Jeanne Marie Bouvier De La Motte Guyon, a French mystical writer, born in Montargis, April 13, 1648, died in Blois, June 9, 1717. She was the daughter of Claude Bouvier, seigneur de La Motte Vergouville, and early displayed a religious turn of mind, which was fostered by her parents, although they would not permit her to enter a convent. In 1G64 she was married to Jacques Guyon, a man of uncongenial temper and 22 years her senior; but she succeeded at length in converting him to her religious views. Five children were born of this union, two of whom died young. M.' Guyon died in 1676, and in 1680 Mme. Guyon removed to Paris, where she devoted herself to the education of her children and to charitable labors. She went to Geneva for religious work, and later to Gex. Here she became intimately acquainted with a priest named Lacombe, who restored her cheerfulness at a time of religious depression, and who was appointed by the bishop to be her spiritual director, but was in fact wholly subjected to her influence. The peculiar views on sanctification and other doctrines advanced by them soon brought them under suspicion of heresy, and in 1684 both she and Lacombe were ordered by the bishop to leave his diocese.
She went then successively to Turin, Grenoble, Marseilles, Nice, Genoa, Vercelli, and Grenoble again, where her instructions proved very attractive, but exposed her to persecution. During these journeys she composed her "Spiritual Torrents " and " Short and Easy Method of Prayer," and began her commentaries on the Bible. In 1686 she returned to Paris, where she spent some time in comparative retirement. She was sought out, however, by multitudes of persons, among whom were many of high rank. With the duchess de Beauvilliers, the duchess de Bethune, and the countess de Guiche, she organized meetings of ladies of rank for prayer and religious conversation. The duke de Beauvilliers and the duke and duchess de Chevreuse were among her disciples. Shortly before this the writings of Miguel de Molinos, the originator of the party called "quietists," had been condemned at Rome as heretical, and it was soon perceived that the teachings of Mme. Guyon were but little different from his. A vigorous movement was begun for their suppression, under the leadership of Mme. Guyon's half brother La Motte, a Barnabite priest.
The first step was the imprisonment in the Bastile of Lacombe, whose preaching was producing extraordinary effect, and this was soon followed by the arrest of Mme. Guyon herself by royal order, and her confinement in the convent of Ste. Marie (January, 1688); but at the end of eight months she was released through the intercession of Mme. de Maintenon. Soon after this she met Fenelon, who became deeply engaged in her instructions, while she was equally interested that he might be brought to her own views. Mme. de Maintenon was likewise fascinated with her, and permitted her to disseminate her opinions at the female seminary of St. Cyr. At the suggestion of a brother of Boileau she wrote an apology for the " Method of Prayer," which renewed the outcry against her. A royal commission, of which Bossuet and Fenelon were both members, examined her writings, and a few passages were marked out as erroneous. To this decision Mme. Guyon submitted; but Bossuet wrote a treatise against her " Method of Prayer," which embodied severe reflections upon her character and conduct.
It was the refusal of Fenelon to lend his signature to this work which led to the rupture between the two illustrious prelates. (See Fenelon.) Meanwhile Mme. Guyon was imprisoned at Vincennes, in the Bastile, and subsequently at Vaugirard. In order, it is said, to prejudice the court of Rome against Fenelon, whose " Maxims of the Saints," a treatise designed to favor Mme. Guyon's doctrines, was then under examination by the pope, a letter was obtained from Lacombe, imprisoned at Vincennes, in which he exhorted Mme. Guyon to repent of their criminal intimacy. There is no doubt that the intellect of the enthusiast had been impaired by his confinement, and in fact he died insane not long afterward. Nevertheless, Mme. Guyon was sent back to the Bastile, her son was dismissed from the army, and some of her friends were banished. Her virtue, however, was acknowledged in the assembly of the French clergy at St. Germain in 1700, and in 1702 she was released from prison and banished to Diziers, where and in the neighboring city of Blois she passed the rest of her life in perfect retirement, professing on her deathbed an unhesitating faith in the Roman Catholic | church and all its dogmas.
The heresies of which she was suspected consisted mainly in her doctrine of sanctification by faith, and of that complete identification of the will with the will of (rod which quietists call the "fixed" or "continuous state," and which is fully described in the " Spiritual Guide " of Molinos. She charged her opponents with having interpolated passages in her works and forged several writings which bore her name. Her principal works are : Moyen court et tres-facile pour l'oraison (Lyons, 1688-'90); Les torrents spirituels, first printed in an edition of her Opuscules spirituels (Cologne, 1704); Les livres de l'Ancien et du Nouveau Testament, traduits en francais, avec des explications et des reflexions qui regardent la vie interieure (20 vols. 8vo, Cologne, 1713 - '15); Discours chretiens et .spirituels (1716); Lettres chretiennes, etc. (4 vols. 8vo, 1717); collections of hymns, etc.; and her autobiography, written during her imprisonment, and published after her death (Vie de Madame Guyon, ecrite par elle-meme, 3 vols. 12mo, Cologne, 1720). This work is silent upon some of the most important incidents of her life, and it has been supposed that it was written by Poiret from her papers.
Many of her hymns were translated by Cow-per. - See Upham's "Life and Religious Opinions and Experience of Madame de la Motte Guyon" (2 vols. 12mo, New York, 1847).