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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 5. Quietism.

A. Its general character.

Tholuck4747Herzog’s Encyklopädie, art. “Molinos.” says “There is a law of seasons in the spiritual, as well as in the physical world, in virtue of which when the time has come, without apparent connection, similar phenomena reveal themselves in different places. As towards the end of the fifteenth century an ecclesiastical-doctrinal reformatory movement passed over the greater part of Europe, in part without apparent connection; so at the end of the seventeenth a mystical and spiritual tendency was almost as extensively manifested. In Germany, it took the form of Mysticism and Pietism; in England, of Quakerism; in France, of Jansenism and Mysticism; and in Spain and Italy, of Quietism.” This movement was in fact what in our day would be called a revival of religion. Not indeed in a form free from grievous errors, but nevertheless it was a return to the religion of the heart, as opposed to the religion of forms. The Mystics of this period, although they constantly appealed to the mediæval Mystics, even to the Areopagite, and although they often used the same forms of expression, yet they adhered much more faithfully to Scriptural doctrines and to the faith of the Church. They did not fall into Pantheism, or believe in the absorption of the soul into the substance of God. They held, however, that the end to be attained was union with God. By this was not meant what Christians generally understand by that term; congeniality with God, delight in his perfections, assurance of his love, submission to his will, perfect satisfaction in the enjoyment of his favour. It was something more than all this, something mystical and therefore inexplicable; a matter of feeling not something to be understood or explained; a state in which all thought, all activity was suspended; a state of perfect quietude in which the soul is lost in God, — an “écoulement et liquefaction de l’âme en Dieu,” as it is expressed by St. Francis de Sales. This state is reached by few. It is to be attained not by the use of the means of grace or ordinances of the Church. The soul should be raised above the need of all such aids. It rises even above Christ, insomuch that it is not He whom the soul seeks, nor God in him; but God as God; the absolute, infinite God. The importance of the Scriptures, of prayer, of the sacraments, and of the truth concerning Christ, was not denied; but all these were regarded as belonging to the lower stages of the divine life. Nor was this rest and union with God to be attained by meditation; for meditation is discursive. It implies an effort to bring truth before the mind, and fixing the attention upon it. All conscious self-activity must be suspended in order to this perfect rest in God. It is a state in which the soul is out of itself; a state of ecstasy, according to the etymological meaning of the word.

This state is to be reached in the way prescribed by the older Mystics; first, by negation or abstraction; that is, the abstraction of the soul from everything out of God, from the creature, from all interest, concern, or impression from sensible objects. Hence the connection between Mysticism, in this form, and asceticism. Not only must the soul become thus abstracted from the creature, but it must be dead to self. All regard to self must be lost. There can be no prayer, for prayer is asking something for self; no thanksgiving, for thanksgiving implies gratitude for good done to self. Self must be lost. There must be no preference for heaven over hell. One of the points most strenuously insisted upon was a willingness to be damned, if such were the will of God. In the controversy between Fénélon and Bossuet, the main question concerned disinterested love, whether in loving God the soul must be raised above all regard to its own holiness and happiness. This pure or disinterested love justifies, or renders righteous in the sight of God. Although the Mystics of this period were eminently pure as well as devout, they nevertheless sometimes laid down principles, or at least used expressions, which gave their enemies a pretext for charging them with Antinomianism. It was said, that a soul filled with this love, or reduced to this entire negation of self, cannot sin; “sin is not in, but outside of him:” which was made to mean, that nothing was sin to the perfect. It is an instructive psychological fact that when men attempt or pretend to rise above the law of God, they sink below it; that Perfectionism has so generally led to Antinomianism.

B. Leaders of this Movement.

The principal persons engaged in promoting this remarkable religious movement were Molinos, Madame Guyon, and Archbishop Fénélon. Michael Molinos, born 1640, was a Spanish priest. About 1670 he became a resident of Rome, where he gained a great reputation for piety and mildness, and great influence from his position as confessor to many families of distinction. He enjoyed the friendship of the highest authorities in the Church, including several of tile cardinals, and the Pope, Innocent XI., himself. In 1675 he published his “Spiritual Guide,” in which the principles above stated were presented. Molinos did not claim originality, but professed to rely on the Mystics of the Middle Ages, several of whom had already been canonized by the Church. This, however, did not save him from persecution. His first trial indeed before the Inquisition resulted in his acquittal. But subsequently, through the influence of the Jesuits and of the court of Louis XIV., he was, after a year’s imprisonment, condemned. Agreeably to his principle of entire subjection to the Church, he retracted his errors, but failed to secure the confidence of his judges. He died in 1697. His principal work, “Manuductio Spiritualis,” or Spiritual Guide, was translated into different languages, and won for him many adherents in every part of the Catholic world. When he was imprisoned, it is said, that twenty thousand letters from all quarters, and many of them from persons of distinction, were found among his papers, assuring him of the sympathy of their authors with him in his spirit and views. This is proof that there were at that time thousands in the Romish Church who had not bowed the knee to the Baal of formalism.

Madame Guyon.

The most prominent and influential of the Quietists, as they were called, was Madame Guyon, born 1648 and died 1717. She belonged to a rich and noble family; was educated in a cloister, married at sixteen to a man of rank and wealth and of three times her age; faithful and devoted, but unhappy in her domestic relations; adhering zealously to her Church, she passed a life of incessant labour, and that, too, embittered by persecution. When still in the cloister she came under the influence of the writings of St. Francis de Sales, which determined her subsequent course. Enthusiastic in temperament, endowed with extraordinary gifts, she soon came to regard herself as the recipient of visions, revelations, and inspirations by which she was impelled to write, and, in the first instance, to devote herself to the conversion of Protestants. Failing in this, she considered it her vocation to become the mother of spiritual children, by bringing them to adopt her views of the inner life. To this object she devoted herself with untiring energy and great success, her adherents, secret and avowed, being numbered by thousands, or, as she supposed, by millions. She thus drew upon herself, although devoted to the Church, the displeasure of the authorities, and was imprisoned for seven years in the Bastile and other prisons in France. The latter years of her life she spent in retirement in the house of her daughter, burdened with physical infirmities, hearing mass every day in her private chapel and communicating every other day. Her principal works were, “La Bible avec des Explications et Réflexions, qui regardent la Vie Intérieure,” “Moyen court et très-facile de faire Oraison.” This little work excited great attention and great opposition. She was obliged to defend it in an “Apologie du Moyen Court,” in 1690, and “Justifications” in 1694, and in 1695 she was forced to retract thirty-five propositions selected therefrom. She published an allegorical poem under the title “Les Torrens.” Her minor poetic pieces called “Poésies Spirituelles,” in four volumes, are greatly admired for the genius which they display.

Archbishop Fénélon, one of the greatest lights of the Gallican Church, espoused the cause of Madame Guyon, and published, 1697, “Explication des Maximes des Saints sur la Vie Intérieure.” As the title intimates, the principles of this book are derived from the earlier Mystics, and specially from the latest of the saints, St. Francis de Sales, who was canonized in 1665, only thirty-three years after his death. Although Fénélon carefully avoided the extravagances of the Mystics of his own day, and although he taught nothing which men venerated in the Church had not taught before him, his book forfeited for him the favour of the court, and was finally condemned by the authorities at Rome. To this condemnation he submitted with the greatest docility. He not only made no defence, but read the brief of condemnation in his own pulpit, and forbade his book being read within his diocese. To this his conscience constrained him, although he probably did not change his views. As the Pope decided against him he was willing to admit that what he said was wrong, and yet what he intended to say he still held to be right.


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