Jeanne Guyon

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon
Born 18 April 1648[1]:6
Montargis, in the Orléanais
Died 9 June 1717 (aged 69)

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, although she never called herself a Quietist. 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.

Early life and marriage

Guyon was the daughter of Claude Bouvier, a procurator of the tribunal of Montargis, south of Paris and east of Orléans. 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 welltodo 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. Prior to her marriage she had wanted to become a nun, but was denied by her parents.

In 1664, when she was 15 years old, after turning down many other proposals, she was forced into an arranged marriage to a wealthy gentleman of Montargis, Jacques Guyon, aged 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, and her son. Her daughter and father then died within days of each other in July 1672. 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 in 1676. After twelve years of an unhappy marriage (in which she had borne five children, of whom three had survived), Madame Guyon had become a widow at the age of 28.[1]

During her marriage, Guyon became introduced to mysticism by Fr. François La Combe, a Barnabite, and was instructed by him.[1]

Life after marriage

After her husband's death, Madame Guyon initially lived quietly as a wealthy widow in Montargis. In 1679, through circumstances, she re-established contact with François La Combe, the superior of the Barnabite house in Thonon in Savoy.[2]

After a third mystical experience in 1680, Madame Guyon felt herself drawn to Geneva. The Bishop of Geneva, Jean d’Arenthon d’Alex, persuaded her to use her money to set up a house for “new Catholics” in Gex, in Savoy, as part of broader plans to convert Protestants in the region. In July 1680, Madame Guyon left Montargis with her young daughter and travelled to Gex.[2]

The project was problematic, however, and Madame Guyon clashed with the sisters who were in charge of the house. The Bishop of Geneva sent Father La Combe to intervene. At this point, Guyon introduced La Combe to a mysticism of interiority. While her daughter was in an Ursuline convent in Thonon as a pensioner, Madame Guyon continued in Gex, experiencing illness and great difficulties, including opposition from her family. She gave over guardianship of her two sons to her mother-in-law and renounced her personal possessions, keeping a sizeable annuity for herself.[2]

In consequence of the effects her mystical ideas produced, however, 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 her final captivity, to live with her son in a village in the Diocese of Blois. There she passed some fifteen years surrounded by a stream of pilgrims, many from England and Scotland, and spending her time writing volumes of correspondence and poetry.[3] She was also 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. Among the pilgrims, Milord Chewinkle stayed in Blois with Guyon for 7 years. One visitor, Pierre Poiret, went on to publish many of Guyon's works.

One of her greatest works, published in 1717 by Pierre Poiret as: Ame Amante de son Dieu, representée dans les emblems de Hermannus Hugo sur ses pieux desirs - features her poetry written to the striking and popular emblem images of the Jesuit Herman Hugo and the Flemish master Otto von Veen.[4] Guyon herself states that she took these emblems into the Bastille.[5] This poetry appears unabridged and in English for the first time in: The Soul, Lover of God by Nancy James.

Mme Guyon

Beliefs about prayer

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."[6]

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 ..."

Grace vs. works

In the Christian dispute regarding grace and works, Guyon defended the belief that salvation is the result of grace rather than works. 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, farseeing egoism. … Works …can never justify, because they are always an action from motives."[7] In her autobiography, for example, Madame Guyon criticized selfrighteous 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.[1]

These righteous persons expect God to deliver and save them as payment for their good works. In contrast to the selfsufficient, 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."[1] God's "bounties are effects of His will, and not the fruits of our merits."[1]

Death and influence

In 1704, her works were published in the Netherlands,[8] 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.

Supplement to the life of Madame Guyon

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.

Prison autobiography

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.



Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Jeanne Guyon
  • 3 vols, Paris, 1791
  • The Autobiography of Madame Guyon, tr Thomas Taylor Allen, (London, 1897)
  • De La Motte Guyon, Jeanne Marie Bouvier (196-?). Autobiography of Madame Guyon. Chicago: Moody Press. ISBN 9781150106705. OCLC 16978800.  Check date values in: |date= (help) (date and translator uncertain; additional ISBNs for Moody translation: ISBN 0802451357, ISBN 9780802451354)
  • La Vie de Madame Guyon écrite par elle-même, ed Benjamin Sahler, (Paris: Dervy-Livres, 1983).
  • 2 vols, Paris, 1790
  • Les Torrents et Commentaire au Cantique des cantiques de Salomon, ed Claude Morali, (Grenoble: J Millon, 1992)
  • The Song of Songs of Solomon with Explanations and Reflections Having Reference to the Interior Life by Madame Guyon, trans James W Metcalf, (New York: AW Dennett, 1879).
  • Les Torrents et Commentaire au Cantique des cantiques de Salomon, ed Claude Morali, (Grenoble: J Millon, 1992)

Other modern editions


Biographical publications in English

Biographical publications in French

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 De La Motte Guyon, Jeanne Marie Bouvier. Autobiography of Madame Guyon. Chicago: Moody Press.
  2. 1 2 3 Ward, Patricia (2005). "Madame Guyon (1648-1717)". In Lindberg, Carter. The Pietist Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Blackwell Publishing. p. 166. ISBN 0-631-23517-5.
  3. Nancy C. James, 'Pure Love of Madame Guyon', (University Press of America, 2007), p98.
  4. Nancy C. James, 'The Soul, Lover of God', (University Press of America, 2014)
  5. Nancy C. James, Sharon D. Voros, 'Bastille Witness', (University Press of America, 2011)
  6. Short and Easy Method of Prayer
  7. The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 70
  8. The Low Countries As a Crossroads of Religious Beliefs, Arie-Jan Gelderblom, Jan L. de Jong and Marc Van Vaeck, editors, Brill, 2004

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), a publication now in the public domain.

External links

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