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Napoleon and the Papacy

Napoleon and the Papacy

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Published by Simon Apablaza
Personal view on the impact of napoleon's conquest upon the Papacy and Catholicism.
Personal view on the impact of napoleon's conquest upon the Papacy and Catholicism.

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Published by: Simon Apablaza on Jan 08, 2009
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Simón Apablaza C.
The question how the papacy was affected by Napoleon’s conquest can be answeredin two ways. The first is the direct influence that it had on the papacy and the Churchduring the time he was the first consul of France. The second is, how the Papacy wasaffected from then on, in other words, how the reign of Napoleon influenced the papacyfor the years to come. In this paper, although we will deal only with the first question,there are some comments referring to the second.We start by saying that Napoleon was brought up as a Catholic, he attended massevery day and vespers, as well as bimonthly communion, monthly confession andcatechism every Sunday. In 1984 he was transferred to a military school in Paris wherehis religious formation revolved far too much around the external practices imposed bythe school discipline, as well as reflecting the 18
century spirit. He possessed arapacious mind finding solace in books, such as ancient classics, but especially in hiscontemporaries Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Mably, and Reynald. As a result, therationalism of the Enlightenment penetrated his spirit and displaced his weakly rootedChristian beliefs. In other words, the crisis that caused Napoleon’s detachment from theChurch was intellectual rather than moral. Later he sided with the French revolution.The fact that Napoleon abandoned the faith, did not mean that he could not use it.As soon as he ascended to power as first Consul, he showed himself as someone intent in promoting politics that were less restrictive towards the Church. The people reacted benevolently. He realized that being in favour of the Church served well in wining popularity for himself and contributed to making his rule more acceptable for the people,a rule that became day by day more authoritarian.He looked for reconciliation with the Church. He did it, not guided by religiousmotives but guided exclusively by political interest (see Doc 4.5. pag. 45). He knew thatrural France wanted to remain Catholic. It was better to use, for his own benefit, theinfluence of the priests, than to fight it. We have to remember that Napoleon was anenlightened despot in the 18
century style, influenced by the philosophers of that period.He did not believe Catholicism as the one true religion but believed that all religions had1
Simón Apablaza C.
some value and they should be permitted where they existed, and of course they could bewell used for the state. He believed in controlling religion but not imposing it on others.
(See pag. 46, doc 4.6)
Since the population as a whole clung to Catholicism, he sought to utilized. This heconsidered too that for the unity of the country it was required to end the schism caused by the civil constitution of the clergy 1790 (
 see page 42, doc 4.2
). He obliged all bishops(of the new and old regime) to resign and so the First Consul would name the entirehierarchy. He recognized Puis VII’s authority but on the condition that he recognize thelegitimacy of Napoleon’s government. He even recognized the authority of the Pope toremove bishops and appoint others but he insisted on the liberty of cults, and thatCatholicism must not be the state religion. The liberty accorded to public cult should besubmitted to police regulation if it seemed necessary. And after many difficulties hearrived to an accord with the Church in the year 1801.With the Concordat it was possible to restore Catholicism in France, after 10 yearsof cruel persecutions against the clergy and several attempts to de-Christianize society. Napoleon wanted to insert the ecclesiastical organization inside his vastadministrative system, as another side of public life. Even so religion had to beattentively regulated according to the “organic articles” (
 see pag. 46. doc. 4.6, b
).This Concordat is of great importance not only for the Church’s history, but for theworld’s history as well. This Concordat found new ways of relating between moderngovernments and Catholic Church, between civil authority and religion of the country.For the first time in history a Concordat involving the Catholic Church within a “Catholiccountry”, did not specify Catholicism as the religion of the state and instead was orientedtowards the prospective of religious liberty. It can be considered as the first “modern”Concordat of History.
Many historians say that in the long term, it was more useful for the Papacy than for the modern state. In fact it recognizes the Pope’s jurisdictional authority over theGallican Church unknown in the past… It contributed also to create the historical 
Simón Apablaza C.
conditions that favored the future magisterial pronouncements on infallibility and onthe primacy of the Pope over the Church” .
The difficulties of the French Concordat were added to those of the ItalianConcordat, 1803. The coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy introduced northern Italyto French laws and institutions that were inspired by the French Revolution. Pius VIIrefused to conclude the German Concordat that proposed a ecclesiastical reorganizationin Germany. In 1806 he integrated Naples, Venice and the duchies with the kingdom of Italy and extended to those regions the Italian Concordat and the French legal code. PiusVII protested. Napoleon demanded the Papal States expel foreign agents and closed his ports tothe allies. Later he asked explicitly to the Pope to close the ports to the British, he evenasked military aid against the heretics, “our common enemies”. As father of allChristians, the Pope refused. Napoleon ordered the occupation of Rome, the annexationof the Papal States to the French Empire, and when the Pope retaliated, byexcommunicating the perpetrators, he ordered the Pope to be removed and taken as a prisoner to Savona, Northern Italy.When Pius was deprived of his liberty, he refused to exercise his papal powers or toinstitute bishops canonically. Vacant sees multiplied and Napoleon tried to fix this byconvening an ecclesiastical committee, but it failed. Napoleon tried to appoint JeanMaury to the see of Paris and caused the diocesan chapter to confer on him the powers of vicar capitular, but, Pius VII ruined his plans by sending a brief secretly to Paris thatdeclared Maury’s powers null. Napoleon called for an Imperial council, but the bishopsthat bowed to his will individually, as a group resisted him. Napoleon transferred the Pope to Fontainebleau, near Paris. After a disastrousexpedition to Russia, Napoleon came back and decided to overcome the Pope with a newConcordat. The Pope signed the so called Concordat of Fontainebleau but this text was
Molti storici ritengono che alla lunga esso fu piu utile al Papato che non allo stato moderno. Infattiriconobbe al Pontefice un’autorita giuridizionale sulla Chiesa gallicana sconociuta nel pasato... Ciocontribui anche a creare le condizione storiche che evrebbero favorito i futuri pronunciamenti magisteriali sull’infallibilita pontificia e sul primato del papa sulla Chiesa
”. Giovanni Sale, “Il Concordato de 1801 Tra Napoleone e Pio VII”,
la Civilta Catolica,
(16 Feb 2002), 336-49.

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