Autobiography of Madam Guyon


THE TREATMENT OF MY HUSBAND and mother-in-law, however rigorous and insulting, I now bore silently. I made no replies and this was not so difficult for me, because the greatness of my interior occupation, and what passed within, rendered me insensible to all the rest. There were times when I was left to myself. Then I could not refrain from tears. I did the lowest offices for them to humble myself. All this did not win their favor. When they were in a rage, although I could not find that I had given them any occasion, yet I did not fail to beg their pardon, even from the girl of whom I have spoken. I had a good deal of pain to surmount myself, as to the last. She became the more insolent for it; reproaching me with things which ought to have made her blush and have covered her with shame. As she saw that I contradicted and resisted her no more in anything, she proceeded to treat me worse. And when I asked her pardon she triumphed, saying, "I knew very well I was in the right." Her arrogance rose to the height that I would not have treated the meanest slave.

One day, as she was dressing me, she pulled me roughly, and spoke to me insolently. I said, "It is not my account that I am willing to answer you, for you give me no pain, but lest you should act thus before persons to whom it would give offence. Moreover, as I am your mistress, God is assuredly offended with you." She left me that moment, and ran like a mad woman to meet my husband telling him she would stay no longer, I treated her so ill, that I hated her for the care she took of him in his continual indispositions, wanting her not to do any service for him. My husband was very hasty, so he took fire at these words. I finished dressing alone. Since she had left me I dared not call another girl; she would not suffer another girl to come near me. I saw my husband coming like a lion, he was never in such a rage as this. I thought he was going to strike me; I awaited the blow with tranquillity; he threatened with his uplifted crutch; I thought he was going to knock me down. Holding myself closely united to God, I beheld it without pain. He did not strike me for he had presence of mind enough to see what indignity it would be. In his rage he threw it at me. It fell near me, but it did not touch me. He then discharged himself in language as if I had been a street beggar, or the most infamous of creatures. I kept profound silence, being recollected in the Lord.

The girl in the meantime came in. At the sight of her his rage redoubled. I kept near to God, as a victim disposed to suffer whatever He would permit. My husband ordered me to beg her pardon, which I readily did, and thereby appeased him. I went into my closet, where I no sooner was, than my divine Director impelled me to make this girl a present, to recompense her for the cross which she had caused me. She was a little astonished, but her heart was too hard to be gained.

I often acted thus because she frequently gave me opportunities. She had a singular dexterity in attending the sick. My husband, ailing almost continually, would suffer no other person to administer to him. He had a very great regard for her. She was artful; in his presence she affected an extraordinary respect for me. When he was not present, if I said a word to her, though with the greatest mildness and if she heard him coming, she cried out with all her might that she was unhappy. She acted like one distressed so that, without informing himself of the truth, he was irritated against me, as was also my mother-in-law.

The violence I did to my proud and hasty nature was so great, that I could hold out no longer. I was quite spent with it. It seemed sometimes as if I was inwardly rent, and I have often fallen sick with the struggle. She did not forbear exclaiming against me, even before persons of distinction, who came to see me. If I was silent, she took offence at that yet more, and said that I despised her. She cried me down, and made complaints to everybody. All this redounded to my honor and her own disgrace. My reputation was so well established, on account of my exterior modesty, my devotion, and the great acts of charity which I did, that nothing could shake it.

Sometimes she ran out into the street, crying out against me. At one time she exclaimed, "Am not I very unhappy to have such a mistress?" People gathered about her to know what I had done to her; and not knowing what to say, she answered that I had not spoken to her all the day. They returned, laughing, and said, "She has done you no great harm then."

I am surprised at the blindness of confessors, and at their permitting their penitents to conceal so much of the truth from them. The confessor of this girl made her pass for a saint. This he said in my hearing. I answered nothing; for love would not permit me to speak of my troubles. I should consecrate them all to God by a profound silence.

My husband was out of humor with my devotion. "What," said he, "you love God so much, that you love me no longer." So little did he comprehend that the true conjugal love is that which the Lord Himself forms in the heart that loves Him.

Oh, Thou who art pure and holy, Thou didst imprint in me from the first such a love of chastity, that there was nothing in the world which I would not have undergone to possess and preserve it.

I endeavored to be agreeable to my husband in anything, and to please him in everything he could require of me. God gave me such a purity of soul at that time, that I had not so much as a bad thought. Sometimes my husband said to me, "One sees plainly that you never lose the presence of God."

The world, seeing I quit it, persecuted and turned me into ridicule. I was its entertainment, and the subject of its fables. It could not bear that a woman, scarce twenty years of age, should thus make war against it, and overcome. My mother-in-law took part with the world, and blamed me for not doing many things that in her heart she would have been highly offended had I done them. I was as one lost, and alone; so little communion had I with the creature, farther than necessity required. I seemed to experience literally those words of Paul, "I live yet, no more I, but Christ liveth in me." His operations were so powerful, so sweet, and so secret, all together, that I could not express them. We went into the country on some business. Oh! what unutterable communications did I there experience in retirement!

I was insatiable for prayer. I arose at four o'clock in the morning to pray. I went very far to the church, which was so situated, that the coach could not come to it. There was a steep hill to go down and another to ascend. All that cost me nothing; I had such a longing desire to meet with my God, as my only good, who on His part was graciously forward to give Himself to His poor creature, and for it to do even visible miracles. Such as saw me lead a life so very different from the women of the world said I was a fool. They attributed it to stupidity. Sometimes they said, "What can all this mean? Some people think this lady has parts, but nothing of them appears." If I went into company, often I could not speak; so much was I engaged within, so inward with the Lord, as not to attend to anything else. If any near me spoke, I heard nothing. I generally took one with me, that this might not appear. I took some work, to hide under that appearance the real employ of my heart. When I was alone, the work dropped out of my hand. I wanted to persuade a relation of my husband's to practice prayer. She thought me a fool, for depriving myself of all the amusements of the age. But the Lord opened her eyes, to make her despise them. I could have wished to teach all the world to love God; and thought it depended only on them to feel what I felt. The Lord made use of my thinking to gain many souls to Himself.

The good father I have spoken of, who was the instrument of my conversion, made me acquainted with Genevieve Granger, prioress of the Benedictines, one of the greatest servants of God of her time. She proved of very great service to me. My confessor, who had told everyone that I was a saint before, when so full of miseries, and so far from the condition to which the Lord in His mercy had now brought me, seeing I placed a confidence in the father of whom I have spoken, and that I steered in a road which was unknown to him, declared openly against me. The monks of his order persecuted me much. They even preached publicly against me, as a person under a delusion.

My husband and mother-in-law, who till now had been indifferent about this confessor, then joined him and ordered me to leave off prayer, and the exercise of piety; that I could not do. There was carried on a conversation within me, very different from that which passed without. I did what I could to hinder it from appearing, but could not. The presence of so great a Master manifested itself, even on my countenance. That pained my husband, he sometimes told me. I did what I could to hinder it from being noticed, but was not able completely to hide it. I was so much inwardly occupied that I knew not what I ate. I made as if I ate some kinds of meat, though I did not take any. This deep inward attention suffered me scarcely to hear or see anything. I still continued to use many severe mortifications and austerities. They did not in the least diminish the freshness of my countenance.

I had often grievous fits of sickness and no consolation in life, except in the practice of prayer, and in seeing Mother Granger. How dear did these cost me, especially the former! Is this esteeming the cross as I ought? -- should I not rather say that prayer to me was recompensed with the cross, and the cross with prayer. Inseparable gifts united in my heart and life! When your eternal light arose in my soul, how perfectly it reconciled me and made you the object of my love! From the moment I received Thee I have never been free from the cross, nor it seems without prayer -- though for a long time I thought myself deprived thereof, which exceedingly augmented my afflictions.

My confessor at first exerted his efforts to hinder me from practicing prayer, and from seeing Mother Granger. He violently stirred up my husband and mother-in-law to hinder me from praying. The method they took was to watch me from morning until night. I dared not go out from my mother-in-law's room, or from my husband's bedside. Sometimes I carried my work to the window, under a pretense of seeing better, in order to relieve myself with some moment's repose. They came to watch me very closely, to see if I did not pray instead of working. When my husband and mother-in-law played cards, if I did turn toward the fire, they watched to see if I continued my work or shut my eyes. If they observed I closed them, they would be in a fury against me for several hours. What is most strange, when my husband went out, having some days of health, he would not allow me to pray in his absence. He marked my work, and sometimes, after he was just gone out, returning immediately, if he found me in prayer he would be in a rage. In vain I said, "Surely, sir, what matters it what I do when you are absent, if I be assiduous in attending you when you are present?" That would not satisfy him; he insisted that I should no more pray in his absence than in his presence.

I believe there is hardly a torment equal to that of being ardently drawn to retirement, and not having it in one's power to be retired.

O my God, the war they raised to hinder me from loving Thee did but augment my love. While they were striving to prevent my addresses to Thee, thou drewest me into an inexpressible silence. The more they labored to separate me from Thee, the more closely didst Thou unite me to Thyself. The flame of Thy love was kindled, and kept up by everything that was done to extinguish it.

Often through compliance I played at piquet with my husband. At such times I was even more interiorly attracted than if I had been at church. I was scarce able to contain the fire which burned in my soul, which had all the fervor of what men call love, but nothing of its impetuosity. The more ardent, the more peaceable it was. This fire gained strength from everything that was done to suppress it. And the spirit of prayer was nourished and increased from their contrivances and endeavors to disallow me any time for practicing it. I loved without considering a motive or reason for loving. Nothing passed in my head, but much in the innermost recesses of my soul. I thought not about any recompense, gift, or favor, which He could bestow or I receive. The Well-beloved was Himself the only object which attracted my heart. I could not contemplate His attributes. I knew nothing else, but to love and to suffer. Ignorance more truly learned than any science of the doctors, since it taught me so well Jesus Christ crucified and brought me to be in love with His holy cross. I could then have wished to die, in order to be inseparably united to Him who so powerfully attracted my heart. As all this passed in the will, the imagination and the understanding being absorbed in it, I knew not what to say, having never read or heard of such a state as I experienced. I dreaded delusion and feared that all was not right, for before this I had known nothing of the operations of God in souls. I had only read St. Francis de Sales, Thomas à Kempis, The Spiritual Combat, and the Holy Scriptures. I was quite a stranger to those spiritual books wherein such states are described.

Then all those amusements and pleasures that are prized and esteemed appeared to me dull and insipid. I wondered how it could be that I had ever enjoyed them. And indeed since that time, I could never find any satisfaction or enjoyment out of God. I have sometimes been unfaithful enough to find it. I was not astonished that martyrs gave their lives for Jesus Christ. I thought them happy, and sighed after their privilege of suffering for Him. I so esteemed the cross that my greatest trouble was the want of suffering as much as my heart thirsted for.

This respect and esteem for the cross continually increased. Afterward I lost the sensible relish and enjoyment, yet the love and esteem no more left me than the cross itself. Indeed, it has ever been my faithful companion, changing and augmenting, in proportion to the changes and dispositions of my inward state. O blessed cross, thou hast never quitted me, since I surrendered myself to my divine, crucified Master. I still hope that thou wilt never abandon me. So eager was I for the cross, that I endeavored to make myself feel the utmost rigor of every mortification. This only served to awaken my desire for suffering, and to show me that it is God alone that can prepare and send crosses suitable to a soul that thirsts for a following of His sufferings, and a conformity to His death. The more my state of prayer augmented, my desire of suffering grew stronger, as the full weight of heavy crosses from every side came thundering upon me.

The peculiar property of this prayer of the heart is to give a strong faith. Mine was without limits, as was also my resignation to God, and my confidence in Him -- my love of His will, and of the order of His providence over me. I was very timorous before, but now feared nothing. It is in such a case that one feels the efficacy of these words, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).