Yet, on the whole, the labors of the missionaries tended greatly to the benefit of the Indians.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
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This is the view of a heretic. It was the aim of the founders of New France to build on a foundation purely and supremely Catholic. What this involved is plain; for no degree of personal virtue is a guaranty against the evils which attach to the temporal rule of ecclesiastics. Burning with love and devotion to Christ and his immaculate Mother, the fervent and conscientious priest regards with mixed pity and indignation those who fail in this supreme allegiance. Piety and charity alike demand that he should bring back the rash wanderer to the fold of his divine Master, and snatch him from the perdition into which his guilt must otherwise plunge him. And while he, the priest, himself yields reverence and obedience to the Superior, in whom he sees the representative of Deity, it behooves him, in his degree, to require obedience from those whom he imagines that God has confided to his guidance. His conscience, then, acts in perfect accord with the love of power innate in the human heart. These allied forces mingle with a perplexing subtlety; pride, disguised even from itself, walks in the likeness of love and duty; and a thousand times on the pages of history we find Hell beguiling the virtues of Heaven to do its work. The instinct of domination is a weed that grows rank in the shadow of the temple, climbs over it, possesses it, covers its ruin, and feeds on its decay. The unchecked sway of priests has always been the most mischievous of tyrannies; and even were they all well-meaning and sincere, it would be so still.
To the Jesuits, the atmosphere of Quebec was well-nigh celestial. “In the climate of New France,” they write, “one learns perfectly to seek only God, to have no desire but God, no purpose but for God.” And again: “To live in New France is in truth to live in the bosom of God.” “If,” adds Le Jeune, “any one of those who die in this country goes to perdition, I think he will be doubly guilty.”
[“La Nouuelle France est vn vray climat oů on apprend parfaictement bien ŕ ne chercher que Dieu, ne desirer que Dieu seul, auoir l’intention purement ŕ Dieu, etc. . . . Viure en la Nouuelle France, c’est ŕ vray dire viure dans le sein de Dieu, et ne respirer que l’air de sa Diuine conduite.” — Divers Sentimens. “Si quelqu’un de ceux qui meurent en ces contrées se damne, je croy qu’il sera doublement coupable.” — Relation, 1640, 5 (Cramoisy).]
The very amusements of this pious community were acts of religion. Thus, on the fęte-day of St. Joseph, the patron of New France, there was a show of fireworks to do him honor. In the forty volumes of the Jesuit Relations there is but one pictorial illustration; and this represents the pyrotechnic contrivance in question, together with a figure of the Governor in the act of touching it off. [Relation, 1637, 8. The Relations, as originally published, comprised about forty volumes.] But, what is more curious, a Catholic writer of the present day, the Abbé Faillon, in an elaborate and learned work, dilates at length on the details of the display; and this, too, with a gravity which evinces his conviction that squibs, rockets, blue-lights, and serpents are important instruments for the saving of souls. [Histoire de la Colonie Française, I. 291, 292.] On May-Day of the same year, 1637, Montmagny planted before the church a May-pole surmounted by a triple crown, beneath which were three symbolical circles decorated with wreaths, and bearing severally the names, Iesus, Maria, Ioseph; the soldiers drew up before it, and saluted it with a volley of musketry. [Relation, 1637, 82.]
On the anniversary of the Dauphin’s birth there was a dramatic performance, in which an unbeliever, speaking Algonquin for the profit of the Indians present, was hunted into Hell by fiends. [Vimont, Relation, 1640, 6.] Religious processions were frequent. In one of them, the Governor in a court dress and a baptized Indian in beaver-skins were joint supporters of the canopy which covered the Host. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1638, 6.] In another, six Indians led the van, arrayed each in a velvet coat of scarlet and gold sent them by the King. Then came other Indian converts, two and two; then the foundress of the Ursuline convent, with Indian children in French gowns; then all the Indian girls and women, dressed after their own way; then the priests; then the Governor; and finally the whole French population, male and female, except the artillery-men at the fort, who saluted with their cannon the cross and banner borne at the head of the procession. When all was over, the Governor and the Jesuits rewarded the Indians with a feast. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1639, 3.]
Now let the stranger enter the church of Notre-Dame de La Recouvrance, after vespers. It is full, to the very porch: officers in slouched hats and plumes, musketeers, pikemen, mechanics, and laborers. Here is Montmagny himself; Repentigny and Poterie, gentlemen of good birth; damsels of nurture ill fitted to the Canadian woods; and, mingled with these, the motionless Indians, wrapped to the throat in embroidered moose-hides. Le Jeune, not in priestly vestments, but in the common black dress of his Order, is before the altar; and on either side is a row of small red-skinned children listening with exemplary decorum, while, with a cheerful, smiling face, he teaches them to kneel, clasp their hands, and sign the cross. All the principal members of this zealous community are present, at once amused and edified at the grave deportment, and the prompt, shrill replies of the infant catechumens; while their parents in the crowd grin delight at the gifts of beads and trinkets with which Le Jeune rewards his most proficient pupils. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 122 (Cramoisy).]
We have seen the methods of conversion practiced among the Hurons. They were much the same at Quebec. The principal appeal was to fear. [Ibid., 1636, 119, and 1637, 32 (Cramoisy). “La crainte est l’auan couriere de la foy dans ces esprits barbares.”] “You do good to your friends,” said Le Jeune to an Algonquin chief, “and you burn your enemies. God does the same.” And he painted Hell to the startled neophyte as a place where, when he was hungry, he would get nothing to eat but frogs and snakes, and, when thirsty, nothing to drink but flames. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 80-82 (Cramoisy). “Avoir faim et ne manger que des serpens et des crapaux, avoir soif et ne boire que des flammes.”] Pictures were found invaluable. “These holy representations,” pursues the Father Superior, “are half the instruction that can be given to the Indians. I wanted some pictures of Hell and souls in perdition, and a few were sent us on paper; but they are too confused. The devils and the men are so mixed up, that one can make out nothing without particular attention. If three, four, or five devils were painted tormenting a soul with different punishments, — one applying fire, another serpents, another tearing him with pincers, and another holding him fast with a chain, — this would have a good effect, especially if everything were made distinct, and misery, rage, and desperation appeared plainly in his face.”
[“Les heretiques sont grandement blasmables, de condamner et de briser les images qui ont de si bons effets. Ces sainctes figures sont la moitié de l’instruction qu’on peut donner aux Sauuages. I’auois desiré quelques portraits de l’enfer et de l’âme damnée; on nous en a enuoyé quelques vns en papier, mais cela est trop confus. Les diables sont tellement meslez auec les hommes, qu’on n’y peut rien recognoistre, qu’auec vne particuliere attention. Qui depeindroit trois ou quatre ou cinq demons, tourmentans vne âme de diuers supplices, l’vn luy appliquant des feux, l’autre des serpens, l’autre la tenaillant, l’autre la tenant liée auec des chaisnes, cela auroit vn bon effet, notamment si tout estoit bien distingué, et que la rage et la tristesse parussent bien en la face de cette âme desesperée” — Relation, 1637, 32 (Cramoisy).]
The preparation of the convert for baptism was often very slight. A dying Algonquin, who, though meagre as a skeleton, had thrown himself, with a last effort of expiring ferocity, on an Iroquois prisoner, and torn off his ear with his teeth, was baptized almost immediately.  In the case of converts in health there was far more preparation; yet these often apostatized. The various objects of instruction may all be included in one comprehensive word, submission, — an abdication of will and judgment in favor of the spiritual director, who was the interpreter and vicegerent of God. The director’s function consisted in the enforcement of dogmas by which he had himself been subdued, in which he believed profoundly, and to which he often clung with an absorbing enthusiasm. The Jesuits, an Order thoroughly and vehemently reactive, had revived in Europe the medićval type of Christianity, with all its attendant superstitions. Of these the Canadian missions bear abundant marks. Yet, on the whole, the labors of the missionaries tended greatly to the benefit of the Indians. Reclaimed, as the Jesuits tried to reclaim them, from their wandering life, settled in habits of peaceful industry, and reduced to a passive and childlike obedience, they would have gained more than enough to compensate them for the loss of their ferocious and miserable independence. At least, they would have escaped annihilation. The Society of Jesus aspired to the mastery of all New France; but the methods of its ambition were consistent with a Christian benevolence. Had this been otherwise, it would have employed other instruments. It would not have chosen a Jogues or a Garnier. The Society had men for every work, and it used them wisely. It utilized the apostolic virtues of its Canadian missionaries, fanned their enthusiasm, and decorated itself with their martyr crowns. With joy and gratulation, it saw them rival in another hemisphere the noble memory of its saint and hero, Francis Xavier.
[Enemies of the Jesuits, while denouncing them in unmeasured terms, speak in strong eulogy of many of the Canadian missionaries. See, for example, Steinmetz, History of the Jesuits, II. 415.]
[1 “Ce seroit vne estrange cruauté de voir descendre vne âme toute viuante dans les enfers, par le refus d’vn bien que Iesus Christ luy a acquis au prix de son sang.” — Relation, 1637, 66 (Cramoisy).
“Considerez d’autre coté la grande appréhension que nous avions sujet de redouter la guérison; pour autant que bien souvent étant guéris il ne leur reste du St. Baptęme que le caractčre.” — Lettres de Garnier, MSS.
It was not very easy to make an Indian comprehend the nature of baptism. An Iroquois at Montreal, hearing a missionary speaking of the water which cleansed the soul from sin, said that he was well acquainted with it, as the Dutch had once given him so much that they were forced to tie him, hand and foot, to prevent him from doing mischief. — Faillon II. 43.]
I have spoken of the colonists as living in a state of temporal and spiritual vassalage. To this there was one exception, — a small class of men whose home was the forest, and their companions savages. They followed the Indians in their roamings, lived with them, grew familiar with their language, allied themselves with their women, and often became oracles in the camp and leaders on the war-path. Champlain’s bold interpreter, Étienne Brulé, whose adventures I have recounted elsewhere, [“Pioneers of France,” 377.] may be taken as a type of this class. Of the rest, the most conspicuous were Jean Nicollet, Jacques Hertel, François Marguerie, and Nicolas Marsolet.  Doubtless, when they returned from their rovings, they often had pressing need of penance and absolution; yet, for the most part, they were good Catholics, and some of them were zealous for the missions. Nicollet and others were at times settled as interpreters at Three Rivers and Quebec. Several of them were men of great intelligence and an invincible courage. From hatred of restraint, and love of a wild and adventurous independence, they encountered privations and dangers scarcely less than those to which the Jesuit exposed himself from motives widely different, — he from religious zeal, charity, and the hope of Paradise; they simply because they liked it. Some of the best families of Canada claim descent from this vigorous and hardy stock.
[1 See Ferland, Notes sur les Registres de N. D. de Québec, 30.
Nicollet, especially, was a remarkable man. As early as 1639, he ascended the Green Bay of Lake Michigan, and crossed to the waters of the Mississippi. This was first shown by the researches of Mr. Shea. See his Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley, XX.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 13 by Francis Parkman
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.