in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
CHAPTER 19 Back to Contents
On the 24th September, 1833, the Rev. Mr. Casault, secretary of the Bishop of Quebec, presented tome the official letters which named me the vicar of the Rev. Mr. Perras, arch-priest, and curate of St. Charles, Rivierre Boyer, and I was soon on my way, with a cheerful heart, to fill the post assigned to me by my Superior.
The parish of St. Charles is beautifully situated about twenty miles south-west of Quebec, on the banks of a river, which flows in its very midst, from north to south. Its large farm-houses and barns, neatly white-washed with lime, were the symbols of peace and comfort. The vandal axe had not yet destroyed the centenary forests which covered the country. On almost every farm a splendid grove of maples had been reserved as the witness of the intelligence and tastes of the people.
I had often heard of the Rev. Mr. Perras as one of the most learned, pious, and venerable priest of Canada. I had even been told that several of the governors of Quebec had chosen him for the French teacher of their children. When I arrived, he was absent on a sick call, but his sister received me with every mark of refined politeness. Under the burden of her five-and-fifty years she had kept all the freshness and amiability of youth. After a few words of welcome, she showed me my study and sleeping room. They were both perfumed with the fragrance of two magnificent bouquets of the choicest flowers, on the top of one of which were written the words: "Welcome to the angel whom the Lord sends to us as His messenger." The two rooms were the perfection of neatness and comfort. I shut the doors and fell on my knees to thank God and the blessed Virgin for having given me such a home. Ten minutes later I came back to the large parlour, where I found Miss Perras waiting for me, to offer me a glass of wine and some excellent "pain de savoie," as it was the universal custom, then, to do in every respectable house. She then told me how her brother, the curate, and herself were happy when they heard that I was to come and live with them. She had known my mother before her marriage, and she told me how she had passed several happy days in her company.
She could not speak to me of any subject more interesting than my mother; for, though she had died a few years before, she had never ceased to be present to my mind, and near and dear to my heart.
Miss Perras had not spoken long when the curate arrived. I rose to meet him, but it is impossible to adequately express what I felt at that moment. The Israelites were hardly struck with more awe when they saw Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, than I was at the first sight I had of that venerable man.
Rev. Mr. Perras was then about sixty-five years old. He was a tall man almost a giant. No army officer, no king ever bore his head with more dignity. But his beautiful blue eyes, which were the embodiment of kindness, tempered the dignity of his mien. His hair, which was beginning to whiten, had not yet lost its golden lustre. It seemed as if silver and gold were mixed on his head to adorn and beautify it. There was on his face an expression of peace, calm, piety and kindness, which entirely won my heart and my respect. When, with a smile on his lips, he extended his hands towards me, I felt beside myself, I fell on my knees and said: "Mr. Perras, God sends me to you that you may be my teacher and my father. You will have to guide my first and inexperienced steps in the holy ministry. Do bless me, and pray that I may be a good priest as you are yourself."
That unpremeditated and earnest act of mine so touched the good old priest, that he could hardly speak. Leaning towards me he raised me up and pressed me to his bosom, and with a voice trembling with emotion he said: "May God bless you, my dear sir, and may He also be blessed for having chosen you to help me to carry the burden of the holy ministry in my old age." After half-an-hour of the most interesting conversation, he showed me his library, which was very large, and composed of the best books which a priest of Rome is allowed to read; and he very kindly put it at my service.
Next morning, after breakfast, he handed me a large and neat sheet of paper, headed by these Latin words:
"ORDO DUCIT AD DEUM."
It was the rule of life which he had imposed upon himself, to guide all the hours of the day in such a way that not a moment could be given to idleness or vain pastime.
"Would you be kind enough," he said, "to read this and tell me if it suits your views? I have found great spiritual and temporal benefits in following these rules of life, and would be very happy if my dear young coadjutor would unite with me in walking in the ways of an orderly, Christian and priestly life.
I read this document with interest and pleasure, and handed it back to him saying: "I will be very happy, with the help of God, to follow, with you, the wise rules set down here for a holy and priestly life."
Thinking that these rules might be interesting to the reader, I give them here in full:
2. Prayer and Meditation............6 to 6:30am.
3. Mass, hearing confessions and recitation of brevarium ..6:30 to 8am.
5. Visitation of the sick, and reading the lives of the saints......8:30 to 10am.
6. Study of philosophical, historical or theological books 11a.m. to 12.
7. Dinner.........................12 to 12:30.
8. Recreation and conversation.............12:30 to 1:30.
9. Recitation and vespers...................1:30 to 2pm.
10. Study of history, theology or philosophy........2 to 4 pm.
11. Visit to the holy sacrament and reading "Imitation of Jesus Christ" 4 to 4:30.
12. Hearing of confessions, or visit to the sick, or study..4:30 to 6pm.
13. Supper..................6 to 6:30pm.
14. Recreation..............6:30 to 8pm.
15. Chaplet reading of the Holy Scriptures and prayer.....8 to 9pm.
16. Going to bed............9pm.
Such was our daily life during the eight months which it was my privilege to remain with the venerable Mr. Perras, except that Thursdays were invariably given to visit some of the neighbouring curates, and the Sabbath days spent in hearing confessions, and performing the public services of the church.
The conversation of Mr. Perras was generally exceedingly interesting. I never heard from him any idle, frivolous talking, as is so much the habit among the priests. He was well versed in the literature, philosophy, history and theology of Rome. He had personally known almost all the bishops and priests of the last fifty years, and his memory was well stored with anecdotes and facts concerning the clergy, from almost the days of the conquest of Canada. I could write many interesting things, were I to publish what I heard from him, concerning the doings of the clergy. I will only give two or three of the facts of that interesting period of the church in Canada.
A couple of months before my arrival at St. Charles, the vicar who preceded me, called Lajus, had publicly eloped with one of his beautiful penitents, who, after three months of public scandal, had repented and come back to her heart broken parents. About the same time a neighbouring curate, in whom I had great confidence, compromised himself also, with one of his fair parishioners, in a most shameful, though less public way. These who scandals, which came to my knowledge almost at the same time, distressed me exceedingly, and for nearly a week I felt so overwhelmed with shame, that I dreaded to show my face in public, and I almost regretted that I ever became a priest. My nights were sleepless; the best viands of the table had lost their relish. I could hardly eat anything. My conversations with Mr. Perras had lost their charms. I even could hardly talk with him or anybody else.
"Are you sick, my young friend?" said he to me one day.
"No, sir, I am not sick, but I am sad."
He replied, "Can I know the cause of your sadness? You used to be so cheerful and happy since you came here. I must bring you back to your former happy frame of mind. Please tell me what is the matter with you? I am an old man, and I know many remedies for the soul as well as for the body. Open your heart to me, and I hope soon to see that dark cloud which is over you pass away."
"The two last awful scandals given by he priests," I answered, "are the cause of my sadness. The news of the fall of these two confreres, one of whom seemed to me so respectable, has fallen upon me like a thunderbolt. Though I had heard something of that nature when I was a simple ecclesiastic in the college, I had not the least idea that such was the life of so many priests. The fact of the human frailty of so many, is really distressing. How can one hope to stand up on one's feet when one sees such strong men fall by one's side? What will become of our holy church in Canada, and all over the world, if her most devoted priests are so weak and have so little self-respect, and so little fear of God?"
"My dear young friend," answered Mr. Perras. "Our holy church is infallible. The gates of hell can not prevail against her; but the assurance of her perpetuity and infallibility does not rest on any human foundation. It does not rest on the personal holiness of her priests; but it rests on the promises of Jesus Christ. Her perpetuity and infallibility are a perpetual miracle. It requires the constant working of Jesus Christ to keep her pure and holy, in spite of the sins and scandals of her priests. Even the clearest proof that our holy church has a promise of perpetuity and infallibility is drawn from the very sins and scandals of her priests; for those sins and scandals would have destroyed her long ago, if Christ was not in the midst to save and sustain her. Just as the ark of Noah was miraculously saved by the mighty hand of God, when the waters of the deluge would otherwise have wrecked it, so our holy church is miraculously prevented from perishing in the flood of iniquities by which too many priests have deluged the world. By the great mercy and power of God, the more the waters of the deluge were flowing on the earth, the more the ark was raised towards heaven by these very waters. So it is with our holy church. The very sins of the priests make that spotless spouse of Jesus Christ fly away higher and higher towards the regions of holiness, as it is in God. Let, therefore, your faith and confidence in our holy church, and your respect for her, remain firm and unshaken in the midst of all these scandals. Let your zeal be rekindled for her glory and extension, at the sight of the unfortunate confreres who yield to the attacks of the enemy. Just as the valiant soldier makes superhuman efforts to save the flag, when he sees those who carried it fall on the battlefield. Oh! you will see more of our flag bearers slaughtered before you reach my age. But be not disheartened or shaken by that sad spectacle; for once more our holy church will stand for ever, in spite of all those human miseries, for her strength and her infallibility do not lie in men, but in Jesus Christ, whose promises will stand in spite of all the efforts of hell.
"I am near the end of my course, and, thanks be to God, my faith in our holy church is stronger than ever, though I have seen and heard many things, compared with which, the facts which just now distress you are mere trifles. In order the better to inure you to the conflict, and to prepare you to hear and see more deplorable things than what is now troubling you, I think it is my duty to tell you a fact which I got from the late Lord Bishop Plessis. I have never revealed it to anybody, but my interest in you is so great that I will tell it to you, and my confidence in your wisdom is so absolute, that I am sure you will never abuse it. What I will reveal to you is of such a nature that we must keep it among ourselves, and never let it be known to the people, for it would diminish, if not destroy their respect and confidence in us, respect and confidence, without which, it would become almost impossible to lead them.
"I have already told you that the late venerable Bishop Plessis was my personal friend. Our intimacy had sprung up when we were studying under the same roof in the seminary of St. Sulpice, Montreal, and it had increased year after year till the last hour of his life. Every summer, when he had reached the end of the three months of episcopal visitation of his diocese, he used to come and spend eight or ten days of absolute rest and enjoyment of private and solitary life with me in this parsonage. The two rooms you occupy were his, and he told me many times that the happiest days of his episcopal life were those passed in this solitude.
"One day he had come from his three months' visit, more worn out than ever, and when I sat down with him in his parlour, I was almost frightened by the air of distress which covered his face. Instead of finding him the loquacious, amiable and cheerful guest I used to have in him, he was taciturn, cast down, distressed. I felt really uneasy, for the first time, in his presence, but as it was the last hour of the day, I supposed that this was due to his extreme fatigue, and I hoped that the rest of the night would bring about such a change in my venerable friend, that I would find him, the next morning, what he used to be, the most amiable and interesting of men.
"I was, myself, completely worn out. I had traveled nearly thirty miles that day, to go to receive him at St. Thomas. The heat was oppressive, the roads very bad, and the dust awful. I was in need of rest, and I was hardly in my bed when I fell into a profound sleep, and slept till three o'clock in the morning. I was then suddenly awakened by sobs and halfsuppressed lamentations and prayers, which were evidently coming from the bishop's room. Without losing a moment, I went and knocked at the door, inquiring about the cause of these sobs. Evidently the poor bishop had not suspected that I could hear him.
"`Sobs! sobs!' he answered, `What do you mean by that. Please go back to your room and sleep. Do not trouble yourself about me, I am well,' and he absolutely refused to open the door of his room. The remaining hours of the night, of course, were sleepless ones for me. The sobs of the bishop were more suppressed, but he could not sufficiently suppress them to prevent me from hearing them. The next morning his eyes were reddened with weeping, and his face was that of one who had suffered intensely all the night. After breakfast I said to him: `My lord, last night has been one of desolation to your lordship; for God's sake, and in the name of the sacred ties of friendship, which has united us during so many years, please tell me what is the cause of your sorrow. It will become less the very moment you share it with your friend.'
"The bishop answered me: `You are right when you think that I am under the burden of a great desolation; but its cause is of such a nature, that I cannot reveal it even to you, my dear friend. It is only at the feet of Jesus Christ and His holy mother, that I must go to unburden my heart. If God does not come to my help, I must certainly die from it. But I will carry with me into my grave, the awful mystery which kills me.'
"In vain, during the rest of the day, I did all that I could to persuade Monseigneur Plessis to reveal the cause of his grief. I failed. At last, through respect for him, I withdrew to my own room, and left him alone, knowing that solitude is sometimes the best friend of a desolated mind. His lordship, that evening withdrew to his sleeping room sooner than usual, and I retired to my room much later. But sleep was out of the question for me that night, for his desolation seemed to be so great, and his tears so abundant, that when he bade me `good-night,' I was in fear of finding my venerable, and more than ever dear friend, dead in his bed the next morning. I watched him, without closing my eyes, from the adjoining room, from ten o'clock till the next morning. Though it was evident that he was making great efforts to suppress his sobs, I could see that his sorrow was still more intense that night, than the last one, and my mental agony was not much less than his, during those distressing hours.
"But I formed an extreme resolution, which I put into effect the very moment that he came out of his room the next morning, to salute me.
"`My Lord,' said I, `I thought till the night before last, that you honored me with your friendship, but I see today that I was mistaken. You do not consider me as your friend, for if you would look upon me as a friend worthy of your confidence, you would unburden your heart into mine. A true friend has no secret from a true friend. What is the use of friendship if it be not to help each other to carry the burdens of life! I found myself honored by your presence in my house, so long as I considered myself as your own friend. But now, that I see I have lost your confidence, please allow me frankly to say to your lordship, that I do not feel the same at your presence here. Besides, it seems to me very probable that the terrible burden which you want to carry alone, will kill you, and that very soon. I do not at all like the idea of finding you suddenly dead in my parsonage, and having the coroner holding his inquest upon your body, and making the painful inquiries which are always made upon one suddenly taken by death, particularly when he belongs to the highest ranks of society. Then, my lord, be not offended if I respectfully request your lordship to find another lodging as soon as possible.'
"My words fell upon the bishop like a thunderbolt. He seemed to awaken from a profound sleep. With a deep sigh he looked in my face with his eyes rolling in tears, and said:
"`You are right, Perras, I ought never to have concealed my sorrow from such a friend as you have always been for more than half a century to me. But you are the only one to whom I can reveal it. No doubt your priestly and Christian heart will not be less broken than mine; but you will help me with your prayers and wise counsels to carry it. However, before I initiate you into such an awful mystery, we must pray.'
"We then knelt down, and we said together a chaplet to invoke the power of the Virgin Mary, after which we recited Psalm li.: `Miserere mihi.' Have mercy upon me, O Lord!
"Then, sitting by me on this sofa, the bishop said: `My dear Mr. Perras, you are the only one to whom I could reveal what you are about to hear, for I think you are the only one who can hear such a terrible secret without revealing it, and because, also, you are the only friend whose advice can guide me in this terrible affliction.
"`You know that I have just finished the visit of my immense diocese of Quebec. It has taken me several years of hard work and fatigue, to see by my own eyes, and know by myself, the gains and losses in a word, the strength and life of our holy church. I will not speak to you of the people. They are, as a general thing, truly religious and faithful to the church. But the priests. O Great God! will I tell you what they are? My dear Perras, I would almost die with joy, if God would tell me that I am mistaken. But, alas! I am not mistaken. The sad, the terrible truth is this' (putting his right hand on his forehead), `the priests! Ah! with the exception of you and three others, are infidels and atheists! O my God! my God! what will become of the church, in the hands of such wicked men!' and covering his face with his hands, the bishop burst into tears, and for one hour could not say a word. I myself remained mute.
"At first I regretted having pressed the bishop to reveal such an unexpected `mystery of iniquity.' But, taking counsel of our very fathomless humiliation and distress, after an hour of silence, spent in pacing the walks of the garden, almost unable to look each other in the face, I said; `My lord, what you have told me is surely the saddest thing that I ever heard; but allow me to tell you that your sorrows are out of the limits of your high intelligence and your profound science. If you read the history of our holy church, from the seventh to the fifteenth century, you will know that the spotless spouse of Christ has seen as dark days, if not darker, in Italy, France, Spain and Germany, as she does in Canada, and though the saints of those days deplored the errors and crimes of those dark ages, they have not killed themselves with their vain tears, as you are doing.'
"Taking the bishop by the hand, I led him to the library, and opened the pages of the history of the church, by Cardinals Baronius and Fieury, and I showed him the names of more than fifty Popes who had evidently been atheists and infidels. I read to him the lives of Borgia, Alexander VI., and a dozen others, who would surely and justly be hanged today by the executioner of Quebec, were they, in that city, committing one-half of the public crimes of adultery, murder, debauchery of every kind, which they committed in Rome, Avignon, Naples, ect., ect. I read to him some of the public and undeniable crimes of the successors of the apostles, and of the inferior clergy, and I easily and clearly proved to him that his priests, though infidels and atheists, were angels of pity, modesty, purity, and religion, when compared with a Borgia, who publicly lives as a married man with his own daughter, and had a child by her. He agreed with me that several of the Alexanders, the Johns, the Piuses, and the Leos were sunk much deeper in the abyss of every kind of iniquity than his priests.
"Five hours passed in so perusing the sad but irrefutable pages of the history of our holy church, wrought a marvelous and beneficial change in the mind of Monseigneur Plessis.
"My conclusion was, that if our holy church had been able to resist the deadly influence of such scandals during so many centuries in Europe, she would not be destroyed in Canada, even by the legion of atheists by whom she is served today.
"The bishop acknowledged that my conclusion was correct. He thanked me for the good I had done him, by preventing him from despairing of the future of our holy church in Canada, and the rest of the days which he spent with me, he was almost as cheerful and amiable as before.
"Now, my dear young friend," added Mr. Perras, "I hope you will be as reasonable and logical in your religion as bishop Plessis, who was probably the greatest man Canada has ever had. When Satan tries to shake your faith by the scandals you see, remember that Stephen, after having fought with his adversary, Pope Constantine II., put out his eyes and condemned him to die. Remember that other Pope, who through revenge against his predecessor, had him exhumed, brought his dead body before judges, then charged him with the most horrible crimes, which he proved by the testimony of scores of eye-witnesses, got him (the dead Pope), to be condemned to be beheaded and dragged with ropes through the muddy streets of Rome, and thrown into the river Tiber. Yes, when your mind is oppressed by the secret crimes of the priests, which you will know, either through the confessional or by public rumour, remember that more than twelve Popes have been raised to that high and holy dignity by the rich and influential prostitutes of Rome, with whom they were publicly living in the most scandalous way. Remember that young bastard, John XI., the son of Pope Sergius, who was consecrated Pope when only twelve years old by the influence of his prostitute mother, Marosia, but who was so horribly profligate that he was deposed by the people and the clergy of Rome.
"Well, if our holy church has been able to pass through such storms without perishing, is it not a living proof that Christ is her pilot, that she is imperishable and infallible because St. Peter is her foundation, `Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non prevalebunt adversus eam.'"
Oh, my God! Shall I confess, to my confusion, what my thoughts were during that conversation, or rather that lecture of my curate, which lasted more than an hour! Yes, to thy eternal glory, and to my eternal shame, I must say the truth. When the priest was exhibiting to me the horrible unmentionable crimes of so many of our Popes, to calm my fears and strengthen my shaken faith, a mysterious voice was repeating to the ears of my soul the dear Saviour's words: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. vii. 18 20), and in spite of myself the voice of my conscience cried in thundering tones that a church, whose head and members were so horribly corrupt, could not, by any means, be the Church of Christ.
But the most sacred and imperative law of my church, which I had promised by oaths, was that I would never obey the voice of my conscience, nor follow the dictates of my private judgment, when they were in opposition to the teachings of my church. Too honest to admit the conclusions of Mr. Perras, which were evidently the conclusions of my church, I was too cowardly and too mean to bravely express my own mind, and repeat the words of the Son of God: "By their fruits ye shall know them! A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit!"
CHAPTER 20 Back to Contents
The name of Louis Joseph Papineau will be for ever dear to the French Canadians; for whatever may be the political party to which one belongs in Canada, he cannot deny that it is to the ardent patriotism, the indomitable energy, and the remarkable eloquence of that great patriot, that Canada is indebted for the greater part of the political reforms which promise in a near future to raise the country of my birth to the rank of a great and free nation.
It is not my intention to speak of the political parties which divided the people of Canada into two camps in 1833. The long and trying abuses under which our conquered race was groaning, and which at last brought about the bloody insurrections of 1837 and 1838, are matters of history, which do not pertain to the plea of this work. I will speak of Papineau, and the brilliant galaxy of talented young men by whom he was surrounded and supported, only in connection with their difficulties with the clergy and the Church of Rome.
Papineau, Lafontaine, Bedard, Cartier and others, though born in the Church of Rome, were only nominal Romanists. I have been personally acquainted with every one of them, and I know they were not in the habit of confessing. Several times I invited them to fulfill that duty, which I considered, then, of the utmost importance to be saved. They invariably answered me with jests which distressed me; for I could see that they did not believe in the efficacy of auricular confession. These men were honest and earnest in their efforts to raise their countrymen from the humiliating and inferior position which they occupied compared with the conquering race. They well understood that the first thing to be done, in order to put the French Canadians on a level with their British compatriots, was to give good schools to the people; and they bravely set themselves to show the necessity of having a good system of education, for the country as well as for the city. But at the very first attempt they found an insurmountable barrier to their patriotic views in the clergy. The priests had everywhere the good common sense to understand that their absolute power over the people was due to its complete ignorance. They felt that that power would decrease in the same proportion that light and education would spread among the masses. Hence the almost insurmountable obstacles put by the clergy before the patriots, to prevent them from reforming the system of education. The only source of education, then in Canada, with the exception of the colleges of Quebec, Montreal and Nicolet, consisted in one or two schools in the principal parishes, entirely under the control of the priests and kept by their most devoted servants, while the new parishes had none at all. The greater part of these teachers knew very little more, and required nothing more from their pupils, than the reading of the A, B, C, and their little catechism. When once admitted to their first communion the A, B, C, and the little catechism were soon forgotten, and 95 in 100 of the French Canadian people were not even able to sign their names! In many parishes, the curate, with his school teacher, the notary, and half-a-dozen others, were the only persons who could read or write a letter. Papineau and his patriotic friends understood that the French Canadian people were doomed to remain an inferior race in their own country, if they were left in that shameful state of ignorance. They did not conceal their indignation at the obstacles placed by the clergy to prevent them from amending the system of education. Several eloquent speeches were made by Papineau, who was their "Parliament Speaker," in answer to the clergy. The curates, in their pulpits, as well as by the press, tried to show that Canada had the best possible system of education that the people were happy that too much education would bring into Canada the bitter fruits which had grown in France infidelity, revolution, riots, bloodshed; that the people were too poor to pay the heavy taxes which would be imposed for the new system of education. In one of his addresses, Papineau answered this last argument, showing the immense sums of money foolishly given by those so-called poor people to gild the ceilings of the church (as was the usage then). He made a calculation of the tithes paid to the priests; of the costly images and statues of saints, which were to be seen then, around all the interior of the churches, and he boldly said that the priests would do better to induce the people to establish good schools, and pay respectable teachers, than to lavish their money on objects which were of so little benefit.
That address, which was reproduced by the only French paper of Quebec, "Le Canadien," fell upon the clergy like a hurricane upon a rotten house, shaking it to its foundation. Everywhere Papineau and his party were denounced as infidels, more dangerous than Protestants, and plans were immediately laid down to prevent the people from reading "Le Canadien," the only French paper they could receive. Not more than half-adozen were receiving it in St. Charles; but they used to read it to their neighbours, who gathered on Sabbath afternoons to hear its contents. We at first tried, through the confessional, to persuade the subscribers to reject it, under the pretext that it was a bad paper; that it spoke against the priests and would finally destroy our holy religion. But, to our great dismay, our efforts failed. The curates then had recourse to a more efficacious way of preserving the faith of their people.
The postmaster of St. Charles was, then, a man whom Mr. Perras had got educated at his own expense in the seminary of Quebec. His name was Chabot. That man was a perfect machine in the hands of his benefactor. Mr. Perras forbade him to deliver any more of the numbers of that journal to the subscribers, when there would be anything unfavourable to the clergy in its columns. "Give them to me," said he, "that I may burn them, and when the people come to get them, give them such evasive answers, that they may believe that it is the editor's fault, or of some other post-offices, if they have not received it." From that day, every time there was any censure of the clergy, the poor paper was consigned to the flames. One evening, when Mr. Perras had, in my presence, thrown a bundle of these papers into the stove, I told him: "Please allow me to express to you my surprise at this act. Have we really the right to deprive the subscribers of that paper of their property! That paper is theirs, they have paid for it. How can we take upon ourselves to destroy it without their permission! Besides, you know the old proverb: Les pierres parlent. (Stones speak.) If it were known by our people that we destroy their papers, would not the consequences be very serious? Now, Mr. Perrs, you know my sincere respect for you, and I hope I do not go against that respect by asking you to tell me by what right or authority you do this? I would not put this question to you, if you were the only one who does it. But I know several others who do just the same thing. I will, probably, be obliged, when a curate, to act in the same manner, and I wish to know on what grounds I shall be justified in acting as you do."
"Are we not the spiritual fathers of our people?" answered Mr. Perras.
I replied, "Yes sir, we are surely the spiritual fathers of our people."
"Then," rejoined Mr. Perras, "we have in spiritual matters, all the rights and duties which temporal fathers have, in temporal things, towards their children. If a father sees a sharp knife in the hands of his beloved but inexperienced child, and if he has good reason to fear that the dear child may wound himself, nay, destroy his own life with that knife, is it not his duty, before God and man, to take it from his hands, and prevent him from touching it any more?"
"Yes," I answered, "but allow me to draw your attention to a little difference which I see between the corporal and the spiritual children of your comparison. In the case you bring forward, of a father who takes away the knife from the hands of a young and inexperienced child, that knife has, very probably, been bought by the father. It has been paid for with that father's money. It is, then, the father's knife. But the papers of your spiritual children, which you have thrown into your stove, have been paid for by them, and not by you. They are theirs, then, before the laws of God and man, and they are not yours."
I saw that my answer had cut the good old priest to the quick, and he became more nervous than I had ever seen him. "I see that you are young," answered he; "you have not yet had time to meditate on the great and broad principles of our holy church. I confess there is a difference in the rights of the two children to which I had not paid attention, and which, at first sight, may seem to diminish the strength of my argument. But I have here an argument which will satisfy you, I hope. Some weeks ago I wrote to our venerable Bishop Panet about my intention of burning that miserable and impious paper, `Le Canadien,' to prevent it from poisoning the minds of our people against us, and he has approved me, adding the advice, to be very prudent, and to act so secretly that there would be no danger in being detected. Here is the letter of the holy bishop; you may read it if you like."
"I thank you," I replied. "I believe that what you say in reference to that letter is correct. But suppose that our good bishop has made a mistake in advising you to burn those papers, would you not have some reasons to regret that burning, should you, sooner or later, detect that mistake?"
"A reason of regretting to follow the advice of my superiors! Never! Never! I fear, my dear young friend, that you do not sufficiently understand the duties of an inferior, and the sacred rights of superiors in the College of Nicolet, that there can be no sin in an inferior who obeys the orders or counsels of his legitimate superiors?"
"Yes, sir," I answered, "the Rev. Mr. Leprohon has told us that in the college of Nicolet."
"But," rejoined Mr. Perras, "your last question makes me fear that you have forgotten what you have learned there. My dear young friend, do not forget that it was the want of respect to their ecclesiastical superiors which caused the apostasy of Luther and Calvin, and damned so many millions of heretics who have followed them. But in order to bring your rebellious mind under the holy yoke of a perfect submission to your superiors, I will show you, by our greatest and most approved theologian, that I can burn these papers, without doing anything wrong before God."
He then went to his library, and brought me a volume of Liguori, from which he read to me the following Latin words: "Docet Sanchez, ect., parato aliquem occidere, licite posse suaderi, ut ab eo furetur, vel ut fornicetur." [*]With an air of triumph he said, "Do you see now that I am absolutely justifiable in destroying these pestilential papers. According to those principles of our holy church, you know well that even a woman is allowed to commit the sin of adultery with a man who threatens to kill her, or himself, if she rebukes him; because murder and suicide are greater crimes, and more irremediable than adultery. So the burning of those papers, though a sin, if done through malice, or without legitimate reasons, ceases to be a sin; it is a holy action the moment I do it, to prevent the destruction of our holy religion, and to save immortal souls."
I must confess, to my shame, that the degrading principles of absolute submission of the inferior to the superiors, which flattens everything to the ground in the Church of Rome, had so completely wrought their deadly work on me, that it was my wish to attain to that supreme perfection of the priest of the Church or Rome, to become like a stick in the hands of my superiors like a corpse in their presence. But my God was stronger than His unfaithful and blind servant, and He never allowed me to go down to the bottom of that abyss of folly and impiety. In spite of myself, I had left in me sufficient manhood to express my doubts about that awful doctrine of my Church.
"I do not want to revolt against my superiors," I answered, "and I hope God will prevent me from falling into the abyss where Luther and Calvin lost themselves. I only respectfully request you to tell me, if you would not regret the burning of these papers, in case you would know that Bishop Panet made a mistake in granting you the power of destroying a property which is neither yours or his a property over which neither of you has any control?"
It was the first time that I was not entirely of the same mind with Mr. Perras. Till then, I had not been brave, honest, or independent enough to oppose his views and his ipse dixit, though often tempted to do so. The desire of living in peace with him; the sincere respect which his many virtues and venerable age commanded in me; the natural timidity, not to say cowardice, of a young, inexperienced man, in the presence of a learned and experienced priest, had kept me, till then, in perfect submission to the views of my aged curate. But it seemed impossible to yield any longer, and to bow my conscience before principles, which seemed to me then, as I am sure they are now, subversive of everything which is good and holy among men. I took the big Bible, which was on the table, and I opened it at the history of Susanna, and I answered: "My dear Mr. Perras, God has chosen you to be my teacher, and I have learned many things since it has been my privilege to be with you. But I have much more to learn, before I know all that your books and your long experience have taught you. I hope you will not find fault with me, if I honestly tell you that in spite of myself, there is a doubt in my mind about this doctrine of our theologians," and I said, "is there anything more sublime, in the whole Bible, than that feeble woman, Susanna, in the hands of those two infamous men? With a diabolical impudence and malice, they threaten to destroy her, and to take her before a tribunal which will surely condemn her to the most ignoble death, if she does not consent to satisfy their criminal desires. She is just in the position alluded to by Liguori. What will she do? Will she be guided by the principles of our theologians? Will she consent to become an adulteress in order to prevent those two men from perjuring themselves, and becoming murderers, by causing her to be stoned to death, as was required by the law of the Jews? No! She raises her eyes and her soul towards the God whom she loves and fears more than anything in the world, and she says, `I am straitened on every side, for if I do this thing it is death unto me; and if I do it not, I cannot escape your hands. It is better for me to fall into your hands, and not to do it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.' Has not God Almighty Himself shown that He approved of that heroic resolution of Susanna, to die rather than commit adultery. Does He not show that He himself planted, in that noble soul, the principle that it is better to die than break the laws of God, when He brought His prophet Daniel, and gave him a supernatural wisdom to save the life of Susanna? If that woman had been guided by the principles of Liguori, which, I confess to you with regret, are the principles accepted everywhere in our Church (principles which have guided you in the burning of `Le Canadien'), she would have consented to the desires of those infamous men. Nay, if she had been interrogated by her husband, or by the judges on that action, she would have been allowed to swear before God and men, that she was not guilty of it. Now, my dear Mr. Perras, do you not find that there is some clashing between the Word of God, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, and the teachings of our Church, through the theologians?"
Never have I seen such a sudden change in the face and manners of a man, as I saw in that hour. That Mr. Perras, who had, till then, spoken with so much kindness and dignity, completely lost his temper. Instead of answering me, he abruptly rose to his feet, and began to pace the room with a quick step. After some time he told me: "Mr. Chiniquy, you forget that when you were ordained a priest, you swore that you would never interpret the Holy Scriptures according to your own fallible private judgment; you solemnly promised that you would take them only according to the unanimous consent of the Holy Fathers speaking to you through your superiors. Has not Liguori been approved by the Popes by all the bishops of the Church? We have then, here, the true doctrine which must guide us. But instead of submitting yourself with humility, as it becomes a young and inexperienced priest, you boldly appeal to the Scriptures, against the decisions of Popes and bishops against the voice of all your superiors, speaking to you through Liguori. Where will that boldness end? Ah! I tremble for you, if you do not speedily change: you are on the high road to heresy!"
These last words had hardly fallen from his lips, when the clock struck 9 p.m. He abruptly stopped speaking, and said, "This is the hour of prayer." We knelt and prayed.
I need not say that that night was a sleepless one to me. I wept and prayed all through its long dark hours. I felt that I had lost, and for ever, the high position I had in the heart of my old friend, and that I had probably compromised myself, for ever, in the eyes of my superiors, who were the absolute masters of my destinies. I condemned myself for that inopportune appeal to the Holy Scriptures, against the ipse dixit of my superiors. I asked God to destroy in me, that irresistible tendency, by which I was constantly going to the Word of God to know the truth, instead of remaining at the feet of my superiors, with the rest of the clergy, as the only fountain of knowledge and light.
But thanks be to God that blasphemous prayer was never to be granted.
CHAPTER 21 Back to Contents
It was the custom in those days, in the Church of Rome, to give the title of arch-priest to one of the most respectable and able priests, among twelve or fifteen others, by whom he was surrounded. That title was the token of some superior power, which was granted to him over his confreres, who, in consequence, should consult him in certain difficult matters.
As a general thing, those priests lived in the most cordial and fraternal unity, and, to make the bond of that union stronger and more pleasant, they were, in turn, in the habit of giving a grand dinner every Thursday.
In 1834 those dinners were really state affairs. Several days in advance, preparations were made on a grand scale, to collect everything that could please the taste of the guests. The best wines were purchased. The fattest turkeys, chickens, lambs, or sucking pigs were hunted up. The most delicate pastries were brought from the city, or made at home, at any cost. The rarest and most costly fruits and desserts were ordered. There was a strange emulation among those curates, who would surpass his neighbours. Several extra hands were engaged, some days before, to help the ordinary servants to prepare the "GRAND DINNER."
The second Thursday of May, 1834, was Mr. Perras' turn, and at twelve o'clock noon, we were fifteen priests seated around the table.
I must here render homage to the sobriety and perfect moral habits of the Rev. Mr. Perras. Though he took his social glass of wine, as it was the universal usage at that time, I never saw him drink more than a couple of glasses at the same meal. I wish I could say the same thing of all those who were at his table that day.
Never did I see, before nor after, a table covered with so many tempting and delicate viands. The good curate had surpassed himself, and I would hardly be believed, were I to give the number of dishes and covers, plates et entreplates, which loaded the table. I will only mention a splendid salmon, which was the first brought to Quebec that year, for which Mr. Amoit, the purveyor for the priests around the capital, had paid twelve dollars.
There was only one lady at that dinner, Miss Perras, sister of the curate. However, she was not at all embarrassed by finding herself along among those jolly celebataires, and she looked like a queen at the head of the table. Her sweet and watchful eyes were everywhere to see the wants of her guests. She had an amiable word for every one of them. With the utmost grace she pressed the Rev. Mr. A. to try that wing of turkey she was so gently remonstrating with the Rev. Mr. B. for his not eating more, and she was so eloquent in requesting them all to taste of this dish, or of that; which was quite a new thing in Canada. And her young chickens! who could refuse to accept one of them, after she had told their story: how, three months before, in view of this happy day, she had so cajoled the big black hen to hatch over sixteen eggs in the kitchen; what a world of trouble she had, when the little dog was coming in, and she (the hen) was rushing at him! how, many times, she had to stop the combatants, and force them to live in peace! and what desolation swept over her mind, when, in a dark night, the rats had dragged into their holes, three of her newly-hatched chickens! how she had got a cat to destroy the rats; and, how in escaping Scylla, she was thrown on Charybdis, when, three days after, the cat made his dinner of two of her dear little chickens; for which crime, committed in open day, before several witnesses, the sentence of death was passed and executed, without benefit of clergy.
Now where would they find young chickens in the month of May, in the neighbourhood of Quebec, when the snow had scarcely disappeared?
These stories, given with an art which no pen can reproduce, were not finished before the delicate chickens had disappeared in the hungry mouths of he cheerful guests.
One of the most remarkable features of these dinners was the levity, the absolute want of seriousness and gravity. Not a word was said in my presence, there, which could indicate that these men had anything else to do in this world but to eat and drink, tell and hear merry stories, laugh and lead a jolly life!
I was the youngest of those priests. Only a few months before, I was in the Seminary of Nicolet, learning from my grave old superior, lessons of priestly life, very different from what I had there under my eyes. I had not yet forgotten the austere preaching of self-denial, mortification, austerity and crucifixion of the flesh, which were to fill up the days of a priest!
Though, at first, I was pleased with all I saw, heard and tasted; though I heartily laughed with the rest of the guests, at their bon mots, their spicy stories about their fair penitents, or at the funny caricatures they drew of each other, as well as of absent ones, I felt, by turns, uneasy. Now and then the lessons of priestly life, received from the lips of my venerable and dear Mr. Leprohon, were knocking hard at the door of my conscience. Some words of the Holy Scriptures which, more than others, had adhered to my memory, were also making a strange noise in my soul. My own common sense was telling me, that this was not quite the way Christ taught His disciples to live.
I made a great effort to stifle these troublesome voices. Sometimes I succeeded, and then I became cheerful: but a moment after I was overpowered by them, and I felt chilled, as if I had perceived on the walls of the festive room, the finger of my angry God, writing "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN." Then all my cheerfulness vanished, and I felt so miserable that, in spite of all my efforts to look happy, the Rev. Mr. Paquette, curate of St. Gervais, observed it on my face. That priest was probably the one who most enjoyed everything of that feast. Under the snowy mantle of sixty-five years, he had kept the warm heart and the joviality of youth. He was considered one of our most wealthy curates, and he richly deserved the reputation of being the most epicurean of them all. He was a perfect cook, and with his chaplet or his breviarium in hand, he used to pass a great part of the day in his kitchen, giving orders about broiling this beefsteak, or preparing this fricassee, and that gravy a la Francaise. He was loved by all his confreres, but particularly by the young priests, who were the objects of his constant attentions. He had always been exceedingly kind to me, and when in his neighbourhood, I dare say that my most pleasant hours were those passed in his parsonage.
Looking at me in the very moment when my whole intellectual being was, in spite of myself, under the darkest cloud, he said: "My dear little Father Chiniquy, are you falling into the hands of some blue devils, when we are all so happy? You were so cheerful half-an-hour ago! What is the matter with you now? Are you sick? You look as grave and anxious as Jonah, when in the big whale's stomach! What is the matter with you? Has any of your fair penitents left you, to go to confess to another, lately?"
At these funny questions, the dining-room was shaken with the convulsive laughter of the priests. I wished I could join in with the rest of my confreres; for it seemed to me very clear that I was making a fool of myself by this singularity of demeanor. But there was no help for it; for a moment before I had seen that the servant girls had blushed; they had been scandalized by a very improper word from the lips of a young priest about one of his young female penitents; a word which he would, surely, never have uttered, had he not drank too much wine. I answered; "I am much obliged to you for your kind interest, I find myself much honoured to be here in your midst; but as the brightest days are not without clouds, so it is with us all sometimes. I am young, and without experience; I have not yet learned to look at certain things in their proper light. When older, I hope I shall be wiser, and not make an ass of myself as I do today."
"Tah! tah! tah!" said old Mr. Paquette, "this is not the hour of dark clouds and blue devils. Be cheerful, as it behooves your age. There will be hours enough in the rest of your life for sadness and somber thoughts. This is the hour for laughing and being merry. Sad thoughts for to-morrow." And appealing to all, he asked, "Is not this correct, gentlemen?"
"Yes, yes," unanimously rejoined all the guests.
"Now," said the old priest, "you see that the verdict of the jury is unanimously in my favour and against you. Give up those airs of sadness, which do not answer in the presence of those bottles of champagne. Your gravity is an anachronism when we have such good wines before us. Tell me the reason of your grief, and I pledge myself to console you, and make you happy as you were at the beginning of the dinner."
"I would have liked better that you should have continued to enjoy this pleasant hour without noticing me," I answered. "Please excuse me if I do not trouble you with the causes of my personal folly."
"Well, well," said Mr. Paquette, "I see it, the cause of your trouble is that we have not yet drank together a single glass of sherry. Fill your glass with that wine, and it will surely drown the blue devil which I see at its bottom."
"With pleasure," I said; "I feel much honoured to drink with you," and I put some drops of wine into my glass.
"Oh! oh! what do I see you doing there? Only a few drops in your glass! This will not even wet the cloven feet of the blue devil which is tormenting you. It requires a full glass, an over-flowing glass to drown and finish him. Fill, then, your glass with that precious wine the best I ever tasted in my whole life."
"But I cannot drink more than those few drops," I said.
"Why not?" he replied.
"Because, eight days before her death, my mother wrote me a letter, requesting me to promise her that I would never drink more than two glasses of wine at the same meal. I gave her that promise in my answer, and the very day she got my pledge, she left this world to convey it, written on her heart, into heaven, to the feet of her God!"
"Keep that sacred pledge," answered the old curate; "but tell me why you are so sad when we are so happy?"
"You already know part of my reasons if I had drunk as much wine as my neighbour, the vicar of St. Gervais, I would probably have filled the room with my shouts of joy as he does; but you see now that the hands of my deceased, though always dear mother, are on my glass to prevent me from filling it any more, for I have already drank two glasses of wine."
"But your sadness, in such a circumstance, is so strange, that we would all like to know its cause."
"Yes, yes," said all the priests. "You know that we like you, and we deeply feel for you. Please tell us the reason of this sadness."
I then answered, "It would be better for me to keep my own secret: for I know I will make a fool of myself here: but as you are unanimous in requesting me to give you the reasons of the mental agony through which I am just passing, you will have them.
"You well know that, through very singular circumstances, I have been prevented, till this day, from attending any of your grand dinners. Twice I had to go to Quebec on these occasions, sometimes I was not well enough to be present several times I was called to visit some dying person, and at other times the weather, or the roads were too bad to travel; this, then is the first grand dinner, attended by you all, which I have the honour of attending. "But before going any further, I must tell you that, during the eight months it has been my privilege to sit at Rev. Mr. Perras's table, I have never seen anything which could make me suspect that my eyes would see, and my ears would hear such things in this parsonage, as have just taken place. Sobriety, moderation, truly evangelical temperance in drink and food were the invariable rule. Never a word was said which could make our poor servant girls, or the angels of God blush. Would to God that I had not been here today! For, I tell you, honestly, that I am scandalized by the epicurean table which is before us; by the enormous quantity of delicate viands and the incredible number of bottles of most costly wines, emptied at this dinner.
"However, I hope I am mistaken in my appreciation of what I have seen and heard I hope you are all right and that I am wrong. I am the youngest of you all. It is not my business to teach you, but it is my duty to be taught by you.
"Now, I have given you my mind, because you so pressingly requested me to do it, as honestly as human language will allow me to do. I have the right, I hope, to request you to tell me, as honestly, if I am, and in what I am wrong or right!"
"Oh! oh! my dear Chiniquy," replied the old curate, "you hold the stick by the wrong end. Are we not the children of God?"
"Yes, sir," I answered, "we are the children of God."
"Now, does not a loving father give what he considers the best part of his goods to his beloved children?"
"Yes, sir," I replied.
"Is not that loving father pleased when he sees his beloved children eat and drink the good things he has prepared for them?"
"Yes, sir," was my answer.
"Then," rejoined the logical priest, "the more we, the beloved children of God, eat of these delicate viands, and drink of those precious wines, which our Heavenly Father puts into our hands, the more He is pleased with us. The more we, the most beloved one of God, are merry and cheerful, the more He is Himself and rejoiced in His heavenly kingdom.
"But if God our Father is so pleased with what we have eaten and drunk today, why are you so sad?"
This masterpiece of argumentation was received by all (except Mr. Perras), with convulsive cries of approbation, and repeated "Bravo! bravo!"
I was too mean and too cowardly to say what I felt. I tried to conceal my increased sadness under the forced smiles of my lips, and I followed the whole party, who left the table, and went to the parlour to drink a cup of coffee. It was then half-past one p.m. At two o'clock, the whole party went to the church, where, after kneeling for a quarter of an hour before their wafer God, they fell on their knees to the feet of each other, to confess their sins, and get their pardon, in the absolution of their confessors!
At three p.m. they were all gone, and I remained alone with my venerable old curate Perras. After a few moments of silence, I said to him: "My dear Mr. Perras, I have no words to express to you my regret for what I have said at your table. I beg your pardon for every word of that unfortunate and unbecoming conversation, into which I was dragged in spite of myself; you know it. It does not do for a young priest, as I am, to criticize those whom God has put so much above him by their science, their age, and their virtues. But I was forced to give my mind, and I have given it. When I requested Mr. Paquette to tell me in what I might be wrong, I had not the least idea that he would hear, from the lips of one of our veterans in the priesthood, the blasphemous jokes he has uttered. Epicurus himself would have blushed, had he been among us, in hearing the name of God connected with such deplorable and awful impieties." Mr. Perras answered me: "Far from being displeased with what I have heard from you at this dinner, I must tell you that you have gained much in my esteem by it. I am, myself, ashamed of that dinner. We priests are the victims, like the rest of the world, of the fashions, vanities, pride and lust of that world against which we are sent to preach. The expenditure we make at those dinners is surely a crime, in the face of the misery of the people by whom we are surrounded. This is the last dinner I give with such foolish extravagance. The next time my neighbours will meet here, I will not expose them to stagger, as the greater part of them did when they rose from the table. The brave words you have uttered have done me good. They will do them good also; for though they had all eaten and drunk too much, they were not so intoxicated as not to remember what you have said."
Then, pressing my hand in his, he said, "I thank you, my good little Father Chiniquy, for the short but excellent sermon you have given us. It will not be lost. You have drawn my tears when you have shown us your saintly mother going to the feet of God in heaven, with your sacred promise written in her heart. Oh! you must have had a good mother! I knew her when she was very young. She was then, already, a very remarkable girl, for her wisdom and the dignity of her manners."
Then he left me alone in the parlour, and he went to visit a sick man in one of the neighbouring houses.
When alone I fell on my knees, to pray and weep. My soul was filled with emotions which it is impossible to express. The remembrance of my beloved mother, whose blessed name had fallen form my lips when her sacred memory filled my mind with the light and strength I needed in that hour of trial the gluttony and drunkenness of those priests, whom I was accustomed to respect and esteem so much their scandalous conversation their lewd expressions and more than all, their confessions to each other after two such hours of profanity and drinking, were more than I could endure. I could not contain myself. I wept over myself, for I felt also the burden of my sins, and I did not find myself much better than the rest, though I had not eaten or drunk quite so much as several of them I wept over my friends, whom I had seen so weak; for they were my friends. I loved them, and I knew they loved me. I wept over my church, which was served by such poor, sinful priests. Yes! I wept there, when on my knees, to my heart's content, and it did me good. But my God had another trial in store for his poor unfaithful servant.
I had not been ten minutes alone, sitting in my study, when I heard strange cries, and such a noise as if a murderer were at work to strike his victim. A door had evidently been broken open, upstairs, and someone was running down stairs as if one was wanting to break down everything. The cries of "Murder, murder!" reached my ears, and the cries of "Oh! my God! my God! where is Mr. Perras?" filled the air.
I quickly ran to the parlour to see what was the matter, and there I found myself face to face with a woman absolutely naked! Her long black hair was flowing on her shoulders; her face was pale as death her dark eyes fixed in their sockets. She stretched her hands towards me with a horrible shriek, and before I could move a step, terrified, and almost paralyzed as I was, she seized my two arms with her hands, with such a terrible force as if my arms had been grasped in a vice. My bones were cracking under her grasp, and my flesh was torn by her nails. I tried to escape, but it was impossible. I soon found myself as if nailed to the wall, unable to move any further. I cried then to the utmost compass of my voice for help. But the living spectre cried still louder: "You have nothing to fear. Be quiet. I am sent by God Almighty and the blessed Virgin Mary, to give you a message. The priests whom I have known, without a single exception, are a band of vipers; they destroy their female penitents through auricular confession. They have destroyed me, and killed my female child! Do not follow their example!" Then she began to sing with a beautiful voice, to a most touching tune, a kind of poem she had composed herself, which I secretly got afterwards from one of her servant maids, the translation of which is as follows:
"Satan's priests have defiled my heart!
Damned my soul! murdered my child!
O my child! my darling child!
From thy place in heaven, dost thou see
Thy guilty mother's tears?
Canst thou come and press me in thine arms? My child! my darling child!
Will never thy smiling face console me?"
When she was singing these words, big tears were rolling down her pale cheeks, and the tone of her voice was so sad that she could have melted a heart of stone. She had not finished her song when I cried to the girl: "I am fainting, for God's sake bring me some water!" The water was only pressed to my lips, I could not drink. I was choked, and petrified in the presence of that living phantom! I could not dare to touch her in any way with my hands. I felt horrified and paralyzed at the sight of that livid, pale, cadaverous, naked spectre. The poor servant girl had tried in vain, at my request, to drag her away from me. She had struck her with terror, by crying, "If you touch me, I will instantly strangle you!"
"Where is Mr. Perras? Where is Mr. Perras and the other servants? For God's sake call them," I cried out to the servant girl, who was trembling and beside herself.
"Miss Perras is running to the church after the curate," she answered, "and I do not know where the other girl is gone."
In that instant Mr. Perras entered, rushed towards his sister, and said, "Are you not ashamed to present yourselves naked before such a gentleman?" and with his strong arms he tried to force her to give me up.
Turning her face towards him, with tigress eyes, she cried out "Wretched brother! what have you done with my child? I see her blood on your hands!"
When she was struggling with her brother, I made a sudden and extreme effort to get out of her grasp; and this time I succeeded: but seeing that she wanted to throw herself again upon me, I jumped through a window which was opened.
Quick as lightning she passed out of the hands of her brother, and jumped also through the window to run after me. She would, surely, have overtaken me; for I had not run two rods, when I fell headlong, with my feet entangled in my long, black, priestly robe. Providentially, two strong men, attracted to my cries, came to my rescue. They wrapped her in a blanket, taken there by her sister, and brought her back into her upper chambers, where she remained safely locked, under the guard of two strong servant maids.
The history of that woman is sad indeed. When in her priest-brother's house, when young and of great beauty, she was seduced by her father confessor, and became mother of a female child, which she loved with a real mother's heart. She determined to keep it and bring it up. But this did not meet the views of the curate. One night, when the mother was sleeping, the child had been taken away from her. The awakening of the unfortunate mother was terrible. When she understood that she could never see her child any more, she filled the parsonage with her cries and lamentations, and, at first, refused to take any food, in order that she might die. But she soon became a maniac.
Mr. Perras, too much attached to his sister to send her to a lunatic asylum, resolved to keep her in his own parsonage, which was very large. A room in its upper part had been fixed in such a way that her cries could not be heard, and where she would have all the comfort possible in her sad circumstances. Two servant maids were engaged to take care of her. All this was so well arranged, that I had been eight months in that parsonage, without even suspecting that there was such an unfortunate being under the same roof with me. It appears that occasionally, for many days, her mind was perfectly lucid, when she passed her time in praying, and singing a kind of poem which she had composed herself, and which she sang while holding me in her grasp. In her best moments she had fostered an invincible hatred of the priests whom she had known. Hearing her attendants often speak of me, she had, several times, expressed the desire to see me, which, of course, had been denied her. Before she had broken her door, and escaped from the hands of her keeper, she had passed several days in saying that she had received from God a message for me which she would deliver, even if she had to pass on the dead bodies of all in the house.
Unfortunate victim of auricular confession! How many others could sing the sad words of thy song.
"Satan's priests have defiled my heart,
Damned my soul! murdered my child!"
CHAPTER 22 Back to Contents
The grand dinner previously described had its natural results. Several of the guests were hardly at home, when they complained of various kinds of sickness, and none was so severely punished as my friend Paquette, the curate of St. Gervais. He came very near dying, and for several weeks was unable to work. He requested the Bishop of Quebec to allow me to go to his help, which I did to the end of May, when I received the following letter:
Charlesbourgh, May 25th, 1834
Rev. Mr. C. Chiniquy:
My Dear Sir: My Lord Panet has again chosen me, this year, to accompany him in his episcopal visit. I have consented, with the condition that you should take my place, at the head of my dear parish, during my absence. For I will have no anxiety when I know that my people are in the hands of a priest who, though so young, has raised himself so high in the esteem of all those who know him.
Please come as soon as possible to meet me here, that I may tell you many things which will make your ministry more easy and blessed in Charlesbourgh.
His Lordship has promised me that when you pass through Quebec, he will give you all the powers you want to administer my parish, as if you were its curate during my absence.
Your devoted brother priest, and friend in the love and heart of Jesus and Mary,
I felt absolutely confounded by that letter. I was so young and so deficient in the qualities required for the high position to which I was so unexpectedly called. I know it was against the usages to put a young and untried priest in such a responsible post. It seemed evident to me that my friends and my superiors had strangely exaggerated to themselves my feeble capacity.
In my answer to the Rev. Mr. Bedard, I respectfully remonstrated against such a choice. But a letter received from the bishop himself, ordering me to go to Charlesbourgh, without delay, to administer that parish during the absence of its pastor, soon forced me to consider that sudden and unmerited elevation as a most dangerous, though providential trial of my young ministry. Nothing remained to be done by me but to accept the task in trembling, and with a desire to do my duty. My heart, however, fainted within me, and I shed bitter tears of anxiety. When entering into that parish for the first time, I saw its magnitude and importance. It seemed, then, more than ever evident to me that the good Mr. Bedard, and my venerable superiors, had made a sad mistake in putting such a heavy burden on my young and feeble shoulders. I was hardly twenty-four years old, and had not more than nine month's experience of the ministry.
Charlesbourgh is one the most ancient and important parishes of Canada. Its position, so near Quebec, at the feet of the Laurentide Mountains, is peculiarly beautiful. It has an almost complete command of the city, and of its magnificent port, where not less than 900 ships when received their precious cargoes of lumber. On our left, numberless ranges of white houses extend as far as the Falls of Montmorency. At our feet the majestic St. Lawrence, dashing its rapid waters on the beautiful "Isle d' Orleans." To the right, the parishes of Lorette, St. Foy, Roch, ect., with their high church steeples, reflected the sun's glorious beams; and beyond, the impregnable citadel of Quebec, with its tortuous ranges of black walls, its numerous cannon, and its high towers, like fearless sentinels, presented a spectacle of remarkable grandeur.
The Rev. Mr. Bedard welcomed me on my arrival with words of such kindness that my heart was melted and my mind confounded. He was a man about sixty-five years of age, short in stature, with a well-formed breast, large shoulders, bright eyes, and a face where the traits of indomitable energy were coupled with an expression of unsurpassed kindness.
One could not look on that honest face without saying to himself, "I am with a really good and upright man!" Mr. Bedard is one of the few priests in whom I have found a true honest faith in the Church of Rome. With an irreproachable character, he believed, with a child's faith, all the absurdities which the Church of Rome teaches, and he lived according to his honest and sincere faith.
Though the actions of our daily lives were not subjected to a regular and inexorable rule in Charlesbourgh's as in St. Charles' parsonage, there was yet far more life and earnestness in the performance of our ministerial duties.
There was less reading of learned, theological, philosophical, and historical books, but much more real labour in Mr. Bedard's than in Mr. Perras' parish; there was more of the old French aristocracy in the latter priest, and more of the good religious Canadian habitant in the former. Though both could be considered as men of the most exalted faith and piety in the Church of Rome, their piety was of a different character. In Mr. Perras' religion there was real calmness and serenity, while the religion of Mr. Bedard had more of the flash of lightning and the noise of thunder. The private religious conversations with the curate of St. Charles were admirable, but he could not speak common sense for ten minutes when preaching from his pulpit. Only once did he preach while I was his vicar, and then he was not half through his sermon before the greater part of his auditors were soundly sleeping. But who could hear the sermons of Rev. Mr. Bedard without feeling his heart moved and his soul filled with terror? I never heard anything more thrilling than his words when speaking of the judgments of God and the punishment of the wicked. Mr. Perras never fasted, except on the days appointed by the church: Mr. Bedard condemned himself to fast besides twice every week. The former never drank, to my knowledge, a single glass of rum or any other strong drink, except his two glasses of wine at dinner; but the latter never failed to drink full glasses of rum three times a day, besides two or three glasses of wine at dinner. Mr. Perras slept the whole night as a guiltless child. Mr. Bedard, almost every night I was with him, rose up, and lashed himself in the most merciless manner with leather thongs, at the end of which were small pieces of lead. When inflicting upon himself those terrible punishments, he used to recite, by heart, the fifty-first Psalm, in Latin, "Miserere mei, Deus, secundam magnam misericordiam tuam" (Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to Thy lovingkindness); and though he seemed to be unconscious of it, he prayed with such a loud voice, that I heard every word he uttered; he also struck his flesh with such violence that I could count all the blows he administered.
One day I respectfully remonstrated against such a cruel self-infliction as ruining his health and breaking his constitution: "Cher petit Frere" (dear little brother), he answered, "our health and constitution cannot be impaired by such penances, but they are easily and commonly ruined by our sins. I am one of the healthiest men of my parish, though I have inflicted upon myself those salutary and too well-merited chastisements for many years. Though I am old, I am still a great sinner. I have an implacable and indomitable enemy in my depraved heart, which I cannot subdue except by punishing my flesh. If I do not do those penances for my numberless transgressions, who will do penance for me? If I do not pay the debts I owe to the justice of God, who will pay them for me?"
"But," I answered, "has not our Saviour, Jesus Christ, paid our debts on Calvary? Has He not saved and redeemed us all by His death on the cross? Why, then, should you or I pay again to the justice of God that which has been so perfectly and absolutely paid by our Saviour?"
"Ah! my dear young friend," quickly replied Mr. Bedard, "that doctrine you hold is Protestant, which has been condemned by the Holy Council of Trent. Christ has paid our debts certainly; but not in such an absolute way that there is nothing more to be paid by us. Have you never paid attention to what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Colossians, `I fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church.' Though Christ could have entirely and absolutely paid our debts, if it had been His will, it is evident that such was not His holy will He left something behind which Paul, you, I, and every one of His disciples, should take and suffer in our flesh for His Church. When we have taken and accomplished in our flesh what Christ has left behind, then the surplus of our merits goes to the treasury of the Church. For instance, when a saint has accomplished in his flesh what Christ has left behind for his perfect sanctification, if he accomplishes more than the justice of God requires, that surplus of merits not being of any use to him, is put by God into the grand and common treasure, where it makes a fund of merits of infinite value, from which the Pope and the bishops draw the indulgences which they scatter all over the world as a dew from heaven. By the mercy of God, the penances which I impose upon myself, and the pains I suffer from these flagellations, purify my guilty soul, and raising me up from this polluting would, they bring me nearer and nearer to my God every day. I am not yet a saint, unfortunately, but if by the mercy of God, and my penances united to the sufferings of Christ, I arrive at the happy day when all my debts shall be paid, and my sins cleansed away, then if I continue those penances and acquire new merits, more than I need, and if I pay more debts than I owe to the justice of God, this surplus of merits which I shall have acquired will go to the rich treasure of the Church, from which she will draw merits to enrich the multitude of good souls who cannot do enough for themselves to pay their own debts, and to reach that point of holiness which will deserve a crown in heaven. Then the more we do penance and inflict pains on our bodies, by our fastings and floggings, the more we feel happy in the assurance of thus raising ourselves more and more above the dust of this sinful world, of approaching more and more to that state of holiness of which our Saviour spoke when He said, `Be holy as I am holy Myself.' We feel an unspeakable joy when we know that by those self-inflicted punishments we acquire incalculable merits, which enrich not only ourselves, but our Holy Church, by filling her treasures for the benefit and salvation of the souls for which Christ died on Calvary."
When Mr. Bedard was feeding my soul with these husks, he was speaking with great animation and sincerity. Like myself, he was far away from the good Father's house. He had never tasted of the bread of the children. Neither of us knew anything of the sweetness of that bread. We had to accept those husks as our only food, though it did not remove our hunger.
I answered him: "What you tell me here is what I find in all our ascetic books and theological treatises, and in the lives of all our saints. I can hardly reconcile that doctrine with what I read this morning in the 2nd chapter of Ephesians. Here is the verse in my New Testament: `But God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. By grace ye are saved....for by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, least any man should boast.'
"Now, my dear and venerable Mr. Bedard, allow me respectfully to ask, how is it possible that your salvation is only by grace, if you have to purchase it every day by tearing your flesh and lashing your body in such a fearful manner? Is it not a strange favour a very singular grace which reddens your skin with your blood, and bruises your flesh every night?"
"Dear little brother," answered Mr. Bedard, "when Mr. Perras spoke to me, in the presence of the bishop, with such deserved euloqium of your piety, he did not conceal that you had a very dangerous defect, which was to spend too much time in reading the Bible, in preference to every other of our holy books. He told us more than this. He said that you had a fatal tendency to interpret the Holy Scriptures too much according to your own mind, and in a sense which is rather more Protestant than Catholic. I am sorry to see that the curate of St. Charles was but too correct in what he told us of you. But, as he added that, though your reading too much the Holy Scriptures brought some clouds in your mind, yet when you were with him, you always ended by yielding to the sense given by our holy Church. This did not prevent me from desiring to have you in my place during my absence, and I hope I will not regret it, for we are sure that our dear young Chiniquy will never be a traitor to our holy Church."
These words, which were given with a great solemnity, mixed with the good manners of the most sincere kindness, went through my soul as a two-edged sword. I felt an inexpressible confusion and regret, and, biting my lips, I said: "I have sworn never to interpret the Holy Scriptures except according to the unanimous consent of the Holy Fathers, and with the help of God, I will fulfill my promise. I regret exceedingly to have differed for a moment from you. You are my superior by your age, your science and your piety. Please pardon me that momentary deviation from my duty, and pray that I may be as you are a faithful and fearless soldier of our holy Church to the end."
At that moment the niece of the curate came to tell us that the dinner was ready. We went to the modest, though exceedingly well spread table, and to my great pleasure that painful conversation was dropped. We had not sat at the table five minutes, when a poor man knocked at the door and asked a piece of bread for the sake of Jesus and Mary. Mr. Bedard rose from the table, went to the poor stranger, and said: "Come, my friend, sit between me and our dear little Father Chiniquy. Our Saviour was the friend of the poor: He was the father of the widow and the orphan, and we, His priests, must walk after Him. Be not troubled; make yourself at home. Though I am the curate of Charlesbourgh, I am your brother. It may be that in heaven you will sit on a higher throne than mine, if you love our Saviour Jesus Christ and His holy mother Mary, more than I do."
With these words, the best things that were on the table were put by the good old priest in the plate of the poor stranger, who with some hesitation finished by doing honour to the excellent viands.
After this, I need not say that Mr. Bedard was charitable to the poor: he always treated them as his best friends. So also was my former curate of St. Charles; and, though his charity was not so demonstrative and fraternal as that of Mr. Bedard, I had yet never seen a poor man go out of the parsonage of St. Charles whose breast ought not to have been filled with gratitude and joy.
Mr. Bedard was as exact as Mr. Perras in confessing once, and sometimes twice, every week; and, rather than fail in that humiliating act, they both, in the absence of their common confessors, and much against my feelings, several times humbly knelt at my youthful feet to confess to me.
Those two remarkable men had the same views about the immorality and the want of religion of the greater part of the priests. Both have told me, in their confidential conversations, things about the secret lives of the clergy which would not be believed were I to publish them; and both repeatedly said that auricular confession was the daily source of unspeakable depravities between the confessors and heir female as well as male penitents; but neither of them had sufficient light to conclude from those deeds of depravity that auricular confession was a diabolical institution. They both sincerely believed as I did then, that the institution was good, necessary and divine, and that it was a source of perdition to so many priests only on account of their want of faith and piety; and principally from their neglect of prayers to the Virgin Mary.
They did not give me those terrible details with a spirit of criticism against our weak brethren. Their intention was to warn me against the dangers, which were as great for me as for others. They both invariable finished those confidences by inviting me more and more to pray constantly to the mother of God, the blessed Virgin Mary, and to watch over myself, and avoid remaining alone with a female penitent; advising me also to treat my own body as my most dangerous enemy, by reducing it into subjection to the law, and crucifying it day and night.
Mr. Bedard had accompanied the Bishop of Quebec in his episcopal visits during many years, and had seen with his eyes the unmentionable plague, which was then, as it is now, devouring the very vitals of the Church of Rome. He very seldom spoke to me of those things without shedding tears of compassion over the guilty priests. My heart and my soul were so filled with an unspeakable sadness when hearing the details of such iniquities. I also felt struck with terror lest I might perish myself, and fall into the same bottomless abyss.
One day I told him what Mr. Perras had revealed to me about the distress of Bishop Plessis, when he had found that only three priests besides Mr. Perras believed in God, in his immense diocese. I asked him if there was not some exaggeration in this report. He answered, after a profound sigh: "My dear young friend: the angel could not find ten just men in Sodom my fear is that they would not find more among the priests! The more you advance in age, the more you will see that awful truth Ah! let those who stand fear, lest they fall!"
After these words he burst into tears, and went to church to pray at the feet of his wafer god!
The revelations which I received from those worthy priests did not in any way shake my faith in my Church. She even became dearer to me; just as a dear mother gains in the affection and devotedness of a dutiful son as her trials and afflictions increase. It seemed to me that after this knowledge it was my duty to do more than I had ever done to show my unreserved devotedness, respect and love to my holy and dear mother, the Church of Rome, out of which (I sincerely believed then) there was no salvation. These revelations became to me, in the good providence of God, like light-houses raised on the hidden and dreadful rocks of the sea, to warn the pilot during the dark hours of the night to keep at a distance, if he does not want to perish.
Though these two priests professed to have a most profound love and respect for the Holy Scriptures, they gave very little time to their study, and both several times rebuked me for passing too many hours in their perusal; and repeatedly warned me against the habit of constantly appealing to them against certain practices and teachings of our theologians. As good Roman Catholic priests they had no right to go to the Holy Scriptures alone to know what "the Lord saith!" The traditions of the Church were their fountain of science and light! Both of them often distressed me with the facility with which they buried out of view, under the dark clouds of their traditions, the clearest texts of Holy Scriptures which I used to quote in defense of my positions in our conversations and debates.
They both, with an equal zeal, and unfortunately with too much success, persuaded me that it was right for the Church to ask me to swear that I would never interpret the Holy Scriptures, except according to the unanimous consent of the Holy Fathers. But when I showed them that the Holy Fathers had never been unanimous in anything except in differing from one another on almost every subject they had treated; when I demonstrated by our Church historians that some Holy Fathers had very different views from ours on many subjects, they never answered my questions except by silencing me by the text: "If he does not hear the Church let him be as a heathen or a publican," and by giving me long lectures on the danger of pride and self-confidence.
Mr. Bedard had many opportunities of giving me his views about the submission which an inferior owes to his superiors. He was of one mind with Mr. Perras and all the theologians who had treated that subject. They both taught me that the inferior must blindly obey his superior, just as the stick must obey the hand which holds it; assuring me at the same time that the inferior was not responsible for the errors he commits when obeying his legitimate superior.
Mr. Bedard and Mr. Perras had a great love for their Saviour, Jesus; but the Jesus Christ whom they loved and respected and adored was not the Christ of the Gospel, but the Christ of the Church of Rome.
Mr. Perras and Mr. Bedard had a great fear, as well as a sincere love for their god, while yet they professed to make him every morning by the act of consecration. They also most sincerely believed and preached that idolatry was one of the greatest crimes a man could commit, but they themselves were every day worshiping an idol of their own creating. They were forced by their Church to renew the awful iniquity of Aaron, with this difference only, that while Aaron made his gods of melted gold, and moulded them into the figure of a calf, they made theirs with flour, baked between two heated and well polished irons, and in the form of a crucified man.
When Aaron spoke of his golden calf to the people, he said: "These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt." So likewise Mr. Bedard and Mr. Perras, showing the wafer to the deluded people, said: "Ecc agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi!" ("Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!")
These two sincere and honest priests placed the utmost confidence also in relics and scapularies. I have heard both say that no fatal accident could happen to one who had a scapular on his breast no sudden death would overtake a man who was faithful in keeping those blessed scapularies about his person. Both of them, nevertheless, died suddenly, and that too of the saddest of deaths. Mr. Bedard dropped dead on the 19th of May, 1837, at a great dinner given to his friends. He was in the act of swallowing a glass of that drink of which God says: "Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder."
The Rev. Mr. Perras, sad to say, became a lunatic in 1845, and died on the 29th of July, 1847, in a fit of delirium.
CHAPTER 23 Back to Contents
I had not been more than three weeks the administrator of the parish of Charlesbourgh, when the terrible words, "The cholera morbus is in Quebec!" sent a thrill of terror from one end to the other of Canada.
The cities of Quebec and Montreal, with many surrounding country places, had been decimated in 1832 by the same terrible scourge. Thousands upon thousands had fallen its victims; families in every rank of society had disappeared; for the most skilful physicians of both Europe and America had been unable to stop its march and ravages. But the year 1833 had passed without hearing almost of a single case of that fatal disease: we had all the hope that the justice of God was satisfied, and that He would no more visit us with that horrible plague. In this, however, we were to be sadly disappointed.
Charlesbourgh is a kind of suburb of Quebec, the greatest part of its inhabitants had to go within its walls to sell their goods several times every week. It was evident that we were to be among the first visited by that messenger of a just, but angry God. I will never forget the hour after I had heard: "The cholera is in Quebec!" It was, indeed, a most solemn hour to me. At a glance, I measured the bottomless abyss which was dug under my feet. We had no physicians, and there was no possibility of having any one for they were to have more work than they could do in Quebec. I saw that I would have to be both the body and soulphysician of the numberless victims of this terrible disease.
The tortures of the dying, the cries of the widows and of the orphans, the almost unbearable stench of the houses attacked by the scourge, the desolation and the paralyzing fears of the whole people, the fatherless and motherless orphans by whom I was to be surrounded, the starving poor for whom I would have to provide food and clothing when every kind of work and industry was stopped; but above all, the crowds of penitents whom the terrors of an impending death would drag to my feet to make their confessions, that I might forgive their sins, passed through my mind as so many spectres. I fell on my knees, with a heart beating with emotions that no pen can describe, and prostrating myself before my too justly angry God, I cried for mercy: with torrents of tears I asked Him to take away my life as a sacrifice for my people, but to spare them: raising my eyes towards a beautiful statue of Mary, whom I believed to be then the Mother of God, I supplicated her to appease the wrath of her Son.
I was still on my knees, when several knocks at the door told me that some one wanted to speak to me a young woman was there, bathed in tears and pale as death, who said to me: "My father has just returned from Quebec, and is dying from the cholera please come quick to hear his confession before he expires!"
No tongue will ever be able to tell half of the horrors which strike the eyes and the mind the first time one enters the house of a man struggling in the agonies of death from cholera. The other diseases seem to attack only one part of the body at once, but the cholera is like a furious tiger whose sharp teeth and nails tear his victim from head to feet without sparing any part. The hands and the feet, the legs and the arms, stomach, the breast and the bowels are at once tortured. I had never seen anything so terrible as the fixed eyes of that first victim whom I had to prepare for death. He was already almost as cold as a piece of ice. He was vomiting and ejecting an incredible quantity of a watery and blackish matter, which filled the house with an unbearable smell. With a feeble voice he requested me to hear the confession of his sins, and I ordered the family to withdraw and leave me alone, that they might not hear the sad story of his transgressions. But he had not said five words before he cried out: "Oh my God! what horrible cramps in my leg! For God's sake, rub it." And when I had given up hearing his confession to rub the leg, he cried again: "Oh!what horrible cramps in my arms! in my feet! in my shoulders! in my stomach!" And to the utmost of my capacity and my strength, I rubbed his arms, his feet, his shoulders, his breast, till I felt so exhausted and covered with perspiration, that I feared I should faint. During that time the fetid matter ejected from his stomach, besmeared me almost from head to foot. I called for help, and two strong men continued with me to rub the poor dying man.
It seemed evident that he could not live very long: his sufferings looked so terrible and unbearable! I administered him the sacrament of extreme unction. But I did not leave the house after that ceremony as it is the custom of the priests. It was the first time that I had met face to face with that giant which had covered so many nations with desolation and ruin, caused so many torrents of tears to flow. I had heard so much of him! I knew that, till then, nothing had been able to stop his forward march! He had scornfully gone through the obstacles which the most powerful nations had placed before him to retard his progress. He had mocked the art and science of the most skilful physicians all over the world! In a single step he had gone from Moscow to Paris! and in another month he had crossed the bottomless seas which the hands of the Almighty have spread between Europe and America! That king of terrors, after piling in their graves, by millions, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, whom he had met on his march through Asia, Africa, Europe, and America, was now before me! Nay, he was torturing, before my eyes, the first victim he had chosen among my people! But the more I felt powerless in the presence of that mighty giant, the more I wanted to see him face to face. I had a secret pleasure, a holy pride, in daring him. I wanted to tell him: "I do not fear you! You mercilessly attack my people, but with the help of God, in the strength of the One who died on Calvary for me, and who told me that nothing is more sweet and glorious than to give my life for my friends, I will meet and fight you everywhere when you attack any one of those sheep who are dearer to me than my own life!"
Standing by the bedside of the dying man whilst I rubbed his limbs to alleviate his tortures, I exhorted him to repent. But I closely watched that hand-to-hand battle that merciless and unequal struggle between the giant and his poor victim. His agony was long and terrible, for he was a man of great bodily strength. But after several hours of the most frightful pains, he quietly breathed his last. The house was crowded with the neighbours and relations, who, forgetful of the danger of catching the disease, had come to see him. We all knelt and prayed for the departed soul, after which I gave them a few words about the necessity of giving up their sins and keeping themselves ready to die and go at the Master's call.
I then left that desolated house with feelings of distress which no pen can portray. When I got back to the parsonage, after praying and weeping alone in my chamber, I took a bath, and washed myself with vinegar and a mixture of camphor, as a preventive against the epidemic. The rest of the day, till ten at night, was spent in hearing the confessions of a great number of people whom the fear of death had dragged around my confessional box that I might forgive their sins. This hearing of confession was interrupted only at ten o'clock at night, when I was called to the cemetery to bury the first victim of the cholera in Charlesbourgh. A great number of people had accompanied the corpse to his last resting-place: the night was beautiful, the atmosphere balmy, and the moon and stars had never appeared to me so bright. The stillness of the night was broken only by the sobs of the relations and friends of the deceased. It was one of the best opportunities God had ever given me of exhorting the people to repentance. I took for my text: "Therefore, be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." The spectacle of that grave, filled by a man who, twenty-four hours before, was full of health and life in the midst of his happy family, was speaking more eloquently than the words of my lips, to show that we must be always ready. And never any people entered the threshold of their homes with more solemn thoughts than those to whom I spoke, that night, in the midst of the graveyard.
The history of that day is the history of the forty days which followed for not a single one of them passed without my being called to visit a victim of the cholera more than one hundred people were attacked by the terrible disease, nearly forty of whom died!
I cannot sufficiently thank my merciful God for having protected me in such a marvelous way that I had not a single hour of disease during those two months of hard labours and sore trials. I had to visit the sick not only as a priest, but as physician also; for seeing, at first, the absolute impossibility of persuading any physician from Quebec to give up their rich city patients for our more humble farmers, I felt it was my duty to make myself as expert as I could in the art of helping the victims of that cruel and loathsome disease: I studied the best authors on that subject, consulted the most skilful physicians, got a little pharmacy which would have done honour to an old physician, and I gave my care and my medicine gratis. Very soon the good people of Charlesbourgh put as much, if not more confidence, in my medical care, as in any other of the best physicians of the country. More than once I had to rub the limbs of so many patients in the same day, that the skin of my hands was taken away, and several times the blood came out from the wounds. Dr. Painchaud, one of the ablest physicians of Quebec, who was my personal friend, told me after, that it was a most extraordinary thing that I had not fallen a victim to that disease.
I would never have mentioned what I did, in those never-to-be-forgotten days of the cholera of 1834, when one of the most horrible epidemics which the world has ever seen spread desolation and death almost all over Canada, if I had been alone to work as I did; but I am happy and proud to say that, without a single exception, the French Canadian priests, whose parishes were attacked by that pestilence, did the same. I could name hundreds of them who, during several months, also, day after day and night after night, bravely met and fought the enemy, and fearlessly presented their breast to its blows. I could even name scores of them who heroically fell and died when facing the foe on that battlefield!
We must be honest and true towards the Roman Catholic priests of Canada. Few men, if even any, have shown more courage and self-denial in the hour of danger than they did. I have seen them at work during the two memorable years of 1832 and 1834, with a courage and self-denial worthy of the admiration of heaven and earth. Though they know well that the most horrible tortures and death might be the price of their devotedness, I have not known a single one of them who ever shrank before the danger. At the first appeal, in the midst of the darkest and stormiest nights, as well as in the light of the brightest days, they were always ready to leave their warm and comfortable beds to run to the rescue of the sick and dying.
But, shall we conclude from that, as the priests of Rome want us to do, that their religion is the true and divine religion of Christ? Must we believe that because the priests are brave, admirably brave, and die the death of heroes on the battlefields, they are the true, the only priests of Christ, the successors of the apostles the ministers of the religion out of which there is no salvation? No!
Was it because his religion was the divine and only true one that the millionaire, Stephen Gerard, when in 1793 Philadelphia was decimated by a most frightful epidemic, went from house to house, visiting the sick, serving, washing them with his own hands, and even helping to put them into their coffins? I ask it again, is it because his religion was the divine religion of Jesus that that remarkable man, during several months, lived among the dying and the dead, to help them, when his immense fortune allowed him to put a whole world between him and the danger? No; for every one knows that Stephen Gerard was a deist, who did not believe in Christ.
Was it because they followed the true religion that, in the last war between Russia and Turkey, a whole regiment of Turks heroically ran to a sure death to obey the order of their general, who commanded them to change bayonets on a Russian battery, which was pouring upon them a real hail of bullets and canister? No! surely no!
These Turks were brave, fearless, heroic soldiers, but nothing more. So the priests of the Pope, who expose themselves in the hour of danger, are brave, fearless, heroic solders of the Pope but they are nothing more.
Was it because they were good Christians that the soldiers of a French regiment, at Austerlitz, consented to be slaughtered to the last, at the head of a bridge where Napoleon had ordered them to remain, with these celebrated words: "Soldiers! stand there and fight to the last; you will all be killed, but you will save the army, and we will gain the day!"
Those soldiers were admirably well disciplined they loved their flag more than their lives they knew only one thing in the world: "Obey the command of Napoleon!" They fought like giants, and died like heroes. So the priests are a well disciplined band of soldiers; they are trained to love their church more than their own life; they also know only one thing: "Obey your superior, the Pope!" they fight the battle of their church like giants, and they die like heroes!
Who has not read the history of the renowned French man-of-war, the "Tonnant?" When she had lost her masts, and was so crippled by the redhot shot of the English fleet that there was no possibility of escape, what did the soldiers and mariners of that ship answer to the cries of "Surrender!" which came from the English admiral? "We die, but do not surrender!"
They all went to the bottom of the sea, and perished rather than see their proud banners fall into the hands of the foe!
It is because those French warriors were good Christians that they preferred to die rather than give up their flag? No! But they knew that the eyes of their country, the eyes of the whole world were upon them. Life became to them a trifle: it became nothing when placed in the balance against what they considered their honour, and the honour of their fair and noble country; nay, life became an undesirable thing, when it was weighted against the glory of dying at the post of duty and honour.
So it is with the priest of Rome. He knows that the eyes of his people, and of his superiors the eyes of his whole church are upon him. He knows that if he shrinks in the hour of danger, he will for ever lose their confidence and their esteem; that he will lose his position and live the life of a degraded man! Death seems preferable to such a life.
Yes! let the people of Canada read the history of "La Nouvelle France," and they will cease from presenting to us the courage of their priests as an indication of the divinity of their religion. For there they will see that the worshipers of the wooden gods of the forests have equaled, if not surpassed, in courage and self-denial in the face of death, the courage and self-denial of the priests of the wafer god of Rome.
[*] "Hence Sanchez teaches, n. 19, with Cajet. Sot. Covar. Valent, that it is lawful to persuade a man, determined to slay some one, that he should commit theft or fornication." (Mor. Theol. lib. iii. t. ii. cap. 2, p. 175, p. 157. Mech. 1845.)
Continue to Chapter 24