Autobiography of Madam Guyon


TO RESUME MY HISTORY, the smallpox had so much hurt one of my eyes, that it was feared I would lose it. The gland at the corner of my eye was injured. An imposthume arose from time to time between the nose and the eye, which gave me great pain till it was lanced. It swelled all my head to that degree that I could not bear even a pillow. The least noise was agony to me, though sometimes they made a great commotion in my chamber. Yet this was a precious time to me, for two reasons. First, because I was left in bed alone, where I had a sweet retreat without interruption; the other, because it answered the desire I had for suffering, -- which desire was so great, that all the austerities of the body would have been but as a drop of water to quench so great a fire. Indeed the severities and rigors which I then exercised were extreme, but they did not appease this appetite for the cross. It is Thou alone, O Crucified Saviour, who canst make the cross truly effectual for the death of self. Let others bless themselves in their ease or gaiety, grandeur or pleasures, poor temporary heavens; for me, my desires were all turned another way, even to the silent path of suffering for Christ, and to be united to Him, through the mortification of all that was of nature in me, that my senses, appetites and will, being dead to these, might wholly live in Him.

I obtained leave to go to Paris for the cure of my eye; and yet it was much more through the desire I had to see Monsieur Bertot, a man of profound experience, whom Mother Granger had lately assigned to me for my director. I went to take leave of my father, who embraced me with peculiar tenderness, little thinking then that it would be our last adieu.

Paris was a place now no longer to be dreaded as in times past. The throngs only served to draw me into a deep recollection, and the noise of the streets augmented my inward prayer. I saw Monsieur Bertot, who did not prove of that service to me, which he would have been if I had then the power to explain myself. Though I wished earnestly to hide nothing from him, yet God held me so closely to Him, that I could scarcely tell anything at all. As soon as I spoke to him, everything vanished from my mind, so that I could remember nothing but some few faults. As I saw him very seldom, and nothing stayed in my recollection, and as I read of nothing any way resembling my case, I knew not how to explain myself. Besides, I desired to make nothing known, but the evil which was in me. Therefore Monsieur Bertot knew me not, even till his death. This was of great utility to me, by taking away every support, and making me truly die to myself.

I went to pass the ten days, from the Ascension to Whitsuntide, at an abbey four leagues from Paris, the abbess of which had a particular friendship for me. Here my union with God seemed to be deeper and more continued, becoming always simple, at the same time more close and intimate.

One day I awoke suddenly at four o'clock in the morning, with a strong impression on my mind that my father was dead. At the same time my soul was in a very great contentment, yet my love for him affected it with sorrow, and my body with weakness. Under the strokes and daily troubles which befell me, my will was so subservient to Thine, O my God, that it appeared absolutely united to it. There seemed, indeed, to be no will left in me but Thine only. My own disappeared, and no desires, tendencies or inclinations were left, but to the one sole object of whatever was most pleasing to Thee, be it what it would. If I had a will, it was in union with thine, as two well tuned lutes in concert. That which is not touched renders the same sound as that which is touched; it is but one and the same sound, one pure harmony. It is this union of the will which establishes in perfect peace. Yet, though my own will was lost I have found since, in the strange states I have been obliged to pass through, how much it had yet to cost me to have it totally lost. How many souls are there which think their own wills quite lost, while they are yet very far from it! They would find they still subsist, if they met with severe trials. Who is there who does not wish something for himself, either of interest, wealth, honor, pleasure, conveniency and liberty. He who thinks his mind loose from all these objects, because he possesses them, would soon perceive his attachment to them, were he stripped of those he possessed. If there are found in a whole age three persons so dead to everything, as to be utterly resigned to providence without any exception, they may well pass for prodigies of grace.

In the afternoon as I was with the abbess, I told her I had strong presentiments of my father's death. Indeed I could hardly speak, I was so affected within. Presently one came to tell her that she was wanted in the parlor. It was a messenger come in haste, with an account from my husband that my father was ill. And as I afterward found, he suffered only twelve hours. He was therefore by this time dead. The abbess returning, said, "Here is a letter from your husband, who writes that your father is taken violently ill." I said to her, "He is dead, I cannot have a doubt about it."

I sent away to Paris immediately, to hire a coach, to go the sooner; mine waited for me at the midway. I went off at nine o'clock at night. They said I "was going to destroy myself." I had no acquaintance with me as I had sent away my maid to Paris, to put everything in order there. Being in a religious house, I had no mind to keep a footman with me. The abbess told me, that "since I thought my father was dead, it would be rashness in me to expose myself, and run the risk of my life in that manner. Coaches could hardly pass the way I was going, it being no beaten road." I answered, "It was my indispensable duty to go to assist my father, and that I ought not, on a bare apprehension, to exempt myself from it." I then went alone, abandoned to Providence, with people unknown. My weakness was so great, that I could hardly keep my seat in the coach. I was often forced to alight, on account of dangerous places in the road.

In this way I was obliged, about midnight, to cross a forest, notorious for murders and robberies. The most intrepid dreaded it; but my resignation left me scarce any room to think at all about it. What fears and uneasiness does a resigned soul spare itself! All alone I arrived within five leagues of my own habitation, where I found my confessor who had opposed me, with one of my relations, waiting for me. The sweet consolation I had enjoyed, when alone, was now interrupted. My confessor, ignorant of my state, restrained me entirely. My grief was of such a nature that I could not shed a tear. And I was ashamed to hear a thing which I knew but too well, without giving any exterior mark of grief. The inward and profound peace I enjoyed dawned on my countenance. The state I was in did not permit me to speak, or to do such things as are usually expected from persons of piety. I could do nothing but love and be silent.

I found on my arrival at home, that my father was already buried because of the excessive heat. It was ten o'clock at night. All wore the habit of mourning. I had traveled thirty leagues in a day and a night. As I was very weak, not having taken any nourishment, I was instantly put to bed.

About two o'clock in the morning my husband got up, and having gone out of my chamber, he returned presently, crying out with all his might, "My daughter is dead!" She was my only daughter, as dearly beloved as truly lovely. She had so many graces both of body and mind conferred on her, that one must have been insensible not to have loved her. She had an extraordinary share of love to God. Often was she found in corners at prayer. As soon as she perceived me at prayer, she came and joined. If she discovered that I had been without her, she would weep bitterly and cry, "Ah, mamma, you pray but I don't." When we were alone and she saw my eyes closed she would whisper, "Are you asleep?" Then she would cry out, "Ah no, you are praying to our dear Jesus." Dropping on her knees before me she would begin to pray too. She was several times whipped by her grandmother, because she said, she would never have any other husband but our Lord. She could never make her say otherwise. She was innocent and modest as a little angel; very dutiful and endearing, and withal very beautiful. Her father doted on her, to me she was very dear, much more for the qualities of her mind than those of her beautiful person. I looked upon her as my only consolation on earth. She had as much affection for me, as her brother had aversion and contempt. She died of an unseasonable bleeding. But what shall I say? She died by the hands of Him who was pleased, for wise reasons of His own, to strip me of all.

There now remained to me only the son of my sorrow. He fell ill to the point of death, but was restored at the prayer of Mother Granger who was now my only consolation after God. I no more wept for my child than for my father. I could only say, "Thou, O Lord, gave her to me; it pleases Thee to take her back again, for she was Thine." As for my father, his virtue was so generally known, that I must rather be silent, than enter upon the subject. His reliance on God, his faith and patience were wonderful. Both died in July, 1672. Henceforth crosses were not spared me, and though I had abundance of them hitherto, yet they were only the shadows of those which I have been since obliged to pass through. In this spiritual marriage I claimed for my dowry only crosses, scourges, persecutions, ignominies, lowliness, and nothingness of self, which in God's great goodness, and for wise ends, as I have seen, has been pleased to grant and confer upon me.

One day, being in great distress on account of the redoubling of outward and inward crosses, I went into my closet to give vent to my grief. M. Bertot was brought into my mind, with this wish, "Oh, that he was sensible of what I suffer!" Though he wrote but very seldom, and with great difficulty, yet he wrote me a letter dated the same day about the cross. It was the finest and most consolatory he ever wrote me on that subject. Sometimes my spirit was so oppressed with continual crosses, which scarcely gave me any relaxation, that when alone my eyes turned every way, to see if they could find anything to give relief. A word, a sigh, a trifle, or to know that anyone took part in my grief, would have been some comfort. That was not granted me, not even to look toward Heaven, or to make any complaint. Love held me then so closely, that it would have this miserable nature to perish, without giving it any support or nourishment.

Oh, my dearest Lord! Thou yet gavest my soul a victorious support, which made it triumph over all the weaknesses of nature, and seized Thy knife to sacrifice it without sparing. And yet this nature so perverse, and full of artifices to save its life, at last took the course of nourishing itself on its own despair, on its fidelity under such heavy and continual oppression. It sought to conceal the value it attributed thereto. But thy eyes were too penetrating not to detect the subtilty. Wherefore, thou, O my Shepherd, changed Thy conduct toward it. Thou sometimes comforted it with thy crook and Thy staff; that is to say, by Thy conduct as loving as crucifying; but it was only to reduce it to the last extremity, as I shall show hereafter.