Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada

By Arthur R. M. Lower | Go to book overview
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6: New France and Roman Catholicism

No BRANCH OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH has more faithfully preserved the spirit of the high Middle Ages than has that of French Canada. Naturally nothing stands still and to-day French Canada is in flux, but in the years when the country was being established, the aim to preserve unchanged the spiritual past was almost realized. On the religious and ecclesiastical side, New France came close to the cleric's dream, the perfect society which only the Church can provide.

He who would understand the intellectual system upon which a Catholic community turns, must understand its philosophical foundations. Yet, however clearly the external student may observe this intellectual foliage, he will not feel the intricacy and intimacy of the root system out of which it springs and which springs from it: one can see the worshippers at the shrine but he cannot see the spirit which animates them. The best, therefore, the non-Catholic can do is to describe as objectively as he can, well knowing that whereas he may comprehend those areas which the two branches of the Christian faith have in common, he cannot penetrate the inner mysteries of the other, its nuances, the puzzles which make what seems irrational or erroneous to him, rational and holy for another. And yet, what historian of Canada worthy of his salt can fail to make this effort? The two peoples for nearly two centuries now have been yoked in partnership and surely those who would analyze their common life must try to understand both. A word, then, on the medieval background.

The medieval church was not in the same sure position on all points of doctrine and knowledge as it was to be later. It was to be the outstanding contribution of those great centuries of philosophic and theological discussion which run from about 1100 to 1300, to clear up much of the confusion. The papacy itself, great as had been the advance made under Gregory VII


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