I see the season of winter as an excellent example of the transforming work of the Lord in a Christian’s life. When winter comes, the vegetable world, it seems to me, reflects the image of the purifying which God does in order to remove imperfections from the life of one of His children.
In admiring Madame Guyon (1648-1717), we’re in good company, for John Wesley said of her, “How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God, and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness and unbounded resignation.” Not everyone would agree with Wesley, however. The Roman Catholic Church of 17th-century France, in which she grew up, burned her books, condemned her principles of Quietism, and imprisoned her. What was it about this woman of God that brought such varied reactions?
A product of French high society, Jeanne was raised in convents from the age of two and a half. At ten years old, she found a Bible left in her room and began earnestly to study and memorize it. From then on, she pursued an exclusive devotion to God.
She married at 16 to an older man who left her a widow with three young children at the age of 28. With the wealth her husband had left her, she devoted the remaining 40 years of her life to serving God through personal evangelism, writing, and helping the poor. She founded hospitals and gave away much of her wealth anonymously.
She traveled throughout France and Switzerland teaching people how to pray and challenging them to live holy lives. She mainly met with people privately and avoided “preaching.” All the while, she sought an ever-deeper union with God to the point that she felt God possessed her, speaking and acting through her.
So what was the problem? Well, the Roman Catholic Church at that time opposed her Quietism, which teaches that spiritual perfection can be attained when self is lost in the contemplation of God. The authorities also warned her that it was the business of priests to pray, not women, and certainly not in the way she prayed — with intimacy, from her heart. Unmoved by intimidation and popular among all levels of society, she fearlessly used every chance to share her spiritual ideas with everyone she encountered.
Finally, the church had her arrested and sent to prison for seven years, the last two in solitary confinement in the Bastille. She continued to write, having produced a 20-volume commentary on the Bible, an autobiography (available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library), and many short works, two of which can be accessed at Dialogues and Documents from the Past: “The Way to
God” and “A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer.”
She shared a 25-year spiritual friendship with Archbishop Francois de Fenelon, the most celebrated churchman of that day. Their letters, over 100, have been called “one of the most precious documents for the study of mystic thought transmitted to us from the past.”
After King Louis XIV released her from prison, Madame Guyon lived another 15 years, suffering patiently and glorifying God in her illnesses, until she died at age 69.