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|Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon|
Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon
|Born||18 April 1648:6|
Montargis, in the Orléanais
|Died||9 June 1717|
Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (commonly known as Madame Guyon) (18 April 1648:6 – 9 June 1717) was a French mystic and one of the key advocates of Quietism. Quietism was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, and she was imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 after publishing a book on the topic, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer.
Guyon was the daughter of Claude Bouvier, a procurator of the tribunal of Montargis. Of a sensitive and delicate constitution, she was sickly in her childhood and her education was neglected. Her childhood was spent between the convent, and the home of her well–to–do parents, moving nine times in ten years. Guyon's parents were very religious people, and they gave her an especially pious training. Other important impressions from her youth that remained with her came from reading the works of St. Francis de Sales, and from certain nuns, her teachers. At one time she wanted to be a nun, but soon changed her mind. She was also diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age.
When she was 16 years old, after turning down many other proposals, she married a wealthy gentleman of Montargis, Jacques Guyon, age thirty eight. During her twelve years of marriage, Guyon suffered terribly at the hands of her mother-in-law and maidservant. Adding to her misery were the deaths of her half sister, followed by her mother, her beloved son, and of her daughter and father who died within days of each other. Guyon continued belief in God's perfect plan and that she would be blessed in suffering. To this end she was, when she bore another son and daughter shortly before her husband's death. After twelve years of an unhappy marriage, Madame Guyon had become a widow at the age of 28.
During her marriage, Guyon became introduced to mysticism by Fr. François La Combe, a Barnabite, and was instructed by him.
After her husband's death, Madame Guyon felt herself drawn to Geneva. She left her children and repaired to Annecy, to Thonon, where she was to find Father Lacombe in July 1681 and again place herself under his direction. She began to disseminate her mystical ideas, but, in consequence of the effects they produced, the Bishop of Geneva, D'Aranthon d'Alex, who had at first viewed her coming with satisfaction, asked her to leave his diocese, and at the same time expelled Father Lacombe, who moved to the Bishop of Vercelli.
Madame Guyon followed her director to Turin, then returned to France and stayed at Grenoble, where she spread her doctrine more widely with the publication of "Moyen court et facile de faire oraison" in January, 1685. The Bishop of Grenoble, Cardinal Le Camus, was perturbed by the appeal her ideas aroused and she left the city at his request, rejoining Father Lacombe at Vercelli. In July the following year the pair returned to Paris, where Madame Guyon set about to gain adherents for her mystical theories. The timing was ill-chosen; Louis XIV, who had recently been exerting himself to have the Quietism of Molinos condemned at Rome, was by no means pleased to see gaining ground, even in his own capital, a form of mysticism, which, to him, resembled that of Molinos in many of its aspects. By his order Father Lacombe was shut up in the Bastille, and afterwards in the castles of Oloron and of Lourdes. The arrest of Madame Guyon, delayed by illness, followed on 29 January 1688; brought about, she claimed, by Father de La Motte, her brother, and a Barnabite.
She was not released until seven months later, after she had placed in the hands of the theologians, who had examined her book, a retraction of the propositions which it contained. Some days later she met, at Beyne, in the Duchess de Béthune-Charrost's country house, François Fénelon, who was to be the most famous of her disciples. She won him by her piety and her understanding of the paths of spirituality. Between them there was established a union of piety and of friendship into which no element ever insinuated itself that could possibly be taken to resemble carnal love, even unconscious.
Through Fénelon the influence of Madame Guyon penetrated, or was increased in, religious circles powerful at court—among the Beauvilliers, the Chevreuses, the Montemarts—who were under his spiritual direction. Madame de Maintenon, and through her, the young ladies of Saint-Cyr, were soon gained over to the new mysticism. This was the height of Madame Guyon's fortune, most of all when Fénelon was appointed on 18 August 1688 as the tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, the king's grandson. Before long, however, the Bishop of Chartres, in whose diocese Saint-Cyr happened to be, took alarm at the spiritual ideas which were spreading there. Warned by him, Madame de Maintenon sought the advice of persons whose piety and prudence recommended them to her, and these advisers were unanimous in their reprobation of Madame Guyon's ideas. Madame Guyon then asked for an examination of her conduct and her writings by civil and ecclesiastical judges. The king consented that her writings should be submitted to the judgment of Bossuet, Louis-Antoine, Cardinal de Noailles, and of Tronson, superior of the Society of Saint-Sulpice.
After a certain number of secret conferences held at Issy, where Tronson was detained by a sickness, the commissioners presented in thirty-four articles the principles of Catholic teaching as to spirituality and the interior life (four of these articles were suggested by Fénelon, who in February had been nominated to the Archbishopric of Cambrai). But on 10 October 1694 François de Harlay de Champvallon, the Archbishop of Paris, who had been excluded from the conferences at Issy, anticipated their results by condemning the published works of Madame Guyon. She, fearing another arrest, took refuge for some months at Meaux, with the permission of Bossuet, then bishop of that see. After placing in his hands her signed submission to the thirty-four articles of Issy, she returned secretly to Paris. At Paris, the police, however, arrested her on 24 December 1695 and imprisoned her, first at Vincennes, then in a convent at Vaugirard, and then in the Bastille, where on 23 August 1699, she again signed a retraction of her theories and an undertaking to refrain from further spreading them. From that time she took no part, personally, in public discussions, but the controversy about her ideas only grew all the more heated between Bossuet and Fénelon.
Madame Guyon remained imprisoned in the Bastille until 21 March 1703, when she went, after more than seven years of captivity, to live with her son in a village in the Diocese of Blois. There she passed some fifteen years in silence and isolation, spending her time writing poetry.
She was still venerated by the Beauvilliers, the Chevreuses, and Fénelon, who never failed to communicate with her whenever safe and discreet intermediaries were to be found.
Guyon believed that one should pray all the time, and that in whatever one does, one should be spending time with God. "Prayer is the key of perfection and of sovereign happiness; it is the efficacious means of getting rid of all vices and of acquiring all virtues; for the way to become perfect is to live in the presence of God. He tells us this Himself: "walk before me, and be thou perfect" Genesis 17:1. Prayer alone can bring you into His presence, and keep you there continually."
As she wrote in one of her poems: "There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer ... But now I seek that constant prayer, In inward stillness known ..."
In the Christian dispute regarding grace and works, Guyon defended the belief[dubious ] that salvation is the result of grace rather than works alone. Like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, and Martin Luther, she thought that a person's deliverance can only come from God as an outside source, never from within the person himself or herself. Accordingly, God is supposed to decide who is to be saved, regardless of anyone's efforts or industry. He then, as a result of His own free will, bestows his favour as a gift. This predestination was opposed by the Pelagians, who considered it to be irrational in that God would favour a wicked sinner over a good person. However, according to Schopenhauer, "if it were works, springing from motives and deliberate intention, that led to the blissful state, then, however we may turn it, virtue would always be only a prudent, methodical, far–seeing egoism. … Works …can never justify, because they are always an action from motives." In her autobiography, for example, Madame Guyon criticized self–righteous people who try to gain heaven through their works. She praised lowly sinners who merely submitted themselves to God's will. Of the righteous, she wrote:
…the righteous, supported by the great number of works of righteousness he presumes to have done, seems to hold his salvation in his own hands, and regards heaven as the recompense due to his merits.… His Saviour is, for him, almost useless.
 These righteous persons expect God to deliver and save them as payment for their good works. In contrast to the self–sufficient, righteous egoists, the sinners who have selflessly submitted to God "are carried swiftly by the wings of love and confidence into the arms of their Saviour, who gives them gratuitously what He has infinitely merited for them." God's "bounties are effects of His will, and not the fruits of our merits."
In 1704, her works were published in the Netherlands, becoming very popular. Many English and Germans visited her at Blois, among them Johann Wettstein, and Lord Forbes. She died at the age of 68, in Blois, believing that she had died submissive to the Catholic Church, from which she had never had any intention of separating herself.
Her published works, the Moyen Court and the Règles des associées à l'Enfance de Jésus, were both placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1688. Fénelon's Maximes des saints was also branded with the condemnation of both the Pope and the bishops of France.
Her disciples at the Court of Louis XIV were persons of piety and of exemplary life. Madame Guyon's most devout disciples after her death were to be found among the Protestants and especially the Quakers. Evangelicals such as Charles Spurgeon  and Johan Oscar Smith were also influenced. Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee writings were very much influenced by Madame Guyon. Her works were translated into English and German, and her ideas, forgotten in France, have been read in Germany, Switzerland, England, and America.
An 18th century manuscript, hand-written in French, entitled "Supplement to the life of Madame Guyon" exists in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This anonymously written manuscript, translated recently by Nancy C. James and placed in an appendix in "The Pure Love of Madame Guyon" - the supplement sets forth many fresh details about the Great Conflict which surrounded Madame Guyon. The author of the manuscript provides new insight into Guyon's theology and life.
Madame Guyon's prison autobiography was thought to have been lost to history, perhaps destroyed by Louis XIV or his agents in the prison hierarchy or by the church itself. However, in 1992 Marie-Louis Gondal published the first French edition of the handwritten prison memoirs in: "Récits de captivité". This prison autobiography is now available in English for the very first time in: "Bastille Witness: The Prison Autobiography of Madame Guyon" from Nancy C. James, a reliable Guyon scholar, and Sharon Dahlgren Voros, a professor of French at the US Naval Academy. The autobiography provides fresh insight into Guyon's theology and suffering in her own words.
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This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), a publication now in the public domain.
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