Autobiography of Madam Guyon


BEING NOW A WIDOW my crosses, which one would have thought should have abated, only increased. That turbulent domestic I have often mentioned, instead of growing milder, now that she depended on me became more furious than ever. In our house she had amassed a good fortune, and I settled on her, besides, an annuity for the remainder of her life, for the services she had done my husband. She swelled with vanity and haughtiness. Having been used to sit up so much with an invalid, she had taken to drink wine, to keep up her spirits. This had now passed into a habit. As she grew aged and weak, a very little of it affected her. I tried to hide this fault, but it grew so that it could not be concealed. I spoke of it to her confessor, in order that he might try, softly and artfully to reclaim her from it; but instead of profiting by her director's advice, she was outrageous against me. My mother-in-law, who could hardly bear the fault of intemperance, and had often spoken to me about it, now joined in reproaching me and vindicating her. This strange creature, when any company came, would cry out with all her might, that I had dishonored her, thrown her into despair, and would be the cause of her damnation, as I was taking the ready course to my own. Yet God gave me an unbounded patience. I answered only with mildness and charity all her passionate invectives, giving her besides every possible mark of my affection. If any other maid came to wait on me, she would drive her back in a rage, crying out, that I hated her on account of the affection with which she had served my husband. When she had not a mind to come, I was obliged to serve myself; and when she did come, it was to chide me and make a noise. When I was very unwell, as was often the case, this girl would appear to be in despair. From hence I thought it was from Thee, O Lord, that all this came upon me. Without thy permission, she was scarcely capable of such unaccountable conduct. She seemed not sensible of any faults, but always to think herself in the right. All those whom Thou hast made use of to cause me to suffer, thought they were rendering service to Thee in so doing.

Before my husband's death, I went to Paris on purpose to see Monsieur Bertot, who had been of very little service to me as a director. Not knowing my state, and I being incapable of telling him of it, he grew weary of the charge. At length he gave it up, and wrote to me to take another director. I made no doubt but God had revealed to him my wicked state; and this desertion of me seemed a most certain mark of my reprobation. This was during the life of my husband. But now my renewed solicitations, and his sympathy with me on my husband's death, prevailed on him to resume my direction, which to me still proved of very little service. I went again to Paris to see him. While there, I visited him twelve or fifteen times, without being able to tell him anything of my condition. I told him, indeed, that I wanted some ecclesiastic to educate my son, to rid him of his bad habits, and of the wrong impressions he had conceived against me. He found one for me, of whom he had received very good recommendations.

I went to make a retreat with M. Bertot and Madame de C. All that time he spoke to me not a quarter of an hour at most. As he saw that I said nothing to him, for indeed I knew not what to say, as I had not spoken to him of the favors which God had conferred on me (not from a desire to conceal them, but because the Lord did not permit me to do it, as He had over me only the designs of death) he therefore spoke to such as he looked upon to be more advanced in grace. He let me alone as one for whom there was nothing to be done. So well did God hide from him the situation of my soul, in order to make me suffer, that he wanted to refer me, thinking that I had not the spirit of prayer, and that Mrs. Granger was mistaken when she told him I had. I did what I could to obey him, but it was entirely impossible. On this account I was displeased with myself, because I believed M. Bertot rather than my experience. Through this whole retreat my inclination, which I discerned only by my resistance to it, was to rest in silence and nakedness of thought. In the settling of my mind therein I feared I was disobeying the orders of my director. This made me think that I had fallen from grace. I kept myself in a state of nothingness, content with my poor low degree of prayer, without envying the higher degree of others, of which I judged myself unworthy. I would have, however, desired much to do the will of God, and to please Him, but despaired altogether of ever attaining that desirable end.

There was in the place where I lived, and had been for some years, one whose doctrine was suspected. He possessed a dignity in the church, which always obliged me to have a deference for him. As he understood how averse I was to all who were suspected of unsoundness in the faith, and knowing that I had some credit in the place, he used his utmost efforts to engage me in his sentiments. I answered him with so much clearness and energy, that he had not a word to reply. This increased his desire to win me in order to do it, to contract a friendship for me. He continued to importune me for two years and a half. As he was very polite, and of an obliging temper, and had a good share of learning, I did not mistrust him. I even conceived a hope of his conversion, in which I found myself mistaken. I then ceased going near him. He came to inquire why he could see me no more. At that time he was so agreeable to my sick husband, in his assiduities about him, that I could not avoid him though I thought the shortest and best way for me would be break off all acquaintance with him, which I did after the death of my husband. M. Bertot would not permit me to do it before. When he now saw that he could not renew it, he and his party raised up strong persecutions against me.

These gentlemen had at that time a method among them, by which they soon knew who were of their party, and who were opposite. They sent to one another circular letters, by means of which, in a very little time, they cried me down on every side, after a very strange manner. Yet this gave me little trouble. I was glad of my new liberty, intending never again to enter into an intimacy with anyone, which would give me so much difficulty to break.

This inability I was now in, of doing those exterior acts of charity I had done before, served this person with a pretext to publish that it was owing to him I had formerly done them. Willing to ascribe to himself the merit of what God alone, by His grace, had made me do, he went so far as to preach against me publicly, as one who had been a bright pattern to the town, but was now become a scandal to it. Several times he preached very offensive things. Though I was present at those sermons, and they were enough to weigh me down with confusion, for they offended all that heard them, I could not be troubled. I carried in myself my own condemnation beyond utterance. I thought I merited abundantly worse than all he could say of me, and that, if all men knew me, they would trample me under their feet. My reputation then was blasted by the industry of this ecclesiastic. He caused all such as passed for persons of piety to declare against me. I thought he and they were in the right and therefore quietly bore it all. Confused like a criminal that dares not lift up his eyes, I looked upon the virtue of others with respect. I saw no fault in others and no virtue in myself. When any happened to praise me, it was like a heavy blow struck at me, and I said in myself, "They little know my miseries, and from what state I have fallen." When any blamed me, I agreed to it, as right and just. Nature wanted sometimes to get out of such an abject condition, but could not find any way. If I tried to make an outward appearance of righteousness, by the practice of some good thing, my heart in secret rebuked me as guilty of hypocrisy, in wanting to appear what I was not; and God did not permit that to succeed. Oh, how excellent are the crosses of Providence! All other crosses are of no value.

I was often very ill and in danger of death, and knew not how to prepare myself for it. Several persons of piety, who had been acquainted with me, wrote to me about those things which the gentleman spread about me. I did not offer to justify myself, although I knew myself innocent of the things whereof they accused me. One day being in the greatest desolation and distress, I opened the New Testament on these words, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." That for a little time gave me some relief.