Jean-Baptiste de La Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier
Jean-Baptiste de La Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier
|Bishop of Québec|
|Church||Roman Catholic Church|
|See||Notre-Dame de Québec|
|Installed||7 July 1687|
|Term ended||26 December 1727|
|Predecessor||François de Laval|
|Successor||Louis-François Duplessis de Mornay|
14 November 1653|
26 December 1727 (aged 74)|
Quebec City, New France
|Education||Saint-Sulpice Seminary, Paris|
Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrière de St. Vallier (November 14, 1653 – December 26, 1727) was most acknowledged for his role as Quebec’s second bishop. Born in the southeastern French city of Grenoble in 1653 (died in 1727), to a wealthy land owning family, Saint-Vallier swiftly became a community figure, as he is well known for his own founding of a hospital in St. Valier. His officious and self-dominant attitude, led him to see the New World and accept the position of bishop in 1685 at the call of Louis XIV and François de Laval, former bishop of Quebec. Often referred to as Abbé Saint-Vallier, he retained a controversial aspect as a member of the community while being the centerfold Bishop of Quebec, as he lacked the qualities of adhering to the advice of his associates. While claiming himself to be something other than a people-pleaser, as bishop and for what he believed to be necessary, he spent huge amounts of money that inadvertently left the seminary to be in great debt upon his death in 1727. He was deeply involved in the Catholic reform tradition and promoted several missions throughout Canada.
He was seen as a very strict leader for most of his reign. His many refusals of resignations demanded by both the King and the religious sub-authorities of New France, as well as the shadowy investigations of the presence of Jansenism in his administration and his works, led to population revolts and further struggles with different religious groups. He is undoubtedly shaded of all the positives during his 42-year reign as bishop. These include: the founding of the Hôpital-Général de Québec (1692), the edifice for the bishop (1688), and the installations of religious reformist communities in the Montreal area. The development of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec and Roman Catholic faith was his utmost priority and interest; he was particularly sensible on the point of morality, which he believed was failing in his see. He was also greatly involved with the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris as an intermediary an expansionist during assignments regarding the new world.
Born from Jean de La Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier and Marie de Sayve, Jean-Baptiste was part of the La Croix family, known to be ranked among the best in Dauphiné with prestigious posts such as country noblemen, officers, magistrates and ambassadors. Jean-Baptiste's father was a Grenoble magistrate and worked for the diplomatic services and his grandfather was a lawyer and poet then a judge at the Parliament of Grenoble until the death of his wife. Besides that, the La Croixs owned a large amount of lands including the castle of Saint-Vallier in the Rhone, which previously belonged to King Henry II's mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
This was where most of Jean-Baptiste's childhood lay. However, little is known about him during that period besides his charitable deeds and his education at the Jesuit College in Grenoble. The La Croix children were much influenced by religion; three out of ten took on a religious post. Jean-Baptiste himself entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and obtained his licentiate in theology in 1672 at 19 years of age. Later in 1676, he was appointed almoner in ordinary to King Louis XIV, a promotion that can be attributed to his family's connections. He was ordained priest only in 1681, after what he funded a small hospital in Saint-Vallier with his own money in 1683 and created the Chapter in 1684.
His personality was noted for its austerity, his strong will and his dynamism. He was also a close friend of the bishop of Grenoble, Le Camus, and would regularly initiate visits to the hospitals, prisons and country parishes. At the court of the Sun King, he rejected the dress code and kept his religious attire.
Saint-Valier was a supporter and defender of the Catholic Reform (Counter Reformation) and its ideology to evangelize communities while ridding them of Protestantism. This strong counter ideology undoubtedly played a large role in Saint-Vallier’s decisions, implementations and organizations within New France. His initial introduction to the New World was to engage in the conversion of Natives, which sought issues in prior years. However, most of all, the introduction and placement of Jesuits and Recollects in an attempt to evangelize New France strictly depicts his headstrong belief of the importance of the Catholicization. Many of these missions (Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi) resulted in conflicts between Bishop Saint-Vallier, the Jesuits and the seminary of Quebec.
The general ideology of Roman Catholicism and reform embedded within the Council of Trent can be traced in Saint-Vallier. His various construction projects entail common ideals in that his goal was to restore and renew power and authority in the Catholic Church as the main institution of administrative organization. In 1697, Saint-Valier built a palace in Quebec for his clergy and as a place of hospitality. During the same year, he also established a nuns monastery in Trois-Rivières (Catholic Church institutions). Saint-Vallier’s zeal of religious activities and establishments, stretched from Quebec, Montreal, Acadia and Louisiana. His way of life embodied that of the ideals and obligations embodied within the Council of Trent.
Diocese of Quebec
The Diocese of Quebec was vast and its population very diverse and widespread. It included the whole of French North America, or what was called New France, divided in seven colonies: Newfoundland, Acadia, Île Royale, Louisiana, Illinois, Upper Country and Canada. The inhabitants could be separated in two categories, the Indigenous people and the European settlers. During the office of Saint-Vallier the immigration from France was mostly over; the European colons were farmers, fishermen, sailors, merchants and ‘coureurs des bois’ overseen by a small elite of aristocratic leaders and parishes’ priests, but a great demographic explosion occurred between 1685 and 1730, the white population in New France jumping from c. 12 000 inhabitants to c. 41 500.
The Amerindian tribes constituted the second half of the population, by far the most numerous. But contrary to the Europeans, during the same time lapse their number passed from c. 163 500 to c. 61 500. That loss, mainly in the tribes of Louisiana, was attributed to the diseases brought to the valley of the Mississippi and warfare. The vast number of Aboriginals compared to white settlers is one reason for the presence of so many religious orders in New France. The missions and the conversion to Christianity were deemed very important.
Priests of the Missions Étrangères of Paris, the Jesuits, the Recollets and the Sulpicians, most were in North America for the conversion of Amerindians and to rule the different parishes of the Diocese. They often worked in collaboration with the nuns from different orders like the Congrégation de Notre-Dame or l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. The nuns were responsible for some missions along with other tasks, like education and nursing. The arrival of Saint-Vallier and his strong views on what should be the duties of the priests certainly created a shock wave in these orders, especially for the Seminary of Quebec, newly founded by his predecessor Bishop Laval.
Beginnings as Bishop
Advancing quickly in the religious and social hierarchies, it was but a matter of time before Saint-Vallier would be elevated to the rank of bishop. In 1685, Mgr de Laval, Bishop of Quebec, gave his resignation to the King and proposed Saint-Vallier to replace him. His entourage first pushed him to refuse the see, since the Diocese of Quebec was relatively new, poor, far from court and at that time “perhaps the most wretched and difficult of all the dioceses in mission lands". Abbot Saint-Vallier finally decided to accept the position, and left France for a sojourn in his future see with the title of vicar general of Bishop Laval, since the ceremony of his investiture had to be postponed due to the bad relationship between the Pope Innocent XI and Louis XIV.
His first stay in Canada lasted a year and a half. Despite entering with only a title to vouch for him, Saint-Vallier surprised the clergy with his passion and energy. His trip started in Quebec, down to the parishes along the St. Lawrence River, Montreal and then to Acadia. During this time, he preached to both the French and the Indians. In 1686, he debated going further into the Great Lakes in order to continue his investigations.
However, his strong personality intimidated people who were too filled with fear to fully appreciate his efforts. The superiors of the seminary later wrote to the Bishop Laval that they believed he wasn't a suitable candidate for the task of governing the Quebec diocese. Laval sided with them and requested that Saint-Vallier leave his post. This of course offended him and he appealed to refute this request, backed by the King himself who ‘exiled’ Mgr Laval in France and refused his return to Quebec. Disappointed and angry, as he had expected to die at the Quebec church he had co-founded, Laval made many accusations that portrayed Saint-Vallier as a manipulative traitor.
Later, Saint-Vallier overcame this incident and became anointed as bishop at Saint-Sulpice on January 25, 1688 and allowed his predecessor the opportunity to go back to Canada. However, this would prove to be detrimental for him as upon his return in the summer of 1688, there was a vicious argument between him and the seminary of Quebec. Three priests and the Bishop Laval conspired together in order to undermine Saint-Vallier’s authority and “three quarters of the clergy in Canada […] [had] already escaped the direct authority of the bishop, who founded himself, in addition, obliged to share his jurisdiction over his own secular clergy with his seminary.”
Autumn of 1688, Bishop Saint-Vallier initiated a turnover of the old system and replaced it with new changes in the organization of the seminary which the latter rejected with backing from the Bishop Laval. “Mgr de Saint-Vallier worked on establishing more strict and clear pastoral norms […] the directives that he fixed throughout his episcopate concentrate mainly on the administration of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penitence, and on the preaching” At that time, the Iroquois started attacking the French again and the impending approach of the English fighters loomed ahead.
Attacked on every side and called a tyrant and a jansenist, he decided to seek for arbitration by higher religious authorities, in this case the Archbishop of Paris and the private confessor of the King, who “both decided in favour of the bishop on the essential points […], the seminary of Quebec lost its privileges and came [back] under the usual rule.”
Nevertheless, by the end of 1694, Saint-Vallier’s relation with his diocese had deteriorated to the point that Louis XIV was forced to recall him to Paris. While Saint-Vallier defended his actions, he was asked to resign, which he refused to do. After being kept in France until 1697, without consenting to resign, Saint-Vallier was allowed to return to Canada after agreeing to be more "prudent" and moderate in his ways. He returned to his see and authorized a new establishment of Ursulines at Trois-Rivières that brought balm on the deteriorating situation with the Seminary.
Quarrels With Different Institutions
Saint-Vallier's tenure as bishop was defined by interminable quarrels with governmental and religious institutions in French North America. Even before he was officially consecrated as bishop, Saint-Vallier's active leadership style brought him into conflict with various groups, who perceived his leadership as at times domineering and micromanaging.
With the Governor Frontenac, he quarrelled over their mutual social standing, going as far as to threaten to place an interdict on the Recollet order for giving the Governor precedence. He also clashed with the female religious order of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. While this order was active in teaching and nursing, the Bishop sought to impose upon them a stricter cloistered lifestyle. In addition, he demanded they assent to dowry payments, solemn vows, and that they swear obedience to him as bishop. While the Congregation resisted, they were eventually forced to accept many of Saint-Vallier’s dictates.
Upon his return from France, Saint-Vallier quickly became entangled in more intra-religious disputes. Further conflict arose in competing claims to evangelization rights. In 1698, the seminary of Quebec requested permission to send a mission to the Tamaroa tribe. Saint-Vallier, who, after the "great quarrel" with the seminary, was eager to remain on good terms, consented.
This was a slap in the face to the Jesuits, who felt their evangelizing efforts were under pressure worldwide from the secular church. Claiming the Tamaroas were included in the Illinois tribe, whose conversion had been entrusted to them, they objected. When the dispute was put to his arbitration, Saint-Vallier decided in favour of the Seminary. When the Jesuits appealed to the King Louis XIV in 1700, the Bishop returned to France to defend his decision. Although it was upheld, the damage done to his relation with the Jesuits was lasting.
While subject to much criticism, Saint-Vallier was also admired in his diocese for his dedication and self-sacrifice. Rather than staying in Quebec or Montreal, he tirelessly traveled the back-country. The founding of the Hôpital Général and installation of Jesuits and Recollets at Montreal were also to his credit.
Saint-Vallier and Jansenism
There was a very strong suspicion in the colonies and in France that the Bishop of Quebec was in fact a follower of the Jansenism movement. Created by Cornelius Jansen, a Dutch Catholic Bishop, Jansenism was characterized by a very strict and austere Christianity, a rigorism in the practice of religion and a certain individualism. The Critic Dictionary of Theology explain the large meaning of Jansenism thus:
“designated an intern movement of Catholicism that refutes the necessity of certain condemnations and limits their range, and tries to present Christianity in its original form and closer to its objectives"
Opposed to the centralization of power and the absolutism, this religious movement was seen as a plague by the court of the French King Louis the XIV and in New France, where the government system was strongly based on absolutism.
If Saint-Vallier presented Jansenist ideas, it was in certain aspects of his writing and in his austerity and deep orthodoxy, but he was certainly not a ‘follower’ of that movement. In the beginning of the 18th century the Bishop wrote 3 books; the Ritual, the Catechism and the ‘Statuts et ordonnances’. Because of his precedent quarrels with the Jesuits, the Superior of this order decided to attack Saint-Vallier’s authority by writing a long critic of those three books accusing them to “lapse into Arianism, Pelagianism, Jansenism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism". Father Bouvart based his accusations on different passages of the works of the Bishop, for example this extract from the Catechism.
“Le nombre des réprouvez sera-t-il bien plus grand que celui des bienheureux ? Oui, le chemin de la perdition est large, au lieu que le chemin qui conduit à la vie éternelle est étroit."
(Will the number of the damned be much greater than the number of the blessed? Answer: Yes, the road to perdition is broad, whereas the road that leads to the everlasting life is narrow.)
Bishop Saint-Vallier eventually appealed to the Sorbonne to have his works rehabilitated. The doctors of the Faculty of Theology declared the Ritual and the Catechism perfectly orthodox and censured the critic of Bouvart. Nevertheless, Saint-Vallier decided to re-edit in 1713 the Ritual so as to cast away all doubts about his pretended Jansenist ideas. This book remained in use in the parishes until the middle of the 19th century.
Capture and Detention
On his way to return to New France, Mgr de Saint-Vallier’s vessel, along with other ships from the convoy sailing to the New World, was attacked by English naval forces and sent to England. There he was made a diplomatic prisoner, France being at war with England in the context of the War of Succession of Spain, and placed under house arrest.
With Saint-Vallier being unable to correctly rule from his custody, the religious dimension of the diocese of Quebec fell into decay. The problem in the eyes of the Bishop and many of the priests was the lack of morality in the colony. They encountered much reluctance from the population, especially with the Natives, who were in disagreement with their fight against alcoholism, ‘indecency and immorality’ and their attempt to instil Christian practices into the tribes while riding them of their own set of customs. The whole fight about alcohol also created waves in the colonial population since the government and especially the merchants sought to use spirits as a way to maintain good relations with the Amerindian tribes.
The Bishop remained a prisoner in London for five years while Queen Anne ruled. During this time, the King of France and the war council were deliberately slowing the negotiations for his deliverance. Many people were happy to be rid of Saint-Vallier and his incessant disputes, while furthermore, the Queen of England demanded in exchange for the Bishop of Quebec the return of the Baron de Méan, “a dangerous man for France’s interests”. It wasn't until 1709 that the king decided to set the dean of Liège free and in turn the English returned Saint-Vallier. At that time, Saint-Vallier's diocese had deteriorated greatly especially after Bishop Laval's death in 1708. Despite his pleas, the king was reluctant to let him go back to New France, fearing new religious conflicts. Thus Saint-Vallier underwent a 'forced exile' for four years (1709-1713) before he could go back.
Late Life, Death & Epilogue
After thirteen years of absence, Saint-Vallier finally returned to Quebec, having persuaded the king to give consent to his departure. He arrived in his Diocese tired and worn by the torments of the last 20 years of constant infighting. The disputes with the religious orders of New France, the government and the merchants gave way to a more peaceful period that lasted until his death, although he somewhat retained some of his old habits. He refused, for example, to ring the bell of the cathedral for the death of the governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil and “grudges subsisted between [him] and his seminary”.
Already austere throughout his life, he became more and more humble in his way of living and turned toward contemplation and simple duties. As Timothy Pearson explained in his book Becoming holy in early Canada: “Charity, both the love one bore for God and the public acts of altruistic gift-giving […] became the prominent trope of holiness after 1650”. Saint-Vallier, following the example of the ‘Saints’, showed his generosity by helping the poor and the Hôpital Général of Quebec. He also took very seriously his duties of Bishop and developed furthermore the state of the parishes and the Diocese, including the farthest corners of New France. Weak from sickness, he died the 26th December 1727 in the Hôpital Général, his creation. His last words showed his charity, for he said: “Forget me, but do not forget my poor”.
The Abbot Gosselin who wrote about the Bishop Saint-Vallier in the late 19th century will say of him that: “especially by his great virtues and the holiness of his life, he is revealed in history with the halo of charity and disinterest: his memory shall be eternal” (surtout par ses grandes vertus […] et la sainteté de sa vie, […] il nous apparaît dans l’histoire avec l’auréole de la charité et du désintéressement : sa mémoire sera immortelle)
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