Autobiography of Madam Guyon


I WENT OFF in a strange renunciation, and in great simplicity, scarcely able to render the reason why I should in such a manner quit my family, which I most tenderly love, being without any positive assurance, yet hoping even against hope itself. I went to the New Catholics at Paris, where Providence wrought wonders to conceal me. They sent for the notary, who had drawn up the contract of engagement. When he read it to me, I felt such a repugnance to it, that I could not bear to hear it to the end, much less sign it. The notary wondered and much more so when Sister Garnier came in, and told him, that there needed no contract of engagement. I was enabled through divine assistance, to put my affairs in very good order, and to write sundry letters by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, and not by my own. This was what I had never experienced before. It was given me at that time only as a beginning, and has since been granted me much more perfectly.

I had two domestics, whom it was very difficult for me to discharge, as I did not think to take them with me. If I had left them, they would have told of my departure; and I should have been sent after. I was when it became known. But God so ordered it that they were willing to follow me. They were of no use to me, and soon after turned into France. I took with me only my daughter, and two maids to serve us both. We set off in a boat upon the river, though I had taken places in the stage-coach, in order that, if they searched for me in the coach, they might not find me. I went to Melun to wait for it there.

It was surprising that in this boat the child could not forbear making crosses, employing a person to cut rushes for her to use for that purpose. She then put around, and all over me, above three hundred of them. I let her do it, and inwardly apprehended that it was not without its meaning. I felt an interior certainty that I was going to meet with crosses in abundance and that this child was sowing the cross for me to reap it. Sister Garnier, who saw that they could not restrain her from covering me with crosses, said to me, "What that child does appears to be significant." Turning to the little girl, she said, "Give me some crosses, too, my pretty pet." "No," she replied, "they are all for my dear mother." Soon she gave her one to stop her importunity, then continued putting more on me; after which she desired some river-flowers, which floated on the water, to be given her. Braiding a garland she put it on my head, and said to me, "After the cross you shall be crowned." I admired all this in silence, and offered myself up to the pure love of God, as a victim, free and willing to be sacrificed to Him.

Some time before my departure, a particular friend, a true servant of God, related to me a vision she had respecting me. "She saw my heart surrounded with thorns; that our Lord appeared in it well pleased; that, though the thorns seemed likely to tear it, yet, instead of doing that, they only rendered it fairer, and our Lord's approbation the stronger.

At Corbeil, (a little town on the river Seine, sixteen miles south of Paris,) I met with the priest whom God had first made use of so powerfully to draw me to His love. He approved of my design to leave all for the Lord; but he thought I should not be well suited with the New Catholics. He told me some things about them, to show that our leadings were incompatible. He cautioned me not to let them know that I walked in the inward path. If I did, I must expect nothing but persecution from them. But it is in vain to contrive to hide, when God sees it best for us to suffer, and when our wills are utterly resigned to Him, and totally passed into His.

While at Paris I gave the New Catholics all the money I had. I reserved not to myself a single penny, rejoicing to be poor after the example of Jesus Christ. I brought from home nine thousand livres. As by my donation I had reserved nothing to myself and by a contract lent them six thousand; this six thousand has returned to my children but none of it to me. That gives me no trouble; poverty, thus procured, constitutes my riches. The rest I gave entirely to the sisters that were with us, as well to supply their traveling expenses, for the purchase of furniture. I did not reserve so much as my linen for my own use, putting it in the common fund. I had neither a locked coffer, nor purse. I had brought but little linen for fear of mistrust. In wanting to carry off clothes I should have been discovered. My persecutors did not fail to report that I had brought great sums from home, which I had imprudently expended, and given to the friends of Father La Combe. False as I had not a penny. On my arrival at Annecy a poor man was asking alms. I, having nothing else, gave him the buttons from my sleeves. At another time I gave a poor man a little plain ring, in the name of Jesus Christ. I had worn it as a token of marriage with Him.

We joined the flying stage at Melun where I left Sister Garnier. I went on with the other sisters with whom I had no acquaintance. The carriages were very fatiguing; I got no sleep through so long a journey. My daughter, a very tender child, only five years of age, got scarcely any. We bore great fatigue without falling sick by the way. My child had not an hour's uneasiness, although she was only three hours in bed every night. At another time half this fatigue, or even the want of rest, would have thrown me into a fit of sickness. God only knows both the sacrifices which He induced me to make, and the joy of my heart in offering up everything to Him. Had I kingdoms and empires, I think I would yield them up with still more joy, to give Him the higher marks of my love. As soon as we arrived at the inn, I went to church and stayed there till dinner time. In the coach, my divine Lord communed with me, and in me, in a manner which the others could not comprehend, indeed not perceive. The cheerfulness I showed in the greatest dangers encouraged them. I even sang hymns of joy at finding myself disengaged from the riches, honors and entanglements of the world. God in such a manner protected us. He seemed to be to us "a pillar of fire by night, and a pillar of a cloud by day." We passed over a very dangerous spot between Lyons and Chamberry. Our carriage broke as we were coming out of it. Had it happened a little sooner, we would have perished.

We arrived at Annecy on Magdalene's eve, 1681. On Magdalene's day the Bishop of Geneva performed divine service for us, at the tomb of St. Francis de Sales. There I renewed my spiritual marriage with my Redeemer, as I did every year on this day. There also I felt a sweet remembrance of that saint, with whom our Lord gives me a singular union. I say union, for it appears to me that the soul in God is united with saints, the more so in proportion as they are conformable to Him. It is a union which it pleases God sometimes to revive after death, and awaken in the soul for His own glory. At such times departed saints are rendered more intimately present to that soul in God; and this revival is as it were an holy intercourse of friend with friend, in Him who unites them all in one immortal tie.

That day we left Annecy, and on the next went to prayers at Geneva. I had much joy at the communion. It seemed to me as if God more powerfully united me to Himself. There I prayed to Him for the conversion of that great people. That evening we arrived late at Gex, where we found only bare walls. The Bishop of Geneva had assured me that the house was furnished; undoubtedly he believed it to be. We lodged at the house of the sisters of charity, who were so kind as to give us their beds.

I was in great pain of mind for my daughter, who visibly lost weight. I had a strong desire to place her with the Ursulines at Tonon. My heart was so affected on her behalf, that I could not forbear weeping in secret for her. Next day I said, "I would take my daughter to Tonon, and leave her there, till I should see how we might be accommodated." They opposed it strongly, after a manner which seemed very hard-hearted as well as ungrateful, seeing she was a skeleton. I looked upon the child as a victim whom I had imprudently sacrificed. I wrote to Father La Combe, entreating him to come and see me, to consult together about it. I thought I could not in conscience keep her in this place any longer. Several days passed without my having any answer. In the meantime I became resigned to the will of God, whether to have succor or not.