November 20, 2002
ENOBLING THE SAVAGES:Savages? Not to Jesuit missionaries they weren't (Robert Remington, November 20, 2002, National Post)
In the movie Black Robe, 17th-century Jesuit missionaries are portrayed as viewing Canadian Indians as superstitious, pagan savages with no redeeming culture who can be saved only by baptism.
New academic research, however, suggests that the early Jesuits are simply victims of bad press. According to a fresh analysis of their Latin dispatches to Rome, the Jesuits regarded native people with admiration and respect.
"In Black Robe you get the stereotype of the almost rabid religious fanatic. There is the good savage and the rest are sort of cruel and horrifying and there is no middle ground," says Haijo Westra, a professor of Greek and Roman studies at the University of Calgary.
After studying the Latin dispatches sent from Canada by French Jesuit missionaries, Dr. Westra concludes that the image of the "black robes" has been unfairly distorted by the English translations of their field reports, which he says missed sympathetic nuances derived from classic Latin texts the Jesuits studied.
Black Robe is, nonetheless, a terrific book by one of the great underappreciated novelists, Brian Moore. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 20, 2002 9:13 PM