Autobiography of Madam Guyon


I WAS OBLIGED TO GO to Paris about some business. Having entered into a church, that was very dark, I went up to the first confessor I found, whom I did not know, nor have ever seen since. I made a simple and short confession; but to the confessor himself I said not a word. He surprised me saying, "I know not who you are whether maid, wife or widow; but I feel a strong inward motion to exhort you to do what the Lord has made known to you, that he requires of you. I have nothing else to say." I answered him, "Father, I am a widow who have little children. What else could God require of me, but to take due care of them in their education?" He replied, "I know nothing about this. You know if God manifests to you that He requires something of you; there is nothing in the world which ought to hinder you from doing His will. One may have to leave one's children to do that." This surprised me much. However, I told him nothing of what I felt about Geneva. I disposed myself submissively to quit everything, if the Lord required it of me. I did not look upon it as a good I aspired to, or a virtue I hoped to acquire, or as anything extraordinary, or as an act that would merit some return on God's part; but only gave myself up to be led in the way of my duty, whatever it might be, feeling no distinction between my own will and the will of God in me.

In this disposition, I lived with my family in the greatest tranquillity, until one of my friends had a great desire to go on a mission to Siam. He lived twenty leagues from my house. As he was ready to make a vow to this purpose, he found himself stopped, with an impulse to come and speak to me. He came immediately, and as he had some reluctance to declare his mind to me, he went to read prayers in my chapel, hoping God would be satisfied with his making the vow. As he was performing divine service in my hearing, he was stopped again. He left the chapel to come and speak to me. He then told me his intention.

Though I had no thought of saying anything positive to him, I felt an impression in my soul to relate to him my case, and the idea I had for a long time past for Geneva. I told him a dream I had, which appeared to me supernatural. When I had done, I felt a strong impulse to say to him, "You must go to Siam; and you must also serve me in this affair. It is for that end God has sent you hither; I desire you to give me your advice." After three days, having considered the matter, and consulted the Lord in it, he told me that he believed I was to go thither; but to be the better assured of it, it would be needful to see the Bishop of Geneva. If he approved of my design, it would be a sign that it was from the Lord; if not, I must drop it. I agreed with his sentiment. He then offered to go to Annecy, to speak to the Bishop, and to bring me a faithful account. As he was advanced in years, we were deliberating in what way he could take so long a journey, when there came two travelers, who told us the Bishop was at Paris. This I looked on as an extraordinary providence. He advised me to write to Father La Combe, and recommend the affair to his prayers, as he was in that country. He then spoke to the Bishop at Paris. I, having occasion to go thither, spoke to him also.

I told him, that "my design was to go into the country, to employ there my substance, to erect an establishment for all such as should be willing truly to serve God, and to give themselves unto him without reserve; and that many of the servants of the Lord had encouraged me thereto." The bishop approved of the design. He said, "there were New Catholics going to establish themselves at Gex, near Geneva, and that it was providential thing. I answered him, "that I had no vocation for Gex, but for Geneva." He said, "I might go from hence to that city."

I thought this was a way which divine Providence had opened, for my taking this journey with the less difficulty. As I yet knew nothing positive of what the Lord would acquire at my hand, I was not willing to oppose anything. "Who knows," said I, "but the will of the Lord is only that I should contribute to this establishment?"

I went to see the prioress of the New Catholics at Paris. She seemed much rejoiced, and assured me she would gladly join me. As she is a great servant of God, this confirmed me. When I could reflect a little, which was but seldom, I thought God would make choice of her for her virtue, and me for my worldly substance. When I inadvertently looked at myself, I could not think God would make use of me; but when I saw the things in God, then I perceived that the more I was nothing, the fitter I was for His designs. As I saw nothing in myself extraordinary, and looked on myself as being in the lowest stage of perfection, and imagined that an extraordinary degree of inspiration was necessary for extraordinary designs, this made me hesitate, and fear deception. It was not that I was in fear of anything, as to my perfection and salvation which I had referred to God; but I was afraid of not doing His will by being too ardent and hasty in doing it. I went to consult Father Claude Martin. At that time he gave me no decisive answer, demanding time to pray about it; saying he would write to me what should appear to him to be the will of God concerning me.

I found it hard to get to speak to M. Bertot, both on account of his being difficult of access, and of my knowing how he condemned things extraordinary, or out of the common road. Being my director, I submitted, against my own views or judgment, to what he said, laying down all my own experiences when duty required me to believe and obey. I thought, however, than in an affair of this importance, I ought to address myself to him, and prefer his sense of the matter to that of every one beside. Persuaded, he would infallibly tell me the will of God. I went to him then, and he told me that my design was of God, and that he had had a sense given him of God for some time past, that he required something of me. I therefore returned home to set everything in order. I loved my childern much, having great satisfaction in being with them, but resigned all to God to follow His will.

On my return from Paris, I left myself in the hands of God, resolved not to take any step, either to make the thing succeed or to hinder it, either to advance or retard it, but singly to move as He should be pleased to direct me. I had mysterious dreams, which portended nothing but crosses, persecutions and afflictions. My heart submitted to whatever it should please God to ordain. I had one which was very significant.

Being employed in some necessary work, I saw near me a little animal which appeared to be dead. This animal I took to be the envy of some persons, which seemed to have been dead for some time. I took it up, and as I saw it strove hard to bite me, and that it magnified to the eye, I cast it away. I found thereupon that it filled my fingers with sharp-pointed prickles like needles. I came to one of my acquaintance to get him to take them out; but he pushed them deeper in, and left me so, till a charitable priest of great merit, (whose countenance is still present with me, though I have not yet seen him, but believe I shall before I die) took this animal up with a pair of pincers. As soon as he held it fast, those sharp prickles fell off, of themselves. I found that I easily entered into a place, which before had seemed inaccessible. And although the mire was up to my girdle, in my way to a deserted church, I went over it without getting any dirt. It will be easy to see in the sequel what this signified.

Doubtless you will wonder that I, who makes so little account of things extraordinary, relate dreams. I do it for two reasons; first out of fidelity, having promised to omit nothing of what should come to my mind; secondly, because it is the method God makes use of to communicate Himself to faithful souls, to give them foretokens of things to come, which concern them. Thus mysterious dreams are found in many places of the holy Scriptures. They have singular properties, as --

1. To leave a certainty that they are mysterious, and will have their effect in their season.

2. To be hardly ever effaced out of the memory, though one forgets all others.

3. To redouble the certainty of their truth every time one thinks of them.

4. They generally leave a certain unction, a divine sense or savor at one's waking.

I received letters from sundry religious persons, some of whom lived far from me, and from one another, relating to my going forth in the service of God, and some of them to Geneva in particular, in such a manner as surprised me. One of them intimated that I must there bear the cross and be persecuted; and another of them that I should be eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and arms to the maimed.

The ecclesiastic, or chaplain, of our house was much afraid lest I was under a delusion. What at that time greatly confirmed me was Father Claude Martin, whom I mentioned above, wrote to me that, after many prayers, the Lord had given him to know that He required me at Geneva, and to make a free sacrifice of everything to Him. I answered him, "that perhaps the Lord required of me nothing more than a sum of money to assist in founding an institution which was going to be established there." He replied, that the Lord had made him know that He wanted not my worldly substance but myself. At the very same time with this letter I received one from Father La Combe, who wrote to me that the Lord had given him a certainty, as he had done to several of his good and faithful servants and handmaids, that he wanted me at Geneva. The writers of these two letters lived above a hundred and fifty leagues from each other; yet both wrote the same thing. I could not but be somewhat surprised to receive at the same time two letters exactly alike, from two persons living so far distant from each other.

As soon as I became fully convinced of its being the will of the Lord, and saw nothing on earth capable of detaining me, my senses had some pain about leaving my children. And upon reflecting thereon a doubt seized my mind. O my Lord! Had I rested on myself, or on the creatures, I would have revolted; "leaned on a broken reed, which would have pierced my hand." But relying on Thee alone, what needed I to fear? I resolved then to go, regardless of the censures of such as understand not what it is to be a servant of the Lord, and to receive and obey His orders. I firmly believed that He, by His Providence, would furnish the means necessary for the education of my children. I put everything by degrees in order, the Lord alone being my guide.