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QUIETISM. Quietism is a form of spirituality that emphasizes a direct relationship with God in a state of quietness of the soul (Latin quies ). The ideas behind Quietism are to be found in many religions of the world. In the West, they influenced the mysticism of the Christian Middle Ages, notably that of the devotio moderna (modern devotion) movement. Quietist ideas reappeared during the sixteenth century in the alumbrados (illuminism) movement, which greatly worried the Spanish authorities. These notions reemerged in Italy in the 1680s when religious groups, self-proclaimed quietisti, promoted transformation in God and total spiritual passivity. The famous Spanish theologian Miguel de Molinos (16281696) encouraged these ideas in La guia espiritual (1675; The spiritual guide), ideas that were soon condemned because they seemed not only to call into question the hierarchy, authority, and dogma of the Roman Catholic Church but also to tolerate a dangerous moral bent toward sinfor committing sin could not trouble Quietism's intimate relationship with God. Molinos was tried by the Holy Office in 1685, and his teachings were condemned in 1687 by Pope Innocent XI for their Quietist negation of human powers and for what were regarded as their injurious theological and moral consequences. In Italy, works suspected of Quietism were included in the Index of Prohibited Books, and many trials followed. The hunt for Quietisti soon expanded all over Europe and contributed to the eighteenth-century waning of the mystical movement in France, Italy, and Spain.

In France, opponents of mysticism used the Roman condemnation to fight leading mystical figures such as Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon (Madame Guyon du Chesnoy; 16481717), the Barnabite preacher known as Father La Combe (16401715), and François de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon, archbishop of Cambrai (16511715). They were all accused of suspicious links with the Italian Quietisti, of doubtful morality, and of disturbing theological concepts. First, La Combe was charged and imprisoned, then Guyon was condemned. Influenced by the Spanish mystic John of the Cross (15421591), Guyon actively promoted a mysticism based on the annihilation of the soul in Les torrents spirituels (1682; Spiritual torrents) and in Moyen court et très facile pour l'oraison (1685; Short and easy method to pray). Appealing at first to Parisian dévot circles and to the Marquise de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV, she saw her writings condemned for their Quietism and found herself imprisoned many times between 1688 and 1703. Nevertheless, her ideas influenced various European audiences: Catholics and deists from France, Protestants from England, Scotland, and Switzerland, German Pietists, as well as the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (17031791), all claimed to be her disciples. The charges against Madame Guyon served also to put on trial Archbishop Fénelon to the point that his doctrine of Pure Love was equated with Quietism (he was on trial not only for being associated with Madame Guyon but also for political reasons). Fénelon promoted an unconditional love for God, so detached from any expectation of reward that one freely accepts to love God, even though convinced of one's own damnation. Fénelon, who had taken not only the side of Madame Guyon against her detractors, but also a political stand against Louis XIV's absolutism, was in turn accused of Quietism. Fénelon's formidable opponent, Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, openly accused him of Quietist views and bad morality, leading to his condemnation and silencing in 1699. But, as French historian Jacques Le Brun notes, nothing was farther from Fénelon's austere doctrine of Pure Love and perfect charity than the accusation of total passivity.

See also Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne ; Catholic Spirituality and Mysticism ; Fénelon, François ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Inquisition ; Methodism ; Pietism .


Armogathe, Jean-Robert. Le quiétisme. Paris, 1973.

Beaude, Joseph, et al. Madame Guyon. Grenoble, 1997.

Cognet, Louis. Crépuscule des mystiques: BossuetFénelon. Paris-Tournai, 1991.

Gondal, Marie-Louise. Madame Guyon (16481717): Un nouveau visage. Paris, 1989.

Laude, Patrick D. Approches du quiétisme: Deux études suivies du Moyen court et très facile pour l'oraison de Madame Guyon (texte de l'édition de 1685). Paris, Seattle, and Tübingen, 1991.

Le Brun, Jacques. Le pur amour de Platon à Lacan. Paris, 2002.

Lehmann, Hartmut, et al. Jansenismus, Quietismus, Pietismus/im Auftrag der Historischen Kommission zur Erforschung des Pietismus. Göttingen, 2002.

Meyer, Jean. Bossuet. Paris, 1993.

Richardt, Aimé. Fénelon. Ozoir-la-Ferrière, France, 1993.

Thompson, Phyllis. Madame Guyon, Martyr of the Holy Spirit. London, 1986.

Dominique Deslandres


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QUIETISM . Although some of the important insights of Quietisma movement distinguished from the generic sense of the word quietistic, which implies withdrawal or passivity with regard to politics or ethicscan be found in medieval devotion, in sixteenth-century Spanish spirituality, and in various mystical sources, both Christian and Buddhist, the usual meaning of the word is restricted to the late seventeenth-century devotional movement in the Catholic Church in Italy and France. The main figure in the history of Quietism was Miguel de Molinos (16281696), a Spanish priest who settled in Rome at the end of 1663. He became an enormously popular spiritual adviser, especially among nuns and women of high society. His new contemplative way of Christian perfection was summed up (without some of its esoteric aspects) in a book he published simultaneously in Spanish and Italian: Guida Spirituale, che disinvolge l'anima e la conduce per il interior camino all'acquisito della perfetta contemplatione e del ricco tesoro della pace interiore (1685), often referred to as his Spiritual Guide.

Though supported by a number of theologians and, for a time, probably by Innocent XI, the Guide was soon attacked by the Jesuits for its total disregard of meditation, spiritual asceticism, vocal prayers, and, implicitly, the cults of Jesus and of the Virgin. The criticism ended with the arrest of Molinos on the order of the Holy Office, a long trial, and his condemnation in May 1687. He spent the rest of his life in prison. On November 20, 1687, the papal bull Coelestis pastor anathematized sixty-eight of his statements. The material of the condemnation was taken not only, and not mainly, from his published works, but also from about twelve thousand of his letters and from his oral teaching; in addition to the enumerated theological errors, it included the charge of sexual licentiousnesssomething Molinos inferred from his own doctrines and apparently frequently practiced with his penitent women.

The new devotion (the word Quietists had been used since the early 1680s by the enemies of Molinos) was based on the belief that any Christian can achieve an entirely disinterested insight into God; this insight is permanent, internally undifferentiated, and free from images and affects, and it involves a previous destruction of one's own will and consciousness; it is the work of divine grace, which, after the self has emptied itself, totally fills the void and becomes the sovereign owner of the higher part of the soul; as a result, the animal part of the soul as well as the body are no longer the responsibility of the person. This state of perfectly passive contemplation is not only the highest form of religious life, but makes other, more specific forms of worshipthe cults of Jesus and of the saints, the acts of repentance and hope, confession, mortifications, prayers, and even concern about one's own salvationeither useless or even harmful insofar as they divert the soul from union with God. And although contemplation is at the beginning inspired by the love of God, it eventually abolishes love, desires, will, and all separate affects. What remains is not an affect, but God himself present in the soul. While it is God's gift, this contemplation is in fact given to everybody who makes a sufficient self-destructive effort, and it does not depend on education, sex, or status. Once acquired, it is effectively permanent. Since it involves a total separation of the soul from the body, the acts of the latter do not disturb it; in fact the devil often inflicts violence on the body of a contemplative and compels it to perform externally sinful acts, in particular, of a sexual character, but those acts cannot break the union with God, as they do not affect the soul. Sexual permissiveness is thus justified. The contemplative, being absolutely devoid of his will and transformed into God, cannot do good works on his own initiative or have any intention to help his neighbors; he can perform such works only on a direct order from God.

Molinos's doctrine was obviously unacceptable to the church not only because of its suspect moral consequences, but because it practically abrogated the entire external cult, along with discipline, intellectual effort, and the variety of virtues, merits, and religious acts. It reduced the religious life to one habitual act for which the mystic no longer needs the church and which is proclaimed to be the only genuine way of union with God. Further, although Molinos did not consider himself a rebel, but rather a reformer within the church, his devotional program, especially since it was not confined to monasteries but was also propagated among the laity, undermined the role of the church as a mediator between God and humans.

Molinos had a few less well-known predecessors, such as the Spanish mystic Jean Falconi (15961638), the blind theologian from Marseilles, François Malaval (16271719), and the bishop of Jesi, Pier Matto Petrucci (16361701), all of whom preached the superiority of passive and unreflective contemplation over meditations and vocal prayers, none of whom, however, extended the theory of mystical kenosis (kenosis meaning the relinquishment of the form of God by Jesus in becoming a man and suffering death) to the acceptance of "diabolic violence" or to the point of advising that we should not fight against temptations.

The more philosophically elaborated variety of Quietism arose on French soil, thanks to the works of Jeanne-Marie de la Motte Guyon (16481717) and François Salignac de Fénelon. Guyon had already been trained in mystical devotion when she met, in 1680, the Barnabite father François La Combe, who had been converted in Rome to Molinos's way of perfection. She lived in Paris after 1686, having previously organized small conventicles of mystics in various places. Among her many works, amounting to over forty volumes in the collected writings, the most popular were Moyen court et très facile de faire oraison and Les torrens spirituels. With highly developed prophetic claims, Guyon believed that God had entrusted her with the mission of a total renewal of Christianity. The contemplative devotion in her description involves all the previous Quietist tenets except for the theory of diabolic violence, but adds some metaphysical ideas. A totally passive contemplation, implying the absolute annihilation of the self, is said to be the only proper way of Christian life. At the highest stage the soul loses everything that is personal or human (laisser agir Dieu) and is transformed into God, like a river after reaching the ocean. The self, indeed the very fact of separate existence, is the source of evil, or rather is evil itself, and, after the annihilation, the soul attains the status of God before the act of creation. The soul returns to the original source of being where no place is left for differentiation: "At the very beginning one has to die to everything by which we are something." And this form of being cannot be lost; the deification is inalienable. Indifference to everything other than God, to sin, to the past and to the future, to life and death, to one's own and others' salvation, indeed to divine grace, all this naturally accompanies the blessed state of theōsis. The entire variety of religious worship, both external and internal, is done away with once the soul reaches perfection. Priests and the visible church are nothing but obstacles.

Accused of spreading heretical doctrines, Guyon was imprisoned at the beginning of 1688, but she was released after a few months. She then experienced a period of celebrity, during which she enjoyed the friendship of Fénelon and Mme. de Maintenon. The attacks did not stop, however, and a special committee headed by the influential prelate Jacques Bossuet organized a campaign against the Quietist doctrine. Although both Fénelon and Guyon signed the articles confirming the church's traditional doctrine in points where it seemed to be incompatible with the Quietists' devotion, the debates, accusations, pamphlets, and intrigues continued. They ended with the formal condemnation, in a breve (1699) of Innocent XI, on twenty-three erroneous statements on contemplation and caritas pura (disinterested love of God, with no regard to one's salvation) taken from Fénelon's book Explication des maximes des saints sur la vie intérieure. Fénelon immediately bowed to the verdict. Guyon was imprisoned from 1695 to 1702.

The Quietist mysticism was certainly incompatible with the teaching and educational system of the Roman church; implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, it questioned the very need of the visible church. The condemnation of Molinos and Fénelon, however, had a negative impact for many decades on the development of mystical spirituality in the Catholic world.

See Also

Fénelon, François.


Brémond, Henri. Apologie pour Fénelon. Paris, 1910.

Cognet, Louis. Crépuscule des mystiques: Bossuet, Fénelon. Tournai, Belgium, 1958.

Dudon, Paul. Le quiétiste espagnol, Michel Molinos, 16281696. Paris, 1921.

Guerrier, Louis. Madame Guyon: Sa vie, sa doctrine, et son influence. Orléans, France, 1881.

Knox, Ronald A. Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries. New York, 1950.

Kolakowski, Leszek. Chrétiens sans église. Paris, 1969.

Petrocchi, Massimo. Il quietismo italiano del seicento. Rome, 1948.

Schmittlein, Raymond. L'aspect politique du différend Bossuet-Fénelon. Baden-Baden, Germany, 1954.

Leszek Kolakowski (1987)


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The name given to a spiritual doctrine that, as proposed by Miguel de molinos, was condemned as heretical, suspect, etc., by the decree of the Holy Office of August 28 and the constitution Caelestis Pastor of Innocent XI of Nov. 20, 1687 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer [Freiburg 1963] 220169). Quietism is best described as an exaggeration of orthodox spirituality. It is, at base, a recurrence of the ultrasupernaturalism that has plagued and stimulated the Church from its earliest years. It is thus akin to and different from every other form of illuminism and enthusiasm that has existed in the Church in the past.

History. The Messalians of Asia Minor in the fifth and sixth centuries claimed to practice continual prayer and encouraged a spirit of complete indifference. In the 13th century, the monks of Mt. Athos were called "hesychasts," or quietists, but they seem to have been imbued with a more Oriental kind of self-oblivion. In the West, the Brethren of the Free Spirit were said to claim an entire passivity along with an antinomian outlook on morality. The Beghards were condemned in 1312 for holding that meditation on the Sacred Humanity was a descent from contemplation. The Devotio Moderna of medieval Germany, which would rather be able to feel compunction than define it, did much to separate theology from mysticism. As a result, the area of man's highest aspirations was left open to sentimentalists who felt called to contemplation by experiences not transcending their own emotional upheavals, and quietists who neglected everything to drift in their spiritual daydreams became self-proclaimed experts in matters spiritual.

The antecedents, then, of 17th-century quietism in Italy are manifold, but it would be impossible to trace a causal nexus positively influencing Molinos and his adherents. It is true that the aberrations of the alumbrados of southern Spain were condemned only in 1623; and although many of their confessed tenets are similar to those of Molinos, the movement was vigorously repudiated by him. It was rather the contemporary scene that provided the fertile ground for quietism. The 17th century in European spirituality was devoted to schools and to controversy. The Jansenist crisis was just abating when a new struggle developed between the adherents of the Ignatian method of meditation and those who saw in it the denial of the contemplation espoused by the great Spanish and French mystics of the preceding century. The protagonists exaggerated the approved spiritual doctrines, literalized the symbols and figures of the canonized authors, and in general made man's approach to God in prayer a matter of partisanship.

Foremost in the ranks of those defending the primacy of contemplation were Francis Malaval, the gentle recluse of Marseilles, Pier Matteo Petrucci, later to become a curial cardinal, and the enigmatic figure of Miguel de Molinos; all were to see their writings placed on the Index. Since none of these authors ever claimed to set forth a new conception of the spiritual life, it is only by reference to the orthodox doctrine of approved writers that one can recognize their version as a caricature of Catholic mysticism.

Quietist Teachings. Whereas solid doctrine holds that there is a state of contemplative passivity in which God acts in man by His operating grace and which one reaches normally only after exercising himself in the ascetical life for a long time, the quietists held, paradoxically, that the way of passive contemplation is acquired at will be the very cessation of every operation. Using the language of SS. Teresa and John of the Cross, the quietist opened the door to illuminism, since he looked upon his own intellectual activity as a refusal to adore God in spirit and in truth, for it is God who alone must work in the soul. So avid were they in removing the mental images on which meditation feeds that, for them, even the consideration of the sacred humanity itself was a distraction to be rejected. In the words of Malaval: "Thy Humanity itself, my Saviour, not being regarded as it should have been, deceived the Jews, tempted the apostles and every day keeps people of real devotion away from perfection." This contemplative gaze, then, became the sole measure of true mysticism and was for the quietist a single act unbroken even by sleep.

Granting their error concerning the fundamentals of contemplation, it is therefore not surprising to discover the bizarre nature of their practical moral conclusions. This way of obscure faith offers no consolations, for these are a betrayal; cares nought for the yearnings for perfect happiness, for they would be an expression of self-will and not God's; and despises any reflection on self, for that is a base infidelity to grace. As a result, the movement leaves no opportunities for the acts of virtues; prayers of petition, examinations of conscience, even confession itself become impossible for the soul perfected in the way of darkness and aridity, for these elements necessarily involve conscious activity on the soul's part.

And so the ultimate moral aberration is reached. Molinos implicitly advocated, and in his recantation admitted teaching publicly, that an exterior action objectively sinful could be consistent with the state of contemplation. The history of his arrest, conviction, and punishment can find its explanation only in the conclusion that he practiced, to some degree, what he preached. With this, 17th-century quietism in Italy came to an end. Its doctrine of love, disinterested even to the point of despair, provided the spark for the famous semiquietist debate that rocked the Church in France in the last decade of the 17th century.

See Also: guyon, jeanne marie de la motte; fÉnelon, franÇois de salignac de la mothe; contemplation; hesychasm.

Bibliography: p. pourrat, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 13.2:153781. p. dudon, Le Quiétiste espagnol: Michel Molinos (Paris 1921). r. a. knox, Enthusiasm (New York 1950) 231318. r. garrigoulagrange, The Three Ages of Interior Life, tr. t. doyle, 2 v. (St. Louis 194748) 2:289292.

[t. k. connolly]


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Quietism. Used broadly of any spirituality that minimizes human activity and initiative, leaving all to the will of God. More strictly, it is applied in Christianity to the teaching of certain 17th-cent. writers, especially Miguel de Molinos (condemned in 1687), but also Mme. Guyon and Archbishop Fénelon. In its essence, it takes teaching about the importance of simple surrender to God's will (characteristic of contemplation) out of its context as the end-result of a life of moral discipline and participation in the sacraments. Christian perfection is attained by contemplatio passiva infusa, in which the powers of the self are suspended, to be replaced by God himself.


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quietism Mystical Christian movement begun by a Spanish priest, Miguel de Molinos, in the 17th century. It achieved great influence in 17th-century France and in the Wesleyan movement in 18th-century Britain. Its adherents believed that only in a state of absolute surrender to God was the mind able to receive the saving infusion of grace.


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Quietism (in the Christian faith) devotional contemplation and abandonment of the will as a form of religious mysticism. Recorded from the late 17th century, the term originally denoted the religious mysticism based on the teachings of the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (c.1640–97); also called Molinism.