More than three hundred years ago, a wonderful little woman took the Galilean at his word. She put all her emotional strength into aspiration and meditation and succeeded in achieving an exalted state by practising a simple method. When her own heavenly peace was sufficiently stabilized, she began to think of others, of how she could help them attain it too. She was not so selfish as to be satisfied with her own satisfaction alone. So she journeyed from city to city and from village to village in religious yet religionless France, lighting the candles of human faith with a divine taper. Such was the spiritual darkness of the time that her success was immediate, and such was her own Christlike power that it was amazing. Crowds flocked gladly to her side, listened eagerly to her words, and endeavoured faithfully to follow her instructions. Her doctrine came to be called "Quietism" because she showed people how to quieten their personal thoughts and emotions and thus become aware of the impersonal heaven behind them, the kingdom within. She was no heretic. She drew frequently from Jesus' own recorded words to explain or illustrate her teaching. Yet she did not speak from dead pulpits in churches but from living ones in the fields. The clergy became seriously alarmed. Such activities could not be countenanced, they said. They petitioned the authorities against her, as the Jewish priests had once petitioned the Roman authorities against Jesus. She was thrown into prison and the jailer turned his key on her dismal abode, where she was shut in for a long period of years. Such was the story of poor Madame Guyon.
She was also denounced by the Church, as were her followers, for having fallen into the sin of spiritual pride. This was because of the assertion that outward practices and ritualistic acts were no longer needed by those who could find inspiration within. This teaching is quite correct but politically wrong. Out of respect for, or fear of, the Church's great power in those times, as well as out of consideration for the mass of people who were still unable to rise above their dependence on such outward ceremonies, Madame Guyon could have worked longer if she had worked quietly and privately, not openly and publicly. She could have instructed her followers, first, not to talk about the teaching to any person who was not ready for it, and second, not to communicate it even to those who were ready without the safeguard of complete secrecy.
Do you wish to penetrate to the essence of this episode? Here it is. A bishop of that time naïvely let the cat out of his theological bag! He said: "This woman may teach primitive Christianity--but if people find God everywhere what is to become of us?"
"What is to become of us?" Six short words but what a tremendous commentary they contain! When religion was about to become a living actuality in the lives of common people whose hearts were moved by the enlightening words of Mme. Guyon through personal realization of its loftiest truth, when it was ready to inspire them from hour to hour with inward peace and outward nobility, the official exponents of Christianity interfered and prevented it because of their selfish fears! They did not see and perceive the ultimate danger to themselves, and the immediate shame on their teaching, of such a situation. Well may the thinker have repeated the poet's lines about the mills of the Gods grinding slow but exceedingly small, for when the French Revolution broke out and spread its ugly malignant fury over the land, when the so-called Goddess of Reason was set up on her throne in the very midst of Notre Dame Cathedral, and when all France was rocking in the great upheaval which retributive destiny and rebellious demagogues had conspired to bring upon her, fifty thousand French priests fled from persecution, imprisonment, and even death. To appear on the streets of Paris in those days wearing the cleric's garb was to court the punishment of death itself.
-- Notebooks Category 17: The Religious Urge > Chapter 3: Religion As Preparatory > # 121