Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The instructions and pastoral letters of Lartigue

Jean-Jacques Lartigue[1] became bishop of Montreal in 1836 having been its auxiliary suffragan bishop responsible to the archbishop of Quebec since 1821 and sent the flock in his diocese two injunctions and three pastoral letters[2] concerning the rebellions of 1837-1838. From 1829, however, relations between the Patriote party and the bishops deteriorated rapidly.[3] Taking issue with the aims pursued by the leaders of the assembly, particularly in the Schools Act of 1829 and the 1831 bill on fabriques, in which could be sensed the influence of eighteenth century French deistic liberalism and a strong democratic tendency, Lartigue led a counter-offensive; it would defeat the liberals’ attempts to limit the influence of the church on the people and to define French Canadian society in terms other than its religious affiliation. Worried by the rise of an increasingly aggressive and demanding French Canadian nationalism and by the clearly revolutionary tone of the radical political leaders, who scarcely inspired confidence in him and in the end he utterly opposed them. He noticed with alarm that the movement to emancipate the Canadians was going ahead without the church, indeed was proceeding against it, and that the small degree of freedom the Canadian church had managed to obtain was threatened by both the British government and the Canadian politicians themselves.

Lartigue’s first injunction was dated 24 October 1837 at the time of the Assembly of the Six Comtés at Saint-Charles and two days after a demonstration by 1,200 Patriotes in front of the Cathedral of Saint-Jacques. They were protesting against the sermon given by Lartigue on 25 July at the ceremony when Ignace Bourget was consecrated as Lartigue’s coadjutor with the right of succession.[4] Lartigue had used this occasion to remind the clergy and the congregation of the Catholic Church’s attitude to rebellion against lawful authorities. On 27 July, La Minerve responded telling the clergy to ‘de se renfermer dans les bornes de leurs attributions et de ne pas se mêler de politique’ while the previous day, Ami du peuple headed its article on Lartigue ‘La Religion contre M. Papineau’.

The first pastoral letter restated the traditional doctrine of the Church to ‘the obedience due to authority’ thus condemning the actions of the Patriote leadership. At the same time, along with the moderate wing of the Patriote party he cast serious doubt on the wisdom and validity of the radicals’ policy, which he considered as imprudent as it was harmful. In support of his position, Lartigue cited the classical texts of St Paul and St Peter, the witnesses of the Fathers of the Church and also used passages from two more recent texts by Pope Gregory XVI: encyclical Mirari vos of 15 August 1832 that condemned the propositions, deemed revolutionary, that La Mennais, who had shifted from ultramontanism to liberalism, had developed in his Paris paper L’Avenir and the Bull to the bishops of Poland of July 1832. He rejected the argument, which he judged as fallacious, in favour of popular sovereignty evoking the ‘horreurs d’une guerre civile, les ruisseaux de sang inondant vos rues et vos campagnes’ and adding that ‘presque sans exception, toute Révolution populaire est une oeuvre sanguinaire comme le prouve l’expérience. Finally he turned to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘l’auteur du Contrat social, le grand fauteur de la souveraineté du peuple qui dit quelque part qu’une Révolution serait achetée trop cher, si elle coûtait une seule goutte de sang.’ However, he refrained from threatening ecclesiastical sanctions against those in his diocese who did not respect his instructions.

This letter was not well-received by Patriotes who saw it as had been the case in July of priests meddling in politics and in the Montreal area, several congregations left their churches when the letter was being read.[5] La Minerve on 30 October was particularly critical.

Comme gardien de la morale chrétienne sans invitation aucune de la part du pouvoir exécutif, sans l’espoir de récompense qu’il repousse, monseigneur se dit forcé de dire quelles sont les maximes de la morale chrétienne. Il cite nombre des textes bien connus et souvent répétés pour dire: qu’il faut être soumis aux puissances: au prince; et qu’il n’est pas permis de se révolter.

The paper acknowledged the principle put forward by the Church

Vous avez raison et nous sommes d’accord, mais malheureusement vous oubliez qui a commencé la rébellion! Vous ne vous rappelez pas que c’est cette puissance exécutive à laquelle vous prêchez obéissance et soumission? Vous êtes assez au fait des événements du jour pour savoir que c’est la puissance exécutive qui s’est rebellée contre la loi... 

La Minerve accepted that the mandement protected a certain view of Chistian morality but deplored the submission of the Church to the will of a colonial executive that, it believed, was responsible for the popular Patriote agitation. For La Minerve, Lartigue’s mandement de Lartigue defended the aggressor at the expense of the abused and advocated ‘Soumission et obéissance passive à la puissance, au prince, au gouvernement.’

Equally critical was Etienne Chartier, the curé of Saint-Benoît who challenged the justification on which the pastoral letter was based. According to Gilles Chaussé

...tout en se dissociant des propos du curé de Saint-Benoît, une part importante du clergé entretenait néanmoins des doutes sérieux sur l’à-propos du geste de son évêque et sur la doctrine du mandement concernant l’obéissance inconditionnelle due au souverain et à ses représentants. [6]

The Ami du peuple, by contrast, took the side of the constitutionalists in its editorial on 30 October 1837

Depuis longtemps nous attendions quelques démarches de la part des autorités ecclésiastiques, nous étions surpris que dans ces temps de trouble et de désordre l’église ne vint point interposer sa puissance bienfaisante et faire des efforts pour arrêter les malheurs qui menacent le peuple; nous avons eu satisfaction de voir que si noire attente a été un peu longue elle n’a pas été vaine et que le chef de l’église de Montréal vient de se prononcer d’une manière qui n’est nullement équivoque...

It was more favourably disposed to Lartigue’s intervention arguing that he had taken a moral not a political stance

Si la politique se bornait ici à des discussions parlementaires ou à des discussions de gazettes, si chacun selon son opinion s’efforçait de faire triompher son parti, sans porter atteinte à l’ordre public et à la morale, nous sommes assurés que notre clergé ne songerait nullement à intervenir...

Recent actions by the Patriotes especially the boycott of colonial goods to reduce duties paid to the colonial administration extended the agitation that began in the Assembly and the Ami du peuple, maintained that Lartigue was justified in registering his opposition to the challenge to the established order.

Ce n’est pas en effet sous le rapport politique que le clergé et l’évêque de Montréal envisagent la question des affaires du jour, c’est sous le rapport moral et religieux, et certes ils en ont le droit.

If the first pastoral letter has been seen by a religious historian as a document both ‘doctrinal and paternal’, the tone of the second pastoral letter was far more assertive. [7] Dated 8 January 1838, a little less than a month after the Patriote defeat, the document demanded expiatory actions:

...pour faire à Dieu réparation publique de tous les sacrilèges, meurtres, pillages, trahisons et autres crimes commis dans ce district, pendant la crise insurrectionnelle que nous avons éprouvée.

He called for the celebration of a solemn mass followed by different prayers and sermons. He also exhorted the congregations to fast, give alms and prays ‘apaiser la colère de Dieu’ and that priests should ‘exciter leurs peuples à la pénitence’. He attacked the Patriotes as brigands and rebels and accused them of having ‘égaré une partie de la population de son diocèse à force de sophismes et de mensonges’, but also of having spread disorder, arson and civil and religious disobedience. He reproached them for having made themselves rich from plunder and for demoralising the young and above all he accused them of killing people in cold-blood people who ‘n’avaient d’autres torts à leurs yeux, que celui de ne pas partager leurs opinions politiques’. Lartigue evidently did not consider this the right occasion to remind his congregations of his previous pastoral letter and finished with a revealing phrase:

Mais vous n’oublierez plus à l’avenir que, lorsqu’il s’agit d’éclairer votre conscience sur des questions difficiles, délicates, et qui regardent le salut de vos âmes, c’est à vos Pasteurs qu’il faut vous adresser...

Of the three circular letters send to the clergy of the diocese of Montreal about the rebellions, that of 26 December 1837 concerned an address signed by all the Protestant clergy indicating their loyalty and that of their congregations to the British Crown. The other two dealt with the celebrations of masses for actions of grace (6 February 1838) and for public order (20 November 1838) because of the ‘derniers troubles civils qui malheureusement ont éclaté dans notre Diocèse’.

Events vindicated Lartigue. After suffering defeat at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu and then at Saint-Eustache, the Patriotes lost faith in their leaders, particularly when they were abandoned by several. Despite the unfavourable reactions at first provoked by his intervention, even within a section of the clergy, Lartigue soon appeared as a true leader, independent, lucid, anxious to merit his compatriots’ confidence and capable of proposing to them a more realistic programme than that of the Patriote leaders. Two developments convinced the French Canadians of the selflessness of Lartigue and their other religious leaders, who had rallied around him.  On 9 November 1837, at the request of the parish priests from the Richelieu valley, he endorsed a petition for the rights of Canadians that all the priests in Lower Canada signed. As well, he and his coadjutor brought support to the unfortunate victims who were filling the prisons, particularly after the abortive uprising on the night of 3-4 November 1838. Meanwhile, late in January 1838 Lartigue had interceded with Lord Gosford to get the government in London to agree not to alter the constitution of Lower Canada or impose union of the two Canadas, as the faction supporting union from 1822 ardently desired. When in the spring of 1839 word came of the recommendations in the report by Lord Durham that were designed to ‘anglicise’ and ‘decatholicise’ the French Canadians by a legislative union and a system of non-denominational schools, Lartigue encouraged his clergy to sign a new petition to the queen, the House of Lords and the Commons in order to oppose the plan. At this decisive moment in the history of French Canada, when the French Canadians found themselves abandoned, even misled by their political leaders, the religious leaders had stepped in and put themselves at the service of the nation. The Catholic Church thereupon regained the authority it had exercised over French Canadian society before the introduction of parliamentary institutions and became a political force with which the new Canadian leaders, more moderate and more reasonable, would have to reckon.

Lartigue, who had been ill for a number of years, died on 19 April 1840. The press, Le Canadian in particular, unanimously stressed the greatness of his episcopate. More than 10,000 people attended his funeral in the church of Notre-Dame on 22 April. As many more were present the next day in the cathedral of Saint-Jacques to hear Bishop Bourget pay him a final tribute. With the death of the first bishop of Montreal the Catholic and ultramontane reaction, of which he had been the chief architect, was irretrievably under way. Bourget, his successor, who had spent sixteen years as a secretary and three years as a bishop with Lartigue, would continue his work.

Appendix: Mandement of October 1837

This extract from Lartigue’s first mandement is published in Mandements des évêques de Montréal, Vol. 1, pp. 14-21.

Depuis longtemps, Nos Très-Chers Frères, Nous n’entendons parler que d’agitation, de révolte même, dans un Pays toujours renommé jusqu’à présent par sa loyauté, son esprit de paix, et son amour pour la Religion de ses Pères. On voit partout les frères s’élever contre leurs frères, les amis contre leurs amis, les citoyens contre leurs concitoyens; et la discorde, d’un bout à l’autre de ce Diocèse, semble avoir brisé les liens de la charité qui unissaient entre eux les membres d’un même corps, les enfants d’une même Eglise, du Catholicisme qui est une Religion d’unité. Dans des conjonctures aussi graves, notre seul parti ne peut être sans doute que de nous en tenir, je ne dis pas à l’opinion que Nous, et nos fidèles Coopérateurs dans le Saint Ministère, aurions droit cependant d’émettre comme citoyens aussi bien que les autres, mais à l’obligation stricte que Nous impose l’Apôtre des Nations lorsqu’il disait: Malheur à moi si je ne prêche pas l’Evangile...

Nous ne saurions d’ailleurs vous être suspect sous aucun rapport: comme chez vous, le sang Canadien coule dans nos veines: Nous avons souvent donné des preuves de l’amour que Nous avons pour notre chère et commune patrie... vous savez enfin que Nous n’avons jamais rien reçu du Gouvernement Civil, comme nous n’en attendons rien, que la justice due à tous les Sujets Britanniques; et nous rendons témoignage à la vérité, quand nous attestons solennellement que Nous vous parlons ici de notre propre mouvement, sans aucune impulsion étrangère, mais seulement par un motif de conscience. 203

Encore une fois, Nos Très-Chers Frères, Nous ne vous donnerons pas notre sentiment, comme Citoyen, sur cette question purement politique, "qui a droit ou tort entre les diverses branches du Pouvoir souverain; (ce sont de ces choses que Dieu a laissées aux disputes des hommes,) mundum tradidit disputationi eorum" mais la question morale, savoir "quels sont les devoirs d’un Catholique à l’égard de la Puissance civile, établie et constituée dans chaque Etat", cette question religieuse, dis-je, étant de notre ressort et de notre compétence, c’est à votre Evêque à vous donner sans doute toute instruction nécessaire sur cette matière, et à vous de l’écouter...

[Après avoir cité un texte de saint Paul qui demande la soumission à l’autorité civile duement constituée et l’encyclique de Grégoire XVI, du 15 août 1832, sur la même soumission] Ne vous laissez donc pas séduire, si quelqu’un voulait vous engager à la rébellion contre le Gouvernement établi, sous prétexte que vous faites partie du Peuple Souverain: la trop fameuse convention nationale de France, quoique forcée d’admettre la souveraineté du Peuple puisqu’elle lui devait son existence, eut bien soin de condamner elle-même les insurrections populaires, en insérant dans la Déclaration des droits en tête de la Constitution de 1795, que la souveraineté réside, non dans une partie, ni même dans la majorité du Peuple, mais dans l’universalité des Citoyens; ajoutant que nul individu, nulle réunion partielle des Citoyens ne peut s’attribuer la Souveraineté. Or qui oserait dire que, dans ce pays, la totalité des Citoyens veut la destruction de son Gouvernement...


[1] Chaussé, Gilles, Jean-Jacques Lartigue: Premier eveque De Montreal, (Fides), 1980 and Lemieux, Lucien, L’Etablissement De La Premiere Province Ecclesiastique au Canada 1783-1844, (Fides), 1968 provide contextual material.

[2] Pastoral letters are written by ecclesiastical authorities responsible for a diocese in which parishioners are given instructions or orders concerning the conduct to be followed in certain circumstances. They are addressed to all without social distinction and tend to be read during the mass. Circular letters are less elaborate and are addressed to the priest of each parish and deal with special ceremonies to celebrate the occasion of certain important events such as the procedure to be followed in precise cases like the signing of a petition.

[3] Another matter brought Lartigue into conflict with the leaders in the House of Assembly, in particular his cousin Louis-Joseph Papineau. When in 1791 parliamentary institutions had been put into place in Lower Canada, the new spokesmen for the Canadian community soon aroused the distrust of the ecclesiastical authorities. The latter did not easily accept being supplanted by leaders who, if not hostile to the church, were at least not much inclined to accept their instructions. Nevertheless, although their official policy was one of non-intervention, the representatives of the church unquestionably supported the Canadians’ cause. For his part Lartigue, who was deeply affected by the injustices inflicted upon his compatriots, always displayed a keen interest in the struggles of the political leaders and the aims they pursued. His correspondence with his cousin Denis-Benjamin Viger, Papineau’s right-hand man, furnishes eloquent proof of this interest, particularly in 1822, when a bill to unite the two Canadas was presented to the British parliament, and in 1828, at the time of a mission to London by Viger, Austin Cuvillier and John Neilson. In 1827 he justified the non-interventionist policy of the clergy that he had consistently advocated: ‘It is important for [the Canadians] that at this juncture we not pique the government, which in reacting might unwittingly do religion much harm . . . ; moreover, without our creating a disturbance the government in England will know of our true feelings and will discern what we are thinking despite our silence if it sees the masses, upon whom we have a great influence, as it knows, complaining with virtually one voice against the administration.’

[4] Ibid, Chaussé, Gilles, Jean-Jacques Lartigue: Premier eveque De Montreal, p. 199.

[5] Ouellet, F., ‘Le mandement de Monseigneur Lartigue de 1837 et la réaction libérale’, Bulletin des Recherches historiques, Vol. 68, (1952), pp. 97-104

[6] Ibid, Chaussé, Gilles, Jean-Jacques Lartigue: Premier eveque De Montreal, p. 211.

[7] Ibid, Chaussé, Gilles, Jean-Jacques Lartigue: Premier eveque De Montreal, p. 200.

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