|A stained-glass window showing Fr. Brebeuf and a Huron elder from the |
Martyrs' Shrine, Midland, Ontario, Canada.
But rather than dwell on the depressing spectacle of the modern Jesuit order which often seems more concerned with promoting sodomy than the Gospel, let us remember that it wasn’t always like this. As much as our present day Jesuits are often villains who subvert the Gospel and encourage vice among the youth, the Jesuits of 400 years ago who evangelized the North American wilderness were heroes in every sense of the word. These were men who entered a country where practically every sort of vice existed unrestrained—from war, to torture, to slavery; from polygamy, to cannibalism, to demon-worship—and dared to teach the unvarnished Gospel of Jesus Christ without dumbing it down to make it more palatable to those they hoped to convert.
Interestingly enough, the Jesuit missionaries in New France were advised by some of those Indians who were sympathetic to them, not to insist that their converts follow Christian moral laws. Writing in 1637, Father François le Mercier describes an encounter between Saint Jean de Brebeuf (called Echon by the Hurons) and the chiefs of the Huron village of Ihonatiria. Fr. Brebeuf, speaking fluent Huron, explained what the Hurons must do in order to be considered good Christians, namely: to believe in God and keep His commandments. He specifically enumerated the commandments as they applied to the customs of the Hurons, saying that they should:
- Give up their belief in dreams;
- Have only one wife, and her for life;
- Live in conjugal chastity;
- Not engage in vomiting feasts;
- Give up “shameless assemblies of men and women;”
- Stop eating human flesh;
- Abandon holding feasts to appease a demon known as Aoutaerohi
“My nephew, we have been greatly deceived. We thought God was to be satisfied with a Chapel, but according to what I see He asks a great deal more.”Another named Aenons, went even farther, saying:
"Echon, I must speak to you frankly. I believe that your proposition is impossible. The people of Ihonatiria said last year that they believed in order to get tobacco. But all that did not please me. For my part, I cannot dissemble, I express my sentiments frankly: I consider that what you propose will prove to be only a stumbling-block. Besides, we have our own ways of doing things, and you yours, as well as other nations. When you speak to us about obeying and acknowledging as our master Him whom you say has made Heaven and earth, I imagine you are talking of overthrowing the country. Your ancestors assembled in earlier times, and held a council, where they resolved to take as their God Him whom you honor, and ordained all the ceremonies that you observe. As for us, we have learned others from our own Fathers."Father Brebeuf, however, was undeterred:
The Father rejoined that he was altogether mistaken in his opinion—that it was not through a mere choice that we had taken God for our God, that nature herself taught us to acknowledge as God Him who has given us being and life: that, as for what concerns our ceremonies, they are not a human invention, but divine; that God himself had prescribed them to us, and that they were strictly observed all over the earth.
As for our ways of doing things, he said that it was quite true they were altogether different from theirs—that we had this in common with all nations; that, in fact, there were as many different customs as there were different peoples upon the earth; that the manner of living, of dressing, and of building houses was entirely different in France from what it was here, and in other countries of the world, and that this was not what we found wrong. But, as to what concerned God, all nations ought to have the same sentiments; that the reality of a God was one, and so clear that it was only necessary to open the eyes to see it written in large characters upon the faces of all creatures.
The Father made them a fine and rather long speech upon this subject, from which he drew this conclusion, that to please God it was not enough to build a Chapel in His honor, as they claimed, but that the chief thing was to keep His commandments and give up their superstitions.
Onaconchiaronk admitted that the father was right, and did his utmost in exhorting the whole company to overcome all these difficulties. But, as each one hung his head and turned a deaf ear, the matter was deferred until the next day.The aged Onaconchiaronk took further thought on the matter, and with sage understanding responded the next day to Fr. Brebeuf, saying that:
For his part, he considered [the points Fr. Brebeuf had made] very reasonable, but indeed he saw clearly that the young people would find great difficulties therein. However, all things well considered, he concluded that it was better to take a little trouble, and live, than to die miserably like those who had been already carried off by the disease. He spoke in so excellent fashion, and urged them so strongly, that no one dared to contradict him, and all agreed to what the father had required.A short time later, the entire Huron village of Ossosané took a vow to accept Christianity and to live like Christians. To ratify this decision, a certain Huron named Okhiarenta, formerly a medicine man, proclaimed the terms throughout the village:
He went about crying in a loud voice that the inhabitants of Ossosané took God as their Lord and their master; that they renounced all their errors—that henceforth they would no longer pay attention to their dreams, that they would make no more feasts to the demon Aoutaerohi, that their marriages should be binding, that they would not eat human flesh—and that they bound themselves to build in the spring a cabin in [God’s] honor, in case it pleased Him to stop the progress of the disease. What a consolation it was to see God publicly glorified through the mouth of a barbarian and one of the tools of satan! Never had such a thing been seen among the Hurons.In further accounts in the Jesuit Relations, we see how the Hurons and other native tribes struggled to live up to these vows, often with success, but just often falling back on their old ways. Writing five years later in 1642, Fr. Jerome Lalemant describes how a Christian Huron girl endured living among a nation which was largely still in the thrall of their pagan vices:
A Christian girl was asked whether in the license which the young men here assume, she had not lent an ear to some improper discourse. "No one speaks to me," she said, "except that I am often told that I am too melancholy. But to this I answer nothing. I only pray to GOD in my heart so that He may keep me safe, because I fear to commit sin. They do not know my thoughts," she added. "I manifest my joy only in my cabin, when I am with my sisters and my parents. When I go anywhere, I alter my appearance. I keep my eyes cast down, and my forehead wrinkled, and I try to look sad so that no one is encouraged to accost me."Reading this, I can’t help but recall the young women one can often see walking downtown or taking public transit in Philadelphia or any large American city. That look—with eyes downcast and forehead wrinkled, often with the modern addition of earbuds—is a common one meant to ward off rakes and scoundrels. And though such young women are generally not assuming this look for the exact same reason as the Huron girl described above, it is clear that both are doing their best to navigate a pagan culture in which men view them as pleasure objects and little more.
Fr. Lalemant concludes:
It is only GOD who can inspire such desires for purity in hearts and in a Country where impurity is viewed only with honor. But when Faith is in a heart it effects wonderful changes therein.This observation can be just as easily applied to our post-Christian world as it could to the savage days of the pre-Christian Hurons. It is with sadness that we observe our modern Jesuits acting less after the fashion of their fearless and zealous Blackrobe ancestors and more like the cunning medicine men of the barbaric pagan nations who sought to keep their people enslaved to satan.
For other articles on this blog concerning the Jesuits of the glorious past and the scandalous present, see: