Black Robes and Buckskin: A Selection from the Jesuit Relations

Black Robes and Buckskin: A Selection from the Jesuit Relations

Black Robes and Buckskin: A Selection from the Jesuit Relations

Black Robes and Buckskin: A Selection from the Jesuit Relations

Synopsis

The Jesuit Relations, written by New World Jesuit missionaries from 1632 to 1673 back to their Superior in France, have long been a remarkable source of both historical knowledge and spiritual inspiration. They provide rich information about Jesuit piety and missionary initiatives, Ignatian spirituality, the Old World patrons who financed the venture, women's role as collaborators in the Jesuit project, and the early history of contact between Europeans and Native Americans in what was to become the northeastern United States and Canada. The Jesuits approached the task of converting the native peoples, and the formidable obstacles it implied, in a flexible manner. One of their the central values was "inculturation," the idea of "coming in by their door," to quote a favorite saying of Ignatius, via a creative process of syncretism that blended aspects of native belief with aspects of Christian faith, in order to facilitate understanding and acceptance. The Relations thus abound with examples of the Jesuits thoughtfully trying to make sense of native-and female-difference, rather than eliding it. The complete text of the Jesuit relations runs to 73 volumes. Catharine Randall has made selections from the relations, some of which have never before appeared in print in English. These selections are chosen for their informative nature and for how they illustrate central tenets of Ignatian spirituality. Rather than give close translations from seventeenth-century French that might sound stilted to modern ears, she offers free translations that provide the substance of the Relations in an idiom immediately accessible to twenty-first-century Americans. An extensive introduction sets out the basic history of the Jesuit missions in New France and provides insight into the Ignatian tradition and how it informs the composition of the Relations. The volume is illustrated with early woodcuts, depicting scenes from Ignatius's life, moments in the history of the Jesuit missions, Jesuit efforts to master the native languages, and general devotional images.

Excerpt

Several years ago, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fordham University, Father Joseph McShane, S.J., president of the university, suggested to the Board of Directors of Fordham University Press that a special selection of some of the letters composing the Jesuit Relations be printed. This document is a foundational text for French Canada—indeed, for North America—and an extremely important source of ethnographic, anthropological, and theological information concerning both the Society of Jesus in the New World and the indigenous peoples whom the Jesuits sought to convert to Christianity. Although many editions of the Jesuit Relations exist, and although various selections of some of the letters have been issued, the intent of this project is to provide modern, contemporary-feeling translations— or, rather, paraphrases—that would be readable, and, perhaps, to some readers, inspiring. the goal was to reinstate correspondence in its vernacular, natural, conversationally compelling tenor.

Basing the paraphrases on Reuben Gold Thwaites’s compendious collection of the RelationsThe Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610– 1791 (originally published in Cleveland in 1898 and now available in cd form and online as Jesuit Relations, volumes 1–73)—we brought together . . .

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