Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe
Madame GUYON


Madame GUYON, (1648–1717), French Quietist writer. Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe was born at Montargis. After a disturbed childhood, in 1664 she married Jacques Guyon, an invalid and 22 years her senior. The unhappiness of her life with her husband and mother-in-law turned her increasingly to a life of intensive prayer and she began to have mystical experiences; she found encouragement and lifelong friendship in the Duchesse de Béthune. After her husband’s death (1676), she met a Barnabite priest, François Lacombe (1643–1715), who became her spiritual director. In his company she undertook a five years’ journey through France, endeavouring to propagate her methods of prayer.

Soon after their return to Paris (1686), and the condemnation of M. de Molinos (1687), they were suspected of a similar heresy and of immorality and both imprisoned. Mme Guyon was released through the efforts of Mme de Maintenon, who invited her to lecture at her girls’ school at St Cyr. F. Fénelon, whom she met in 1688 and with whom she corresponded from that time, found her mystical experiences authentic; J. B. Bossuet, however, distrusted her illuminism, though he judged her sincere and wrote her a doctrinal letter in 1694.

In the following year she requested a theological commission to clear her of the suspicion of heresy. The Conference of Issy (1695), in which Fénelon took part and defended her, condemned her writings and she was imprisoned in various convents and finally in the Bastille (1698). She was released in 1703 on making her submission and spent the rest of her life in Blois under the close supervision of her son. Her chief mystical writings include Moyen court et très facile de faire oraison (1685) and Le Cantique des cantiques (1688). She taught complete detachment from the world, indifference to suffering and misfortune, self-abasement, and submission to God’s will in pure love. She also developed a devotion to the Child Jesus. Her prayer of quietude and simplicity found an echo among Quakers, in J. Wesley, and among German Pietists.

Works ed. by her disciple, P. Poiret (39 vols., ‘Cologne’, 1712–22 [completed by friends after his death]). Modern edns. by B. Sahler of her correspondence with Fénelon (Paris, 1982) and of her autobiog. (ibid., 1983). Part 4 of her autobiog., Récits de captivité, first ed. M.-L. Gondal (Grenoble [1992]). Eng. tr. of her autobiog. by T. T. Allen (2 vols., London, 1897); of her Poems by W. Cowper (Newport Pagnell, 1801). M.-L. Gondal, Madame Guyon (1648–1717): Un nouveau visage (Textes, Dossiers, Documents, 12 [1989]). M. Masson, Fénelon & Mme Guyon: Documents nouveaux et inédits (1907). M. de la Bedoyere, The Archbishop and the Lady: The Story of Fénelon and Madame Guyon (1956). F. Mallet-Joris, Jeanne Guyon [1978]. H. *Bremond, Apologie pour Fénelon (1910), pp. 3–150. R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm (1950), pp. 319–52. Pourrat, 4, pp. 231–66. L. Cognet in Dict. Sp. 6 (1967), cols. 1306–36, s.v. See also bibl. to fénelon and quietism.

Quietism. The term ‘Quietism’, which is often used loosely of any system of spirituality minimizing human activity and responsibility, is usually restricted to the teaching of certain 17th-cent. writers, esp. that of M. de Molinos, and, to a lesser degree, Mme Guyon and Abp. Fénelon.

The fundamental principle of Quietism is its condemnation of all human effort. Its exponents seem to have exaggerated earlier teaching, such as that of St Teresa of Avila, on the ‘prayer of quiet’. In their view, man, in order to be perfect, must attain complete passivity and annihilation of will, abandoning himself to God to such an extent that he cares neither for Heaven nor Hell, nor for his own salvation. This state is reached by a certain form of mental prayer in which the soul consciously refuses not only all discursive meditation but any distinct act such as desire for virtue, love of Christ, or adoration of the Divine Persons, and simply rests in the presence of God in pure faith. As this passive prayer expresses the height of perfection, it makes any outward acts of mortification, almsgiving, going to confession, etc., superfluous. Once a man has attained to it, sin is impossible, for then all he does or thinks is the work of God. The devil may, indeed, tempt him and even compel him to commit actions that would be sinful in others, but when his will has become completely annihilated they cease to be sins in him; on the contrary, the man who has reached this state must carefully guard against being disquieted by such distractions, lest he should be disturbed in his state of mystic death.

Quietism was condemned in the person of M. de Molinos by Innocent XI in his bull ‘Coelestis Pastor’ of 19 Nov. 1687. Sixty-eight propositions from Molinos’ writings were condemned. Other notable exponents of Quietist teaching were P. M. Petrucci (1636–1701) and the Barnabite, F. Lacombe, the director of Mme Guyon.

H. Heppe, Geschichte der quietistischen Mystik in der katholischen Kirche (1875). J.-R. Armogathe, Le quiétisme (Que sais-je?, 1545; 1973). M. Petrocchi, Il quietismo italiano del seicento (Storia e Letteratura, 20; 1948). J. Orcibal, La Rencontre du Carmel thérésien avec les mystiques du nord (Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études, Section des Sciences Religieuses, 70; 1959), and other works. R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm (1950), esp. pp. 231–87. Pourrat, 4 (2nd edn., 1928), pp. 128–295. E. Pacho, OCD, and J. Le Brun in Dict. Sp. 12 (pt. 2; 1986), cols. 2756–842, s.v., with bibl. See also works cited under fénelon, molinos, and guyon.


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