Some time before the marriage of my daughter, I had become acquainted with the Abbe Fenelon, and the family into which she had entered being among his friends, I had the opportunity of seeing him there many times. We had conversations on the subject of the inner life, in which he offered many objections to me. I answered him with my usual simplicity. He gave me opportunity to thoroughly explain to him my experiences. The difficulties he offered, only served to make clear to him the root of my sentiments; therefore no one has been better able to understand them than he. This it is which, in the sequel, has served for the foundation of the persecution raised against him, as his answers to the Bishop of Meaux have made known to all persons who have read them without prejudice.
--from the Autobiography of Madame Guyon
I have been reading the "Autobiography of Madame Guyon." All books that live are autobiographies, for the reason that no writer is interesting save as he writes about himself. All literature is a confession; there is only one kind of ink, and it is red. Some say the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the most interesting book written by an American. It surely has one mark of greatness--indiscretion. It tells of things inconsequential, irrelevant and absurd: for instance, the purchase of a penny-loaf by a moon-faced youth with outgrown trousers, who walked up Market Street, in the city of Philadelphia, munching his loaf, and who saw a girl sitting in a doorway, laughing at him.
What has that to do with literature? Everything, for literature is a human document, and the fact that he of the moon-face got even with the girl who laughed at him by going back and marrying her gives us a picture not soon forgotten.
Everybody is entertaining when he writes about himself, because he is discussing a subject in which he is vitally interested--whether he understands the theme is another thing. The fact that Madame Guyon did not understand her theme does not detract from the interest in her book: it rather adds to it--she is so intensely prejudiced. Franklin was the very king of humorists, and in humor Madame Guyon was a pauper.
There is not a smile in the whole big book from cover to cover--not a smile, save those the reader brings to bear.
Madame Guyon lays bare her heart, but she does it by indirection. In this book she keeps her left hand well informed of what her right hand is doing. Her multi-masked ego tells things she must have known, but which she didn't know she knew, otherwise she would not have told us. We get the truth by reading between the lines. The miracle is that this book should have passed for a work of deep religious significance, and served as a textbook for religious novitiates for three centuries.
Madame Guyon was a woman of intellect, damned with a dower of beauty; sensitive, alert, possessing an impetuous nature that endeavored to find its gratification in religion. Born into a rich family, and marrying a rich man, unkind Fate gave her time for introspection, and her mind became morbid through lack of employment for her hands.
Work would have directed her emotions to a point where they would have been useful, but for the lack of which she was feverish, querulous, impulsive--always looking for offense, and of course finding it. Her pride was colossal, and the fact that it found form in humility must have made her a sore trial to her friends.
The confessional seems a natural need of humanity; however, when an introspective hypochondriac acquires the confessional habit, she is a pest to a good priest and likely to be a prey to a bad one.
A woman in this condition of mind confesses sins she never committed, and she may commit sins of which she is unaware.
The highly emotional, unappreciated, misunderstood woman, noisily bearing her cross alone, is a type well known to the pathologist. In modern times when she visits a dentist's office the doctor hastily summons his assistant; like unto the Prince of Pilsen, who, in the presence of the strenuous widow, seizes his friend convulsively and groans: "Don't leave me--don't leave me! I am up against it."
This type of woman is never commonplace--she is the victim of her qualities; and these qualities in the case of Madame Guyon were high ambition, great intellect, impelling passion, self-reliance. Had she been less of a woman she would have been more.
She thinks mostly of herself, and intense selfishness is apparent even in her humility. The tragedy of her life lay in that she had a surplus of time and a plethora of money, and these paved the way for introspection and fatty enlargement of the ego. Let her tell her own story:
My God: Since you wish me to write a life so worthless and extraordinary as mine, and the omissions I made in the former have appeared to you too considerable to leave it in that state, I wish with all my heart, in order to obey you, to do what you desire of me.
I was born, according to some accounts, on Easter Even, Thirteenth of April--although my baptism was not until the Twenty-fourth of May--in the year Sixteen Hundred Forty-eight, of a father and mother who made profession of very great piety, particularly my father, who had inherited it from his ancestors; for one might count, from a very long time, almost as many saints in his family as there were persons who composed it.
I was born, then, not at the full time, for my mother had such a terrible fright that she brought me into the world in the eighth month, when it is said to be almost impossible to live.
I no sooner received life than I was on the point of losing it, and dying without baptism.
My life was only a tissue of ills. At two and a half years, I was placed at the Ursulines, where I remained some time. Afterwards they took me away. My mother, who did not much love girls, neglected me and abandoned me too much to the care of women who neglected me also: yet you, O my God, protected me, for accidents were incessantly happening to me, occasioned by my extreme vivacity; I fell. A number of accidents happened to me which I omit for brevity.
I was then four years old, when Madame the Duchess of Montbason came to the Benedictines. As she had much friendship for my father, she asked him to place me in that House when she would be there, because I was a great diversion to her. I was always with her, for she much loved the exterior God had given me. I do not remember to have committed any considerable faults in that house. I saw there only good examples, and as my natural disposition was toward good, I followed it when I found nobody to turn me aside from it. I loved to hear talk about God, to be at church, and to be dressed as a nun. One day I imagined that the terror they put me into of Hell was only to intimidate me because I was very bright, and I had a little archness to which they gave the name of cleverness.
I wished to go to confession without saying anything to any one, but as I was very small, the mistress of the boarders carried me to confession and remained with me. They listened to me. She was astonished to hear that I first accused myself of having thoughts against the faith, and the confessor beginning to laugh, asked me what they were. I told him that I had up to now been in doubt about Hell: that I had imagined my mistress spoke to me of it only to make me good, but I no longer doubted. After my confession I felt an indescribable fervor, and even one time I experienced a desire to endure martyrdom.
I can not help here noting the fault mothers commit who, under pretext of devotion or occupation, neglect to keep their daughters with them; for it is not credible that my mother, so virtuous as she was, would have thus left me, if she had thought there was any harm in it.
I must also condemn those unjust preferences that they show for one child over another, which produce division and the ruin of families, while equality unites the hearts and entertains charity. Why can not fathers and mothers understand, and all persons who wish to guide youth, the evil they do, when they neglect the guidance of the children, when they lose sight of them for a long time and do not employ them?
* * * * * * *
You know, O my Love, that the fear of your chastisement has never made much impression either on my intellect or upon my heart. Fear of having offended you caused all my grief, and this was such that it seemed to me, though there should be neither Paradise nor Hell, I should always have had the same fear of displeasing you. You know that even after my faults your caresses were a thousand times more insupportable than your rigors, and I would have a thousand times chosen Hell rather than displease you.
O God, it was then not for you alone I used to behave well, since I ceased to do so because they no longer had any consideration for me.
If I had known how to make use of the crucifying conduct that you maintained over me, I should have made good progress, and, far from going astray, that would have made me return to you.
I was jealous of my brother, for on every occasion I remarked the difference my mother made between him and me. However, he behaved always right, and I always wrong. My mother's servant-maids paid their court by caressing my brother and ill-treating me.
It is true I was bad, for I had fallen back into my former defects of telling lies and getting in a passion; with all these defects I nevertheless willingly gave alms, and I much loved the poor. I assiduously prayed to you, O my God, and I took pleasure in hearing you well spoken of. I do not doubt you will be astonished, Sir, by such resistance, and by so long a course of inconstancy; so many graces, so much ingratitude; but the sequel will astonish you still more, when you shall see this manner of acting grow stronger with my age, and that reason, far from correcting so irrational a procedure, has served only to give more force and more scope to my sins.
It seemed, O my God, that you doubled your graces as my ingratitude increased. There went on in me what goes on in the siege of towns. You were besieging my heart, and I thought only of defending it against your attacks. I put up fortifications to that miserable place, redoubling each day my iniquities to hinder you from taking it.
When it seemed you were about to be victorious over this ungrateful heart, I made a cross-battery; I put up barriers to arrest your bounties and to hinder the course of your graces. It required nothing less than you to break them down, O my divine Love, who by your sacred fire were more powerful than even death, to which my sins have so often reduced me.
My father, seeing that I was grown, placed me for Lent with the Ursulines, in order that I should have my first communion at Easter, when I should complete eleven years of age. He placed me in the hands of his daughter, my very dear sister, who redoubled her cares that I might perform this action with all possible preparation. I thought only, O my God, of giving myself to you once for all.
I often felt the combat between my good inclinations and my evil habits. I even performed some penance. As I was almost always with my sister, and the boarders of the grown class with whom I was, although I was very far from their age, were very reasonable, I became very reasonable with them.
It was surely a murder to bring me up ill, for I had a natural disposition much inclined to good, and I loved good things.
We subsequently came to Paris, where my vanity increased. Nothing was spared to bring me out. I paraded a vain beauty; I thirsted to exhibit myself and to flaunt my pride. I wished to make myself loved without loving anybody. I was sought for by many persons who seemed good matches for me; but you, O my God, who would not consent to my ruin, did not permit things to succeed.
My father discovered difficulties that you yourself made spring up for my salvation. For if I had married those persons, I should have been extremely exposed, and my vanity would have had opportunity for displaying itself. There was a person who sought me in marriage for some years, whom my father for family reasons had always refused.
His manners were a little distasteful to my vanity, yet the fear they had I should leave the country, and the great wealth of this gentleman, led my father, in spite of all his own objections and those of my mother, to accept him for me. It was done without my being told, on the vigil of Saint Francis de Sales, on the Twenty-eighth of January, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-four, and they even made me sign the articles of marriage without telling me what they were.
Although I was well pleased to be married, because I imagined thereby I should have full liberty, and that I should be delivered from the ill-treatment of my mother, which doubtless I brought on myself by want of docility, you, however, O my God, had quite other views, and the state in which I found myself afterwards frustrated my hopes, as I shall hereafter tell. Although I was well pleased to be married, I nevertheless continued all the time of my engagement, and even long after my marriage, in extreme confusion.
I did not see my betrothed till two or three days before the marriage. I caused masses to be said all the time I was engaged, to know your will, O my God, for I desired to do it at least in that. Oh, goodness of my God, to suffer me at that time, and to permit me to pray with as much boldness as if I had been one of your friends!--I who had treated you as if your greatest enemy!
The joy at this marriage was universal in our town, and in this rejoicing I was the only person sad. I could neither laugh like the others, nor even eat, so oppressed was my heart. I know not the cause of my sadness; but, my God, it was as if a presentiment you were giving me of what should befall me.
Hardly was I married when the recollection of my desire to be a nun came to overwhelm me.
All those who came to compliment me the day after my marriage could not help rallying me because I wept bitterly, and I said to them, "Alas! I had once so desired to be a nun; why am I now married; and by what fatality is this happened to me?"
I was no sooner at home with my new husband than I clearly saw that it would be for me a house of sorrow. I was obliged to change my conduct, for their manner of living was very different from that in my father's house. My mother-in-law, who had been long time a widow, thought only of saving, while in my father's house we lived in an exceedingly noble manner. Everything was showy and everything on a liberal scale, and all my husband and mother-in-law called extravagance, and I called respectability, was observed there.
I was very much surprised at this change, and the more so as my vanity would rather have increased than cut down expenditure. I was fifteen years of age--in my sixteenth year--when I was married.
My astonishment greatly increased when I saw that I must give up what I had with so much trouble acquired. At my father's house we had to live with much refinement, learn to speak correctly. All I said was there applauded and made much of. Here I was not listened to, except to be contradicted and to be blamed. If I spoke well they said it was to read them a lesson. If any one came and a subject was under discussion, while my father used to make me speak, here, if I wished to express my opinion, they said it was to dispute, and they ignominiously silenced me, and from morning to night they chided me. They led my husband to do the same, and he was only too well disposed for it.
I should have a difficulty in writing these sort of things to you, which can not be done without wounding charity, if you had not forbidden me to omit anything, and if you had not thus absolutely commanded me to explain everything, and give all particulars. One thing I ask, before going further, which is, not to regard things from the side of the creature, for this would make persons appear more faulty than they were; for my mother-in-law was virtuous and my husband was religious and had no vice.
My mother-in-law conceived such a hostility to me that, in order to annoy me, she made me do the most humiliating things; for her temper was so extraordinary, from not having conquered it in her youth, that she could not live with any one. I was thus made the victim of her tempers.
Her whole occupation was continually to thwart me, and she inspired her son with the same sentiments.
They insisted that persons far beneath me should take precedence, in order to annoy me. My mother, who was very sensitive on the point of honor, could not endure this; and when she learned it from others--for I never said anything of it--she found fault with me, thinking I did it from not knowing how to maintain my rank, that I had no spirit, and a thousand other things of this kind.
I dared not tell how I was situated, but I was dying of vexation, and what increased it still more was the recollection of the persons who had sought me in marriage, the difference of their temper and their manner of acting, the love and esteem they had for me, and their gentleness and politeness: this was very hard for me to bear.
My mother-in-law incessantly spoke to me disparagingly of my father and my mother, and I never went to see them but I had to endure this disagreeable talk on my return. On the other hand, my mother complained of me that she did not see me often enough--she said I did not love her.
What increased still more my crosses was that my mother related to my mother-in-law the trouble I had given her in my childhood, so that the moment I spoke they reproached me with this, and told me I was a wicked character.
My husband wished me to remain all day in the room of my mother-in-law, without being allowed to go to my own apartment; I had not therefore a moment for seclusion or breathing a little.
She spoke disparagingly of me to every one, hoping thereby to diminish the esteem and affection each had for me, so that she put insults upon me in the presence of the best society. She discovered the secret of extinguishing the vivacity of my mind and making me become quite dull, so that I could no more be recognized. Those who had seen me before used to say: "What! is that the person who passed for being clever? She does not say two words. It is a pretty picture."
For crown of affliction I had a maid they had given me, who was quite in their interest. She kept me in sight like a duenna, and strangely ill-treated me.
When I went out, the valets had orders to give an account of all I did. It was then that I commenced to eat the bread of tears. If I was at table they did things to me that covered me with confusion.
I had no one with whom to share my grief. I wished to tell something of it to my mother, and that caused me so many new crosses that I resolved to have no other confidante of my vexations than myself. It was not through harshness that my husband treated me so, but from his hasty and violent temper; for he loved me even passionately. What my mother-in-law was continually telling him irritated him.
Such was my married life, rather that of a slave than of a free person. To increase my disgrace I discovered, four months after my marriage, that my husband was gouty. This disease caused me many real crosses both without and within. That year he twice had gout six weeks at a time, and it again seized him shortly after, much more severely. At last he became so indisposed that he did not leave his room, nor often even his bed, which he ordinarily kept many months.
I believe that, but for his mother and that maid of whom I have spoken, I should have been very happy with him; for as to hastiness, there is hardly a man who has not plenty of it, and it is the duty of a reasonable woman to put up with it quietly without increasing it by sharp answers. You made use of all these things, O my God, for my salvation.
I became pregnant with my first child. During this time I was greatly petted as far as the body went, and my crosses were in some degree less severe thereby.
I was so indisposed that I would have excited the compassion of the most indifferent. Moreover, they had such a great wish to have children, that they were very apprehensive lest I should miscarry.
Yet towards the end they were less considerate to me, and once, when my mother-in-law had treated me in a very shocking manner, I was so malicious as to feign a colic in order to alarm them in my turn; because so anxious were they to have children, for my husband was the only son, and my mother-in-law was rich, could have heirs through him alone.
* * * * * * *
This first confinement greatly improved my appearance, and in consequence made me more vain, for although I would not have been willing to add art to Nature, yet I was very complaisant to myself.
I was glad to be looked at, and, far from avoiding occasions for it, I went to promenades; rarely however, and when I was in the streets, I took off my mask from vanity, and my gloves to show my hands. Could there be greater silliness? When I had thus been carried away, which happened often enough, I wept inconsolably; but that did not correct me. I also sometimes went to a ball, where I displayed my vanity in dancing.
I did not curl my hair, or very little, I did not even put anything on my face, yet I was not the less vain of it; I very seldom looked in the looking-glass, in order not to encourage my vanity, and I made a practise of reading books of devotion, such as the "Imitation of Jesus Christ" and the works of Saint Francis de Sales, while my hair was being combed, so that as I read aloud the servants profited by it. Moreover, I let myself be dressed as they wished, remaining as they arranged me--a thing which saves trouble and material for vanity.
I do not know how things were, but people always admired me, and the feelings of my vanity reawakened in everything. If on certain days I wished to look to better advantage, I failed, and the more I neglected myself the better I looked. It was a great stone of stumbling for me. How many times, O my God, have I gone to churches less to pray to you than to be seen there! Other women who were jealous of me maintained that I painted, and said so to my confessor, who reproved me for it, although I assured him to the contrary.
I often spoke to my own advantage, and I exalted myself with pride while lowering others. I sometimes still told lies, though I used all my effort to free myself from this vice.
I never spoke to a man alone, and never took one to my carriage unless my husband was there. I never gave my hand without precaution, and I never went into the carriages of men. In short, there was no possible measure I did not observe to avoid any ground for my being talked of.
* * * * * * *
So much precaution had I, O my God! for a vain point of honor, and I had so little of true honor, which is not to displease you. I went so far in this, and my self-love was so great, that if I had failed in any rule of politeness, I could not sleep at night. Every one wished to contribute to my diversion, and the outside life was only too agreeable for me; but as to indoors, vexation had so depressed my husband that each day I had to put up with something new, and that very often.
Sometimes he threatened to throw the supper out of the window, and I told him it would be very unfair to me--I had a good appetite.
* * * * * * *
It will be seen, from these frank outpourings of the heart, that Madame Guyon was suffering from an overwrought sex-nature.
Steeped in superstition, hypersthenia, God to her was a man--her lover.
Her one thought was to do His will. God is her ideal of all that is strong, powerful and farseeing. In her imagination she continually communicates with this all-powerful man. She calls Him "My Love," and occasionally forgetting herself addresses him as "Sir." She evades her husband, and deceives that worthy gentleman into believing she is asleep when she is all the time secretly praying to God. She goes to confession in a kimono. She gets up at daylight to go to mass, and this mass to her heated imagination is a tryst, and the fact that she can go to mass and get back safely and find her husband still sleeping adds the sweets of secrecy to her passion. In love the illicit seems the normal.
Her children are nothing to her, compared to this love, the ratio of a woman's love for her children having a direct relationship to the mother's love for their father. Madame Guyon's regard for her husband is covered by the word "duty," but to deceive the man never occurs to her as a fault. She prides herself on being an honest wife.
Of course her children turn from her, because she has turned from them. She thinks their ingratitude is a trial and a cross sent to her by God, just as she regards her husband's gout as a calamity for herself, never seemingly thinking of how it affects the gentleman himself. Simple people might say the gout was his affair, not hers, but she does not view it so. In her perverted selfness, all things have relationship to her own ego, and so she is in continual trouble, like a girl whose love is being opposed by parents and kinsmen.
A woman in love is the most unreasonable of all created things--next to a man. Reason is actually beyond a lover's orbit. This woman has lost the focus of truth, and all things are out of perspective. Every object is twisted and distorted by the one thought that fills her life. Lovers are fools, but Nature makes them so.
Here is a woman whose elective affinity is a being of her own creation--an airy, fairy fiction of the mind. When a living man appears upon the scene who in degree approximates her ideal of gentleness, strength and truth, how long, think you, will the citadel of her heart withstand the siege? Or will it be necessary for him to lay siege to her heart at all? Will she not straightway throw the silken net of her personality over him--this personality she affects to despise--and take him captive hand and foot? We shall see:
It was after this, my husband, having some relief from his continual illness, wished to go to Orleans, and thence to Touraine. On this journey my vanity triumphed, to disappear forever.
I received many visits and much applause. My God, how clearly I can see the folly of men, who let themselves be caught by vain beauty! I hated passion, but, according to the external man, I could not hate that in me which called me into life, although, according to the interior man, I ardently desired to be delivered from it. O my God, you know how this continued combat of Nature and of Grace made me suffer. Nature was pleased at public approbation, and Grace made it feared. I felt myself torn asunder and as if separated from myself; for I very well felt the injury this universal esteem did me. What augmented it was the virtue they believed united with my youth and my appearance. O my God, they did not know that all the virtue was in you alone, and in your protection, and all the weakness in me.
I told the confessors of my trouble, because I had not my neck entirely covered, although I was much better than the other women of my age. They assured me that I was dressed very modestly, and that there was no harm. My internal director told me quite the contrary, but I had not the strength to follow him, and to dress myself, at my age, in a manner that would appear extraordinary.
Besides, the vanity I had, furnished me with pretexts which appeared to me the justest possible. Oh, if confessors knew the injury they cause women by these soft complaisances, and the evil it produces, they would show a greater severity; for if I had found a single confessor who had told me there was harm in being as I was, I would not have continued in it a single moment; but my vanity taking the part of the confessors, made me think they were right and my troubles were fanciful.
That maid of whom I spoke became every day more arrogant, and as the Devil stirred her up to torment me, when she saw that her outcries did not annoy me, she thought if she could hinder me from communicating she would cause me the greatest of all annoyances. She was quite right, O Divine Spouse of pure souls, since the only satisfaction of my life was to receive you and to honor you. I suffered a species of languor when I was some days without receiving you. When I was unable, I contented myself with keeping some hours near you, and, in order to have liberty for it, I applied myself to perpetual adoration.
This maid knew my affection for the Holy Sacrament, before which, when I could freely, I passed many hours on my knees.
She took care to watch every day she thought I communicated. She came to tell my mother-in-law and my husband, who wanted nothing more to get into a rage with me. There were reprimands which continued the whole day.
If any word of justification escaped me, or any vexation at what they said to me, it was ground enough for their saying that I committed sacrilege, and crying out against devotion.
If I answered nothing, that increased their bitterness. They said the most stinging things possible to me. If I fell ill, which happened often enough, they took the opportunity to come and wrangle with me in my bed, saying it was my communions and my prayers made me ill--as if to receive you, O true Source of all good, could cause any ill!
As it was with difficulty I ordinarily had any time for praying, in order not to disobey my husband, who was unwilling I should rise from bed before seven o'clock, I bethought me I had only to kneel upon my bed.
I could not go to mass without the permission of my husband, for we were very distant from all kind of churches; and as ordinarily he only allowed me on festivals and Sundays, I could not communicate but on those days, however desirous I might be for it; unless some priest came to a chapel, which was a quarter of a league from our house, and let us know of it. As the carriage could not be brought out from the courtyard without being heard, I could not elude him. I made an arrangement with the guardian of the Recolets, who was a very holy man.
He pretended to go to say mass for somebody else, and sent a monk to inform me. It had to be in the early morning, that my husband might not know of it, and, although I had trouble in walking, I went a quarter of a league on foot, because I dared not have the horses put to the carriage for fear of awaking my husband. O my God, what a desire did you not give me to receive you! and although my weariness was extreme, all that was nothing to me. You performed miracles, O my Lord, in order to further my desires; for besides that, ordinarily on the days I went to hear mass, my husband woke later, and thus I returned before his awaking: how many times have I set out from the house in such threatening weather that the maid I took with me said it would be out of the question for me to go on foot, I should be soaked with rain. I answered her with my usual confidence, "God will assist us"; and did I not arrive, O my Lord, without being wetted? No sooner was I in the chapel than the rain fell in torrents. The mass was no sooner finished than the rain ceased entirely, and gave me time to return to the house, where, immediately upon my arrival, it recommenced with greater violence.
* * * * * * *
The cross I felt most was to see my son revolt against me. I could not see him without dying in grief. When I was in my room with any of my friends, he was sent to listen to what I said; and as the child saw it pleased them, he invented a hundred things to go and tell them. What caused me the most pain was the loss of this child, with whom I had taken extreme trouble. If I surprised him in a lie, which often happened, I dared not reprove him. He told me, "My grandmother says you are a greater liar than I!"
* * * * * * *
It was eight or nine months after I had the smallpox that Father La Combe passed by the place of my residence. He came to the house, bringing me a letter from Father La Mothe, who asked me to see him, as he was a friend of his. I had much hesitation whether I should see him, because I feared new acquaintances. However, the fear of offending Father La Mothe led me to do it. This conversation, which was short, made him desire to see me once more. I felt the same wish on my side; for I believed he loved God, and I wished everybody to love Him. God had already made use of me to win three monks. The eagerness he had to see me again led him to come to our country-house, which was only a half-league from the town. Providence made use of a little accident that happened, to give me the means of speaking to him; for as my husband, who greatly enjoyed his cleverness, was conversing with him, he felt ill, and having gone into the garden, my husband told me go look for him lest anything might have occurred. I went there. This Father said that he had remarked a concentration and such an extraordinary presence of God on my countenance, that he said to himself, "I have never seen a woman like that"; and this was what made him desire to see me again. We conversed a little, and you permitted, O my God, that I said to him things which opened to him the way of the interior. God bestowed upon him so much grace, through this miserable channel, that he has since declared to me he went away changed into another man.
I preserved a root of esteem for him, for it appeared to me that he would be God's; but I was very far from foreseeing that I should ever go to a place where he would be.
* * * * * * *
Some time after my arrival at Gex, the Bishop of Geneva came to see us. I spoke to him with the impetuosity of the spirit that guided me. He was so convinced of the spirit of God in me that he could not refrain from saying so. He was even affected, and touched by it opened his heart to me about what God desired of him, and how he had been turned aside from fidelity and grace; for he is a good prelate, and it is the greatest pity in the world that he is so weak in allowing himself to be led by others. When I have spoken to him, he always entered into what I said, acknowledging that what I said had the character of truth; and this could not be otherwise, since it was the spirit of truth that made me speak to him, without which I was only a stupid creature; but as soon as the people who wished to rule him and could not endure any good that did not come from themselves, spoke to him, he allowed himself to be influenced against the truth.
It is this weakness, joined to some others, which has hindered him from doing all the good in his diocese that otherwise he would have done. After I had spoken to him, he told me that he had it in mind to give me as director Father La Combe; that he was a man enlightened of God, who understood well the ways of the spirit, and had a singular gift for calming souls--these are his own words--that he had even told him, the Bishop, many things regarding himself, which he knew to be very true, since he felt in himself what the Father said to him.
I had great joy that the Bishop of Geneva gave him to me as director, seeing that thereby the external authority was joined to the grace which seemed already to have given him to me by that union and effusion of supernatural grace.
As I was very weak, I could not raise myself in bed without falling into a faint; and I could not remain in bed. The Sisters neglected me utterly, particularly the one in charge of the housekeeping, who did not give me what was necessary for my life. I had not a shilling to provide for myself, for I had reserved nothing, and the Sisters received all the money which came to me from France--a very large sum. Thus I had the advantage of practising a little poverty, and being in want with those to whom I had given everything.
They wrote to Father La Combe to come and take my confession. He very charitably walked all night, although he had eight long leagues; but he used always to travel so, imitating in this, as in everything else, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As soon as he entered the house, without my knowing it, my pains were alleviated. And when he came into my room and blessed me, with his hands on my head, I was perfectly cured, and I evacuated all the water, so that I was able to go to the mass. The doctors were so surprised that they did not know how to account for my cure; for being Protestants, they were unable to recognize a miracle. They said it was madness, that my sickness was in the imagination, and a hundred absurdities, such as might be expected from people otherwise vexed by the knowledge that we had come to withdraw from error those who were willing.
A violent cough, however, remained, and those Sisters of themselves told me to go to my daughter, and take milk for a fortnight, after which I might return. As soon as I set out, Father La Combe, who was returning and was in the same boat, said to me, "Let your cough cease."
It at once stopped, and although a furious gale came down upon the lake which made me vomit, I coughed no more at all. This storm became so violent that the waves were on the point of capsizing the boat. Father La Combe made the sign of the cross over the waves, and although the billows became more disturbed, they no longer came near, but broke more than a foot distant from the boat--a fact noticed by the boatmen and those in the boat, who looked upon him as a saint. Thus I arrived at Thonon at the Ursulines, perfectly cured; so instead of adopting remedies as I had proposed, I entered on a retreat which I kept up for twelve days.
One of the Sisters I had brought, who was a very beautiful girl, became connected with an ecclesiastic who had authority in this place. He inspired her from the first with an aversion to me, judging well that, if she had confidence in me, I would not advise her to allow his frequent visits.
She undertook a retreat. I begged her not to enter on it until I was there; for it was the time I was making my own. This ecclesiastic was very glad to let her make it, in order to get entirely into her confidence, for it would have served as a pretext for his frequent visits. The Bishop of Geneva had assigned Father La Combe as director of our House without my asking, so that it came purely from God. I then begged this girl, as Father La Combe was to conduct the retreat, she would wait for him. As I was already commencing to get an influence over her mind, she yielded to me against her own inclination, which was willing enough to make it under that ecclesiastic. I began to speak to her of prayer, and to cause her to offer it. Our Lord therein gave her such blessing that this girl, in other respects very discreet, gave herself to God in earnest and with all her heart. The retreat completed the victory. Now as she apparently recognized that to connect herself with that ecclesiastic was something imperfect, she was more reserved. This much displeased the worthy ecclesiastic, and embittered him against Father La Combe and me, and this was the source of all the persecutions that befell me. The noise in my room ceased when that commenced. This ecclesiastic, who heard confession in the House, no longer regarded me with a good eye.
He began secretly to speak of me with scorn. I knew it, but said nothing to him, and did not for that cease confessing to him. There came to see him a certain monk who hated Father La Combe in consequence of his regularity. They formed an alliance, and decided that they must drive me out of the House, and make themselves masters of it. They set in motion for this purpose all the means they could find. The ecclesiastic, seeing himself supported, no longer kept any bounds. They said that I was stupid, that I had a silly air. They could judge of my mind only by my air, for I hardly spoke to them. This went so far that they made a sermon out of my confession, and it circulated through the whole diocese. They said that some people were so frightfully proud that, in place of confessing gross sins, they confessed only peccadillos; then they gave a detail, word for word, of everything I had confessed.
I am willing to believe that this worthy priest was accustomed only to the confessions of peasants, for the faults of a person in the state which I was, astonished him; and made him regard what were really faults in me, as fanciful; for otherwise assuredly he would not have acted in such a manner. I still accused myself, however, of a sin of my past life, but this did not content him, and I knew he made a great commotion because I did not accuse myself of more notable sins. I wrote to Father La Combe to know if I could confess past sins as present, in order to satisfy this worthy man. He told me, no, and that I should take great care not to confess them except as passed, and that in confession the utmost sincerity was needed.
A few days after my arrival at Gex by night I saw in a dream (but a mysterious dream, for I perfectly well distinguished it) Father La Combe fixed on a cross of extraordinary height. He was naked in the way our Lord is pictured. I saw an amazing crowd who covered me with confusion and cast upon me the ignominy of his punishment. It seemed he suffered more pain than I, but I more reproaches than he. This surprised me the more, because, having seen him only once, I could not imagine what it meant. But I have indeed seen it accomplished. At the same time I saw him thus fixed to the cross, these words were impressed on me: "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered"; and these others, "I have specially prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith shall fail not--Satan has desired to sift thee."
Up to that time the Bishop of Geneva had shown me much esteem and kindness, and therefore this man cleverly took him off his guard. He urged upon the prelate that, in order to make certain of me for that House, he ought to compel me to give up to it the little money I had reserved for myself, and to bind me by making me Superior. He knew well that I would never bind myself there, and that, my vocation being elsewhere, I could never give my capital to that House, where I had come only as a visitor; and that I would not be Superior, as I had many times already declared; and that even should I bind myself, it would only be on the condition that this should not be. I believe, indeed, that this objection to be Superior was a remnant of the selfhood, colored with humility. The Bishop of Geneva did not in the least penetrate the intentions of that ecclesiastic, who was called in the country the little Bishop, because of the ascendancy he had acquired over the mind of the Bishop of Geneva. He thought it was through affection for me, and zeal for this House, that this man desired to bind me to it; consequently, he at once fell in with the proposal, resolving to carry it through at whatever price.
The ecclesiastic, seeing he had so well succeeded, no longer kept any bonds as regarded me. He commenced by stopping the letters I wrote to Father La Combe.
Father La Combe none the less went to Annecy, where he found the Bishop much prejudiced and embittered.
He said to him, "My Father, it is absolutely necessary to bind that lady to give what she has to the House of Gex, and to become the Superior."
"My Lord," answered Father La Combe, "you know what she has herself told you of her vocation both at Paris and in this country, and therefore I do not believe she will consent to bind herself. It is not likely that, having given up everything in the hope of going to Geneva, she should bind herself elsewhere, and thus render it impossible for her to accomplish God's designs for her. She has offered to remain with these good Sisters as a lodger. If they desire to keep her in that capacity she will remain with them; if not, she is resolved to withdraw into some convent until God shall dispose of her otherwise." The Bishop answered, "My Father, I know all that, but at the same time I know she is obedient, and if you so order her, she will surely do it."
"It is for this reason, my lord, because she is obedient, that one should be extremely cautious in the commands one gives her," answered the Father.
This ecclesiastic and his friend went through all the places where Father La Combe had held his mission, to decry him and to speak against him so violently that a woman was afraid to say her "Pater" because, she said, she had learned it from him. They made a fearful scandal through the whole country; for the day after my arrival at the Ursulines of Thonon, he set out in the morning to preach lenten sermons at the Valley of Aosta. He came to say adieu to me, and at the same time told me he would go to Rome, and probably would not return, that his superiors might keep him there, that he was sorry to leave me in a strange country without help, and persecuted by every one. Did not that trouble me? I said to him; "My Father, I am not troubled at it. I use the creatures for God, and by His order; through His mercy I get on very well without them.
"I am quite content never to see you again, if such be His will, and to remain under persecution."
For me, there was hardly a day passed that they did not put upon me new insults, and make attacks quite unexpected. The New Catholics, on the report of the Bishop, the ecclesiastic, and the Sisters of Gex, stirred up against me all people of piety. I was not much affected by that. If I had been at all, it would have been because everything was thrown upon Father La Combe, although he was absent; and they made use even of his absence, to destroy all the good he had done in the country by his missions and sermons, which was very great. The Devil gained much in this business. I could not, however, pity this good Father, remarking herein the conducting of God, who desired to annihilate him.
At the commencement I committed faults by a too great anxiety and eagerness to justify him, conceiving it simple justice. I did not the same for myself, for I did not justify myself; but our Lord made me understand I should do for the Father what I did for myself, and allow him to be destroyed and annihilated; for thereby he would derive a far greater glory than he had done from all his reputation.
After Father La Combe arrived, he came to see me, and wrote to the Bishop to know if he approved of my making use of him, and confessing to him as I had done before. The Bishop sent me word to do so, and thus I did it in all possible submissiveness.
In his absence I always confessed to the confessor of the House. The first thing he said to me was that all his lights were deceptions, and that I might return. I did not know why he said this. He added that he could not see an opening to anything, and therefore it was not probable God had anything for me to do in that country. These words were the first greeting he gave me.
When Father La Combe proposed me to return, I felt some slight repugnance in the senses, which did not last long. The soul can not but allow herself to be led by obedience, not that she regards obedience as a virtue, but it is that she can not be otherwise, nor wish to do otherwise; she allows herself to be drawn along without knowing why or how, as a person who should allow himself to be carried along by the current of a rapid river. She can not apprehend deception, nor even make a reflection thereon. Formerly it was by self-surrender; but in her present state it is without even knowing or understanding what she does, like a child whom its mother might hold over the waves of a disturbed sea, and who fears nothing, because it neither sees nor knows the danger; or like a madman who casts himself into the sea without fear of destroying himself. It is not that exactly, for to cast one's self is an "own" action, which here the soul is without. She finds herself there, and she sleeps in the vessel without dreading the danger. It was a long time since any means of support had been sent me. Untroubled and without any anxiety for the future, unable to fear poverty and famine, I saw myself stripped of everything, unprovided for and without papers.
My daughter recovered her health. I must tell how this happened. She had smallpox and the purples. They brought a doctor from Geneva, who gave her up in despair. They made Father La Combe come in to take her confession; he gave her his blessing, and at the same instant the smallpox and the purples disappeared, and the fever left her. The doctor, though a Protestant, offered to give a certificate of miracle.
But although my daughter was restored, my crosses were not lessened, owing to her bad education. The persecutions on the part of the New Catholics continued, and became even more violent, without my ceasing on that account to do them all the good I could. What caused me some pain was that the mistress of my daughter came often to converse with me. I saw so much imperfection in these conversations, although spiritual, that I could not avoid making it known to her; and as this hurt her, I was weak enough to be pained at paining her, and to continue out of mere complacency things which I saw to be very imperfect.
Father La Combe introduced order in many things regarding my daughter; but the mistress was so hurt that the friendship she had for me changed into coolness and distance. However, she had grace, she readily got over it; but her natural character carried her away.
* * * * * * *
Father La Combe was a very great preacher. His style was peculiarly his own.
Various accounts come to us of his power in swaying his audience. The man was tall, thin, ascetic and of remarkably handsome presence. His speech was slow, deliberate, kindly, courteous, and most effective. He disarmed criticism, from his first word. His voice was not loud nor deep, and he had that peculiar oratorical power which by pause and poise compels the audience to come to him. Madame Guyon relates that when he began to speak it was in a tone scarcely audible, and the audience leaned forward and listened with breathless interest. Occasionally, during his sermon, he would pause and kneel in silent prayer, and often by his pauses--his very silences--he would reach a degree of eloquence that would sway his hearers to tears.
The man had intellect, great spirituality, and moreover was a great actor, which latter fact need not be stated to his discredit--he used his personality to press home the truth he wished to impart.
The powers at Rome, realizing Father La Combe's ability as a preacher, refused to allow him a regular parish, but employed him in moving about from place to place conducting retreats. We would now call him a traveling evangelist. Monasteries and nunneries are very human institutions, and quibble, strife, jealousy, bickering, faction and feud play an important part in their daily routine.
To keep down the cliques and prevent disintegration, the close inspection of visiting prelates is necessary. Father La Combe, by his gentle, saintly manner, his golden speech, was everywhere a power for good.
Madame Guyon came under the sway of Father La Combe's eloquence. She felt the deep, abiding strength of his character. He was the first genuine man she had ever met, and in degree he filled her ideal. She sought him in confession, and the quality of her confession must surely have made an impression on him. Spirituality and sex are closely akin. Oratory and a well-sexed nature go together.
Father La Combe was a man. Madame Guyon was a woman.
Both were persons of high intellect, great purity of purpose, and sincerity of intent. But neither knew that piety is a by-product of sex.
They met to discuss religious themes: she wished to advise with him as to her spiritual estate. He treated her as a daughter--kissed her forehead when they parted, blessed her with laying on of hands.
Their relationship became mystic, symbolic, solemn, and filled with a deep religious awe; she had dreams where Father La Combe appeared to her--afterward she could not tell whether the dream was a vision or a reality. When they met in reality, she construed it into a dream. God was leading them, they said. They lived in God--and in each other.
Father La Combe went his way, bidding her a tender farewell--parting forever. In a few weeks Madame would appear at one of his retreats with a written consent from the Bishop.
She followed him to his home in Gex, and then to Geneva. She entered a convent and worked as a menial so as to be near him. The Bishop made Father La Combe her official adviser, so as to lend authority to their relationship.
All would have been well, had not the ardor and intensity of Madame Guyon's nature attracted the attention and then the jealousy of various monks and nuns. A woman of Madame Guyon's nature is content with nothing less than ownership and complete possession. She even went so far as to announce herself as mother-by-grace to Father La Combe.
This meant that God had sanctified their relationship, so she was his actual mother, all brought about by a miracle no less peculiar and wonderful than the story of the bread and wine. Through this miracle of motherhood she thought she must be near him always, care for him, "mother" him, drudge for him, slave for him, share his poverty and pain.
Such abject devotion is both beautiful and pathetic. That it bordered on insanity, there is no doubt. Father La Combe accepted the "motherhood" as sent by God, but later distrusted it and tried to send Madame Guyon away.
She accepted this new cross as a part of her purification. She suffered intensely, and so did he. It was a relationship divinely human, and they were trying to prove to themselves and to others that it was something else, for at that time people did not believe in the divinity of human love.
Rumors became rife, charges were brought and proved. The Church is now, and always has been, very lenient in its treatment of erring priests. In fact, those in authority take the lofty ground that a priest, like a king, can do no wrong, and that sins of the flesh are impossible to one divinely anointed. And as for the woman, she is merely guilty of indiscretion at the worst.
Madame Guyon's indiscretion took the form of religious ecstasy, and she claimed that the innermost living God was guiding her footsteps into a life of "Pure Love," or constant, divine adoration. Charges of "false doctrine" were brought against her, and Father La Combe was duly cautioned to have nothing to do with Madame Guyon in any way. For a time he assumed a harshness he did not feel, and ordered her back to her home to remain with her kinsmen: that he had a communication from God saying this was His will.
Madame started to obey, but fell ill to the point of death, and Father La Combe was sent for to come and take her last confession and bestow the rite of extreme unction. He came, a miracle was performed and Madame got well.
The relationship was too apparent to waive or overlook--scandal filled the air. Nuns and monks were quitting their religious devotions to talk about it.
Common, little, plain preachers might have their favorites, but Father La Combe and Madame Guyon were in the world's eye. The churchly authorities became alarmed at the influence exerted by Father La Combe and Madame Guyon. Their doctrine of "Quietism," or constant, pure love, was liable to create a schism. What the Church wants is fixity, security and obedience. At that time in France the civil authorities and the Church worked together. The "lettre de cachet" was utilized, and Father La Combe was landed suddenly and safely in the Bastile. We have gotten so used to liberty that we can hardly realize that only a hundred years ago, men were arrested without warrant, no charge having been made against them, tried in secret and disposed of as if they were already dead.
Father La Combe never regained his liberty. His mind reeled under his misfortunes and he died insane.
Madame Guyon was banished to a nunnery, which was a bastile arranged for ladies. For two years she was kept under lock and key. The authorities, however, relaxed their severities, not realizing that she was really more dangerous than Father La Combe.
Priests are apt to deal gently with beautiful women. From her prison Madame Guyon managed to get a letter to Fenelon, Bishop of Cambray. She asked for a hearing and that her case be passed upon by a tribunal. Fenelon referred the letter to Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, recommending that the woman be given a hearing and judgment rendered as to the extent of her heresy. By a singular fatality Bossuet appointed Fenelon as chairman or chief inquisitor of the committee to investigate the vagaries and conduct of the Madame.
Bossuet, himself, became interested in the woman. He went to see her in prison, and her beauty, her intellect, her devotion, appealed to him.
Bossuet was an orator, the greatest in France at that time. His only rival was Fenelon, but the style and manner of the men were so different that they really played off against each other as foils.
Bossuet was vehement, powerful--what we would call "Western." Fenelon was suave, gentle, and won by an appeal to the highest and best in the hearts of his hearers. Father La Combe and Fenelon were very much alike, only Father La Combe had occupied a local position, while that of Fenelon was national. Fenelon was a diplomat, an author, an orator.
Madame Guyon's autobiography reveals the fact that Bossuet was enough interested in her case to have her removed to a nunnery near where he lived, and there he often called upon her. He read to her from his own writings, instead of analyzing hers, which proves priests to be simply men at the last. Bossuet needed the feminine mind to bolster his own, but Madame and he did not mix. In her autobiography she hesitates about actually condemning Bossuet, but describes him as short and fat, so it looks as if she were human, too, since what repelled her were his physical characteristics.
When a woman describes a man she always begins by telling how he looks.
Madame Guyon says: "The Bishop of Meaux wished me to change my name, so that, as he said, it should not be known I was in his diocese, and that people should not torment him on my account. The project was the finest in the world, if he could have kept a secret; but he told everybody he saw that I was in such a convent, under such a name. Immediately, from all sides, anonymous libels against me were sent to the Mother Superior and the nuns."
With Fenelon, it was very different. Her heart went out to him: he was the greatest man she had ever seen--greater even than Father La Combe.
Fenelon's first interview with Madame Guyon was simply in an official way, but her interest in him was very personal. This is evidenced from her brief, but very fervent, mention of the incident:
Having been visited by the Abbe de Fenelon, I was suddenly with extreme force and sweetness interested for him. It seemed to me our Lord united him to me very intimately, more so than any one else. It appeared to me that, as it were, a spiritual filiation took place between him and me. The next day, I had the opportunity of seeing him again. I felt interiorly this first interview did not satisfy him: that he did not relish me. I experienced a something which made me long to pour my heart into his; but I found nothing to correspond, and this made me suffer much. In the night I suffered extremely about him.
In the morning I saw him. We remained for some time in silence, and the cloud cleared off a little; but it was not yet as I wished it.
I suffered for eight whole days, after which I found myself united to him without obstacle, and from that time I find the union increasing in a pure and ineffable manner. It seems to me that my soul has a perfect rapport with his, and those words of David regarding Jonathan, that "his soul clave to that of David," appeared to me suitable for this union. Our Lord has made me understand the great designs He has for this person, and how dear he is to Him.
The justice of God causes suffering from time to time for certain souls until their entire purification. As soon as they have arrived where God wishes them, one suffers no longer for anything for them; and the union which had been often covered with clouds is cleared up in such a manner that it becomes like a very pure atmosphere, penetrated everywhere, without distinction, by the light of the sun. As Fenelon was given to me, in a more intimate manner than any other, what I have suffered, what I am suffering, and what I shall suffer for him, surpasses anything that can be told. The least partition between him and me, between him and God, is like a little dirt in the eye, which causes it an extreme pain, and which would not inconvenience any other part of the body where it might be put. What I suffer for him is very different from what I suffer for others; but I am unable to discover the cause, unless it be God has united me to him more intimately than to any other, and that God has greater designs for him than for the others.
Fenelon the ascetic, he of the subtle intellect and high spiritual quality, had never met a woman on an absolute equality. Madame Guyon's religious fervor disarmed him. He saw her often, that he might comprehend the nature of her mission.
In the official investigation that followed, he naturally found himself the defender of her doctrines. She was condemned by the court, but Fenelon put in a minority report of explanation. The nature of the man was to defend the accused person; this was evidenced by his defense of the Huguenots, when he lifted up his voice for their liberty at a time when religious liberty was unknown. His words might have been the words of Thomas Jefferson, to whom Fenelon bore a strange resemblance in feature. Says Fenelon: "The right to be wrong in matters of religious belief must be accorded, otherwise we produce hypocrites instead of persons with an enlightened belief that is fully their own. If truth be mighty and God all-powerful, His children need not fear that disaster will follow freedom of thought."
After Madame Guyon was condemned she was allowed to go on suspended sentence, with a caution that silence was to be the price of her liberty, for before this she had attracted to herself, even in prison, congregations of several hundred to whom she preached, and among whom she distributed her writings.
The earnest, the sincere, the spiritual Fenelon never suspected where this friendship was to lead. Even when Madame Guyon slipped into his simple, little household as a servant under an assumed name, he was inwardly guileless. This proud woman with the domineering personality now wore wooden shoes and the garb of a scullion. She scrubbed the floors, did laundry-work, cooked, even worked in the garden looking after the vegetables and the flowers, that she might be near him.
Fenelon accepted this servile devotion, regarding it as a part of the woman's penance for sins done in the past. Most certainly love is blind, at least myopic, for Fenelon of the strong and subtle mind could not see that service for the beloved is the highest joy, and the more menial the service the better. Madame sought to deceive herself by making her person unsightly to her lord, and so she wore coarse and ragged dresses, calloused her hands, and allowed the sun to tan and freckle her face.
Of course then the inevitable happened: the intimacy slipped off into the most divine of human loves--or the most human of divine loves, if you prefer to express it so.
To prevent the scandal, the other servants were sent away. Nothing can be kept secret except for a day.
A person of Madame Guyon's worth could not be lost or secreted. For Fenelon to defend her and then secrete her was unpardonable to the arrogant Bossuet.
Fenelon had now to defend himself. How much of political rivalry as well as ecclesiastic has been made by the favor of women, who shall say!
Of her intimate relationship with Fenelon, Madame Guyon says nothing. The bond was of too sacred a nature to discuss, and here her frankness falters, as it should. She does not even defend it.
Fenelon and Madame Guyon were plotting against the Church and State--how very natural! The Madame was fifty; Fenelon was forty-seven--they certainly were old enough to know better, but they did not.
They parted of their own accord, solemnly and in tearful prayer, for parting is such sweet sorrow. And then, in a few weeks, they met again to consult as to the future.
Soon Bossuet stepped in and induced the Vatican to do for them what they could not do alone. Fenelon was stripped of his official robes, reduced to the rank of a parish priest, and sent to minister to an obscure and stricken church in the south of France. The country was battle-scarred, and poverty, ignorance and want stalked through the streets of the little village. Here Fenelon lived, as did the exiled Copernicus, forbidden to travel more than six miles from his church, or to speak to any but his own flock. Here he gave his life as a teacher of children, a nurse, a doctor and a spiritual guide to a people almost devoid of spirituality.
Madame Guyon was sent to a nunnery, where she was actually a prisoner, working as a menial. Fenelon and Madame Guyon never met again, but once a month they sent each other a love-letter on spiritual themes in which love wrote between the lines. Time had tamed the passions of Madame Guyon, otherwise no convent-walls would have been high enough to keep her captive. Sweet, sad memories fed her declining days, and within a few weeks of her death she declared that her life had been a success, "for I have been loved by Fenelon, the greatest and most saintly man of his time."
And as for the Abbe Fenelon, the verdict of the world seems to be that he was ruined by Madame Guyon; but if he ever thought so, no sign of recrimination ever escaped his lips.
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