Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Book Review: "Apostles of Empire: The Jesuits and New France"

I have seen reviews (and even the back cover blurb) of this book calling it "revisionist history"; I'd prefer to call it careful history. The author, Bronwen McShea, neither attacks nor defends what the Jesuits did when spreading the Gospel in North America. It's neither hagiography nor a lurid exposé of their efforts both to convert the native population to Christianity and to bring them into the French empire. I say this because throughout the text, McShea demonstrates how the Jesuits both cooperated with the French monarchy and ruling classes to spread the ideals of their native culture and the Catholic faith among the native tribes in North America and differed with the goals and methods of the French monarchy and ruling classes in achieving their missionary efforts. Events in France, like the Fronde, and wars in Europe and North America often thwarted the goals of the Jesuit missionaries to provide protection, education, religious formation, medicine, and other assistance to the Indigenous peoples. While several French elites, like Marie-Madeleine de Vignerot, duchesse d'Aigullon, Francois Sublet de Noyers, and Marguerite d'Alegre, the Marquise de Bauge, and others, contributed to the Jesuits' religious, educational, and charitable efforts, the entity they wanted support from to achieve the other goal of establishing French culture and power in North America, the monarchy and its administration--including military and financial aid--was the one that seemed reluctant to support them as the Society of Jesus desired.

As an example of the cooperation, the Jesuits indeed wanted to encourage cooperation between their Indigenous allies against the Iroquois tribes in colonial organization and military conflict. This continued into the conflict between English and French colonizing efforts in the later seventeenth century in Nine Year's War, etc. They even continued these efforts when the French stopped sending military aid. As an example of their disagreement with the methods and goals of the French monarchy especially during the personal reign of Louis XIV and the premiership of Colbert, the Jesuit missionaries deplored the dangers of the brandy trade and Colbert's encouragement of intermarriage between the Frenchmen and the Indigenous women. The first because it could cause drunkenness and violence in the colonial settlements and the second because the Frenchmen were not worthy of the excellence of the Abenaki or Huron women!

Throughout the book, McShea carefully describes the missionary efforts of the Jesuits in New France, often by telling the stories of the individual Jesuits, their vocations, formation in Old and New France, and missionary careers. At the end of the book, as the Society of Jesus was suppressed first in France by King Louis XV and then throughout the world (except Russia!) by Pope Clement XIV, McShea describes the last days of the remaining Jesuit missionaries in France and in Canada (now held by the English), including two who fell victim to the French Revolution (Fathers Simeon Le Bansais and Julien-Francois Derville) when they returned to France and one who welcomed Benjamin Franklin and the Carroll cousins to Quebec in 1776 (Father Pierre-Rene Floquet). 

The publisher, the University of Nebraska Press describes the book as:

Winner of the 2020 Catholic Press Association Book Award in History

Apostles of Empire is a revisionist history of the French Jesuit mission to Indigenous North Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, offering a comprehensive view of a transatlantic enterprise with integral secular concerns. Between 1611 and 1764, 320 Jesuits were sent from France to North America to serve as missionaries. Most labored in colonial New France, a vast territory comprising eastern Canada and the Great Lakes region, inhabited by diverse Native American populations. Although committed to spreading Catholic doctrines and rituals and adapting them to diverse Indigenous cultures, these missionaries also devoted significant energy to more worldly concerns, particularly the transatlantic expansion of the absolutist-era Bourbon state and the importation of the culture of elite, urban French society.

Apostles of Empire Bronwen McShea accounts for these secular dimensions of the mission’s history through candid portraits of Jesuits engaged in a range of activities. We see them not only preaching and catechizing in terms borrowed from Indigenous idioms but also cultivating trade and military partnerships between the French and various Indian tribes. McShea shows how the Jesuits’ robust conceptions of secular spheres of Christian action informed their efforts from both sides of the Atlantic to build up a French and Catholic empire in North America through Indigenous cooperation.

Please find additional comments below:

Table of Contents (I've added the subtitles in the chapters)

List of Illustrations
--Historiographical Interventions
--Sources and Interpretive Approaches
--Men of this World

Note on Primary Sources

Part 1. Foundations and the Era of the Parisian Relations

1. A Mission for France
--A Young Jesuit in Bourbon Paris (Paul Le Jeune)
--French Expansions and Missions before 1632
--Lay Metropolitan Support and Sebastien Cramoisy's Press
--Working for France's "Powerful Genius"

(Throughout this chapter McShea establishes the importance of the Jesuit Relations, the reports written by the Jesuit missionaries and published in Paris by Sebastien Cramoisy, who "may have been the layman most crucial to the early success of the Jesuit mission to New France", p. 20)

2. Rescuing the “Poor Miserable Savage”
--"At the Best, Their Riches are Only Poverty"
--"Voila, Their Fine Eating"
--"The Cabins on This Country Are Neither Louvres Nor Palaces"
--"I Mocked Their Superstitions"
--Natives as Carnival "Maskers," "Sorcerers," and "Charlatans"

(Throughout this chapter McShea compares the Paul Le Jeune's descriptions of the poverty, bad food, and primitive living quarters of the natives in North America to the poverty, bad food, and primitive living quarters of the rural and urban poor in France!)

3. Surviving the Beaver Wars and the Fronde
--A Political Mission in France
--A Martyr for Christ and New France (St. Isaac Jogues)
--Maneuvers during the Fronde
--A New Holy War for the "Heirs of Saint Louis"

4. Exporting and Importing Catholic Charity
--Social Charity at the Sillery Reserve
--The Huron Refugee Crisis
--Diversifying Charitable Ministries and New Transatlantic Challenges
--"Give to Many Poor People and to Many Kinds"

Part 2. A Longue Durée of War and Metropolitan Neglect

5. Crusading for Iroquois Country
--The Carignon-Salieres Campaign and the Iroquois Mission
--Western Expansion and Renewed War
--The Nine Years War and the Peace of Montreal
--Queen Anne's War
--Warfare and Conversion

6. Cultivating an Indigenous Colonial Aristocracy
--To "Civilize" the Natives or "Play the Savage"?
--Frustrations with the Colonial French

7. Losing Paris
--The End of the Cramoisy Relations
--A House Divided
--Mounting Metropolitan Skepticism and Indifference
--Renewed Publishing Efforts for the Mission

8. A Mission with No Empire
--Jesuits at the Limits of Empire
--The French and Indian War
--The French Suppression of the Society of Jesus
--Quiet Death under British, Protestant Rule


(A good summary of her overall analysis of the complexity of the Jesuit mission in New France, combining the spread of the Gospel with the establishment of colonial territories. The anecdotes with which she opens her conclusion, of Pope Benedict XV reprimanding "Catholic missionaries who had helped fan the national-imperial zeitgeist" that contributed to the horrors of World War I (in Maximum Illud, 1919) and then canonizing Joan of Arc in 1920, "a saint exceedingly identified with French Nationalism", before, during, and after the Great War (p. 255), symbolize the dual nature of the Jesuit mission in North America. She offers a devastating analysis of how their efforts set the stage for later French colonial efforts, imposing a political, national culture on the native people.)




I would have appreciated a better map showing the different areas of Jesuit missionary activity both in the Canadian north and the USA south (and in between). Figure 5 among the illustrations is a contemporary map but it is very faint and hard to read. It's interesting that McShea never looks at the Arkansas region and the efforts of the French there, but then, as Morris Arnold noted in two books (Unequal Laws Unto a Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686-1836 and Colonial Arkansas, 1686-1804: A Cultural and Social History) on Colonial Arkansas, there wasn't much success in that region for either the French or the Jesuits (see my reviews here and here).

There were two strange typos: one even made the index, as King Louis XVI on page 139 is listed: "In the fall of 1688 Louis XVI went to war over territories in Europe against England, the Hapsburg powers, the Dutch, and other members of the Grand Alliance." (Of course "Louis XVI" should be Louis XIV!) The same transposition of the "I" and the "V" occurs in the Conclusion on page 260: "With political, mercantile, and religious interests coalescing in Paris during Richelieu and Louis XVI's eras . . ." Since I worked as a proofreader at an advertising agency years ago, I know how easy it is for one's eyes to miss details like that!

Having read McShea's first two books (this one and her biography of Richelieu's niece), I look forward to picking up my copy of her next work, Women of the Church: What Every Catholic Should Know, from Eighth Day Books soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment