Q: How is Centering Prayer distinct from Quietism which was declared a heresy in the 18th Century?
A: Webster defines quietism this way: "a system of religious mysticism teaching that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by annihilation of the will and passive absorption in contemplation of God and divine things; a passive withdrawn attitude or policy toward the world or worldly affairs."
There is much to be found about Quietism on the internet through various publications - some Catholic, some just opinion. There are graduations of quietism, including a so-called "semi-quietism." Some teach that man in the present life can attain such a degree of perfection as to become utterly impeccable; that the "perfect" have no need to fast or pray, but may freely grant the body whatsoever it craves; that they are not subject to any human authority or bound by any precepts of the Church. It is closely associated with pantheism.
In contrast, through consenting to God's presence and action in Centering Prayer, we discover ourselves in our fullness within the hidden ground of love, the Divine Indwelling, and are each uniquely called to "active contemplative witness" -- an active engagement and participation in the world. When understanding the gifts we have received, we put ourselves under whatever authority is called for in our vocation, in obedience to the Divine Indwelling in our particular manifestation. The contemplative voice demands witness and response to the most pressing social issues of our time, a spiritual practice of love in action.
It seems when some people see the word quietism they think that it is a condemnation of being "quiet" in prayer, as if quiet and silence has no place in prayer or worship or life. Silence, solitude and stillness animate, inform and inspire all of life. May we celebrate the richness of our Christian tradition.
May this answer be of some help.
Fr. Carl & Mary Anne Best
(Mary Anne is on staff with Contemplative Outreach and leads in-person and online retreats, among other duties)