Charles Chiniquy: Priest and Pastor in Canada (2)

Conversion to Protestantism

Chiniquy ignored the excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church 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 disappeared 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).­_charles_12E.html (Accessed March 1, 2017).