What is Quietism?

It remains to examine the view known as quietism. This view may be analysed as a development from certain types of expression very common in all religion ; for instance, that religion is not self-assertion but self-surrender ; that in the religious life we wait upon God and accept his good will instead of imposing ours upon him; that the individual is lost in union with God, and is no longer an independent will.

Such language is often called mysticism, and the word may be usefully employed in this sense. It is, however, well to remember that the experience to which this language refers is an experience not peculiar to certain people called mystics, but common to every religious mind. Subject to this caution, we may use the word mystical as a description of that aspect of the religious life which consists in the fusion of the individual with God.

This question is one which we shall treat at length in a later chapter ; and we shall there see reason to believe that this mystical language, so far from being a fanciful or confused description of the facts, gives a perfectly accurate account of that relation to God which is the essence of personal religion. At present we are concerned not with mysticism but with its offshoot, or rather perversion, quietism. Mysticism asserts the union of my will with the will of God, the total and complete fusion of the two into one.

Quietism asserts that my will is negated, that it has simply disappeared and the will of God has taken its place. I am utterly lost in the infinity of God. The two things are really quite distinct ; the former asserts a union of two wills in one person, the latter asserts that the person has only one will, and that not his own but God’s. Theologians will recall the relation of the Monothelite heresy to the orthodox Christology of the Church ; and indeed we may suggest that quietism was only a revival in another context of the essential doctrine of Monothelitism, whereas mysticism exactly expresses the orthodox view as to the relation of the divine and human wills.

Quietism thus denies that conduct is a part of religion, because it believes that in religion the individual will disappears ; religion is a state of complete passivity. This doctrine is due to the assumption (which we shall criticise later) that two wills cannot be fused into one, and therefore, feeling bound to preserve the unity of the individual, the quietist denies the human and keeps the divine. Pending our inquiry into the underlying principle, it is enough to point out certain objections.

  1. The act of self-abnegation is definitely an act of will, and is represented as a duty, and a religious duty ; therefore the practical content of religion is not in point of fact denied.
  2. This act is not done once for all ; it is a continual attitude of the self to God, an attitude capable of being discontinued by an act of will, and therefore itself maintained by an act of will.
  3. The union with God thus attained does not deprive the individual of all activity. Rather it directs and makes more fruitful and potent this activity.

It affords a solution of all his practical difficulties, and gives him the strength to carry out the solution ; but it does not remove them from his consciousness and place him in a simply inactive sphere of life. In a word, the self-dedication of the will to God is not the end of the individual life, but the beginning of a new and indeed of a more active life. The union with God is a real union, not the annihilation of the self.

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