Autobiography of Madam Guyon


WHILE PROVIDENCE on the one hand, appointed my forsaking all things, it seemed on the other to make my chains the stronger, and my separation the more blameable. None could receive stronger marks of affection from one's own mother than those which I received at this time from my mother-in-law. Even the least sickness which befell me made her very uneasy. She said, "she had veneration for my virtue." I believe what contributed not a little to this change was, that she had heard that three persons had offered suit to me, and that I had refused them, although their fortune and quality were quite superior to mine. She remembered how she had upbraided me on this head, and I answered her not a word, whereby she might understand that it depended on myself to marry to advantage. She began to fear lest such rigorous treatment, as hers had been toward me, might excite me to deliver myself by such means, with honor, from her tyranny, and was sensible what damage that might be to my children. So she was now very tender to me on every occasion.

I fell extremely ill. I thought that God had accepted of my willingness to sacrifice all to him, and required that of my life. During this illness, my mother-in-law went not from my bedside; her many tears proved the sincerity of her affection. I was very much affected at it, and thought I loved her as my true mother. How, then, should I leave her now, being so far advanced in age? The maid, who till then had been my plague, took an inconceivable friendship for me. She praised me everywhere, extolling my virtue to the highest and served me with extraordinary respect. She begged pardon for all that she had made me suffer, and died of grief after my departure.

There was a priest of merit, a spiritual man, who had fallen in with temptation of taking upon him employment which I was sensible God did not call him to do. Fearing it might be a snare to him, I advised him against it. He promised me he would not do it, and yet accepted it. He then avoided me, joined in calumniating me, gradually fell away from grace, and died soon after.

There was a nun in a monastery I often went to, who was entered into a state of purification, which everyone in the house looked on as distraction. They locked her up and all who went to see her called it phrenzy or melancholy. I knew her to be devout I requested to see her. As soon as I approached, I felt an impression that she sought purity. I desired of the Superior that she should not be locked up, nor should people be admitted to see her, but that she would confide her to my care. I hoped things would change. I discovered that her greatest pain was at being counted a fool. I advised her to bear the state of foolishness, since Jesus Christ had been willing to bear it before Herod. This sacrifice gave her a calmness at once. But as God was willing to purify her soul, He separated her from all those things for which she had before the greatest attachment. At last, after she had patiently undergone her sufferings, her Superior wrote to me that "I was in the right, and that she had now come out of that state of dejection, in greater purity than ever." The Lord gave to me alone at that time to know her state. This was the commencement of the gift of discerning spirits, which I afterward received more fully.

The winter before I left home was one of the longest and hardest that had been for several years (1680). It was followed with extreme scarcity, which proved to me an occasion of exercising charity. My mother-in-law joined me heartily and appeared to me so much changed. I could not but be both surprised and overjoyed at it. We distributed at the house ninety-six dozen loaves of bread every week, but private charities to the bashful poor were much greater. I kept poor boys and girls employed. The Lord gave such blessings to my alms, that I did not find that my family lost anything by it. Before the death of my husband, my mother-in-law told him that I would ruin him with my charities, though he himself was so charitable, that in a very dear year, while he was young, he distributed a considerable sum. She repeated this to him so often, that he commanded me to set down in writing all the money I laid out, both what I gave for the expense of the house, and all that I caused to be bought, that he might better judge of what I gave to the poor. This new obligation, which I was brought under, appeared to me so much the harder, as for above eleven years we had been married I never before had this required of me. What troubled me most was the fear of having nothing to give to such as wanted. However, I submitted to it, without retrenching any part of my charities. I did not indeed set down any of my alms, and yet my account of expenses was found to answer exactly. I was much surprised and astonished, and esteemed it one of the wonders of Providence. I saw plainly it was simply given out of Thy treasury, O my Lord, that made me more liberal of what I thought was the Lord's, and not mine. Oh, if we but knew how far charity, instead of wasting or lessening the substance of the donor, blessed, increased and multiplied it profusely. How much is there in the world of useless dissipation, which, if properly applied, might amply serve for the subsistence of the poor, and would abundantly be restored, and amply rewarded to the families of those who gave it.

In the time of my greatest trials, some years after my husband's death (for they began three years before my widowhood, and lasted four years after) my footman came one day to tell me, (I was then in the country) that there was in the road a poor soldier dying. I had him brought in, and ordering a separate place to be made ready for him, I kept above a fortnight. His malady was a flux, which he had taken in the army. It was so nauseous, that though the domestics were charitably inclined, nobody could bear to come near him. I went myself to take away his vessels. But I never did anything of the kind which was so hard. I frequently made efforts for a full quarter of an hour at a time. It seemed as if my very heart was going to come up; yet I never desisted. I sometimes kept the poor people at my house to dress their putrid sores; but never met with anything so terrible as this. The poor man, after I had made him receive the sacrament, died.

What gave me now no small concern was the tenderness I had for my children, especially my younger son, whom I had strong reasons for loving. I saw him inclined to be good; everything seemed to favor the hopes I had conceived of him. I thought it running a great risk to leave him to another's education. My daughter I designed to take with me, though she was at this time ill of a very tedious fever. Providence was pleased, however, so to order it that she speedily recovered. The ties, with which the Lord held me closely united to Himself, were infinitely stronger than those of flesh and blood. The laws of my sacred marriage obliged me to give up all, to follow my spouse whithersoever it was His pleasure to call me after Him. Though I often hesitated, and doubted much before I went, I never doubted after my going of its being His will; and though men, who judge of things only according to the success they seem to have, have taken occasion from my disgraces and sufferings, to judge of my calling, and to run it down as error, illusion and imagination; it is that very persecution, and a multitude of strange crosses it has drawn upon me, (of which this imprisonment I now suffer is one,) which have confirmed me in the certainty of its truth and validity. I am more than ever convinced that the resignation which I have made of everything is in pure obedience to the divine will.

The gospel effectually in this point shows itself to be true, which has promised to those that shall leave all for the love of the Lord, "an hundred fold in this life, and persecutions also." And have not I infinitely more than an hundred fold, in so entire a possession as my Lord hast taken of me; in that unshaken firmness which is given me in my sufferings, in a perfect tranquillity in the midst of a furious tempest, which assaults me on every side; in an unspeakable joy, enlargedness and liberty which I enjoy in a most straight and rigorous captivity. I have no desire that my imprisonment should end before the right time. I love my chains. Everything is equal to me, as I have no will of my own, but purely the love and will of Him who possesses me. My senses indeed have not any relish for such things, but my heart is separated from them. My perseverance is not of myself, but of Him who is my life; so that I can say with the apostle, "It is no more I that live, but Jesus Christ that liveth in me." It is He in whom I live, move, and have my being.

To return to the subject, I say that I was not so reluctant to go with the New Catholics, as I was to engage with them, not finding a sufficient attraction, though I sought for it. I longed indeed to contribute to the conversion of wandering souls, and God made use of me to convert several families before my departure, one of which was composed of eleven or twelve persons. Besides, Father La Combe had written to me, to make use of this opportunity for setting off, but did not tell me whether I ought to engage with them or not. Thus it was the Providence of my God alone, which ordered everything, to which I was resigned without any reserve; and that hindered me from engaging with them.

One day reflecting humanly on this undertaking of mine, I found my faith staggering, weakened with a fear lest I were under a mistake, which slavish fear was increased by an ecclesiastic at our house, who told me it was a rash and ill-advised design. Being a little discouraged, I opened the Bible, and met with this passage in Isaiah, "Fear not thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel. I will help thee saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the holy one of Israel." (Chap. 61:14) and near it, "Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee."

I had a very great courage given me for going, but could not persuade myself that it would be best to settle with the New Catholics. It was, however, necessary to see Sister Garnier, their superior at Paris, in order to take our measures together. But I could not go to Paris, because that journey would have hindered me from taking another, which I had to take. She then, though much indisposed, resolved to come and see me. In what a wonderful manner, O my God, didst Thou conduct things by Thy Providence, to make everything come to the point of Thy will! Every day I saw new miracles, which both amazed and still more confirmed me; for with a paternal goodness Thou tookest care of even the smallest things. As she intended setting off, she fell sick. And Thou permitted it to fall out so, to give room thereby for a person, who would have discovered everything, in the meantime to take a journey to see me. As this person had given me notice of the day she intended to set off, seeing that day was excessively hot, and so sultry that I imagined that being taken so much tender care of as she was at home, they would not suffer her to begin her journey, (which really proved to be the case, as she afterward told me,) I prayed to the Lord to be pleased to grant a wind to rise, to moderate the violent heat. Scarce had I prayed, but there arose suddenly so refreshing a wind, that I was surprised and the wind did not cease during her whole journey.

I went to meet her, and brought her to my countryhouse, in such a way that she was not seen or known of anybody. What embarrassed me a little was, that two of my domestics knew her. But as I was then endeavoring the conversion of a lady, they thought that it was on this account I had sent for her, and that it was necessary to keep it secret, that the other lady might not be discouraged from coming. Though I knew nothing of controversial points, yet God so furnished me that I did not fail to answer all her objections, and resolve all her doubts, to such a degree, that she could not but give herself up entirely to God. Though Sister Garnier had a good share of both of grace and natural understanding, yet her words had not such an effect on this soul as those with which God furnished me, as she assured me herself. She even could not forbear speaking of it. I felt a movement to beg her of God, as a testimony of His holy will concerning me. But He was pleased not to grant it then, being willing that I should go off alone without any other assurance than His divine Providence was conducting all things. Sister Garnier did not declare her thoughts to me for four days. Then she told me she would not go with me. At this I was the more surprised, as I had persuaded myself that God would grant to her virtue what He might refuse to my demerits. Besides, the reason she gave appeared to me to be merely human, and void of supernatural grace. That made me hesitate a little; then, taking new courage, through the resignation of my whole self, I said, "As I go not thither for your sake, I will not fail to go even without you." This surprised her, as she acknowledged to me; for she thought that, on her refusal, I would decline my purpose of going.

I regulated everything, wrote down the contract of association with them as I thought proper. No sooner had I done it, but I felt great perturbation and trouble of mind. I told her my pain, and that I had no doubt but the Lord demanded me at Geneva, yet did not let me see that He would have me to be of their congregation. She desired to have some time till after prayers and communion, and that then she would tell me what she thought the Lord required of me. Accordingly. He directed her contrary both to her interests and inclination. She then told me that I ought not to connect myself with her, that it was not the Lord's design; that I only ought to go with her sister's, and that when I should be there, Father La Combe, (whose letter she had seen) would signify to me the divine will. I entered at once into these sentiments, and my soul then regained the sweets of inward peace.

My first thought had been (before I heard of the New Catholics going to Gex) to go directly to Geneva. At this time there were Catholics there in service, and otherwise; to take some little room without any noise, and without declaring myself at first; and as I knew how to make up all sorts of ointments to heal wounds and especially the king's evil, of which there is abundance in that place, and for which I had a most certain cure. I hoped easily to insinuate myself by this way and with the charities which I should have done to have won over many of the people. I have no doubt but, if I had followed this impulse, things would have succeeded better. But I thought I ought to follow the sentiments of the Bishop rather than my own. What am I saying? Has not Thy eternal Word, O my Lord, had its effect and accomplishment in me? Man speaks as man; but when we behold things in the Lord, we see them in another light. Yes, my Lord, Thy design was to give Geneva not to my cares, words or works, but to my sufferings; for the more I see things appear hopeless, the more do I hope for the conversion of that city by a way known to Thee only.

Father La Combe has told me since, that he had a strong impulse to write to me, not to engage with the New Catholics. He believed it not to be the will of the Lord concerning me; but he omitted doing it. As to my director, M. Bertot, he died four months before my departure. I had some intimations of his death, and it seemed as if he bequeathed me a portion of his spirit to help his children.

I was seized with a fear, that the check I had felt, at giving so largely in favor of the New Catholics, what I had designed for Geneva, was a stratagem of nature, which does not love to be stripped. I wrote to Sister Garnier to get a contract drawn up according to my first memorial. God permitted me to commit this fault, to make me the more sensible of His protection over me.