This month the French senate accepted laws designed to bolster the secular character of the state: greater than 12 centuries since Pope Leo III topped Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor, the tussle between earthly and non secular energy continues to roil the nation.
If it was the 1789 Revolution that gave start to French republicanism it was Napoleon Bonaparte’s want to emulate and even surpass Charlemagne that symbolised the state’s tussle with the church. Charlemagne had not less than visited Rome; Pius VII was obliged first to return to Paris after which to look on as Napoleon topped himself.
The novelist Alfred de Vigny tells his story of their assembly at Fontainebleau — the emperor on the top of his energy, attempting first to allure the pontiff after which raging at him, hurling himself throughout the room and even smashing a porcelain vase in his anger. The Pope sits in silence by way of the onslaught, solely puncturing the circulate of the emperor’s verbiage with the 2 laconic feedback: ‘Commediante!’ (comic) and ‘Tragediante!’ (tragedian). It was maybe the one event on which Napoleon met his match.
Though the scene above — recounted in Alfred de Vigny’s sensible 1835 Servitude et grandeur militaires — is historic fiction the fact of the 2 males’s relationship was dramatic sufficient. Earlier than the Pope’s go to to Paris that they had managed to barter a historic rapprochement between the Church and the post-revolutionary state; after it, Pius VII suffered years of imprisonment earlier than seeing the tables turned and his tormentor defeated and despatched into exile.
There was, lately, a reawakening of curiosity amongst historians within the contribution of faith usually, and the Catholic church specifically, to the making of the trendy world. We will now see clearly that industrialisation, secularism and the emergent nation-state spelt not the top of non secular religion, however quite its transformation right into a political drive in its personal proper. One want assume solely of Protestant Evangelicism, Hindu nationalism and pan-Islamism. Nevertheless it was the Catholic church and its response to the French Revolution that paved the way in which. To Kidnap a Pope tells the story of this epic wrestle.
Not like in so many respects, each Emperor and Pope got here from an Italian Catholic milieu. Napoleone Bonaparte had been born in 1769 on Corsica shortly after it had been conquered by the French; nearly three many years his senior, Barnada Chiaramonti, the longer term Pius VII, got here from a noble household from the city of Cesena. Each males too emerged to prominence unexpectedly on the finish of the century. It was then, as Napoleon was crusing again to France from Egypt to turn into First Consul of the revolution, that Pope Pius VI, who had been arrested by French troops, died in captivity. This was a second of nice hazard for the church and though not among the many favoured candidates to succeed Pius VI, cardinal Chiaramonti was the compromise candidate.
The First Consul and the brand new Pope Pius VII understood they wanted one another. Napoleon noticed faith as socially helpful and the Catholic church as a stabilising drive that needed to be introduced below the management of the French state whereas Pius VII, who as bishop had insisted that Catholicism and democracy had been appropriate, sought not merely to defend however even to increase Catholic affect.
What adopted was the historic Concordat of 1801 that ratified the particular relationship between church and state in France. The Concordat meant that clerics had been paid by the state and swore an oath of allegiance to it; on the similar time it secured the privileged place of Catholicism in France. Secularism got here solely to fruition with the 1905 laïcité legislation on the separation of church from state within the Third Republic.
For Napoleon, the triumph reconciled French Catholics with the revolution, in addition to paving the way in which for the Pope to preside over his coronation as emperor in 1804 and later for his marriage to an Austrian princess. However arguably it was the Pope who received the higher of the cut price as a result of the deal bolstered the Vatican’s management over episcopal appointments in France, serving to flip the papacy itself into the highly effective establishment it will turn into afterward.
Predictably, given Napoleon’s ever-increasing calls for, the connection rapidly soured and the Pope moved into opposition. Like his predecessor, he too was arrested and imprisoned by the French: he very almost died in captivity. The bodily and psychological affect of almost 5 years below lock and key was immense and appear to have modified him. Dropped at Fontainebleau in 1813 for a second time — now as a prisoner — a stormy encounter with Napoleon passed off in actuality after the cataclysmic French defeat in Russia.
The writing was already on the wall for Napoleon. Pius VII was a modified man, frailer and way more conservative, however his main work had been carried out. The Concordat remained considerably intact even after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Pius VII had not solely helped the Church to outlive its biggest check in trendy occasions. He had modified it within the course of, creating the mixture of highly effective Papacy and grassroots pilgrimage that might assist Catholicism flourish within the age of mass politics.
To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII by Ambrogio A Caiani, Yale, RRP£20, 376 pages
Mark Mazower is director of the Columbia Institute for Concepts and Creativeness in Paris
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