in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
The grand dinner previously described had its natural results. Several of the guests were hardly at home, when they complained of various kinds of sickness, and none was so severely punished as my friend Paquette, the curate of St. Gervais. He came very near dying, and for several weeks was unable to work. He requested the Bishop of Quebec to allow me to go to his help, which I did to the end of May, when I received the following letter:
Charlesbourgh, May 25th, 1834
Rev. Mr. C. Chiniquy:
My Dear Sir: My Lord Panet has again chosen me, this year, to accompany him in his episcopal visit. I have consented, with the condition that you should take my place, at the head of my dear parish, during my absence. For I will have no anxiety when I know that my people are in the hands of a priest who, though so young, has raised himself so high in the esteem of all those who know him.
Please come as soon as possible to meet me here, that I may tell you many things which will make your ministry more easy and blessed in Charlesbourgh.
His Lordship has promised me that when you pass through Quebec, he will give you all the powers you want to administer my parish, as if you were its curate during my absence.
Your devoted brother priest, and friend in the love and heart of Jesus and Mary,
I felt absolutely confounded by that letter. I was so young and so deficient in the qualities required for the high position to which I was so unexpectedly called. I know it was against the usages to put a young and untried priest in such a responsible post. It seemed evident to me that my friends and my superiors had strangely exaggerated to themselves my feeble capacity.
In my answer to the Rev. Mr. Bedard, I respectfully remonstrated against such a choice. But a letter received from the bishop himself, ordering me to go to Charlesbourgh, without delay, to administer that parish during the absence of its pastor, soon forced me to consider that sudden and unmerited elevation as a most dangerous, though providential trial of my young ministry. Nothing remained to be done by me but to accept the task in trembling, and with a desire to do my duty. My heart, however, fainted within me, and I shed bitter tears of anxiety. When entering into that parish for the first time, I saw its magnitude and importance. It seemed, then, more than ever evident to me that the good Mr. Bedard, and my venerable superiors, had made a sad mistake in putting such a heavy burden on my young and feeble shoulders. I was hardly twenty-four years old, and had not more than nine month's experience of the ministry.
Charlesbourgh is one the most ancient and important parishes of Canada. Its position, so near Quebec, at the feet of the Laurentide Mountains, is peculiarly beautiful. It has an almost complete command of the city, and of its magnificent port, where not less than 900 ships when received their precious cargoes of lumber. On our left, numberless ranges of white houses extend as far as the Falls of Montmorency. At our feet the majestic St. Lawrence, dashing its rapid waters on the beautiful "Isle d' Orleans." To the right, the parishes of Lorette, St. Foy, Roch, ect., with their high church steeples, reflected the sun's glorious beams; and beyond, the impregnable citadel of Quebec, with its tortuous ranges of black walls, its numerous cannon, and its high towers, like fearless sentinels, presented a spectacle of remarkable grandeur.
The Rev. Mr. Bedard welcomed me on my arrival with words of such kindness that my heart was melted and my mind confounded. He was a man about sixty-five years of age, short in stature, with a well-formed breast, large shoulders, bright eyes, and a face where the traits of indomitable energy were coupled with an expression of unsurpassed kindness.
One could not look on that honest face without saying to himself, "I am with a really good and upright man!" Mr. Bedard is one of the few priests in whom I have found a true honest faith in the Church of Rome. With an irreproachable character, he believed, with a child's faith, all the absurdities which the Church of Rome teaches, and he lived according to his honest and sincere faith.
Though the actions of our daily lives were not subjected to a regular and inexorable rule in Charlesbourgh's as in St. Charles' parsonage, there was yet far more life and earnestness in the performance of our ministerial duties.
There was less reading of learned, theological, philosophical, and historical books, but much more real labour in Mr. Bedard's than in Mr. Perras' parish; there was more of the old French aristocracy in the latter priest, and more of the good religious Canadian habitant in the former. Though both could be considered as men of the most exalted faith and piety in the Church of Rome, their piety was of a different character. In Mr. Perras' religion there was real calmness and serenity, while the religion of Mr. Bedard had more of the flash of lightning and the noise of thunder. The private religious conversations with the curate of St. Charles were admirable, but he could not speak common sense for ten minutes when preaching from his pulpit. Only once did he preach while I was his vicar, and then he was not half through his sermon before the greater part of his auditors were soundly sleeping. But who could hear the sermons of Rev. Mr. Bedard without feeling his heart moved and his soul filled with terror? I never heard anything more thrilling than his words when speaking of the judgments of God and the punishment of the wicked. Mr. Perras never fasted, except on the days appointed by the church: Mr. Bedard condemned himself to fast besides twice every week. The former never drank, to my knowledge, a single glass of rum or any other strong drink, except his two glasses of wine at dinner; but the latter never failed to drink full glasses of rum three times a day, besides two or three glasses of wine at dinner. Mr. Perras slept the whole night as a guiltless child. Mr. Bedard, almost every night I was with him, rose up, and lashed himself in the most merciless manner with leather thongs, at the end of which were small pieces of lead. When inflicting upon himself those terrible punishments, he used to recite, by heart, the fifty-first Psalm, in Latin, "Miserere mei, Deus, secundam magnam misericordiam tuam" (Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to Thy lovingkindness); and though he seemed to be unconscious of it, he prayed with such a loud voice, that I heard every word he uttered; he also struck his flesh with such violence that I could count all the blows he administered.
One day I respectfully remonstrated against such a cruel self-infliction as ruining his health and breaking his constitution: "Cher petit Frere" (dear little brother), he answered, "our health and constitution cannot be impaired by such penances, but they are easily and commonly ruined by our sins. I am one of the healthiest men of my parish, though I have inflicted upon myself those salutary and too well-merited chastisements for many years. Though I am old, I am still a great sinner. I have an implacable and indomitable enemy in my depraved heart, which I cannot subdue except by punishing my flesh. If I do not do those penances for my numberless transgressions, who will do penance for me? If I do not pay the debts I owe to the justice of God, who will pay them for me?"
"But," I answered, "has not our Saviour, Jesus Christ, paid our debts on Calvary? Has He not saved and redeemed us all by His death on the cross? Why, then, should you or I pay again to the justice of God that which has been so perfectly and absolutely paid by our Saviour?"
"Ah! my dear young friend," quickly replied Mr. Bedard, "that doctrine you hold is Protestant, which has been condemned by the Holy Council of Trent. Christ has paid our debts certainly; but not in such an absolute way that there is nothing more to be paid by us. Have you never paid attention to what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Colossians, `I fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church.' Though Christ could have entirely and absolutely paid our debts, if it had been His will, it is evident that such was not His holy will He left something behind which Paul, you, I, and every one of His disciples, should take and suffer in our flesh for His Church. When we have taken and accomplished in our flesh what Christ has left behind, then the surplus of our merits goes to the treasury of the Church. For instance, when a saint has accomplished in his flesh what Christ has left behind for his perfect sanctification, if he accomplishes more than the justice of God requires, that surplus of merits not being of any use to him, is put by God into the grand and common treasure, where it makes a fund of merits of infinite value, from which the Pope and the bishops draw the indulgences which they scatter all over the world as a dew from heaven. By the mercy of God, the penances which I impose upon myself, and the pains I suffer from these flagellations, purify my guilty soul, and raising me up from this polluting would, they bring me nearer and nearer to my God every day. I am not yet a saint, unfortunately, but if by the mercy of God, and my penances united to the sufferings of Christ, I arrive at the happy day when all my debts shall be paid, and my sins cleansed away, then if I continue those penances and acquire new merits, more than I need, and if I pay more debts than I owe to the justice of God, this surplus of merits which I shall have acquired will go to the rich treasure of the Church, from which she will draw merits to enrich the multitude of good souls who cannot do enough for themselves to pay their own debts, and to reach that point of holiness which will deserve a crown in heaven. Then the more we do penance and inflict pains on our bodies, by our fastings and floggings, the more we feel happy in the assurance of thus raising ourselves more and more above the dust of this sinful world, of approaching more and more to that state of holiness of which our Saviour spoke when He said, `Be holy as I am holy Myself.' We feel an unspeakable joy when we know that by those self-inflicted punishments we acquire incalculable merits, which enrich not only ourselves, but our Holy Church, by filling her treasures for the benefit and salvation of the souls for which Christ died on Calvary."
When Mr. Bedard was feeding my soul with these husks, he was speaking with great animation and sincerity. Like myself, he was far away from the good Father's house. He had never tasted of the bread of the children. Neither of us knew anything of the sweetness of that bread. We had to accept those husks as our only food, though it did not remove our hunger.
I answered him: "What you tell me here is what I find in all our ascetic books and theological treatises, and in the lives of all our saints. I can hardly reconcile that doctrine with what I read this morning in the 2nd chapter of Ephesians. Here is the verse in my New Testament: `But God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. By grace ye are saved....for by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, least any man should boast.'
"Now, my dear and venerable Mr. Bedard, allow me respectfully to ask, how is it possible that your salvation is only by grace, if you have to purchase it every day by tearing your flesh and lashing your body in such a fearful manner? Is it not a strange favour a very singular grace which reddens your skin with your blood, and bruises your flesh every night?"
"Dear little brother," answered Mr. Bedard, "when Mr. Perras spoke to me, in the presence of the bishop, with such deserved euloqium of your piety, he did not conceal that you had a very dangerous defect, which was to spend too much time in reading the Bible, in preference to every other of our holy books. He told us more than this. He said that you had a fatal tendency to interpret the Holy Scriptures too much according to your own mind, and in a sense which is rather more Protestant than Catholic. I am sorry to see that the curate of St. Charles was but too correct in what he told us of you. But, as he added that, though your reading too much the Holy Scriptures brought some clouds in your mind, yet when you were with him, you always ended by yielding to the sense given by our holy Church. This did not prevent me from desiring to have you in my place during my absence, and I hope I will not regret it, for we are sure that our dear young Chiniquy will never be a traitor to our holy Church."
These words, which were given with a great solemnity, mixed with the good manners of the most sincere kindness, went through my soul as a two-edged sword. I felt an inexpressible confusion and regret, and, biting my lips, I said: "I have sworn never to interpret the Holy Scriptures except according to the unanimous consent of the Holy Fathers, and with the help of God, I will fulfill my promise. I regret exceedingly to have differed for a moment from you. You are my superior by your age, your science and your piety. Please pardon me that momentary deviation from my duty, and pray that I may be as you are a faithful and fearless soldier of our holy Church to the end."
At that moment the niece of the curate came to tell us that the dinner was ready. We went to the modest, though exceedingly well spread table, and to my great pleasure that painful conversation was dropped. We had not sat at the table five minutes, when a poor man knocked at the door and asked a piece of bread for the sake of Jesus and Mary. Mr. Bedard rose from the table, went to the poor stranger, and said: "Come, my friend, sit between me and our dear little Father Chiniquy. Our Saviour was the friend of the poor: He was the father of the widow and the orphan, and we, His priests, must walk after Him. Be not troubled; make yourself at home. Though I am the curate of Charlesbourgh, I am your brother. It may be that in heaven you will sit on a higher throne than mine, if you love our Saviour Jesus Christ and His holy mother Mary, more than I do."
With these words, the best things that were on the table were put by the good old priest in the plate of the poor stranger, who with some hesitation finished by doing honour to the excellent viands.
After this, I need not say that Mr. Bedard was charitable to the poor: he always treated them as his best friends. So also was my former curate of St. Charles; and, though his charity was not so demonstrative and fraternal as that of Mr. Bedard, I had yet never seen a poor man go out of the parsonage of St. Charles whose breast ought not to have been filled with gratitude and joy.
Mr. Bedard was as exact as Mr. Perras in confessing once, and sometimes twice, every week; and, rather than fail in that humiliating act, they both, in the absence of their common confessors, and much against my feelings, several times humbly knelt at my youthful feet to confess to me.
Those two remarkable men had the same views about the immorality and the want of religion of the greater part of the priests. Both have told me, in their confidential conversations, things about the secret lives of the clergy which would not be believed were I to publish them; and both repeatedly said that auricular confession was the daily source of unspeakable depravities between the confessors and heir female as well as male penitents; but neither of them had sufficient light to conclude from those deeds of depravity that auricular confession was a diabolical institution. They both sincerely believed as I did then, that the institution was good, necessary and divine, and that it was a source of perdition to so many priests only on account of their want of faith and piety; and principally from their neglect of prayers to the Virgin Mary.
They did not give me those terrible details with a spirit of criticism against our weak brethren. Their intention was to warn me against the dangers, which were as great for me as for others. They both invariable finished those confidences by inviting me more and more to pray constantly to the mother of God, the blessed Virgin Mary, and to watch over myself, and avoid remaining alone with a female penitent; advising me also to treat my own body as my most dangerous enemy, by reducing it into subjection to the law, and crucifying it day and night.
Mr. Bedard had accompanied the Bishop of Quebec in his episcopal visits during many years, and had seen with his eyes the unmentionable plague, which was then, as it is now, devouring the very vitals of the Church of Rome. He very seldom spoke to me of those things without shedding tears of compassion over the guilty priests. My heart and my soul were so filled with an unspeakable sadness when hearing the details of such iniquities. I also felt struck with terror lest I might perish myself, and fall into the same bottomless abyss.
One day I told him what Mr. Perras had revealed to me about the distress of Bishop Plessis, when he had found that only three priests besides Mr. Perras believed in God, in his immense diocese. I asked him if there was not some exaggeration in this report. He answered, after a profound sigh: "My dear young friend: the angel could not find ten just men in Sodom my fear is that they would not find more among the priests! The more you advance in age, the more you will see that awful truth Ah! let those who stand fear, lest they fall!"
After these words he burst into tears, and went to church to pray at the feet of his wafer god!
The revelations which I received from those worthy priests did not in any way shake my faith in my Church. She even became dearer to me; just as a dear mother gains in the affection and devotedness of a dutiful son as her trials and afflictions increase. It seemed to me that after this knowledge it was my duty to do more than I had ever done to show my unreserved devotedness, respect and love to my holy and dear mother, the Church of Rome, out of which (I sincerely believed then) there was no salvation. These revelations became to me, in the good providence of God, like light-houses raised on the hidden and dreadful rocks of the sea, to warn the pilot during the dark hours of the night to keep at a distance, if he does not want to perish.
Though these two priests professed to have a most profound love and respect for the Holy Scriptures, they gave very little time to their study, and both several times rebuked me for passing too many hours in their perusal; and repeatedly warned me against the habit of constantly appealing to them against certain practices and teachings of our theologians. As good Roman Catholic priests they had no right to go to the Holy Scriptures alone to know what "the Lord saith!" The traditions of the Church were their fountain of science and light! Both of them often distressed me with the facility with which they buried out of view, under the dark clouds of their traditions, the clearest texts of Holy Scriptures which I used to quote in defense of my positions in our conversations and debates.
They both, with an equal zeal, and unfortunately with too much success, persuaded me that it was right for the Church to ask me to swear that I would never interpret the Holy Scriptures, except according to the unanimous consent of the Holy Fathers. But when I showed them that the Holy Fathers had never been unanimous in anything except in differing from one another on almost every subject they had treated; when I demonstrated by our Church historians that some Holy Fathers had very different views from ours on many subjects, they never answered my questions except by silencing me by the text: "If he does not hear the Church let him be as a heathen or a publican," and by giving me long lectures on the danger of pride and self-confidence.
Mr. Bedard had many opportunities of giving me his views about the submission which an inferior owes to his superiors. He was of one mind with Mr. Perras and all the theologians who had treated that subject. They both taught me that the inferior must blindly obey his superior, just as the stick must obey the hand which holds it; assuring me at the same time that the inferior was not responsible for the errors he commits when obeying his legitimate superior.
Mr. Bedard and Mr. Perras had a great love for their Saviour, Jesus; but the Jesus Christ whom they loved and respected and adored was not the Christ of the Gospel, but the Christ of the Church of Rome.
Mr. Perras and Mr. Bedard had a great fear, as well as a sincere love for their god, while yet they professed to make him every morning by the act of consecration. They also most sincerely believed and preached that idolatry was one of the greatest crimes a man could commit, but they themselves were every day worshiping an idol of their own creating. They were forced by their Church to renew the awful iniquity of Aaron, with this difference only, that while Aaron made his gods of melted gold, and moulded them into the figure of a calf, they made theirs with flour, baked between two heated and well polished irons, and in the form of a crucified man.
When Aaron spoke of his golden calf to the people, he said: "These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt." So likewise Mr. Bedard and Mr. Perras, showing the wafer to the deluded people, said: "Ecc agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi!" ("Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!")
These two sincere and honest priests placed the utmost confidence also in relics and scapularies. I have heard both say that no fatal accident could happen to one who had a scapular on his breast no sudden death would overtake a man who was faithful in keeping those blessed scapularies about his person. Both of them, nevertheless, died suddenly, and that too of the saddest of deaths. Mr. Bedard dropped dead on the 19th of May, 1837, at a great dinner given to his friends. He was in the act of swallowing a glass of that drink of which God says: "Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder."
The Rev. Mr. Perras, sad to say, became a lunatic in 1845, and died on the 29th of July, 1847, in a fit of delirium.
Continue to Chapter Twenty-Three
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