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Guyon, Madame (1648-1717)

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 self-suppression." 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.

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.

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