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Quietism: Holy Ground or Heresy?

Quietism: Holy ground or Heresy? Be still and know I am God, Come unto me and rest? or Put on the armor of God and fight the Devil, the roaring lion! who wants to devour us?

Old age is teaching me to be sober, grave, temperate, sound in the faith, in love, in patience. Titus 2:2. My life now is more domestically centered and demanding of “a meek and quiet spirit.”

God has blessed me with godly teachers and examples who have taught me well how to “be still and know that I am God,” This teaching is a necessary complement to the focus of this blog on history, Christian literature, scripture, and theology. I trust this article will be a step deeper into spiritual growth.

One of my life's great blessings has been Madam Guyon's* life and work (1648-1717.) She was Roman Catholic and imprisoned for the heresy of Quietism. She was defended by Archbishop Fenelon (1651-1715), a favorite at the court of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). The archbishop submitted to the Pope's verdict and renounced Quietism in 1697 but continued to defend Madam Guyon. He wrote "Let Go," "Christian Perfection," and "Inner Life," which were valued by Protestant theologian A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) as "an unparalleled aid to spiritual life."

*indicates a biography of this person in SPIRITUAL LIVES

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Tozer's testimony popularized Quietism among evangelical/Pentecostal Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries, a group that sees Roman Catholicism as a false religion and, worse - a direct blasphemy created by the devil. Thus disarmed by godly Protestant leaders, I eagerly spent time with Quietists, especially Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), author of "Abandonment to Divine Providence" or "The Sacriment of the Present Moment."

The big idea here is God's sovereignty, goodness, and great love for each one of us. Since God ordains/governs and controls all things, we can rest in what He sends, allows, or permits in our lives. What will satisfy me if I am unsatisfied with what God has chosen for me? All things denote His love and favor. Our "enemies" are actually galley slaves who drive us to the very place God wants us to be.

DeCaussade develops this idea by examining the life of the Virgin Mary* (circa 18 BC to 43 AD). "Be it unto me according to Thy word," Luke 1:38, was her answer to the angel's news that she was to be Jesus' mother.

We know nothing of her life, but what the Bible tells us is that she was a virgin betrothed to Joseph* (?50BC - 20 AD?), an older man and that they both were in the royal line of David* (1085 - 1015 BC). Accepting as she was of the divine favor, its immediate impact on her was disquieting.

First, she didn't understand how to have a child without knowing a man. No one did, except for Elizabeth Mary's cousin and mother of John the Baptist* (5 BC - 29 AD), to whom the Holy Ghost revealed the nature of this birth. When her pregnancy was known, the community assumed a human father.

Her betrothed made the same assumption and decided to quietly put her away until the angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as a wife and that she was with child by the Holy Ghost. Joseph accepted this and behaved nobly, but their neighbors in Nazareth did not.

Mary accepted this, and every circumstance of her life with grace and humility, and de Caussade made much of Mary's domestic life. She was a wife and mother, and her housekeeping and family tending occupied her as she raised the Son of God and taught Him how to live among men and gain their favor.

Why was quietism based on this declared heresy in 1687? Pope Innocent XI (1676 to 1689) ruled that this passive contemplation violated Church teachings on active prayer and actually seeking salvation through Jesus' mediation.

Its implication is that one can directly access God via contemplation, mystically, without the Church and its doctrine of salvation. He sentenced Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696), the founder/advocate of quietism, to life imprisonment. This pretty much ended quietism in Roman Catholic circles. The court of Louis XIV drove it out or underground.

But quietism gained an audience among Protestants in the 20th century, notably Madame Guyon, Molinos, and Brother Lawrence (1611-1691), although Longfellow and William James wrote about Molinos the century before. All three quietists were serious Roman Catholics, and evangelical Christians should have noticed the limited use of the Bible and the name of Jesus -- hallmarks of Protestant believers.

Where does this leave us? In a more enlightened place than before. The quiet, passive acceptance of the sovereignty of God, as seen in Mary's "Be it unto me according to Thy word," is a godly gold standard for our domestic, daily lives. But our acceptance of all things as God's will must be regularly affirmed by exposure to and validation of God's Word, the Bible.

When we look at her life in the Bible, we see that Mary knew it well. Her song Luke recorded in the New Testament, contains 17 references to the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, 1 Samuel, Job, and Psalms. Our worship is to rest in Jesus, to be still and know He is God, and to make our calling and election sure by loving His Word and meditating in it day and night.

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