January 7, 2008

A Guide to True Peace

or the Excellence of Inward and Spiritual Prayer is a small book Compiled Chiefly From the Writings of Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, and Molinos.

I don't remember how exactly I found it, but I ordered this a couple of years ago and frequently carry it around with me. (It's a tiny book, and looks like it's available online as well.) Pendle Hill reprinted it in 1979, from a 1946 reprint they did with Harper & Row, and there's an introduction by Howard Brinton. It looks like the original was compiled around 1813, by a pair of Quakers, working from the materials of the Catholic Quietists.

Of the three, Molinos seems to be the most extreme, while Guyon and Fénelon are considered 'semiquietists'. I've written about Fénelon's letters before. (It's probably notable that Quietism was condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church in 1687, and still raises sparks in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia.)

I'd be curious to hear if other people are reading this little book, and what they see in it. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism that explains a lot of where this material came from as well.

The last chapter, "On Perfection, or the Union of the Soul with God", is what grabbed my attention again. When I'd first read it, it seemed too lofty a suggestion to make:

The most profitable and desirable state in this life is that of Christian perfection, which consists in the union of the soul with Infinite Purity, a union that includes in it all spiritual good; producing in us a freedom of spirit; which raises us above all the events and changes of this life, and which frees us from the tyranny of human fear; it gives an extraordinary power for the well performing of all actions, and acquitting ourselves well in our employments; a prudence truly Christian in all our undertakings; a peace and perfect tranquility in all conditions; and, in short, a continual victory over self love and our passions. (109)

And then this ties back to the discussion I've had lately around deification:

"Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The soul, remaining in its disorderly will, is imperfect; it becomes more perfect, in proportion as it approaches nearer to the Divine will. When a soul is advanced so far that it cannot in anything depart therefrom, it then becomes wholly perfect, united with, and is transformed into, the divine nature; and being thus purified and united to Infinite Purity, it finds a profound peace, and a sweet rest, which brings it to such a perfect union of love, that it is filled with joy. It conforms itself to the will of the great Original in all emergencies, and rejoiced in everything to do the divine good pleasure.

The Lord draws near to such a soul, and communicates inwardly to it. He fills it with himself because it is empty; clothes it with his light and his love, because it is naked; lifts it up, because it is low; and unites it with himself.

If you would enter into this heaven on earth, forget every care and every anxious thought, get out of yourself, that the love of God may live in your soul, so that you may be enabled to say with the apostle: "It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives within me." How happy we would be if we could leave all for him, seek him only, breathe after him only; let only Him have our sighs. Oh, that we could but go on without interruption toward this blessed state! God call us to do so and come to him. He invites us to enter our inward center, where he will renew and change us, and show us a new and heavenly kingdom, full of joy, peace, content, and serenity. (114-6)

I think I'll be carrying this book around with me for a while.

July 22, 2006

Meeting with quiet

"Quietism" seems frequently a term of disparagement in Quaker histories. It's easy to get excited about the adventures and struggles of early Quakers. After the Glorious Revolution (well, glorious for Protestants) brought toleration for Quakers, and they found safe homes in Pennsylvania and other colonies, Quakerism seemed to lose much of its energy. Rather than proclaiming that Quakerism is true Christianity that everyone should be following, Quakerism turns more and more into a separate sect, retreating from the world.

Part of the disdain seems to come from Quakers simply growing calm relative to their early days of evangelism. John Woolman stands out in the period between Fox, Penn, and Barclay and the schisms of the 19th century, but otherwise I don't tend to hear a lot about 18th century Quakers in modern conversation.

Howard Brinton was fond of emphasizing the value of Quietism, which means much more than just a period of relative calm among Quakers. It has ties to Roman Catholic Quietist thought from the 17th century, notably that of Miguel de Molinos, Archbishop François Fénelon, and Madame Guyon. It was inspired by the mystical traditions of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but was found by the Catholic Church to be heretical in 1687.

Brinton wrote in Friends for 300 Years that "The works of Madame Guyon, Fénelon and Molinos, valuable guides in the life of prayer, could at one time be found in almost every Quaker library," though Margaret Hope Bacon contests that in a footnote in Friends for 350 Years. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism which goes into much greater detail.

I just found a copy of Fenelon's Spiritual Letters, which appears to be the same book as the currently-available The Seeking Heart, though paginated differently. Many of the letters by this Catholic Archbishop feel distinctly Quakerly, like this one, which fits well with the Thomas Kelly quote I posted yesterday about being "prayed through":

110. "Teach us to pray"

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; Thou only knowest what we need; Thou lovest me betters than I know how to love myself.

O Father! Give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask. I dare not ask for either crosses or consolations; I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee.

Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.

Teach me to pray; pray Thyself in me.

This is strong stuff, as Quietism calls for silencing the self, not just at Meeting - though it led to a lot of quiet meetings - and listening for what God wants rather than what we want. Fénelon doesn't urge complete retreat from the world, but certainly calls on his readers to step away from the world's expectations. Sometimes this takes him places that I think will trouble modern readers, who might see ignorance or passivity, but which had echoes in Quakerism:

29. To prefer love and humility to learning.

People cannot become perfect by dint of hearing or reading about perfection. The chief thing is not to listen to yourself, but silently to listen to God; to renounce all vanity, and apply yourself to real virtues; to talk little, and to do much, without caring to be seen. God will teach you much more than all the most experienced persons and all the most spiritual books. Do you need to be so learned in order to know how to love God and deny yourself for His love? You know much more of good than you practise. You have much less need of gaining fresh knowledge than of putting in practice that which you have already acquired.

53. Gentleness and humility.

Your remedy for wandering thoughts and want of fervor will be to set apart regular seasons for reading and prayer; to mix yourself up in outward matters only when it is necessary; and to attend more to softening the hardness of your judgment, to restraining your temper, and humbling your mind, than to upholding your opinion even when it is right; and finally, to humble yourself whenever you find that an undue warmth concerning the affairs of others has led you to forget your supreme interest, Eternity.

"Learn of me," Jesus Christ says to you, "for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Be sure that the grace, inward peace, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit will be with you, if you maintain gentleness and humility amid all your external perplexities.

I'll be posting more of Fénelon and hopefully some of the other Quietists over time. If you're impatient for more, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library has more about and by Fénelon.