By Charles Chiniquy
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 to-day."
"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 to-day! 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 to-day, 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!"
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 their 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". 50year09.htm
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