Quietism - Encyclopedia

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QUIETISM, a complicated religious movement that swept through France, Italy and Spain during the 17th century. Its chief apostles were Miguel de Molinos, a Spaniard resident in Rome; Fenelon, the famous French divine, and his countrywoman, Madame Jeanne Marie Guyon. Quietism was essentially a reaction against the bureaucratic ecclesiasticism always latent within the church of Rome, though it had come more especially to the front during the struggles of the counterReformation carried through by the Jesuits. A Catholic cut to the orthodox pattern did not look, and would have thought it wrong to look, beyond the spiritual fare provided for him by the ecclesiastical authorities; all his relations with his Maker were conducted through the intermediacy of the Church. In the dogmatic sphere he believed whatever the Church believed, because the Church believed it; to the Church's institutions - the sacraments and the confessional - he looked for guidance in the practical affairs of life. Protestantism had tried to put an end to this state of things by sweeping away the Church altogether, but the Quietists were more tolerant than Luther. They did not wish to abolish the Church; they admitted that it was a necessary stage in the evolution of the human soul; but they insisted that it could only bring a man on to the lowest slopes of Paradise. Those who aspired to be really holy must learn to look beyond the Church, and enter into immediate, personal relations with their Maker. But how were they to do so? Like their contemporaries, the French Jansenists, and the Quakers and Anabaptists of northern Europe, the Quietists fell back on a doctrine of immediate inspiration of the individual conscience. To the many God spoke only in general terms through the Church; but to the few He made His will directly known. But how did He do so? How distinguish the voice of God from the vagaries of our own imagination? Quietism offered an easy test. The less sense of proprietorship " a man had in his own good actions - the more they came from a source outside himself - the surer might he be that they were divine. If, on the other hand, they were the fruit of his deliberate thought and will, that was enough to show that they did not come from God, but from his sinful self. Hence the first duty of the Quietist was to be " passive." So far as was possible he must numb all his spontaneous activities of every kind; then he could fold his hands, and wait in dreamy meditation until inspiration came. And since all our activities have their root in desire, the shortest road to passivity was to suppress all desires and wishes of every kind. Thus the great object of the Quietist was to " sell or kill that cruel beast, self-conscious will." Then he would be dead to hope and fear; he would be icily indifferent to his fate, either in this world or the next. Thenceforward no human tastes or affections would stand in the way of his performing the will of God. He was, as Fenelon said, like a feather blown about by all the winds of grace. His mind was a mere tabula rasa, on which the Spirit printed any pattern that it chose. Hence arose the great Quietist doctrine of disinterested love. " The Quietists maintain," says a contemporary writer, " that Christian perfection means a love of God so absolutely free from all desire of happiness that it is indifferent to salvation. The soul is moved neither by hope nor fear, nor even by the foretaste of eternal bliss. Its only motive is to do the will and promote the glory of God. Other things are of no account: neither grace, nor merit, nor happiness, nor even perfection, in so far as it attaches to us. Nay, the soul must be ready to renounce its hopes of heaven, and the scrupulous will often feel themselves bound to do so; for in the last and fiercest trials they are invincibly persuaded of their own damnation. In this sentence of condemnation they generously acquiesce; and thenceforward, having nothing more to lose, they stand tranquil and intrepid, without fear and without remorse. This is what the Quietists call the state of holy indifference. Their soul has lost all wish for action, all sense of proprietorship in itself, and has thereby reached the summit of Christian perfection " (Andre, Vie du Pere Malebranche, ed. Ingold, Paris, 1886,1886, p. 271).

Quietism is an outgrowth from the mysticism of the great 26th-century Spaniards, St Teresa and St John of the Cross, though it would be unfair to hold them responsible for all the utterances of their disciples. Certainly St Teresa made much of " passivity," but she only regarded it as a refuge for a few specially constituted souls; whereas the Quietists designedly brought it within the reach of everyone. In St Teresa the passivity itself was balanced by a strong attachment to the virtues of the active life, and an equally strong devotion to the Church. Among the Quietists both these checks disappear, and passivity becomes the one and only test of holiness. But if passivity is all in all, there is no room for the virtues of the active life; all Quietists cherished the ancient saying that one moment's contemplation is worth a thousand years' good works. Still less room had they for the Church. It only professed to guide men to God; but those who had already found God stood in no need of a guide. Nay, they did not even stand in need of revelation. " If Christ be the way," wrote the Quietist Malaval, " let us certainly pass by Him to God, but he who is always passing never arrives at his journey's end." Such utterances go far to explain the severity with which the Roman Church tried to stamp out the later developments of Quietism. In its earlier stages, before it had crystallized into a definite doctrine, the ecclesiastical authorities had been tolerant enough. The Spanish monk, Juan Falconi, who is generally reckoned as the father of Quietism, died in the odour of sanctity in 1632; some thirty years later his fellow-countryman, Molinos, transported his doctrines to Rome, where they gained unbounded popularity with bishops and cardinals, and even with pope Innocent XI. In 1675 Molinos published the Guida Spirituale, the great text-book of his school. But his success soon aroused the suspicion of the Jesuits, the great champions of militant ecclesiasticism. " Passivity " accorded ill with a zealous frequentation of the confessional, their chief centre of influence. Failing to turn public opinion against Molinos in Rome, they brought pressure to bear on Louis XIV. through his confessor, Pere La Chaise. At the instance of the French ambassador Molinos was arrested (1685); his papers were seized, and his chief disciples examined by the Inquisition. Two years later he was convicted of heresy, and sentenced to imprisonment for life.

, The later stages of the Quietist drama were played out in France. Here Quietist ideas had long been spreading under the leadership of enthusiasts like Francois Malaval (1627-1719), a blind layman of Marseilles. A more romantic figure was Jeanne Marie Guyon (1648-1717), a widow of good family and remarkable personal charm, who devoted her life to missionary journeys on behalf of " passivity." In 1688 fate brought her to the French court, where she made a great impression on Mme. de Maintenon and other persons of quality. But her most illustrious captive was Fenelon, then tutor to the duke of Burgundy, eldest son of the Dauphin. " They met," says Saint-Simon; " they pleased each other, and their sublime amalgamated." In other words, they corresponded with a freedom that Fenelon afterwards had cause to regret. For Mme. Guyon's paradoxical and extravagant lauguage soon scandalized her friends. In 1693 she was examined by Bossuet, and dismissed with a severe caution. Further imprudences led to her arrest, and a long imprisonment in the Bastille. On her release in 1703 she settled down quietly at Blois, where she died in 1717. Meanwhile Fenelon had become involved in her fortunes. When Bossuet first took action, Fenelon defended her with a zeal that drew down suspicion on his own head; and he was only promo: ed to the archbishopric of Cambrai after signing what was really a disguised retractation (169s). Meanwhile Bossuet was at work on an Instruction sur les etats d'oraison, which was intended to distinguish once for all what was true in Quietism from what was false. Fenelon, feeling sure that Bossuet would do the Quietists less than justice, determined to be beforehand with him. While Bossuet's book was still in the press, he suddenly brought out an Explication des maximes des saints (1697). The little volume raised a violent storm. For two years Fenelon was at bitter feud with Bossuet; he was banished from Versailles; finally, he was censured by the pope (1699), although in very measured terms. For Fenelon by no means shared all the ideas of Mme. Guyon; in the language of the divinity schools he was, at most, a " semi-Quietist." For the more ecstatic side of Quietism, so much in evidence with his friend, he had no taste whatsoever; but he thought that " passivity," when interpreted with large modifications, led the way to a state of peaceful, other-world serenity highly grateful to the denizens of a crowded court, where was much splendid ennui and but little peace. Further, he was the counsellor of many over-scrupulous souls; and Quietist disinterestedness, also much modified, enabled him to tell them that they were not necessarily castaways because they suffered much from " spiritual dryness," and seldom enjoyed the sweets of piety. But in the heat of battle with Bossuet, Fenelon carried his principles beyond all reasonable bounds. The theme of his Maxims is that, as men grow in holiness they become utterly indifferent to themselves. Not only do they cease to covet the consolations of religion; they lose all incidental pleasure in its exercise. Their whole soul is taken up in loving God; and they neither know nor care whether God loves them in return. But Bossuet had little trouble in persuading the world that Wenn ich Dich liebe, was geht es Dich an? is but a sorry foundation on which to build up a personal religion; and the condemnation of the Maxims proved the deathblow to official Quietism. But flickers of " passivity," not always easily distinguishable from the teaching of Molinos, are still here and there produced by violent reaction from the prevailing legalism of the church of Rome.


H. Heppe, Geschichte der quietistischen Mystik (Berlin, 1875), covers the whole subject. On the place of Quietism in the history of religious thought see W. R. Inge, Christian Mysticism (London, 1899); on its psychology see H. Delacroix, Etudes sur le mysticisme (Paris, 1908); J. Denis, Memoires de l'Acade'mie de Caen for 1894; W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (London, 1902); H. Joly, Psychologie des saints (Paris, 1898); J. H. Leuba, " Tendances fondamentales des mystiques chretiens," in the Revue philosophique for 1902; E. Murisier, Les Maladies du sentiment religieux (Paris, 1903); Rufus M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (1909). See also the articles on BOSSUET; FENELON; Mme. GUYON; and MOLINOS. (ST C.)

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