The Faith, Piety, and Humanity of Samuel de Champlain
- Foi et piété, faith and piety, sustained him in a special way. Champlain’s faith was not at all like that of English Puritans of Massachusetts Bay, who were driven by an ethic of striving to prove that they were God’s elect in a world where most people were condemned to depravity and damnation. Champlain’s faith was Roman Catholic, not in the sense of emphasizing a particular denomination of Christianity, but in the original and literal meaning of catholic as encompassing all humanity. His aspiration to this large ideal of Catholicism was Champlain’s driving passion. He believed that all people and all things were of God and revealed His divine purposes. This idea lay at the root of Champlain’s insatiable curiosity about the world—a form of faith and piety that was very different from most other people in his time, and many in our own.
Humanité was a word that also appeared in the writings of Champlain. It signified that all people in the world are God’s creatures, endowed with immortal souls and powers of reason. In Champlain’s understanding, it was a Christian ideal that embraced all humankind. This altruism was shared by others in his circle of French humanists, especially his mentors Henri IV and the sieur de Mons. Many of his companions in North America shared it too: Pont-Gravé, Lescarbot, Razilly, Hébert, Giffard, the Récollets, the Jesuits, and others. This idea arose from the deepest wellsprings of their Christian faith. In our secular world, Champlain’s Christian faith has been perceived as ethnocentric by secular ethnographers. But it was precisely that faith which inspired the principles of humanism and humanity on which modern ethnography rests.
- Champlain began his benefactions by announcing in his own inimitable way, “I desire now, O my God, that the most holy Virgin your mother should inherit everything that I possess here in personal property, gold, and silver.” The language was a little confused on the Trinity, but it was crystal clear on Champlain’s earthly intent.