Quietism and Madame Guyon

by Michael Colantoni

By Paul Dunne


The most effective and advanced Esoteric techniques are free to access and easily acquired, if that is one knows how to find them. Often we already have the ability in a latent and undeveloped form, and once we find a technique or method that works, then we soon begin to develop the Unlimited capabilities of our Inner Self. Each of us is a Child of the Universe, holding within ourselves the potential to reach and manifest the Infinite. It is simply a case of the right keys open the right doors. We might also add here that one of these keys is perseverance with Mystical work, for our Inner abilities will develop steadily over time.

In the current age we live in, the Human Mind is being under developed and under utilised as our focus is ever upon a fast changing world. We are simply so busy trying to keep up with our mundane daily lives, that we are failing to find the Spiritual Contact with the Universal Stillness. We know instinctively that we are missing something very important in our lives, something that will bring us peace, self-fulfillment, self-empowerment and connection with the Forces of Universal Harmony. What we are in fact missing is the Still Point, which is a State of Mind in which the Human Being can access a blissful contact with the Eternal Cosmic Moment of Now that is the Bridge into awareness of Infinity. The Human Mind can be brought into harmonisation with the Cosmic Mind through techniques of Mystical Contemplation. One such technique is the practice of Quietism, and we shall look at its origins, history, purpose and use within this article. It is also hoped that this article will debunk and denude the notion that Mystical techniques are difficult to acquire or use – they are in fact Methods of Great Simplicity. Like the concept of the Tarot Fool, who is one that Knows Nothing, Nought, or has attained the Awareness of Point Zero Energy. The Tarot Fool epitomises the simplicity of the Supreme Mysteries.

How then might we define the term of Quietism? Also what exactly is it? These are very reasonable questions to ask, from those whom are new to the various forms of Mysticism.

Quietism is the finding and attainment of a state of mind that could be defined as Inner Peace and Tranquillity of the Mind, Perfect Calmness, Mental Inactivity, Indisturbance Indifference and Serenity.

The Mystical Meditation system that the Quietist, aims to cultivate consists in the controlled daily meditation practice which involves the withdrawal of the mind from normal worldly interests and anxieties, in order to attempt to develop and evolve an Inner Contact that is a passive and receptive form of Mystical contemplation with the Cosmos. To find the Still Point of Divine Harmony and Bliss of the Unity within All things. The techniques of Quietism are a withdrawn method of finding Self Harmonisation and contact with the Higher Divine side of the Human Being. Its practice requires little more than a comfy chair in a quiet room where one will not be disturbed during these personal and private Meditation sessions. Quietism, to coin a Cosmic Pun, is quite literally the finding of some very high quality “I TIME”, both the I that is our individualised self and the Cosmic I which stands for INFINITE. There are three III’s in the word Infinite and Three is the Number of the Mystical Triad. So in Mystical parlance I is a very powerful thing indeed, and we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that to take personal time out is in anyway selfish. Indeed finding our own space and I TIME is very important indeed within our overcrowded modern society.

To find the Inner Self, or I, we need to set aside some self time. Perhaps anything between 10 minutes and half an hour a day, upon which to develop techniques such as withdrawal into Quietism. A quiet and non-combative withdrawal from the hectic pressures of mundane daily life. A peaceful private rebellion. From the earliest days of childhood we have had impressed upon us that notion that we must not be selfish, hence even the idea and notion of taking a little time out in order to find personal space, may seem challenging and heretical to the lower psyche. It is a part of Mystical development to challenge the status quo of the conditions of the unenlightened lower self. In Mysticism one of the great goals is to become SELF-Ish. To develop the I into a fully awakened Cosmic Being that has full contact with the transpersonal Super-Consciousness. This of course does not mean neglecting friends, family, the day job or the daily grind of chores about the house that still have to be done. However, it is not really selfish at all to want to take half an hour a day out for our own Spiritual Development and SELF Healing. Our half an hour out each day is nought compared to the Universal Consciousness which has taken it’s own Higher Consciousness into the Eternal Still of the Limitless and Un-manifest. The Cosmic Divinity itself is SELF-Ish and we can learn to parallel this Highest Art within the development of our own Mystical Consciousness. If one cannot find a clear half hour during the day, then one can either rise slightly earlier in the morning before the rest of the household get up, or one can stay up half an hour later each night after the household retires to bed. Once a mediation pattern is set up then gradually we get used to having our daily fix, a bit like our 11.30am daily chocolate break, or lunchtime walk. Consciousness responds well to repetitive patterns.

Those of us with a naughty streak and wicked sense of humour may be interested to know that the origins of Quietism are from an heretical form of religious Mysticism that was founded by Miguel de Molinos, a 17th-century Priest in Spain. Quietism, again to coin a pun, quietly developed within the Roman Catholic Church in Spain and slowly spread outwards, finding especial prominence in France, where it became widely espoused by a very influential lady called Madame Jeanne Marie Bouvier Guyon who had been born at Montargis in April 1648.

Madam Guyon had come from a good line of parentage, but grew up to be a somewhat slightly troubled and neurotic child. Possibly this was due to her upbringing at a convent run boarding school, where it was said she had certain religious experiences, this is a psychological feature not uncommon of adolescents of this type. She was later befriended as a young woman by the Duchess of Bethune, until marrying the wealthy but much older Monsieur M. de Guyon. Her marriage lasted for twelve years, during which time she had three children, before her husband died leaving her a somewhat wealthy widow. During her widowhood she became friendly with a monk of weak character and failing mind, who was called Father Lacome. He taught her some of the ideals of Quietism and these teachings and doctrines fascinated and absorbed her. She travelled France with the monk spreading the exciting news about Quietism.

Madam Guyon promoted the somewhat esoteric doctrines of Quietism to the French aristocracy. Her greatest Coup d’etat was in winning the support of Madame de Maintenon, King Louis XIV’s wife, and she became a full convert. Another ally in this Dangerous set of Liaisons was her conversion of Archbishop Fénelon. Quietism spread like wild fire and this rather upset the less enlightened mundane authorities who were of course trying to maintain control of their mundane wealth and power. Quietism held the potential to upset the apple cart, as it offered personal empowerment and the opportunity to find Divinity within one’s self rather than in the exoteric church doctrines. Needless to say that a High Commission in France soon investigated and naturally found Madame Guyon’s written works and ideas to be intolerable. Typical of the Witch Finder type attitudes, in 1699 Pope Innocent XII issued orders that prohibited the circulation of Archbishop Fénelon’s book, entitled The Maxims of the Saints. In 1687, the Inquisition arrested nearly 300 Quietists.

Serious trouble had seemingly beset Madam Guyon’s Quietists revolution in 1686, when Father Lacome, along with so many of his fellow brethren in Italy and France, was arrested. He was sent to the Bastille and later remained a prisoner in Lourdes, where he died in 1715. Madam Guyon herself was arrested as a suspected heretic in 1688, and she was confined to a convent, but her old friend and ally the Duchess of Bethune secured her release later that year. Madam Guyon joined a school at St Cyr, run by a Madam Maintenon, and the school provided a relatively safe environment for her to continue teaching the doctrines of Quietism. Madam Guyon was one of those charismatic, charming and well educated people, and a woman ahead of her times. She soon endeared herself to an ever widening number of intellectual and deep thinking religious people. Her circle of contacts widened and Quietism again received some further publicity. However, when it came to light that Madam Guyon had been associated with Father Lacome, Madame Maintenon broke the friendship and requested that she leave the school. She was soon again receiving attention from the authorities, and she was taken before Bossuet the Bishop of Meaux who examined her and cautioned her to desist in her heretical teachings. Madam Guyon was not one to be told and continued openly as a Quietism activist and induced and encouraged others to do the same. The authorities grew intolerant and arrested her, she was sent to the Bastille and detained until 1703. During her imprisonment Fénelon was more or less coerced and forced to sign a recantation of his support for Madam Guyon’s work. He had to agree to disassociate himself from her, and was offered the carrot of becoming Archbishop of Cambric.

When finally released from imprisonment Madam Guyon went to live on her son’s estate at Blois. The French had now broadly come to regard her as something of a deluded eccentric, however, hundreds of English and German people still made pilgrimages to Blois, for some now viewed Madam Guyon as a Saintly personality. She undoubtedly suffered for her belief system, in a way that we today would find shocking and completely unacceptable. However, she also undoubtedly found Enlightenment upon her personal Quest. In her writings she coyly revealed that her Quest had not been in vain, and that the Silent Contemplation had brought her the Greatest Gifts. In her own words:

“My Spirit disenthralled became united with and lost in God, and this was so much the case, that I seemed to see and know God only, and not myself.”

Madam Guyon died on 9th June 1717. Apparently personally fulfilled and Enlightened, even though her mission was not fully delivered upon the Earth at that time. However, Mystical Quietism has survived in some forms and is as useful and useable today as it was in her own time.

The quintessential essence of the Art of Quietism is fundamentally that Self Perfection lies within the complete passivity of the Human Consciousness before the Still Point of Cosmic Consciousness. The Higher Consciousness of Universal Stillness thus floods into the Lower Consciousness bringing Supreme Bliss and Enlightened harmonised Being. Taken to a very advanced degree this form of Mystical Consciousness brings cessation of the lower self consciousness, and replaces it with Infinite Consciousness – the Bringing Down of the Cosmic Divinity into a Human Being. In the case of Madame Guyon’s tussles with the alleged earthly authorities, she maintained as her case for defence that she could not possibly sin, for sin was of the (lower) self, and she had rid herself of the (lower) self. These rather Esoteric Doctrines were out rightly condemned by Pope Innocent XI in 1687. A reaction to which the intelligent reader will draw their own conclusions. This Quietism was obviously feared for it was potent and powerful stuff that actually worked in applied practice. Hence the success of the phenomena of Quietism, so much so that this Heretical body of work was suppressed and banned. Forbidden Lore indeed. Yet really this is a rightful gift and inheritance for evolving Humanity, and Quietism could be compared to the Buddhist doctrine of the finding of Nirvana. Incidentally, the proceedings against remaining Quietists in France and Italy lasted until the eighteenth century. So it was not a flash in the pan phenomena, but a practice very highly valued by it’s own adherents.

In Quietism the Human Mind is withdrawn from lower worldly interests into a condition of receptive passively and stillness in which it becomes possible to constantly contemplate and channel a centralised and balanced condition of No-Thing that encompasses ALL-Things. The interconnected Higher / Inner Consciousness of the Cosmos. In it’s simplest form it begins with harmonisation of breathing – that is breathing in gently to the mental count of four, holding the breath for a mental count of two, then gently relinquishing the breath to the count of four, in repetition until there is a harmonised breathing pattern. Then it is a quiet rebellion of Stilling the Mind and attempting not to think or be distracted by the lower thought process, which will eventually be turned off in these Quietism Sessions. You cannot stop the chaotic lower level thought patterns by attempting to turn them off, instead you have to rather learn to dismiss and ignore them. Initially you develop an indifferent attitude to the intruding thoughts of the normal mundane lower consciousness. If thoughts keep intruding then just say to yourself “Yes, I will deal with that later” and keep enjoying the feeling of stillness and peace. Having not a care in the world. Simply you are CONTEMPLATING. In a State of Mind that is Contemplation itself. Contemplation of Nothing. Over time with practice this builds and develops into an indescribable state of Higher Awareness and at One-ment with the Universal Consciousness and increasingly feelings and senses of Higher Awareness awakens and grows into a very fulfilling Realisation. Then awakens our own Higher Potential, which accords with Point Zero Energy and is INFINITE. Those three III’s. This is a gradual working towards a realisation of the Supreme Enlightenment. Knowledge of that which is Unknowable, and which cannot be put into words on paper, for it is beyond Human Language, Number, Symbol or Archetype. It is perhaps best described as “0”.

The essence and ideals of Quietism may have been summed up almost fifteen hundred years before it’s 17th Century arrival. For Hierotheus, a convert of St Paul, said:

“To me, it seems right to speak without words, and to understand without knowledge, that which is above words and knowledge; this I apprehend to be nothing but the Mysterious Silence and Mystical Quiet which destroys consciousness and dissolves forms. Seek, therefore Silently and Mystically, the Perfect and Primitive Union with the Arch…”

Thus if we interpret aright what old Hierotheus was saying, we get the idea that the Human Mind of the Lower Consciousness deals with mere words and knowledge which gets in the way of forming a true Inner contact with the Highest levels of Cosmic Divinity. The Mysterious Silence is the Still Point known within Mystical Religions such as ZEN, which deal in subtle Mystery Teachings for the Highest level of Human attainment -Enlightenment. By achieving the Still Point we can therefore obliterate awareness of the lower consciousness that usually intrudes in a constant thinking babble, and we can dissolve the illusionary form type perception of physical reality, allowing for transcendent conditions to prevail. The Perfect and Primitive Union is something of a connection with the Primordial Consciousness that has spawned the manifestation of the Cosmos.

Quietism also seems to have evolved from a form of Mysticism practiced by the likes of St Teresa, and from St John of the Cross. They were about seeking the Inner Light of Truth, and their Spiritual Pathways were not about any intellectual quest for Truth. St Teresa taught the importance of Passivity and Silent Prayers. Later the Quietists came to know and believe that an hour practicing their Mystical Contemplations was of far more value than a lifetime of practicing good deeds. Although quite likely really good and great virtuous Divine Deeds could follow and flow forth from the practice of Mystical Quietism.

Quietism is a little known Esoteric branch of Mysticism. It is based upon personal Devotional Service to Humanity, and its adherents do not seek to change any one else’s established systems and principles of their own religion. The Quietist does not seek to criticise, nor offer opinions on the merits or faults of other organised groups of religion. The Quietist knows that little is changed by working outwards towards the exoteric systems, but understands that progress for all Humanity can be made through personal Inner Worlds workings. For to change yourself and to find a personal union with the Divine is to aid all Humanity upon the Path towards Enlightenment. The successful Quietist has succeeded in the Bringing Down of the Godhead into Humankind.

Madam Guyon in her own Words:

“All I had enjoyed before was only a peace, a gift of God, but now I received and possessed the God of peace.” (It was on July 22, 1680, that Madame Guyon experienced this Divine Ecstasy)

“A readiness for doing good was restored to me, greater than ever. It seemed to me all quite free and natural…”

“If one may judge of a good by the trouble which precedes it, I leave mine to be judged of by the sorrows I had undergone before my attaining it.”

Works About Madam Guyon:

Madam Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon, from the Catholic Encyclopedia
Autobiography of Madam Guyon, from Digitized by Harry Plantinga
Madam Guyon, from The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
Madam Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon, from Didier Lebeau

Works By Madam Guyon:

Spiritual Progress
Complete Poetical Works (Authoress of a section of this work)
Song of Solomon / Explanations and Reflections having Reference to The Interior Life
Short & Easy Method of Prayer