Father Chiniquy and Reverend Chiniquy

Charles Chiniquy is one of those individual characters in the history of the Christian church that allows historians to understand two aspects of the church: Protestantism and Catholicism. 19th Century French Canadian, Father Chiniquy of the Roman Catholic Church, would eventually become Reverend Chiniquy of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Chiniquy, in his one person, allows the historian to get a picture of both Anti-Protestantism and Anti-Catholicism. In at attempt to better understand Charles Chiniquy, this paper will seek to narrate his life surrounding four major events. First, it will examine his Anti-Protestantism. Second, it will explore his support of the Temperance Movement. Third, it will analyze the validity of his conversion to Protestantism. Finally, it will discuss his Anti-Catholicism.

Temperance Movement

Charles Chiniquy was born on July 30, 1809 in Kamouraska, Lower Canada. His father died at an early age and Chiniquy was put in the care of his uncle, Amable Dionne. Under the watchful eye of his uncle, Chiniquy studied at the Séminaire de Nicolet. His training here would eventually lead him to pursue ordination in the Roman Catholic Church for he was regarded as a very gifted and pious public speaker.[1]

Chiniquy was ordained in Quebec City in 1833 by Bishop Signay.[2] He was now Father Chiniquy. After being bounced around several parishes he eventually was able to settle down in the St. Roch parish where he served from 1834 – 1838. It was his time here, specifically his labours in the Quebec Marine Hospital, that encouraged him to take up the Temperance Movement.  A Protestant physician by the name of Dr. James Douglas laboured at this hospital and he gave Chiniquy numerous pamphlets on the subject of temperance.[3] Chiniquy eventually became convinced that “many of the ills he saw at the hospital could be traced to drink.”[4]

It is here that something quite surprising occurred. Jan Noel writes,

  • Between 1848 and 1851 thousands of French-speaking Catholics in the Province of Canada came forward in their parish churches to take the temperance pledge. . . . For several decades evangelical Protestants had laboured long and hard to eradicate drunkenness; and now a Catholic priest was securing more converts in a single day than these earlier works had won with years of steady efforts.[5]

Part of the reason that this radical change started happening in French Canada was due to the eloquence of Chiniquy. As already mentioned, he was regarded as exceptionally gifted speaker. Yet, as Jan Noel points out, this is not something that is just due to the charisma of Chiniquy.[6] Rather, during this time in French Canadian history there is a dramatic return on the part of the parishioners back to traditionalism and submission to the authority of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. This, of course, is the result of the ultramontane movement lead by Bishop Bourget.[7] The growing image of the Church as an institute of both social reform and social authority[8] gave its charismatic leaders (in this case, Chiniquy) much authority and persuasion. Chiniquy also reinforced this ultramontane nationalist spirit by preaching that temperance was the only way that French Canadians could retain their national identity[9] in the face of a rise of Irish immigrants in Quebec and a growing number of French Canadians moving to the United States.[10] His success and popularity is evidenced by some 200,000 adherents to temperance.[11]


Chiniquy, in his early years, was a strongly committed Catholic. This is evidenced by the multiple opportunities (which he seemingly gladly took up) to engage in Anti-Protestantism. This fiery preacher of reform engaged with a group of Protestant radicals who published a newspaper called the L’Avenir. In his letters to this newspaper “he defended the church, the papacy, and the clergy’s right to intervene in public affairs, condemned annexation to the United States, and examined the question of emigration to that country.”[12] These letters prompted a growth in anti-clerical violence and at Montreal he strongly preached against the French Protestants who were known as “The Swiss.”[13] With his fiery rhetoric he “incited laity to minor violence against his opponents.”[14]

This rather violent Anti-Protestantism was a result of Charles Chiniquy’s firm beliefs. He wrote in his autobiography that,

  • ‘Out of the Church of the Church of Rome there is no salvation,’ [and that it] is one of the doctrines which the priests of Rome have to believe and teach to the people. That dogma, once accepted, caused me to devote all my energies to the conversion of Protestants.[15]

It seems that Bishop Bourget tacitly supported Chiniquy’s behaviour, for there is no evidence that he condemned it.[16] However, Chiniquy was running into trouble due to other issues. In 1851 he was suspended from his clerical office due to a charge of sexual harassment.[17] The validity of the charge is difficult to establish. Chiniquy himself denied any guilt and would later argue that the woman made up the allegation.[18] However, it appears that Chiniquy was involved in other scandals than just this one. In 1846 he was “admitted by the Oblates at the request of the archbishop of Quebec to atone there for a transgression”[19]committed during his time at Saint-Pascal. He also needed to be cleared of a claim by a woman in Kamouraska in 1848.[20]

This suspension and the Chiniquy’s questionable reputation prompted Bishop Bourget to ask him to leave his diocese. Chiniquy, desirous to preserve the faith of the French Canadian community in Illinois requested appointment there from Bourget. Roby writes that this enabled Bourget to offer “Chiniquy the opportunity for a fresh start.”[21] Bourget also regarded as a solution to a difficult problem: that of finding somebody suitable to minister to the French Canadians in Illinois. Chiniquy was in many ways the right person for the job because he “was familiar with the problems of the Canadians who had emigrated to the United States, since his temperance crusade had taken him among them.”[22]

Thus, in 1851 Chiniquy moved to St. Anne, Illinois as a colonizing priest.[23] It was in Illinois that Chiniquy began to run into administration and doctrinal issues with the Roman Catholic Church. This is primarily due to his American, Irish and even French clerical colleagues becoming jealous of his massive success among the French Canadian emigrants.[24] They “censured him, and spoke ill of him to the bishops of Lower Canada and Chicago.”[25] The Bishop of Chicago eventually got involved and blamed Chiniquy for all the dissension and disunity that was being stirred among the clergy and even among the laity. Chiniquy, not one who took criticism lightly, went on the defensive and start criticizing and making accusations himself.

Yet amidst an almost constant string of argument and lawsuits, Chiniquy maintained his anti-Protestantism, again supporting armed resistance against Protestants. He wrote in an American Catholic newspaper,

  • The morning after, two corpses of well-known Orangemen were found lying on the broken columns [of the Catholic church, which they had been desecrating]. I do not [have] to tell you that since that day the Catholics of Kingston have been left in peace. I will then say bravo![26]

Chiniquy was eventually sued by a land speculator named Peter Spink for slander. Chiniquy had accused Spink of lying to his clients regarding land sales (even though Chiniquy had often bought land from Spink for use by the church). In this famous set of trials in which Abraham Lincoln defended Chiniquy, Chiniquy accused Bishop Anthony O’Regan of financial corruption.[27] Due both to this accusation and the fact that Chiniquy would not move away from the St. Anne parish after the Bishop ordered him to, he was once again suspended from the priesthood. Chiniquy, in his typical rebellious fashion, refused to move stating that “the bishop wanted to seize his church and appoint an Irish priest (prompting many of his parishioners to support him).”[28] This open rebellion and the fact that Chiniquy had “wickedly presumed to exercise the functions of the sacred ministry, to preach, administer sacraments and say mass”[29] prompted his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church on September 3, 1856.

Conversion to Protestantism

Chiniquy ignored the excommunication in much the same way he ignored the suspension. Many of his parishioners reacted in much the same way. They remained loyal to him even though that loyalty meant that they too would be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.[30]

Gradually Chiniquy’s church began to look different, giving the Roman Catholics all the more support for their excommunication of him. Lougheed writes that

  • among the gradual transformations were the disappearance of articular confession, statues, holy water, Latin masses, fast days and vestments. No longer did they believe in purgatory, indulgences, mediation of the saints including Mary, and papal infallibility. Bible studies became prominent in many worship gatherings. . . . Already in 1852 the precedents were present in St. Anne for group Bible study and critique.[31]

This all resulted in Chiniquy and 2,000 other converts joining the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) in 1860[32] In February of that same year, Chiniquy was made a Presbyterian minister. He was now the Reverend Chiniquy.

As an unsurprising result of his conversion, Catholics distrusted and even hated him. They

  • could not endure the blasphemy and sacrilege of the apostate priest . . . . All Catholics were required to treat any contact with him or his productions as loathsome because of the abomination of his acts and words. His very name invoked the dreadful memories of an unparalleled rebellion against God.[33]

At first, some Protestants were not very impressed with him either. At the very least they were skeptical regarding whether or not he was a true Protestant and lamented the fact that the “ex-priest’s theological views were not clear and that the whole affair was about the trivial question of property.”[34] However, a lot of these concerns seemed to have went away when he joined the PCUSA. He preached a sermon in September of 1860 in which he directly affirmed Protestant doctrine. He stated,

  • I was surrounded by a light . . . and through that light I saw the way of salvation. Then for the first time I understood the mystery of the Cross of Christ . . . I felt that Christ had answered my prayer, that the mountains of my iniquity were gone, and I gave myself entirely and exclusively to Christ.[35]


His whole-hearted acceptance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone was enough to convince many Protestants of the sincerity of his conversion. Many more would rally behind him when they began to witness the fruits of his conversion: his bold anti-Catholicism. This anti-Catholicism prompted many to compare him to that of the Biblical Saul who once persecuted Christians.[36] He was given the title, “The Luther of Canada”[37] and he certainly lived up to that title. He began powerful speaking tours which “consisted of unrestrained attacks on the Catholic Church, its dogmas, sacraments, moral doctrine, and devotional practices. He made outrageous remarks about the pope, bishops, and priests.”[38] He went across Canada, the US, England, Scotland, and even Australia on his speaking trips.[39] The passionate anti-Protestant speaker, was now a very successful and powerful anti-Catholic preacher.

He was also a very provocative preacher. Lougheed tells the story that once Chiniquy “consecrated a wafer, using the Catholic liturgy and the irreversible power that, according to the Catholic Church, all those once-ordained still retained. After this he pierced the wafer with a knife, crumpled it and ground it under foot.”[40] He became such a controversial figure that the police failed to protect him, so the Orange Order offered him protection services.[41] These threats on his life helped him to gain more Protestant support and he was “honoured with a Doctor of Divinity degree from Presbyterian College in Montreal” in 1893.[42] In the end, it was not violent Catholics that killed Chiniquy, but rather he became deathly ill with bronchitis and died on January 17, 1899.[43]


As has been shown, all his life Chiniquy was a very controversial figure on both sides of the Christian camp. He was either hated by Protestants or hated by Catholics and sometimes even distrusted by both. However, his Protestant influence upon French Canada cannot be overlooked. Although the number is probably a bit high, Chiniquy claimed some 7000 converts to Protestantism after only four years in Montreal.[44] His autobiography was translated into many languages and by 1898 had gone through seventy editions.[45] Some 10,000 mourners, Protestant and Catholic, came to his funeral.[46] Paul Laverdure aptly points out that his enormous role in the Catholic-Protestant debates, was illustrated by a comment that one newspaper obituary states: “The thought that he never was even once killed in a religious riot must have embittered his last hours.”[47] Indeed, it must be remarked that one cannot understand the Protestant-Catholic divide in French Canada today apart from some understanding of Chiniquy. Nor can one be a Protestant or Catholic member of the clergy in Canada without understanding something of the role of Chiniquy in the history of religious controversy.


Carey, Patrick. “The Confessional and Ex-Catholic Priests in Nineteenth-Century Protestant America.” in U.S. Catholic Historian. 1 – 25

Chiniquy, Charles. Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1886.

Laverdure, Paul. “Charles Chiniquy: The Making of an Anti-Catholic Crusader.” in Historical Studies, 54 (1987): 39 – 59

Lougheed, Richard. The Controversial Conversion of Charles Chiniquy. Toronto: Clements Academy, 2008.

MacRaild, Donald. “Transnationalising ‘Anti-Popery’: Militant Protestant Preachers in the Nineteenth-Century Anglo-World.” in Journal of Religious History Vol. 39, No. 2 (June 2015): 224 – 243.

Noel, Jan. “Dry Patriotism: The Chiniquy Crusade” in Canadian Historical Review, LXXI, 2, (1990): 189 – 207

Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Roby, Yves. “Chiniquy, Charles.” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval (2003). http://biographi.ca/en/bio/chiniquy­_charles_12E.html (Accessed March 1, 2017).

Wade, Mason. The French Canadians: Volume I: 1760 – 1911. Toronto: Macmillian Company of Canada, 1968.

[1] Yves Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval (2003). http://biographi.ca/en/bio/chiniquy­_charles_12E.html (Accessed March 1, 2017)

[2] Richard Lougheed, The Controversial Conversion of Charles Chiniquy. (Toronto: Clements Academy, 2008), 34

[3] Jan Noel, “Dry Patriotism: The Chiniquy Crusade” in Canadian Historical Review, LXXI, 2, (1990), 196

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, 189

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, 193

[8] Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. (Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 253

[9] Noel, “Dry Patriotism”, 200

[10] Ibid, 197

[11] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 46

[12] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[13] Ibid

[14] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 51

[15] Charles Chiniquy, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. (Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1886), 283

[16] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 51

[17] Ibid, 53

[18] Ibid, 53

[19] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[20] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 53

[21] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[22] Ibid

[23] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 57

[24] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[25] Ibid

[26] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 70

[27] Ibid, 75

[28] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[29] Pastoral Letter of Bp. Anthony O’Regan, in Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 81

[30] Ibid, 109

[31] Ibid, 112

[32] Chiniquy, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, 820

[33] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 182

[34] Ibid, 228

[35] Quoted in ibid, 230

[36] Ibid, 185

[37] Ibid, 186

[38] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[39] Donald MacRaild, “Transnationalising ‘Anti-Popery’: Militant Protestant Preachers in the Nineteenth-Century Anglo-World.” in Journal of Religious History Vol. 39, No. 2 (June 2015), 225

[40] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 158

[41] Ibid, 160

[42] Ibid, 173

[43] Ibid, 176

[44] Chiniquy, Fifty Years, 822

[45] Roby, “Chiniquy, Charles”

[46] Lougheed, Controversial Conversion, 177

[47] Quoted in Paul Laverdure, “Charles Chiniquy: The Making of an Anti-Catholic Crusader” in Historical Studies, 54 (1987), 56

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