Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 02, 2012

Huguenots in the St. Lawrence River

While talking with family about American history the other day, the St. Lawrence River came up. I thought of something I heard once about that place. In the late 1620s, Canada (“New France”) was almost completely Catholic, though there were still many Huguenots who had determined to carve out a living by becoming mariners. They understood it would be tricky at best to sing Psalms in the Protestant fashion. After a few such singing attempts, they were told in no uncertain terms that they could sing Psalms and hold worship services at sea, in international waters, but not in the St. Lawrence River, which was thought to belong to France. I always chuckle when I think of them belting out Psalms at the top of their voices, just within their rights, but with the purpose of “serenading” their Catholic countrymen :-) 

There is a book of which I have read only snatches, called “Champlain’s Dream” by David Hackett Fischer. It says that explorer and visionary Samuel de Champlain was once known for his unusual stance on religious equality. Many of the men under his command were Huguenots. In giving them work, he may very well have saved their lives. The fact that both he and his wife Helene supposedly came from Protestant backgrounds may have influenced his unusual degree of tolerance. However, by the late 1620s, he no longer found it fashionable to defend French Protestants. 

The turning point must have come when Champlain began using a new name for Protestantism. As Champlain’s Dream says: “Champlain’s views were complex. His own Catholicism was growing stronger, so much so that he began to refer to Protestantism as a ‘religion prétendue réformée,’ a religion that claims to be reformed.” When the Jesuits arrived around 1626, the fragile coexistence between Catholic and Protestant in ‘New France’ was shattered, and Huguenot merchants who previously had owned many ships and had encouraged their sailors to sing their faith, were robbed of business.

Many of the Huguenots under Champlain’s command refused to give in. They may have been resentful that Champlain broke ties with them but remained friendly with the Native Americans. The Jesuits believed that Champlain’s diplomacy with Indian neighbors greatly assisted France in the New World. As one priest said of him, “Would God that all the French, who were the first to come into these regions, had been like him!” Meanwhile, the Protestants pressed on. They sang their Psalms at sea and in harbor, which technically was not always forbidden. They certainly had their ways!

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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