The Complete Madame Guyon (Paraclete Giants) Paperback – 1 Dec 2011
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About the Author
Nancy C. James received her MDiv from Virginia Theological Seminary and her PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia. An ordained Episcopal priest, James serves as a chaplain at the Washington National Cathedral and a Priest Associate at St. John’s, Lafayette Square, as well as other churches in the Washington D.C. area.
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This complete guide to Madame Guyon's writings is a marvelous work! With great care and attention to detail, Nancy James tells the story of Guyon's life through first her life, then her theology and finally through her wonderful translations of Guyon's work. In the chapter on Madame Guyon's life, you get a picture of a young woman forced into marriage with a man whose mother lives under the same roof. "Enforcing strict rules on what her daughter-in-law was allowed to do, including limited attendance at church," the situation only worsened as time went on (7). Yet, the virility and beauty of this situation did not erase Guyon's desire to follow and seek after Jesus. Later on, James writes, "As Jeanne followed this popular interior devotion to Jesus, she found her exterior life also transformed; she became increasingly active and dedicated to ministering to any suffering human being" (9). Seeking to raise children, including an infant in the midst of her husband's death was no small thing, yet her devotion did not abate.
In a short section on Jeanne's theology, Nancy James a very interesting point by saying, "Guyon says that what God did for Christ in supplying divinity to his humanity God also does for an interior soul through divinization" (26). She goes onto describe this experience as a time of resurrection. What I find interesting is that we find this kind of idea in Eastern Orthodoxy known as theosis. I think the application of this teaching in Guyon's allowed her to live sacrificially. Although, in the end, the idea that God supplied divinity to Christ's humanity falls short of the idea that Christ was fully God in his pre-incarnate state (see Philippians 2:5-11). This section on Guyon's theology was very helpful in understanding not only her language but the bases of her thinking.
A Short and Easy Method to Prayer is Guyon at her best! You find in the first chapter a call to prayer for every believer. She writes, "Whoever you are, let us pray. You must live in prayer, as you must live in love" (45). What is amazing in this work on prayer is her insistence that no matter what state you are (melancholy, happiness, depression or sick), prayer is a relief to the soul. In a section on Spiritual Droughts, Guyon writes, "Yet at times God will be absent in order to awaken the soul to seek the divine wholeheartedly with faithfulness and love" (53). We are tempted to go the spiritual road alone, but we are called to be patient, to be faithful even in our call to prayer, foregoing the desire to selfishness.
Lastly, Guyon's commentary on the Songs of Solomon brings forth her passionate spirit for God. She writes, "When the heart of a person displays the faith of wanting God's being , and not only looking for the gifts of God, God find pleasure in showering upon the person the very gifts that were not sought" (104). The heart of a believer that seeks God's glory, seeks to worship him and not his gifts, often ends up in the blessing of gifts that were not prayed for (one can quickly think of King Solomon in this regard). What you find in this work is a vibrant soul that finds its rest, joy, and peace in God and in his Son.
This is a marvelous work indeed. I am not always in agreement with Guyon's understanding of biblical passages, including The Song of Songs, but I appreciate your sincere devotion to Christ. On a sidenote, the translation by Nancy James of these works was incredible. I found myself rereading sections on a method to prayer just to hear the words leap off the page. Kudos to Nancy James for a superb translation!
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this work.
But there are two major issues.
1) The book is not the "complete" Madame Guyon. Only two works are included in full, with a selection of poetry. The Autobiography is included only in selections, and several other works are not represented at all.
2) And this is more a matter of taste - but I find the translation really choppy. The translator says that Madame Guyon wrote in run on sentences, with many commas and semicolons. Now (and this is the grammar nerd in me), a complex sentence is NOT a run on sentence. But the translator has chosen to cut every phrase into a sentence, which I find very jarring.
Both for completeness - and a much smoother translation - I'd recommend The Unabridged Collected Works
That said - if someone really wants to approach Madame Guyon, and finds the older translations really difficult, maybe this would be a good choice for the couple of works included.