By Charles Chiniquy
The merchant fleet of the Fall of 1836 has filled the Marine Hospital of Quebec with thevictims of a ship-typhoid fever of the worst kind, which soon turned into an epidemic. Within the walls of that institution Mr. Glackmeyer, the superintendent, with two of the attending doctors, and the majority of the servants were swept away during the winter months.
I was, in the spring of 1837, almost the only one spared by that horrible pest. In order not to spread terror among the citizens of Quebec, the physicians and I had determined to keep that a secret. But, at the end of May, I was forced to reveal it to Bishop Signaie, of Quebec; for I felt in my whole frame the first symptoms of the merciless disease. I prepared myself to die, as very few who had been attacked by it had escaped. I went to the bishop, told him the truth about the epidemic, and requested him to appoint a priest immediately, as chaplain in my place; for, I added, "I feel the poison running through my veins, and it is very probable that I have not more than ten or twelve days to live."
The young Mons. D. Estimanville was chosen, and though I felt very weak, I thought it was my duty to initiate him in his new and perilous work. I took him immediately to the hospital, where he never had been before, and when at a few feet from the door, I said: "My young friend, it is my duty to tell you that there is a dangerous epidemic raging in that house since last Fall, nothing has been able to stop it. The superintendent, two physicians, and most of the servants have been its victims. My escape till now is almost miraculous. But these last ten hours I feel the poison running through my whole body. You are called by God to take my place; but before you cross the threshold of that hospital, you must make the generous sacrifice of your life; for you are going on the battle-field from which only few have come out with their lives." The young priest turned pale, and said, "Is it possible that such a deadly epidemic is raging where you are taking me?" I answered, "Yes; my dear young brother, it is a fact, and I consider it my duty to tell you not to enter that house, if you are afraid to die!" A few minutes of silence followed, and it was a solemn silence indeed! He then took his handkerchief and wiped away some big drops of sweat which were rolling from his forehead on his cheeks, and said: "Is there a more holy and desirable way of dying than in ministering to the spiritual and temporal wants of my brethren? No! If it is the will of God that I should fall when fighting at this post of danger, I am ready. Let His holy will be done."
He followed me into the pestilential house with the heroic step of the soldier who runs at the command of his general to storm an impregnable citadel when he is sure to fall. It took me more than an hour to show him all the rooms, and introduce him to the poor, sick, and dying mariners.
I felt then so exhausted that two friends had to support me on my return to the parsonage of St. Roche. My physicians were immediately called (one of them, Dr. Rosseau, is still living), and soon pronounced my case so dangerous that three other physicians were called in consultation. For nine days I suffered the most horrible tortures in my brains, and the very marrow of my bones, from the fever which so devoured my flesh as to seemingly leave but the skin. On the ninth day, the physicians told the bishop who had visited me, that there was no hope of my recovery. The last sacraments were administered to me, and I prepared myself to die, as taught by the Church of Rome. The tenth day I was absolutely motionless, and not able to utter a word. My tongue was parched like a piece of dry wood.
Through the terrible ravage on the whole system, my very eyes were so turned inside their orbits, the white part only could be seen; no food could be taken from the beginning of he sickness, except a few drops of cold water, which were dropped through my teeth with much difficulty. But though all my physical faculties seemed dead, my memory, intelligence, and soul were full of life, and acting with more power than ever. Now and then, in the paroxysms of the fever, I used to see awful visions. At one time, suspended by a thread at the top of a high mountain, with my head down over a bottomless abyss; at another, surrounded by merciless enemies, whose daggers and swords were plunged through my body. But these were of short duration, though they have left such an impression on my mind that I still remember the minutest details. Death had, at first, no terror for me. I had done, to the best of my ability, all that my Church had told me to do, to be saved. I had, every day, given my last cent to the poor, fasted and done penance almost enough to kill myself; made my confessions with the greatest care and sincerity; preached with such zeal and earnestness as to fill the whole city with admiration.
My pharisaical virtues and holiness, in a word, were of such a glaring and deceitful character, and my ecclesiastical superiors were so taken by them, that they made the greatest efforts to persuade me to become the first Bishop of Oregon and Vancouver.
One after the other, all the saints of heaven, beginning with the Holy Virgin Mary, were invoked by me that they might pray God to look down upon me in mercy and save my soul. On the thirteenth night, as the doctors were retiring, they whispered to the Revs. Balillargeon and Parent, who were at my bedside: "He is dead, or if not, he has only a few minutes to live. He is already cold and breathless, and we cannot feel his pulse." Though these words had been said in a very low tone, they fell upon my ears as a peal of thunder. The two young priests, who were my devoted friends, filled the room with such cries that the curate and the priest who had gone to rest, rushed to my room and mingled their tears and cries with theirs.
The words of the doctor, "He is dead!" were ringing in my ears as the voice of a hurricane. I suddenly saw that I was in danger of being buried alive; no words can express the sense of horror I felt at that idea. A cold icy wave began to move slowly, but it seemed to me, with irresistible force, from the extremities of my feet and hands towards the heart, as the first symptoms of approaching death. At that moment I made a great effort to see what hope I might have of being saved, invoking the help of the blessed Virgin Mary. With lightning rapidity, a terrible vision struck my mind; I saw all my good works and penances, in which my Church had told me to trust for salvation, in the balance of the justice of God. These were in one side of the scales, and my sins on the other. My good works seemed only as a grain of sand compared with the weight of my sins. (In order to be understood by those of my readers who have never been deceived by the diabolical doctrines of the Church of Rome, I must say here, that when young I had learned in my catechism, and when a priest I had believed and preached what Rome says on that subject. Here is her doctrine as taught in her Catechism:-
"Who are those who go to heaven?"
Ans. "Those only who have never offended God, or who, having offended Him, have done penance."
This awful vision entirely destroyed my false and pharisaical security, and filled my soul with an unspeakable terror. I could not cry to Jesus Christ, nor to God, His Father, for mercy; for I sincerely believed what my Church had taught me on that subject, that they were both angry with me on account of my sins. With much anxiety I turned my thoughts, my soul, and hopes, towards St. Anne and St. Philomene. The first was the object of my confidence, since the first time I had seen the numberless crutches and other "Fx Votis" which covered the church of "La Bonne St. Anne du Nord," and the second was the saint a la mode. It was said that her body had lately been miraculously discovered, and the world was filled with the noise of the miracles wrought through her intercession. Her medals were on every breast, her pictures in every house, and her name on all lips. With entire confidence in the will and power of these two saints to obtain any favour for me, I invoked them to pray God to grant me a few years more of life; and with the utmost honesty of purpose, I promised to add to my penances, and to live a more holy life, by consecrating myself with more zeal than ever to the service of the poor and the sick. I added to my former prayer the solemn promise to have a painting of the two saints put in St. Anne's Church, to proclaim to the end of the world their great power in heaven, if they would obtain my cure and restore my health. Strange to say! The last words of my prayer were scarcely uttered, when I saw above my head St. Anne and St. Philomene sitting in the midst of a great light, on a beautiful golden cloud. St. Anne was very old and grave, but St. Philomene was very young and beautiful. Both were looking at me with great kindness.
However, the kindness of St. Anne was mixed with such an air of awe and gravity that I did not like her looks; while St. Philomene had such an expression of superhuman love and kindness that I felt myself drawn to here by a magnetic power, when she said, distinctly: "You will be cured," and the vision disappeared.
But I was cured, perfectly cured! At the disappearance of the two saints, I felt as though an electric shock went through my whole frame; the pains were gone, the tongue was untied, the nerves were restored to their natural and usual power; my eyes were opened, the cold and icy waves which were fast going from the extremities to the regions of my heart, seemed to be changed into a most pleasant warm bath, restoring life and strength to every part of my body. I raised my head, stretched out my hands, which I had not moved for three days, and looking around, I saw the four priests. I said to them: "I am cured, please give me something to eat, I am hungry."
Astonished beyond measure, two of them threw their arms around my shoulders to help me to sit a moment, and change my pillow; when two others ran to the table, which the kind nuns of Quebec had covered with delicacies in case I might want them. Their joy was mixed with fear, for they all confessed to me afterwards that they had at once thought that all this was nothing but the last brilliant flash of light which the flickering lamp gives before dying away. But they soon changed their minds when they saw that I was eating ravenously, and that I was speaking to them and thanking God with a cheerful, though very feeble voice. "What does this mean?" they all said. "The doctors told us last evening that you were dead; and we have passed the night not only weeping over your death, but praying for your soul, to rescue it from the flames of purgatory, and now you look so hungry, so cheerful and well."
I answered: "It means that I was not dead, but very near dying, and when I felt that I was to die, I prayed to St. Anne and St. Philomene to come to my help and cure me; and they have come. I have seen them both, there above my head. Ah! if I were a painter, what a beautiful picture I could make of that dear old St. Anne and the still dearer Philomene! for it is St. Philomene who has spoken to me as the messenger of the mercies of God. I have promised to have their portraits painted and put into the church of The Good St. Anne du Nord."
While I was speaking thus, the priests, filled with admiration and awe, were mute; they could not speak except with tears of gratitude. They honestly believed with me that my cure was miraculous, and consented with pleasure to sing that beautiful hymn of gratitude, the "Te Deum."
The next morning, the news of my miraculous cure spread through the whole city with the rapidity of lightning, for besides a good number of the first citizens of Quebec who were related to me by blood, I had not less than 1,800 penitents who loved and respected me as their spiritual father.
To give an idea of the kind of interest of the numberless friends whom God had given me when in Quebec, I will relate a single fact. The citizens who were near our parsonage, having been told, by a physician, that the inflammation of my brain was so terrible that the least noise, even the passing of carriages or the walking of horses on the streets, was causing me real torture, they immediately covered all the surrounding streets with several inches of straw to prevent the possibility of any more noise.
The physicians, having heard of my sudden cure, hastened to come and see what it meant. At first, they could scarcely believe their eyes. The night before they had given me up for dead, after thirteen days' suffering with the most horrible and incurable of diseases! And, there I was, the very next morning, perfectly cured! No more pain, not the least remnant of fever, all the faculties of my body and mind perfectly restored! They minutely asked me all the circumstances connected with that strange, unexpected cure; and I told them simply but plainly, how, at the very moment I expected to die, I had fervently prayed to St. Anne and St. Philomene, and how they had come, spoken to me and cured me. Two of my physicians were Roman Catholics, and three Protestants. They at first looked at each other without saying a word. It was evident they were not all partakers of my strong faith in the power of the two saints. While the Roman Catholic doctors, Messrs. Parent and Rousseau, seemed to believe in my miraculous cure, the Protestants energetically protested against that view in the name of science and common sense.
Dr. Douglas put me the following questions, and received the following answers. He said:
"Dear Father Chiniquy, you know you have not a more devoted friend in Quebec than I, and you know me too well to suspect that I want to hurt your religious feelings when I tell you that there is not the least appearance of a miracle in your so happy and sudden cure. If you will be kind enough to answer my questions, you will see that you are mistaken in attributing to a miracle a thing which is most common and natural. Though you are perfectly cured, you are very weak; please answer only 'yes' or 'no' to my questions, in order not to exhaust yourself. Will you be so kind as to tell us if this is the first vision you have had during the period of that terrible fever?"
Ans. "I have had many other visions, but I took them as being the effect of the fever."
Doctor. "Please make your answers shorter, or else I will not ask you another question, for it would hurt you. Tell us simply, if you have not seen in those visions, at times, very frightful and terrible, and at others, very beautiful things."
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "Have not those visions stamped themselves on your mind with such a power and vividness that you never forget them, and that you deem them more realities than mere visions of a sickly brain?"
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "Did you not feel sometimes much worse, and sometimes much better after those visions, according to their nature?"
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "When at ease in your mind during that disease, were you not used to pray to the saints, particularly to St. Anne and St. Philomene."
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "When you considered that death was very near (and it was indeed) when you had heard my imprudent sentence that you had only a few minutes to live, were you not taken suddenly, by such a fear of death as you never felt before?"
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "Did you not then make a great effort to repel death from you?"
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "Do you know that you are a man of an exceedingly strong will, and that very few men can resist you when you want to do something? Do you not know that your will is such an exceptional power that mountains of difficulties have disappeared before you, here in Quebec? Have you not seen even me, with many others, yielding to your will almost in spite of ourselves, to do what you wanted?"
With a smile I answered, "Yes, sir."
Doctor. "Do you not remember seeing, many times, people suffering dreadfully from toothache coming to us to have their teeth extracted, who were suddenly cured at the sight of the knives and other surgical instruments we put upon the table to use?"
I answered with a laugh, "Yes, sir. I have seen that very often, and it has occurred to me once."
Doctor. "Do you think that there was a supernatural power, then, in the surgical implements, and that those sudden cures of toothache were miraculous?"
Ans. "No, sir!"
Doctor. "Have you not read the volume of the 'Medical Directory' I lent you on typhoid fever, where several cures exactly like yours are reported?"
Ans. "Yes, sir."
Then addressing the physicians, Doctor Douglas said to them:
"We must not exhaust our dear Father Chiniquy. We are too happy to see him full of life again, but from his answers you understand that there is no miracle here. His happy and sudden cure is a very natural and common thing. The vision was what we call the turning-point of the disease, when the mind is powerfully bent on some very exciting object, when that mysterious thing of which we know so little as yet, called the will, the spirit, the soul, fights as a giant against death, in which battle, pains, diseases, and even death are put to flight and conquered.
"My dear Father Chiniquy, from your own lips, we have it; you have fought, last night, the fever and approaching death, as a giant. No wonder that you won the victory, and I confess, it is a great victory. I know it is not the first victory you have gained, and I am sure it will not be the last. It is surely God who has given you that irresistible will. In that sense only does your cure come from Him. Continue to fight and conquer as you have done last night, and you will live a long life. Death will long remember its defeat of last night, and will not dare approach you any more, except when you will be so old that you will ask it to come as a friend to put an end to the miseries of this present life. Good-bye."
And with friendly smiles, all the doctors pressed my hand and left me just as the bishop and curate of Quebec, Mons. Ballargeon, my confessor, were entering the room.
An old proverb says: "There is nothing so difficult as to persuade a man who does not want to be persuaded." Though the reasoning and kind words of the doctor ought to have been gladly listened to by me, they had only bothered me. It was infinitely more pleasant, and it seemed then, more agreeable to God, and more according to my faith in the power of the saints in heaven, to believe that I had been miraculously cured. Of course, the bishop, with his coadjutor and my Lord Turgeon, as well as my confessor, with the numberless priests and Roman Catholics who visited me during my convalescence, confirmed me in my views.
The skillful painter, Mr. Plamonon, recently from Rome, was called and painted, at the price of two hundred dollars ($200) the tableau I had promised to put in the church of St. Anne du Nord. It was one of the most beautiful and remarkable paintings of that artist, who had passed several years in the Capital of Fine Arts in Italy, where he had gained a very good reputation for his ability.
Three months after my recovery, I was at the parsonage of the curate of St. Anne, the Rev. Mr. Ranvoize, a relative of mine. He was about sixty-five years of age, very rich, and had a magnificent library. When young, he had enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best preachers in Canada. Never had I been so saddened and scandalized as I was by him on this occasion. It was evening when I arrived with my tableau. As soon as we were left alone, the old curate said: "Is it possible, my dear young cousin, that you will make such a fool of yourself to-morrow? That so-called miraculous cure is nothing but 'naturoe suprema vis,' as the learned of all ages have called it. Your so-called vision was a dream of your sickly brain, as it generally occurs in the moment of the supreme crisis of the fever. It is what is called 'the turning-point' of the disease, when a desperate effort of nature kills or cures the patient. As for the vision of that beautiful girl, whom you call St. Philomene, who had done you so much good, she is not the first girl, surely, who has come to you in your dreams, and done you good!" At these words he laughed so heartily that I feared he would split his sides. Twice he repeated this unbecoming joke.
I was, at first, so shocked at this unexpected rebuke, which I considered as bordering on blasphemy, that I came very near taking my hat without answering a word, to go and spend the night at his brother's; but after a moment's reflection, I said to him: "How can you speak with such levity on so solemn a thing? Do you not believe in the power of the saints, who being more holy and pure than we are, see God face to face, speak to Him and obtain favours which He would refuse us rebels? Are you not the daily witness of the miraculous cures wrought in your own church, under your own eyes? Why those thousands of crutches which literally cover the walls of your church?" My strong credulity, and the earnestness of my appeal to the daily miracles of which he was the witness, and above all, the mention of the numberless crutches suspended all over the walls of his church, brought again from him such a Homeric laugh, that I was disconcerted and saddened beyond measure. I remained absolutely mute; I wished I had never come into such company.
When he had laughed at me to his heart's content, he said: "My dear cousin, you are the first one to whom I speak in this way. I do it because, first: I consider you a man of intelligence, and hope you will understand me. Secondly: because you are my cousin. Were you one of those idiotic priests, real blockheads, who form the clergy to-day; or, were you a stranger to me, I would let you go your way, and believe in those ridiculous, degrading superstitions of our poor ignorant and blind people, but I know you from your infancy, and I have known your father, who was one of my dearest friends; the blood which flows in your veins, passes thousands of times every day through my heart. You are very young and I am old. It is a duty of honour and conscience in me to reveal to you a thing which I have thought better to keep till now, a secret between God and myself. I have been here more than thirty years, and though our country is constantly filled with the noise of the great and small miracles wrought in my church every day, I am ready to swear before God, and to prove to any man of common sense, that not a single miracle has been wrought in my church since I have come here. Every one of the facts given to the Canadian people as miraculous cures are sheer impositions, deceptions, the work of either fools, or the work of skillful impostors and hypocrites, whether priests or laymen. Believe me, my dear cousin, I have studied carefully the history of all those crutches. Ninety-nine out of a hundred have been left by poor, lazy beggars, who, at first, thought with good reason that by walking from door to door with one or two crutches, they would create more sympathy and bring more into their purses; for how many will indignantly turn out of doors a lazy, strong and healthful beggar, who will feel great compassion, and give largely to a man who is crippled, unable to work, and forced to drag himself painfully on crutches? Those crutches are then passports from door to door, they are the very keys to open both the hearts and purses. But the day comes when that beggar has bought a pretty good farm with his stolen alms; or when he is really tired, disgusted with his crutches and wants to get rid of them! How can he do that without compromising himself? By a miracle! Then he will sometimes travel again hundreds of miles from door to door, begging as usual, but this time he asks the prayers of the whole family, saying: 'I am going to the "good St. Anne du Nord" to ask her to cure my leg (or legs). I hope she will cure me, as she had cured so many others. I have great confidence in her power!' Each one gives twice, nay, ten times as much as before to the poor cripple, making him promise that if he is cured, he will come back and show himself, that they may bless the good St. Anne with him. When he arrives here, he gives me sometimes one, sometimes five dollars, to say mass for him. I take the money, for I would be a fool to refuse it when I know that his purse has been so well filled. During the celebration of the mass, when he receives the communion, I hear generally, a great noise, cries of joy! A miracle! A miracle!! The crutches are thrown on the floor, and the cripple walks well as you or I! And the last act of that religious comedy is the most lucrative one, for he fulfill his promise of stopping at every house he had ever been seen with his crutches. He narrates how he was miraculously cured, how his feet and legs became suddenly all right. Tears of joy and admiration flow from eye to eye. The last cent of that family is generally given to the impostor, who soon grows rich at the expense of his dupes. This is the plain but true story of ninety-nine out of every hundred of the cures wrought in my church. The hundredth, is upon people as honest, but, pardon me the expression, as blind and superstitious as you are; they are really cured, for they were really sick. But their cures are the natural effects of the great effort of the will. It is the result of a happy combination of natural causes which work together on the frame, and kill the pain, expel the disease and restore the health, just as I was cured of a most horrible toothache, some years ago. In the paroxysm I went to the dentist and requested him to extract the affected tooth. Hardly had his knife and other surgical instruments come before my eyes than the pain disappeared. I quietly took my hat and left, bidding a hearty 'good-bye' to the dentist, who laughed at me every time we met, to his heart's content.
"One of the weakest points of our religion is in the ridiculous, I venture to say, diabolical miracles, performed and believed every day among us, with the so-called relics and bones of the saints. But, don't you know that, for the most part, these relics are nothing but chickens' or sheeps' bones. And what could I not say, were I to tell you what I know of the daily miraculous impostures of the scapulars, holy water, chaplets and medals of every kind. Were I a pope, I would throw all these mummeries, which come from paganism, to the bottom of the sea, and would present to the eyes of the sinners, nothing but Christ and Him crucified as the object of their faith, invocation and hope, for this life and the next, just as the Apostles Paul, Peter and James do in their Epistles."
I cannot repeat here, all that I heard that night from that old relative, against the miracles, relics, scapulars, purgatory, false saints and ridiculous practices of the Church of Rome. It would take too long, for he spoke three hours as a real Protestant. Sometimes what he said seemed to me according to common sense, but as it was against the practices of my church, and against my personal practices, I was exceedingly scandalized and pained, and not at all convinced. I pitied him for having lost his former faith and piety. I told him at the end, without ceremony: "I heard, long ago, that the bishops did not like you, but I knew not why. However, if they could hear what you think and say here about the miracles of St. Anne, they would surely interdict you." 'Will you betray me?" he added, "and will you report our conversation to the bishop?" "No," my cousin, " I replied, "I would prefer to be burnt to ashes. I will not sell your kind hospitality for the traitor's money." It was two o'clock in the morning when we parted to go to our sleeping rooms. But that night was again a sleepless one to me. Was it not too sad and strange for me to see that that old and learned priest was secretly a Protestant!
The next morning the crowds began to arrive, not by hundreds, but by thousands, from the surrounding parishes. The channel between "L'Isle d'Orleans" and St. Anne, was literally covered with boats of every size, laden with men and women who wanted to hear from my own lips, the history of my miraculous cure, and see, with their own eyes, the picture of the two saints who had appeared to me. At ten a.m., more than 10,000 people were crowded inside and outside the wall of the church.
No words can give an idea of my emotion and of the emotion of the multitude when, after telling them in a single and plain way, what I then considered a miraculous fact, I disclosed the picture, and presented it to their admiration and worship. There were tears rolling on every cheek and cries of admiration and joy from every lip. The picture represented me dying in my bed of sufferings, and the two saints seen at a distance above me and stretching their hands as if to say: "You will be cured." It was hung on the walls, in a conspicuous place, where thousands and thousands have come to worship it from that day to the year 1858, when the curate was ordered by the bishop to burn it, for it had pleased our merciful God that very year, to take away the scales which were on my eyes and show me His saving light, and I had published all over Canada, my terrible, though unintentional error, in believing in that false miracle. I was so honest in my belief in a miraculous cure, and the apparition of the two saints had left such a deep impression on my mind, that, I confess it to my shame, the first week after my conversion, I very often said to myself: "How is it that I now believe that the Church of Rome is false, when such a miracle has been wrought on me as one of her priests?" But, our God, whose mercies are infinite, knowing my honesty when a slave of Popery, was determined to give me the full understanding of my errors in this way.
About a month after my conversion, in 1858, I had to visit a dying Irish convert from Romanism, who had caught in Chicago, the same fever which so nearly killed me at the Marine Hospital of Quebec. I again caught the disease, and during twelve days, passed through the same tortures and suffered the same agonies as in 1837. But this time, I was really happy to die; there was no fear for me to see the good works as a grain of sand in my favour, and the mountains of my iniquities in the balance of God against me. I had just given up my pharisaical holiness of old; it was no more in my good works, my alms, my penances, my personal efforts, I was trusting to be saved; it was in Jesus alone. My good works were no more put by me in the balance of the justice of God to pay my debts, and to appeal for mercy. It was the blood of Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world for me, which was in the balance. It was the tears of Jesus, the nails, the crown of thorns, the heavy cross, the cruel death of Jesus only, which was there to pay my debts and to cry for mercy. I had no fear then, for I knew that I was saved by Jesus, and that that salvation was a perfect act of His love, His mercy, and His power; consequently I was glad to die.
But when the doctor had left me, the thirteenth day of my sufferings, saying the very same words of the doctors of Quebec: "He had only a few minutes to live, if he be not already dead," the kind friends who were around my bed, filled the room with their cries! Although for three or four days I had not moved a finger, said a single word, or given any sign of life, I was perfectly conscious. I had heard the words of the doctor, and I was glad to exchange the miseries of this short life for that eternity of glory which my Saviour had bought for me. I only regretted to die before bringing more of my dear countrymen out of the idolatrous religion of Rome, and from the lips of my soul, I said: "Dear Jesus, I am glad to go with Thee just now, but if it be Thy will to let me live a few years more, that I may spread the light of the Gospel among my countrymen; grant me to live a few years more, and I will bless Thee eternally, with my converted countrymen, for Thy mercy." This prayer had scarcely reached the mercy-seat, when I saw a dozen bishops marching toward me, sword in hand to kill me. As the first sword raised to strike was coming down to split my head, I made a desperate effort, wrenched it from the hand of my would-be murderer, and struck such a blow on his neck that his head rolled on to the floor. The second, third, fourth, and so on to the last, rushed to kill me; but I struck such terrible blows on the necks of every one of them, that twelve heads were rolling on the floor and swimming in a pool of blood. In my excitement I cried to my friends around me: "Do you not see the heads rolling and the blood flowing on the floor?"
And suddenly I felt a kind of electric shock from head to foot. I was cured! perfectly cured!! I asked my friends for something to eat; I had not taken any food for twelve days. And with tears of joy and gratitude to God, they complied with my request. This last was not only the perfect cure of the body, but it was a perfect cure of the soul. I understood then clearly that the first was not more miraculous than the second. I had a perfect understanding of the diabolical forgeries and miracles of Rome. It was in both cases, I was not cured or saved by the saints, the bishops or the Popes, but by my God, through His Son Jesus.
The 21st of September, 1833, was a day of desolation to me. On that day I received the letter of my bishop appointing me curate of Beauport. Many times, I had said to the other priests, when talking about our choice of the different parishes, that I would never consent to be curate of Beauport. That parish, which is a kind of suburb of Quebec, was too justly considered the very nest of the drunkards of Canada. With a soil of unsurpassed fertility, inexhaustible lime quarries, gardens covered with most precious vegetables and fruits, forests near at hand, to furnish wood to the city of Quebec, at their doors, the people of Beauport, were, nevertheless, classed among the poorest, most ragged and wretched people of Canada. For almost every cent they were getting at the market went into the hands of the saloon-keepers. Hundreds of times I had seen the streets which led from St. Roch to the upper town of Quebec almost impassable, when the drunkards of Beauport were leaving the market to go home. How many times I heard them fill the air with their cries and blasphemies; and saw the streets reddened with their blood when fighting with one another, like mad dogs!
The Rev. Mr. Begin, who was their cure since 1825, had accepted the moral principles of the great Roman Catholic theologian Liguori, who says, "that a man is not guilty of the sin of drunkenness, so long as he can distinguish between a small pin and a load of hay." Of course the people would not find themselves guilty of sin, so long as their eyes could make that distinction. After weeping to my heart's content at the reading of the letter from my bishop, which had come to me as a thunderbolt, my first thought was that my misfortune, though very great, was not irretrievable. I knew that there were many priests who were as anxious to become curates of Beauport as I was opposed to it. My hope was that the bishop would be touched by my tears, if not convinced by my arguments, and that he would not persist in putting on my shoulders a burden which they could not carry. I immediately went to the palace, and did all in my power to persuade his lordship to select another priest for Beauport. He listened to my arguments with a great deal of patience and kindness, and answered:
"My dear Mr. Chiniquy, you forget too often, that 'implicit and perfect obedience to his superiors is the virtue of a good priest. You have given me a great deal of trouble and disappointment by refusing to relieve the good bishop Provencher of his too heavy burden. It was at my suggestion, you know very well, that he had selected you to be his co-worker along the coasts of the Pacific, by consenting to become the first Bishop of Oregon. Your obstinate resistance to your superiors in that circumstance, and in several other cases, is one of your weak points. If you continue to follow your own mind rather than obey those whom God has chosen to guide you, I really fear for your future. I have already too often yielded to your rebellious character. Through respect to myself, and for your own good, to-day I must force you to obey me. You have spoken of the drunkenness of the people of Beauport, as one of the reasons why I should not put you at the head of that parish; but this is just one of the reasons why I have chosen you. You are the only priest I know, in my diocese, able to struggle against the long-rotted and detestable evil, with a hope of success.
"'Quod scriptum scriptum est.' Your name is entered in our official registers as the curate of Beauport; it will remain there till I find better reasons than those you have given me to change my mind. After all, you cannot complain; Beauport is not only one of the most beautiful parishes of Canada, but it is one of the most splendid spots in the world. It is, besides, a parish which gives great revenues to its curate. In your beautiful parsonage, at the door of the old capital of Canada, you will have the privileges of the city, and the enjoyments of some of the most splendid sceneries of this continent. If you are not satisfied with me to-day, I do not know what I can do to please you."
Though far from being reconciled to my new position, I saw there was no help; I had to obey, as my predecessor, Mr. Begin, was to sell all his house furniture, before taking charge of his far distant parish, La Riviere Ouelle, he kindly invited me to go and buy, on long credit, what I wished for my own use, which I did. The whole parish was on the spot long before me, partly to show their friendly sympathy for their last pastor, and partly to see their new curate. I was not long in the crowd without seeing that my small stature and my leanness were making a very bad impression on the people, who were accustomed to pay their respects to a comparatively tall man, whose large and square shoulders were putting me in the shade. Many jovial remarks, though made in half-suppressed tones, came to my ears, to tell me that I was cutting a poor figure by the side of my jolly predecessor.
"He is hardly bigger than my tobacco box," said one not far from me: "I think I could put him in my vest pocket."
"Has he not the appearance of a salted sardine!" whispered a woman to her neighbour, with a hearty laugh.
Had I been a little wiser, I could have redeemed myself by some amiable or funny words, which would have sounded pleasantly in the ears of my new parishioners. But, unfortunately for me, that wisdom is not among the gifts I received. After a couple of hours of auction, a large cloth was suddenly removed from a long table, and presented to our sight an incredible number of wine and beer glasses, of empty decanters and bottles, of all sizes and quality. This brought a burst of laughter and clapping of hands from almost every one. All eyes were turned towards me, and I heard from hundreds of lips: "This is for you, Mr. Chiniquy." Without weighing my words, I instantly answered: "I do not come to Beauport to buy wine glasses and bottles, but to break them."
These words fell upon their ears as a spark of fire on a train of powder. Nine-tenths of that multitude, without being very drunk, had emptied from four to ten glasses of beer or rum, which Rev. Mr. Begin himself was offering them in a corner of the parsonage. A real deluge of insults and cursings overwhelmed me; and I soon saw that the best thing I could do was to leave the place without noise, and by the shortest way.
I immediately went to the bishop's place, to try again to persuade his lordship to put another curate at the head of such a people. "You see, my lord," I said, "that by my indiscreet and rash answer I have for ever lost the respect and confidence of that people. They already hate me; their brutal cursings have fallen upon me like balls of fire. I prefer to be carried to my grave next Sabbath, than have to address such a degraded people. I feel that I have neither the moral nor the physical power to do any good there."
"I differ from you," replied the bishop. "Evidently the people wanted to try your mettle, by inviting you to buy those glasses, and you would have lost yourself by yielding to their desire. Now they have seen that you are brave and fearless. It is just what the people of Beauport want; I have known them for a long time. It is true that they are drunkards; but, apart from that vice, there is not a nobler people under heaven. They have, literally, no education, but they possess marvelous common sense, and have many noble and redeeming qualities, which you will soon find out. You took them by surprise when you boldly said you wanted to break their glasses and decanters. Believe me, they will bless you, if by the grace of God, you fulfill your prophecy; though it will be a miracle if you succeed in making the people of Beauport sober. But you must not despair. Trust in God; fight as a good soldier, and Jesus Christ will win the victory." Those kind words of my bishop did me good, though I would have preferred being sent to the backwoods of Canada, than to the great parish of Beauport. I felt that the only thing that I had to do was to trust in God for success, and to fight as if I were to gain the day. It came to my mind that I had committed a great sin by obstinately refusing to become Bishop of Oregon, and my God, as a punishment, had given me the very parish for which I felt an almost insurmountable repugnance.
Next Sunday was a splendid day, and the church of Beauport was filled to its utmost capacity by the people, eager to see and hear, for the first time, their new pastor. I had spent the last three days in prayers and fastings. God knows that never a priest, nor any minister of the Gospel, ascended the pulpit with more exalted views of his sublime functions than I did that day, and never a messenger of the Gospel had been more terrified than I was, when in that pulpit, by the consciousness of his own demerits, inability and incompetency, in the face of the tremendous responsibilities of his position. My first sermon was on the text: "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel" (1 Cor. ix. 16). With a soul and heart filled with the profoundest emotions, a voice many times suffocated by uncontrollable sobs, I expounded to them some of the awful responsibilities of a pastor. The effect of the sermon was felt to the last day of my priestly ministry in Beauport.
After the sermon, I told them: "I have a favour to ask of you. As it is the first, I hope you will not rebuke me. I have just now given you some of the duties of your poor young curate towards you; I want you to come again this afternoon at half-past two o'clock, that I may give you some of your duties towards your pastor." At the appointed hour the church was still more crowded than in the morning, and it seemed to me that my merciful God blessed still more that second address than the first.
The text was: "When he (the shepherd) putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice" (Jno. x. 4).
Those two sermons on the Sabbath were a startling innovation in the Roman Catholic Church of Canada, which brought upon me, at once, many bitter remarks from the bishop and surrounding curates. Their unanimous verdict was that I wanted to become a little reformer. They had not the least doubt that in my pride I wanted to show the people "that I was the most zealous priest of the country." This was not only whispered from ear to ear among the clergy, but several times it was thrown into my face in the most insulting manner. However, my God knew that my only motives were, first, to keep my people away from the taverns, by having them before their altars during the greatest part of the Sabbath day; second, to impress more on their minds the great saving and regenerating truths I preached, by presenting them twice in the same day under different aspects. I found such benefits from those two sermons, that I continued the practice during the four years I remained in Beauport, though I had to suffer and hear, in silence, many humiliating and cutting remarks from many co-priests.
I had not been more than three months at the head of that parish, when I determined to organize a temperance society on the same principles as Father Mathew, in Ireland. I opened my mind, at first, on that subject to the bishop, with the hope that he would throw the influence of his position in favour of the new association, but, to my great dismay and surprise, not only did he turn my project into ridicule, but absolutely forbade me to think any more of such an innovation. "These temperance societies are a Protestant scheme," he said. "Preach against drunkenness, but let the respectable people who are not drunkards alone. St. Paul advised his disciple Timothy to drink wine. Do not try to be more zealous than they were in those apostolic days."
I left the bishop much disappointed, but did not give up my plan. It seemed to me if I could gain the neighbouring priests to join with me in my crusade I wanted to preach against the usage of intoxicating drinks, we might bring about a glorious reform in Canada, as Father Mathew was doing in Ireland. But the priests, without a single exception, laughed at me, turned my plans into ridicule, and requested me, in the name of common sense, never to speak any more to them of giving up their social glass of wine. I shall never be able to give any idea of my sadness, when I saw that I was to be opposed by my bishop and the whole clergy in the reform which I considered then, more and more every day, the only plank of salvation, not only of my dear people of Beauport, but of all Canada. God only knows the tears I shed, the long sleepless nights I have passed in studying, praying, meditating on that great work of Beauport. I had recourse to all the saints of heaven for more strength and light; for I was determined, at any cost, to try and form a temperance society. But every time I wanted to begin, I was frightened by the idea, not only of the wrath of the whole clergy, which would hunt me down, but still more of the ridicule of the whole country, which would overwhelm me in case of a failure. In these perplexities, I thought I would do well to write to Father Mathew and ask him his advice and the help of his prayers. That noble apostle of temperance of Ireland answered me in an eloquent letter, and pressed me to begin the work in Canada as he had done in Ireland, relying on God, without paying any attention to the opposition of man.
The wise and Christian words of that great and worthy Irish priest, came to me as the voice of God; and I determined to begin the work at once, though the whole world should be against me. I felt that if God was in my favour, I would succeed in reforming my parish and my country in spite of all the priests and bishops of the world, and I was right. Before putting the plough into the ground, I had not only prayed to God and all His saints, almost day and night, during many months, but I had studied all the best books written in England, France and the United States, on the evils wrought by the use of intoxicating drinks. I had taken a pretty good course of anatomy in the Marine Hospital under the learned Dr. Douglas.
I was then well posted on the great subject I was to bring before my country. I knew the enemy I was to attack. And the weapons which would give him the death blow were in my hands. I only wanted my God to strengthen my hands and direct my blows. I prayed to Him, and in His great mercy He heard me.
"My thoughts are not your thoughts," saith the Lord. And, we may add, His works are not like the works of man. This great truth has never been better exemplified than in the marvelous rapidity with which the great temperance reformation grew in Canada, in spite of the most formidable obstacles. To praise any man for such a work seems to me a kind of blasphemy, when it is so visibly the work of the Lord. I had hardly finished reading the letter of Ireland's Apostle of Temperance, when I fell on my knees and said: "Thou knowest, O my God, that I am nothing but a sinner. There is no light, no strength in Thy poor unprofitable servant. Therefore, come down into my heart and soul, to direct me in that temperance reform which Thou hast put into my mind to establish. Without Thee I can do nothing, but with Thee I can do all things."
This was on a Saturday night, March 20, 1839. The next morning was the first Sabbath of Lent. I said to the people after the sermon:
"I have told you, many times, that I sincerely believe it is my mission from God to put an end to the unspeakable miseries and crimes engendered every day, here in our whole country, by the use of intoxicating drink. Alcohol is the great enemy of your souls and your bodies. It is the most implacable enemy of your wives, your husbands, and your children. It is the most formidable enemy of our dear country and our holy religion. I must destroy that enemy. But I cannot fight alone. I must form an army and raise a banner in your midst, around which all the soldiers of the Gospel will rally. Jesus Christ Himself will be our general. He will bless and sanctify us—He will lead us to victory. The next three days will be consecrated by you and by me in preparing to raise that army. Let all those who wish to fill its ranks, come and pass these three days with me in prayer and meditation before our sacred altars. Let even those who do not want to be soldiers of Christ, or to fight the great and glorious battles which are to be fought, come through curiosity, to see a most marvelous spectacle. I invite every one of you, in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom alcohol nails anew to the cross every day. I invite you in the name of the holy Virgin Mary, and of all the saints and angels of God, who are weeping in heaven for the crimes committed every day by the use of intoxicating drinks. I invite you in the names of the wives whom I see here in your midst, weeping because they have drunken husbands. I invite you to come in the names of the fathers whose hearts are broken by drunken children. I invite you to come in the name of so many children who are starving, naked, and made desolate by their drunken parents. I invite you to come in the name of your immortal souls, which are to be eternally damned if the giant destroyer, Alcohol, be not driven from our midst."
The next morning, at eight o'clock, my church was crammed by the people. My first address was at half-past eight o'clock, the second at 10:30 a.m., the third at 2.00 p.m., and the fourth at five. The intervals between the addresses were filled by beautiful hymns selected for the occasion. Many times during my discourse the sobs and the cries of the people were such that I had to stop speaking, to mix my sobs and my tears with those of my people. That first day seventy-five men, from among the most desperate drunkards, enrolled themselves under the banner of temperance. The second day I gave again four addresses, the effects of which were still more blessed in their result. Two hundred of my dear parishioners were enrolled in the grand army which was to fight against their implacable enemy. But it would require the hand of an angel to write the history of the third day, at the end of which, in the midst of tears, sobs, and cries of joy, three hundred more of that noble people swore, in the presence of their God, never to touch, taste, or handle the cursed drinks with which Satan inundates the earth with desolation, and fills hell with eternal cries of despair. During these three days more than two-thirds of my people had publicly taken the pledge of temperance, and had solemnly said in the presence of God, before their altars, "For the love of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of God, I promise that I will never take any intoxicating drink, except as a medicine. I also pledge myself to do all in my power, by my words and example, to persuade others to make the same sacrifice." The majority of my people, among whom we counted the most degraded drunkards, were changed and reformed, not by me, surely, but by the visible, direct work of the great and merciful God, who alone can change the heart of man.
As a great number of people from the surrounding parishes, and even from Quebec, had come to hear me the third day through curiosity, the news of that marvelous work spread very quickly throughout the whole country. The press, both French and English, were unanimous in their praises and felicitations. But when the Protestants of Quebec were blessing God for that reform, the French Canadians, at the example of their priests denounced me as a fool and heretic.
The second day of our revival I had sent messages to four of the neighbouring curates, respectfully requesting them to come and see what the Lord was doing, and help me to bless Him. But they refused. They answered my note with their contemptuous silence. One only, the Rev. Mr. Roy, curate of Charlesbourg, deigned to write me a few words, which I cope here:
Rev. Mr. Chiniquy, Curate of Beauport.
My dear Confrere:- Please forgive me if I cannot forget the respect I owe to myself, enough to go and see your fooleries.
Pierre Roy. Charlesbourg, March 5th, 1839.
The indignation of the bishop knew no bounds. A few days after, he ordered me to go to his palace and give an account of what he called my "strange conduct." When alone with me he said: "Is it possible, Mr. Chiniquy, that you have so soon forgotten my prohibition not to establish that ridiculous temperance society in your parish? Had you compromised yourself alone by that Protestant comedy—for it is nothing but that—I would remain silent, in my pity for you. But you have compromised our holy religion by introducing a society whose origin is clearly heretical. Last evening, the venerable Grand Vicar Demars told me that you would sooner or later become a Protestant, and that this was your first step. Do you not see that the Protestants only praise you? Do you not blush to be praised only by heretics? Without suspecting it, you are just entering a road which leads to your ruin. You have publicly covered yourself with such ridicule that I fear your usefulness is at an end, not only in Beauport, but in all my diocese. I do not conceal it from you: my first thought, when an eye-witness told me yesterday what you had done, was to interdict you. I have been prevented from taking that step only by the hope that you will undo what you have done. I hope that you will yourself dissolve that anti-Catholic association, and promise to put an end to those novelties, which have too strong a smell of heresy to be tolerated by your bishop."
I answered: "My lord, your lordship has not forgotten that it was absolutely against my own will that I was appointed curate of Beauport; and God knows that you have only to say a word, and, without a murmur, I will give you my resignation, that you may put a better priest at the head of that people, which I consider, and which is really, to-day the noblest and the most sober people of Canada. But I will put a condition to the resignation of my position. It is, that I will be allowed to publish before the world that the Rev. Mr. Begin, my predecessor, has never been troubled by his bishop for having allowed his people, during twenty-three years, to swim in the mire of drunkenness; and that I have been disgraced by my bishop, and turned out from that same parish, for having been the instrument, by the mercy of God, in making them the most sober people in Canada."
The poor bishop felt, at once, that he could not stand on the ground he had taken with me. He was a few moments without knowing what to say. He saw also that his threats had no influence over me, and that I was not ready to undo what I had done. After a painful silence of a minute or two, he said: "Do you not see that the solemn promises you have extorted from those poor drunkards are rash and unwise; they will break them at the first opportunity? Their future state of degradation, after such an excitement, will be worse than the first."
I answered: "I would partake of your fears if that change were my work; but as it is the Lord's work, we have nothing to fear. The works of men are weak, and of short duration, but the works of God are solid and permanent. About the prophecy of the venerable Mr. Demars, that I have taken my first step towards Protestantism by turning a drunken into a sober people, I have only to say that if that prophecy be true, it would show that Protestantism is more apt than our holy religion to work for the glory of God and the good of the people. I hope that your lordship is not ready to accept that conclusion, and that you will not then trouble yourself with the premises. The venerable grand Vicar, with many other priests, would do better to come and see what the Lord is doing in Beauport, than to slander me and turn false prophets against its curate and people. My only answer to the remarks of your lordship, that the Protestants alone praise me, when the Roman Catholic priests and people condemn me, proves only one thing, viz., that Protestants, on this question, understand the Word of God, and have more respect for it than we Roman Catholics. It would prove also that they understand the interests of humanity better than we do, and that they have more generosity than we have, to sacrifice their selfish propensities to the good of all. I take the liberty of saying to your lordship, that in this, as in many other things, it is high time that we should open our eyes to our false position.
"Instead of remaining at the lowest step of the ladder of one of the most Christian virtues, temperance, we must raise ourselves to the top, where Protestants are reaping so many precious fruits. Besides, would your lordship be kind enough to tell me why I am denounced and abused here, and by my fellow-priests and my bishop, for forming a temperance society in my parish, when Father Mathew, who wrote me lately to encourage and direct me in that work, is publicly praised by his bishops and blessed by the Pope for covering Ireland with temperance societies? Is your lordship ready to prove to me that Samson was a heretic in the camp of Israel when he fulfilled the promise made by his parents that he would never drink any wine, or beer; and John the Baptist, was not he a heretic and a Protestant as I am, when, to obey the voice of God, he did what I do to-day, with my dear people of Beauport?"
At that very moment, the sub-secretary entered to tell the bishop that a gentleman wanted to see him immediately on pressing business, and the bishop abruptly dismissed me, to my great comfort; and my impression was that he was as glad to get rid of me as I was to get rid of him.
With the exception of the Secretary, Mr. Cazeault, all the priests I met that day and the next month, either gave me the cold shoulder or over-whelmed me with their sarcasms. One of them who had friends in Beauport, was bold enough to try to go through the whole parish to turn me into ridicule by saying that I was half crazy, and the best thing the people could do was to drink moderately to my health when they went to town. But at the third house he met a woman, who, after listening to the bad advice he was giving to her husband, said to him: "I do not know if our pastor is a fool in making people sober, but I know you are a messenger of the devil, when you advise my husband to drink again. You know that he was one of the most desperate drunkards of Beauport. You personally know also what blows I have received from him when he was drunk; how poor and miserable we were; how many children had to run on the streets, half naked, and beg in order not to starve with me! Now that my husband has taken the pledge of temperance, we have every comfort; my dear children are well fed and clothed, and I find myself as in a little paradise. If you do not go out of this house at once, I will turn you out with my broomstick." And she would have fulfilled her promise, had not the priest had the good sense to disappear at the "double quick."
The next four months after the foundation of the society in Beauport, my position when with the other priests was very painful and humiliating. I consequently avoided their company as much as possible. And, as for my bishop, I took the resolution never to go and see him, except he should order me into his presence. But my merciful God indemnified me by the unspeakable joy I had in seeing the marvelous change wrought by Him among my dear people. Their fidelity in keeping the pledge was really wonderful, and soon became the object of admiration of the whole city of Quebec, and of the surrounding country. The change was sudden, so complete and so permanent, that the scoffing bishop and priests, with their friends, had, at last, to blush and be silent.
The public aspect of the parish was soon changed, the houses were repaired, the debts paid, the children well clad. But what spoke most eloquently about the marvelous reform was that the seven thriving saloons of Beauport were soon closed, and their owners forced to take other occupations. Peace, happiness, abundance, and industry, everywhere took the place of the riots, fighting, blasphemies and the squalid misery which prevailed before. The gratitude and respect of that noble people for their young curate knew no bounds; as my love and admiration for them cannot be told by human words.
However, though the great majority of that good people had taken the pledge, and kept it honourably, there was a small minority, composed of the few who never had been drunkards, who had not yet enrolled themselves under our blessed banners. Though they were glad of the reform, it was very difficult to persuade them to give up their social glass! I thought it was my duty to show them in a tangible way, what I had so often proved with my words only, that the drinking of the social glass of wine, or of beer, is an act of folly, if not a crime. I asked my kind and learned friend, Dr. Douglas, to analyze, before the people, the very wine and beer used by them, to show that it was nothing else but a disgusting and deadly poison. He granted my favour. During four days that noble philanthropist extracted the alcohol, which is not only in the most common, but in the most costly and renowned wines, beer, brandy and whisky. He gave that alcohol to several cats and dogs, which died in a few minutes in the presence of the whole people.
These learned and most interesting experiments, coupled with his eloquent and scientific remarks, made a most profound impression. It was the corner-stone of the holy edifice which our merciful God built with His own hands in Beauport. The few recalcitrants joined with the rest of their dear friends. 50year13.htm