Quietism is the doctrine that the highest character of virtue consists in the perpetual contemplation and love of supreme excellence. It recognises this excellence only in God, and maintains that perfect union with God must be effected, and that it is best attainable by a state of passive rest or quiet, more or less absolute. The quietude aimed at, begiinning with an act of so-called resignation of self, is a state of mental inactivity, without thought, reflection, hope, or wish. In this state it is supposed that the soul is brought so immediately into the divine presence as to be merged in it by an essential union. Quietism, accordingly, is not peculiar, for it requires no basis of Christology. It results from every philosophical system by an excess or perversion of contemplation, when the ethical tendency of the mind is too weak to preserve a just balance with the contemplative. Vaughan (Hours with the Mystics, vol. 1, ch. 2, p. 43) observes that "the same round of notions, occurring to minds of similar make under similar circumstances, is common to mystics in ancient India and in modern Christendom." He gives a summary of Hindf mysticism, that it
(1) lays claim to disinterested love, as opposed to a mercenary religion;
(2) reacts against the ceremonial, prescriptive, and pedantic literalism of the Vedas;
(3) identifies in its pantheism subject and object, worshipper and worshipped;
(4) aims at ultimate absorption into the Infinite;
(5) inculcates, as the way to this dissolution, absolute passivity, withdrawal into the inmost self, cessation of all the powers — giving recipes for procuring this beatific torpor or trance;
(6) believes that eternity may thus be realized in time;
(7) has its mythical, miraculous pretensions, i.e. its theurgic department;
(8) and, finally, advises the learner in this kind of religion to submit himself implicitly to a spiritual guide — his yaru.
Of these articles, the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth give quietism, properly so called; and it is a question whether the manifestation of this doctrine in Christianity adds anything essential to the definition of article five, so as to save Christian quietism from the pantheistic conclusions of articles three and four.
In the Christian Church this mystical theology is defined by its professors to be that doctrine which reveals to man the hidden essence of God's Being. The way to this wisdom is in three stages, the purgative, the illuminative, the unitive; the first purging the will from low affections, the second communicating to the intellect the knowledge of God, and the third leading the soul thus prepared to union and deification.
The table at head of page 846, and taken from Arnold's Historia Theologioe Mysticoe, gives this theology in outline. Some parts of it need an initiated interpreter.
It is evident that this. scheme, if at all carried out to its legitimate consequences, leads directly to the error of those enthusiasts who supposed the kingdom of Christ to be an earlier and inferior dispensation, the reign of the Spirit the later and perfect dispensation. Men aretaught by it, not the superiority of love to knowledgein St. Paul's sense, but that they may become more perfect by disregarding the knowledge of an earlier state, by becoming again children in understanding. To that earlier state are referred the power of Christ'sresurrection and the sacrament of the holy eucharist. What the higher sacrament of unction is does not appear. In working out this scheme, Molinos taught as follows:
1. The perfection of men, even in this life, consists in an uninterrupted act of contemplation and love, which contains virtually all righteousness; that this act once effected lasts always, even during sleep, provided that it be not expressly recalled; whence it follows that the perfect have no need to repeat it.
2. In this state of perfection the soul ought not to reflect either on God or on itself, but its powers ought to be annihilated, in order to abandon itself wholly and passively to God.
3. Perfect prayer is this state of quietude, in which there should be absolutely no thought or wish or hope. Vocal prayer, confession, all external things, are but hindrances.
4. In prayer the first act of faith, the first intention of resignation, prevails to constitute the whole an act of worship. "One may persevere in prayer though the imagination be carried about with various and involuntary thoughts." These are not to be actively resisted, but merely neglected.
5. The violent and painful suggestions of impatience, pride, gluttony, luxury, rage, blasphemy, cursing, despair, and an infinite number of others, are God's means for purifying those whom he calls. The soul ought not to be disquieted on account of them.
An example of pure quietism may be quoted in illustration of these principles: "Gregory Lopez having for the space of three years continued that ejaculation, Thy will be done in time and in eternity, repeating it as often as he breathed, God Almighty discovered to him that infinite treasure of the pure and continued act of faith and love, with silence and resignation; so that he came to say that, during the thirty-six years he lived afterwards, he always continued in his inward man that pure act of love, without ever uttering the least petition, ejaculation, or anything that was sensible or sprung from nature" (Spiritual Guide [transl. 1699], p. 75).
Molinos is charged by Romanist writers with teaching antinomianism. The charge does not appear to be well founded, but that his teaching regarding evil thoughts is most dangerous there can be no doubt. At the same time, the truth of which it is a perversion is very discernible.
Molinos proceeds to his doctrine of self-annihilation through what he calls infused contemplation. The means whereby the soul ascends to infused contemplation are two — the pleasure and the desire of it. The steps of it are three-satiety when the soul is filled with God; intoxication, an excess of mind and elevation of soul arising from satiety of divine love: security, when the soul is so drenched with love that it loses all fear, and would willingly go to hell if it knew such to be the will of God. Six other steps there are — fire, union, elevation, illumination, pleasure, and repose. But there are many other steps besides, as ecstasies, raptures, meltings, deliquiums, glee, kisses, embraces, exaltation, union, transformation, espousing, and matrimony; "which," Molinos says, "I omit to explain, to give no occasion to speculation." Madame Guyon, however, does explain: "The essential union is the spiritual marriage, where there is a communication of substance, when God takes the soul for his spouse, unites it to himself, not personally, nor by any act or means, but immediately reducing all to a unity. The soul ought not, nor can, any more make any distinction between God and itself. God is the soul, and the soul is God" (Explicat. du Cant. des Cant.).
Molinos passes through annihilation to the same result of deification. The soul that would be perfect passes, with the divine aid, into the state of nothingness: from the spiritual death the true and perfect annihilation derives its original; insomuch that when the soul is once dead to its will and understanding, it is properly said to have arrived at the perfect and happy state of annihilation, which is the last disposition for transformation and union. The soul no longer lives in itself, because God lives in it. The soul being in that manner the nothing, the Lord will be the whole in the soul.
Quietism aims at an entire abstraction from all externals, and seeks to put the spirit of man into direct and immediate union with the very nature of the Godhead. From this there inevitably results, instead of the Christian doctrine of the communion of saints, the doctrine of a pantheistic identification of the creature with the Creator, and an ultimate absorption of the soul into the substance of God. The Quietists call it indeed a vulgar error to say that in the prayer of rest the faculties operate not, and the soul is idle and inactive; but they assert at the same time that the soul operates neither by means of the memory nor by the intellect, nor by ratiocination, but by simple apprehension (Molinos, Spiritual Guide, 1, 12). What an active apprehension is when none of the powers of the mind are exerted is not explained. The Quietists think to attain that repose of the mind which is the result of exertion, and that quiet rest in God which follows from the earnestness of meditative prayer, by altogether surceasing from the exertion and superseding the earnestness. Consequently, the mind being reduced to inactivity, the body has sway; and the state of perfect quietude, supposed to be a waiting for the divine access, becomes that state (which may be produced by "mesmeric" process) in which the body suffers or simulates catalepsy, and the mind apes a divine trance. Quietism becomes mental sleep.
There is a remarkable similarity between the mysticism of the Quietists and of the Plotinian school of philosophy. The aim of Plotinus was to enter into the immediate vision of Deity. "Unconditioned Being, or the Godhead, cannot be grasped by thinking or science, only by intuition. In this pure intuition, the good, or the absolute being, gazes upon itself through the medium of our own spirits. To close the eve against all things transient and variable, to raise ourselves to this simple essence, to take refuge in the absolute, this must be regarded as the highest aim of all our spiritual efforts" (Prof. C. A. Brandis, in Smith's Biog. Dict. art. Plotinus, p. 427). Plotinian contemplation may find a place in the system of John Smith and Henry More, but it may also pass as readily into the reveries of Molinos. It is to be considered whether the tendency of such contemplation is not to reduce the Father manifested in the Son to the cold abstraction of the Plotinian Deity.
In the Church there have been two kinds of mysticisml, one a churchly mysticism, which allies itself with the ordinances and rites of the Gospel; the other subjective or inward, which gradually rejects more and more all that is external, and even at last passes beyond the contemplation of the humanity of our Lord, and the sacraments which make men partakers of his body, to "seek a resting-place beyond all that is created in the Logos as he existed prior to the incarnation and creation" (Dorner, On the Person of Christ, II, i, 233). This unchristianizing of Christianity, this presentation of the great drama without its central figure, this removal of God Incarnate from the mystery of godliness, as the result of a perverted or depraved mysticism; is exhibited more than once in the history of the Church. The words quoted from Dorner on the subject were used regarding Maximus Confessor. We may resume and continue them. "True love and knowledge unite to seek a resting-point beyond all that is created, beyond even the humanity of Christ: their final goal is the pure and bare (γυμνός) Logos, as he existed prior to the incarnation and the creation. It is clear that in the last instance Christ is hereby reduced to the position of a mere theophany, and that the historical significance of his person is destroyed. The same thing appears also from his application to the professedly highest stage of the words. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now know we him no longer. So far was Maximus Confessor from attributing eternal significance to the God-man that he regarded the humanity of Christ rather in the light of a hindrance to the full knowledge and love of the pure God — a hindrance which must be surmounted by those who aim to reach the highest stage" (Dorner, l.c., and see note 48 there referred to). So in Italy, Marsilius Ficinus and John Pico of Mirandola turned Christianity in many respects into a Neo-Platonic theosophy.
In the article Mysticism (q.v.) this subject is more opened, and the schools of mysticism of the Greek and Latin churches classified. In the article Hesychasts (q.v.) is related the quietism of the Greek Church. The directions of the abbot Simon for producing the visions of quietism (supposed to have been written in the 11th century) are still in existence: "Alone in thy cell, shut thy door, and seat thyself in a corner; raise thy mind above all things vain and transitory; recline thy beard and chin on thy breast; turn thy eyes and thy thoughts towards the middle of thy belly, the region of the navel; and search the place of the heart, the seat of the soul. At first all will be dark and comfortless; but if you persevere day and night, you will feel an ineffable joy; and no sooner has the soul discovered the place of the heart than it is involved in a mystic and ethereal light." At present it is only necessary to point out that these Hesychasts had the same rule as the Hindlt Quietists, viz. that to produce the state of abstraction the eves must be steadily fixed on some particular object. The Hindus presented the tip of the nose, the Hesychasts the navel.
In German mediaeval mysticism a quietistic element is met with. It, however, borders on pantheism, very much as the pantheism of Dionysius the Areopagite borders on quietism.
The real founder of quietism in the Church is thus reputed to be Molinos (q.v.), a Spanish priest, whose opinions, published at Rome towards the end of the 17th century, called forth violent opposition from the authorities of the Church, but met with many supporters in Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. He seems to have held "that religion consists in the perfect tranquillity of a mind removed from all external and finite things, and centred in God, and in such a pure love of the Supreme Being as is independent of all prospect of interest or reward." In more modern times Fenelon and Madame Guyon have taught quietism. They are, however, usually called Semi-Quietists. The two following propositions from Fenelon's Maxims of the Saints were condemned bv Innocent XII in 1699:
1. There is attainable in this life a state of perfection in which the expectation of reward and the fear of punishment have no place.
2. Souls may be so inflamed with love to God, and so resigned to his will, that if they believed that God had condemned them to eternal pain, they would absolutely sacrifice their salvation. Madame Guyon thought she had learned a method by which souls might be carried to such a state of perfection that a continual act of contemplation and love might be substituted for all other acts of religion. She came forward as one of the chief promoters of quietism in France, and hence arose a celebrated controversy between Bossuet and Fenelon — the former of whom attacked and the latter defended several of that pious lady's opinions. See the dissertation by M. Bonnel, De la Controverse dle Bossuet et Fenelon sur le Quietisme (Nevers, 1850, 8vo); Dr. Burnet, Tracts (1689, 12mo), vol. i; Recueil des Diverses Pieces concernant le Quietisme et les Quietistes (1688); Weisman, Hist. Ecclesiastes § xvii.