Quietism: Agape gone unhinged?

For those who missed it, here’s Michael Paterson-Seymour on non-erotic love of God in the Quietist heresy, and the orthodox response to it.

The whole question of the disinterested love of God was much discussed during the Quietist Controversy, beginning with Innocent XI’s condemnation of Molinism (Coelestis Pastor 19 November 1687), followed by the Commission of Issy, Fénelon’s defence of Mme Guyon in his “Explication des Maximes des Saints” and the ensuing pamphlet war between Bossuet and Fénelon (two of the best writers of the Grand Siècle) and culminating in Innocent XII’s condemnation of the 23 propositions in Cum Aliis of 12 March 1699.

The principle condemned errors were 1) a soul can reach a state of pure love in which it no longer experiences a desire for eternal salvation; 2) during extreme trials of the interior life a soul may have a conviction that it is rejected by God, and in this state it may make an absolute sacrifice of its own eternal happiness; 3) in the state of pure love a soul is indifferent to its own perfection and the practice of virtue; 4) in certain states contemplative souls lose the clear, sensible and deliberate sight of Jesus Christ

This “Rout of the Mysitics,” as Abbé Brémond called it, led to the usual over-reaction in the opposite direction by Catholic theologians. The notable exceptions were Cardinal Bona, J. B. Scaramelli, St. Alphonsus Liguori.

As late as the 20th century, defenders of the spirituality of the French School, with its strong concentration on the pure love of God, perfect abandonment to the divine will and the passivity necessary for genuine contemplative prayer, such as Brémond himself, Maurice Blondel, Joseph Maréchal and Cardinal Jean Daniélou were actually suspected of Modernism. Even the usually balanced Mgr Ronald Knox wrote that “Quietism is a morbid growth on the healthy body of mysticism, and mystics of recognized orthodoxy may carry the germs of the disease without developing its symptoms.”

It was only with Pope John Paul II’s 1997 declaration of St Thérèse of Lisieux as a Doctor of the Church that he cloud of suspicion finally lifted.

That reminds me of a little book of Fenelon’s writings that I bought on a whim a year ago.  I really should get around to reading it someday.

One Response

  1. I am very flattered that you thought my post worth reproducing.

    Regarding Fénelon’s writings, it is important to note that he never explicitly taught Quietism. When he was notified of the condemnation of Maximes, he was told that the investigators found difficulty with “certain statements which . . . in their primary sense, the sense that first comes to mind, favor some Quietest errors. It .is true that the book contains other statements which exclude the wrong meaning of those just referred to, and which seem to be their correctives. Hence the book cannot be absolutely condemned as containing error.”

    In other words, he is really orthodox, but needs to be read with caution.

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