Guyon, Madame (1648–1717)
Jeanne Marie Bouvières de la Mothe, a celebrated mystic
and quietist who suffered persecution at the hands of the
Roman Catholic Church. She was born at Montargis on April
13, 1648, and showed an early and passionate interest in martyrdom
and religious exercises. At age 16 she was forced into
a marriage with the wealthy M. Guyon, more than 20 years her
senior, in whose household she was exposed to insult and cruelty.
Broken in spirit, she turned to religion and consulted a
Franciscan, who advised her to seek God in her heart rather
than in outward observances.
From that time on, she became a mystic, aiming at the suppression
of all human hopes, fears, and desires and the attainment
of a completely disinterested love of God. She embraced
every form of suffering, physical and mental, and even eschewed
spiritual joys.
In 1680 Guyon’s husband died and she was released from
bondage. She embraced the doctrine of quietism. ‘‘In losing the
gifts,’’ she writes in her autobiography, ‘‘she had found the
Giver, and had reached an ideal state of resignation and selfsuppression.’’
She went to Paris, expounded her theories with
earnestness and charm, and gathered an illustrious circle about
her. There also she made friends with fellow mystic Francois
Fénélon.
But the persecutions of the church increased. She requested
that a commission be appointed to examine her doctrine and
writings. Three commissioners were chosen, among them Bossuet,
the champion of the church, her erstwhile friend and now
her bitter enemy. Her writings were condemned, and she was
incarcerated at Vincennes. For four years she lay in the dungeons
of the Bastille, while Bossuet used every means to malign
her name and doctrine.
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In 1702, her health broken, she was released and sent to
Blois, where she died June 9, 1717. Her last years were blessed
with peace and resignation and a continued acceptance of her
trials.
Sources
Guyon, Jeanne Marie. Autobiography of Madame Guyon. St.
Louis B. Herder, 1897.