Madame Guyon

1648-1717. French Quietist.* Born Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe, she was an introspective and deeply religious girl who after a conventual education desired to enter a religious order, but was forced by her mother to marry in 1664 Jacques Guyon, a middle-aged invalid dominated by a tyrannical mother. Mme. Guyon's response was to retreat more deeply into a life of private contemplation, aided by excruciating forms of mortification and a mystical espousal to Christ.

Guyon died in 1676, but his widow now came under the spell of Molinos's writings and of a neurotic Barnabite friar, Lacombe. In 1680 she achieved a “unitive state” with the divine: “God-me” had supplanted “self-me,” and a year later she began to receive visions and revelations. During her “Lacombe period” (1681-88) she wandered from place to place, often with the friar, seeking to found an “interior church” and give birth to “spiritual children,” and writing some of her best-known mystical essays. She was arrested in 1688, but was freed on the intervention of Mme. de Maintenon. She began to exchange a series of spiritual letters with Fénelon,* who admired and later defended her, and she became prominent in court circles, lecturing in the Girls' School at St. Cyr. Bossuet,* alarmed by the nature and effects of her teaching and rumors of her private life, examined her writings in 1694. Thirty of her propositions were condemned, but though she recanted, a year later she was again imprisoned and spent six years first at Vincennes and then in the Bastille. Released in 1701, she spent the rest of her life in Blois.