What Is Quietism?

The dictionary’s definition of Quietism is a form of religious mysticism that originated in late seventeenth-century Spain, which requires a spirit that is removed from all human endeavors, completely surrendering itself to Gods will. The name quietism is derived from Latin quietus, meaning passive, which is an accurate description of the mental and spiritual condition that quietists strive for to attain spiritual perfection. Quietism is a form of religious mysticism where practitioners attempt to attain spiritual tranquility and perfection through thinking about God and sacred things, preferring quiet contemplation to active actions, chanting, or vocal prayer.

Quietism, a doctrine in Christian spirituality which generally holds that perfection is found in the passiveness (quietness) of the soul, the repression of human efforts, in order to allow the Divine actions to take their proper place. Quietism is the doctrine that the highest character of virtue is found in a constant contemplation of, and love for, the highest perfection. Quietism teaches that spiritual peace, even perfection, may be achieved by the contemplation of God and things divine.

This strong, practical adherence to Gods will in all things leads the soul into destruction and conversion with God, without a mix of Rapture, external ecstasy, or intense emotion. In the condition of spiritual inactivity, the soul is not to contemplate either God or self, but to have its powers destroyed, so that it gives up on itself, completely and passively, to God. In a state of mental inactivity the soul ought not to reflect either on God or on itself, but its powers ought to be annihilated, in order to abandon itself wholly and passively to God. And from this mental death finally derives from it the real and perfect Annihilation; so that, once a soul is dead in the will and understanding, the right is said of its attaining the final, the blessed, State of Annihilation, the final arrangement of conversion and union, of which the soul does not itself comprehend, because it would not have been Annihilated, had it ever become conscious.

The soul remains in the dark conviction, the state of passive purification, that it omits all determinate thoughts, and of all inner actions. This state of utterly passive contemplation is not only the highest form of religious life, it renders other, more concrete forms of devotion–the cult of Jesus and of saints, acts of repentance and hope, confession, mortification, prayer, even the care for ones own salvation–insofar as others distract the soul from unity with God. The Quietists called indeed the vulgar mistake the claim that, in a state of prayer, the faculties do not function, that the soul is idle. But they maintain, meanwhile, that the soul does not function, neither through the faculty of memory, nor through intellect, nor through the principle of proportion, but through mere perception.

Quietism seems scarcely compatible with the human/God relation portrayed in Scripture, or with some divine commands and promises which instruct us to search, ask, work, endure, stand, and struggle; nor does it appear fully compatible with exemplary prayers of Scripture, including Christs at Gethsemane, wherein the saints give voice to, struggle, and to strive, or with exposition. Quietism recognizes the highest perfection in God alone, and holds that a perfect union with God is something that should take place, and that perfect union is best achieved through passive rest, or a more-or-less absolute rest. Quietism is called quietism because it seems to call upon the individual to do nothing while praying, but remain silent in the presence of God.

Quietism is especially associated with Miguel de Molinos, who is listed in The Catholic Encyclopaedia as the founder of Quietism. Quietistic elements were discerned throughout centuries among different religious movements, Christian as well as non-Christian, but Quietism is generally identified with the teachings of Miguel de Molinos, a Spanish priest who became a respected spiritual director in Rome in the last half of the seventeenth century, and whose teachings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical. Quietistic elements have been discerned in several religious movements, both Christian and non-Christian, through the centuries, but Quietism is usually identified with the doctrine of Miguel de Molinos, a Spanish priest who became an esteemed spiritual director in Rome during the latter half of the 17th century and whose teachings were condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. While a number of significant insights into quietism–a movement distinguished from the general sense of quietism, meaning quiescent or passive regarding politics or ethics–can be found in Medieval devotions, 16th-century Spirituality of Spain, 16th-century devotional movements of the late seventeenth-century movement in devotions, can be found in Medieval religious movements of the late seventeenth century, in devotional movements of the Catholic Church of Italy and France.

Since the late seventeenth century, quietism has served (especially in Roman Catholic theology, although to an extent in Protestant theology) as shorthand for accounts that are perceived as falling foul of those very theological errors, and therefore heretical. Although Molinos and other authors condemned at the end of the seventeenth century, and so did their opponents, spoke of the Quietists (in other words, those devoted to praying quietly, a phrase used by Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and others), Quietism is the creation of their opponents, a somewhat artificial systematization made based upon ecclesiastical condemnations and commentaries upon them). Quietism is a system of religious mysticism rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, but that was sometimes promoted even by individuals within the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite its popularity in charismatic circles, the philosophy underlying quietisms practices is non-biblical. Biblically speaking, one should want a quiet, serene internal life as an indication of a healthy spiritual life. Biblical authors never promoted the notion that human souls are absorbed by God, nor does Scripture endorse quietism, either as a philosophy or a religious practice. One issue with quietism is the sole emphasis it places on passiveness, quiescence, and inaction when it seeks a quiet spirituality.

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