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Saturday, 15 May 2010

Pope Pius VII and Napoleon - the Way of the Cross

 (Continued from previous post)

At midnight on June 9, 1812 , with great secrecy, Pope Pius was removed from his residence in Savona, disguised in black as a simple priest, accompanied only by his doctor, to be taken by horse and carriage to  Fontainbleau. The route included  Genoa, Turin, and Mont Cenis where the Pope was confined to his bed in the monastery suffering from a serious and painful urinary problem, accompanied by a fever. His condition worsened to the extent that he received the Last Rites from the Abbot. The Pope’s own doctor demanded that a specialist doctor be called as he felt unable to cope. All that was allowed was that a local doctor be summoned, and on June 15th the journey resumed with the Pope carried into the coach and laid on an improvised bed, accompanied by the new doctor. Four days later they reached Fontainbleau where the Pope remained in his bed too ill to be moved.

                              FONTAINBLEAU  PALACE

That he had survived the journey was due in no small measure to the competence and dedication of the doctor, Dr Claraz, who cared for his charge all hours of the day and night. Slowly the Pope’s condition improved and he was able to see visitors.  In January 1813 he was visited by Napoleon, who unbeknown to the Pope, had suffered a disastrous setback in his Russian campaign.  The Pope was also ignorant of the increasing opposition to the Emperor and the growing support for himself among the clergy in France and Italy. He was unaware of the violent treatment of the more obdurate and loyal Bishops, of the enforced closure of the great seminary of St Sulpice and the purging of the professors of other seminaries, of increasing anti-Gallican sentiments among the younger clergy, and that cathedral chapters would no longer passively elect the Emperor’s Episcopal nominees as their administrators. The Pope was also still physically and mentally exhausted.  Cardinal Pacca, imprisoned and out of touch with the Pope,  later had this to say, ‘Knowing as I did the quiet and gentle disposition of the Pope, and that he was battered and brought low by illness, suffering, and the hardship of a long imprisonment, and knowing him to be surrounded by people who had either sold themselves altogether to the Emperor, or were miserably timid and behaved like courtiers, I realized at once that the struggle between Gregory Barnabas Chiaramonti and Napoleon Ponaparte would be conducted with forces too unequal in strength, and I saw which side would gain the victory—'.  

                                 CARDINAL PACCA

A new Concordat was drawn up which included full recognition of the Pope as a sovereign, but not as a sovereign over Rome, with the seat of the papacy left undecided; investiture of bishops by Metropolitans, after a six months interval, but  with nominations and investiture of bishops in the patrimony of St Peter reserved to the Pope; and release of the cardinals (known as black cardinals) and bishops imprisoned by the Emperor. 

When Cardinal Pacca after his release, met the Pope at Fontainbleau in February 1813, the first meeting between the two for three and a half years, he found him ‘bent, pale, emaciated, with his eyes sunk deep into his head, and motionless as though he were dazed’ When told by the cardinal of his joy at seeing him again, bearing witness to his admiration for the heroic constancy with which he had suffered so long and grievous an imprisonment, the Pope was filled with distress, and replied “But in the end I was defiled. Those cardinals ----- they dragged me to the table and made me sign”.

The Pope told the Cardinal that prior to the meeting with Napoleon, four cardinals and four bishops had been sent with impossible demands, which included the nomination of two-thirds of the Sacred College by the Catholic Sovereigns, the condemnation by the Pope of the ‘black cardinals’ who had declined to attend the Emperor’s ‘marriage’, and the establishment of the Papacy in Paris. The Pope had refused to consider these requests, but on the arrival of Napoleon himself, cordial and threatening by turns, he was persuaded that the Church had to be reconciled with the Revolution and the New Order in Europe, embodied in the Emperor, and that she had everything to gain by relinquishing all idea of temporal power.  The ‘red cardinals’ and French prelates by whom the Pope was surrounded, were equally persuasive, and  these were the men who ‘dragged me to the table and made me sign’. 

The ultramontanes refused to believe that the Pope could, by implication, have signed away the temporal power, or have yielded over the investiture of bishops. They were in fact correct, for the Pope had not signed a Concordat as such, instead he had signed certain ‘Heads of Proposals’, deliberately worded as being only of a provisional nature, and intended to serve as a basis for an understanding, and which the signatorees had agreed should remain confidential. In publishing the details at all Napoleon was in breach of trust, and in publishing it as a Concordat, he was guilty of  misrepresentation.   The Pope was now joined by three of his ablest and loyal servants, Cardinals Consalvi, di Pietro, and Pacca, who with Cardinals Gabrielli, Mattei, and Della Somaglia, constituted the Pope’s close cabinet, and who with his support pushed through the difficult policy of cancelling the ‘Concordat of Fontainbleau’, against the advice of the majority of the cardinals, and in face of the certainty of the Emperor’s wrath.


Pope Pius wrote a personal letter to Napoleon, in which he expressed his surprise that provisional proposals for an agreement had been published as a Concordat, and that his conscience revolted against the proposals, and that he had only signed them out of ‘human frailty, being only dust and ashes’, but that he was willing to negotiate a definite settlement. After writing this letter, which was carried to Napoleon on 24th March, the Pope’s whole mood changed for the better, regaining his amiability and  recovering his appetite. Napoleon kept this letter secret, realising that the Pope had been helped in his course of action, and decreed that he was to be kept isolated once again, and that he would settle the matter on his return from the German campaign. But in October, his defeat at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, signalled the beginning of the end for Napoleon's ambitions.


Urgent overtures were made  to the Pope to ‘enlist’ his support, but  the Pope was now  sufficiently aware of worldly affairs,  and declined to negotiate until he had been returned to Rome, with full liberty  restored and surrounded by the Sacred College. By the end of January 1814, Napoleon was forced by pressure of circumstances,  to authorise the Pope's departure from Fontainbleau,  and his return to Rome. King Murat of Naples was in control of  Rome and had planned to enlarge his own kingdom to include Rome and much of Italy. On meeting the Pope he presented him with a petition signed by his friends, demanding a temporal ruler. The Pope’s answer was to throw the petition into the fire, exclaiming, ’Now there remains no obstacle to our returning to Rome’. 

The Pope entered Rome in triumph on May 24, 1814. On a parallel road not far away, Napoleon in fear of his life, was heading south for Frejus,  travelling only by night,  and soon to be banished to Elba.

                                   BANISHED TO ELBA!

On  August 17, 1814, the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola, the Pope published a Bull which vindicated and restored the Society of Jesus, and in which he expressly repealed the Bull of Pope Clement XIV,  ‘Dominus ac Redemptor Noster’ (July 1773) which had confirmed the  suppression of the Society.     Rome now enjoyed a period of ultramontane revival, due primarily to the admiration and respect in which the Pope was held. The older Religious Orders enjoyed a noticeable revival, and many new Orders were formed. This enthusiasm  was not shared by all of the great Powers, with Russia, Germany, Austria, France, and others, still ambitious for temporal gains and power, and some still openly Josephist or Gallican in their attitude to Rome. At the Congress of Vienna in September 1814, the Pope was represented by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, whose main objective was the full restitution of the former possessions of the Holy See.

                                   CARDINAL CONSALVI

Remarkably after negotiations lasting nine months, and utilising the  principles of hereditary rights and legitimacy, and the restoration of the ‘status quo’ prior to the revolution, Consalvi achieved his aim. Although the Great Powers were desirous of increasing their territories, this could only be done at the expense of either the Papacy or one another, and it became apparent that it was in everyone’s interest for the Papal States which included the Legations, to revert back to Rome. King Murat of Naples, the controller of Rome and much of the Papal States, which he had acquired from Metternich as a reward for switching his allegiance from the French to the Austrian cause,  was not prepared to give these up lightly.  He had secretly been in touch with Napoleon currently on the Isle of Elba, promising to enlist popular and military support for him in Italy whenever he chose to return. 

                       NAPOLEON'S RESIDENCE ON ELBA

At the end of February 1815, Napoleon left Elba intent on consolidating his forces in Italy and making his way  to France. Meanwhile Murat  marched his troops north through Italy, inviting not only the citizens of  Rome, the Marches and the legations, but also those of Turin, Milan and Venice,  to prepare a constitution for an independent Italy.  The Pope prudently withdrew from Rome, visiting Genoa, Modena, Florence, Siena, and Viterbo,  addressing and praying with his people, strengthening the already widespread and popular esteem  in which he was held. 

                                          POPE PIUS VII

Murat's efforts to enlist support for Napoleon were a  failure, and after one or two minor  victories, his  forces were routed  at  Tolentino, after which he fled to France.

 On June 9, 1815, less than one week before the battle of Waterloo, the final act of the Congress of Vienna was to restore the temporal power of the Papacy to that of 20 years earlier. Consalvi attributed the remarkable success of his mission, entirely to the merits and high esteem in which Pope Pius VII was held throughout Europe,  largely due to the manner in which he had stood up to Napoleon, the common enemy. At that time temporal authority was considered by Rome to be essential  for the effective exercise of spiritual authority,  as this enabled the Papacy to retain its independence, which was a keystone in  papal diplomacy throughout the reign of Pius VII. As the 19th century progressed, significant political, social and economic changes  were to cloud this absolute view to a degree which could not have been foreseen or even thought possible in 1815. In hindsight it could be said that although Consalvi’s achievement at Vienna was indeed remarkable and  considered highly successful at the time,  events in the longer term  were to prove it to have been a disaster, for the restoration of Rome's temporal power was later to cause more problems than it had solved.
                                                    (final episode to follow)
(ack ‘Revolution and Papacy’ by EEY.Hales.   Published Hanover House1960)                                                       

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