A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Quietists

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QUIETISTS, the followers of Michael de Molinus, a Spanish priest, who flourished in the seventeenth century. They were so called, from a kind of absolute rest and inaction, which the soul is supposed to be in, when arrived at that state of perfection, which they call the unitive life.

The principles maintained by this denomination, are as follow: That the whole of religion consists in the perfect calm and tranquillity of a mind removed from all external and finite things, and centered in God, and in such a pure love of the supreme Being, as is independent on all prospect of interest or reward.

For, say they, the primitive disciples of Christ were all of them inward and spiritual; and when Jesus Christ said to them, It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; he intended thereby, to draw them off from that, which was sensible, though very holy, and to prepare their hearts to receive the fulness of the holy spirit, which he looked upon, as the one thing necessary.

To prove, that our love to the Deity must be disinterested, they allege, that the Lord hath made al things for himself, as saith the scripture; and it is for his glory, that he wills our happiness is only a subordinate end, which he has made relative to the last and great end, which is his glory. To conform, therefore, to the great end of our creation, we must prefer God to ourselves, and not desire our own happiness, but for his glory; otherwise we shall go contrary to his order. As the perfections of the Deity are intrinsically amiable, it is our glory and perfection to go out of ourselves, to be lost and absorbed in the pure love of infinite beauty. See Mystics.

Madame Guion, a woman of fashion in France, born (1648) was a warm advocate of these principles. She asserted that the means of arriving at this perfect love, are prayer and the self-denial enjoined in the gospel. Prayer she defines to be the entire bent of the soul towards its divine origin.

Fenelon, the excellent archbishop of Cambray, also favoured these sentiments in a celebrated publication, entitled, "The Maxims of the Saints." Hence arose a controversy between him and Bossuet, bishop of Meaux. The tenets objected by Bossuet to Fenelon may be reduced to two: 1. That a person may attain an habitual state of divine love, in which he loves God purely for his own sake, and without the slightest regard to his own interest, even in respect of his eternal happiness; 2. That in such a state it is lawful, and may even be considered as an heroic effort of conformity to the divine will, to consent to eternal reprobation, if God should require such a sacrifice; the party which makes such an act, conceiving at the moment that such a sacrifice is possible.

It was objected to Fenelon, that his doctrine elevated charity beyond human power, at the expense of the fear of God, and the hope of the divine favour.

On the habitual state of disinterested divine love, the attainment of which was said to be inculcated in Fenelon's writtings, Fenelon himself uniformly declared his opinion that a permanent state of divine love, without hope, and without fear, was above the lot of man; and Bossuet himself allowed that there might be moments, when a soul, dedicated to the love of God, would be lost in heavenly contemplation, and love, and adore without being influenced either by hope or fear, or being sensible of either.

The controversy[1] between these great men was referred to the decision of the Roman Catholic church; and in 1699, the hope issued a brief, by which twenty three propositions, reducible to the two above mentioned, were extracted from Fenelon's "Maxims of the saints" and condemned. Fenelon submitted to the decision of the church. But his enemies were mortified by a bon mot of the pope, "that Fenelon was in fault for too great love of God; and his enemies equally in fault, for too little love of their neighbour."

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. For a particular account of the controversy between Bossuet and Fenelon and see also Cambray on Pure Love, p. 131-138. Lady Guion's Life and Letters, p. 167. Cowper's Translation of Guion's Poems/ Chev. Ranway's Like of Fenelon. Mosheim, vol. iv. p. 328. Butler's Life of Fenelon.