Jeanne Marie Bouvier De La Mothe Guyon - Encyclopedia

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JEANNE MARIE BOUVIER DE LA MOTHE GUYON (1648-1717), French quietist writer, was born at Montargis, where her family were persons of consequence, on the 13th of April 1648. If her somewhat hysterical autobiography may be trusted she was much neglected in her youth; most of her time was spent as a boarder in various convent schools. Here she went through all the religious experiences common to neurotic young women; these were turned in a definitely mystical direction by the duchesse de Bethune, daughter of the disgraced minister, Fouquet, who spent some years at Montargis after her father's fall. In 1664 Jeanne Marie was married to a rich invalid of the name of Guyon, many years her senior. Twelve years later he died, leaving his widow with three small children and a considerable fortune. All through her unhappy married life the mystical attraction had grown steadily in violence; it now attached itself to a certain Father Lacombe, a Barnabite monk of weak character and unstable intellect. In 1681 she left her family and joined him; for five years the two rambled about together in Savoy and the south-east of France, spreading their mystical ideas. At last they excited the suspicion of the authorities; in 1686 Lacombe was recalled to Paris, put under surveillance, and finally sent to the Bastille in the autumn of 1687. He was presently transferred to the castle of Lourdes, where he developed softening of the brain and died in 1715. Meanwhile Madame Guyon had been arrested in January 1688, and been shut up in a convent as a suspected heretic. Thence she was delivered in the following year by her old friend, the duchesse de Bethune, who had returned from exile to become a power in the devout court-circle presided over by Madame de Maintenon. Before long Madame Guyon herself was introduced into this pious assemblage. Its members were far from critical; they were intensely interested in religion; and even Madame Guyon's bitterest critics bear witness to her charm of manner, her imposing appearance, and the force and eloquence with which she explained her mystical ideas. So much was Madame de Maintenon impressed, that she often invited Madame Guyon to give lectures at her girls' school of St Cyr. But by far the greatest of her conquests was Fenelon, now a rising young director of consciences, much in favour with aristocratic ladies. Dissatisfied with the formalism of average Catholic piety, he was already thinking out a mystical theory of his own; and between 1689 and 1693 they corresponded regularly. But as soon as ugly reports about Lacombe began to spread, he broke off all connexion with her. Meanwhile the reports had reached the prudent ears of Madame de Maintenon. In May 1693 she asked Madame Guyon to go no more to St Cyr. In the hope of clearing her orthodoxy, Madame Guyon appealed to Bossuet, who decided that her books contained "much that was intolerable, alike in form and matter." To this judgment Madame Guyon submitted, promised to "dogmatize no more," and disappeared into the country (1693). In the next year she again petitioned for an inquiry, and was eventually sent, half as a prisoner, half as a penitent, to Bossuet's cathedral town of Meaux. Here she spent the first half of 1695; but in the summer she escaped without his leave, bearing with her a certificate of orthodoxy signed by him. Bossuet regarded this flight as a gross act of disobedience; in the winter Madame Guyon was arrested and shut up in the Bastille. There she remained till 1703. In that year she was liberated, on condition she went to live on her son's estate near Blois, under the eye of a stern bishop. Here the rest of her life was spent in charitable and pious exercises; she died on the 9th of June 1717. During these latter years her retreat at Blois became a regular place of pilgrimage for admirers, foreign quite as often as French. Indeed, she is one of the many prophetesses whose fame has stood highest out of their own country. French critics of all schools of thought have generally reckoned her an hysterical degenerate; in England and Germany she has as often roused enthusiastic admiration.


Vie de Madame Guyon, ecrite par elle-meme (really a compilation made from various fragments) (3 vols., Paris, 1791). There is a life in English by T. C. Upham (New York, 18 54); and an elaborate study by L. Guerrier (Paris, 1881). For a remarkable review of this latter work see Brunetiere, Nouvelles Etudes critiques, vol. ii. The complete edition of Madame Guyon's works, including the autobiography and five volumes of letters, runs to forty volumes (1767-1791); the most important works are published separately, Opuscules spirituels (2 vols., Paris, 1790). They have been several times translated into English. See also;the literature of the article on QUIETISM; and H. Delacroix, Etudes sur le mysticisme (Paris, 1908). (ST C.)

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