Word Count: 1334 missionaries in America faced many problems, one in particular dealt with relations between the missionaries and the Natives. The letter deals with the treatment of prisoners after a brief military engagement and in addition, attempts by the Jesuits to convert the captured Iroquois. The treatment of the prisoners seems benevolent, compared to the past modus operandi used by the Church to hasten conversion. Furthermore, the letter exemplifies the hypocrisy of the missionaries after the prisoners, willingly, convert. This letter is a perfect of the Counter Reformation, and Church’s attempt to expend its areas of influence as well as to “save” more souls from the Devil. Furthermore, the content of the letter can be easily proven to be bias towards the Iroquois in order to promote Catholicism. This letter, being one of many, is a part of the Counter-Reformation and serves as propaganda for the Catholic Church.
The author of the “Relations” letters, Jerome Lalemant, tells of a victory over the Iroquois. The first paragraph describes how the Algonquins, allies of the French, easily defeat the Iroquois without a single loss of their own. Immediately, the letter seems to embellish the victory of the Algonquins. The Iroquois were one of the most powerful tribes in the French America, possessing a large army of veteran, gun armed, warriors. In fact by 1675, the Iroquois had wiped out or absorbed four tribes, and destroyed most of the Huron country (Eccles, 138). Do to the strength of the Iroquois, it seems unlikely that the Algonquins would have been able to defeat the Iroquois, without inquiring a single loss of their own.
In the second paragraph, the Jesuit priest describes the treatment of the captured foe. The author acknowledges that the first action that the Algonquins take, however, is to “.return thanks to Heaven.” The meaning of that can be interpreted in two ways. The first, is that the Algonquins are going to thank their native Gods. However, since this letter is being written to the Vicar General in France and the Papacy in the Vatican, however, it seems unlikely that Jerome would discuss native offerings. The second interpretation can be that the Algonquins have infact converted to Catholicism.Jerome continues with his observation of the treatment of the captives, by noting that they are not tortured.
.instead of the shower of blows wherewith prisoners are usually received, instead of the cutting off of fingers, the pulling out of tendons, and other “caresses,” – for so they call the prisoner’s first torments, which form the prelude to those that he is made to suffer by fire.(Thwaites, 107).
Infact, the Iroquois are taken to the local Chapel, were they urge the captives to receive Baptism, and intone Canticles of devotion in their presence. It seems, that Jerome wishes to establish an image of, “savages”, as the Europeans called them, becoming pious Catholics. It is doubtful, yet not unrealistic, that the natives have become such dedicated Christians. Furthermore, the natives usually did not turn to Christianity due to the teaching, but rather of the advantages, it gave them. For example,
.many Huron turned to Christianity as protection against sickness. In their zeal, priests (Jesuits) were not above using their influence to secure special privileges (firearms) for those who accepted baptism (Parkman, 264).
The Iroquois finally agree to be Baptized before they are killed. The priest notes this act as; “.the most heroic acts possible on the part of Savages. (Thwaites, 107). The Father considers the offering a chance to become Christian before death, a heroic act. This seems a bit hypocritical, due to the teaching of Ben Joseph (a.k.a. Jesus Christ), which stressed none violence.
Jerome Lalemant, points out the animosity between the Huron, Algonquin, and Iroquois tribes, that even those Algonquins and Hurons who believed in Christianity, could not accept the believe that all Christian souls go to the same location. “What, my brothers, would you have those people go with us to Paradise? How could we live there in peace? Do you imagine you can make the soul of a Huron agree with that of an Iroquois (Thwaites, 108)?” However, it also seems that Jerome views the natives as less than human, even though it was natural to view the native with less regard, however, again it seems hypercritic to regard them as less human, even after the show of such pious Christianity.
In the fourth paragraph, the Jesuit priest claims that the Iroquois accept the teachings of Christianity with open hearts and souls.In addition, he adds that they exclaimed, “How fortunate for us, that he who made Heaven and Earth, and who has no need of us, saved our lives. (Thwaites, 109).” However, in the fifth paragraph, Jerome acknowledges that, “these poor prisoners knew not what to think of such marvels; they were bewildered, and their last songs, which they call death-songs, were only upon the life Everlasting (Thwaites, 109).” It seems ironic, that the people who only a short time before that accepted Christianity with open hearts, were now bewildered and confused. Furthermore, the Iroquois obviously believed that their lives were being spared, however, the Iroquois were tricked. Instead of being burned at the stakes like gentiles, however, the prisoners were dispatched with muskets. It seems obvious that the Iroquois believed that by converting to Christianity, however, their lives would be spared. However, not all the prisoners were executed, one of the Iroquois had Huron lineage, and was spared, this seems due to the fact that the French and Huron had an alliance. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that, “force, violence, or fraud may not be employed to bring about the conversion of an unbeliever. Such means would be sinful (Vatican, 479).” However, the Counter-Reformation was in full affect, and the use of torture, force, or fraud seemed a perfectly acceptable means of conversion as is exemplified in this letter.
In paragraph seven, Jerome Lalemant claims that those take prisoners by the Iroquois are not treated this graciously. However, Jerome states that the Christians have “the last laugh”, since the infidels will spend eternity in either Purgatory or suffering in Hell. Furthermore, Jerome supports his believe by the “brave” actions of three Hurons who, a short time before the letter was written, were burned by the Agniee. Father Jerome claims that the three Hurons saved their souls, by uttering amid the flames, “I am going to Heaven,” which he claims they chanted with such ardor as to charm even their executioners. Furthermore, Jerome believes that their martyrdom served as an example to the executioners of how powerful Christianity is. It seems ironic that before the death of these three Hurons, prior to their death, were encouraged by Father Helene to meet their death with firmness in the possession of the Faith.
This letter seems to be more of propaganda than a report. Infact, the mission reports, “Relations Letters”, were sent to the Propaganda, the Roman Congregation overseeing all missionary activity. It seems ironic the name of the Congregation, that received letters from around the world from their missionaries would be called Propaganda. Furthermore, the letter was published, and in the interest of spreading Catholic sentiments during the Counter-Reformation, however, for that reason the letters were reviewed in Paris and were edited.
In conclusion, it seems that Father Jerome Lalemant seems to present ironic situations, most likely in order to please the Vicar General as well as the Propaganda Council. Some of the actions and relations seem embellished and exaggerated. Although the letter contains certain uncertainties, however, the letter does provide a case study of the relations between the European and native “governments”, relations between native tribes, attempt at pro-Catholic propaganda, and the affects the Counter-Reformation had on religious policies towards the New World.