How does Brother John’s life compare with that of the Saints, the Blessed like Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and other religious zealots and leaders?
If Brother John does deserve consideration for beatification or perhaps sainthood, we have to first look at his life experience and ask:
- Did he live an exemplary life, with evidence that he engaged in actions or activities worthy of imitation and directed towards the betterment and goodness of mankind?
- Did he live an eventful life, one that could be considered heroic in nature and a sign of martyrdom due to his untimely death?
- Did he live a life in which he underwent a major conversion of heart, leading him to abandon his previous “immoral” life, replacing it with a life of outstanding holiness?
The answer is ‘yes’ to all three.
NOTE: This page is fairly lengthy and goes through the following topics related to Brother John’s life, saintliness, and sainthood:
- Living a Saintly Life
- From Souls to Saints
- Who is Tschoop?
- Saint John the Baptist
- Book of Job
- Saint John the Apostle
- The Apostle as Teacher, The Apostle as Healer
- Medical Saints and Blesseds
- Father Damien
- Brethren John and Saint Father Damien
- Spiritual Healing and the Conversion Process
- Brother John and Blessed Kateri
- The Need for Proof
Tschoop’s Verse or Prayer
Source: Edmund de Schweinitz. The Life of David Zeisberger: the Western Pioneer and Apostle of the Indians. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott &Co., 1871. p. 99.
The Martin Luther in John
Who is Tschoop (pronounced ‘tchob’, long 0)? St. John the Baptist? Job of the Book of Job? St. John the Apostle and Evangelist?
Spangenberg once referred to Tschoop as a version of Martin Luther. The Dutch referred to his as Job. The Missionaries referred to him as the Apostle of Shekomeko and gave him the baptismal name John.
The Dutch traders whom Tschoop interacted with referred to him as “Job”, the pronunciation and therefore spelling of which was significantly modified when this name was first put in writing as it sounded to German writers. Moravians however had already related Tschoop’s personality and character to another more recently famous character in European history–Martin Luther.
In Das Leben A. G. Spangenbergs, Bischofs der Brüdergemeinde by Karl Friedrich Ledderhose, August Gottlieb Spangenberg (p. 59, Heidelberg, 1846), the following note on Johannes was included in a paragraph on Shekomeko:
“Der erste der ihm begegnete war der Indianerlehrer Iohannes der früher ein ruchloser Mensch gewesen war und nun von der Gnade in Christo Iesu Zeugniß ablegte Obwohl Spangenberg ihn nie gesehen hatte so erkannte er ihn doch gleich da es von ihm hieß daß er dem Dr Luther ähnlich sehe.”
This is retold by Edmund De Schweinitz in The life and times of David Zeisberger (1871), page 116:
“The converts fulfilled the highest hopes of their teachers John especially was a living monument of grace and an enthusiastic preacher of righteousness. According to their unanimous testimony his eloquence was irresistible Bishop Spangenberg used to say of him that he had the countenance of a Luther.”
Appearing as well year later in a footnote on page 197 of Ruttenber’s History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River (1872):
“Wasamapah was the ruling chief at Shekomeko. He was a man of remarkable powers of mind and in whose mien “was the majesty of a Luther.” He died of small pox at Bethlehem Aug 27, 1746 Loskiel II, 93, 94.”
A number of features of Tschoop’s character and looks may be linked to the association Moravian missionary leaders made between him and Luther.
In Eugene Stock ‘s Story of the Bible (New York, 1906), Luther is explained as “the greatest of the Reformers who all taught among other things three grand truths first that we are saved not by our good deeds for our good deeds never can be good enough but by faith in Jesus Christ as our one and only Saviour secondly that we can go straight to our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ and tell Him our sins and He will forgive us for Christ’s sake thirdly that God’s messages for us are in the Bible and we must go to the Bible to know His will and His truth.”
Some of the natural events that took place in an around the Hudson Valley kindled the Lutheran spirit in Tschoop. Luther was significantly influenced by one of God’s natural events that many missionaries interpreted as God’s reminders to us about our sins. According to biographer Martin Brecht, Luther’s early years in solitude as a monk were a result of Luther’s witness to the powers of many natural events, for example:
“on 2 July 1505, he was on horseback during a thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him as he was returning to university after a trip home. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, ‘Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!'”
Luther went through some of the same issues which Tschoop might have later had to endure as well. Due to Luther’s anger with the Creator brought on by illness, Luther was said to possess “self-willed positiveness and hypochondriac asceticism”.
A discussion of Luther in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09438b.htm) states:
“This anger of God, which pursued him like his shadow, could only be averted by “his own righteousness”, by the “efficacy of servile works”. Such an attitude of mind was necessarily followed by hopeless discouragement and sullen despondency, creating a condition of soul in which he actually “hated God and was angry at him”, blasphemed God, and deplored that he was ever born. This abnormal condition produced a brooding melancholy, physical, mental, and spiritual depression, which later, by a strange process of reasoning, he ascribed to the teaching of the Church concerning good works, while all the time he was living in direct and absolute opposition to its doctrinal teaching and disciplinary code.”
Could the missionaries have noticed Tschoop expressed some of the same feelings at times due to his medical condition? Was Tschoop angry at God for this problem?
By taking on the struggle with this neighbors in Rhinebeck, Tschoop’s attitudes and vocalizations at times must have seemed very Luther-like at times. His boisterous nature probably did more to generate the spark needed to ignite fire than any other arguments vocalized between Christian Indian missionary leaders and their Calvanist and Protestant neighbors. This resulted in so much social unrest at times that the local colonists, justices, and governor had even more reason to allow their own fears of infidelity to the Book and Church to take hold. Witnessed behaviors of these locals may have even invited thoughts similar to Luther’s own progression in his criticisms of this continued lack of expression of faith: “During my absence, Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I cannot repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word.” (Letter of 7 March 1522. Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol VII, Ch IV, Brecht 2:57).
Tschoop’s certainty also gave him a personality that for an American Indian was a surprise to local former European communities. This local belief of Protestant origin claimed the view that faith itself can be considered sufficient enough for one to obtain salvation following death, making the need to adhere to religious law no longer necessary and an obsolete social practice. According to Tschoop, using an explanation found in the Catholic Encyclopedia for Luther:
“Man can be saved by faith alone. Our faith in Christ makes His merits our possession, envelops us in the garb of righteousness, which our guilt and sinfulness hide, and supplies in abundance every defect of human righteousness.”
Perhaps Tschoop, or should I say Luther said, “we want to practice Christian love toward them and pray that they convert,” but also that they are “our public enemies … and if they could kill us all, they would gladly do so. And so often they do.” [From Luther, Martin. Admonition against the Jews, added to his final sermon, cited in Oberman, Heiko. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, New York: Image Books, 1989, p. 294. A complete translation of Luther’s Admonition can be found in Wikisource.s:Warning Against the Jews (1546)]
One of the most Luther-like things that John did is defined by the following short quote. This sentence Tschoop utters is said just before Mr. Hegemen, Justice of the Peace living in Filkintown concluded his assessment of the Shekomeko and its people. Although understanding the explanations given to him for their past behaviors, and religious practices, the Christian Indians tried to convince Hegemen that they were not as bad or problematic as he said and felt (Loskiel v2, p 59):
Tschoop’s typically zealot response to this action was very much like Martin Luther’s argument regarding the Laws of the Church versus the Laws of Government, the former typically considered the highest by the zealots. This is told by Loskiel as follows (p. 60):
Tschoop’s Real Name
At last, one of these saint’s names can be ascribed to Tschoop. Job is the original name related to the Bible which was given to Tschoop following his initial encounters with Rauch and others of European descent. [Tschoop is pronounced like ‘chope’ or ‘jope’, starting with something between a ‘y’, ‘ch’ and ‘j’ sound, followed by long o’s, and ending with a ‘p’.]
In The life and times of David Zeisberger by Edmund De Schweinitz (1871), one of the lengthiest descriptions of his naming error is detailed in a footnote on page 98:
“This Indian is called Tschoop by Loskiel The same name is inscribed on his tombstone at Bethlehem placed over his grave about twenty-five years ago It occurs also in the official record of his death in the Church Register as follows Johannes sonst Tschoop genannt that is John otherwise called Tschoop. His real Indian name was Wasamapah, his English name prior to his baptism Job and the name he received in baptism John. I incline to the opinion that he never bore the name Tschoop among the natives but that it originated among the early Moravians in consequence of their German mode of pronouncing Job and that Loskiel mistook it for an original name. It is not found in any early documents other than the Church Register Zeisberger never uses it but calls the man either Job or John and the official register of Indian baptisms knows nothing of it but gives Wasamapah. I am strengthened in my opinion first by the fact that those early Moravians who came to this country from Germany often misspelt English names so as to render them almost unintelligible second by the circumstance that in Pyrlaeus’s Narrative of the Work of the Brethren among the Indians of North America a MS in the BA corrected by Count Zinzendorf the latter in the margin gives this Indian the name of Copp evidently another corruption of Job and finally by the opinion entertained among students of Indian history living at Bethlehem fifty years ago that Tschoop is a misnomer for Job.”
During a presentation at the 1984 Conference at State University of New York College for the James Fenimore Cooper Society, a meeting held in July in Oneonta, Will J. Alpern presented details on the history of Tschoop and how he obtained this name, one which scarcely appears in other documents on Mahican hisory. According to Alpern:
“Cothren’s History of Ancient Woodbury [Conn.] tells little about individual Indians who lived in the region in the decades of the 1730s and 1740s. We know that Atchetousset had a daughter who was converted by the Moravians. Another Indian, Job, went with the preachers to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, according to a page written in eighteenth-century German script from one of the Scaticook Mission diaries. It tells of a trip by one of the brothers and several Indians to the northern headquarters of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem. Job’s Indian name was Wasamapah which means “he crosses over back and forth.” Since Job lived at Scaticook, Connecticut, and Shekomeko, New York, the name may be descriptive of his trips back and forth to and from these villages.”
“The first two converts were Shabash and Tschoop. The Moravians wrote extensively about these two Mohicans and their helpful influence in converting other Mohican and Delaware. Shabash means “running water.” I was unable to translate Tschoop. One diary describes Tschoop as a man with broad shoulders, a barrel chest and huge arms, a physique “more like a bear than a man.” In time I learned that the missionary who first met Tschoop pronounced the letter B as though it were a P. In his German dialect Job sounded like Tschoop. Other recording preachers thought Tschoop was an Indian name and referred to him as Tschoop in their diaries. At Bethlehem I was surprised to learn that the grave of Tschoop (Job) baptized as Johannes or John was visited in the century following 1820 by more than a million people. Job was one of three Moravian Indians whose lives were studied by James Fenimore Cooper. From what he read of them, Cooper fashioned the character of Uncas and Chingachgook in the Leatherstocking series. Posthumous fame and an initial stream of visitors came to Tschoop seventy-five years after his death when The Pioneers was published. Even today people come to see the grave of “The Last of the Mohicans.” The headstone of Tschoop’s grave is in Gottes Aker at Bethlehem where he died in August 1746.”
In a footnote on page 197 of Ruttenber’s History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River (1872), the following is noted:
“Schweinitz in his Life and Times of David Zeisberger says the name of this chief was Wasamapah; his English name prior to his baptism, Job; and the name he received in baptism, John; that he never bore the name of Tschoop among his people, but that it originated among the Moravians in consequence of their German mode of pronouncing Job. Loskiel II, 93, 94”
Also consider the following, found in Stocker’s History of the Moravian Mission among the Indians on the White River in Indiana:
“A gifted, but profligate Chief of the Mohicans, who became one of the most distinguished Indian converts won by the Moravians. He was known as Job among the traders. Some German, unacquainted with English, mentioned this name in a written report, spelling it as he pronounced it, and Wasamapah became familiarly known as “Tschoop,” some people mistakenly thinking that this was an Indian word. His baptismal name was John.” (Stocker 1947, p 10 (fn))
Pronunciation summary: Tsch = sch, oo = long o, p = p; therefore Tschoop = ‘Shope’. J = Y, o = aw, b = p; Job = ‘yawp’.
My own review of this theory of the origin of the name Tschoop resulted in a lack of confirmation of the above claims. If we accept for the moment the possibility that ‘Job’ became “Tschoop” due to the Dutch pronunciation, there is also the possibility that this claim is in error.
A review of the modern Dutch pronunciation of ‘Job’, and its related childhood name ‘Joob’, the latter more accurately matches the expectation of the double ‘o’, but both have an English ’y’-like pronunciation, i.e. ‘Yob’ or ‘Yo-ob’ (long o). It is possible that a Low Dutch pronunciation more closely resembles the ‘y’sound, but for now my certainty about this possibility is lacking.
In modern Dutch, the ‘Tsch’ like sound is spelled as ‘sch’. Based on this lead, if we look at he phonemic options implied by ‘Tschoop”, we find that the Dutch words for ’shovel’ (schep, rhyming with ‘pep’), sheep (schaap, rhyming with ‘hop’), sharp/spicy (scherp, like “shairp’), clean (schoon, like ‘shone’), and soup (soep, pronounced like its translation, ‘soup’) suggest that either there was a misspelling of the phonetic ‘yob’ or that another undetermined term was inferred.
Due to the silent T, Job remains the most likely reason for the commonly published Dutch version of the biblical name for Wasamapah, the sachem’s true native name, as ‘Tschoop’.
Note to reader: To understand what I am saying, the audios for these phonological items can be accessed at http://web.me.com/schuffelen/Site/ReferenceTranslated.html “Dutch Pronunciation Examples – A Rough Translation” and http://web.me.com/schuffelen/Site/DutchPronunciation.html.
The apostle as teacher, the apostle as healer
In August of 1742, Count Zinzendorf made his way to Shekomeko along with his daughter Benigna, and Anthony Seiffart. They travelled from Bethlehem through the Blue Mountains (Catskills) passing Minisinck and Esopus along the way. During his stay in Shekomeko, the Count was so impressed by the Mahicans’ behavior and devotion that he drew up a series of rules which he called “Articles” by which the practice of religious behaviors were to be defined. Article in this document defined the role of John along with three others:
As an apostolic figure for his people, Brother John taught and promoted his understanding of the meaning of the Bible. He performed this task on a fairly regular basis so far as we can tell from the various comments made about his teaching activities. From this image of John we can also conclude that the reason he was provided with “John’s Workshop” at the far end of the crescent-shaped village of Shekomeko (see next figure) was that this is where he gave his classes, shared his life story, and shared his interpretation of the Book.
John’s Workshop was possibly also the place where various social decisions were made, since Native American history typically involves many of the decision-making processes taking place in meetings attended by all members of the village. No tribal or missions leader was alone responsible for making the most important democratic decisions. For this reason perhaps, the location for John’s Workshop was on the opposing end of the crescent village setting than the Church, with a large garden tended to by his brethren immediately behind it, facing east for the most part. A cemetery plot was placed on the North to Northeast border of this village. The main entrance leading towards the Mission house was somewhere along the village’s south edge.
As a preacher and healer, John’s work was for his people, their social rights, and the overall social cause, not for himself. When it came to individual health-related matters, his focus was on spiritual health, not physical health, and how this spiritual health related to the teachings of the Bible, as he interpreted them to be. When it came to the Indian perspective of local politics, he was concerned mostly about the constant threats every where due skirmishes and wars. There were also the growing threats of the French, English and German neighbors he was then facing, and the growing fears of possible violence. Whereas Wasamapah may have been aggressive leader and sachem, Tschoop or Job a struggling leader, Brother Luther an overly charismatic and outspoken “born-again”, as Brother John he was a pacifist. Brother John often used his appearances, charm, and charisma to attract listeners whenever he could. At times he even succeeded in changing certain social and political leaders’ minds. We see evidence for this in the following sections pulled from the historical recounts of the Shekomeko mission:
[Loskiel,Vol.2,Ch.1, p. 21. The “fire of the Gospel” in Shekomeko]
[Loskiel, Vol. 2, Ch. 5,p. 77, Reaction by a Minisinck woman]
One of the most importance influences John would have as a “healer” related to his role as the non-aggressor or pacifist in local colonial history. This use of the term pacifist refers to a demeanor very different from what we traditionally refer to pacifist behaviors in modern society. John’s role in his community as a pacifist was more like that of an opponent to violence in a Christian sense. This apologetic thinking was also practiced by other non-conforming religious groups in this region as well, but none really demonstrated it as strongly as this particular Hudson Valley cultural group during the local colonial period. This pacifism was yet another feature so different, that it ultimately resulted in such public misunderstandings and distress as a true threat of an upcoming war. Even today, such behavior is frequently responded to with disbelief, to such an extent that most people simply ignore this ranting and raving claiming it to be an extremist point of view. In the immediate vicinity of Shekomeko, we find evidence for public unrest with Tschoop’s pacifism in the form of simple arguments ensuing followed by the conjuring up of new tales and exaggerated claims of violent potential made by the locals, in particular the Calvinists of the new township developing around “Reinbeck”.
John’s reaction to the violence was his use of the Bible to stake his claim that these action were opposite of the teachings of Jesus. In his remarks upon violence itself, he stated:
In reaction to two attacks made upon him and the Mahicans by others, Loskiel writes:
[Vol 2, Chap. 5, p. 77]
[Vol 2, Chap. 5, p. 77]
The best evidence for John’s unique charisma was penned on November 6, 1744. On that day, Bishop A.G. Spangenberg was visiting Shekomeko in response to a report sent to him by Count Zinzendorf several weeks earlier. Accompanied by Captain Garrison, as the two of them arrived in Shekomeko, Spangenberg was immediately able to recognize Brother John as he entered the village based on Zinzendorf’s description of John’ unique character:
[Loskiel,Vol. 2,. Chap. 4, p.65. Brethren John]
NOTE: More examples of this documentation appear in the chapters that follow, beginning with “Evidence”.
John’s stage presence was his most important attribute for the evangelical leader he was about to become. Throughout his presentations his impressions of ‘the Word’, you could most likely see the physical state he was in. To some extent this made John even more of an attraction, but only in the beginning of his presentation. Once you heard his interpretation of the Bible as an Indian, you couldn’t help but be impressed by his understanding of the text and its meaning. This was perhaps so much the case that personal criticisms would soon have to erupt to balance out one’s own private Calvinist view of these words with John’s more literal, naturalistic impressions that he often gave his listeners.
With John leading the way, in just a year this resulted in the successful invitation of numerous Indians from places immediately adjacent to and at a considerable distance from Shekomeko. According to Loskiel:
[Vol.2, Chap.4, p. 57]
Eventful Life, Untimely Death
John the Martyr
John’s unfortunate departure in 1746 came as a result of a common infectious disease, which most Native Americans were highly susceptible to due to the lack of history of such a disease prior to the landing of the first European ships. Infectious diseases spread from person to person, with and without direct human contact, were the first to take the lives of many Native Americans. Due to the absence of these highly contagious diseases prior to European contact, Native Americans lacked an immunity to these illnesses. The result of becoming infected with these illnesses was often deadly, if not disabling. Generally speaking, the most deadly example of this type of disease was small pox, followed by measles.
As shown in a previous essay reviewing John’s health, there is strong evidence suggesting John had some sort of severely debilitating condition such as mid to late stage rheumatic disease complicated by severe knee arthritis and heart failure, or some form of old-age onset lumbar spinal (lower back) degenerative disease, complicated by vertebral crushing with fractures and lower back deformity. Each of these could have been complicated by the significant weight gain that John experienced due to decreased mobility (Evidence for this tendency to gain weight is well documented; long known as “New World Syndrome”, physicians now link this to the new Metabolic Syndrome.) John managed to live an eventful life in spite of his disabling condition(s). Every part of this success John had with his health was abruptly halted once the growing political and social pressures in Eastern New York forced him and others to remove to Bethlehem in 1745.
This removal put John and others in direct contact with many followers, converts, curious listeners and onlookers who were passing through this heavily populated village setting. The larger number of people living in close association with each other in this part of the colonies increased the likelihood that people already residing there, along with travelers passing through, might infect them with infectious diseases in various stages and forms. Those who were the first to be infected by these diseases were also the most active and vocal members of this community, leaders like John and his close associates Benjamin (Schabat, his associate when they first met Rauch) and Isaac (his “servant”).
[Pennsylvania-German Society. Old Moravian Cemetery of Bethlehem, PA. 1912. p.23]
[Pennsylvania-German Society. Old Moravian Cemetery of Bethlehem, PA. 1912. p.27]
One of the chief signs of sacrifice John demonstrated was his ability to remain true to his cause, without allowing a fear of contagion or ‘bad spirits’ on behalf of the Creator to prevent him from his evangelical endeavors. His ability to overcome his other debilitating condition may have been the primary reason for his fortitude when it came to his overall health. In spite of his body’s overall decaying state, his spirit remained intact.
Medical Saints and Blesseds
There are many Saints and Blessed’s with links to medicine and public health that could be related to Tschoop’s life story. The best known examples of these include
- Our Lady of Lourdes, for all sickness.
- St. Vitus, the patron saint of dancers, affiliated with treating Saint Vitus Dance, Sydenham’s Chorea, or dancing mania.
- St . Anthony the Abbott, affiliated with Erysipelas or St. Anthony’s Fire
- St. Matthias for Small Pox
- St. Teresa of Avila for severe headaches
- St. Dymphna for epilepsy
- St. John of God for the health of the heart.
Whereas the Saints’ practices represent a merging of the physical world with the metaphysical world, some of these practices have strong characteristics indicative of both. For combined American Indian-European traditions, we once again find Saint Patrick serving as a good example. Famous for taking the snakes out of Ireland, were such a story told to the Native American, no doubt parallels might be made with their own tales about local snakes and the ability of their spirit to enter our body through their long fangs, resulting in a mottling of our skin, our desire to fall to the ground and convulse like a snake on a hot rocky surface. Even though in a modern sense, the threat of the venomous snake was not really present in Ireland, this alone did no matter. There was more to the bite than being just being poisoned by venom. There was still the potential threat of some sort of metaphysically based problem coming to surface from within due to the presence of snakes. We can liken this part of the natural history to the Native American legends about the ways in which the animal spirit within snake bites can be halted through the use of ‘snakeroot medicines’ , a topic also discussed briefly in an earlier chapter on the Moravian missions and in considerable detail in my work on New York Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden. Colden’s influences on this part of American medical history are based on his theory that non-venomous Black Snake could be just as potent and fatal to its victims as the venomous rattler or copperhead. In terms of a local European take on this overly spiritually based remedy for snake bites, recall that Colden explained such cures based on his theory that the Black Snake has unique powers, resulting in its ability to charm its potential victims before taking their life, with or without the presence of venom.
There are two Blesseds that have conditions similar to that of Tschoop. They are:
- Blessed Hermann the Cripple, who had a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida, and yet still became a scholar in astronomy, math, history, and theology and was versed in several languages.
- Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni of Siena who was so deformed and crippled that he was left with a nunnery, only to recover and later study under Thomas Aquinas.
Saints and Blesseds associated with the psychologically and spiritually needy, as well as the mentally ill, include:
- St. Maximilian Kolbe for drug abuse
- St. Jude for the sense of hopelessness.
The social purposes served by an individual of spiritual importance to a community are easy to obtain evidence once the individual is defined as “gifted”. If we assume for the moment that Tschoop or Brother John was in fact gifted, then a number of features of his gift stand out.
Did he live an exemplary life, engaged in activities worth imitating? Did he experience an eventful life, only to experience an untimely death due to these efforts? Is he an excellent example of why conversion is so important, resulting in the abandonment of a previous immoral lifestyle?
These are the three basic questions asked whenever someone is evaluated for possible sainthood. Tschoop’s life before his conversion made him appear to best fit the third or last qualifying feature for becoming a Beatus. His life practices made him better fit the first qualification. The reasons for his martyrdom finalized by a small pox epidemic made him also fit the second requirement.
In essence, a community leader like John has gone through some tragic and at times desperate life experiences that are not atypical of others beatified or canonized. In spite of his illness and the related physical debility, he continued his work as a spiritual leader, with little concern for his own physical betterment. Moreover, when he along with others had to finally leave Shekomeko, NY, in 1745/6, he and the others removed to Bethlehem. This put him in close contact with numerous others, especially those from other hamlets, villages, towns and cities. The risk of such interactions were probably of little concern to him and his followers. Due to the limited epidemiological knowledge that existed about some of the worst diseases at the time known to take their tolls on the Native Americans, high infectious person-to-person spread diseases like measles and small pox, Brother John and others took this path in life regardless of potential consequences. During the summer of 1746, these consequences follow took shape in Brother John’ s life.
Conversion of the Heart
The saints I have so far discussed are all historic figures in Christian history. They were important figures the missionaries were well aware of, with names that were used due to their recognizable nature on behalf of other missionaries, church members and well read Christians. But how about more recent figures in history worthy of recognition whose lives may be comparable with Brother John’s?
John’s story reminds us of one other path to Sainthood which recently received recognition for events that took place during the late 19th century–the life of Father Damien. By no means is this a direct comparison between the Father Damien and Tschoop. Tschoop or Brother John was Native American, Father Damien was Belgian. Brother John learned about Christianity during his mid-age, Father Damien became fully dedicated to Christianity during his childhood years.
Still, what the two of these individuals had in common was their reluctance to allow the fear of disease stop them from reaching their spiritual goals. Father Damien chose a route in missionary life that he knew would become a test of his faith and his self-defined purpose in life. For Brother John, the possibility of catching a deadly disease like measles or small pox was of no concern. His physical health status was already an indicator of his commitment to this new profession. Both Brother John’ s and Father Damien’s personal needs and goals were to simply the world, using personal experience as an example, and to maintain peace between Native groups and between Natives and colonists.
Bishop and Doctor St. Peter Damien
What created the inspiration for Father Damien, originally named Jozef (“Jef”) De Veuster, to become who he was?
More than likely it was the spark of inspiration that led Jozef (“Jef”) De Veuster to become a missionary and to select Saint Peter Damien as his new name. Saint Peter Damien’s life’s history had its parallels with that of Jef’s life, and as Jef became more set in his career as a priest, these parallels only seemed to become more remarkable.
A major difference between St. Peter Damien and Jef was Peter’ s academic history. Peter Damien was not only a student learned in various specialties, but also a teacher. This sometimes has the advantage of increasing one’s desire to modify his or her behaviors to make up for losses in one area, by bettering them in the next. For Jef, these areas he had work harder in included Peter’s success in building a monastery, a library and a series of homes for use as hermitages. Once he began his mission, Father Damien worked to build a place of prayer and worship for his people, and laid out plans to fulfill the need for new homes by his people, helping them establish whatever facilities they needed to stabilize the social unrest already present in the region, and to assist the sisters in their efforts to improve this program.
Two other parallels between Peter and Jef pertain to their personal living habits. Peter Damien often stressed his body. By replacing sleep with prayer during his years of life, and often living in solitude as a monk, he placed a certain amount of physical stress upon his body. Just how much this stress impacted his success seems minimal in the long run, an outcome that was perhaps most inspiring to Jef or Father Damien. We see this when we review the choice Father Damien made when he decided to serve the missions at Moloka’i, to the fullest extent possible, after just few days of being there. That which in biological terms was a decision made most certainly as a result of passions felt during the initial days of this experience, was later supported by a more complete sense of devotion that arose in the months ahead. Both he and the archbishop knew this when Jef made his first journey to the Islands. Like St. Peter Damien in the monastery, Jef became Father Damien once he determined the way to isolate himself from the rest of the world. become a part of this community, and serve more than 800 lepers occupying this region.
Peter Damian grew up to become a teacher and, later, became a Benedictine monk. He was always very devout and passionate about prayer, fasting, sacrifices and caring for the poor. He regularly welcomed poor people to eat with him. He spent so much time in prayer and reading Scripture that he developed insomnia. He had to learn to use his time more wisely, so that he could have the time he wanted for prayer and still get enough sleep to maintain his health. And there are three other features of Peter Damian that can be related to Jef or Father Damian:
- Though never officially canonized, Peter Damian is a Doctor of the Church, a title granted to him in part because of his efforts to reform the Church from within and to encourage the practice of prayer and study of Scripture. He was a prolific writer, a man of great influence in his world, and yet also a humble monk in spirit, retreating to the monastery whenever possible to live his preferred life of simplicity and prayer.
- Damien’s first course of action was to build a church and establish the Parish of Saint Philomena. His role was not limited to being a priest: he dressed ulcers, built homes and beds, built coffins and dug graves
- What seemed to stand out the most about St. Peter Damien are the events that played a role in some of the decisions Jef would later make was his life. He came to call himself Father Damien while working in Moloka’i.
It is these parallels that Jef had with Peter Damien that demonstrate to us some of the most important features of those who serve a higher cause and ultimately, God willing, achieve sainthood.
Eight days following his arrival in Kalaupapa on May 10, 1873, Father Damien sent a letter to provincial requesting permission to stay permanently. Since provincial had not yet made any decision on this matter, his superior responded by saying “…You may stay as long as your devotion dictates…” In a subsequent letter Father Damien sent to his brother in Pamphile, Europe, he defined an important personal decision he made: “…I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
About the time of this letter, Father Damien was beginning to reside with his followers on the island of Molokai in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawai’i), along the north shore in a hamlet known as Kalaupapa. Father Damien’s fate by now had been determined. He was no longer the person who left the port in his home town to consider this new missionary role.
In December 1884 while preparing to bathe, Damien put his foot into scalding water, causing his skin to blister. He felt nothing. He had contracted leprosy. Despite this discovery, residents say that Damien worked vigorously to build as many homes as he could and planned for the continuation of the programs he created after he was gone.
Masanao Goto, a Japanese leprologist, came to Honolulu in 1885 to examine and treat Father Damien. It was his theory that the Father caught leprosy due to a diminution of the blood. His treatment of Father Damien consisted of nourishing food, moderate exercise, frequent friction to the benumbed parts, special ointments and medical baths. The treatments did, indeed, relieve some of the symptoms and were very popular with the Hawaiian patients. Father Damien had faith in the treatments and stated that he wished to be treated by no one but Dr. Masanao Goto.
Dr. Goto was one of his best friends and Damien’s last trip to Honolulu on July 10, 1886, was made to receive treatment from him.
In his last years Damien engaged in a flurry of activity. While continuing his charitable ministrations, he hastened to complete his many building projects, enlarge his orphanages, and organize his work. Help came from four strangers who came to Kalaupapa to help the ailing missionary: a priest, a soldier, a male nurse, and a nun.
Damien was probably much younger than Tschoop was when Tschoop was converted to Brother John by Christian Rauch. During a peak period in one’s life, such a decision has obvious potential for consequences without any need for further elaboration. Tschoop had already made it into his prime years, at a time and in a place where living for more than several decades was no easy task. Father Damien chose a route that essentially cut his life span in half.
Brethren John and Saint Father Damien
Spiritual Healing and the Conversion Process
The spiritual healing process is not just a simple transition in philosophy and living habits. It requires a series of events to take place before it can happen. It requires a change that has some sort of permanent impact of the human psyche and in ways which we find hard to express except through emotions and beliefs. To prepare us for such a process, some form of physical, emotional and intellectual transformation has to occur before the spiritual transformation can be completed. In a completely transformed person, peaks and lulls are not unexpected, and are often symbolized by those periods of questioning and the changes in behavior of “tests of faith” that can ensue. This very normal reactionary behavior is what we see happen to the individual who has enrolled in a new support program, like the Alcoholics Anonymous group, or some program designed to help you stop smoking. Just because you give in and lose track of your faith, this doesn’t mean you are not committed.
However, this likeness that I imply exists between conversion and quitting a habit like cigarettes or alcohol is not always that simple. The best way to conceptualize this type of change in day-to-day activities is through an application of Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Behavior Change first described in 1977 by James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_model). Even though spiritual transformation in the form of religious change is very different from the day-to-day uncontrollable consumption of certain foods, alcohol, or tobacco products, TTM still has all of the components needed to describe the mechanism of a religiously-minded positive life change.
The following list is of the six stages on must go through to initiate and continue a life change process. The original wording for each of these steps has been modified to better fit this model of religio-philosophical change. These changes in wording more appropriately describe the changes people go through as part of the conversion process, or as some converts put it–the realization of the way your life was meant to be:
- Precontemplation – no intention to take action or make a change is evident in the foreseeable future; one does not plan for a conversion to take place during the upcoming months
- Contemplation – a person is considering change or intending to change, perhaps even within the next few months, butis not actively engaged in tis process most of the time; he/she is not convinced that such a change is really a necessity
- Preparation – one i ready to take action in the immediate future for undergoing change, which is usually beginning to be taken more seriously; change will happen usually within the next month if not sooner.
- Action – setting goals and making specific overt modifications in one’ s life style to accommodate these changes; these events are meant to be ongoing and reasonably maintainable, at least for the next several months; passion for this change erupts before the option of total devotion needed for this change sets in
- Maintenance and Service – identifying accomplishments, setting new goals, and ways of working to prevent any possibility for relapse ensuing; this stage can last for several years, if not longer (remaining lifespan); there are highs and lows throughout this period of life, the consequences of which usually do not signify changes in the wrong direction. For religious leaders, the details of this period are best represented by the Service activities they engage in.
- Termination – questioning and then rescinding the decision that was made, due to lack of certainty, confidence, a loss of the sense of complete involvement and total accomplishment. The lack of 100% self-efficacy enables old unhealthy habits to be rekindled, and previous beliefs to no exist less.
The Termination stage is very different from the Maintenance or Service stage. All individuals taking a spiritual course towards healing will also experience their ups and downs as part of the expected Maintenance period in life. One way to think of the Action to Maintenance transition period is to think of this change as a result of everything clicking right in place, as if everything makes much more sense now than it did a few hours, days or weeks ago. Embedded in this change in psychological thinking are several emotional changes as well, events which neuropsychologically enable the individual to better adopt these changes, events which are usually based on some form of emotional expressivity that arises from the limbic system in the brain once the decision for change is made.
In a popular 1960s to 1970s theory of brain processes and evolution, the triunal theory of the brain was developed by a neurologist. This theory stated that the brain was divided into three sections–the core or center in which basic reflexes exist to maintain life, the limbic-midbrain section where the emotions are formed and effect our decision making processes, and the higher brain or cortical section, from where most of our logical thought processes are generated, adapted to, and maintained. The transition from Action to Maintenance is complete when theological processes are in tune with and adapted to the emotional responses in our brain or psyche and vice versa. This symbiosis of these two parts in turn impacts the lower levels of the nervous system, in effect resulting in some sort of deep-seated sense of complete resolution. It is this sense of complete resolution and its personal recognition as credible that in turn allows for it to be maintained for long periods of time, enough time to make these changes permanent, even though they will typically experience normal periods of emotional lows.
One reason this model fits extremely well with my use here is explained by its name. Transtheoretical change means that one undergoes a significant change in one’s personal theoretical base, from which many of life’s practices and expectations are formed. A fairly superficial application of this concept is to state that a smoker ceases smoking because he/she is finally convinced, without doubt, that this is a bad habit that may be detrimental to one’s quality of life and overall life span. The transtheoretical model can fail to be a success when the emotional reasons underlying these hopes and wishes are not fully there and being expressed.
One’s personal view about and one’s personal interpretation of religion and religious or spiritual meaning are treated differently by the brain, emotional path, and human psyche once a transtheoretical remodeling of these beliefs takes place. One of the major impacts of religious change on the body physically is that sense of fulfillment and gratification. Such is the change that a shaman senses when he or she meets up with his or her spirit guide. Such is the change an American Indian like Tschoop felt once he became committed to Christianity, its teachings and its philosophy. He was so convinced that he was even probably even asking himself at times, ‘Why turn back or change you mind once such a discovery is made?’ His sense of enlightenment and ecstasy was related to his experiences, giving rise to his actions of becoming and accepting his being a Christian Indian.
Brother John and Blessed Kateri
Brother John and Father Damien have to be compared for the purpose of completing a task I began with when I started this research. Is there non-American Indian example out there whom I could compare Tschoop/John to? Father Damien’s story fit that bill.
Now for the harder task, a comparison between Brother John and Kateri. Kateri’s life is quite complex. Her life experience had features that matched those of St. Catherine of Senna. Brother John’s life experiences are better off be compared with that of St. John the Apostle. So how do the life experiences for these two Native Americans compare to each other?
The following tables provide an important part of the answers to this question. The purpose of these tables is to draw parallels between Brethren John and Kateri, with the primary goal of related John’s experiences with those of Kateri related to particular stages in her spiritual development. Only part of Kateri’s life experience is noted in these tables for now, in order to demonstrate the nature of the different stages of personal and societal growth both she and John experienced. In spite of their temporal and cultural distinctions, and the different ways in which each one underwent his or her experiential process, the two have remarkable similarities in need of our own contemplation and review as curious onlookers. These two life stories when combined provide us with new insights into the American Indian beatification and canonization experience.
Conversion and Active Service
Service, Guidance, Leadership
The Need for Proof
Sainthood and miracles go hand in hand.
Once a person is considered Blessed, we typically ask ‘how did this important event take place?’ The answer to that question is plain and simple. A person is considered Blessed because he/she performed a miracle. It is the discovery and proof of this miracle that are often hard to produce. Once the first is proven, then it up to the discovery and proof of the second miracle to make him/her eligible to become a Saint.
More importantly, it is often the case that some sort of miracle has to be performed on behalf of a Saint or Saint-to-be, because that miracle was meant to be. In other words, a miracle can be an event that was preconceived and pre-designed for you as part of some sort of omniscient process engaged in as a part of your life process, the goal of which is helping you through some other, later problem in life. In the case of a Saint-to-be, this event has even more meaning since it represents one saint offering help or assistance directly to a pre-conceived person (omnitemporality), a simple person of similar kinship or philosophical “blood relations” to the saint, someone who is probably or inevitably a Saint-to-be.
It is also the case that whenever an individual is being considered for sainthood, a miracle performed by that Saint-to-be is needed in order to finally convince members of the Vatican of the need for canonization. Becoming a Saint and being a Saint require a recipient not only be conscious of the gift and its possible source, but also awareness of the fact that these are a by-product of an afterlife involving someone else–a saint-to-be. This means that in order to achieve Blessedness or Sainthood, one event has to precede another in perfect fashion, and be appropriately acknowledged at the receiving end, saint-to-be or not, before such a history of claims can be undeniable and indisputable one behalf of the Vatican.
Does the story of Tschoop or John enable such a stage to be reached by him? To date, no miracles are in the press as having anything to do with Tschoop of Brother John, as far as I know. There is no amulet that mentions Brother John, or prayer card out there with Brother John’s prayer to be shared and used. So far as I have been able to deduce (which is only based on superficial, circumstantial sources for evidence), there is no Psalm or Prayer specifically dedicated to the Mahican converts or Brother John. (However, since I haven’t been able to review the Moravian prayer books in detail, I cannot be sure of this.)
When we take into consideration the experiences required of someone to become Venerable and then Blessed, there are a number of coincidences, synchronicities or happenstances that need be taken into account if we are to understand how and why an individual becomes deserving of whatever gifts that he or she receives. With Tschoop, this is very important because it was his medical state that turned him into “the messenger.” And since Tschoop wasn’t totally cured of his disability, the cure was not his gift, the conversion was. Tschoop was only “cured” in the figurative and more spiritual sense. In turn, he and his followers were “cured” of the social changes that were taking place, a lesson that in turn could be passed on down to others throughout the remaining years in life. These events in turn become an important lesson to the missionary programs and their leaders, as well as to the witnesses of these success stories, as well as their tragedies.
However, these events alone do not mean that someone deserves beatification, but they are a sign of the steps taken by a Servant of God or a Venerable.
What makes Tschoop deserving of this honor are his life experiences. These life experiences resulted due to his devotion to the Word as taught to him through his own changes in behavior and practice. This allowed the impacts on Tschoop/John in turn , in turn to have numerous impacts on others. These impacts have since been spread well beyond the original boundaries defined for the missions. Tschoop’s life story was effectively captured in part by James Fenimore Cooper for examples in his famous book Last of the Mohicans. Whom else has Tschoop’s life experiences in Shekomeko captured?
These are two remarkable things about Tschoop’s behavior that stand out regarding his personality and need for consideration as a Servant of God and Venerable, and maybe beatification. Tschoop has had an immediate impact on his neighbors in and around Shekomeko, and has greatly impacted the leaders of the Moravian Missions along with many others. And by his story being told for others to read, if we are curious enough about Cooper’s tale about Uncas, then we are driven towards learning more about Tschoop, and so learn about his unusual life experience, the many people he saved, and how he lost his own life due to this cause. (For which see Level 4: Global Change)
The best evidence for beatification or cannonization would of course be a miracle or two that can be linked to Tschoop’s spirit. But the ability to identify a miracle and relate it to an individual can be a difficult task. Unlike Saints Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, and Blessed Katrina, evidence for a miracle related to Tschoop is lacking.
There could be some knowledge based reasons along with social reasons for this. Perhaps this is because few people know about Tschoop except in passing at the cemetery in Old Bethlehem, or the Moravian Missions monument in Shekomeko.
Grounding this theory or bringing it back to this World, if we focus on just the physical aspects of Tschoop’s fate to date, there are other reasons he has not been considered for even his Child and Servant of God life history. For one thing, Tschoop is an old disabled man. He lacks the “beauty” as defined by our modern culture that the other matrons who have become Saints have had. This was in part due to his medical history, nothing of his own responsibility due to personal malfeasance.
However, this limitation we, and the Church, place on such a social figure could simply vanish or be transformed were Tschoop’s impacts truly witnessed and experienced, not as tales from the past, but more as predictions of the future–as intercessions. Furthermore, even if such an event as an intercession did happen (or has happened), it takes knowledge about the history of Tschoop himself, along with an understanding of Tschoop as a possible cause for such an event, for the proof to be developed as needed. In order to document if and when such a miraculous event actually took place, one would have to be ready for such an event to realize immediately afterwards just what form of miracle has just taken place.
In today’s society, people who are not culturally aware and learned of this part of Native American or Mahican history, so we might miss out such an opportunity to be a witness to this change. If we liken Tschoop to Saint John the Apostle, both of whom are likened to the spirit of the eagle in both an artistic and philosophical sense, then such becomes the possible reason for why Tschoop can cure something as harsh and mistreating as any of numerous chronic diseases through the flight or passing of a single eagle feather, an action taken as a part of a Indian form of prayer that is symbolic of some personal metaphysical need.
[Mi’kmaq culture uses this method to cure epilepsy–the cure is a prayer accompanied by a release of the feather into a flowing stream to symbolize the departure of the disease and its cause. Such an action is a confession of belief, performed under the guise of some natural theological event, should this action result in an actual “cure”. In Canadian-New York-New England Indian history there is reason for this Native American tradition–this flight of the feather symbolizes the loss of the cause for your disease, and so a cure is born, but not through any natural scientific way. (As per one personal encounter or experience I witnessed, such a move can result in a miracle being performed, using a traditional Native American prayer routine, the Mahican/Mi’kmaq way)].
August the 27th, new style, Saturday.
Johannes (also known as Tschoop), the first fruit of the Mahican Indians from Shekomeko. He was baptized in Jesus’ death by Brother Rauch on April 16, 1742 in Shekomeko. He was a helper and a teacher of the Heathens. He came in August 1745 to Bethlehem and stayed there in the Congregation. In August 1746, he became sick with smallpox and left his earthly tabernacle blessedly and happily as a man of God and went home to his Redeemer. The next day, he was buried at our Peaceful Mountain. His people wept much for him.
St. Augustine: “Miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature”
Will J. Alpern (Prudential-Bache Securities). “Indians, Sources, Critics” Presented at the 5th Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1984. Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1984 Conference at State University of New York College — Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp. 25-33) (1985) State University of New York College at Oneonta. Accessed 11-14-2010 at http://www.oneonta.edu/~cooper/articles/suny/1984suny-alpern.html, http://external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/suny/1984suny-alpern.html, James Fenimore Cooper Society Website.
Paula Elizabeth Holmes. The Narrative Repatriation of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Anthropologica 43 (2001). pp. 87-103.
Harry Emilius Stocker. 1947. History of the Moravian mission among the Indians on the White River in Indiana. Bethlehem, PA
For more on the Blessed and the Saints for health, see
Augustus Schultze. Guide to the Old Moravian Cemetery of Bethlehem, PA. 1742-1910. (218 pp). Bound with The Pennsylvania-German Society Proceedings and Addresses at York, PA., October 14, 1910. Vol. 21. Published by the Society. 1912.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–93, 1:48
Other deaths worthy to note for Bethlehem according to documents:
Benjamin, called Schabat, an Indian of the Wampanoag (Wampano) tribe , 1746.