Jeanne Guyon - Life After Marriage

Life After Marriage

After her husband's death, Madame Guyon felt herself drawn to Geneva. She left her children and repaired to Annecy, to Thonon, where she was to find Father Lacombe in July 1681 and again place herself under his direction. She began to disseminate her mystical ideas, but, in consequence of the effects they produced, the Bishop of Geneva, D'Aranthon d'Alex, who had at first viewed her coming with satisfaction, asked her to leave his diocese, and at the same time expelled Father Lacombe, who moved to the Bishop of Vercelli.

Madame Guyon followed her director to Turin, then returned to France and stayed at Grenoble, where she published the "Moyen court" (January, 1685) and spread her doctrine. But here, too, the Bishop of Grenoble, Cardinal Le Camus, was perturbed by the opposition which she aroused. At his request she left the city; she rejoined Father Lacombe at Vercelli and a year later they went back to Paris (July, 1686). Right away Madame Guyon set about to gain adherents for her mystical theories. But the moment was ill-chosen. Louis XIV, who had recently been exerting himself to have the Quietism of Molinos condemned at Rome, was by no means pleased to see gaining ground, even in his own capital, a form of mysticism, which, to him, resembled that of Molinos in many of its aspects. By his order Father Lacombe was shut up in the Bastille, and afterwards in the castles of Oloron and of Lourdes. The arrest of Madame Guyon, delayed by illness, followed on 29 January 1688; brought about, she claimed, by Father de La Motte, her brother, and a Barnabite.

She was not released until seven months later, after she had placed in the hands of the theologians, who had examined her book, a retraction of the propositions which it contained. Some days later she met, at Beyne, in the Duchess de Béthune-Charrost's country house, François Fénelon, who was to be the most famous of her disciples. She won him by her piety and her understanding of the paths of spirituality. Between them there was established a union of piety and of friendship into which no element ever insinuated itself that could possibly be taken to resemble carnal love, even unconscious.

Through Fénelon the influence of Madame Guyon penetrated, or was increased in, religious circles powerful at court—among the Beauvilliers, the Chevreuses, the Montemarts—who were under his spiritual direction. Madame de Maintenon, and through her, the young ladies of Saint-Cyr, were soon gained over to the new mysticism. This was the height of Madame Guyon's fortune, most of all when Fénelon was appointed on 18 August 1688 as the tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, the king's grandson. Before long, however, the Bishop of Chartres, in whose diocese Saint-Cyr happened to be, took alarm at the spiritual ideas which were spreading there. Warned by him, Madame de Maintenon sought the advice of persons whose piety and prudence recommended them to her, and these advisers were unanimous in their reprobation of Madame Guyon's ideas. Madame Guyon then asked for an examination of her conduct and her writings by civil and ecclesiastical judges. The king consented that her writings should be submitted to the judgment of Bossuet, Louis-Antoine, Cardinal de Noailles, and of Tronson, superior of the Society of Saint-Sulpice.

After a certain number of secret conferences held at Issy, where Tronson was detained by a sickness, the commissioners presented in thirty-four articles the principles of Catholic teaching as to spirituality and the interior life (four of these articles were suggested by Fénelon, who in February had been nominated to the Archbishopric of Cambrai). But on 10 October 1694 François de Harlay de Champvallon, the Archbishop of Paris, who had been excluded from the conferences at Issy, anticipated their results by condemning the published works of Madame Guyon. She, fearing another arrest, took refuge for some months at Meaux, with the permission of Bossuet, then bishop of that see. After placing in his hands her signed submission to the thirty-four articles of Issy, she returned secretly to Paris. At Paris, the police, however, arrested her on 24 December 1695 and imprisoned her, first at Vincennes, then in a convent at Vaugirard, and then in the Bastille, where on 23 August 1699, she again signed a retraction of her theories and an undertaking to refrain from further spreading them. From that time she took no part, personally, in public discussions, but the controversy about her ideas only grew all the more heated between Bossuet and Fénelon.

Madame Guyon remained imprisoned in the Bastille until 21 March 1703, when she went, after more than seven years of captivity, to live with her son in a village in the Diocese of Blois. There she passed some fifteen years in silence and isolation, spending her time writing poetry.

She was still venerated by the Beauvilliers, the Chevreuses, and Fénelon, who never failed to communicate with her whenever safe and discreet intermediaries were to be found.

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