AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MADAME GUYON
Written by: Guyon, Madame Posted on: 03/26/2003
Category: Classic Christian Library
IN TWO PARTS
Scanned from the edition of Moody Press, Chicago
by Harry Plantinga, 1995
This etext is in the public domain
In the history of the world few persons have attained that high degree of spirituality
reached by Madame Guyon.
Born in a corrupt age, in a nation marked for its degeneracy; nursed and reared in a
church, as profligate as the world in which it was embedded; persecuted at every step of her
career; groping as she did in spiritual desolation and ignorance, nevertheless, she arose to the
highest pinnacle of pre-eminence in spirituality and Christian devotion.
She lived and died in the Catholic Church; yet was tormented and afflicted; was
maltreated and abused; and was imprisoned for years by the highest authorities of that church.
Her sole crime was that of loving God. The ground of her offense was found in her
supreme devotion, and unmeasured attachment to Christ. When they demanded her money
and estate, she gladly surrendered them, even to her impoverishment, but it availed nothing.
The crime of loving Him in whom her whole being was absorbed, never could be mitigated,
She loved only to do good to her fellow-creatures, and to such an extent was she filled
with the Holy Ghost, and with the power of God, that she wrought wonders in her day, and
has not ceased to influence the ages that have followed.
Viewed from a human standpoint, it is a sublime spectacle, to see a solitary woman
subvert all the machinations of kings and courtiers; laugh to scorn all the malignant enginery
of the papal inquisition, and silence, and confound the pretentions of the most learned divines.
She not only saw more clearly the sublimest truths of our most holy Christianity, but she
basked in the clearest and most beautiful sunlight while they groped in darkness. She grasped
with ease the deepest and sublimest truths of holy Writ, while they were lost in the mazes of
their own profound ignorance.
One distinguished divine was delighted to sit at her feet. At first he heard her with
distrust; then with admiration. Finally he opened his heart to the truth, and stretched forth
his hand to be led by this saint of God into the Holy of Holies where she dwelt. We allude to
the distinguished Archbishop Fenelon, whose sweet spirit and charming writings have been a
blessing to every generation following him.
We offer no word of apology for publishing in the Autobiography of Madame Guyon,
those expressions of devotion to her church, that found vent in her writings. She was a true
Catholic when protestantism was in its infancy.
There can be no doubt that God, by a special interposition of His Providence, caused
her to commit her life so minutely to writing. The duty was enjoined upon her by her
spiritual director, whom the rules of her church made it obligatory upon her to obey. It was
written while she was incarcerated in the cell of a lonely prison. The same all-wise Providence
preserved it from destruction. We have not a shadow of doubt that it is destined to accomplish
tenfold more in the future than it has accomplished in the past. Indeed, the Christian world is
only beginning to understand and appreciate it, and the hope and prayer of the publisher is,
that thousands may, through its instrumentality, be brought into the same intimate
communion and fellowship with God, that was so richly enjoyed by Madame Guyon.
There were omissions of importance in the former narration of my life. I willingly comply
with your desire, in giving you a more circumstantial relation; though the labor seems rather
painful, as I cannot use much study or reflection. My earnest wish is to paint in true colors the
goodness of God to me, and the depth of my own ingratitude -- but it is impossible, as
numberless little circumstances have escaped my memory. You are also unwilling I should
give you a minute account of my sins. I shall, however, try to leave out as few faults as
possible. I depend on you to destroy it, when your soul hath drawn those spiritual advantages
which God intended, and for which purpose I am willing to sacrifice all things. I am fully
persuaded of His designs toward you, as well for the sanctification of others, as for your own
Let me assure you, this is not attained, save through pain, weariness and labor; and it
will be reached by a path that will wonderfully disappoint your expectations. Nevertheless, if
you are fully convinced that it is on the nothing in man that God establishes his greatest
works, -- you will be in part guarded against disappointment or surprise. He destroys that he
might build; for when He is about to rear His sacred temple in us, He first totally razes that
vain and pompous edifice, which human art and power had erected, and from its horrible
ruins a new structure is formed, by His power only.
Oh, that you could comprehend the depth of this mystery, and learn the secrets of the
conduct of God, revealed to babes, but hid from the wise and great of this world, who think
themselves the Lord's counselor's, and capable of investigating His procedures, and suppose
they have attained that divine wisdom hidden from the eyes of all who live in self, and are
enveloped in their own works. Who by a lively genius and elevated faculties mount up to
Heaven, and think to comprehend the height and depth and length and breadth of God.
This divine wisdom is unknown, even to those who pass in the world for persons of
extraordinary illumination and knowledge. To whom then is she known, and who can tell us
any tidings concerning her? Destruction and death assure us, that they have heard with their
ears of her fame and renown. It is, then, in dying to all things, and in being truly lost to them,
passing forward into God, and existing only in Him, that we attain to some knowledge of the
true wisdom. Oh, how little are her ways known, and her dealings with her most chosen
servants. Scarce do we discover anything thereof, but surprised at the dissimilitude betwixt the
truth we thus discover and our former ideas of it, we cry out with St. Paul, "Oh, the depth of
the knowledge and wisdom of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past
finding out." The Lord judgeth not of things as men do, who call good evil and evil good, and
account that as righteousness which is abominable in His sight, and which according to the
prophet He regards as filthy rags. He will enter into strict judgment with these self-righteous,
and they shall, like the Pharisees, be rather subjects of His wrath, than objects of His love, or
inheritors of His rewards. Doth not Christ Himself assure us, that "except our righteousness
exceed that of the scribes and pharisees we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
And which of us even approaches them in righteousness; or, if we live in the practice of
virtues, though much inferior to theirs, are we not tenfold more ostentatious? Who is not
pleased to behold himself righteous in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others? or, who is it
doubts that such righteousness is sufficient to please God? Yet, we see the indignation of our
Lord manifested against such. He who was the perfect pattern of tenderness and meekness,
such as flowed from the depth of the heart, and not that affected meekness, which under the
form of a dove, hides the hawk's heart. He appears severe only to these self-righteous people,
and He publicly dishonored them. In what strange colors does He represent them, while He
beholds the poor sinner with mercy, compassion and love, and declares that for them only He
was come, that it was the sick who needed the physician; and that He came only to save the
lost sheep of the house of Israel.
O thou Source of Love! Thou dost indeed seem so jealous of the salvation Thou hast
purchased, that Thou dost prefer the sinner to the righteous! The poor sinner beholds himself
vile and wretched, is in a manner constrained to detest himself; and finding his state so
horrible, casts himself in his desperation into the arms of his Saviour, and plunges into the
healing fountain, and comes forth "white as wool." Then confounded at the review of his
disordered state, and overflowing with love for Him, who having alone the power, had also
the compassion to save him -- the excess of his love is proportioned to the enormity of his
crimes, and the fullness of his gratitude to the extent of the debt remitted. The self-righteous,
relying on the many good works he imagines he has performed, seems to hold salvation in his
own hand, and considers Heaven as a just reward of his merits. In the bitterness of his zeal he
exclaims against all sinners, and represents the gates of mercy as barred against them, and
Heaven as a place to which they have no claim. What need have such self-righteous persons of
a Saviour? they are already burdened with the load of their own merits. Oh, how long they
bear the flattering load, while sinners divested of everything, fly rapidly on the wings of faith
and love into their Saviour's arms, who freely bestows on them that which he has so freely
How full of self-love are the self-righteous, and how void of the love of God! They
esteem and admire themselves in their works of righteousness, which they suppose to be a
fountain of happiness. These works are no sooner exposed to the Sun of Righteousness, than
they discover all to be so full of impurity and baseness, that it frets them to the heart.
Meanwhile the poor sinner, Magdalene, is pardoned because she loves much, and her faith and
love are accepted as righteousness. The inspired Paul, who so well understood these great
truths and so fully investigated them, assures us that "the faith of Abraham was imputed to
him for righteousness." This is truly beautiful for it is certain that all of that holy patriarch's
actions were strictly righteous; yet, not seeing them as such, and being devoid of the love of
them, and divested of selfishness, his faith was founded on the coming Christ. He hoped in
Him even against hope itself, and this was imputed to him for righteousness, (Rom. 41: 18,
22,) a pure, simple and genuine righteousness, wrought by Christ, and not a righteousness
wrought by himself, and regarded as of himself.
You may imagine this a digression wide of the subject, but it leads insensibly to it. It
shows that God accomplishes His work either in converted sinners, whose past iniquities
serve as a counterpoise to their elevation, or in persons whose self-righteousness He destroys,
by totally overthrowing the proud building they had reared on a sandy foundation, instead of
the Rock -- Christ.
The establishment of all these ends, which He proposed in coming into the world, is
effected by the apparent overthrow of that very structure which in reality He would erect. By
means which seem to destroy His Church, He establishes it. How strangely does He found
the new dispensation and give it His sanction! The legislator Himself is condemned by the
learned and great, as a malefactor, and dies an ignominious death. Oh, that we fully
understood how very opposite our self-righteousness is to the designs of God -- it would be a
subject for endless humiliation, and we should have an utter distrust in that which at present
constitutes the whole of our dependence.
From a just love of His supreme power, and a righteous jealousy of mankind, who
attribute to each other the gifts He Himself bestows upon them, it pleased Him to take one of
the most unworthy of the creation, to make known the fact that His graces are the effects of
His will, not the fruits of our merits. It is the property of His wisdom to destroy what is
proudly built, and to build what is destroyed; to make use of weak things to confound the
mighty and to employ in His service such as appear vile and contemptible.
This He does in a manner so astonishing, as to render them the objects of the scorn
and contempt of the world. It is not to draw public approbation upon them, that He makes
them instrumental in the salvation of others; but to render them the objects of their dislike
and the subjects of their insults; as you will see in this life you have enjoined upon me to
I was born on April 18, 1648. My parents, particularly my father, was extremely pious; but
to him it was a manner hereditary. Many of his forefathers were saints.
My mother, in the eighth month, was accidentally frightened, which caused an
abortion. It is generally imagined that a child born in that month cannot survive. Indeed, I
was so excessively ill, immediately after my birth, that all about me despaired of my life, and
were apprehensive I should die without baptism. Perceiving some signs of vitality, they ran to
acquaint my father, who immediately brought a priest; but on entering the chamber they were
told those symptoms which had raised their hopes were only expiring struggles, and all was
I had no sooner shown signs of life again, than I again relapsed, and remained so long
in an uncertain state, that it was some time before they could find a proper opportunity to
baptize me. I continued very unhealthy until I was two and a half years old, when they sent
me to the convent of the Ursulines, where I remained a few months.
On my return, my mother neglected to pay due attention to my education. She was
not fond of daughters and abandoned me wholly to the care of servants. Indeed, I should have
suffered severely from their inattention to me had not an all-watchful Providence been my
protector: for through my liveliness, I met with various accidents. I frequently fell into a deep
vault that held our firewood; however, I always escaped unhurt.
The Dutchess of Montbason came to the convent of the Benedictines, when I was
about four years old. She had a great friendship for my father, and obtained his permission
that I should go to the same convent. She took peculiar delight in my sportiveness and certain
sweetness in my external deportment. I became her constant companion.
I was guilty of frequent and dangerous irregularities in this house, and committed
serious faults. I had good examples before me, and being naturally well inclined, I followed
them, when there were none to turn me aside. I loved to hear God spoken of, to be at church,
and to be dressed in a religious garb. I was told of terrors of Hell which I imagined was
intended to intimidate me as I was exceedingly lively, and full of a little petulant vivacity
which they called wit. The succeeding night I dreamed of Hell, and though I was so young,
time has never been able to efface the frightful ideas impressed upon my imagination. All
appeared horrible darkness, where souls were punished, and my place among them was
pointed out. At this I wept bitterly, and cried, "Oh, my God, if Thou wilt have mercy upon
me, and spare me yet a little longer, I will never more offend Thee." And thou didst, O Lord,
in mercy hearken unto my cry, and pour upon me strength and courage to serve thee, in an
uncommon manner for one of my age. I wanted to go privately to confession, but being little,
the mistress of the boarders carried me to the priest, and stayed with me while I was heard.
She was much astonished when I mentioned that I had suggestions against the faith, and the
confessor began to laugh, and inquire what they were. I told him that till then I had doubted
there was such a place as Hell, and supposed my mistress had spoken of it merely to make me
good, but now my doubts were all removed. After confession my heart glowed with a kind of
fervor, and at one time I felt a desire to suffer martyrdom. The good girls of the house, to
amuse themselves, and to see how far this growing fervor would carry me, desired me to
prepare for martyrdom. I found great fervency and delight in prayer, and was persuaded that
this ardor, which was as new as it was pleasing, was a proof of God's love. This inspired me
with such courage and resolution, that I earnestly besought them to proceed, that I might
thereby enter into His sacred presence. But was there not latent hypocrisy here? Did I not
imagine that it was possible they would not kill me, and that I would have the merit of
martyrdom without suffering it? Indeed, it appeared there was something of this nature in it.
Being placed kneeling on a cloth spread for the purpose, and seeing behind me a large sword
lifted up which they had prepared to try how far my ardor would carry me I cried, "Hold! it
is not right I should die without first obtaining my father's permission." I was quickly
upbraided with having said this that I might escape, and that I was no longer a martyr. I
continued long disconsolate, and would receive no comfort; something inwardly reproved me,
for not having embraced that opportunity of going to Heaven, when it rested altogether on
my own choice.
At my solicitation, and on account of my falling so frequently sick, I was at length
taken home. On my return, my mother having a maid in whom she placed confidence, left me
again to the care of servants. It is a great fault, of which mothers are guilty, when under
pretext of external devotions, or other engagements, they suffer their daughters to be absent
from them. I forbear not condemning that unjust partiality with which parents treat some of
their children. It is frequently productive of divisions in families, and even the ruin of some.
Impartiality, by uniting children's hearts together, lays the foundation of lasting harmony and
I would I were able to convince parents, and all who have the care of youth, of the
great attention they require, and how dangerous it is to let them be for any length of time
from under their eye, or to suffer them to be without some kind of employment. This
negligence is the ruin of multitudes of girls.
How greatly it is to be lamented, that mothers who are inclined to piety, should
pervert even the means of salvation to their destruction -- commit the greatest irregularities
while apparently pursuing that which should produce the most regular and circumspect
Thus, because they experience certain gains in prayer, they would be all day long at
church; meanwhile their children are running to destruction. We glorify God most when we
prevent what may offend Him. What must be the nature of that sacrifice which is the occasion
of sin! God should be served in His own way. Let the devotion of mothers be regulated so as
to prevent their daughters from straying. Treat them as sisters, not as slaves. Appear pleased
with their little amusements. The children will delight then in the presence of their mothers,
instead of avoiding it. If they find so much happiness with them, they will not dream of
seeking it elsewhere. Mothers frequently deny their children any liberties. Like birds
constantly confined to a cage, they no sooner find means of escape than off they go, never to
return. In order to render them tame and docile when young, they should be permitted
sometimes to take wing, but as their flight is weak, and closely watched, it is easy to retake
them when they escape. Little flight gives them the habit of naturally returning to their cage
which becomes an agreeable confinement. I believe young girls should be treated in a manner
something similar to this. Mothers should indulge them in an innocent liberty, but should
never lose sight of them.
To guard the tender minds of children from what is wrong, much care should be taken
to employ them in agreeable and useful matters. They should not be loaded with food they
cannot relish. Milk suited to babies should be administered to them not strong meat which
may so disgust them, that when they arrive at an age when it would be proper nourishment,
they will not so much as taste it. Every day they should be obliged to read a little in some
good book, spend some time in prayer, which must be suited rather to stir the affections, than
for meditation. Oh, were this method of education pursued, how speedily would many
irregularities cease! These daughters becoming mothers, would educate their children as they
themselves had been educated.
Parents should also avoid showing the smallest partiality in the treatment of their
children. It begets a secret jealousy and hatred among them, which frequently augments with
time, and even continues until death. How often do we see some children the idols of the
house, behaving like absolute tyrants, treating their brothers and sisters as so many slaves
according to the example of father and mother. And it happens many times, that the favorite
proves a scourge to the parents while the poor despised and hated one becomes their
consolation and support.
My mother was very defective in the education of her children. She suffered me
whole days from her presence in company with the servants, whose conversation
and example were particularly hurtful to one of my disposition. My mother's
heart seemed wholly centered in my brother. I was scarcely ever favored with
the smallest instance of her tenderness or affection. I therefore voluntarily
absented myself from her. It is true, my brother was more amiable than I but
the excess of her fondness for him, made her blind even to my outward good
qualities. It served only to discover my faults, which would have been
trifling had proper care been taken of me.
My father who loved me tenderly and seeing how little my education was attended to sent
me to a convent of the Ursulines. I was near seven years old. In this house were two half
sisters of mine, the one by my father, the other by my mother. My father placed me under his
daughter's care, a person of the great capacity and most exalted piety, excellently qualified for
the instruction of youth. This was a singular dispensation of God's providence and love
toward me, and proved the first means of my salvation. She loved me tenderly, and her
affection made her discover in me many amiable qualities, which the Lord had implanted in
me. She endeavored to improve these good qualities, and I believe that had I continued in such
careful hands, I should have acquired as many virtuous habits as I afterward contracted evil
This good sister employed her time in instructing me in piety and in such branches of
learning as were suitable to my age and capacity. She had good talents and improved them
well. She was frequent in prayer and her faith was as great as that of most persons. She denied
herself every other pleasure to be with me and to instruct me. Such was her affection for me
that it made her find more pleasure with me than anywhere else.
If I made her agreeable answers, though more from chance than from judgment, she
thought herself well paid for all her labor. Under her care I soon became mistress of most
studies suitable for me. Many grown persons of rank could not have answered the questions.
As my father often sent for me, desiring to see me at home, I found at one time the
Queen of England there. I was near eight years of age. My father told the Queen's confessor
that if he wanted a little amusement he might entertain himself with me. He tried me with
several very difficult questions, to which I returned such pertinent answers that he carried me
to the Queen, and said, "Your majesty must have some diversion with this child." She also
tried me and was so well pleased with my lively answers, and my manners, that she demanded
me of my father with no small importunity. She assured him that she would take particular
care of me, designing me for maid of honor to the princess. My father resisted. Doubtless it
was God who caused this refusal, and thereby turned off the stroke which might have
probably intercepted my salvation. Being so weak, how could I have withstood the
temptations and distractions of a court?
I went back to the Ursulines where my good sister continued her affection. But as she
was not the mistress of the boarders, and I was obliged sometimes to go along with them, I
contracted bad habits. I became addicted to lying, peevishness and indevotion, passing whole
days without thinking on God; though He watched continually over me, as the sequel will
manifest. I did not remain long under the power of such habits because my sister's care
recovered me. I loved much to hear of God, was not weary of church, loved to pray, had
tenderness for the poor, and a natural dislike for persons whose doctrine was judged unsound.
God has always continued to me this grace, in my greatest infidelities.
There was at the end of the garden connected with this convent, a little chapel
dedicated to the child Jesus. To this I betook myself for devotion and, for some time, carrying
my breakfast thither every morning, I hid it all behind this image. I was so much a child, that
I thought I made a considerable sacrifice in depriving myself of it. Delicate in my choice of
food, I wished to mortify myself, but found self-love still too prevalent, to submit to such
mortification. When they were cleaning out this chapel, they found behind the image what I
had left there and presently guessed that it was I. They had seen me every day going thither. I
believe that God, who lets nothing pass without a recompense, soon rewarded me with
interest for this little infantine devotion.
I continued some time with my sister, where I retained the love and fear of God. My
life was easy; I was educated agreeably with her. I improved much while I had my health, but
very often I was sick, and seized with maladies as sudden as they were uncommon. In the
evening well; in the morning swelled and full of bluish marks, symptoms of a fever which
soon followed. At nine years, I was taken with so violent a hemorrhage that they thought I
was going to die. I was rendered exceedingly weak.
A little before this severe attack, my other sister became jealous, wanting to have me in
turn. Though she led a good life, yet she had not a talent for the education of children. At first
she caressed me, but all her caresses made no impression upon my heart. My other sister did
more with a look, than she with either caresses or threatenings. As she saw that I loved her
not so well, she changed to rigorous treatment. She would not allow me to speak to my other
sister. When she knew I had spoken to her, she had me whipped, or beat me herself. I could
no longer hold out against severe usage, and therefore requited with apparent ingratitude all
the favors of my paternal sister, going no more to see her. But this did not hinder her from
giving me marks of her usual goodness, in the severe malady just mentioned. She kindly
construed my ingratitude to be rather owing to my fear of chastisement, than to a bad heart.
Indeed, I believe this was the only instance in which fear of chastisement operated so
powerfully upon me. From that time I suffered more in occasioning pain to One I loved, than
in suffering myself at their hand.
Thou knowest, O my Beloved, that it was not the dread of Thy chastisements that
sunk so deep, either into my understanding or my heart; it was the sorrow for offending Thee
which ever constituted the whole of my distress; which was so great. I imagine if there were
neither Heaven nor Hell, I should always have retained the same fear of displeasing Thee.
Thou knowest that after my faults, when, in forgiving mercy, Thou wert pleased to visit my
soul, Thy caresses were a thousand-fold more insupportable than Thy rod.
My father being informed of all that passed, took me home again. I was nearly ten
years of age. I stayed only a little while at home. A nun of the order of St. Dominic, of a great
family, one of my father's intimate friends, solicited him to place me in her convent. She was
the prioress and promised she would take care of me and make me lodge in her room. This
lady had conceived a great affection for me. She was so taken up with her community, in its
many troublesome events that she was not at liberty to take much care of me. I had the
chickenpox, which made me keep to my bed three weeks, in which I had very bad care,
though my father and mother thought I was under excellent care. The ladies of the house had
such a dread of the smallpox, as they imagined mine to be, that they would not come near me.
I passed almost all the time without seeing anybody. A lay-sister who only brought me my
allowance of diet at the set hours immediately went off again. I providentially found a Bible
and having both a fondness for reading and a happy memory, I spent whole days in reading it
from morning to night. I learned entirely the historical part. Yet I was really very unhappy in
this house. The other boarders, being large girls, distressed me with grievous persecutions. I
was so much neglected, as to food, that I became quite emaciated.
After about eight months my father took me home. My mother kept me more with her,
beginning to have a higher regard for me than before. She still preferred my brother; every
one spoke of it. Even when I was sick and there was anything I liked, he damanded it. It was
taken from me, and given to him, and he was in perfectly good health. One day he made me
mount the top of the coach; then threw me down. By the fall I was very much bruised. At
other times he beat me. But whatever he did, however wrong, it was winked at, or the most
favorable construction was put upon it. This soured my temper. I had little disposition to do
good, saying, "I was never the better for it."
It was not then for Thee alone, O God, that I did good; since I ceased to do it, when it
met not with such a reception from others as I wanted. Had I known how to make a right use
of this thy crucifying conduct, I should have made a good progress. Far from turning me out
of the way, it would have made me turn more wholly to Thee.
I looked with jealous eyes on my brother, seeing the difference between him and me.
Whatever he did was considered well; but if there were blame, it fell on me. My stepsisters by
the mother, gained her goodwill by caressing him and persecuting me. True, I was bad. I
relapsed into my former faults of lying and peevishness. With all these faults I was very tender
and charitable to the poor. I prayed to God assiduously, loved to hear any one speak of Him
and to read good books.
I doubt not that you will be amazed at such a series of inconsistencies; but what
succeeds will surprise you yet more, when you see this manner of acting gain ground with my
years. As my reason ripened, it was so far from correcting this irrational conduct. Sin grew
more powerful in me.
O my God, thy grace seemed to be redoubled in proportion to the increase of my
ingratitude! It was with me as with a city besieged, Thou didst surround my heart, and I only
studied how to defend myself against thy attacks. I raised fortifications about the wretched
place, adding every day to the number of my iniquities to prevent Thee taking it. When there
was an appearance of Thy becoming victorious over this ungrateful heart, I raised a counter-
battery, and threw up ramparts to keep off thy goodness, and to hinder the course of thy
grace. None other could have conquered than Thyself.
I cannot bear to hear it said, "We are not free to res
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