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Title: Quietism
Original Title: Quiétisme
Volume and Page: Vol. 13 (1765), p. 709
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Steve Harris [San Francisco State University]
Subject terms:
History of modern sects
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Quietism." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Quiétisme," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 13. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Quietism." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Quiétisme," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 13:709 (Paris, 1765).
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Quietism (or mysticism) is a doctrine based on the belief that one must annihilate oneself in order to re-unite with God and live thereafter in perfect quietude, that is to say in a simple contemplation → without any reflection and attention to anything happening to ones’ body. Michel Molinos, born in the diocese of Saragosa in 1627, established himself in Rome, where he gained wide regard and expounded on this doctrine in several books, including: ‘ Spiritual Conduct – The Communion of Quietude;’ from which his doctrine became called ‘ Quietism ’ and his disciples ‘ Quietists .’

He had already found many believers by 1680, their opinions, like many others’, disgraced man’s reason, but made a great impact in Rome, where this type of dispute was mistaken for content and judged with great solemnity on its form. Molinos was a great teacher of morality and was virtuous himself and, for her services to the Church was granted two titles for the many enemies he made.

Those who were jealous of this man of conscience were quick to see him as a dangerous heretic, whose ideas on spirituality were more worthy of pity than indignation.

Christine, either due to natural compassion, or due to a hatred of Molinos’ persecutors, or perhaps due to a desire to play a notable role in this matter with which Christendom was then occupied, blatantly took the part of this Spanish priest and, taking it almost as an insult to this princess, fulfilled mankind’s duty to this unhappy priest. The spiritual peace which he preached and which became the focus of the Inquisition, was described to Pasquin pleasantly enough: “If we talk, the galleys, if we write, the gallows, if we keep quiet, the Inquisition. What shall we do?”

But finally, Molinos’ enemies were so powerful and their prosecution so vigorous that in 1687 Pope Innocent XI condemned him. His books were burnt and, to save his own life, he was obliged to renounce his errors from a scaffold set up in the Dominican church before the sacred college. He was condemned to life in prison, where he died on December 29, 1689.

At this point, the doctrine of quietism caused a split in France, amid the disputes over Jansenism, showing that the human mind still had not made enough philosophic progress.

Voltair says that the issue that quietism has raised in France is one of these intellectual disputes or theological subtleties which has not left any historical trace except the names of the antagonists. A woman named Bouvieres de la Motte , without any intellectual reputation or creativity, caused a fight between the two greatest French churchmen of the time. She was born in Montargis in 1648, where she married the son of Guion, the owner of the Briare Canal. Widowed at an early age, with wealth, beauty and a worldly mind, she pursued what one might call spirituality. A Barnabite monk from Geneva named Lacombe became her advisor. He was known for an ordinary mix of passion and religion and was quite crazed. He led her into mystic reveries to which she was already inclined. Her desire to be the St. Theresa of France prevented her from seeing how the French mind differs from the Spanish, and led her to go further than St. Theresa. The ambition to have disciples, perhaps the strongest of her ambitions, seized her to the core. She went with her advisor to the little country where the titular Bishop of Geneva lived. There she gained renown through her generosity, she held meetings, proselytized and was sought by the Bishop, as was her advisor. They moved to Grenoble where she distributed one little book entitled “ The Short Method ” and another under the name of “The Spiritual Flood” written in her conversational style; which resulted in her departing Grenoble.

Then she and her advisor went to Paris, where they both spread their dogma and, in 1687, the Archbishop obtained an order from the King to lock up Lacombe as a seducer and to put Mme. Guion in a convent where she would be closely guarded. Her friends complained loudly that de Harlay, who was known to have it in for women, prosecuted a women who would speak of nothing but her love for God. In this case, Mme. Guion gained her liberty through the all-powerful protection of Mme. De Maintenon and went to Versailles to thank her. They met in St. Cyr where Mme. De Maintenon introduced her to the Abbé de Fénelon, who was then the tutor to the royal family.

Born with a tender heart, his spirit was nourished by the beauty of belles-lettres. Filled with taste and grace, his theological preferences ran to all which was touching and sublime and to that which was somber and challenging. His imagination was warmed by candor and virtue, and, like the others, he was inflamed by their passions. He, too, loved God for himself. He saw in Mme. Guion nothing but a kindred spirit and was comfortable in being very close to her. Thus, Mme. Guion, feeling confident with such a supporter, continued to promote all her ideas in St. Cyr. The Bishop of Chartres complained about her, the Archbishop of Paris threatened to start harassing her again. Mme. De Maintenon who thought of St. Cyr as nothing but a peaceful place to visit and thought of nothing but her own reputation and repose, broke off all relations with Mme. Guion. Finally, the abbé de Fénelon himself counseled his friend, to submit herself to the wise experience of the famous Bossuet (who was regarded as a Church Father). She received communion from the hand of this prelate and gave him her writings to examine.

When Fénelon was made Archbishop of Cambrai in 1695, Bossuet became jealous of his disciple’s reputation and the esteem in which he was held. He demanded that Fénelon join him in condemning Mme. Guion and agree with Bossuet’s pastoral instructions. Fénelon did not want to sacrifice either his beliefs or his friend; but, to the contrary, while leaving to go to his new diocese, he had printed in Paris his book of maxims of the Saints . He believed that this work would clear Mme. Guion and lay out a regimen of contemplation → which would raise the pious beyond their senses and lead them towards a state of perfection to which ordinary souls could hardly aspire. Meaux and his friends stirred up opposition to this book and denounced it to the King as being as dangerous as it was unintelligible. Mme. Guion, accused of continued dogmatizing, was imprisoned in Vincennes, where she wrote a book of mystical verses; then she was moved to the Bastille.

Bossuet opposed Fénelon and their writings divided court and city. Both sent their work to Pope Innocent XII and submitted to his decision. The circumstances were not at all favorable to the author of the Book of Maxims. Father de la Chaise, the King’s confessor, did not dare support Cambrai and Mme. De Maintenon abandoned him. Louis XIV wrote to Pope Innocent XII that he turned over to him the Archbishop of Cambrai’s book as a pernicious work, that he put it in the hand of the Papal Nuncio and that he urged His Holiness to judge the matter.

The Inquisition appointed, as what they called “ consultants ,” a Dominican, a Jesuit, a Benedictine, two Franciscans, a Feuillant and an Augustinian to review the matter. The cardinals and prelates usually left the study of theology to these monks, in order to spend their time on politics, intrigue and idle pleasures. The consultants met 37 times to examine 37 propositions and a majority judged them as erroneous. The Pope, as the head of the Congregation of Cardinals, condemned them in a statement published in Rome on March 13, 1699.

The Bishop of Meaux triumphed, but the Archbishop of Cambrai pulled a greater triumph from his defeat. He submitted completely and without reservation. He mounted the pulpit in Cambrai to denounce his own book. He prevented his friends from defending it. This unique example of submission from a scholar who could have caused a great controversy, together with his candor and simplicity, gained him wide support and made him almost hated by those who had nominally won. He lived thereafter in his diocese as Archbishop and a scholar. That same year, 1699, Mme. Guion left he Bastille and retired to Blois, where she died twelve years later, on June 9, 1711, with the warmest feelings. Voltaire, siecle de Louis XIV.

Quietism was not a new idea created by Molinos. The doctrine conforms closely to spiritual Origenism which had spread everywhere and whose adherents, according to St. Epiphanius, were of impeccable purity. Evagrius, deacon of the church of Constantinople, while confined to the desert, published, said St. Jerome, a book of Maxims by which he claimed to eliminate all human passions; which is exactly to what the Quietists claimed to aspire.

If we travel in the Orient, we will find mystics there who, from time immemorial, have taught the transformation of all things in God and who have reduced all physical things to a type of nothingness, that is to say of stillness, another view held by the Quietists . The Brahmins push apathy or indifference to an extreme, to which they tie all holiness; saying that it was necessary to become a stone or statue in order to acquire perfection. It is, they say, the deepest sleep of the spirit, letting all energy rest, this continual suspension of the senses, which leads to man’s happiness and makes him alike unto the god Fo.

It also appears that the Brahmins’ perfect indifference is the belief favored by the Quietists and that, according to them, the true holiness consists in nothingness. “Then, in the triple silence of words, thoughts and desires, we find in a spiritual trance, in a mystical haze or soon in a mystical death, all the suspended powers are recalled from the periphery to the center. God is this center; he brings the soul to life by His divine touch, by His tastes, by His presence, by His ineffable elegance. The soul is thus warmed and it rests sweetly, finding a delicious calm which is greater than delight or ecstasy, greater than the most beautiful incarnation, idea or divine speculation; there are only feelings; there is only being.” Do not imagine that Mr. de la Buyere, in the words that are read (in the second Dialogue on Quietism , p. 33) was used to support this. You will see your book provided with proofs. You will find there this passage from Molinos: “It is then that the divine spouse suspending its abilities, puts him into a sweet and tranquil sleep, it is in this state that she enjoys an inconceivable calm, without knowing the source of her joy.

You will find here “that a spiritual soul must be indifferent to all things, whether of the body or the soul, whether of earthly things or eternal: He must leave the past in oblivion and leave the future to God’s Providence and be entirely in the present. The soul must abandon itself to acting without knowledge, in order to be one who is no more. When the soul feels nothing more, sees nothing more, it sees nothing but God; understanding nothing, recognizing nothing; there is no more love, light or knowledge. When this soul, feeling nothing, no longer yearns to look for or do anything, it rests as it is, sufficient unto itself; but what does it do? Nothing, nothing, always nothing. When this devotee’s indifference is so great that it can tilt neither towards enjoyment nor sadness. Death and life are all the same and, although its devotion is incomparably stronger than it ever was, it can nevertheless seek paradise, because it rests in the hands of its spouse like things which are no more. This must be the effect of the deepest annihilation. That the perfect communion of contemplation puts a man outside of himself, transcending creation and death and entering God’s rest. It is in admiration of this that he is united with God, though doubtless still separate, he is reduced to nothing and knows no more, he lives and lives no more, he functions and functions no more, he is and is no more.” Dialogue v, vi & vii.

Several writers have focused on eloquently refuting these false visions, which do not deserve compassion and which contain nothing but unintelligible jargon.

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