Monday, September 16, 2013

A Spiritual Boot Camp: Training Tough Jesuits for a Tough World

A contemporary picture of the birth place of Point-the town of Rocroi
Greeting again! This week I continued my slow but steady journey through the life of Nicholas Point and his journeys in what eventually became the western United States. However, while last week was devoted almost entirely to examining paintings alongside Point's experiences, this week witnessed this lone historian battling through Nicholas Point S.J: His Life and Northwest Indian Chronicles by Cornelius M. Buckley S.J. Dedicated to the Oregon Jesuits who are continuing the work begun by Point and his compatriots, this biography charts Point's early life growing up in Revolutionary, and later Napoleonic and Restorative, France and experiencing the violence inherent in such a time. Reading about this pious man's early life is illuminating, primarily as it benefits my understanding Point not only as a subject of this internship but also as a man. Point was born in the late eighteenth century in France to a soon-to-be widowed mother, and as a young man he witnessed the terrible violence and warfare that waged between the great powers of Europe. A perfect example incorporating Point's piety with this historical context is described very early on in the book: shortly after Austria rejoined a coalition against Napoleon, the allies attacked near Point's home in Rocroi. During a battle near his home, Point collected what he could from his employer's office when a shell landed only feet away-covering him only in dust and gravel. Point attributed his good luck to the Blessed Virgin, an early indicator of his religious fervor.

This story shows the reader how close Point was to a military, and therefore violent, world. After his mother died, Point contemplated joining the military to make ends meet. However, this martial lens is evident throughout Point's life. Buckley spends much time describing how Point's first experiences in a Jesuit camp resembled a spiritual boot camp, stressing the strict obedience taught to the initiates and Ignatian focus of the training: to create soldiers for Christ. While he was sent home once, although later readmitted to training, the impact of this military style-religious preparation arises in his experiences among the natives. during his time with the Blackfeet, Point describes in a letter how he wishes to "conquer" the Crow nation for the Lord.. Furthermore, in several of Point's letters he wrote he includes rather terse and simple explanations of gruesome battles-in the third letter he explains, quite simply, how the Flathead defeated the Blackfeet so resoundingly that they suffered only four casualties while twenty-one of their opponents lay unburied. These contexts for Point dramatically changed what I thought about the man I will be working "with" for the next few months. When I first heard his story, I figured he was a simple, meek and delicate priest who bit off more than he could chew, so to speak. Now, under the contexts of his upbringing, training and writings, I see him as a rough soldier of God, willing to go to the farthest ends of the world at the time, the American frontier, in order to serve his cause.  

As such, after reading two considerable texts on Point, several primary documents from the man, and studying his artwork as well as I could in the past few weeks, I believe I will be moving beyond the the realm of research to the more interpretive and analytic aspects of this internship in the coming weeks. Instead of pouring over books telling the story of the hard-knocked Jesuit, I will be focusing on his art, detailing their themes and compiling a basic chronology.

Till then!

1 comment:

  1. Your recovery of Point's martial spirit is fascinating. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in his artwork.