Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Cooperative Religion in Quebec

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Cooperative Religion in Quebec

Article excerpt


Analysts have contrasted Protestant New England and Roman Catholic Quebec for several centuries. (1) How did two different versions of the Christian faith affect, among other aspects, language, education, politics, liberty, economic development, spirituality, and greed? Such value judgments related to religion have become unfashionable since Vatican II, 1962-65. Yet, there is no doubt that faith has made a fundamental difference in Quebec. This essay will examine the interactions and efforts toward cooperation among different Christian faith traditions resident in the Quebec area. The lesser-known group of French Protestants at the intersection between the two solitudes of English Protestants and French Catholics will be highlighted first. This is followed by a study of one crucial episode in the breakthrough of Catholic-Protestant cooperation in the 1958-67 period, based on many documents and interviews inaccessible to English readers.

I. New France

French Protestants (Huguenots) and Roman Catholics worked together virtually from the start of white exploration of North America. The sacred union of the French state with the Catholic Church never changed, yet Huguenots were surprisingly dominant in the earliest explorations. Economic advantages in being permitted to lend money, (2) combined with a maritime location for many Protestants, favored them as merchants. When Henry IV, a former Protestant, took the French throne shortly before 1600, his associates (mostly Protestant) prospered.

Most of the early lieutenant governors of New France or Acadia (the Maritimes) and most of their sailors were French Protestants, (3) but usually they had Catholic crew as well. After the assassination of Henry IV, religious tolerance rapidly diminished, and the universal norm of one nation-one church returned. In New France, the colony required unity and resident colonists. There had never been cooperation between Catholic clergy and Protestants. With the arrival of counter-Reformation Jesuits in Quebec, the fate of the Huguenots was sealed; the Protestant lieutenant governors had failed to settle colonists, while Protestants in La Rochelle were resisting the new French king's order to lay down their arms. Therefore, from 1627, French Protestants were banned from settling in New France, and religious uniformity was strictly imposed. (4) Huguenot merchants were still needed for trade and so received an exemption for summer visits. In the new setting, colonists were limited to the spiritual guidance of Jesuit clergy. (5)

II. French Protestants Return

The British who invaded New France in 1759-60 were led by a Huguenot commander, Jean-Louis Ligonier, (6) with many French-speaking Protestant soldiers, including most of the Royal Americans Regiment under the charge of the Swiss officer Frederick Haldimand. The original British intention of imposing English and Anglicanism on French Catholic colonists was never seriously pursued, as the various governors appointed by the British realized that this would be impossible. Quebecers might join the American unrest leading up to the American Revolution of 1776 and again in the War of 1812. Concessions had to be granted to the Catholic Church and to the use of the French language. In the long run, the Roman Catholic Church received more power than it had exercised under France, (7) including control of education, health, and rural municipalities. In addition, it avoided the effects of the French Revolution.

At the most critical points, two Huguenot soldiers, Haldimand (during the American Revolution) and Georges Prevost (during the War of 1812), were named governors of Canada. Their French language and identity were essential to maintain order. Despite these crucial contributions, the religious and linguistic solitudes remained. No French Protestant worship was offered. Huguenots could either assimilate to English or join the French Catholic community. …

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