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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Pope Pius VII and Napoleon. Turbulent Decade 1800 - 1810

(continued from previous post)

In 1800 when Pius VII was elected Pope, the Catholic Church in Europe was in decline.  In France the Church was disavowed and persecuted, with seminaries closed  and the faith dying through lack of new priests.  Austria, under the Emperor Francis II, with strong nationalist and Febronist sentiments, had little regard for Rome except when it suited..

                   EMPEROR FRANCIS II OF AUSTRIA

Spain, under King Charles IV, was also strongly nationalistic, with the Spanish ambassador at Rome wielding great power and influence.On the positive side, Napoleon Bonaparte favoured  the new Pope who had shown previously that he was prepared to work with him in the Cisalpine Republic, and of particular significance,  had also shown that he was no friend of the Emperor

                                                   
               KING CHARLES IV OF SPAIN (Goya)

Initially there was every indication  that Napoleon wanted peace with Rome and the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in France, as is shown by his speech of  June 5, 1800:-

                  “I regard you, who are the ministers of this (Catholic) religion, which is likewise my own, as my dearest friends; and I declare to you that I shall know how to punish in exemplary fashion, and with the most drastic penalties, and if necessary with death, as disturbers of the public peace and enemies of the public good, all those responsible for the slightest insult to your or my religion ……..  My express intention is that the Christian, Catholic and Roman Religion shall be maintained in her full vigour and in the complete possession of that free and public expression which it enjoyed at the time when I first set foot in this happy country.
    ‘Whatever changes, especially in regard to her discipline, occurred at the time when I was first in Italy did so in despite of me and against my will. Merely an agent of my government…….I could not then prevent all those disorders….. armed now with full power I am determined to put into operation all those measures which I know to be most timely and efficacious in defending and sustaining that same religion.
    ‘Modern philosophers have tried to persuade France that the Catholic religion is the implacable enemy of every democratic system and of every republican government. From this arose that fierce persecution which the French Republic launched against religion and her Ministers and from this were born all those errors of which that unhappy Nation found herself the victim so often for so many years.
    ‘No small part was played in these disorders by the diversity of opinions which at the time of the revolution prevailed in France, divided as she was into the various sects in the matter of Religion.
    ‘Experience has disillusioned the French and has convinced them that the Catholic Religion is the one which more than any other is suited to every kind of government and that in a special way it develops the principles and sustains the rights of a Democratic and Republican Government.
    ‘I too am a philosopher, and I know that in no society can a man be honest and just if he does not know whence he comes and where he is going. Reason is not sufficient to give him this light, without which every man is obliged to journey in the dark. The Catholic religion alone, with its infallibility, confronts man with his beginning and end.
    ‘No society can exist without morality. There can be no sound morality where religion does not exist…..
    ‘When I can meet the new Pope I hope I shall have the pleasure of removing all the obstacles which may still prevent an entire reconciliation between France and the Head of the Church.’  
   
                NAPOLEON AS FIRST CONSUL (Ingres)

  Such was the version of Napoleon’s remarks published at the time, not only in Italy but also in France, until it was subsequently banned there by Napoleon’s police. This positive statement of intent from Napoleon, which also included  proposals to restore the Papal States, and to restructure the hierarchy of the Church in France in accordance with the Pope’s wishes, seemed to augur well for the Church, and greatly  encouraged the new Pope.

Unfortunately such intentions were easier stated than done. In France there was considerable clerical opposition, with Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, an apostate Bishop, since married, who had consecrated the first Bishop of the Constitutional Church, together with  elements of the Constitutional hierarchy, ill-disposed to any settlement on Rome’s terms.  Additionally, there was opposition from ‘hard-line’ monarchists and supporters of the exiled Louis XVIII, who feared that any accord with Rome would strengthen the position of the new regime.  In Rome, there was considerable suspicion and doubt concerning Napoleon’s real intentions, although the majority of Cardinals, taking account of all the prevailing circumstances, were in favour of a Concordat.
                         
                      KING LOUIS XVIII OF FRANCE

 Proposals for the French Concordat were sent for signing from Paris to Rome, but  many of the conditions were unacceptable.  Matters dragged on and the Pope found himself  pressurised by the French. Whilst prepared to compromise on inessential matters, the Pope was not prepared to do so on matters  which could endanger the faith and compromise souls;  ‘in negotiating the Concordat, the restoration of the Faith in France was to be the sole consideration’;  but neither was the Church prepared to be brow-beaten by threats that failure to sign the agreement might result in the loss of what remained of its temporal power.
    As a result of this impasse, it was decided that the Pope’s Secretary, Cardinal Consalvi,  should travel to Paris to discuss with Bonaparte those matters on which agreement was proving impossible. On arrival, Consalvi found himself up against both Napoleon and Talleyrand. Negotiations were long and difficult, and after agreement had been reached, and he was about to sign the document, Consalvi realised that the original agreement had been substituted by an altered version. Needless to say he refused to sign, and only when the original was returned, did he do so. This attempted deceit by the French was to be repeated at a later date in similar circumstances, when the Italian Concordat was under negotiation.  A period of forty days had been allowed for the respective governments to ratify the terms, and Consalvi immediately returned to Rome.   The document was back in Paris, bearing the Pope’s signature, within thirty-seven days.
     The First Consul did not delay in signing the document, but then neither said nor did anything for a period of six months!  Bonaparte was not satisfied with the Concordat, for it failed to give him the control over the Church that he wanted, and he knew that it would be unpopular with important sections of opinion in France. To remedy this, and before proclaiming the Concordat, he published alongside it, in the same volume and under the same title, extra regulations which safeguarded the government’s interests. Whilst these regulations did not have the signature of the Pope, they appeared to all intents and purposes, as part of the Concordat, and as such, an integral part of the new religious settlement in France. Such were the infamous '77 Organic Articles'.
 
       CARDINAL CONSALVI (engraving after Lawrence)                                                                                                       
Effectively, the First Consul had abrogated to the State those powers over the Church which Consalvi and his team had been at such pains not to concede.  Rome accused Napoleon  of  acting in bad faith, but in France because the 'Organic Articles' were essentially Gallican and directed against ‘Roman pretensions’, against ultramontanism, they evinced considerable support.  In Rome, there was  real fear that Napoleon might put himself at the head of the French Church – in the manner of Henry VIII of England, and in fact, for political reasons, Napoleon had ‘intimated’ that this was a possibility.  In truth Napoleon did not want this and would not have seriously contemplated such a step. Nevertheless,  across the Channel, and across the centuries, the English Reformation still exerted its baleful influence.
     France now occupied  the Cisalpine Republic, and Napoleon  decided to draw up a new Concordat for Italy similar to  that of  France. This time, Pope PiusVII and Consalvi were not prepared to make any concessions, for unlike France where the Church was no longer the established Church and the Pope had little or no room for negotiation,  Italy was a Catholic kingdom with statutory laws based on the Church’s teaching.  Unbelievably, the Italian Vice President, Melzi,  attempted the same trick as had been tried in Paris,  with the  substitution of false documents for the original.  This time the Pope threatened to totally repudiate the Concordat unless Melzi withdrew his decree. Whilst this was being effected, the French Tribunate declared  Napoleon to be ‘Emperor of the French’ with hereditary title. This was soon followed  by a request from Napoleon to the Pope, to travel to Paris and attend his coronation.
 
    THE CORONATION OF EMPEROR  NAPOLEON                       

Napoleon crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I on 2 December, 1804, at Notre Dame de Paris and then crowned JosĂ©phine as Empress. The story that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony—to avoid his subjugation to the authority of the pontiff—is almost certainly untrue, the coronation procedure having been agreed in advance.     After the ceremony the Pope remained in Paris for several weeks, moving freely about the Parisian streets, visiting the churches, distributing Communion and blessing the crowds. When he departed in April 1805, the streets were lined with men and women kneeling with their rosaries, awaiting the papal blessing. The Parisians were pleased to have their Pontiff and showed their pleasure, and this was a great consolation to the Holy Father.
     With the French Concordat, Napoleon had made few, if any, genuine concessions to the Church, and some in Rome who had opposed the Pope’s decision to attend the coronation,  accused the Pope of ‘losing his faith to save his throne’, comparing him with his predecessor Pope Pius VI,  who had ‘lost his throne to save his faith’. This harsh and unfair accusation was unjustified, for the Pope had acted in the best interests of the Church as he saw it, and he had high hopes that the planned Italian Concordat when agreed, would reflect the wisdom of his actions.
    Unfortunately this did not happen.  In characteristic fashion the proposed Italian Concordat was bulldozed into the Italian legislative arena, in much the same manner as the French Concordat was imposed on France, although on more generous terms to the Church, especially with regard to  financial support from the State. The terms were sufficiently favourable  to merit consideration by Rome, but when it was later announced that the French Civil Code would also be introduced, it was impossible for the Pope to accept, for this was sharply at variance with Catholic moral principles, and the civil law in Italy – especially with regard to the legalisation of divorce.Thus it was that the Church in northern Italy, in her political sovereignty, in her organisation, and in her administration, but also in moral matters in which Italians had always been subject to her law, saw herself gravely threatened. Relations between the papacy and Bonaparte were in terminal decline.
    Some of the French hierarchy blamed the Roman Curia for the subsequent conflict between the Pope and Napoleon, accusing Rome of being more concerned about temporal interests than the overall good of the Church, accepting in good faith Napoleon's submission that he was founding a great new Catholic empire, whose principal opponents were the Protestant English, the schismatic Russians, and the Mohammedans. At this stage Napoleon’s empire included France, Belgium, the Rhineland, and northern Italy, all primarily Catholic nations, and to Napoleon was given the credit for the restoration of the Church in France.   Rome however, considered that  Napoleon’s greatest victories had been won against the Catholic Empire of Austria, and that his much proclaimed 'protection' of the papacy was effectually becoming a spiritual as well as a temporal enslavement.
   
       FRENCH DRAGOONS AND GUIDE (Meissonier)

The end of 1805 found French troops occupying Ancona, with Napoleon engaged on several fronts – against the Austrians in Bavaria and Lombardy, and against the British navy in Naples, with a large Russian force backing up the Austrian army in Bavaria. In January 1806, having defeated the Austrians at Pressburg, Napoleon acquired Venice and her dependencies. The Pope had made known to Napoleon his opposition to the occupation of Ancona, but to no avail,  for this port was destined  to be used  as a base for the invasion of Naples. The Emperor was intent on controlling Italy, and with his brother Joseph Napoleon, as King of Naples, and his step-son Eugene, Viceroy in Northern Italy, it became apparent that Rome and the Papal States constituted an integral part of his intended empire. He thereupon seized control of a large area in the Papal States, and
 
                                EUROPE 1803

 by April 1808 much of this territory had been incorporated by edict into the Kingdom of Italy. French troops were occupying Rome, although the Pope was still in residence, and on May 17, 1809,  Napoleon decreed that all the Papal States were to become part of his Empire, and Rome was to become a ‘Free Imperial City’. The Pope was to be allowed to remain Bishop of Rome, in possession of his palaces and with an appropriate revenue, but holding no temporal power.
     The immediate response of PopePius VII was to sign the Bull of Excommunication against all those responsible in any way for the sacrilegious seizure of the city. Events snowballed, with Napoleon determined to tolerate no resistance - even to the extent of ordering the arrest of the Pope, if absolutely necessary for the preservation of order. Thus it was in 1809, that a troop of French soldiers under General Radet, infiltrated their way into the Quirinal, where the Pope resided, and burst into a room wherein sat the Pope, five cardinals and several other prelates. The Pope dismissed the suggestion that he renounce all temporal sovereignty, ‘We cannot renounce what does not belong to us--'. He was given half an hour to prepare himself for a journey, and accompanied  by Cardinal Pacca, with only the clothes  they were wearing,  they were  bundled into a horse drawn carriage, which was then locked and driven out of the city along the road for Florence, with Radet mounted on guard in front. Subsequently Napoleon was to strongly criticise Radet for his arbitary action in arresting the Pope, denying any prior knowledge or authorisation.
   

                             POPE PIUS VII

It was little more than eleven years since Pius VI had been unceremoniously bundled out of Rome by the French, never to return, and Pius VII,  now also a prisoner of the French, assumed that a similar fate awaited him.     
(to be continued)

Grateful acknowledgement to 'Revolution and Papacy' by E.Hales,
published by Hanover House 1960.