The Liturgy of Humiliation

The Liturgy of Humiliation

The 18th century was an incredibly different time, full of corruption and brutality. New France is a great example of just how brutal this time period was and Peter Moogk’s “The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain and Death: The Execution of Criminals in New France,” is an article that puts the justice system of New France under a proverbial microscope, analyzing execution and humiliation techniques used by the government and the Church. It tries to emphasize the influence that religion and the crown had on criminalization techniques used in New France and just how much control they obtained through the fear produced by public executions.

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Moogk Takes an active, vivid approach to writing that not only leaves the reader slightly more educated about said topic, but also slightly more uneasy about the nature of the human race. The article is written with a great amount of finesse that is intellectual food for the mind. The use of certain examples and the imagery that is produced by said examples is exemplary and the author does a great job explaining the degree of influence that these two major aspects of society had on execution techniques and why, however the lack of certain elaborations on mentioned points hurts the article slightly.

Though the article may not be the best vehicle for which this information is carried it doesn’t detour from the fact that this topic is incredibly interesting and unique. Early criminal justice is something that not only shows the drawbacks of human nature, but also how far it has developed over the course of around 200 years. Perhaps the highest point of this article is the inclusion of incredibly diverse and vivid examples of certain execution techniques that were commonly used on the criminals of New France.

The use of certain words paints very particular pictures in the head of the reader, allowing them to almost put themselves in the shoes of a commoner in Quebec, circa 1750. I can imagine watching a common thief have all of his limbs brutally broken with a steel bar, hearing his screams of agony as the executioner relentlessly beats him within an inch of his life. The man’s neck is then clasped by the grotesque hands of the executioner and he is throttled back and forth as his last breaths are forced from his body (Moogk, Peter, The liturgy of Humiliation, Pain and Death: Execution of Criminals in New France, pg. 8. ) This is definitely a deterrent for anyone else to ever even think of attempting a similar crime. Even if a deceased man is convicted for a crime his cadaver and his memory must accept the corresponding punishment. Sergeant Henri Begard of Quebec City was involved in a duel and was found dead on the street in January of 1698. Although He was deceased, Moogk explains that he was found guilty for starting the duel that led to his own death. The body was to be dragged by a hurdle, face down through the streets of Quebec City.

All of his worldly possessions were confiscated by the crown and his memory defamed for eternity (Moogk, pg. 97. ) These stories were just a few examples of the excellent situations presented by Moogk and just how well the words create a visual aid, making the article have that much more of an impact on the reader, as well as help to promote the argument that is presented. One of Moogk’s main focuses of the article seems to be the idea that, contrary to popular belief, the church and religion in general provided an immense amount of influence on the perception of crime and how criminals were treated.

According to Moogk, “public executions in New France expressed Christian notions of sin, expiation and spiritual salvation ( pg. 94. )” The practice of public executions was not only designed to promote the power of the crown, but also to encourage the ideals of religion. People were taught by the priests of the Catholic Church to abstain from sin and anything that might lead one to sin. The act of committing a crime is a perfect example of one going against the teachings of god, openly defying his word and law. The following punishment would befit the severity of the crime and would also be drenched in religious influence.

The process of a guilty cadaver being dragged through the streets face down not only hid his face from the people, but also hid his guilty face from god. A man who is condemned in such a way does not deserve to gaze up at god. He instead must hide his face in shame for what he’s done. These public executions instilled an extreme sense of fear into the hearts of anyone who observed them. This fear was not only used by the crown to gain substantial power over its subjects, but also by the church to solidify the ideas of god and the need to avoid the temptations of sin at all costs.

This article has made me wonder just how much influence the crown actually had on the construction of the law system if all of the laws are based around the idea of sin. Although the crown gained substantial power through the catalyst of fear, the church was the underlying force from which that fear was built. I became incredibly intrigued by the large aspects of this article, but I soon found myself intellectually blocked by the lack of info on the smaller ones.

Moogk does a great job elaborating on the authority that the crown and the church had over the civilians of New France. Though the main points of the article are supported with a multitude of facts and examples, I feel that the other, smaller components are hurt by the lack of attention that they receive. Perhaps the most prevalent point in my mind is the mention of the aboriginal people in the area of New France. The article states that the “Indians living in the St. Lawrence valley enjoyed a sort of diplomatic immunity (Moogk, pg. 106. These aboriginal residents rarely received punishment that befitted their crimes because “the French were afraid of alienating their native allies by subjecting them to European criminal punishments (Moogk, pg. 107. ) These two points are all that are mentioned about the inclusion of aboriginal people in the justice system of New France. I was hoping that the author would go into more detail regarding the different techniques the Europeans used on aboriginal offenders and just how they were treated in comparison to European offenders.

If Moogk would’ve elaborated on this topic, the information would have far surpassed the two or three sentences that were dedicated to it. The treatment of women and children during this time, though also mentioned briefly, would have also been a welcomed addition to this otherwise great article. Although the omission of certain elaborations leaves the reader slightly unfulfilled, it allows one to focus more on the big points rather than the ones that don’t support the main argument as effectively.

Peter Moogk’s article, “The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain and Death: The Execution of Criminals in New France” is a piece of writing that explains the brutality of the 17th and 18th century in New France. It explains the many execution techniques used by the crown and effectively argues that the Church also had a major influence on the design of certain executions. Providing incredibly vivid examples that prove to not only churn one’s stomach, but also paint images that make the information provided have even more of an impact, as well as include an adequate amount of information to rgue just how much influence the Church had on the justice system compared to the Crown is more than enough to compensate for the lack of information on other smaller topics that are briefly touched upon. This article presents a tasteful and interesting delivery and I believe it achieves the goal of effectively educating the reader about the techniques that brutally and definitively ended the lives of hundreds of people.


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