Autobiography of Madam Guyon


AS MY HUSBAND DREW NEAR his end, his distempers had no intermission. No sooner was he recovered from one when he fell into another. He bore great pains with much patience offering them to God and making a good use of them. Yet his anger toward me increased, because reports and stories of me were multiplied to him, and those about him did nothing but vex him. He was the more susceptible of such impressions, as his pains gave him a stronger bent to vexation. At this time, the maid, who used to torment me sometimes took pity on me. She came to see me as soon as I was gone into my closet, and said, "Come to my master that your mother-in-law may not speak any more to him against you." I pretended to be ignorant of it all but he could not conceal his displeasure, nor even suffer me near him. My mother-in-law at the same time kept no bounds. All that came to the house were witnesses of the continual scoldings, which I was forced to bear, and which I bore with much patience, notwithstanding my being in the condition I have mentioned.

My husband having, sometime before his death, finished the building of the chapel in the country, where we spent a part of the summer, I had the conveniency of hearing prayers every day, and of the communion. Not daring to do it openly every day, the priest privately admitted me to the communion. They solemnized the dedication of this little chapel. I felt myself all on a sudden inwardly seized, which continued more than five hours, all the time of the ceremony, when our Lord made a new consecration of me to Himself. I then seemed to myself a temple consecrated to Him, both for time and for eternity. I said within myself, (speaking both of the one and the other) "May this temple never be profaned; may the praises of God be sung therein forever!" It seemed to me at that time as if my prayer was granted. But soon all this was taken from me, and not so much as any remembrance left to console me.

When I was at this country house, which was only a little place of retreat before the chapel was built, I retired for prayer to woods and caverns. How many times, here, has God preserved me from dangerous and venomous beasts! Sometimes, unawares, I kneeled upon serpents, which were there in great plenty; they fled away without doing me any harm. Once I happened to be alone in a little wood wherein was a mad bull; but he betook himself to flight. If I could recount all the providences of God in my favor, it would appear wonderful. They were indeed so frequent and continual, that I could not but be astonished at them. God everlastingly gives to such as have nothing to repay Him. If there appears in the creature any fidelity or patience, it is He alone who gives it. If He ceases for an instant to support, if He seems to leave me to myself, I cease to be strong, and find myself weaker than any other creature. If my miseries show what I am, His favors show what He is, and the extreme necessity I am under of ever depending on Him.

After twelve years and four months of marriage, crosses as great as possible, except poverty which I never knew, though I had much desired it, God drew me out of that state to give me still stronger crosses of such a nature as I had never met with before. For if you give attention, sir, to the life which you have ordered me to write, you will remark that my crosses have been increasing till the present time, one removed to give place to another to succeed it, still heavier than the former. Amid the troubles imposed upon me, when they said, I "was in a mortal sin," I had nobody in the world to speak to. I could have wished to have had somebody for a witness of my conduct; but I had none. I had no support, no confessor, no director, no friend, no counsellor. I had lost all. And after God had taken from me one after another, He withdrew also Himself. I remained without any creature; and to complete my distress, I seemed to be left without God, who alone could support me in such a deeply distressing state.

My husband's illness grew every day more obstinate. He apprehended the approach of death, and even wished for it, so oppressive was languishing life. To his other ills was great dislike to every sort of nourishment; he did not take anything necessary to sustain life. I alone had the courage to get him to take what little he did. The doctor advised him to go to the country. There for a few days at first he seemed to be better, when he was suddenly taken with a complication of diseases. His patience increased his pain. I saw plainly he could not live long. It was a great trouble to me, that my mother-in-law kept me from him as much as she could. She infused into his mind such a displeasure against me, that I was afraid lest he should die in it. I took a little interval of time when she happened not to be with him, and drawing near his bed, I kneeled down and said to him, "That if I had ever done any thing that displeased him I begged his pardon, assuring him it had not been voluntary." He appeared very much affected. As he had just come out of a sound sleep, he said to me, "It is I who beg your pardon, I did not deserve you." After that time he was not only pleased to see me, but gave me advice what I should do after his death; not to depend on the people on whom now I depended. He was for eight days very resigned and patient. I sent to Paris for the most skillful surgeon; but when he arrived my husband was dead.

No mortal could die in a more Christian disposition, or with more courage than he did, after having received the sacrament in a manner truly edifying. I was not present when he expired, for out of tenderness he made me retire. He was above twenty hours unconscious and in the agonies of his death. It was in the morning of July 21, 1676, that he died. Next day I entered into my closet, in which was the image of my divine spouse, the Lord Jesus Christ. I renewed my marriage-contract, and added thereto a vow of chastity, with a promise to make it perpetual, if M. Bertot my director, would permit me. After that I was filled with great joy, which was new to me, as for a long time past I had been plunged in the deepest bitterness

As soon as I heard that my husband had expired, "Oh, my God," I cried, "thou hast broken my bonds, and I will offer thee a sacrifice of praise." After that I remained in a deep silence, both exterior and interior, quite dry and without any support. I could neither weep nor speak. My mother-in-law said very fine things, and was very much commended for it by everyone. They were offended at my silence, which they attributed to want of resignation. A friar told me, that everyone admired the fine acts which my mother-in-law did; but as for me, they heard me say nothing; that I must sacrifice my loss to God. But I could not say one single word, let me strive as I would.

I was indeed very much exhausted. Although I was but recently delivered of my daughter, yet I attended and sat up with my husband four and twenty nights before his death. I was more than a year after in recovering from fatigue, joined to my great weakness and pain both of body and of mind. The great depression, or dryness and stupidity which I was in, was such that I could not say a word about God. It bore me down in such a manner that I could hardly speak. However, I entered for some moments into the admiration of thy goodness, O my God. I saw well that my crosses would not fail, since my mother-in-law had survived my husband. Also I was still tied, in having two children given me in so short a time before my husband's death, which evidently appeared the effect of divine wisdom; for had I only my eldest son, I would have put him in a college; and have gone myself into the convent of the Benedictines, and so frustrated all the designs of God upon me.

I was willing to show the esteem I had for my husband, in causing the most magnificent funeral to be made for him at my own expense. I paid off the legacies he had left. My mother-in-law violently opposed everything I could do for securing my own interests. I had nobody to apply to for advice or help; for my brother would not give me the least assistance. I was ignorant of business affairs; but God, independent of my natural understandings, always made me fit for everything that pleased Him, and supplied me with such a perfect intelligence that I succeeded. I omitted not the least minutia, and was surprised that in these matters I should know without ever having learned. I digested all my papers, and regulated all my affairs, without assistance from any one. My husband had abundance of writings deposited in his hands. I took an exact inventory of them, and sent them severally to their owners, which, without divine assistance, would have been very difficult for me; because, my husband having been a long time sick, everything was in the greatest confusion. This gained me the reputation of being a skillful woman.

There was one matter of great importance. A number of persons, who had been contending at law for several years, applied to my husband to settle their affairs. Though it was not properly the business of a gentleman, yet they applied to him, because he had both understanding and prudence; and as he had a love for several of them, he consented. There were twenty actions one upon another, and in all twenty-two persons concerned, who could not get any end put to their differences, by reason of new incidents continually falling out. My husband charged himself with getting lawyers to examine their papers, but died before he could make any procedure therein. After his death I sent for them to give them their papers; but they would not receive them, begging of me that I would accommodate them, and prevent their ruin. It appeared to me as ridiculous, as impossible, to undertake an affair of so great consequence, and which would require so long a discussion. Nevertheless, relying on the strength and wisdom of God, I consented. I shut myself up about thirty days for all these affairs, without ever going out, but to mass and to my meals. The arbitration being at length prepared, they all signed it without seeing it. They were all so well satisfied therewith, that they could not forbear publishing it everywhere. It was God alone who did those things; for after they were settled I knew nothing about them; and if I now hear any talk of such things, to me it sounds like Arabic.