Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 47: Pietists, Visionaries and Quietists


The Pietists

Born from the preaching of the Lutheran Pastor Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705), Pietism was part of the tradition of Hans Denck, for whom faith – or its absence, because only private conviction was important – had nothing to do with the sacraments, priests or pastors, nor even with the allegedly sacred texts.

Under German and English Pietism, there also smoldered the thought of Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), the shoemaker from Gorlitz (in Silesia), whose doctrine was part of the Hermetic tradition and the subtle alchemy of individual experience.

Without entering into an analysis of Pietism’s rich and dense conception, it is possible to emphasize the point at which Pietism’s God, dissolved into nature, more perfectly annihilated the idea of God than did atheism, which was content to reduce God to a social function presented everywhere in the exercise of power and authority as an abstract government of beings and things. If, for Böhme, the symbols of the divine still wore the tattered rags of theology (Christ, the Trinity, grace), they were no less surely distributed as symbols of a life identified – as in the thought of Marguerite Porete and Simon of Samaria – with an eternal flux in which the “amorous” conjunction created the beings and things that mankind re-created in its turn.

The universe manifested itself at every instant in the inseparable coupling of material energy and energetic matter, in the desire in which in the androgyny of interlaced lovers and the mysterium magnum[1] of pleasure and creation rejoiced.

The radical wing of Pietism expressed, most often through the vehicles of visions, revelations and apocalypses, the feeling of a diffuse sexuality in search of an experience in which the unity of the individual and the world was accomplished.

It happens that the very vehicle of these visions threw the illuminati into the interplay of political influences in which his or her claims to rule the future attracted the reprobation (if not worse) of the authorities.

Jean Albert Adelgreiff had a sad experience. The seven angels who mandated him to reform the conduct of the rulers did not prevent him from being burned at Königsberg in 1636. Czar Peter, called Peter the Great, preceded in the same manner against the unfortunate Quirinus Kuhlmann, condemned to the pyre in Moscow in 1689.

The theosophical alchemist Paul Felgenhauer spent a large part of his life in prison or wandering Europe due to successive banishments. His Dawn of Wisdom, in which was figured the Aurora and the Sophia dear to Böhme, fixed sometime in the [Seventeenth] Century the beginning of the millennium, which didn’t end up happening. With the same probable certitude, Paul Nagel foresaw the collapse of the papacy in March 1623.

Others, such as the worker Elias Eller (1690-1750), assured prophetic determinations in matters of destiny with more skill. Eller, while looking for work in Elberfeld, seduced a rich widow with whom he founded one of the Pietist communities in which exaltation and prayer propelled faith in the divine presence well beyond the domes of the temples and the other places “contaminated by papist or Protestant [parpaillots] cockroaches.”

Anna von Büchel, the daughter of a baker, plunged her adepts into ecstasy through luxuriant visions in which she dialogued with Jesus Christ in a very intimate fashion. Since Elias Eller occupied the carnal place of Jesus in her heart, her husband took offense and accused Anna von Büchel of perpetrating a hoax and making sacrifices to Satan. Eller got him locked up as a lunatic and married the prophetess, whose revelations he recorded in a work entitled Hirtentasche (The Shepherd’s Sack).

Figured as the Mother and Father of Zion, this couple undertook to make Jesus reborn in the womb of Anna. He first appeared in the unfortunate form of a girl. A second child, male this time, soon thereafter died, not caring about his triumphs to come. Anna succumbed in her turn.

Elias Eller entered into a third marriage. His adepts were numerous in Rehmsdorf, where he was named mayor. He died in 1750, well liked by the citizens. We do not know if he lived in harmony with his desires or only in a cunningly calculated mix of holiness, honorability and libertinage.

Johann-Willem Petersen (1649-1727) was inspired by Jakob Böhme and Valentin Weigel, and provided his pious communities with the effervescence of millenarian preaching and the exaltation of visionaries who catechized the crowds. His religious ardor sometimes took on the colors of a mystical sensuality.

“Assuredly, the Spirit of prophecy was not partial to anyone in particular. There were a swarm of clairvoyants who fluttered around the leaders of the sect: Madeleine Elrich, Christine-Régina Bader, Adélaïde Schwartz and Anne-Marguerite Jahn. As in any well-regulated troupe, each one had her role: Anna-Maria was the ‘Pietist singer.’ Anne-Eve Jacob was ‘the sucker of blood.’ There were other stars who, naturally, had more important roles. Jean-Guillaume Petersen had the privilege of having divine illuminations, and he also had the advantage of being married to a woman, Eleonore von Merlau, who also had visions. She composed works that the celebrated Pietist published under his name. Guillaume Postel also had some influence on Petersen’s thought. Petersen also referred to a book by an English countess, whose name he did not mention, and who composed De principiis philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae,[2] a work that is not without depth and which was inspired by Jewish Kabala.

“According to Petersen, when the reign of a thousand years had established itself in heaven and on earth, the Jews would convert and, returning to Palestine, they would reestablish their ancient kingdom. Petersen refrained from setting the date of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Moreover, one observes that the ‘end of this age’ did not designate a universal conflagration, but the ‘end of the current age.’ Contrary to a certain tradition, the woman of the Revelations who would give birth (ch. 12) was the Jewish nation, which would give birth to Christ despite the efforts of the infernal Dragon, the monster that would be killed by Saint Michael, the protecting angel of Israel. Rosemonde-Julienne von Asseburg was one of the ballet dancers of the troupe of Pietist Sibyls. Leibniz judged her visions to be quite respectable, on a par with those of Saint Hildegard [of Bingen], Saint Bridget [of Sweden], Saint Mechtilde [of Hackeborn] and other holy ladies. Leibniz was also the publisher of several of Petersen’s works. The influence of Madame Petersen was considerable in Germany and England.”[3]

For Johann Georg Gichtel and Eva von Buttlar, the Sophia of Böhme and the ancient Gnostics was illustrated by the two figures (less antithetical than they might appear at first) of the future Eve and the current Eve, the femininity in itself of a faraway princess and the femininity for itself of a nearby tumultuous sensuality (but this was also the case with certain exalted Pietist “suckers of blood” and the pneuma that was identical with sperma).

In his study of The English Disciples of Jakob Böhme, Serge Hutin devoted several pages to Gichtel.

“Johann-Georg Gichtel (1638-1710), the son of a counselor to the court of Regensburg, had shown mystical tendencies since his childhood. As an adolescent, he wanted, in imitation of Christ, ‘to annihilate’ his carnal self: renouncing all pleasure, he vowed perpetual virginity. A Lutheran, he was rapidly disappointed by the dryness of official Protestantism and turned towards the Catholic religion, which also soon disappointed him. This young man, more and more sinking into a solitary and exalted devotion, was also passionate about studying and spent entire nights immersed in Greek, the sacred Eastern languages, and theology. After successfully enrolling in the College of Theology at the University of Strasbourg, he nevertheless had to give in to his tutors, who obliged him to follow his father and become a magistrate: willy-nilly, he became a lawyer at the imperial High Court of Spire. But this important function did not monopolize his attention for long: fleeing from pressing feminine solicitations, Gichtel returned to his native town in great haste. Enrolled in the bar at Regensburg, he happened – while at a library – to meet Baron Justinian Ernst von Weltz; the two men became close friends on the spot. Weltz (1621-1668) was a rich illuminati who wanted to found a missionary society, the Christerbauliche Jesusgesellschaft,[4] the objectives of which would be the realization of Christian unity and the conversion of the entire world to the Gospel; he associated with Gichtel and together they submitted their project to the Evangelical Assembly of the Lutheran Church. At first the Assembly welcomed the proposal and the Baron deposited in a bank in Nuremberg the sum – enormous for the times – of 30,000 riksdallers. But the theologians, upon becoming aware of the chimerical and nebulous character of the project, quite quickly manifested their disagreement. To disencumber themselves from the two associates, who began to create a scandal in the Rhineland, the apostolic delegate from Mainz proposed to them that they go convert the Indians of South America; Weltz and Gichtel went to Holland, but refused to get on the boat at the last minute.

“Having left the Baron, and returned to Regensburg, Gichtel, after fervent prayers, experienced an ‘illumination’ that put him into direct contact with the Divinity: submitting himself in advance to all the ordeals that Christ had him undergo, he completely abandoned himself to the superior ‘Will’ that had ‘annihilated’ his own. Losing all prudence, he publicly denied the necessity of outward worship, in which he now saw a daunting obstacle to the inward communication of the soul with God; and, even more maladroitly, he violently expelled the pastors from the town. The pastors him brought before the tribunals as ‘seditious,’ an ‘enthusiast’ and an ‘Anabaptist.’ At first imprisoned in Nuremberg, Gichtel then languished for three weeks in a somber dungeon in Regensburg. Condemned for ‘anti-social heresy,’ he was excommunicated, excluded from the sacraments and all the ceremonies of the Lutheran Church, and was even sentenced to be executed; after the intervention of the burgomaster of the city, his death sentence was commuted into perpetual banishment: deprived of his position, his goods and his status as a citizen, the visionary was chased from Regensburg (February 1655).

“At first Gichtel wandered through southern Germany, where charitable people provisionally housed him. Then he went to Vienna, where he had influential relatives, and obtained a position at the imperial court, at which he was assailed with many worldly temptations (riches, honors . . .); seeing how he was favored in the capital, his persecutors in Regensburg became afraid and restored his fortune to him. But Gichtel, having made the irrevocable resolution to renounce all the goods of this world, vowed extreme poverty: he gave his money to his oldest sister (who quickly squandered it), abandoned his official functions, gave up his luxurious clothing for a coarse frock made of leather, and left on foot for Holland.

“After being detained in Zwolle by the Lutheran authorities, who suspected him of being an Anabaptist, Gichtel established himself in Amsterdam, where he was thenceforth forced to live on the subsidies of diverse protectors – his religious convictions expressly prohibited him from plying any trade whatsoever.

“In 1669, he became ‘the spiritual husband of the Virgin Sophia’: she manifested herself to him, became his ‘wife,’ revealed to him the last explication of all things and enjoined him to institute the ‘priesthood of Melchisedeq,’ to found the ‘New Church,’ the Church of the Last Dispensation; all books had to be rejected, with the exceptions of the Bible – interpreted theosophically – and the works of Jakob Böhme. After this great ‘illumination,’ Gichtel united around him a small group of disciples who desired to live – according to his own example and the model of Christ – a life of perfect purity: this was the community of the Brothers of the Angelic Life, a small sect that still subsists secretly in Germany.

“According to Gichtel, the Reformation destroyed Catholicism without substituting anything better in its place, and so a veritable Reformation would have to be instituted: this Reformation would have to consist precisely in putting into practice the theosophy of Jakob Böhme. (...)

“To put this new dispensation into practice, Gichtel established the ‘priesthood of Melchisedeq,’ a community of ‘saints,’ ‘Brothers of the Angelic Life,’ and ‘soldiers of Christ.’ These brothers and sisters – because women were admitted into the community, with rights equal to those of the men – had to strive to return to the state of angelic perfection, lost by Adam during the Fall; it would thus be possible for them to regain the primitive androgyny of man: ‘ . . . in heaven, there is neither man nor woman.’

“Seeking to free themselves from all human imperfections by leading lives of contemplation and continuous prayers, they had to imitate the perfect existence of Christ in all points.

“‘The Christ,’ Gichtel said, ‘taught us that if we want to be his disciples, we must renounce all terrestrial desires, choose and follow that choice: and this instruction was addressed, not only to the apostles, but to all Christians. The first Christians practiced this commandment and thus testified that they loved Christ and that they upheld His law.’”[5]

In the consecration of Melchisedeq, Gichtel’s frenzied asceticism rediscovered the Essenism that had been the original, true Christianity.

“In the same way that the priests of the Old Testament, to perform their worship, had to keep themselves pure, holy, immaculate and chaste – so that the Anger of God was not aroused by them, and so that they could stand before God in the Sanctuary – the priesthood of Melchisedeq of the New Alliance demanded these sacrifices even more, because complete divine service required a total renunciation of all terrestrial love.”[6]

Unlike the Stylites and the Anchorites, whose repression of sexuality was allied with a hatred of the self (they called sexuality the absolute evil of Satan), Gichtel extracted from his libidinal energy – transmuted into mystical visions – not the horrors of diabolical temptation, but a kind of ravishing succubus, which was nothing other than the Sophia of the Gnostics and Böhme. Gichtel himself recounted the flashes of his ethereal orgasms.

“I saw in my heart a white light, around my heart a large serpent, twisted three times upon itself like a tress; in the middle, in [great] clarity, Christ appeared in the form described by John (Revelations, 1, 13, 14, 15).

“When the soul has walked for some time with its Beloved (Sophia) in the garden of roses, when she has provided flowers, the Fiancé (Christ) takes the soul completely beyond the body. She then appears like a ball of fire (...) she plunges into a sea of fire: this happened to me five times over the course of five consecutive days, during my evening prayers; I saw that she was in a mass of a crystalline blue, like the firmament, but it was an igneous water that the soul, by crossing it, made choppy with little waves of fire; I cannot express the delicious taste and impression.

“(...) After a black cloud appeared, a white one followed and out of it came the noble, heavenly Virgin Sophia of Jesus (...), her loyal companion and friend, whom he (Gichtel) had loved until then without knowing her. And she appeared to him in his spirit, face to face; God had thus sent (...) his eternal Word Jesus in virginal form, to serve him (Gichtel) as consort and wife. . . . O how lovingly she embraced his soul! No woman frolicked more affectionately with her husband than Sophia did with his soul. And what he experienced in the course of such a union he would equally desire that other souls enjoy, because words cannot express the inexpressible sweetness, even if it were permitted. . . .”[7]

In his correspondence with Colonel Kirchberger, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin evoked the love of Gichtel and his Sophia:

“‘Sophia, his beloved, his divine Sophia, whom he loved and whom he had never seen, made her first visit on Christmas Day, 1673; he saw and understood this virgin who was dazzling and celestial as the third principle. In this interview, she accepted him as husband and the wedding was consummated with ineffable delights.’ Married to Sophia, who ‘made him hope for spiritual offspring,’ living with her ‘in the luminous inward depths,’ Gichtel engaged in daily conversations with her: ‘Sophia also possessed a fundamental language [un langage central], without outward words and without vibrations of air, and which did not resemble any human language; nevertheless, he understood it as easily as his mother tongue.’[8] Through revelations concerning the soul and nature, she directed him to publish the works of Jakob Böhme.

“Raadt, a scholar associated with Gichtel, fell in love with Sophia and imposed ‘spiritual circumcision’ on himself and his wife so as to merit seeing this entity. ‘She will let fall several rays of her image on the terrestrial qualities of their souls.’ Around Gichtel was soon formed the Society of the Thirty, all lovers of Sophia and beneficiaries of her favors, which caused him to remark ‘how much the astral spirit desires to enjoy the nuptial bed of Sophia.’ Dissent appeared among the Thirty in 1682, but a young wholesaler from Frankfurt named Uberfeld, who later published Gichtel’s letters, went to find him and decided to remain as a disciple. ‘Upon his arrival, Sophia manifested herself in the third principle to the two friends in the most glorious way.’ Uberfeld took Sophia as his wife and ‘he was elevated to the most sublime heights.’

“It was confirmed that Sophia, the immaterial wife, was polygamous, sharing herself among all her chosen ones, on the condition that they were initiated: ‘No soul, not even a good one, can possess Sophia.’ She could even be the celestial spouse of a woman, since the first vision that the English mystic, Jane Leade, had was one in which Sophia manifested herself physically. Saint-Martin said of the wedding of Gichtel and Sophia: ‘Everything in it had the stamp of truth. If we were close to each other, I would also have a story of marriage to relate to you, one in which the same step was taken by me, although in another form.’”

At the same time in France, [Nicolas-Pierre-Henri de] Montfaucon de Villars – in his Count of Gabalis, published in 1670 – approached cum grano salis[10] the problem of libertine relations with beings issued more from the mysteries of nature than from the heavens: “The most beautiful (woman) is horrible compared to the least Sylph.” The air, water, fire and earth were full of superb creatures whose favors were enjoyed by the initiate. “They only require of men that they abstain from women whose faults they cannot tolerate (and) permit us to love them as much as it pleases us.”

In The Amorous Devil (1772), and in the same gallant manner, Jacques Cazotte treated ideas already in fashion among the Gnostics and the Alexandrine Hermeticists, and that the Byzantine monk Michael Psellos had expounded in the Eleventh Century in his Peri energeias daimonon.[11]

While Gichtel extinguished the excesses of a repressed sexuality in esoteric couplings, other Pietists married the heavens to the earth in less disincarnated, if not less spiritual weddings.

In Germany, colleges of piety multiplied; these were congregations in which religious hysteria made use of an audience that was ready to unhinge itself unreservedly. Such assemblies survived in great numbers in the Churches and sects of the United States, where television successfully exhibited the neurotic disorders of ecstasy.

Founded by Eva von Buttlar, the Christian and Philadelphian Society ascribed to Böhme and Gichtel’s Sophia the traits of a terrestrial and generous sensuality. Von Buttlar herself had wed a French refugee, a dance professor at Eisenbach. She left him to throw herself into Pietism. Having founded an association in which piety excited her passionate nature, she got herself recognized as the Sophia, at once the New Eve and an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. The heavens, over which she ruled, provided her with two lovers. She named one God the Father and the other God the Son. She believed that marriage was a sin and preached the holiness of love freely given and received. [In November 1704,] in the name of maintaining public order, the Lutherans obtained from the police whom she had troubled [possession of] the paradise in which Eva von Buttlar and her adepts had practiced the teachings of God according to [Charles] Fourier well before Fourier himself began imparting them.

The counts of Wittgenstein opened their domains to all those whose beliefs condemned them to persecution. Eva took refuge there, but her crime appeared inexpiable. Sophia and “God the Father,” condemned to death, managed to escape from the authorities and no doubt consoled themselves about their lost paradise in prudent clandestinity.

At the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, Pietism evolved towards the Aufklarung.[12] Two workers, the Kohler brothers, mixed apocalyptic diatribes together with the first accents of a proletarian insurrection that they announced for Christmas Day 1748. One was executed, the other imprisoned. They prefigured [Wilhelm] Weitling, a contemporary of the young Marx, who mocked his archaisms. Weitling proposed a general insurrection of the proletariat whose iron lance – constituted by criminals released from prison and transformed by their divine mission – would introduce into the cadaver of the old world the ferment of the egalitarian millennium. It is not certain that such a beautiful project would have involved more fatal results than the quite rational program of the Communist parties.

A wandering preacher who was persecuted everywhere, Ernst Christoph Hochmann von Hochenau (1670-1721) also found among the counts of Wittgenstein an asylum from which he led the fight for tolerance and the abolition of the death penalty.

A radical Pietist, Gottfried Arnold was the first to approach the history of the Church and the [various] heresies in a spirit that was disengaged from theological prejudices, if not religious prejudices as well. For him, the sincerity of conviction took precedence over doctrine, and nothing was condemnable among the diversity of opinions and practices as long as they did not attack life or the dignity of individuals.

The human meaning that slowly revoked the heavenly obedience required by the [various] religions could not, perhaps, have been any better expressed by Hölderlin: his “Diotima”[13] was a sensual and amorous Sophia, and she exorcised the torments of a Pietist education by attributing the poetic source that creates and re-creates the world to the marvelous designs of childhood.


The Quietists

The Church of Rome reserved for the monastic communities the pursuit of contemplation and the privilege of assuring direct transmission between humanity and God through the use of prayer. The course of the world could thus be pursued under the ferule of the spiritual and temporal powers without the ardors of faith being able to claim (at an inopportune moment) that they could move institutional mountains.

The people were not happy with feeding these congregations of loafers who made money in the form of gifts [corvées], taxes and tithes from the care they took for souls. The people later demonstrated their displeasure by joyously sacking the abbeys and monasteries.

By expelling the monastic orders, the Reformation gave free reign to those who desired to give themselves the luxury of dialoguing with God without being preoccupied with maintaining their terrestrial subsistence.

The form of visionary Pietism known in the Catholic countries under the name of Quietism aroused the reprobation of Rome and the public powers in the Seventeenth Century.

An inhabitant of Lille, Antoinette Bourignon [de la Porte] (1616-1680) was overtaken by an extreme devotion at an early age, but it entailed a strictly Catholic obedience. A sudden illumination persuaded her to confer the light of divine inspiration upon the world.

In the name of the powerful movements of the soul, she condemned the outward forms of religious organization. Kolakowski noted her “repulsion for her mother, which appeared in her childhood, and later her hatred for women and obsessive fear of sexual matters.”[14]

Bourignon’s speculations on original androgyny did not lack piquant aspects:

“He had in his belly a vessel from which small eggs were born and another vessel full of a liquor that would make these eggs fecund. And when the man became excited by the love of his God, the desire that he had for other creatures to praise him, to love and adore this great majesty was spread – by the fire of the love of God – over one or several of these eggs with inconceivable delights; and this egg or eggs, made fecund, then exited from the man through the canal in the form of an egg and, shortly thereafter, from this egg there hatched out a perfect man. Thus, in the eternal life, there will be a holy and endless procreation, quite different from the one that sin has introduced by means of women, [a holy procreation] by which God will form people – in conformity with the new discoveries of anatomy – by drawing from the flanks of Adam the viscera that contain the eggs that women possess and from which people are still born.”[15]

Serge Hutin comments:

“This womb was ripped out of Adam during the bipartition of the original androgyny that resulted from the Fall.

“These considerations were tied to a very original Christology: the Word was engendered by Adam when he was in the hermaphroditic state of innocence. The work of Jesus in his terrestrial incarnation was to teach mankind the means by which it could recover the favor of God and return to its perfect condition before the Fall.

“To be saved, one had to completely detach oneself from terrestrial things and become aware of the fact that they have disappeared and that God alone remains, the person having been annihilated in Him; the only qualification required for teaching the Truth is thus the perfect union of the soul with God.

“Antoinette Bourignon thus described the birth, after the end of this world, of the New Jerusalem, the celestial dwelling of the just; and she showed how, after the [Last] Judgment, the earth would be transformed into an infernal prison in which the individual wills of the damned would be given over to a merciless struggle; but divine mercy would finally triumph and deliver the damned.”[16]

Traveling the world [of Europe] so as to propagate her vision of an inward and purely spiritualized reality, Antoinette Bourignon had the chance to escape the fate of her friend Quirinus Kuhlmann (1651-1680) and his contemporary, Simon Morin (1623-1663).

A visionary and [self-avowed] reincarnation of the Messiah, Simon Morin had the misfortune of living under the rule of a devout king, to whom he was denounced by a mediocre writer named [Jean] Desmarets, Sieur de Saint-Sorlin. The latter feigned to place himself among the ranks of Morin’s proselytes, obtained from him an exposition of his chiliastic doctrine and delivered it to the authorities. Louis XIV had Morin burned along with his writings in 1663. In 1647, Morin published his Thoughts of Simon Morin.

As for Quirinus Kuhlmann, Vuilliaud summarized his destiny in a few words: “The pyre was his throne.”[17]

At the age of 18 and at the end of a serious illness, Kuhlmann had a vision of God, who invested him with the mission of revealing his message to all the nations. Kuhlmann then left Breslau, his native town, and traveled through Germany and Holland, where he became enthusiastic about the works of Jakob Böhme.

According to Serge Hutin,

“in Amsterdam, Kuhlmann came to know another young visionary, Johannes Rothe, who was as exalted as he was; both joined the community of the ‘Angelic Brothers,’ but, quickly coming into conflict with Gichtel, they founded their own society.

“After Rothe’s arrest, Kuhlmann led an wandering existence, aimlessly traveling according to his prophetic ‘inspirations.’ In 1675, he went to Lübeck; he wanted to go to Rome to dethrone the pope, but finally embarked for Smyrna, where he proclaimed the imminence of the definitive Reformation. Persuaded that he would be its craftsman, and that the ‘spiritual kingdom’ would at first be established in the East, he went to Constantinople, where he tried in vain – through the intermediary of the Dutch ambassador – to obtain an audience with the great vizier (1678). He then went to Switzerland, England (he visited London in 1679, and translated his books into English), France (he was in Paris in 1681) and Germany.

“Finally, he left for Russia with the goal of establishing the ‘Kingdom of God’ there; he took two wives, frequented the strangest Russian sects and attempted to convert the Muscovites to his mission. Peter the Great had him imprisoned as a dangerous heretic and conspirator; on 4 October 1689, Kuhlmann and his friend Conrad Nordermann were burned alive in Moscow.”[11]

In a certain way, Peter Poiret (1646-1719) was situated at the hinge between the first and second generations of Quietism. Born in Metz, he was a Calvinist minister in Heidelberg and Deux-Ponts. His reading of texts by Tauler, Thomas à Kempis and especially Antoinette Bourignon converted him to Quietism, which reduced existence to the pure contemplation of an inward God and the ecstasies of the depthless soul. Chased from the Palatinate by the war, he took refuge in Amsterdam, then went to Hamburg to meet Antoinette Bourignon and spent eight years there studying the mystics. Persecuted by the Lutherans, he went to a place near Leyden in Holland, where he died in 1719. He published the works of Antoinette Bourignon and the works of Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de La Motte-Guyon, better known as Madame Guyon, who gave Quietism some respectability.


Madame Guyon

In 1675, the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696) published A Spiritual Guide Intended to Led the Soul to Perfect Contemplation and the Rich Treasury of the Peace of the Heart. Well received by the Catholic milieus, the book was suddenly condemned as Quietist and, in 1679, Pope Innocent XI pushed cruelty as far as throwing its author into the prison of the Holy Office, where he eventually died. The crime committed by the unfortunate Molinos was only that he revived the memory of the Alumbrados of the Sixteenth Century, even though he toned them down by attributing to them a great spirituality. Molinos advocated maintaining the soul and the body in an absolute inaction in order to let God express himself in each person without the obstacles of conscience and [moral] imperatives. Molinos excluded the idea that the faithful should break with the observance of religious duties, but he conferred so many privileges upon the annihilation of the soul in ecstasy that the functions of Church, the sacraments and works of piety were greatly reduced.

Molinos’ principal accuser, the Bishop of Naples, claimed that the people who authorized divine quests did so to revoke his [personal] authority and to follow their inclinations freely. And no doubt this was not pure calumny, since the satisfactions of nature excelled at giving good reasons to those who combated them.

Molinos’ doctrine found echoes in France, where Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de La Motte, the widow of a certain Guyon, recommended the annihilation of the soul to the point that all prayer disappeared, except for the entreaty: “Thy will be done!”

Violently attacked by Bossuet, Madame Guyon obtained the protection of Fenelon, the Bishop of Cambrai. Condemned to prison, then exiled, she did not repudiate any of her opinions. Accused by Pope Innocent XII, Fenelon abjured.

No more than the “Guérinets” (the adepts of the parish-priest Guérin), of whom Racine spoke in his Summary of the History of Port-Royal,[19] neither Madame Guyon nor Fenelon used the illumination acquired by prayer to take Jesuitical liberties with asceticism. But it is probable that the simple people made more handy use of the divine graces and ecstasies that are so common in love. At the time, songs that lampooned the Quietists were in circulation. One of their refrains related the miraculous effects of devotion:

As for my body, I abandon it to you,
My soul being my only care.
When the soul gives itself to God
One can leave one’s body to one’s friend.

It is true that, at the time, the virtuous Bossuet, in a cassock, practiced the charming perils and disgraces of love with Mademoiselle Mauléon. In a society that was suffocated by the devout party and the prudishness of a pitiful monarchy, it was necessary that the pleasures of the senses were exalted in the shadow of the confessional, since it was dangerous to rally to the joyous revolt of the libertines such as Saint-Pavin, Blot, Claude the Small and Cyrano de Bergerac.


[1] Translator: Latin for “great mystery.”

[2] Translator: Latin for “On Ancient and Recent Philosophical Principles.”

[3] P. Vuilliaud, “Fin du monde et prophètes modernes,” Les Cahiers d’Hermès, Paris, #2, 1947, p. 112.

[4] Translator: German for “the Christian Edification Society of Jesus.”

[5] S. Hutin, Les Disciples anglais de Jakob Böhme, Paris, 1960, pp. 16-19.

[6] Ibid., p. 21.

[7] Ibid.

[8] L.-Cl. de Saint-Martin, Correspondance inédite, Paris, 1862.

[9] Alexandrian, Histoire de la philosophie occulte, pp. 366 and 367.

[10] Translator: Latin for “With a grain of salt.”

[11] Translator: Greek for “On the Operation of the Daemons.”

[12] Translator: German for the “Enlightenment.”

[13] Translator: Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), a major lyric poet. ‘Diotima’ appears in his novel Hyperion, published in 1799.

[14] Kolakowski, quoted by J. N. Vuarnet, Extases féminines, Paris, 1991.

[15] Quoted by S. Hutin, op. cit., pp. 27 and 28.

[16] Ibid., p. 28.

[17] P. Vulliaud, op. cit., p. 114.

[18] S. Hutin, op. cit., p. 25.

[19] “This was the time when two famous nuns from Montdidier were introduced at Maubuisson by one of the visitors, to teach, he said, the secrets of the most sublime oration. The Mother of the Angels and the Angelic Mother were not close enough to the will of the fathers, and they were often reproached for knowing no other perfection than that which was acquired by the mortification of the senses and the practice of good works. The Mother of the Angels, who had learned at Port-Royal to resist all novelty, observed these two young women closely; and it happened that, under the jargon of pure love, annihilation and perfect nudity, they were hiding all of the illusions and horrors that the Church had condemned in Molinos. These women were indeed from the sect of the illuminati from Roye, whom one calls the Guérinets, for whom Cardinal Richelieu had made such a careful search. Since the Mother of the Angels gave notice of the peril that the monastery was in, these two nuns were confined very strictly by order of the court; and the visitor who protected them was forced to withdraw from the affair.”


(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2013. All footnotes by the author.)



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