The impact of the Jesuit missionaries on early Canadian history is undeniable, but their obviously anti-Christian actions would be a matter of great debate even today. Their journals, published in France as the Relations Historia, would be invaluable to future explorers. They described the geography of New France and they detailed the native cultures and lifestyles. They recorded the voyages of then-current explorers. They began missions and settlements. They were heros and they were cowards and they were martyrs - they were loved by some and despised by many.
The name 'Jesuit', in fact, was used first by Jesuit adversaries in 1544 who scorned the members of The Society of Jesus for their over-use of the name 'Jesus'. The name 'Jesuit' was never acknowledged by founder St. Ignatius Loyota in 1540, but it was eventually accepted by the Jesuits who took the name in good sense.
The Jesuits were not only missionaries, they were also an army. They were religious activists, but they operated with military precision. Their actions were not ruled by the Bible. Instead, they were governed by a list of rules which had been created for the Jesuit Order by founder St. Ignatius Loyota.
With the list of rules at their disposal, the Jesuits gained wide discretionary powers to convert 'heathens' to Christianity. The Bible, instead of being a guide, became a tool which could be used by the Jesuits, according to the rules, to meet their desired ends.
Historically, people have always been held responsible for their actions. They could not and cannot hide behind the Church or the State as an excuse. The Jesuit rules, however, effectively placed the Church above God, thereby granting them the authority to use whatever means was necessary to accomplish their tasks. This also placed them above the State, and the laws of the State were simply detours and not roadblocks.
The Church determined what the Jesuits said or did or even thought. If the Church decided that 'black' was 'white', then it would be so. By extension, any evil act was not evil if the Church decided that it wasn't. This effectively removed free will from the people and placed it in the hands of the Church. Today, we have extended this loss of 'free will' to cover our actions. We are no-longer responsible for them. Instead, we can hide behind politics, drugs, alcohol, machines, and any of a number of other things which are used as excuses. The Jesuits effectively removed honour, wisdom, truth, justice, and freedom from the human equation.
Simply by joining the Jesuit Order, the Jesuits believed, by the rules, that their belief in God predestined them for Heaven and nothing they could do would alter that destiny. This had caused problems earlier when the Jesuits had been denied access into China because the Chinese already believed in God. The Natives in New France also believed in God, but certainly not the same one which the Jesuits believed in, and, therefore, destined to eternal damnation. By following the Jesuit rules and by taking away the free will of the Natives (as stated above), the actions of the Jesuits became acceptable. In other words, the ends justified the means.
By removing the scripture as a guide, the Jesuits were ruled by the will of the Church rather than the will of God. This made their actions not only suspect, but the Jesuits were viewed as having very little integrity. Their 'Relations Historia', although of great importance to exploration, were also highly subjective and were heavily-censored by the Church. There was never any mention of anyone who fell into disfavour with the Jesuits for fear that they would become immortalized in history, and, although they meticulously recorded each and every native 'conversion', they were also very carefully eliminated should the natives rescind their decision. In Jesuit records, should a native renounce the Church, history was changed so that the native never accepted the Church in the first place.
The Jesuits were despised by most of the French in New France and they were resented by the Natives. The Jesuits considered the Natives nothing less than savages and, therefore, deserving of nothing less than subjugation. Although subjugation was considered deplorable by most, the Jesuits considered it a virtue - as long as it was the Roman Catholic Church which was doing the subjugating. The French of New France considered the Jesuits extremely wicked and dangerous men who should be driven out of the country. Eventually, all of Europe would come to feel the same way about the Jesuits and they would be driven from there, also.
Nonetheless, their actions and methods and piety not withstanding, the effect they had on the future of Canada cannot be denied. As biased as their accounts and records may have been, they still opened up the interior of Canada to all those who would follow.
The Black Robes
* The Jesuits - Bones of Contention *