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Bishop Lavel
Chapter III The Sovereign Council


THE pious bishop who is the subject pf this study was not long in proving that his virtues were not too highly esteemed. An ancient vessel, the St. Andre, brought from France two hundred and six persons, among whom were Mile. Mance, the foundress of the Montreal hospital, Sister Bourgeoys, and two Sulpicians, MM. Vignal and Le-maitre. Now this ship had long served as a sailors' hospital, and it had been sent back to sea without the necessary quarantine. Hardly had its passengers lost sight of the coasts of France when the plague broke out among them, and with such intensity that all were more or less attacked by it; Mile. Mance, in particular, was almost immediately reduced to the point of death. Always very delicate, and exhausted by a preceding voyage, she did not seem destined to resist this latest attack. Moreover, all aid was lacking, even the rations of fresh water ran short, and from a fear of contagion, which will be readily understood, but which was none the less disastrous, the captain at first forbade the Sisters of Charity who were on board to minister to the sick. This precaution cost seven or eight of these unfortunate people their lives. At least M. Vignal and M. Lemaitre, though both suffering themselves, were able to offer to the dying the consolations of their holy office. M. Lemaitre, more vigorous than his colleague, and possessed of an admirable energy and devotion, was not satisfied merely with encouraging and ministering to the unfortunate in their last moments, but even watched over their remains at the risk of his own life ; he buried them piously, wound them in their shrouds, and said over them the final prayers as they were lowered into the sea. Two Huguenots, touched by his devotion, died in the Roman Catholic faith. The Sisters were finally permitted to exercise their charitable office. Although ill, they as well as Sister Bourgeoys, displayed a heroic energy, and raised the morale of all the unfortunate passengers.

To this sickness were added other sufferings incident to such a voyage, and frightful storms did not cease to attack the ship until its entry into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Several times they believed themselves on the point of foundering, and the two priests gave absolution to all. The tempest carried these unhappy people so far from their route that they did not arrive at Quebec until September 7th, exhausted by disease, famine and trials of all sorts. Father Dequen, of the Society of Jesus, showed in this matter an example of the most admirable charity. He brought to the sick refreshments and every manner of aid, and lavished upon all the offices of his holy ministry. As a result of his self-devotion, he was attacked by the scourge and died in the exercise of charity. Several more, after being conveyed to the hospital, succumbed to the disease, and the whole country was infected. Mgr. of Petraea was admirable in his devotion; he hardly left the hospital at all, and constituted himself the nurse of all these unfortunates, making their beds and giving them the most attentive care. "He is continually at the hospital," wrote Mother Mary of the Incarnation, "in order to help the sick and to make their beds. We do what we can to prevent him and to shield his health, but no eloquence can dissuade him from these acts of self-abasement."

In the spring of the year 1662, Mgr. de Laval rented for his own use an old house situated on the site of the present parochial residence.at Quebec, and it was there that, with the three other priests who then composed his episcopal court, he edified all the colonists by the simplicity of a cenobitic life. He had been at first the guest of the Jesuit Fathers, was later sheltered by the Sisters of the Hotel-Dieu, and subsequently lodged with the Ursulines. At this period it was indeed incumbent upon him to adapt himself to circumstances; nor did these modest conditions displease the former pupil of M. de Berni&res, since, as Latour bears witness, "he always complained that people did too much for him ; he showed a distaste for all that was too daintily prepared, and affected, on the contrary, a sort of avidity for coarser fare." Mother Mary of the Incarnation wrote: "He lives like a holy man and an apostle; his life is so exemplary that he commands the admiration of the country. He gives everything away and lives like a pauper, and one may well say that he has the very spirit of poverty. He practises this poverty in his house, in his manner of living, and in the matter of furniture and servants; for he has but one gardener, whom he lends to poor people when they have need of him, and a valet who formerly served M. de Bernieres."

But if the reverend prelate was modest and simple in his personal tastes, he became inflexible when he thought it his duty to maintain the rights of the Church. And he watched over these rights with the more circumspection since he was the first bishop installed in the colony, and was unwilling to allow abuses to be planted there, which later it would be very difficult, not to say impossible, to uproot. Hence the continual friction between him and the governor-general, d'Argenson, on questions of precedence and etiquette. Some of these disputes would seem to us childish to-day if even such a writer as Parkman did not put us on our guard against a premature judgment. "The disputes in question," writes Parkman, " though of a nature to provoke a smile on irreverent lips, were by no means so puerile as they appear. It is difficult in a modern democratic society to conceive the substantial importance of the signs and symbols of dignity and authority, at a time and among a people where they were adjusted with the most scrupulous precision, and accepted by all classes as exponents of relative degrees in the social and political kscale. Whether the bishop or the governor should sit in the higher seat at table thus became a political question, for it defined to the popular understanding the position of Church and State in their relations to government."

In his zeal for making his episcopal authority respected, could not the prelate, however, have made some concessions to the temporal power ? It is allowable to think so, when his panegyrist, the Abbe Gosselin, acknowledges it in these terms: "Did he sometimes show too much ardour in the settlement of a question or in the assertion of his rights ? It is possible. As the Abbd Ferland rightly observes, 4 no virtue is perfect upon earth.' But he was too pious and too disinterested for us to suspect for a moment the purity of his intentions." In certain passages in his journal Father Lalemant seems to be of the same opinion. All men are fallible; even the greatest saints have erred. In this connection the remark of St. Bernardin of Siena presents itself naturally to the religious mind: " Each time," says he, " that God grants to a creature a marked and particular favour, and when divine grace summons him to a special task and to some sublime position, it is a rule of Providence to furnish that creature with all the means necessary to fulfil the mission which is entrusted to him, and to bring it to a happy conclusion. Providence prepares his birth, directs his education, produces the environment in which he is to live ; even his faults Providence will use in the accomplishment of its purposes."

Difficulties of another sort fixed between the spiritual and the temporal chiefs of the colony a still deeper gulf; they arose from the trade in brandy with the savages. It had been formerly forbidden by the Sovereign Council, and this measure, urged by the clergy and the missionaries, put a stop to crimes and disorders. However, for the purpose of gain, certain men infringed this wise prohibition, and Mgr. de Laval, aware of the extensive harm caused by the fatal passion of the Indians for intoxicating liquors, hurled excommunication against all who should carry on the traffic in brandy with the savages. "It would be very difficult," writes M. de Latour, " to realize to what an excess these barbarians are carried by drunkenness. There is no species of madness, of crime or inhumanity to which they do not descend. The savage, for a glass of brandy, will give even his clothes, his cabin, his wife, his children ; a squaw when made drunk—and this is often done purposely—will abandon herself to the first comer. They will tear each other to pieces. If one enters a cabin whose inmates have just drunk brandy, one will behold with astonishment and horror the father cutting the throat of his son, the son threatening his father; the husband and wife, the best of friends, inflicting murderous blows upon each other, biting each other, tearing out each other's eyes, noses and ears ; they are no longer recognizable, they are madmen ; there is perhaps in the world no more vivid picture of hell. There are often some among them who seek drunkenness in order to avenge themselves upon their enemies, and commit with impunity all sorts of crimes under the pretext of this fine excuse, which passes with them for a complete justification, that at these times they are not free and not in their senses." Drunken savages are brutes, it is true, but were not the whites who fostered this fatal passion of intoxication more guilty still than the wretches whom they ignominiously urged on to vice ? Let us see what the same writer says of these corrupters. "If it is difficult," says he, "to explain the excesses of the savage, it is also difficult to understand the extent of the greed, the hypocrisy and the rascality of those who supply them with these drinks. The facility for making immense profits which is afforded them by the ignorance and the passions of these people, and the certainty of impunity, are things which they cannot resist; the attraction of gain acts upon them as drunkenness does upon their victims. How many crimes arise from the same source? There is no mother who does not fear for her daughter, no husband who does not dread for his wife, a libertine armed with a bottle of brandy; they rob and pillage these wretches, who, stupefied by intoxication when they are not maddened by it, can neither refuse nor defend themselves. There is no barrier which is not forced, no weakness which is not exploited, in these remote regions where, without either witnesses or masters, only the voice of brutal passion is listened to, every crime of which is inspired by a glass of brandy. The French are worse in this respect than the savages."

Governor d'Avaugour supported energetically the measures taken by Mgr. de Laval; unfortunately a regrettable incident destroyed the harmony between their two authorities. Inspired by his good heart, the superior of the Jesuits, Father Lalemant, interceded with the governor in favour of a woman imprisoned for having infringed the prohibition of the sale of brandy to the Indians. " If she is not to be punished," brusquely replied d'Avaugour, " no one shall be punished henceforth !" And, as he made it a point of honour not to withdraw this unfortunate utterance, the traders profited by it. From that time license was no longer bridled ; the savages got drunk, the traders were enriched, and the colony was in jeopardy. Sure of being supported by the governor, the merchants listened to neither bishop nor missionaries. Grieved at seeing his prayers as powerless as his commands, Mgr. de Laval decided to carry his complaint to the foot of the throne, and he set sail for France in the autumn of 1662. " Statesmen who place the freedom of commerce above morality of action," says Jacques de Beaudoncourt, "still consider that the bishop was wrong, and see in this matter a fine opportunity to inveigh against the encroachments of the clergy; but whoever has at heart the cause of human dignity will not hesitate to take the side of the missionaries who sought to preserve the savages from the vices which have brought about their ruin and their disappearance. The Montagnais race, which is still the most important in Canada, has been preserved by Catholicism from the vices and the misery which brought about so rapidly the extirpation of the savages."

Mgr. de Laval succeeded beyond his hopes; cordially received by King Louis XIV, he obtained the recall of Governor d'Avaugour. But this purpose was not the only one which he had made the goal of his ambition; he had in view another, much more important for the welfare of the colony. Fourteen years before, the Iroquois had exterminated the Hurons, and since this period the colonists had not enjoyed a single hour of calm ; the devotion of Dollard and of his sixteen heroic comrades had narrowly saved them from a horrible danger. The worthy prelate obtained from the king a sufficiently large assignment of troops to deliver the colony at last from its most dangerous enemies.

"We expect next year," he wrote to the sovereign pontiff, "twelve hundred soldiers, with whom, by God's help, we shall try to overcome the fierce Iroquois. The Marquis de Tracy will come to Canada in order to see for himself the measures which are necessary to make of New France a strong and prosperous colony."

M. Dubois d'Avaugour was recalled, and yet he rendered before his departure a distinguished service to the colony. " The St. Lawrence," he wrote in a memorial to the monarch, "is the key to a country which may become the greatest state in the world. There should be sent to this colony three thousand soldiers, to be discharged after three years of service; they could make Quebec an impregnable fortress, subdue the Iroquois, build redoubtable forts on the banks of the Hudson, where the Dutch have only a wretched wooden hut, and in short, open for New France a road to the sea by this river." It was mainly this report which induced the sovereign to take back Canada from the hands of the Company of the Cent-Associds, who were incapable of colonizing it, and to reintegrate it in the royal domain.

Must we think with M. de la Colombtere,1 with M. de Latour and with Cardinal Taschereau, that the Sovereign Council was the work of Mgr. de Laval ? We have some justification in believing it when we remember that the king arrived at this important decision while the energetic Laval was present at his court. However it may be, on April 24th, 1663, the Company of New France abandoned the colony to the royal government, which immediately created in Canada three courts of, justice and above them the Sovereign Council as a court of appeal.

The Bishop of Petrasa sailed in 1663 for North America with the new governor, M. de Mdzy, who owed to him his appointment. His other fellow-passengers were M. Gaudais-Dupont, who came to take possession of the country in the name of the king, two priests, MM. Maizerets and Hugues Pommier, Father Rafeix, of the Society of Jesus, and three ecclesiastics. The passage was stormy and lasted four months. To-day, when we leave Havre and disembark a week later at New York, after having enjoyed all the refinements of luxury and comfort invented by an advanced but materialistic civilization, we can with difficulty imagine the discomforts, hardships and privations of four long months on a stormy sea. Scurvy, that fatal consequence of famine and exhaustion, soon broke out among the passengers, and many 'died of it. The bishop, himself stricken by the disease, did not cease, nevertheless, to lavish his care upon the unfortunates who were attacked by the infection; he even attended them at the hospital after they had landed.

The country was still at this time under the stress of the emotion caused by the terrible earthquake of 1663. Father Lalemant has left us a striking description of this cataclysm, marked by the naive exaggeration of the period: "It was February 5th, 1663, about half-past five in the evening, when a great roar was heard at the same time throughout the extent of Canada. This noise, which gave the impression that fire had broken out in all the houses, made every one rush out of doors in order to flee from such a sudden conflagration. But instead of seeing smoke and flame, the people were much surprised to behold walls tottering, and all the stones moving as if they had become detached; the roofs seemed to bend downward on one side, then to lean over on the other ; the bells rang of their own accord ; joists, rafters and boards cracked, the earth quivered and made the stakes of the palisades dance in a manner which would appear incredible if we had not seen it in various places.

"Then every one rushes outside, animals take to flight, children cry through the streets, men and women, seized with terror, know not where to take refuge, thinking at every moment that they must be either overwhelmed in the ruins of the houses or buried in some abyss about to open under their feet; some, falling to their knees in the snow, cry for mercy; others pass the rest of the night in prayer, because the earthquake still continues with a certain undulation, almost like that of ships at sea, and such that some feel from these shocks the same sickness that they endure upon the water.

"The disorder was much greater in the forest. It seemed that there was a battle between the trees, which were hurled together, and not only their branches but even their trunks seemed to leave their places to leap upon each oth^r with a noise and a confusion which made our savages say that the whole forest was drunk.

"There seemed to be the same combat between the mountains, of which some were uprooted and hurled upon the others, leaving great chasms in the places whence they came, and now burying the trees, with which they were covered, deep in the earth up to their tops, now thrusting them in, with branches downward, taking the place of the roots, so that they left only a forest of upturned trunks.

"While this general destruction was going on on land, sheets of ice five or six feet thick were broken and shattered to pieces, and split in many places, whence arose thick vapour or streams of mud and sand which ascended high into the air; our springs either flowed no longer or ran with sulphurous waters; the rivers were either lost from sight or became polluted, the waters of some becoming yellow, those of others red, and the great St. Lawrence appeared quite livid up to the vicinity of Tadousac, a most astonishing prodigy, and one capable of surprising those who know the extent of this great river below the Island of Orleans, and what matter must be necessary to whiten it.

"We behold new lakes where there never were any; certain mountains engulfed are no longer seen; several rapids have been smoothed out; not a few rivers no longer appear; the earth is cleft in many places, and has opened abysses which seem to have no bottom. In short, there has been produced such a confusion of woods upturned and buried, that we see now stretches of country of more than a thousand acres wholly denuded, and as if they were freshly ploughed, where a little before there had been but forests.

"Moreover, three circumstances made this earthquake most remarkable. The first is the time of its duration, since it lasted into the month of August, that is to say, more than six months. It is true that the shocks were not always so rude; in certain places, for example, towards the mountains at the back of us, the noise and the commotion were long continued; at others, as in the direction of Tadousac, there was a quaking as a rule two or three times a day, accompanied by a great straining, and we noticed that in the higher places the disturbance was less than in the flat districts.

"The second circumstance concerns the extent of this earthquake, which we believe to have been universal throughout New France; for we learn that it was felt from lie Perc£ and Gaspd, which are at the mouth of our river, to beyond Montreal, as likewise in New England, in Acadia and other very remote places; so that, knowing that the earthquake occurred throughout an extent of two hundred leagues in length by one hundred in breadth, we have twenty thousand square leagues of land which felt the earthquake on the same day and at the same moment.

"The third circumstance concerns God's particular protection of our homes, for we see near us great abysses and a prodigious extent of country wholly ruined, without our having lost a child or even a hair of our heads. We see ourselves surrounded by confusion and ruins, and yet we have had only a few chimneys demolished, while the mountains around us have been overturned."

From the point of view of conversions and returns to God the results were marvellous. " One can scarcely believe," says Mother Mary of the Incarnation, "the great number of conversions that God has brought about, both among infidels who have embraced the faith, and on the part of Christians who have abandoned their evil life. At the same time as God has shaken the mountains and the marble rocks of these regions, it would seem that He has taken pleasure in shaking consciences. Days of carnival have been changed into days of penitence and sadness; public prayers, processions and pilgrimages have been continual; fasts on bread and water very frequent; the general confessions more sincere than they would have been in the extremity of sickness. A single ecclesiastic, who directs the parish of Chateau-Richer, has assured us that he has procured more than eight hundred general confessions, and I leave you to think what the reverend Fathers must have accomplished who were day and night in the confessional. I do not think that in the whole country there is a single inhabitant who has not made a general confession. There have been inveterate sinners, who, to set their consciences at rest, have repeated their confession more than three times. We have seen admirable reconciliations, enemies falling on their knees before each other to ask each other's forgiveness, in so much sorrow that it was easy to see that these changes were the results of grace and of the mercy of God rather than of His justice."


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