Tag Archives: Huguenots

Rod Dreher – Orthodox and Not

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher.  New York: Sentinel, 2020.  Hardcover, 240 pages.

Rod Dreher’s latest book has gained as much interest as his previous work, The Benedict Option.  This new offering explains the new world we’re in, the “brave new world” looming on the horizon, and how it all connects to the recent past of Eastern Europe.  Live Not By Lies also wants to provide guidance for Christians as we descend into the darkness of “soft totalitarianism.”   It looked like a promising read.  However, it turned out to be less than what I was hoping for.

The strength of this volume is in its first part:  Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.  This part is more descriptive, historical, and analytical.  Dreher explains that totalitarianism is about complete state control over actions, thought, emotions, and even what is and isn’t true.  Soft totalitarianism “is therapeutic.  It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing” (p.7).  Soft totalitarianism “masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavoured demographic groups to protect the feelings of ‘victims’ in order to bring about ‘social justice’ (p.9). 

Dreher helpfully draws historical lessons from the Eastern European experience of totalitarianism during the Cold War era.  He interviews people who lived through that horror and who see disturbing parallels developing in western democracies today.  Chapter 3, “Progressivism as Religion” is the best chapter.  It explains how the Christian faith and totalitarianism, particularly manifested with today’s woke leftists, are “best understood as competing religions” (p.56).  So far, so good.

The subtitle is “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.”  Dreher desires to help Christians dissent from the deepening soft totalitarianism.  This is the focus of the second part of Live Not By Lies, How to Live in Truth.  In this section too, there are valuable insights to be gleaned from the experiences of others who’ve endured communism in Eastern Europe.  Nevertheless, this is the weaker section of the book. 

I say that for two main reasons.  One is because I’d expect “A Manual for “Christian Dissidents” to offer authoritative guidance based on what the Bible teaches.  The Bible is mentioned here and there.  There are paraphrases from a couple of Bible passages and one direct quote.  But the Bible doesn’t appear to be foundational to Dreher’s manual.  The lived experience of people who were dissidents during the Cold War seems to be more so.

The second reason I found this section of the book weak is because of what it does, and doesn’t do, with the gospel.  In some places Dreher mentions the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  However, there’s no mention of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone.  In fact, there are places where that biblical teaching is denied by some of those interviewed by Dreher (e.g. Alexander Ogorodnikov on p.196).  Moreover, the book doesn’t emphasize how it’s the true gospel of Jesus Christ which can actually transform not only individual lives, but also entire nations.

These points won’t be surprising to those who know something of Dreher’s background.  He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993 and then to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006.  Sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church led to his departure.  However, Dreher continues to have a mostly positive view of Roman Catholicism. 

That leads me to one of the other major issues in Live Not By Lies:  its false ecumenism.  When Dreher says “Christian,” his definition includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.  It’s a definition that can’t be swallowed by a confessionally Reformed Christian.  I can grant that many of the people interviewed in this book are religious, as is Dreher.  I can grant that, in sociological terms, they and their churches are often described as “Christian” in the broad sense of being distinct from other religions.  I can grant that totalitarian persecutors don’t care about our theological differences — they will persecute the devout Roman Catholic as a “Christian” just as readily as they will the Bible-believing Protestant.  What I cannot grant is that any person who holds to the gospel-denying tenets of Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy is truly a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  As an Orthodox believer, Dreher holds otherwise.  This is a dangerous lie which we ought not to live by.    

His Orthodoxy surfaces at certain points in the book.  Dreher describes “mystical awakenings” by which God is supposed to have revealed himself (p.197).  He speaks of a prisoner who “was able to be an icon” to others (p.204) and an Orthodox father-son duo canonized as saints whose icon hangs in Dreher’s home (p.178).  Dreher quotes a Romanian Orthodox priest who says, “You, my friend, are the unique bearer of your deification in Jesus Christ…” (p.160), referring to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

Finally, Dreher’s focus is on more recent totalitarian movements.  However, a Reformed reader can’t help but think of other historic forms of totalitarianism, especially those connected with Roman Catholicism.  I think of what the Huguenots endured in France during the two centuries following the Reformation.  What Reformed believers need today is a “manual for Christian dissidents” primarily based on Scripture, but also explaining how our Huguenot brethren dissented in their day.

Live Not By Lies is worth reading, but with discernment.  It requires a cautious eye and a thoughtful mind.  To be sure, Dreher has helpful insights to offer.  But it has to be recognized that he’s not coming from a Reformed perspective, not even a Protestant or Evangelical perspective.  He has an understanding of what it means to live not by lies that’s not entirely acceptable to a Reformed Christian.  For us, living not by lies means we need to live by the truth of God’s Word as our ultimate standard.  Living not by lies means we need to uphold the truth of the biblical gospel – that there’s salvation through Jesus Christ alone.  Living not by lies means we need to experience unity with other believers only on the basis of a biblical faith.

Early Canadian Church History (4)

With Dr. Leen Joosse

With the support of Cardinal Richelieu, Samuel de Champlain was appointed governor of New France.  Both Richelieu and de Champlain were ardent supporters of the Jesuits in colonial Canada.  The policy of the Jesuits was to identify the rule of the king with the power of the Church.  They also actively supported the notion that all the colonial inhabitants and native peoples were French subjects and, as such, de facto under and within the Roman Catholic Church.  To be French was to be Roman Catholic.  It was virtually impossible for people to separate French identity from Roman Catholicism.  However, within the Roman fold, there was some room for diversity as long as the authority of the clergy was recognized.

One of the prominent Roman Catholic clergy from this period was Paul Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary and eventually superior of the order in New France.  He made efforts to infiltrate and co-opt the fur trade.  Beginning around 1638, Jesuits began training young Hurons.  They were being educated to become commercial agents who would cooperate with French interests in New France and beyond.

The Jesuits not only promoted education for First Nations, but also for the colonists.  Those living on the frontier without European-style orderly governments and laws were in danger of becoming “wild, barbarous, and disorderly peoples.”  In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull entitled Inter Caetera.  This bull mandated the education of both native peoples and colonists, so that all would be brought “to good morals.”  On this basis, the seventeenth-century Jesuits wanted Latin and Greek to be taught in their schools in New France – this would promote the cause of civilization.  This provoked a debate.  Richelieu argued that this kind of education was unnecessary for the inhabitants of New France.  The Jesuits, however, argued that unless someone leads an orderly life, receives written laws, and knows how to communicate in a civilized language, he will remain barbarous.  In their view, Inter Caetera had been clear enough on this point.

Around the same time, the idea developed among the French that the Hurons could only participate in the fur trade if they became “Christians.”  To be a trader one had to be a Christian, i.e. a baptized Roman Catholic.  The Hurons were amenable to this, but in return asked for soldiers to provide protection from the Iroquois.  Consequently, both soldiers and Jesuits began living in native villages.  The Jesuits taught the Hurons to pray and worship in the Roman manner.  Paul Le Jeune also helped the Hurons to become skilled labourers.  They became particularly adept at making copper kettles.  The Hurons became involved in all kinds of trade and were developing up to French standards.

After 1645, we find Jérôme Lalemant as the superior of the Jesuit order in New France.  He was a remarkable missionary strategist.  His thinking developed along the same lines as his predecessors.  He promoted a greater degree of discipline among the clergy.  He argued that the Jesuits should build their own villages next to the aboriginal villages.  This led to the establishment of settlements such as Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (near present-day Midland, ON) and Fort Ville-Marie (in present-day Montreal).  In such places, the Jesuits erected stone houses and wooden church buildings; they also planted large vegetable gardens and established cemeteries.  Lalemant also encouraged intermarriage between the French and First Nations as a means of bringing people into the Church.  He employed Hurons as church workers and that also advanced his missionary agenda.  Roman Catholicism was becoming deeply entrenched in the new world.  Prospects were growing dimmer for the establishment of the biblical gospel.

There were further developments around 1659 with the arrival of the first bishop for New France, François de Laval.  Laval was not a friend of the Jesuit agenda.  For their part, the Jesuits did not trust him.  However, in due time, through some adept political manoeuvring he gained the authority he wanted in Quebec.  He took a powerful role in the governance of the region and, as a result, any remaining Huguenot influence disappeared, whether in trade or in politics.  Under Laval, the colonial Quebec identity became even more intertwined with Roman Catholicism.

Back in Acadia, the Huguenots still had some room for trade and their tobacco plantations.  The governor of Acadia at this time was Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour, the son of a prominent Huguenot.  La Tour resisted the Roman Catholic clergy wherever he could.  He made it difficult for Jesuits and Capuchins to hold their masses and have people baptized.  La Tour was married three times.  His second wife was a remarkable Huguenot lady named Françoise-Marie Jacquelin – she aggressively supported her husband’s efforts.  She had no patience for the “prudent Huguenots.”  She became involved with the battle to control Acadia.  La Tour was in a power struggle with Charles de Menou d’Aulnay.  Jacquelin went back to France to muster Huguenot help, but many feared to join her.  D’Aulnay attacked Fort La Tour (near present-day Saint John, NB) while La Tour was away on business in 1645.  Jacquelin took command of the Fort while it was under siege.  Unfortunately, after four days the Fort was breached and all of its inhabitants captured.  All were executed in front of Jacquelin and she herself died three weeks later.  The Huguenot cause in Acadia suffered a loss with this defeat.  After d’Aulnay’s death in 1650, la Tour was able to again become the governor of Acadia until 1654.  However, the Huguenot presence never recovered.


During the seventeenth century, Huguenot merchants may have had the money to build and develop Reformed churches in Canada.  Yet they never did.  It is true that they took their religion with them over the Atlantic.  However, it had no lasting effect whatsoever in the St. Lawrence Valley or in Acadia.

This can be partly explained because of French royal policy and the notion that the Roman Catholics were the only representatives of Jesus Christ among the nations.  The Roman Catholic Church fostered an ecclesiastical colonialism.  Backed with military power, it introduced an aggressive (but nominal) form of politicized Christianity in Canada that lasted centuries.  As a result, Québécois identity would long be intrinsically tied up with Roman Catholicism.

The other part of the explanation rests with the Huguenots themselves and the politics of accommodation that prevailed among them.  They failed to establish Reformed Christianity in Canada due to their willingness to compromise on certain key points.  Because of French royal policy, they were content to enjoy informal worship services with simple Bible teaching and the singing of Psalms – the chanteries.  They even went so far as to utilize the sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, just as French policy required.  Moreover, while they believed they were holding to the true Christian religion, they did not aggressively promote their beliefs either by missionary efforts or with the sword.  Instead, they took a merely defensive stance and even that was comparatively weak.  Given all of that, it is not surprising that the Reformed faith failed to prosper in Canada during this era.


Early Canadian Church History (3)

With Dr. Leen Joosse

In the previous instalment, we looked at developments in the St. Lawrence Valley.  Let us now briefly turn to what happened in Acadia (or Nova Scotia as we know it today) from about 1603 onwards.  Pierre Du Gua de Monts gathered about 120 people from France who were willing to migrate across the Atlantic.  Eventually they came to Acadia and in 1605 built Port Royal, at the site of present-day Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.   They also established a friendly relationship with the Micmac nation.  Following French policy, de Monts was accompanied by Roman Catholic priests.  However, he and his colonists were also served by some Huguenot pastors.

While travelling overseas, one of the priests constantly debated a Reformed pastor about the true scriptural religion.  Once they settled in Acadia, these debates dragged on.  Sometimes the two men would even get into physical fights.  When this happened, the victor would be supported by those who had been eagerly watching.  The natives applauded these conflicts as well and would cheer for the victor, especially when he made an ostentatious display at the end.    In the end, both church leaders died and colonists buried them in the same grave saying, “Let them have peace together now.”

De Monts went back to France in 1606.  He left Jean de Poutrincourt in command as governor of Port Royal.  De Poutrincourt made more progress in the fur trade.  In that same year, 1606, de Poutrincourt persuaded a notable Frenchmen, Marc Lescarbot, to visit Acadia.  Lescarbot was a well-educated lawyer, a politician, and appears to have been a Huguenot.  He was mandated to teach the colonists – men, women, and children – and also the local First Nations.  The idea was that Lescarbot would purposely and actively spread the gospel.  Every Sunday he conducted worship services at Port Royal.  He taught the Bible and gave a Christian education to all the colonists who wanted to be taught in the fear of the Lord God.  Lescarbot did not spend long in Acadia, however.  In 1607, together with most of the other colonists, he went back to France.

The efforts just outlined met with opposition from the Jesuits.  The governor of the Port Royal settlement was obligated to not merely tolerate, but also accommodate the Jesuits and their activities.  Here we must be aware of the situation back in France.  The Reformed churches were divided into two parties at this time, particularly among those holding leadership positions in society.  Some Huguenot noblemen argued that a Christian was to aggressively oppose the Roman Catholic government wherever and however possible, even by the sword if necessary.  They became known as a Reformed party endorsing a politicized religion similar to the Roman Catholics.  However, de Poutrincourt and other Huguenots in Canada belonged to what was known as the “prudent” party.  They were more pragmatic in their approach to these issues.  They were called “prudent Huguenots” because they rejected aggressive political opposition to the ruling authorities as being disobedience to the Fifth Commandment.

With that “prudence” in mind, the Huguenots allowed Jesuits to shape the religious culture of Acadia.  At the same time, Lescarbot and others were encouraged to conduct Huguenot meetings.  Huguenot chanteries (song-services) would be held with regular Bible preaching, the study of Scripture and, especially, the singing of Psalms.  Yet when someone needed to be baptized, the Huguenots were required to make use of and attend the Roman Catholic Church.  Their children had to be baptized by a priest.  Because of their moderate politics, the Acadian Huguenots recognized and accepted Roman Catholic baptism.  Something similar happened with the mass.  They received bread and wine out of the hands of the priests because they acknowledged them to be servants of Christ.  The Huguenots recognized that the Roman Catholics also believed in the person of the Lord Jesus, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  They argued that the strengthening of one’s faith did not depend on the person administering the sacraments, but on the gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit – so long as they personally used the sacraments in faith.  The Huguenots would go along with the Roman Catholics as long they could personally read the Bible and receive Bible teaching in their chanteries.  The Huguenot leaders in Acadia urged their people to accept the true teaching of the Bible and endorse the true religion (the Reformed faith) in their hearts.

So, from the outset the Reformed religion was spread in some limited way in Acadia.  Yet, churches were not instituted and church buildings were not raised.  Owing to a lack of pastors and to a conscious non-aggressive policy, the Huguenots laid a foundation for nominal Christianity in Canada both in the St. Lawrence Valley and in Acadia during the first period of 1598 to 1629.

A Remarkable Interim Period

In 1629 something remarkable happened.  The Huguenots gained some authority in Canada.  How did this come to pass?

Étienne Brûlé was a young Roman Catholic explorer in early Canada.  He had lived among the Hurons for quite a while.  This caused some consternation amongst the Jesuits and civil authorities in New France.  Consequently, in 1625, Samuel de Champlain had him expelled from Canada.  He went back to France and ended up among the Huguenots in the Reformed stronghold of La Rochelle.  The Scottish merchant family of Gervase Kirke had also settled in that area some years earlier.  In 1627-1628, La Rochelle was besieged by Cardinal Richelieu and French royal troops.  The siege was successful and La Rochelle fell to the Roman Catholic forces.  Along with many Huguenots and Brûlé, the Kirke family was forced to flee.  They went to England and there became involved with a plot to take Acadia and New France away from the French.  Gervase Kirke and some others sent out three small armed ships – they were commanded by the Kirke sons, David, Lewis, and Thomas.  They set sail with orders from the English king Charles I to take the French possessions in the name of England.  With the navigational assistance of the disaffected Étienne Brûlé, Quebec and Acadia were successfully invaded by the Kirke brothers.  David Kirke became the commander of Quebec.  He was able to pacify the French in the area so that they did not flee New France.  He arranged for a new Council in which Huguenots held the majority – his captain, Jacques Michel, became one of the councillors.

But then David Kirke became too friendly with the Roman Catholic clergy.  The ardent Huguenot captain Jacques Michel protested, but there was no stopping the chain of events.  Quebec was eventually lost due to conciliatory attitudes and actions.  Also, the English made peace with the French in 1632 and this led to the English pulling out of New France.  From that time forward, the star of Richelieu and de Champlain continued rising.  The Huguenots hardly had any more opportunity to continue and maintain their religious education in Canada – the exception being in Acadia.  This was a new era.

This era would continue until 1685.  That was the year King Louis XIV prohibited any Huguenots from practicing their Reformed religion.  As a result, a stream of refugees spread all over the world from France – many of them would eventually end up on the east coast of North America, especially in present day New York state and New Jersey.

In our last instalment, we’ll look at the end of the Huguenot experience in New France and Acadia.

Early Canadian Church History (2)

With Dr. Leen Joosse

The St. Lawrence Valley to 1629

Because of French royal and ecclesiastical policy, the Huguenots were also obliged to take Roman Catholic priests with them overseas.  The Romanist clergy were mandated to provide pastoral care for the colonists.  However, Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit took along some Reformed pastors as well to support his plans and the Calvinist colonists.  Samuel de Champlain accompanied de Chauvin de Tonnetuit as his secretary – de Champlain had likely been born into a Calvinist family, but by this time he was a Roman Catholic.  From his reports we learn of the presence of Huguenot pastors in New France, although he did not record their names.

Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit was to clear lands and establish a ‘seigneurie’ (county or district) along the same lines as what the French had in their own country.  He and Pierre Du Gua de Monts were to provide for each colonist in terms of labour and the costs of living.  These merchants were reluctant to engage in colonization, even to a modest extent.  Instead, commerce was begun with the native peoples and the fur-trade began in the valley.  Travelling along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, the armed agents of de Monts won the confidence and respect of the aboriginal population.  They played a major role in the fur trade in this region.  From 1609 to 1615, they were extremely successful in expanding trade into the interior and helped to draw the Hurons into the existing alliance with the Montagnais and Algonquian.

Consequently, the Huguenot settlers in New France focussed on commerce rather than agriculture.  This led to their familiarity with the ancient trails used by the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.  However, it was only later in this period that the Iroquois allowed Frenchmen to travel deeper into the interior.  Hurons gradually became the most important middlemen between the French and all other First Nations.  The goods began flowing; copper kettles, alcohol, and weaponry were exchanged for fur that the French could use for luxury clothing items.  The French regarded hunting and trapping as consistent with biblical principles, since human beings were supposed to wear clothes.  They also saw the exchange of goods with native peoples as a way to transmit Christian culture, since the native people would see the value that the French put on clothing.

In the meantime, a Political Council was appointed to govern the St. Lawrence seigneurie, as well as the seigneurie of Acadia.  As of 1612, they would be ruled as one region.  Henry of Bourbon, the prince of Condé, was appointed as governor.  He was charged to supervise New France on behalf of the French king, together with the Political Council in New France.  They would carry this out alongside the trade company and its board.  Samuel de Champlain became the lieutenant-governor.  In 1618 a leader from among the First Nations was also granted a seat on the Council.  He received a French hat – a peculiar gesture from our perspective, but an important mark of equality in that context.  The Dutch Reformed pastors in the New York area were known to wear hats with a silver band to give credibility to their authority.  In north-eastern Brazil around the same time, the Dutch colonists would also give hats to indigenous leaders such as Nhandui, a powerful Tapuya chief.  This allowed him to be perceived as being on the same level as the Dutch colonial leaders.  Similarly, the native leader in Quebec would take his seat in the Council by making a flamboyant French gesture with his hat.  Then he would be seated next to the other council members as a peer among equals.

Now all of that tells us something about the economic and social situation.  But did the Huguenots also introduce their Christian beliefs?

From the outset, the Huguenots had several strategies.  First, colonists began to meet every Sunday.  They organized open air worship services aboard ships and in the houses they built.  They did not endeavour to build churches because they were satisfied simply to have some place to gather.  Besides, the French government did not allow public meetings other than those conducted by the Roman Catholic priests.  Therefore, the Huguenots were prevented from building something.  They avoided conflict with the government in New France.

Nevertheless, they would have their gatherings for worship.  They would sing psalms – Psalm 68 and Psalm 79 were favourites.  There was preaching as well, but it was really the singing that stands out in the historical record.  Their gatherings became known as “chanteries.”  From the complaints of the Jesuits in this region we learn that the Genevan melodies of Clement Marot were sung loudly.

Furthermore, agents were sent with Huron interpreters to penetrate deeper into the interior.  Many young soldiers went into the woods and visited hidden villages.  They became familiar with native customs and won friendships with the Montagnais and Algonquians.  Gradually they even took over some of their lifestyle and culture.  Since these endeavours were oriented to the fur trade, the emphasis fell on transforming native people by setting an example of Christian behaviour.

Also, some young native people were sent to Paris to receive an education.  The French hoped that these native people would be overwhelmed with their immersion into French culture.  They envisioned that they would adopt the Christian culture and be willing to spread the message of change through Christianity.   However, this was an unrealized ideal since it met with fierce opposition from the French crown and government.  They required the promotion and expansion of the Roman Catholic Church overseas, including in the St. Lawrence Valley.  Additionally, the French regime promoted the development of agriculture instead of trade.

While the Protestants were making efforts to develop the fur trade, Samuel de Champlain was making plans to bring more Roman Catholics overseas.  He urged the French king to send plenty of Roman Catholic Frenchmen from the streets and all kinds of orphanages.  De Champlain wanted to spread the Roman Church through immigration, but his plans did not meet with any success until 1632.  In that year, de Champlain was appointed governor of New France and his plans began to fall into place.  In his mind colonists were to work the land and he also urged the Six Nations to become farmers.  Hence, repeatedly he overtured the French government to publicize the availability of free farmland.  He also encouraged the exploration and development of more farmland in the St. Lawrence Valley.  The Jesuits endorsed his plans, but the trade company did everything to resist.

Meanwhile, Pierre Du Gua de Monts died and Guillaume de Caen replaced him.  He was a Huguenot as well.  De Caen charged the trade company to follow the articles of the Edict of Nantes – that meant that there was to be a certain degree of toleration for the Reformed religion.  That is why “chanteries” continued along the St. Lawrence River at places such as Cap Tourmente (just downriver from present-day Quebec City).

Nevertheless, church buildings were not erected by the Huguenots.  Moderate church politics prevailed.  Because the Reformed people obeyed the Roman Catholic government, one does not find anywhere a Huguenot church building from the seventeenth century in the St. Lawrence Valley.  Yet, the Reformed believers did seriously worship our Lord God.

De Champlain was powerful and had some say in all sorts of developments.  Still, the trade company was able to push its trade and mild ecclesiastical politics forward until 1629.  Many people, especially aboriginals, detested de Champlain’s Roman Catholic politics, his policy of migration, and of agriculture.  As a consequence, the trade company worked together with First Nations to help English merchants and the English crown get a toehold in this area in 1629.  For a brief period, the French Roman Catholic authorities were driven out and the English took possession of the St. Lawrence Valley, including Quebec City.  Quebec had been established as the capital of New France through the efforts of the Jesuits.  Meanwhile, elsewhere the Scottish took Acadia and established the colony of Nova Scotia.  We’ll look at that history in our next instalment.

Early Canadian Church History (1)

With Leen Joosse

On the European continent scholars are continuously exploring past methods of colonization.  These days they are especially interested in researching the relationship of Europeans with aboriginals on the other side of the Atlantic.  It is now clear that colonization has never been a one-sided development.  Both sides, natives and Europeans alike, have experienced benefits and losses.  These investigations have implied a reassessment of what Christian culture was about and what kind of religion had been promoted in the transformation of the Americas.

There has been a surge of interest also in the historic relationships between Europe and what we today call Canada.  Europeans identified themselves as colonizers and migrants identified themselves as Christians when they met native inhabitants.  There are also the questions of what kind of Christianity was introduced into Canada, how it was introduced, and why.  The French Huguenots in Canada had a unique self-understanding with regard to being Calvinists and how they interacted with First Nations during the seventeenth century.  This was different from the Reformed Dutch in the new world.  Whereas the Dutch focussed on planting churches (for example, in today’s New York State), French Calvinists were engaged merely in spreading the gospel in Canada.  Consequently, we find no Protestant church buildings from the early period in either the area around the St. Lawrence River or in Nova Scotia.  Instead, there are only Roman Catholic buildings.  It may be instructive to explore the origin of Christianity in Canada in order to understand the way French Calvinists acted.

France and the Americas

During the sixteenth century, European nations were looking for a new western route to China.  This is why the other side of the Atlantic Ocean was explored.  French sailors thought they could discover a route to China and to the East Indies by travelling west.  They met the St. Lawrence River and the land which is nowadays called Canada.  When word of this reached the French king, he urged his people to begin colonizing whatever area could be taken from the indigenous nations.

This situation has to be understood in its Roman Catholic context.  The Roman pope deemed the whole world to be under his dominion.  Therefore, he thought he could claim all authority to distribute the lands and nations in the name of Christ to the governments of Roman Catholic kings as his papal representatives, whether in Italy, Spain, or Portugal.  This he did in the famous Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 – the agreement which divided up the Americas between Spain and Portugal.

The Roman Catholic king of France also acted as one of the owners of the world on the other side of the Atlantic.  He did this wherever French fishermen and merchants operated and the peoples in those areas were regarded automatically as his French subjects.  He also promoted the expeditions of Jacques Cartier in 1532 and 1541 and Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval in 1541-1543.  They were mandated to gain control over the St. Lawrence Valley and have it colonized.  However, these sixteenth century efforts ultimately failed due to conflicts between the colonists and the Iroquois.  The Iroquois did not think that the French behaved as those who owned the land.

During this period, the Wars of Religion were raging in France.  Consequently, persecuted Reformed people fled from France.  Slightly earlier, John Calvin and Admiral Gaspar de Coligny encouraged Reformed church members to spread the gospel across the Atlantic by means of colonization.  Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon gathered about 600 people and started a colony in South America in 1555.  He landed in present-day Brazil in the area of Rio de Janeiro.  Working together with the native inhabitants, they established a colony and a military fort (Fort Coligny).  They clearly showed a desire to be Reformed.  Unfortunately, the leader of the colony, Villegaignon, went back to the Roman Catholic Church and then turned on the Reformed colonists, even killing many.  This persecution led to the first Protestant martyrs in the new world and the first Reformed confession to be written in the Americas.  As they were waiting in prison for their date with the executioner, Reformed pastor Jean du Bordel wrote a confession with the help of his colleagues Matthieu Vermeuil, Pierre Bourdon, and André la Fon.  The Guanabara Confession contained sixteen articles and it was meant to be an outward-looking witness both to the Roman Catholics and to the pagan Brazilians.

Much further north, where the royal plans for colonization had come to nothing up till 1598, the French king Henry IV took a different tack.  He wanted to stimulate private enterprise.  That led to his allowing Huguenots to renew their efforts to build colonies in North America.  Let’s now turn to the beginnings of New France and consider how Reformed people introduced Calvinism into this new environment.

The Early Beginnings

The period of 1623 to 1629 is often remembered as the time in which the famous Roman Catholic Samuel de Champlain was married to a Calvinist lady.  However, this period should really be understood as the era of a fierce struggle between the Huguenots and Jesuits in Canada.  They were struggling on several fronts, including and especially with the planting of true Christian religion among colonists and First Nations.  What happened?

French, Spanish, and Basque fishermen became familiar with the coastal areas of the east and their peoples, especially in the area of Newfoundland.  They did not see any need to live in that area on a permanent basis.  They just built temporary settlements for whaling and fishing.  Meanwhile, they gradually became better acquainted with the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the Montagnais along the St. Lawrence, and the Huron peoples of the Georgian Bay region.  Only once the fur trade began was the need felt for establishing permanent settlements.  Colonization really began with economic interests in mind.  Colonists needed to ask permission and pay for the documents required from the French crown to settle down overseas.

The hat making industry in Paris led to increased demand for fur.  This is why merchants were urged by King Francis I to take control of territories and not just to trade with the natives.  He also endorsed private enterprises among the Huguenots.  Merchants were to provide themselves with personnel and materials so as to be able to live in New France.  This king also considered all inhabitants of New France to be his subjects whether they were colonists or aboriginals.  However, Huguenot merchants did not respond well to this imperialistic notion.  Their trade company was mandated to work overseas with the Six Nations in terms of a partnership or alliance, rather than as imperialistic colonizers.

Thereafter several wealthy merchants planted colonies overseas.  In 1598, Queen Catherine de Medici (wife of Henry IV and niece of a pope who favoured the Jesuits) granted a fur-trade contract to Troilus de Mesgouez.  She then named him lieutenant-general of New France.  Then there was an important Huguenot merchant, Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit.  He was from Dieppe and he also obtained a royal monopoly for the fur trade and a charter to establish a colony overseas.  Having enlisted some 500 colonists and the required material, he sailed across the ocean and landed near Tadoussac, in the mouth of the St. Lawrence.  A third man, a renowned Huguenot from Saintonge, Pierre Du Gua de Monts, also started a commercial enterprise with a royal grant in 1603.   After his arrival, however, he realized that he did not like the climate of the St. Lawrence Valley.  Therefore, he eventually moved to the coastal area of Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia) and settled there.

In our next instalment, we’ll look at what happened in the St. Lawrence Valley from 1598 to 1629.  Then, later, we’ll look further at the developments among Calvinists in Acadia during this same period.