Guyon, Jeanne-marie Bouvier De La Mothe
Guyon, Jeanne-Marie Bouvier De La Mothe, an eminent French mystic, was born at Montargis April 13, 1648. She was educated in a convent, and in early youth showed signs of great quickness of mind. At seventeen she wished to take the veil, but her parents would not consent. In 1664 she was married to M. Jacques Guyon, a rich parvenu, for whom she had no affection. Her marriage was not a happy one, in consequence of the tyranny of her husband and mother-in-law, who, acting under the advice of her confessors, endeavored to withdraw her from the inward prayer and retirement to which, at the age of twenty, she began to addict herself. Vanity and coquetry were her besetting sins, and, to conquer them, she thought it necessary to purify herself by "good works" and bodily mortifications. She read largely in mystical writers, especially Kempis, Francis of Sales, and the life of Madame Chantal, whose self-inflictions she imitated. A Franciscan monk taught her to "look within instead of without" for peace, and to "seek God in her heart." Her doubts and fears fled: "I was on a sudden so altered that I was hardly robe known either by myself or by others." Madame Guy-on dated this conversion from July 22, 1668. Her domestic troubles .continued, lint she could now bear them patiently. In 1676 her husband died, leaving her with three young children. Her religions feelings now increased in intensity. She believed that she had certain interior communications of the divine will, but was often deeply distressed about the state of her soul. In 1672, on the anniversary of her conversion, she made "a marriage contract" with Christ, and signed it in her own blood! She formed an intimate acquaintance with Lacombe, a Barnabite mystic, who, from being her teacher, became her follower. In 1681, on St. Magdalene's Day, on occasion of a mass, she says, "My soul was perfectly delivered from all its pains." She soon after went to Paris, was exhorted in what she considered a miraculous manner to devote herself to the service of the Church, and went to Geneva to "convert" Protestants there, but, finding no success or sympathy, she went to Gex in 1681, to an establishment founded for the reception of converted Protestants. Her family then urged her to resign the guardianship of her children, which she did, giving up all her fortune to them, retaining only sufficient for her subsistence. Soon after, D'Aranthon, bishop of Geneva, wished her to bestow this pittance upon an establishment, of which she was to be made prioress. She declined, and left Gex for the Ursuline convent at Thonon, where Lacombe became her "father confessor." Here she had a short period of unmingled enjoyment in dreams and reveries of bliss. Both Lacombe and Madame Guyon soon, however, began to gain purer ideas of the Christian life, and of the true nature of faith; but the errors of Romanism and Inysticism were too closely incorporated with her mental habits to be got rid of. She preached to the Ursulines at Thonon not only "salvation by faith," but "indifference to life, to heaven, to hell, in the entire union of the soul with God." She returned to Gex, and there, in prayer at night, it was revealed to her that she was "the spiritual mother of Lacombe ;" her relations to him became more intimate than ever, and gave occasion afterwards to great but groundless scandal. Lacombe seems to have been a weak man: he finally died in a madhouse. The bishop of Geneva became alarmed, and sought to be rid of his dangerous proteges. Madame Guyon now wandered for some years (1683-1686), visiting Turin, Grenoble, and other places. At about this time also she began to write. Her first work (begun at Gex) was Les Torrents Spirituels (published in her Opuscules, Cologne, 1704, 12mo). The "torrents" are souls tending to lose themselves in the ocean of God. The work exhibits the writer as a" devout enthusiast, but principally demonstrates her unfitness as a pattern or teacher of experimental godliness." At Grenoble she found herself "suddenly invested," as she expresses herself, "with the apostolic state," and able to discern the condition of those that spake with her, so that, one sending another, she was occupied from six in the morning till eight at night speaking of divine things. "There came," she says, "great numbers from all parts, far and near, friars, priests, men of all sorts, young women, married women, and widows; they all came one after the other, and God gave me that which satisfied them in a wonderful manner, without my thinking or caring at all about it. Nothing was hidden from me of their inward state and condition .... I perceived and felt that what I spake came from the fountain- head, and that I was only the instrument of him who made me speak." Her exposition of Solomon's Song and of the Apocalypse appeared in 1684 at Grenoble. Her notes were written under a quasi inspiration: she had dreams, visions, and marvellous manifestations. "Before I wrote I knew nothing of what I was going to write, and after I had written I remembered nothing of what I had penned," she says, in the singular autobiography which she has left of herself. Another of her works of this period was Moyen court et tres facile pour l'oraison, which was published, and rapidly ran through five or six editions. The "Quietism" taught in these writings made her many enemies among the priests. In July, 1686, accompanied by Lacombe, she returned to Paris, where persecution and tribulation awaited the wanderers.
The "Quietism" of Molinos was condemned by the pope in 1687, and there was no peace or rest for the mystics or their abettors in Paris. In 1688 Madame Guyon was shut up (chiefly through the instigation of her brother, the Barnabite Lamothe, who bitterly hated her doctrines) in the convent of the Visitation at Paris. In 1689 Madame de Maintenon procured her release, and she soon gathered round her a circle of admiring and devoted friends, among whom was Fenelon, who formed an affection for her which was "stronger than persecution or death." A storm soon arose: Hartay, archbishop of Paris, condemned her writings, and other bishops followed his example. The outcry became general. Madame Guyon demanded of the king, through Madame de Maintenon, a dogmatical examination of her writings. A commission was appointed, consisting of Bossnet, Fenelon, the abbe Tronson, and the bishop of Chalons. -At the end of six months thirty articles were drawn up by Bossuet, sufficient, as he deemed, to prevent the mischief likely to arise from .Quietism, which were signed by Madame Guyon, who submitted at the same time to the censure which Bos-suet had passed on her writings in the preceding April. Notwithstanding this submission, she Was subsequently involved in the persecutions of Fenelon, the archbishop of Cambrai, and in 1695 was imprisoned in the castle of Vincennes, and thence removed to the Bastile, enduring the harshest treatment, and subjected to repeated examinations. In 1700 she was released, when she retired to Blois, to the house of her daughter, where she passed the remainder of her days in quiet and repose, in acts of love and charity, and in writing books. /% reproach of her enemies and persecutors ever escaped her lips. All the neighborhood loved her; and her bitterest foes admitted that all the charges ever brought against her moral character had been false and scandalous. Her last will begins as follows: "I protest that I die in the faith of the Catholic, apostolical, Roman Church; having no other doctrines than hers; believing all that she believes, and condemning, without restriction, all that she condemns." She died June 9, 1717. John Wesley sums up, in his usual clear way, the character of Madame Guyon's religious experience as follows: The grand source of all her mistakes was this — the not being guided by the written word. She , did not take the Scriptures for the rule of her actions; at most, they were but a secondary rule. Inward impressions, which she called inspirations, were her primary rule. The written word was not a lantern to her feet, a light in all her paths. No; she followed another light — the outward light of her confessors, and the inward light of her own spirit. It is true, she wrote many volumes upon the Scriptures. But she read them not to learn, but to teach; and therein was hurried on by the rapid stream of her overflowing imagination. Hence arose that capital mistake which runs through all her writings, that God never does, never can purify a soul but by inward and outward suffering. Utterly false! Never was there a more purified soul than the apostle John. And which of the apostles Suffered less — yea, of all the primitive Christians? Therefore, all that she says on this head, of 'darkness, desertion, and privation,' and the like, is fundamentally wrong. This unscriptural notion led her into the unscriptural practice of bringing suffering upon herself — by bodily austerities; by giving away her estate to ungodly, unthankful relations; by not justifying herself, than which nothing could be more unjust or uncharitable; and by that unaccountable whim (the source of numberless sufferings which did not end but with her life), the going to Geneva to convert the heretics to the Catholic faith. And yet with all this dross, how much pure gold is mixed! So did God wink at involuntary ignorance. What a depth of religion did she enjoy! of the mind that was in Christ Jesus! What heights of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost! How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness and unbounded resignation ! So that. upon the whole, I know not whether we may not search many centuries to find another woman who was such a pattern of true holiness'' (Wesley, Works, 7:562, 563). See also Curry in Methodist Quarterly Review, July, 1848, which contains a discriminating estimate of Upham's Life and Religious Opinions of Madame Guyon (N.Y. 1848- 1850, 2 vols. 12mo). Comp. Christian Review, iii, 449; 16:51; American Biblical Repository, ix,, 608 (third series); New Englander, 6:165.
Madame Guyon's principal works are, Moyden court et tres facile pour l'oraison (Lyons, 1688 and 1690; often reprinted; translated into English, London, 1703, 12mo): — Le Cantlque des Cantiques interprete selon le sens mystique (Grenoble, 1685; Lyon, 1688, 8vo): — Les torrents spirituels (first published in the Opuscules spirituals de Mine. Guyon (Cologne, 1704, 12mo): — Les livres de l'Ancien et du Nouveau Testament, traduits en francais avec des explications et des reflexions qui re-gardent la vie interieure (Cologne, 1718-1715, 20 vols. 8vo): — Recueil de Poesies spirituelles (Amst. 1689, 5 vols. 8vo): — Cantiques spirituels, ou emblemes sur l'amour divin (5 vols.): — Discours chretiens et spirituels sur divers sujets qui regardent la vie interieure (Cologne, 1716; Paris, 1790, 2 vols. 8vo): — Lettres chretiennes et spirituelles sur divers sujets qui rejardent la vie interieure, ou l'esprit du vrai christianisme (Cologne: 1717, 4 vols. 8vo). She left MSS. containing her Justifications, and a number of mystic verses. The Vie de Mme. Guyon, ecrite par elle-meme (autobiography), which was published after her death, is perhaps not wholly her own work. It is generally thought to have been compiled by Poiret from documents furnished by her, first to the official of the archbishop of Paris, Cheron, and afterwards to the bishop of Meaux, at the time of the conferences of Issy. The book appeared first at Cologne in 1720 (3 vols. 12mo). Poiret also published her whole works (Amsterdam, 1713-22,39 vols. 8vo). See, besides the works above cited, Herzog, Real- Encyklopadie, v, 426 sq.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 22:934 sq.; English Cyclopaedia.