The Mystic Madame Guyon

This is the day that … Jeanne Marie Bourvier de la Motte Guyon died, at the age of 69, in 1717.

As a young girl, born to an aristocratic French family, she was raised in various convents. At the age of 16 she was married to a high-ranking nobleman more than twice her age. Widowed at the age of 28 Madame Guyon found herself “with incredible wealth and vast estates to manage.”

Although she belonged to the Roman Catholic faith, yet she “saw more clearly the sublimest truths of our most holy Christianity” (Introduction to Autobiography, published by Moody Press, page 6).

“I henceforth take Jesus Christ to be mine …” she wrote, “and I give myself to Him, unworthy though I am, to be His spouse.”

In an age of debauchery when King Louis XIV considered himself God’s appointed ruler whom all must obey, Madame Guyon refused consent for her daughter’s marriage to the person of the king’s choosing. She was imprisoned for nine months, only to find favour in the eyes of Madame de Maintenon, the king’s favourite mistress, who secured her release.

Madame Guyon now found herself conducting “prayer meetings and counselling sessions for the young ladies of the king’s court!” “Palace or prison made no difference to Madame Guyon,” writes one biographer, “so absorbed was she in the love of Christ.”

Eventually her writings brought her into conflict with the Roman church, she was tried for heresy and sentenced to imprisonment in the Bastille. (At the same time as ‘the man in the iron mask’ was also held prisoner there). Four years later she was released (in 1702), was banished, and died some 15 years later.

During her remarkable life she wrote a 20-volume commentary on the Bible, and 40 devotional works. Madame Guyon was a mystic, and her ‘visions and revelations’ led John Wesley to be critical of some of her writings as lacking a Scriptural base.

Likewise, some of her “bizarre stories of self-inflicted pain … putting stones in her shoes and rolling in stinging nettles…” cause many evangelicals to regard her with a quizzical eye.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.