Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon was born on April 13, 1648. On the anniversary of Madame Guyon’s birth, we have collected key facts of her biography that you might not know about.
Madame Guyon was born in Montera, France, to a Roman Catholic family. Her maiden name is Jeanne Marie Bouviere de la Motte.
Her training began at the age of 2 and a half. First the Ursuline Seminary at Montera; at four years old she continued her studies at the Benedictines; and at ten she went to the Dominican monastery. In the monastery, she found a Bible, which somehow ended up in her cell, and spent hours reading it.
At the age of 15, she and her family moved to Paris, and at 16 she married Jacques Guyon, a wealthy man, twenty-two years her senior. Jeanne dreamed of a fairy tale, but reality turned out to be cruel. The husband was very often sick, and the mother-in-law who lived with them hated her and did everything possible to turn her son against her. The servants in the house occupied a higher position than Jeanne, and her mother-in-law forced her to do humiliating work. But Jeanne never complained. She saw that God, using all her trials, is creating an inner holiness in her and fills her with His life. She constantly read the book of Thomas Kempis “Imitation of Christ” and cleansed herself of vanity and pride in her young heart.
And yet, already being a 20-year-old girl, Jeanne continued to consider vanity as her main vice. She often said that she spent hours in front of the mirror grooming her face and hair. She prayed over and over that God would do something to rid her of this terrible vanity, since she could not get rid of it herself. Then, she said, God, by His grace, sent her smallpox. When she recovered, her beautiful face, which she was so proud of, was covered in pockmarks. Now she had nothing to be proud of, and she was glad that God had delivered her from it. He diminished her external beauty, increasing her internal so much that at times it seemed to her that she was already in heaven.
Her husband died when Jeanne was 28 years old. For nearly twelve years of their marriage, he was constantly ill. Now the woman was left with three children: two sons and a two-month-old daughter. Her eldest son and eldest daughter died of illness. She got a huge fortune and always had enough funds for herself and her children, as well as for helpin others generously.
In the years that followed, she went deeper and deeper into her inner life. She began to understand more and more that the Christian life consists not only of laws, rules and rituals, but of the life of Christ in the soul of a human being. Thus, she turned away from religion directed at everything external, and turned to faith directed towards the internal. She stopped working in her church and began to meditate, stopped her loud prayers and began to communicate in silence with Christ within herself.
When she was about thirty-four years old, she sent her children to religious schools and began traveling and teaching about the inner life. She traveled all over France, Switzerland, teaching wherever God led her.
As Madame Guyon’s teachings became more popular and widespread, church leaders began to accuse her of heresy, as some points of her teaching differed from church doctrines. The Roman Church taught that any relationship with God and Christ is possible only through rituals and communion in the church, she also taught that everyone can communicate directly with God within themselves and that the best solution would be to put aside all rituals and religious activities in the church and live a life of contemplation. This could not be allowed.
Madame Guyon advocated the rejection of worldly pleasures, denied the human “I” and lived a truly holy life, and this offended the pleasure-loving King Louis XIV and his nobles, as well as the pleasure-loving clergy. So they started burning her books, stealing her letters and harassing her in various ways. In one city, a priest collected all her books and burned them in the town square. But one local merchant bought 1,500 copies and distributed them throughout the city after the priest left.
In the end, charges of heresy and immorality were brought against her, and she was arrested, accused of immoral relations with her spiritual adviser, father Lacombe, who accompanied her daughter, daughter’s nanny and two servants during travels. After Jeanne’s arrest, father Lacombe was also arrested, thrown into prison, and then transferred to a hospital for the mentally ill. Before his arrest and imprisonment, he had no mental problems, but now he was in such a breakdown of the mind that he signed a confession of adultery with Madame Guyon when he accompanied her people.
Jeanne spent the next seven years of her life in prison. In 1695, she was transferred to the state dungeon in Vincent, a city in north-central France east of Paris. Then, on August 28, 1696, she was imprisoned in a monastery near Paris.
Two years later, in September 1698, she was placed in the Bastille, which was used mainly for political prisoners. She spent four years in the Bastille. For the past two years, she has not been allowed to receive visitors, speak or write letters. The maid, who insisted on being with her during her imprisonment, died in the Bastille.
In the winter of 1701, Jeanne fell ill. Louis XIV, knowing that he could no longer legally hold her in prison, released her for six months so that she could recover, and exiled her to Blo, which is a hundred miles southwest of Paris, where her son Armand Jacques Guyon lived. … Later, the king extended her release for another six months, and then indefinitely. But she never received real freedom, because she could not leave Blo, and the king at any moment could put her back in prison.
But the limitation of staying in only one city did not stop Jeanne in her quest and desire to help thousands of others who come to Blo to listen to her and learn, find peace and joy in her inner life. She also wrote hundreds of letters and an autobiography during this time. In prison she was freer in Christ than those who imprisoned her.
Madame Jeanne Guyon died on June 9, 1717 at the age of sixty-nine and was buried in Blo near the Gordelier church. She left behind more than sixty written works, which for almost three hundred years encouraged Christians to seek a deeper inner life in Christ, the hidden life of the heart and spirit.
Many leaders of the great Christian revival were moved by this humble woman of God, persecuted and thrown into prison by her government and her church because “she loved Christ too much.”
“We can explore for centuries until we find another woman who is the model of true holiness.” – John Wesley
“We glorify God most of all when we prevent that which might offend Him.” – Jeanne Guyon
“If we could comprehend how striking is the contrast between our self-righteousness and the precepts of God, then it would become the source of our infinite humility, and we absolutely ceased to trust that on which all our hope rests at the present time” (Jeanne Guyon)