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In the Providence of God, Madame Guyon, of whose general history and character the reader is, doubtless, already sufficiently well informed,11See Life of Lady Guyon various editions, Amer. and English Life etc., of Mad. De La Mothe Guyon etc. by Thomas C. Upham New York, Harper and Brothers, 2 vols. 12mo. 1849 was an inmate, during the years 1682 and 1683, of a Convent at Thonon, a small town of Savoy, on the southern shore of the Lake of Geneva. Here, in the midst of varied crosses and persecutions, multiplied labors and never ceasing bodily suffering, she composed the greater part of the works, which have endeared her memory to interior souls, and have been the means of leading multitudes into a pure and higher knowledge of the way of Jesus Christ.
Of these by far the most extensive was her Commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, which, as afterwards collected and published by the zealous Poiret, fill twenty duodecimo volumes. Her own account of the origin of this extensive series of spiritual interpretations and reflections is as follows.22Vie ii. 221, ch. 21. 33Note: Her autobiography is very indistinct in the matter of dates, but the above is probably as near an approximation to the truth as can be made. The Torrents was written at Thonon (Vie ii. 118, 119), and from internal and other evidence it is probable that The Method of Prayer had been previously composed—(Opusc. i. p. 33, chap. xii. § 1)—That the Commentaries on the Scriptures were written during these years we have her own direct assertion in two different passages (Œuvres xiii. 10—xx. 412.)
“Thou wert not contented, O Lord, with causing me to speak; I must also read the Holy Scriptures. There were times when I could read no longer, for I found no void within to fill, but rather an overflowing abundance. As soon as I began to read the Bible, it was given me to write down the passage which I was reading, and immediately afterwards its meaning was set before me. While writing the text, I had not the slightest hint of the explanation; but the moment it was committed to paper, the latter followed with inconceivable rapidity. Before writing, I knew nothing of what I was about to write; while writing, I became conscious that I was writing things to which I had previously been a perfect stranger, and that there were hidden in me unknown treasures of wisdom and knowledge; after writing, I remembered nothing of what I had penned, neither word nor idea. I could not have made use of it for the help of souls; but our Lord gave me at the moment, without any labor on my part, whatever was necessary for their edification.
“It was in this way that He caused me to write an explanation of the whole Bible. I had no book but that, nor did I ever make use of any other, or search after anything.44A similar statement is repeated in several places, as for instance at the end of the commentary on Revelations (Œuvres xx. 409) “Mystical Theology makes use of expressions and terms which must not be interpreted according to the artificial rigor of the Doctrinal Schools. Let no one wonder at the description of such sublime interior states; God has so ordered it, that everyone may perceive that there is no spiritual experience which is not set out in the Holy Scriptures. I here assert, that I have referred to no book whatever, except the simple Word of God, never in my life having read any of the Fathers of the Church. I simply took the Scriptures and wrote, as fast, in faith and abandonment, as my pen would go, whatever entered my mind, without a single thought as to whether it were well or ill said. I have never re-read it for the purposes of correction, but have left it just as it was in the hands of my Director, to whom it is submitted, that He may make such disposition of it as may seem good to Him, and as may be inspired in Him by God.” Where I have introduced passages from the New Testament, in commenting upon the Old, they were not sought after, but accompanied the explanation itself; and the same was the case with quotations from the Old Testament when engaged upon the New.
“I had scarce any time for writing except at night, for I was obliged to converse all day, with the same absence of thought for self and an equal unconcern as to life or health. I slept but an hour or two, and had, besides, almost every day the intermittent fever; but, notwithstanding, I continued to write without inconvenience and without a thought as to life or death. He, to whom I belonged without reserve, did with me whatsoever He pleased without my interfering with His work.
“Thou didst cause me to write so purely under Thine own direction, that I was obliged to cease and resume according to Thy will. Thou didst exercise me in every way; suddenly I must write, as suddenly cease and immediately resume my labor. When I was writing by day, I was suddenly interrupted and frequently obliged to leave words half expressed, and Thou didst afterwards add what seemed good to Thee.
“All the faults in my writings have this source, that, being unaccustomed to the operation of God, I was often unfaithful, continuing to write after the inward impulse had ceased, because I had time at my command and because I had been required to finish the work. Thus it is easy to discover passages which are beautiful and elevated, and others which have neither relish nor unction; but I have left them as they are, that they may be a standing testimony to the difference between the Spirit of God and that of the natural man.
* * * * “I wrote the Canticle of Canticles in a day and a half, besides receiving several visits. The rapidity with which. I wrote was so great that my arm became swollen and very stiff. * * * I will add one other circumstance in relation to these matters, that a very considerable part of the book of Judges was lost. I was requested to supply it, and wrote anew the required portions. A long time after having moved away, the missing sheets came to light in a place where no one had ever dreamed of looking for them, and on comparing the two copies they were found perfectly to correspond, much to the admiration of many well-informed and upright persons who took the pains to examine them side by side.”
After circulating somewhat extensively in manuscript, the explanation of the Canticle was published separately at Lyons in 1688. Upon this edition all subsequent ones have been founded. It was principally by citations from these two works, the Method of Prayer and the Explanation of the Canticle, that the accusers of Madame Guyon subsequently attempted to sustain their charges of heresy and novel opinions. To meet these allegations, when afterwards submitting her writings for judgment to an assembly of Ecclesiastics high in authority, she prepared for their assistance a digest of extracts from the writings of saints and authors for years unqualifiedly approved by the Church, which seemed to her not only to sustain whatever she had written, but to show that she would have been justified in even stronger expressions than she had anywhere used. This compilation was a work of immense labor, and was completed in fifty days; it occupies three duodecimo volumes of some four hundred pages each, under the title of The Justifications. Whatever in this collection has been thought likely to explain any obscurity, or to add fresh or vivid illustration to the deep truths contained in the text, has been added in the notes.
The Bible used by Madame Guyon was the French translation from the Latin Vulgate. As it differs in some points from that commonly in use among us, both versions of the Canticle have been placed in parallel columns, so that the two may be easily compared.
A few words of preface from the author herself, and the reader is free.55 Œuvres, i. pref. p. 68. “The more firm the reader’s faith in the omnipotence of God and in his infinite love to man, the more comprehensive will be his abandonment and the purer his love, while he will be more and more enlightened as to the truths contained in the mystical sense of the Scriptures. He will then discover with indescribable delight, that every experience is therein detailed in the simplest and clearest manner; he will rejoice to have met with a guide to lead him across the Red Sea and the weary desert that succeeds, but he will only recognize the full measure of his happiness when he shall have safely arrived in the promised land. Transported with joy, his past labors will seem like a dream, and had his sufferings been far greater, he will account that it would have been an easy purchase.
“But, my beloved friend, did you ever reflect that of the great multitude that left the land of Egypt, but two ever set foot upon that blessed ground? Do you ask why this was? Devoid of courage, they incessantly gave themselves up to selfish regrets for what they had left behind. Had they been faithful and courageous, a few months would have brought them there; but forty years in the wilderness was the penalty of their murmurs and dissatisfaction. So those whom God desires to lead to the interior land of promise, look back with longing, not for the material onions of Egypt, but for those sensible delights which are no longer appropriate to a pure and naked way of faith; they reject that light bread, manna; they require something grosser; they rebel against their conductor, and far from being grateful for the goodness of God, they excite his anger and arouse his wrath. Thus they doom themselves to a long and weary march about the mountain, making one step in advance and four backward, and at last die in the wilderness from their own obstinacy.
“My brethren! let us take courage; let us make up our minds to attain our end, and set at nought the difficulties that hedge up the way. We have an unerring Guide; that cloud by day that prevents our being misled by the dazzling brightness of the sun, and that pillar of fire by night that leads us unfailingly through the darkest night of faith. Ah! Holy Love! the gloomier the obscurity about us, the more glowing is thy pillar of fire! Why can we not be content with the hidden manna of the interior which will feed the true life within, which grosser viands could never do? If we must die, let us choose the death of self rather than that of the soul.
“But we are not now restricted to the beautiful types which the old Dispensation presented of the interior road; we have now a clearer and more assured path which Jesus Christ himself has pointed out by treading in it. We no longer labor among admirable but mysterious shadows of the good things to come, but we have a living model, the Word of Truth. Jesus Christ is the way in which we must walk, the truth by which we are taught, and the life by which we live, in Him we have the substance of which the ancient Fathers had but the shadow. And if they entered upon the interior life, how much more incumbent is it upon Christians to do so, who are permitted to handle, as it were, the body and blood of the Lord Jesus!”
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