Autobiography of Madam Guyon


I HAD A SECRET DESIRE given me from that time to be wholly devoted to the disposal of my God, let that be what it would. I said, "What couldst Thou demand of me, that I would not willingly offer Thee? Oh, spare me not." The cross and humiliations were represented to my mind in the most frightful colors, but this deterred me not. I yielded myself up as willing and indeed our Lord seemed to accept of my sacrifice, for His divine providence furnished me incessantly with occasions and opportunities for putting it to the test.

I had difficulty to say vocal prayers I had been used to repeat. As soon as I opened my lips to pronounce them, the love of God seized me strongly. I was swallowed up in a profound silence and an inexpressible peace. I made fresh attempts but still in vain. I began again and again, but could not go on. I had never before heard of such a state, I knew not what to do. My inability increased because my love to the Lord was growing more strong, more violent and more overpowering. There was made in me, without the sound of words, a continual prayer. It seemed to me to be the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself; a prayer of the Word, which is made by the Spirit. According to St. Paul it "asketh for us that which is good, perfect, and conformable to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26-27).

My domestic crosses continued. I was prevented from seeing or even writing to Mrs. Granger. My very going to divine service or the sacrament, were a source of woeful offences. The only amusement I had left me, was the visiting and attending the sick poor, and performing the lowest offices for them.

My prayer-time began to be exceedingly distressing. I compelled myself to continue at it, though deprived of all comfort and consolation. When I was not employed therein, I felt an ardent desire and longing for it. I suffered inexpressible anguish in my mind, and endeavored with the severest inflictions of corporeal austerities to mitigate and divert it -- but in vain. I found no more that enlivening vigor which had hitherto carried me on with great swiftness. I seemed to myself to be like those young brides, who find a great deal of difficulty to lay aside their self-love, and to follow their husbands to the war. I relapsed into a vain complacency and fondness for myself. My propensity to pride and vanity, which seemed quite dead, while I was so filled with love of God, now showed itself again, and gave me severe exercise. This made me lament the exterior beauty of my person, and pray to God incessantly, that he would remove from me that obstacle, and make me ugly. I could even have wished to be deaf, blind and dumb, that nothing might divert me from my love of God.

I set out on a journey, which we had then to make, and I appeared more than ever like those lamps which emit a glimmering flash, when they are just on the point of extinguishing. Alas! how many snares were laid in my way! I met them at every step. I even committed infidelities through unwatchfulness.

O my Lord, with what rigor didst Thou punish them! A useless glance was checked as a sin. How many tears did those inadvertent faults cost me, through a weak compliance, and even against my will! Thou knowest that Thy rigor, exercised after my slips, was not the motive of those tears which I shed. With what pleasure would I have suffered the most rigorous severity to have been cured of my infidelity. To what severe chastisement did I not condemn myself! Sometimes Thou didst treat me like a father who pities the child, and caresses it after its involuntary faults. How often didst Thou make me sensible of Thy love toward me, notwithstanding my blemishes! It was the sweetness of this love after my falls which caused my greatest pain; for the more the amiableness of Thy love was extended to me, the more inconsolable I was for having departed ever so little from Thee. When I had let some inadvertence escape me, I found Thee ready to receive me. I have often cried out, "O my Lord! is it possible thou canst be so gracious to such an offender, and so indulgent to my faults; so propitious to one who has wandered astray from Thee, by vain complaisances, and an unworthy fondness for frivolous objects? Yet no sooner do I return, than I find Thee waiting, with open arms ready to receive me.

O sinner, sinner! hast thou any reason to complain of God? If there yet remains in thee any justice, confess the truth, and admit that it is owing to thyself if thou goest wrong; that in departing from Him thou disobeyest His call. When thou returnest, He is ready to receive thee; and if thou returnest not, He makes use of the most engaging motives to win thee. Yet thou turnest a deaf ear to His voice; thou wilt not hear Him. Thou sayest He speaks not to thee, though He calls loudly. It is therefore only because thou daily rebellest, and art growing daily more and more deaf to the voice.

When I was in Paris, and the clergy saw me so young, they appeared astonished. Those to whom I opened my state told me, that I could never enough thank God for the graces conferred on me; that if I knew them I should be amazed at them; and that if I were not faithful, I should be the most ungrateful of all creatures. Some declared that they never knew any woman whom God held so closely, and in so great a purity of conscience.

I believe what rendered it so was the continual care Thou hadst over me, O my God, making me feel Thy presence, even as Thou hast promised it to us in Thy Gospel, -- "if a man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). The continual experience of Thy presence in me was what preserved me. I became deeply assured of what the prophet had said, "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Ps. 127:1). Thou, O my Love, wert my faithful keeper, who didst defend my heart against all sorts of enemies, preventing the least faults, or correcting them when vivacity had occasioned their being committed. But alas! when Thou didst cease to watch for me, or left me to myself, how weak was I, and how easily did my enemies prevail over me! Let others ascribe their victory to their own fidelity. As for me, I shall never attribute them to anything else than thy paternal care. I have too often experienced, to my cost, what I should be without Thee, to presume in the least on any cares of my own. It is to Thee, and to Thee only, that I owe everything, O my Deliverer; and my being indebted to Thee for it gives me infinite joy.

While in Paris, I relaxed and did many things which I should not. I knew the extreme fondness which some had for me, and suffered them to express it without checking it as I ought. I fell into other faults too, as having my neck a little too bare, though not near so much as others had. I plainly saw I was too remiss; and that was my torment. I sought all about for Him who had secretly inflamed my heart. But, alas! hardly anybody knew Him. I cried, "Oh, Thou best beloved of my soul, hadst Thou been near me these disasters had not befallen me." When I say that I spoke thus to Him, it is but to explain myself. In reality, it all passed almost in silence, for I could not speak. My heart had a language which was carried on without the sound of words, understood of Him, as He understands the language of the Word, which speaks incessantly in the innermost recesses of the soul. Oh, sacred language! Experience only gives the comprehension of it! Let not any think it a barren language, and effect of the mere imagination. Far different -- it is the silent expression of the Word in the soul. As He never ceases to speak, so He never ceases to operate. If people once came to know the operations of the Lord, in souls wholly resigned to His guiding, it would fill them with reverential admiration and awe.

I saw that the purity of my state was like to be sullied by too great a commerce with the creatures, so I made haste to finish what detained me in Paris, in order to return to the country. "Tis true, O my Lord, I felt that Thou hadst given me strength enough to avoid the occasions of evil -- but when I had so far yielded as to get into them, I found I could not resist the vain complaisances, and a number of other foibles which they ensnared me into." The pain which I felt after my faults was inexpressible. It was not an anguish that arose from any distinct idea or conception, from any particular motive or affection -- but a kind of devouring fire which ceased not, till the fault was consumed and the soul purified. It was a banishment of my soul from the presence of its Beloved. I could have no access to Him, neither could I have any rest out of Him. I knew not what to do. I was like the dove out of the ark, which finding no rest for the soul of her foot, was constrained to return to the ark; but, finding the window shut, could only fly about. In the meantime, through an infidelity which will ever render me culpable, I strove to find some satisfaction without, but could not. This served to convince me of my folly and of the vanity of those pleasures which are called innocent. When I was prevailed on to taste them, I felt a strong repulse which, joined with my remorse for the transgression, changed the diversion into torment. "Oh, my Father," said I, "this is not Thee; and nothing else, beside Thee, can give solid pleasure."

One day, as much through unfaithfulness as complaisance, I went to take a walk at some of the public parks, rather from excess of vanity to show myself than to take the pleasure of the place. Oh, my Lord! how didst Thou make me sensible of this fault? But far from punishing me in letting me partake of the amusement, Thou didst it in holding me so close to Thyself, that I could give no attention to anything but my fault and Thy displeasure. After this I was invited with some other ladies to an entertainment at St. Cloud. Through vanity and weak compliance, I yielded and went. The affair was magnificent; they, though wise in the eye of the world, could relish it. I was filled with bitterness. I could eat nothing, I could enjoy nothing. Oh, what tears! For beyond three months my Beloved withdrew His favoring presence, and I could see nothing but an angry God.

I was on this occasion, and in another journey which I took with my husband into Touraine, like those animals destined for slaughter. On certain days people adorn them with greens and flowers, and bring in pomp into the city before they kill them. This weak beauty, on the eve of decline, shone forth with new brightness, in order to become the sooner extinct. I was shortly after afflicted with the smallpox.

One day as I walked to church, followed by a footman I was met by a poor man. I went to give him alms; he thanked me but refused them and then spoke to me in a wonderful manner of God and of divine things. He displayed to me my whole heart, my love to God, my charity, my too great fondness for my beauty and all my faults; he told me it was not enough to avoid Hell, but that the Lord required of me the utmost purity and height of perfection. My heart assented to his reproofs. I heard him with silence and respect, his words penetrated my very soul. When I arrived at the church I fainted away. I have never seen the man since.