Heroines of the faith: Madame Guyon

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon, usually known as Madame Guyon, was a French mystic. Born in 1648, she spent a number of years imprisoned for her beliefs, which the Catholic Church deemed heretical.

Madame Guyon was a sickly child  in a religious family. When she was young she wanted to be a nun, seeking God within her Catholic faith through times of private prayer, devotional reading and visiting the poor. She married at sixteen years of age (her father arranged her marriage to a man, 22 years her senior, and she didn’t meet her husband until three days before the wedding), and was widowed twelve years later. She lost many of her family, too, including two of her five children to smallpox, before her husband died.

After her husband’s death, Jeanne found herself a wealthy widow. She put most of her money into trust for her children and planned a new life with the assistance of Abbe Francois La Combe, her spiritual mentor.  She moved to Geneva to be near him, and together they worked to relieve suffering through helping the poor and developing hospitals. At this point Jeanne began writing books. However, her views were so controversial that the Bishop of Geneva asked them to leave.

What were Madame Guyon’s views that were so controversial? She believed that prayer should be constant–that all the time one could live in the presence of God, and that was the way to become perfect . She also believed in salvation by faith rather than works–that it was a gift from God.

Quietism, (defined as a system of religious mysticism teaching that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by annihilation of the will and passive absorption in contemplation of God)  was soon declared a heresy. La Combe was imprisoned for 27 years until his death. Madame Guyon was also charged and imprisoned, but due to the intervention of friends, was released.

Soon, Madame Guyon met Fenelon, a prestigious priest, and together  with others they met secretly at the Court of Versailles for times of intimacy with God and to pray for the conversion of King Louis XIV and spiritual reformation in France. However, she was betrayed, and when it was discovered she was a Quietist, she was incarcerated once more–this time with false accusations of adultery with La Combe–in a solitary, bare cell in the Bastille, a notorious French prison. All the time protesting her innocence of immorality, Madame Guyon was finally released seven years later following a prophetic word to the King. She had to be carried out on a litter.

Jeanne’s message was the importance of dying to self, that Christ himself desires to live his life out through us, that suffering is a gift, that joy can be found in any circumstances.

Jeanne’s ministry increased from this point. People from many different nations visited her cottage seeking spiritual help. She influenced many both personally and through her writings–John Wesley, Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Jessie Penn-Lewis to name a few.

She died at the age of 68, faithful to the Catholic Church to the end.

Photo credit: Christianity.com

Information for this post taken from here and here

2 thoughts on “Heroines of the faith: Madame Guyon”

  1. Heresy indeed, though perhaps not for the same reasons the Catholic Church would have claimed. Passivity is absolutely not what we are made for; we’re not to be spineless jellyfish just going with the flow, affecting no one and nothing, not speaking out or doing anything. And annihilation of the will is more Buddhist than Christian; God wants children who *choose* to obey Him in loving relationship, not robots without wills. Subjection, not annihilation. “Fill the earth and subdue it…Rule over…” doesn’t exactly sound like a command to be passive, and Paul sure as heck didn’t write about passivity in his metaphores involving the struggles of combat and sports. I just can’t see any faith heroism in someone known for basically saying “Do nothing and be nothing, and then YOUR OWN EFFORTS in that direction will make you perfect.”

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    1. I’m guessing that Madame Guyon’s beliefs were much more along the line of Galatians 2:20–I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.

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