Autobiography of Madam Guyon


HE WENT DIRECTLY to the Bishop of Geneva, who till then had manifested much esteem and kindness for me. He persuaded him, that it would be proper to secure me to that house, to oblige me to give up to it the annual income I had reserved to myself; to engage me thereto, by making me prioress. He had gained such an ascendancy over the Bishop, that the people in the country called him the Little Bishop. He drew him to enter heartily and with zeal into this proposition, and to resolve to bring it about whatever it should cost.

The ecclesiastic, having so far carried his point, and being swelled with his success, no longer kept any measures in regard to me. He began with causing all the letters which I sent, and those which were directed to me, to be stopped. That was in order to have it in his power to make what impressions he pleased on the minds of others, and that I should neither be able to know it, nor to defend myself, nor to give or send to my friends any account of the manner in which I was treated. One of the maids I had brought wanted to return. She could have no rest in this place, the other that remained was infirm, too much taken up by others to help me in anything. As Father La Combe was soon to come, I thought he would soften the violent spirit of this man, and that he would give me proper advice.

In the meantime they proposed to me the engagement, and the post of prioress. I answered, that as to the engagement it was impossible for me, since my vocation was elsewhere. And I could not regularly be the prioress, till after passing through the novitiate, in which they had all served two years before their being engaged. When I should have done as much, I should see how God would inspire me. The prioress replied quite tartly, that if I would ever leave them it were best for me to do it immediately. Yet I did not offer to retire, but continued still to act as usual. I saw the sky gradually thickening and storms gathering on every side. The prioress then affected a milder air. She assured me, that she had a desire, as well as I, to go to Geneva; that I should not engage, but only promise her to take her with me, if I went thither. She pretended to place a great confidence in me, and professed a high esteem for me. As I am very free, and have nothing but uprightness, I let her know that I had no attraction for the manner of life of the New Catholics, by reason of the intrigues from without. Several things did not please me, because I wanted them to be upright in everything. She signified that she did not consent to such things, but because that ecclesiastic told her they were necessary to give the house a credit in distant parts and to draw charities from Paris. I answered that if we walked uprightly God would never fail us. He would sooner do miracles for us. I remarked to her that when, instead of sincerity, they had recourse to artifice, charity grew cold, and kept herself shut up. It is God alone who inspires charity; how, then, is it to be drawn by disguises?

Soon after, Father La Combe came about the retreats. This was the third and last time that he came to Gex. The prioress, after she had been tampering a good deal with me, having written him a long letter before his coming, and received his answer, which she showed me, now went to ask him whether she would one day be united to me at Geneva. He answered with his usual uprightness, "Our Lord has made it known to me that you shall never be established at Geneva." Soon after she died. When he had uttered this declaration, she appeared enraged against both him and me. She went directly to that ecclesiastic, who was in a room with the house-steward; and they took their measures together, to oblige me either to engage or retire. They thought that I would sooner engage than retire, and they watched my letters.

With a design to lay snares for him, he requested Father La Combe to preach. He did on this text, "The King's daughter is beautiful within." That ecclesiastic, who was present with his confidant, said that it was preached against him, and was full of errors. He drew up eight propositions, and inserted in them what the other had not preached, adjusting them as maliciously as ever he could, then sent them to one of his friends in Rome, to get them examined by the Sacred Congregation, and by the Inquisition. Though he had very illy digested them, at Rome they were pronounced good. That greatly disappointed and vexed him. After having been treated in this manner, and opprobriously reviled by him in the most offensive terms, the Father, with much mildness and humility, told him that he was going to Annecy about some affairs of the convent. If he had anything to write to the Bishop of Geneva, he would take care of his letter. He then desired him to wait awhile, as he was going to write. The good Father had the patience to wait above three hours, without hearing from him; though he had treated him exceedingly ill, so far as to snatch out of his hands a letter I had given him for that worthy hermit I have mentioned. Hearing he was not gone, but was still in the church, I went to him, and begged him to send to see if the other's packet was ready. The day was so far gone that he would be obliged to lodge by the way. When the messenger arrived, he found a servant of the ecclesiastic on horseback, ordered to go at full speed, to be at Annecy before the Father. He then returned an answer, that he had no letters to send by him. This was so contrived, that he might gain time to prepossess the Bishop for his purposes. Father La Combe then set off for Annecy, and on his arrival found the Bishop prepossessed, and in an ill humor. This was the substance of the discourse

BISHOP -- You must absolutely engage this lady to give what she has to the house at Gex, and make her the prioress of it.

F. LA COMBE -- My lord, you know what she has told you herself of her vocation, both at Paris and in this country. I therefore do not believe that she will engage; nor is there any likelihood that, after quitting her all, in the hope of entering Geneva, she should engage elsewhere, and thereby put it out of her power to accomplish the designs of God in regard to her. She has offered to stay with those sisters as a boarder. If they are willing to keep her as such, she will remain with them; if not, she is resolved to retire into some convent, till God shall dispose of her otherwise.

BISHOP -- I know all that; but I likewise know that she is so very obedient, that, if you order her, she will assuredly do it.

F. LA COMBE -- It is for that reason, my lord, that one ought to be very cautious in the commands which they lay on her. Can I induce a foreign lady, who, for all her subsistence, has nothing but a small pittance she has reserved to herself, to give that up in favor of a house which is not yet established, and perhaps never will be? If the house should happen to fail, or be no longer of use, what shall that lady live on? Shall she go to the hospital? And indeed this house will not long be of any use, since there are no Protestants in any part of France near it.

BISHOP -- These reasons are good for nothing. If you do not make her do what I have said, I will degrade and suspend you.

This manner of speaking somewhat surprised the Father. He well enough understands the rules of suspension, which is not executed on such things. He replied:

"My lord, I am ready, not only to suffer the suspension, but even death, rather than do anything against my conscience." Having said that, he retired.

He directly sent me this account by an express, to the end that I might take proper measures. I had no other course to take but to retire into a convent. I received a letter informing me that the nun to whom I had entrusted my daughter had fallen sick, and desiring me to go to her for some time. I showed this letter to the sisters of our house, telling them that I had a mind to go; but if they ceased to persecute me, and would leave Father La Combe in peace, I would return as soon as the mistress of my daughter should be recovered. Instead of this, they persecuted me more violently, wrote to Paris against me, stopped all my letters, and sent libels against me around the country.

The day after my arrival at Tonon, Father La Combe set off for the valley of Aoust, to preach there in Lent. He had come to take leave of me, and told me that he should go from thence to Rome, and perhaps not return, as his superiors might detain him there; that he was sorry to leave me in a strange country, without succor, and persecuted of everyone. I replied, "My father, that gives me no pain; I use the creatures for God, and by His order. Through His mercy, I do very well without them, when He withdraws them. I am very well contented never to see you, and to abide under persecution, if such be His will." He said he would go well satisfied to see me in such a disposition, and then departed.

As soon as I got to the Ursulines, a very aged and pious priest, who for twenty years past had not come out of his solitude, came to find me. He told me that he had a vision relative to me; that he had seen a woman in a boat on the lake; and that the Bishop of Geneva, with some of his priests, exerted all their efforts to sink the boat she was in, and to drown her; that he continued in this vision above two hours, with pain of mind; that it seemed sometimes as if this woman were quite drowned, as for some time she quite disappeared; but afterward she appeared again, and ready to escape the danger, while the Bishop never ceased to pursue her. This woman was always equally calm; but he never saw her entirely free from him. From whence I conclude, added he, that the Bishop will persecute you without intermission.

I had an intimate friend, wife of that governor of whom I have made some mention. As she saw I had quitted everything for God, she had a warm desire to follow me. With diligence did she dispose of all her effects and settle her affairs in order to come to me; but when she heard of the persecution, she was discouraged from coming to a place, from whence she thought I should be obliged to retire. Soon after she died.