Quietism

This system of spirituality spread rapidly in Christendom in the later seventeenth century, and is best understood as an introverted and mystical reaction to the dogmatism and oppressions of the Thirty Years' War. It had three leading advocates-Fénelon,* Molinos,* and Madame Guyon*-and many lesser supporters. Most of these were persons of intense spirituality who suffered constraint or persecution, especially when their movement was condemned by Innocent XI* in the bull Coelestis Pastor (1687).

Quietism is basically an exaggeration of the orthodox doctrine of interior quiet, and of elements found in the medieval mystics-indeed the term is first encountered in the fourteenth century. It teaches firstly that the human soul's highest attainment is passive contemplation of the divine. This passivity is deliberately stressed: there is no recall of the medieval mystics' belief that contemplation implies a “busy rest” and calls for energetic human response to God's outgoing love, nor, as with Quietism, had it been generally held that the intellect as well as the will and emotions must be renounced in the quest for spiritual union, or that the Christian soul ultimately loses itself in the boundlessness of infinity. Secondly, Quietism insists that the soul surrenders to God in one decisive act after which it enjoys, despite all temptations, irrefragable union with the divine (cf. the Reformed doctrine of final perseverance). Lastly, the doctrine of pure or disinterested love, found especially in the popular and less informed ranks of Quietists, teaches that the renunciation of self and of desire is reached only by disregarding thoughts of heaven and hell and all external distractions, including spiritual exercises and the ordinances of the church. The result is a state of “mystic death,” a dehumanization of man and a vague pantheism which is closer to Buddhism than to Christianity.

The antiecclesiastical implications of Quietism were at once seized upon by Rome, which condemned the movement as a logical outcome of the Reformation: the Quietists, however, derived far more from John of the Cross* and other Counter-Reformation mystics than from any Protestant source.

P. Pourrat, Christian Spirituality, vol. IV (ET 1922); M. Petrocchi, Le quietesmo italiano (1948); R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm (1950); M. Bendiscioli, Der Quietismus zwischen Häresie und Orthodoxie (1964).