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The Jesuits and European Expansion

This secondary concern gradually achieved heightened significance as the Jesuits became an established presence in New France and elsewhere in North America. This essay will consider various explanations offered for the transformation of Jesuit missionary activity as that activity shifted from providing for the religious needs of French explorers and settlers to engaging Native Americans in Roman Catholicism. It will be argued, for example, that the missionary and conversion efforts of the French members of the Society of Jesus in New France were somewhat different than the countervailing conversion efforts of Puritan Protestants in New England and that historical analysis supports this contention.

Axtell (27-29) has demonstrated that the early French explorers, including Cartier and Roberval, did not go to Canada with any primary or even essential intention of converting the natives. However, the public statements made by FranceĂs King Francis I (among others directing colonial exploration and settlement) do tend to suggest that a primary purpose of French exploration was to instruct ˘savage men living without knowledge of God and without usage of religion÷ in GodĂs ˘Holy law and Christian doctrine" (Axtell, 28). Axtell (29) believes that appending a religious and spiritual mission to what was essentially a drive for territorial control and the vast resources of the New World may have been little more than a form o


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