first time, this is a good occasion for me to say a few words about Saint Louis Marie, not about his life, but about his relation to Marian consecration. We should avoid mistakenly thinking of him as a complete innovator in this devotion. While certain particulars of formulae, method, and development are no doubt his, he himself insists that what he puts forth in True Devotion to Mary is not a new devotion but an ancient one.

159. (d) This devotion to our Lady is a sure way to go to Jesus and to acquire holiness through union with him.

(1) The devotion which I teach is not new. Its history goes back so far that the time of its origin cannot be ascertained with any precision, as Fr. Boudon, who died a holy death a short time ago, states in a book which he wrote on this devotion. It is, however, certain that for more than seven hundred years we find traces of it in the Church.

St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny, who lived about the year 1040, was one of the first to practise it publicly in France as is told in his life. [Saint Odilo it was, by the way, who gave the Church All Souls Day.]

Cardinal [Saint] Peter Damian relates that in the year 1076 his brother, Blessed Marino, made himself the slave of the Blessed Virgin in the presence of his spiritual director in a most edifying manner. He placed a rope around his neck, scourged himself and placed on the altar a sum of money as a token of his devotion and consecration to our Lady. He remained so faithful to this consecration all his life that me merited to be visited and consoled on his death-bed by his dear Queen and hear from her lips the promise of paradise in reward for his service.

Caesarius Bollandus mentions a famous knight, Vautier de Birback, a close relative of the Dukes of Louvain, who, about the year 1300, consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin.

This devotion was also practised privately by many people up to the seventeenth century, when it became publicly known.

Probably unknown to Saint Louis is that Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo (+667), may well have been the first in the West to dub himself a slave of Mary. In his defense of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, he addresses Mary thus:

For this reason I am your slave, because your Son is my Lord. Therefore you are my Lady because you are the slave of my Lord. Therefore, I am the slave of the slave of my Lord, because you have been made the Mother of my Lord. Therefore, I have been made a slave because you have been made the Mother of my Maker [De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae, 12: PL 96, 108]. So in this way one refers to the Lord that which serves his slave. So, what is delivered up to the Mother redounds to the Son; thus passes to the King the honor that is rendered in the service of the Queen [c. 12: PL 96, 108]. Grant that I may surrender myself to God and to you, to be the slave of your Son and of you, to serve your Lord and you [c. 12: PL 96, 105].

An earlier Eastern tradition is represented by one “Melodius” — who I take to be Saint Romanos the Melodist (c. 490-556) — and who “addresses the Blessed Virgin as ‘the hope of your servants.’” (Jesus Living in Mary, pg. 1178.)

Saint John Damascene (675-749) continues that great tradition of Byzantium when he says that, “to serve Mary and be Her courtier is the greatest honor we can possibly possess; for to serve the Queen of Heaven is already to reign there, and to live under Her commands is more than to govern” (as cited in Saint Alphonsus, The Glories of Mary).

To all this, I cannot resist adding this African curiosity: The fifteenth-century Emperor of the Ethiopians, Zara Yaqob, responded to a sort of anti-Marian and iconoclast heresy in his Empire, known as “Stephanism,” by making the sectaries tattoo crosses to their bodies, and also bear a tattoo that read, “I deny the devil, I am a slave of Mary.” How far back this tradition of calling oneself a “slave of Mary” goes in Ethiopia is not known to me. At any rate, Gabra Maryam (Slave of Mary) has been used as a proper name among Ethiopian Christians. (Multiple sources, including this one.)

Father Emile Neubert gives evidence in his book, Life of Union with Mary, that the devotion of total consecration to Mary (or of Jesus to Mary, same thing) was practiced and passed down by people utterly unacquainted with Saint Louis Marie’s teaching, not only before that great Marian Apostle authored his works, but even after. It is my considered opinion, and one agreed upon by learned men I have consulted on the matter, that the phenomenon of Marian Consecration in general is something that was introduced into the Church purely by the Holy Ghost through the lived experience of very devout souls. How else can we explain Spaniards and Greeks, unknown to one another, using similar language and concepts?

Of course, as Saint Louis Marie gives it to us, it is a Spanish devotion as refined by the so-called French School of spirituality, which comes to us from such men as the founder of the French Oratory, Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629), the founder of the Sulpicians, Father Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657), the founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (the Eudists), Saint John Eudes (1601-1680), and Father Henri-Marie Boudon (1624-1702), author of the book, Only God, the Holy Slavery of the Admirable Mother of God.

Saint Louis, as it were, stands on the shoulders of these giants by giving his own wonderful refinements to their lofty spiritual doctrine.

It is my sincere hope that you would join us at our Conference to learn more and deepen your devotion to Jesus through Mary. For more information including a full list of speakers and their topics CLICK THIS LINK. If you can not attend, audio and/or video recordings of the talks will be taken and can be purchased from our store.